Category: Economic Freedom

Cocoa-farmersThere’s a famous essay by Leonard Read titled “I, Pencil” in which an eloquent pencil (yes, pencil) writes in the first person about the complexity and collaboration involved in its own production.

“Here is an astounding fact,” the pencil proclaims. “Neither the worker in the oil field nor the chemist nor the digger of graphite or clay nor any who mans or makes the ships or trains or trucks nor the one who runs the machine that does the knurling on my bit of metal nor the president of the company performs his singular task because he wants me…Indeed, there are some among this vast multitude who never saw a pencil nor would they know how to use one. Their motivation is other than me.”

Trade makes unlikely friends — friends who, by creating, contributing, and trading, participate in powerful acts of service and gift-gifting, whether they know it or not. “Millions of human beings have had a hand in my creation,” the pencil writes, “no one of whom even knows more than a very few of the others.”

Written in 1958, Read’s essay has proven to be a helpful illustration of this reality. And now, in a new pair of videos from VPRO Metropolis, we find yet another.

In the first video, we witness cocoa growers and harvesters in the Ivory Coast, who, up until now, had never before seen, tasted, nor heard of chocolate, a primary output of their toil. They simply harvested the cocoa fruit and sold the beans to brokers. The rest was mystery. (more…)

gleaners-milletIn recent years, we’ve seen a renewed focus on the deeper value, meaning, and significance of our daily work, particularly across the realm of evangelicalism. Yet as easy as it may be for some to alter old attitudes and begin appreciating the gift of creative service, it can be extremely difficult for others — and often for good reason.

Indeed, until the last few centuries, the bulk of humanity was confined to activities that, while often fruitful, meaningful, and God-glorifying in their basic aim and end, did not leverage individual “giftings” in ways we would deem “fulfilling” or “dignifying” today.

Our economic situation has surely improved in the years since, with vocational opportunities and overall prosperity continuing to expand and improve in profound and unexpected ways. But many still find themselves in positions or careers that are difficult to endure, from the anxieties of a Wall Street executive to those of an underpaid farm hand.

Each of us is going to encounter our own unique challenges, driven by and toward our own particular calling. Although we ought to try our best to improve the alignment of such service in a fallen world, the persistent need for hard and rough work is bound to remain as long as it remains a fallen world. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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Giotto di Bondone - No. 27 Scenes from the Life of Christ - 11. Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple - WGA09209Last month the New York Times hosted a discussion on the question, “Has Capitalism Become Incompatible With Christianity?” There’s lots to be said about the “Room for Debate” feature, including a note on the caption for the lead image in the introduction.

The image is a rendering of the classic scene from the Gospels, Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. The NYT caption reads thus: “Jesus comes down hard on the bankers of his day.” Perhaps that’s a bit of ideological balance for the phrasing of the debate question itself, which supposes that at least at one time that “capitalism” and Christianity were compatible, even if they are no longer.

Occasioned by the NYT feature, although not a direct response, is a piece today over at Think Christian, in which I introduce what I consider to be some important distinctions to keep in mind when thinking about the Christian faith and economics.
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As leaders of HOPE International, an organization that empowers men and women across the globe through business training, savings services, and small loans, Peter Greer and Chris Horst have witnessed the transformative impact entrepreneurship can have on individuals and communities, particularly when paired with the power of the Gospel.

In Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing, a new book for AEI’s Values and Capitalism project, they explore this reality at length, offering compelling stories of businesspeople that illustrate the profound importance of free enterprise and entrepreneurship in equipping the poor and empowering the marginalized.

Watch the trailer for the book here:

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eximbank1

With its authorization charter expiring at the end of September, the U.S. Export-Import Bank has come under increased scrutiny from rabble-rousers and the hum-drum alike. An otherwise obscure fixture in the grand scheme of federal-government corporatism, Ex-Im finances and insures (i.e. subsidizes) foreign purchases of U.S. goods for those who wouldn’t otherwise accept the risk.

So far, we’ve seen a variety of good arguments made against the bank. It privileges certain companies over others. It doesn’t meaningfully improve national exports, despite many claims to the contrary. It will surely yield losses for taxpayers. And so on.

But there’s a bigger and broader reason to reject such schemes that has less to do with line-item analyses of exports vs. imports or how much Boeing will benefit vs. General Electric, and more to do with how they distort, inhibit, or prevent the efforts of those aren’t on the radar in the first place, but perhaps should or could be — the “unseen,” as Bastiat would call them.

Over at Economic Intelligence, Veronique de Rugy does us a service in highlighting this aspect, noting that Ex-Im and other corporatist schemes tend to cramp the economy at large by distorting signals and inhibiting innovation and possibility outside of the privileged few:

However, the real problem with Ex-Im pertains to the many groups who are affected by Ex-Im activities but have been ignored so far. These people don’t have connections in Washington, and they don’t have access to press offices and lobbyists. But they matter, too.

