Category: Economic Freedom

IMG_7821Guatemala is not known for freedom and stability, with a history colored by authoritarianism, political corruption, civil war, segregation, colonialism, post-colonial interventionism, and so on.

Dire poverty and street violence remain endemic, and yet hope remains: for political and economic liberty, yes, but also for freedom of spirit.

In a beautiful long-form essay for the new PovertyCure Magazine, J. Caleb Stewart explores the promise of Guatemala, highlighting the story of Antonio Cali, “a one-time socialist who began his drift from the left when he realized that entrepreneurship held more promise for the proletariat than redistribution.”

After stumbling upon a radio broadcast by an outspoken professor from Universidad Francisco Marroquín (UFM) — a Guatemalan university founded on principles of economic liberty — Antonio realized that he needn’t wait on others to transform his situation and surroundings. (more…)

tyson-chambers1“Men have never been so educated, but wisdom, even as an idea, has conspicuously vanished from the world.” –Whittaker Chambers

The vain self-confidence of high-minded planners and politicians has caused great harm throughout human history, much of it done in the name of “reason” and “science” and “progress.” In an information age such as ours, the technocratic temptation is stronger than ever.

As the Tower of Babel confirms, we have always had a disposition to think we can know more than we can know, and can construct beyond what we can construct. “Let us build ourselves a tower with its top in the heavens. Let us make a name for ourselves.”

America was wise to begin its project with active constraints against age-old conceits, but we have not been without our regimes of busybody bureaucrats seeking to plan their way to enlightened equilibrium and social utopia.

Such attitudes emerge across a range of specialties, but a recent proposition by popular scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson captures the essence rather well.

Thomas Sowell is fond of saying that “the most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best,” and for Tyson, his preferred pool of “evidence” hustlers offer a very basic answer. (more…)

Kentucky-trade-schoolFueled by a mix of misguided cultural pressures and misaligned government incentives, college tuition has been rising for decades, outpacing general inflation by a wide margin. Yet despite the underlying problems, our politicians seem increasingly inclined to cement the status quo.

Whether it be increased subsidies for student loans or promises of “free college” for all, such solutions simply double down on our failed cookie-cutter approach to education and vocation, narrowing rather than expanding the range of opportunities and possibilities.

Fortunately, despite such an inept response from the top-down, schools at the local and state levels are beginning to respond on their own. In Kentucky, for example, PBS highlights innovative efforts to rethink the meaning of “career-ready” education and retool the state’s incentives and accountability structures accordingly.

While “college-” and “career- readiness” have become buzz words that are assumed to be all but equal, Kentucky has awoken to the reality that they ought not be so lumped together so hastily. Alas, we have tended to amplify college not only to the detriment of career, but to college itself. (more…)

Photography by Larry D. Moore

Today marks the 20th birthday of the Nintendo 64 (N64) gaming console. Don Reisinger offered a great tribute at Fortune:

On this day in Japan 20 years ago, Nintendo introduced the gaming system, among the first consoles to create realistic-looking 3D worlds filled with monsters, soldiers, and blood. It’s standard game design today, but at that point, it was new and exciting.

Before the Nintendo 64’s launch, gamers were largely forced into games with pixelated graphics and basic gameplay that required scrolling around a screen and solving basic puzzles. The Nintendo 64, which notched more than 30 million units sold over its lifetime, was a sign of bigger and better things to come.

Yet he notes that it wasn’t the most successful console at the time:

If sales are the sole guide of success, the Nintendo 64 was a middling performer. The nearly 33 million units it sold is notably lower than the 62 million Nintendo Entertainment Systems sold and the 49 million Super Nintendo Entertainment Systems the company sold.

While the Nintendo 64’s sales were more than the Sega Saturn, which could only muster 9 million unit sales over its lifetime, Sony sold 102.5 million PlayStation units while competing with the Nintendo 64.

There are a lot of things that Nintendo tried with the N64 that didn’t really work in their favor. But Nintendo’s willingness to take such risks, and their general product differentiation (for example, their massively successful Pokémon series debuted just one year earlier for Nintendo’s Game Boy handheld console, spawning a cartoon and a card game) make it an outstanding example in the long run … not only economically, but (metaphorically) spiritually as well. (more…)

necessary-sufficientTo be a champion of free markets is to be misunderstood. This is doubly true for free market advocates who are Christian. It’s an unfortunate reality that many of us have simply come to accept as inevitable.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t attempt to clear up misunderstandings when we can. So let me attempt to clear up one of the most notorious misunderstandings: Few advocates of free markets (and none who are Christian) believe that free markets are a sufficient condition for human flourishing. We believe they are a necessary condition, but they alone are not sufficient.

Economist Donald J. Boudreaux (who, for what it’s worth, is not a Christian) explains:
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There’s been a lot of discussion leading up to the planned Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete this month. As is typical of councils in the history of the Church, so far it’s a mess, and it hasn’t even happened yet.

In what has been described as an act of self-marginalization by Bulgarian Orthodox scholar Smilen Markov, it looks like the Bulgarian Patriarchate has already backed out.

Antioch has a laundry list of grievances.

The OCA, which might not even technically be invited in the first place, has issued a statement.

And further statements from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Georgian Patriarchate, and others can be found.

No need to review the contents as the point is simply to note that, once again, the council is already a mess.

Officially, I should be calling it the “Great and Holy” council, but I’m not holding my breath on that one. That’s not out of cynicism (well, not entirely) but due to the record of history and the science of economics. (more…)

At the Catholic Workd Report, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg observes that, as populist regimes implode across Latin America, it’s unclear that the Catholic Church in the age of Francis is well-equipped to cope with whatever comes next.

Since Pope Francis often states that realities are more important than ideas, let’s recall some basic realities about presidents Correa and Morales. Both are professed admirers of Chávez and committed to what Correa calls “socialism of the 21st century” or what Morales describes as “communitarian socialism.”

Both men have also followed the classic populist playbook. This involves (1) dismantling constitutional restraints on power; (2) blaming their nations’ problems on foreigners and foreign interests; (3) following a political logic of internal confrontation with those designated as “enemies of the people”; (4) fostering a cult of personality around a charismatic leader; and (5) creating large constituencies of supporters through disbursement of state largesse. The result has not only been political oppression. The economies of Bolivia and Ecuador are now formally classified as “repressed” in the 2016 Index of Economic Freedom. That means they are among the least free, most corrupt, and statist in the world.

The fact, however, that Correa and Morales were invited to speak at a conference at the Holy See reflects the Church’s ambiguous relationship with left-populist movements and governments in recent years. The Venezuelan bishops’ willingness, for instance, to name and shame a populist regime so directly for its destructive policies is the exception rather than the rule.

Read “Pope Francis, Populism, and the Agony of Latin America” by Samuel Gregg at the Catholic World Report.