Category: Economic Freedom

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…)

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…)