Category: Economic Freedom

Blog author: KHanby
Wednesday, October 19, 2016

This is a guest post by Philip Booth, Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics, St. Mary’s University, Twickenham; Academic and Research Director, Institute of Economic Affairs. Booth will be speaking in London on Dec. 1 at Acton Institute’s The Crisis of Liberty in the West conference (register here). This post is based on remarks prepared for delivery at the United Kingdom Government Foreign and Commonwealth Office conference on Preventing Violent Extremism by Building Inclusive and Plural Societies, Oct. 19-20.

Economic freedom and economic harmony

 By Phillip Booth

In a free society, persons participate in economic exchange and civil society freely, without interference as long as they do not harm others. Of course, actions such as inciting violence and so on need to be dealt with and possibly prosecuted. But, individuals and families, often working as communities and through civil society organisations are able to go about their life without undue impediment. In such a situation, the government does not have positive powers as such – or at least not many of them – it exists to promote justice, provide for the needy who cannot be provided for in other ways, ensure that there is peace and civil order, and so on. Such a society should be one in which parents can send their children to religious schools of the parents’ choice and where people can worship freely – again, assuming that such schools or religious groupings are not inciting violence and threatening peace.

Phillip Booth

Phillip Booth

When thinking about economic freedom, perhaps we focus too much on the economic efficiency benefits of a free society and do not talk enough about how such a society also promotes peace and harmony.

Business is especially important here. This cannot be stressed enough. There are relatively thick ties within families and within churches and mosques, for example. However, there are often very thin ties between churches, mosques other religious groupings. Business makes those thin ties thicker. It requires people of different faiths to co-operate. People encounter a much greater variety of persons who are different from them in the business world – as customers, employers or suppliers – than they do in any other area of their life. Indeed, in the business world, discrimination is expensive. If I don’t want to be served by a Pole, a Muslim, an Italian or a Chinese person in a restaurant in London, I would probably end up at a very bad restaurant! If I did not want to be driven by a Muslim taxi driver, in some cities I would literally never get a taxi. Business is a mutually enriching activity and so encountering others different from ourselves through business co-operation is very important.

This is a not a relativist position. It is not an attempt to suggest that all religions are equally true. However, co-operation through business is an essential part of a free and tolerant society. (more…)

faith-at-work-ifwe1In a special report and symposium for the Washington Times, the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics has organized an array of diverse perspectives on economic freedom, human flourishing, and the church.

Authors include familiar Acton voices and partners such as Michael Novak, John Stonestreet, Christopher Brooks, Jay Richards and Ismael Hernandez, as well as leading figures such as Senator Tim Scott, Arthur Brooks, and Dr. Albert Mohler. The report also includes Acton’s very own Rev. Robert Sirico and Trey Dimsdale, each sharing their own vision of economic flourishing in the free and virtuous society.

Sirico explains the importance of preserving economic liberty and the “institutions of liberty” in our efforts to maintain a just and peaceful society: (more…)

 There are many factors that account for a country’s economic freedom (or lack thereof), but one of the most overlooked is the role of religion.

Can economic freedom be explained by religion, independently of political institutions? That’s the question researchers at an economics think-tank in Germany attempted to answer. Their findings:

We investigate whether religion affects economic freedom. Our cross-sectional dataset includes 137 countries averaged over the period 2001-2010. Simple correlations show that Protestantism is associated with economic freedom, Islam is not, with Catholicism in between. The Protestant ethic requires economic freedom. Our empirical estimates, which include religiosity, political institutions, and other explanatory variables, confirm that Protestantism is most conducive to economic freedom.

The researchers found that there is something to Max Weber’s claim about a Protestant Ethic after all:

Today at Public Orthodoxy, the blog of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University, I have an essay on the need for Orthodox theology to more seriously engage modern economic science. The argument would likely apply in some degree to other theological traditions as well.

I write,

Personal relationships and the monastic life have different norms than impersonal markets. This does not mean that markets have no norms, nor that the norms of markets should overrule any other concerns. But it does mean that if we wish for our economies to be more moral, whether we hail from the political right or left (or somewhere outside of that simplistic binary), we must first understand what they are and how they function.