It is difficult, but extremely important, that we consider the unseen costs of political privilege, whether they take the form of market distortions, resource misallocation, job losses, destroyed potential or higher prices… (more…)

Radio Free ActonIt’s time again for another edition of Radio Free Acton, and we think this one is well worth the listen. Today, Paul Edwards talks with scholar, author, economist, occasional guest host of the nation’s largest talk radio show and all-around great guy Dr. Walter E. Williams about Frederic Bastiat’s classic The Law and the insights into modern America by reading that classic defense of limited government, authentic justice and human freedom. Williams wrote the introduction for the latest edition of Bastiat’s work, which is available for purchase in the Acton Bookshop at the link above, and said of the book that it “created order in my thinking about liberty and just human conduct.”

The lively conversation between Edwards and Williams is available via the audio player below.

Acton Institute President and Co-Founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico had a busy media day yesterday in the wake of the release of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby vs. Sebelius case. using the audio player below, you can listen to an interview with Rev. Sirico on The Michael Berry Show on Houston’s 740 AM KTRH radio where the impact of the decision is examined. Additionally, beyond the jump I’ve embedded Rev. Sirico’s appearance on Bloomberg TV’s Street Smart with Trish Regan, where he participated on a panel discussing the decision.

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[Part 1 is here.]

That most colossal blunder of Marxist experiments, the Soviet Union, collapsed more than twenty years ago, and yet Marxist thinking still penetrates the warp and woof of contemporary culture, so much so that it’s easy even for avowedly anti-Marxist conservatives to think from within the box of Marxism when considering the problem of cultural decay. Breaking out of that box means emphasizing but also stretching beyond such factors as insider cronyism, class envy, and the debilitating effects of the welfare state.

So, for instance, the influential 18th century philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau rejected the doctrines of the trinity, the deity of Christ, miracles, and the idea of original sin, writing that at one point as a young man he suddenly felt very strongly “that man is naturally good” and that it was only from the institutions of civilization “that men become wicked.” Rousseau’s view has had enormous cultural consequences, giving credence to the perennial human impulse to do whatever feels natural, never mind how stupid or destructive.

The English writer and psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple put it this way in an interview he gave for The Truth Project: (more…)

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Economic freedom does generate certain challenges. The wealth that free economies are so effective at creating brings with it temptation. Wealth can tempt us to depend on our riches rather than on God. The temptation can be resisted, as we see with wealthy biblical characters like Abraham and Job. But it’s a challenge the church should be mindful of, helping its members cultivate a balanced view of money and of our responsibility and opportunities as stewards of the things God has given us.

The free society also can be hard on communities, since the free enterprise system makes for such a mobile society. Michael Miller talks about this: the opportunities and demands generated by a complex market economy mean that people often end up moving far away from their childhood homes and the network of relationships that surrounded that home. In seeking to meet this challenge, we need to ask ourselves what strategies would effectively address the problem, and are there well-intended policies that are likely to make the problem worse. In essence, we need to exercise the virtue of prudence.

The sociologist Robert Nisbet has some useful insights here. In his 1953 work The Quest for Community, he developed the case that greater centralized political authority and social safety net spending beyond a certain minimal level actually begin to undermine civil institutions and community, since people depend less and less on their family and community bonds and more and more on state-sponsored humanitarian assistance.
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[Part 1 is here.]

Some might answer any defense of the free economy by pointing to the housing and financial crisis that came to a head in 2008, holding it up as proof positive the free economy is a wrecking ball swinging through communities and leaving all manner of economic and cultural destruction in its wake. The financial crisis did enormous damage, but the major drivers of the crisis were a series of public policies that manipulated the market in pursuit of certain desired ends.

It all began modestly enough. The federal government built incentives into the tax code in favor of taking out a home mortgage. Many local governments also provide property tax breaks to home owners unavailable to renters. While people who are forced by circumstances to rent might question the fairness of such tax breaks, these measures are seen by most as relatively benign. Eventually, however, other top-down manipulations of the housing market were piled on top of these tax breaks.

The U.S. government offered implicit backing to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac so that the companies understood that if they got into financial trouble, Washington would bail them out. This allowed Fannie and Freddie to offer low interest home loans to high risks borrowers, since the companies knew the government would come to their rescue if too many of these borrowers started defaulting on their loans.

The government also passed regulations that actually pushed mortgage companies, including Fannie and Freddie, to provide home loans to people with bad credit—subprime loans.

Finally, (more…)