Category: Economic Freedom

While in Argentina for Acton Institute’s March 18 “Christianity and the Foundations of a Free Society” seminar, President and Co-Founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico conducted a wide ranging interview with La Nación, the country’s leading conservative newspaper. For more on the event, jointly sponsored with Instituto Acton Argentina, go here. What follows is an English translation of the interview. The original version, titled “Una sociedad con bajos impuestos es más próspera” in Spanish, may be found here.

La Nación: Why did you decide to devote yourself to economics in relation to ethics and religion?

Sirico: In the 1970s, while living in California, I was away from the faith and was involved in a number of leftist social change movements. Someone gave me some books to read on economics, which I did. This set off a chain reaction which resulted not only in rethinking my more socialist activism, but also in my return to the Catholic Church and eventually continuing on to seminary and the priesthood. Once ordained, I continued to write and speak about these matters and eventually formed an Institute which engages many scholars and writers of all religious persuasions to discuss these kinds of ideas. (more…)

Envy-1A new report from the liberal Brookings Institute finds that “despite the large increases in economic inequality since 1970″, American survey respondents exhibit no increase in support for redistribution. This holds true even for the two groups who have historically been most reliant on redistribution: the elderly and black Americans.

The report expresses surprise by the results, as does the Washington Post. As the Post‘s Max Ehrenfreund says,

The polling data challenges the common-sense idea that voters support policies that are in their material interest, the authors write. Yet there don’t seem to be any good explanations for the trends, which are shown in the chart above.

It’s not that blacks or the elderly on the whole are becoming wealthier and thus less dependent on government assistance. Black and elderly people were just as likely to change their views on the question whether they were rich or poor. Nor are members of these groups becoming more conservative on other questions.

Notice the pattern of thought embedded in those two paragraphs:
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robot 2When arguing about the merits of a free economy, its defenders often give way to a peculiar line of reasoning that goes something like this:

“Socialism would be wonderful if it actually worked, and it could actually work if only men were angels.”

Such claims are meant to frame socialists as foolish idealists obsessed with their silly utopias. But for those of us who believe there’s a certain idealism to the free society, it’s a rather appalling concession. Indeed, the fundamental problem with socialism isn’t so much that its aims are unrealistic — though they most certainly are — but rather that its basic assumptions rely on a view of humanity that is, in so many ways, unreal.

If we let the lofty levelers have their way, we shall inherit a world where humanity is robbed of its dignity and originality, discouraged from creativity and innovation, and restrained from the collaboration and relationship found in free exchange. Even if such a system were to be filled with morally superior know-it-alls and somehow achieve material prosperity, it would still be a society of serfs, submissive to their overlords’ enlightened plans for social “equity,” and thus, servile in all the areas where God intended ownership.

Is a land wherein humans are guided by mere robotic efficiency really something that’s all that wonderful, even if it actually “works”? In whose mind and through what sort of contorted imagination is this considered an “ideal” or “utopia”? (more…)

romero

Archbishop Oscar Romero

Rev. Robert Sirico ponders the economic and theological links between Pope Francis and Oscar Romero today at RealClear Religion. Sirico says that these “two prominent churchmen of our era … expose the difference between a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and a preferential option for the state.”

Both men have been linked heavily to Liberation Theology, but Sirico points out that this is a misguided understanding of the thoughts and works of both Pope Francis and Archbishop Romero.

For whatever form of Liberation Theology (and there are several) either Romero or Francis represent, it is certainly not the variety most popularly espoused in the Latin America of the 1980s and condemned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The ascendant form of Liberation Theology of that era emerged from a Christian encounter with Marxism as seen largely in the work of Gustavo Gutierrez (Peruvian), Leonardo Boff (Brazilian), Juan Luis Segundo (Uruguayan), Jon Sobrino (Spanish) and Ernesto Cardenal (Nicaraguan). (more…)

the-corporationWhat makes a company great? To find the answer, Jim Collins’s 21-person research team (at his management research firm) spent five years reading and coding 6,000 articles, generating more than 2,000 pages of interview transcripts, and creating 384 megabytes of computer data. His research identified 11 companies that met the criteria for transforming from a “good company” to one that had achieved “greatness.” Collins wrote about these companies in his book, Good to Great, which became a massive bestseller, selling over four million copies.

