Category: Economic Freedom

Peter Johnson, external relations officer for the Acton Institute, discusses the muddled economic message in the recent encyclical for The Federalist:

While I don’t doubt for a moment that Pope Francis sincerely wants to help the poor, I think it would be difficult for even the most erudite Catholic scholars to find a coherent message in a passage like this.

For example, he praises business as a “noble vocation” while summarily disparaging “economies of scale.” While he recognizes that poor people need to be connected to the larger economy to rise out of poverty, he also encourages “civil authorities” to constrain those in the larger economy who actually have the capital to invest in new enterprises.

This vacillation between upholding the merits of enterprise and disparaging profits runs throughout the encyclical. If I could sum up his view on commerce in one sentence it would be this: Business is okay, as long as you don’t make too much money.

Read the entire post “Pope Francis’ Incoherent Economics” here at The Federalist.

lonely-workerWhen it comes to free trade, critics insist that it hurts the American worker — kicking them while they’re down and slowly eroding the communal fabric of mom-and-pops, longstanding trades, and factory towns. Whether it comes from a politician, labor union, or corporate crony, the messaging is always the same: Ignore the long-term positive effects, and focus on the Capitalist’s conquest of the Other.

Trouble is, the basic logic of such thought leads straight back to the Self.

I recently made this point as it pertains to immigration, arguing that such notions of narrow self-preservation give way to our basest instincts and are bad for society as a whole. But it’s worth considering a bit more broadly, as well. For if the point is to defend the Small and the Local for the sake of The Great and Enduring Bubble of American Industry, at what point is this community of workers too big, too specialized, and too diversified for its own countrymen?

At what point are the Texans getting “unfair” growth compared to the Californians, or the Californians compared to the Oklahomians? If this is all as dim and zero-sum as we’re led to believe, what must we do to prevent our fellow productive citizens from harming their fellow countrymen via innovation and hard work? What bleak, self-centered reality dwells at the end of such logic? (more…)

immigrationAs the number of Republicans vying for the presidency reaches new levels of absurdity, candidates are scrambling to affirm their conservative bona fides. If you can stomach the pandering, it’s a good time to explore the ideas bouncing around the movement, and when necessary, prune off the poisonous limbs.

Alas, for all of its typical promotions of free enterprise, free trade, and individual liberty, the modern conservative movement retains a peculiar and ever-growing faction of folks who harbor anti-immigration sentiments that contradict and discredit their otherwise noble views. For these, opposing immigration is not about border control, national security, or the rule of law (topics for another day), but about “protecting American jobs” and “protecting the American worker.”

Consider the recent shift of Scott Walker. Once a supporter of legal immigration, Walker now says that immigration hurts the American worker, and that “the next president and the next Congress need to make decisions about a legal immigration system that’s based on, first and foremost, protecting American workers and American wages.” Or Rick Santorum, who has made no bones about his bid for the protectionist bloc. “American workers deserve a shot at [good] jobs,” he said. “Over the last 20 years, we have brought into this country, legally and illegally, 35 million mostly unskilled workers. And the result, over that same period of time, workers’ wages and family incomes have flatlined.” (more…)

ehrlichIn a new mini-documentary, the New York Times kindly confirms what we already know about Paul Ehrlich. His predictions about overpopulation have been astoundingly wrong, and his views about humanity are no less perverse.

Author of the famous panic manifesto, Population Bomb, Ehrlich made a name for himself by predicting mass starvation and catastrophe due to over-population. If left to our own devices, Ehrlich argued, we unruly beasts will feast and gorge and reproduce ourselves into an oblivion. His solution? Targeted starvation, abortion, and sterilization of the “selfish” and unenlightened. If the Earth is to endure, we must pay the price for humanity’s ultimate transgression: existence.

The documentary summarizes these views quite well, and includes a series of striking interviews with former disciples who have since rejected his theories. As for Ehrlich, he remains steadfast in his doubts about human value and possibility. “My language would be even more apocalyptic today,” he says. (more…)

NovakToday’s issue of Public Discourse offers a reflection on the life and work of Michael Novak. It would not be an exaggeration to say Novak is a towering figure in the world of free market economics. Author Nathaniel Peters says that while Novak has had his critics, the question that lies at the heart of all Novak’s work is this: “How do we get people out of poverty?”

What economic systems are most conducive to allowing people to exercise their human dignity, realize their God-given capacities, and provide for themselves and their families? When many people think of capitalism, they imagine factory owners exploiting workers. Novak sees a woman with a micro-loan who can now start a business to support her family, or a community of immigrants who have arrived in America—like Novak’s own Slovak ancestors—who through hard work in their local community can build better lives for themselves and those around them. (more…)

my fair ladyAs I wrote here a couple of weeks ago, nail salons across the country are under scrutiny for abusive labor tactics and human trafficking. New York City has taken a hard look at this issue (thank goodness!) and is considering implementing some not-so-well-thought-out policies. Included in this are:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo invoking “emergency measures,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) citing federal legislation on product safety she’s introduced and of course New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio presiding over a “day of action.” The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute declares nail salon abuses a function of “national policy failures.”

