Category: Economic Freedom

The Acton Institute issued a video statement to the international press today from its Rome office, introducing the main topics that to be addressed at its April 20th Rome conference “Freedom with Justice: Rerum Novarum and the New Things of Our Time” at the Roma-Trevi Conference Center.

Among the “new things” to be discussed for the 125th anniversary of Leo’s landmark social encyclical will be the Church and poverty, Europe’s faltering welfare states, globalization’s winners and losers, youth unemployment, our malfunctioning financial systems, the rise of economic populism, new forms of socialism, and, of course, Pope Francis’s economic thinking.

Lively discussion will take place at the conference as well as on social media via the hash tag #125onFreedom. More information can be found at acton.org/Rome2016.

Online viewing will be available on livestream from which viewers may propose questions for the conference speakers.


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Well, it finally happened. The pope felt the Bern.

Against expectations, Pope Francis and  Senator Bernie Sanders, the Democrat candidate for U.S. president, met privately today in the Vatican hotel where the pontiff resides and where Sanders was staying as a guest.

Bernie Sanders was in Rome for the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences meeting to discuss his economic, environmental and moral concerns (as summed up in Sanders’own words during the press scrum that followed).

The Pontifical Academy’s meeting was dedicated to the 25th anniversary of John Paul II’s Centisimus Annus, arguably the most pro-market  encyclical in the history of Catholic social teaching published in 1991 on the 100th anniversary of Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum which also praised private property rights, the value of personal liberty, and likewise denounced Marxism on grounds of mistaken anthropology.

Sanders put his own socialist spin on Centesimus Annus while in Rome. (more…)

Leighblackall-76202405Andrew Biggs of AEI has a piece up today at Forbes addressing the gender pay gap and provides a neat solution: “forbid women from staying at home with their children.” As Biggs points out, such a policy would address perhaps the greatest root cause of gender pay inequality: varied work experience attributable to choices women make. “Most mothers who stay at home or work only part-time are doing what they wish to do and what they view as best for their kids,” writes Biggs. This results in gaps in pay when those women re-enter the work force or increase their labor participation.

Biggs’ proposal to “make staying at home with kids illegal, just like child labor is illegal” would have another benefit favored by many: it would be a boon to GDP. As I point out in a review essay in the latest issue of Christian Scholar’s Review, the work that stay-at-home parents do is not counted toward GDP. When those parents pay someone to take care of their children as part of a business transaction, however, as in the case of day care centers, then that exchange does count towards GDP.

My piece, “Affluence Agonistes–A Review Essay,” takes a look at the book The Poverty of Nations by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, in addition to a couple of other recent publications. The CSR essay expands upon a review of the Grudem/Asmus book I wrote for Public Discourse, “Life to the Full: The Dangers of Material Wealth and Spiritual Poverty.” As Grudem and Asmus put it simply, to combat poverty “the goal must be to increase a nation’s GDP.”

So not only are stay-at-home moms a major source of wage inequality, they are also “a drag on GDP.” As one press report put it, “With female participation stagnating, potential growth isn’t rising as quickly.”

Biggs’ proposal to ban stay-at-home mothers should logically be embraced by both anti-gender inequality progressives as well as GDP growth fundamentalists. As I argue in the essay, “If a nation were to pursue GDP growth as its highest goal, it would probably institute policies and incentives to induce women to work outside the home and professionalize child care. GDP incentivizes specialization and the division of labor, since such transactions are the only things taken into account.”

But the Grove City College economist Shawn Ritenour rightly concludes, “We ought not give into the temptation that all of human welfare is encapsulated in GDP.” Another way of putting it is that men, women, and children do not “live on GDP per capita alone.”

Update: For those readers who might not bother to read Biggs’ piece, he does not (and neither do I, for that matter) actually advocate for this policy.

phillies-cubaThree years ago, Dalier Hinojosa was making the equivalent of $5 to $20 per month playing baseball in the state-run Cuban league. Having now defected from the country, escaping first to Haiti and now to America, Hinojosa will make $514,000 this season, playing for the Phillies.

In a profile at Philly.com, we learn more about the trials of his journey, which involved a high-risk, 12-hour escape at sea, joined by his wife and a smuggler in a small motorboat:

You never think about how you’re going to escape, [Hinojosa] said through an interpreter. You think about when. You cannot think about the risk of imprisonment or, worse, death. You think about the desperation that you never want to feel again.

The transition from communism to capitalism has already made Hinojosa rich, indeed. He originally signed with the Boston Red Sox for a $4 million bonus. (more…)

edmund-burkeThe Republican Party is fracturing on the topic of trade. Alas, in the same corners where free and open exchange was once embraced as a propeller for economic growth and dynamism, protectionism is starting to stick.

In response, free traders are pushing the typical arguments about growth, innovation, and prosperity. Others, such as myself, are noting that the trend has less to do with economic illiteracy than it does with a protectionism of the heart — a self-seeking ethos that wants “economic freedom” only insofar as it poses no threat to the preferred wage, vocation, or plot of dirt.

We have forgotten that work is not about us. It’s about serving others, and adapting that service when the signals say, “yes.”

On this, the “communitarian” wing of conservatism tends to push back, accusing free traders of being overly comfortable with social disruption and displacement, prioritizing efficiency and cheap widgetry over “stability” and “social well-being.”

Such critics would do well to heed Edmund Burke, one of the movement’s heroes. Burke was a staunch supporter of free trade not because he was indifferent to disruption, but because the alternative would cause much, much more.  (more…)

goodwill-worker“Most of economics can be summarized in four words: ‘People respond to incentives,’” says economist Steven E. Landsburg. “The rest is commentary.” The same can (mostly) be said about electoral politics: Politicians respond to incentives.

Politicians are often derided for following the crowd rather than leading on public policy. But in doing so they are often acting rationally. To gain votes you have to give people what they want, even if want they want is ultimately harmful.

When we can see or predict the destructive outcome of such policies there is a tendency to assume the politicians motives were dishonorable. But more often than not, politicians who endorse bad policies have noble motives — even if it is nothing more than the desire to give voters what they asked for.

I believe that is true in the case of Hillary Clinton, who became the first major presidential candidate to ever recommend paying all disabled workers the minimum wage. I assume her motives are perfectly pure, even though the result would lead to increased unemployment for disabled workers.
(more…)

apple-icon-appleThe early church father Tertullian once asked, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” by which he meant “What has Greek thought and philosophy to do with Christianity and its Biblical heritage?”

Today we might ask a similar question, “What has Apple to do with Hobby Lobby?” or “What does the conflict between Apple and the federal government over encryption have to do with Hobby Lobby’s struggle with the government over religious liberty?”

The answer is: More than you might think. As Chelsea Langston argues, the tech giant and the craft store share a defense of constitutional protections for institutions:
(more…)