But the companies themselves didn’t always fare as well as the book about them. Circuit City went bankrupt in 2009, Fannie Mae was involved in the home mortgage scandal and was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange in 2010. Wells Fargo had to receive a government bailout in 2008 to keep from shutting down. As economist Steven D. Levitt noted in 2008, the returns on those 11 companies was not so great: a portfolio of the “good to great” companies would have underperformed the S&P 500.

Collins’s book sold well (and continues to do so, 14 years later) in large part because Americans of all stripes have an almost religious belief in the almost unlimited power—for good or ill—of corporations. We like to think that companies know what they’re doing and can largely control their futures (and ours). This is part of what Megan McArdle refers to as “corporation theology“:
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Blog author: dpahman
Friday, February 27, 2015
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Yesterday the FCC reclassified Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act, with additional provisions from Title III and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This was done for the purpose of ensuring net neutrality or open internet access, requiring ISPs to treat all data on the internet equally. Notably, yesterday’s Order also includes mobile broadband for the first time as well.

In a press release, the FCC claims,

Together Title II and Section 706 support clear rules of the road, providing the certainty needed for innovators and investors, and the competitive choices and freedom demanded by consumers, while not burdening broadband providers with anachronistic utility-style regulations such as rate regulation, tariffs or network sharing requirements.

I have expressed concerns in the past about the smattering of regulations available under Title II, far beyond what would be required for net neutrality. On the surface, the press release would seem to indicate that the recent Order was designed to attempt to prevent those further regulations from being available to the FCC: (more…)

stutzman-flowersChristian florist Barronelle Stutzman was sued last year for refusing to sell flowers for the purpose of a same-sex wedding. Last week, a Benton County Superior Court Judge ruled against her, stating that her religious beliefs do not “excuse compliance with the law.” The 70-year-old grandmother now stands to lose everything: her business, her home, and her livelihood.

Next came a settlement offer from the attorney general of Washington, who proceeded to dangle dollars in an attempt to tease Stutzman into submission. The offer: Reject your religious beliefs and agree to accommodate such requests, and life can go on as before (after paying $2,000 in penalties, that is).

Stutzman promptly refused, and did so quite stridently via letter. Joe Carter has already pointed to that response, but given the key themes and tensions that continue to define these battles, the following paragraph by Stutzman bears repeating:

Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important. Washington’s constitution guarantees us “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.” I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do.

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Blog author: ehilton
Monday, February 23, 2015
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Artful-Mayhem-Feb-2012-6We know that, for economies to thrive, people must be free to start their own businesses without taxing regulations, that free trade must be the de facto means of doing business, and that cronyism and corruption must be eradicated.

But that’s not enough.

At the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, blogger (and former Acton intern) Elise Amyx says we have to have human flourishing as well.

Economic freedom is only one component of human flourishing. We should think about it as a prerequisite, a necessary foundation to society that makes human flourishing possible.

We need to ask ourselves, once we have economic freedom, what do we do with it?

Economic freedom may be the number one force wiping out extreme poverty across the globe, but it can’t do the job alone.

In a free society, we also need a culture of creativity, a culture of voluntary generosity, and a culture virtue and in order for humanity to flourish. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, February 19, 2015
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Graeme Wood’s excellent piece in The Atlantic has justly been making the rounds for the past week or so. It is well worth reading with a number of insights and points that strike at the heart of the contemporary conflict between modernity and religious violence. I commend “What ISIS Really Wants” to your reading. (Rasha al Aqeedi’s “Caliphatalism,” which looks more closely at the situation in Mosul, makes a great companion read.)
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Marie Harf, U.S. Department of State

Marie Harf, U.S. Department of State

I do not believe Marie Harf is an eloquent speaker, but I did think her “jobs for ISIS” remarks made some sense. We know that in American cities, for instance, if young men do not have education and jobs, they get into mischief. The kind of mischief that includes gangs and drugs and violence. Why would we expect that young men in Libya, Iraq, and elsewhere would be any different?

Apparently, I’m not the only one. While others have sneered at Harf’s comments as being simplistic, a few are tentatively suggesting she is not as far off-base as first thought. The National Review‘s Tom Rogan says this: (more…)