This approach wants to crack down on salon licensing, shutting down those that are not toeing the line. But will this really help the women being overworked and underpaid? William McGurn doesn’t think so. He also thinks Audrey Hepburn – My Fair Lady – has some answers. (more…)

LemonisMarcus2I’ve written before on how television can be a powerful tool for illuminating the deeper significance of daily work and the beauties of basic trade and enterprise. Shows like Dirty Jobs, Shark Tank, Undercover Boss, and Restaurant Impossible have used the medium to this end, and today at The Federalist, I review a new contender in the mix.

CNBC’s The Profit is arguably the best reality show currently on television. Starring Marcus Lemonis, a Lebanese-born American entrepreneur and investor, each episode highlights an ailing businesses in desperate need of cash, care, and wisdom.

By the end, we get a remarkable view into the types of struggle, pain, glory, and redemption that occur across countless businesses every single day.

The show counters a host of false stereotypes about business, three of which I highlight in my piece. But one that is perhaps more popular and pernicious than all is the notion that business and is necessarily driven by greed and selfishness.

On the contrary, I argue, selfishness kills and service prospers: (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
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economicman (1)“As a social psychologist, I have long been amused by economists and their curiously delusional notion of the ‘rational man.’” writes Carol Tavris. “Rational? Where do these folks live?”

In a review of behavioral economist Richard Thaler’s new book, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, Tavris notes how economists are slowly beginning to see — or, one could argue, finally returning to the notion — that the discipline ought treat man as more than a mere robot or calculator.

“Researchers in this field are making up for lost time,” Tavris continues, “or perhaps realizing that they are social psychologists after all.”

As human beings who arrogantly and often wrongly consider ourselves “sapiens,” we simply don’t match the model of human behavior favored by economists, one that “replaces homo sapiens” (whom Mr. Thaler calls Humans) with “a fictional creature called homo economicus” (whom he calls Econ). “Econs do not have passions; they are cold-blooded optimizers,” he says. “Compared to this fictional world of Econs, Humans do a lot of misbehaving”—thus the book’s title.

The problem, Mr. Thaler argues, is that although economists “hold a virtual monopoly” on giving policy advice, the very premises on which that advice rests are deeply flawed. That is why “economic models make a lot of bad predictions”: some small and trivial, some monumental and devastating. “It is time to stop making excuses,” he admonishes his colleagues. Mr. Thaler calls for an “enriched approach to doing economic research, one that acknowledges the existence and relevance of Humans.” By injecting economics with “good psychology and other social sciences” and by including real people in economic theory, economists will improve predictions of human behavior, make better financial and marketing decisions, and create a field that is “more interesting and more fun than regular economics.” In that way, Mr. Thaler believes, economists will finally produce an “un-dismal science.”

(more…)

Rent is Too HighSince the 1950s, the modern conservative movement has been marked by “fusionism”—a mix of various groups, most notably traditional conservatives and libertarians. For the next fifty years a conservative Christian and a secular libertarian (or vice versa) could often find common ground by considering how liberty lead to human flourishing.

But for the past decade a different fusionist arrangement has been tried (or at least desired) which includes progressives and libertarians. Brink Lindsey coined the term “liberaltarians” in 2006 to describe this uneasy alliance. Ten years into the experiment, the results have been less than impressive.

There were many reasons why the alliance was doomed to fail, but the most important was that libertarians tend to desire intellectually and political consistency in promoting a freedom agenda while progressives tend to be highly selective in their love of liberty.

Not to be too uncharitable, but urban progressives, for instance, tend to favor liberty only when it benefits urban progressives. This is especially true when it comes to government regulations. As Aaron M. Renn explains,
(more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
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00979473.JPGI recently gave a hearty cheer for bringing back childhood chores, which are shockingly absent in a majority of today’s homes. The same appears to be the case with summer work for teenagers, which is increasingly avoided due to sports activities, cushy internships, video games, clubs and camps, and, in many cases, a lack of employment prospects altogether.

In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Dave Shiflett explores the implications of this development, recalling the “grit and glory of traditional summer work, which taught generations of teenagers important lessons about life, labor and even their place in the universe.”

Whether it was newspaper delivery, construction, factory work, fast food, or manual labor on the farm or the railroad, such jobs have introduced countless kids to responsibility, creativity, and service, helping connect the dots between God-given gifts and the broader social order. (more…)