In the article, I quote Peter Hill and John Lunn on this distinction, but it can be found in the work of Paul Heyne as well. For example, in his essay “Are Economists Basically Immoral?” citing a newspaper article about Mother Theresa (now officially recognized as a Roman Catholic saint as of this past Sunday), he wrote,

I shall conclude with two recent newspaper items. One is a short news item reporting that Mother Teresa was about to appeal to prevent the execution of a convicted California murderer. I don’t know whether she did appeal or not, but the newspaper said that she was going to call the Governor and say that this man should be forgiven because that is what Jesus would have done. Now I don’t want to get into the issue of capital punishment; I just want to point out that if Mother Teresa made that argument she was mixing different moralities. I choose Mother Teresa because I can’t think of a person for whom I have more respect; she is a far better person than I am. But forgiveness is appropriate only in face-to-face relations or for God. The criminal-justice system of the State of California is not God nor is it running a face-to-face society. A judge who forgives a convicted criminal is not a candidate for sainthood but for impeachment. The morality of large social spheres is simply different from the morality of face-to-face systems. Arguments against capital punishment must take those differences into account, and so must our arguments for revised economic policies.

This is a crucial distinction that I have come back to again and again, and one that I explore in more detail at Public Orthodoxy today. Read my full essay here.

daniel-isaacsIs it possible to be both a Christian and a libertarian?

In a forthcoming book, Called to Freedom: Why You Can Be Christian & Libertarian, six Christian libertarians offer an emphatic, “yes,” exploring key tensions and challenging a range common critiques (whether from conservative Christians or secular libertarians). The project is currently seeking funds via Indiegogo, where you can donate or pre-order your copy.

Having already discussed the topic on numerous occasions with two of the book’s authors – Jacqueline Isaacs and Elise Daniel – I asked them a few questions about their latest endeavor, the overarching ideas, and what they hope to achieve.

How did you become libertarian Christians?

ED: I grew up in a Christian, conservative home. Because of my upbringing, I always assumed Christians were also conservatives. Growing up, I didn’t know much about libertarians, other than that they wanted to legalize drugs, so I thought there was at least some sort of moral gap between Christians and libertarians. I grew stronger in both my faith and political convictions in college. I studied economics and attended an economics seminar on free markets. It was there that I was first introduced to Austrian economists like Ludwig Von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. For the first time, I was thinking about economics from a classical liberal framework, and it made a lot of sense to me. During the seminar, I had conversations with students and professors who called themselves libertarian and realized some of my assumptions — like that libertarians were all moral relativists — were false. I came out of that week with serious doubts about the role of liberty in modern conservatism and more respect for the libertarian perspective. (more…)

In a new video from TED Ed, Akshita Agarwal provides a quick lesson on Adam Smith’s “paradox of value” and the differences between “value in use” and “value in exchange.”

For Christians, there’s a crucial lesson here about the best way to meet human needs in the economic order, whether through trade policy, reducing price controls, or any number of other areas. Discerning “economic value” is a tricky thing, and free economies are a handy tools for working through these things in peaceful and productive ways.

But as Agarwal concludes, it also has implications for our everyday stewardship: (more…)

Because of high inflation and unemployment, Venezuela has the most miserable economy in the world. The country currently has an inflation rate of 180 percent (which is expected to increase 1,642 percent by next year) and the current unemployment rate is 17 percent, (which is expected to increase to nearly 21 percent next year).

Shortages of basic goods like food, toilet paper, and medicine has devastated a nation where more than 70 percent of the people already live in poverty. The country has become so crippled by shortages of goods and services that the socialist government has resorted to a dire solution to fix the food problem: slavery.

According to CNN, Venezuelan officials indicated that public and private sector employees could be forced to work in the country’s fields for at least 60-day periods, which may be extended “if circumstances merit.” The decree also says that workers would still be paid their normal salary by the government and they can’t be fired from their actual job.

Unfortunately, this is not a novel idea. Forcing lawyers and college professors to work in the fields was also a feature of Soviet-style socialism, as Robert Tracinski notes: