Category: Economic Freedom

A conference held in Washington earlier this month sought to forge relationships between leaders of secular and faith-based groups working to alleviate poverty.

Representatives from the World Bank Group, the German/British/US government development agencies, the GHR Foundation, World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, Islamic Relief USA, American Jewish World Service, McKinsey & Company, and more gathered for the occasion. The Lancet, a leading medical journal, published an issue on the role of religion and faith-based development organizations in global health and released it at the conference.

It’s exciting to see secular organizations acknowledge the unique potential of religious groups to enact successful initiatives in developing nations. However, Acton’s previous research on the divergent development and world health strategies of secular and religious groups suggests that a successful merger will require more organic, bottom-up approaches than what the biggest development powerhouses are used to.

The shared goal to end extreme poverty and promote sustainable development is admirable, and it’s an important basis for building common ground among groups. But good intentions aren’t enough. Many of the largest secular development organizations, such as the World Bank, tend to adopt approaches that fall under the category of “social engineering,” coordinating and launching initiatives that are fundamentally at odds with religious groups’ insistence on the dignity and powerful potential of each individual. (more…)

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, in an article for www.mlive.com, discussed the recent charter expiration of the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) and how that is a good first-step toward reducing the corporate welfare and crony capitalism that has infected American politics and economics:

If a man swipes your wallet, he’s a thief. We don’t ask whether the pickpocket ultimately spent the cash on a worthy cause. Yet, supporters of corporate welfare would have you believe that as long as the companies receiving welfare prosper, you shouldn’t care that the government snatched your money to make it happen.

The moral implications of cronyism are abundant. As public/private partnerships expand, the market system slowly transforms from free enterprise and competition driven by market forces to government control of who succeeds and fails based on loans or bailouts to favored groups and corporations. In an interview with the Acton Institute’s Religion & Liberty, Peter Schweizer discussed how cronyism is creating a moral crisis and how it is affecting the poor:

Our poverty programs get distorted by crony corporations. Just look at how the food stamp program has expanded over the years. Initially, it was a safety net to provide basic provisions, and most people agree basic safety nets are needed. The problem is that when the government started throwing around billions of dollars, the snack food and soft drink industry saw dollar signs. So they lobbied and got the regulations changed so that snack food and sodas are now covered by government assistance. It’s now a $10 billion industry for soft drink companies. Then it got expanded to include convenience stores, and now you’ve got the fast food industry lobbying lawmakers to let people use EBT cards at fast food establishments.

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I believe that greatness, if defined by power, economic and cultural influence, requires us to acknowledge that the United States of America was once the greatest country in the world. However, as it ceases to lead the world in these areas – as one survey after another shows – and other countries take its place, it can no longer be considered the greatest. If we change our definition of “greatest” however, America might still be great.

I believe we need a new definition of greatness. Americans are known throughout the globe for patriotism, and this is not something of which to be ashamed. The United States, in its mere 239 years of existence, has built great things, has explored vast areas, has developed nothings into somethings, and has undeniably made enormous impacts on the world. Unfortunately, many Americans have taken this to the extreme, perhaps subconsciously, and have concluded that that is the end of the story. America is the best. Period.

This mentality has often bothered me. I was born and raised in Japan, reached adulthood in the States, and am currently living in Lithuania. I have been to almost 30 countries. Many people are stunned when I say that I do not plan on living my entire life in the United States. Many are taken aback by the fact that my love of culture and travel surpasses my patriotism for the country of my nationality, in my case, the United States.

This is a common exchange with people I meet throughout the world; which is what sparked my interest in this blog post. Where should my loyalties lie? And where do others’? Is it where we are from, or where we want to be? No matter how much love one has for their country, I think everyone would agree that no place is perfect. But what makes a country great? (more…)

jeb

During a recent interview, presidential candidate Jeb Bush outlined his economic plan, which included a goal of achieving 4 percent economic growth.

As for how we might achieve that growth, Bush went on to commit a grave and sinful error, daring imply that Americans might need to work a bit harder:

My aspiration for the country — and I believe we can achieve it — is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see,” he told the newspaper. “Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.

The pundits descended, the trolls ignited, and the competing politicians proceeded to pounce, including his chief rival, Hillary Clinton, who tweeted: “Anyone who believes Americans aren’t working hard enough hasn’t met enough American workers.” The media followed in turn, running numerous stories on the “real” barriers to economic growth: economic inequality, low wages, and — my personal least-favorite — a lack of “good jobs.” (more…)

Today at the Library of Law & Liberty, I examine Pope Francis’s recent speech in Bolivia, in which he calls for “an economy where human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life.”

I have no objection to that, but what he seems to miss is that the very policies he criticizes all characterize those countries in the world that most closely resemble his goal. I write,

So what stands in the way, according to the pontiff?—“corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.” Really?

Business, credit, trade, and fiscal responsibility are marks of healthy economies, not the problem, popular as it may be to denounce them. Indeed, these are also marks of economies that effectively care for “Mother Earth,” whose plight the Pope claims “the most important [task] facing us today.” That’s right, more important than the plight of the poor, to His Holiness, is the plight of trees, water, and lower animals.

That moral confusion aside, is there any way we could study what policies correlate with the Pope’s laudable goals? As it turns out, there is. The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) ranks countries based upon an aggregate rating of economic growth, care for the environment, and health and living conditions—precisely the measures the Pope seems to care most about. Yet of the top 20 countries on the most recent HDI ranking, 18 also rank as “free” or “mostly free” on the most recent Heritage Index of Economic Freedom.

Read my full article, “Show Me the Way to Poverty,” here.

VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCEPope Francis has said that he’s generally “allergic” to financial matters. Yet that hasn’t stopped him from criticizing capitalism and suggesting radical changes for a global economic order. During his recent trip to Latin America, the pontiff has been especially denunciatory, saying the unfettered pursuit of money is “the dung of the devil.”

Not surprisingly, many critics have complained that Francis is presenting a distorted, incomplete, and naive view of capitalism. To his credit, the pontiff has vowed to consider these reactions before his trip the U.S. this September. “I heard that there were some criticisms from the United States. I must begin studying these criticisms, no?” he said. “Then we shall dialogue about them.”

It’s encouraging to hear Pope Francis say he’s interested in dialogue on the topic. Naturally, since we share many of the same values and concerns, an ideal partner in such discussion would be the Acton Institute. As Acton co-founder Rev. Robert Sirico has said,

From the inception of the Acton Institute . . . we have always been concerned that economic education–a real understanding of how a market functions–will first and foremost help the most vulnerable, so we’ve done various things over the years to attempt to demonstrate or teach or model that for people.

If the pope is interested, we even have a branch in Rome—Istituto Acton—that he can visit. It’s a mere 20 minute walk from Vatican City or about 5 minutes by mini-popemobile. We’d also be willing to send him any resources he might find useful, such as our PovertyCure DVD series or Rev. Sirico’s book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy.

In the meantime, though, I think Pope Francis could gain a lot of insight by simply pondering these three points:

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A bit of humility is in order. Alvin E. Roth to Russ Roberts on EconTalk:

… I think that economists have to approach their role as engineers with great humility. There’s a lot we don’t understand. Economics is still an early science. But let me read you the quote from Hayek that I included in my book. This is a quote from his free-market manifesto, The Road to Serfdom. And he wrote, “There is, in particular, all the difference between deliberately creating a system within which competition will work as beneficially as possible and passively accepting institutions as they are.”

So, that was Hayek. He understood that what makes a market free is that it has rules that allow it to work freely. And one of the metaphors I use in the book is of a wheel that can rotate freely. It’s not rotating in a vacuum. It has an axle and it has well-oiled bearings. And over time–people have been designing markets for millennia. And often the process of trial and error leads to better and better markets. But it can be a lengthy process of trial and error. And as we better understand what is required for marketplaces to help markets work freely we can sometimes intervene. And, you said ‘top down,’ but earlier you talked about Uber and Airbnb. Those are marketplaces that are not top down. People have been designing marketplaces forever. It’s what we do.

Hands On Originals is a small printing company in Lexington, Kentucky, that, up until recently, had very few problems when they declined to print a certain message.

Last year, however, the owner, Blaine Adamson, was found guilty of discrimination by a Lexington human rights commission for refusing to print T-shirts for a local gay pride festival. The commissioners ordered that Adamson must violate his conscience, and further, must participate in diversity training to be conducted by the commission.

Fortunately, this story has a happier ending than that of the baker and florist, as the Fayette Circuit Court ended up reversing the commission’s decision. “It is their constitutional right to hold dearly and to not be compelled to be part of an advocacy message opposed to their sincerely held Christian beliefs,” Judge James Ishmael wrote in his decision.

Watch below for more of Blaine’s testimony:

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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…)