Category: Economics

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Thursday, August 14, 2014

kid-digging-holeLast Saturday was hot and humid in our corner of the world, and thus, my wife and I quickly decreed a pool day on the front lawn. The kids were ecstatic, particularly our four-year-old boy, who watched and waited anxiously as I got things prepared.

All was eventually set — pool inflated, water filled, toys deployed — but before he could play, I told him he needed to help our neighbor pick up the fallen apples strewn across his lawn.

With energy and anticipation, he ran to grab his “favorite bucket,” and the work quickly commenced. Less than three minutes later, however, his patience wore off.

“This is boring, Daddy,” he complained. “Can I be done now?”

More than anything else, the response was comical. Within mere minutes, this simple, ten-minute task had become a heavy burden he simply could not bear.

But it also signaled something profound about our basic attitudes about work, and how early they begin to form. Our kids are only beginning to edge upon the golden ages of chorehood, but as these situations continue to arise, I’ve become increasingly aware of a peculiar set of challenges faced by parents raising children in a prosperous age.

In a society wherein hard and rough work, or any work for that matter, has become less and less necessary, particularly among youngsters, how might its relative absence alter the long-term character of a nation? What is the role of work and toil in the development and formation of our children, and what might we miss if we fail to embrace, promote, and contextualize it accordingly? In a culture such as ours, increasingly propelled by hedonism, materialism, and a blind allegiance to efficiency and convenience, what risks do we face by ignoring, avoiding, or subverting the “boring” and the “mundane” across all areas of life, and particularly as it relates to work? (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Friday, August 8, 2014

mourn-work-woundI recently wrote about “wounding work,” a term Lester DeKoster assigns to work that, while meaningful and fruitful, is “cross bearing, self-denying, and life-sacrificing” in deep and profound ways. Take the recent reflections of a former Methodist minister, who, upon shifting from ministry into blue-collar work at a factory, struggled to find meaning and purpose.

“I am not challenged at all in this work,” he writes, “and I want something more.”

Although DeKoster helps us recognize that meaning and purpose do reside in such work, and that our day-to-day labor is not exempt from the sacrifice and obedience bound up in the Christian life, the pain for those of us in the midst of all this is likely to persist, even if for a season.

On this, Evan Koons continues the discussion over at the FLOW blog: “To stress that all work is about gift-giving, to marvel at its vast community of relationships, or allude to the suffering one share’s with Christ by remaining in said environments, doesn’t make the experience any more pleasant.”

What, then, are we to do amid such suffering? How ought we to respond, whether as wounded workers ourselves, or as those who simply serve and disciple alongside those who suffer? As Koons explains, there is no quick-and-easy cookie-cutter “solution,” spiritually, economically, or otherwise, and going down the paths to peace that Christ does provide will inevitably involve those same familiar features of our fallen world.

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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Friday, August 8, 2014

81396fYesterday, Acton research associate Dylan Pahman made the connection between inequality and poverty alleviation. Today, he continues that argument and explains how the connection affirms the moral merits of economic liberty:

Hayek argued for a stronger connection between inequality and economic progress in his 1960 work The Constitution of Liberty. “New knowledge and its benefits,” writes Hayek, “can spread only gradually, and the ambitions of the many will always be determined by what is as yet accessible only to the few . . . This means that there will always be people who already benefit from new achievements that have not yet reached others.”

Hayek’s basic point is simple: Before many social advancements become common, they first exists as luxuries. “The new things,” writes Hayek, “will often become available to the greater part of the people only because for some time they have been the luxuries of the few.” This applies to much of what the average person in a developed society today takes for granted: automobiles, air-conditioning, refrigeration, tablet computers, smart phones, and so on. Go back far enough, and we might even add clean water and basic sanitation to the list.

Read more . . .

Francis (1)“If there is one thing that religious leaders around the world seem to agree on today,” says Acton research associate Dylan Pahman, “it is the evils of income inequality stemming from a globalized economy.” But as Pahman points out, there is a connection between inequality and poverty alleviation that affirms the moral merits of economic liberty:

It would seem the consensus is that economic inequalities have increased worldwide, and this is a clear moral evil. But when we examine the numbers, a somewhat different picture emerges. Even as inequality has increased, extreme poverty has simultaneously decreased—a clear moral good. Considered in this light, and with the help of Nassim Taleb and (in Part Two of this post) Friedrich Hayek, I will examine the connection between inequality and poverty alleviation and argue that the data affirm, rather than refute, the moral merits of economic liberty.

It stands to reason that if religious leaders are so willing to condemn global capitalism for its apparent evils, they ought to be even more eager to praise its actual goods. I will recommend a different moral metric, drawn from St. John Cassian and St. John Chrysostom, that would support people of faith in being attentive to the plight of the poor while prudently engaging the economic realities at hand.

Read more . . .

Hurricane IkeAfter 6,712 cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes the evidence is clear: Bastiat was right all along.

In 1850, the economic journalist Frédéric Bastiat introduced the parable of the broken window to illustrate why destruction, and the money spent to recover from destruction, is not actually a net benefit to society (see the video at the end of this post for an explanation of the broken window fallacy). For most people the idea that destruction doesn’t help society would seem too obvious to warrant mentioning. But some liberal economists argue that destruction can lead to an economic boom, mainly because it provides the government with an opportunity to spend more money.

If the liberal economists are right, then we should find that destructive storms lead to economic growth. But a pair of researchers, Solomon M. Hsiang and Amir S. Jina, have recently published a study that shows the exact opposite. Using meteorological data, they reconstructed every country’s exposure to the 6,712 cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes that occurred during 1950-2008 and then measured the long-term growth:
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The System Has a Soul: Essays on Christianity, Liberty, and Political LifeChristian’s Library Press has now released The System Has a Soul: Essays on Christianity, Liberty, and Political Life by Hunter Baker, a collection of reflections on the role and relevance of Christianity in our societal systems. You can order your copy here.

Challenging the notion that such systems are inevitably ordered by the “ultra-complex machinery of state power and corporate strategy,” Baker reminds us of the role of the church in culture and political life. Rather than simply deferring to and relying on the “internal logic” of various societal spheres, Christians are called to contribute something distinct and transcendent in its arc and aim — whether in business, politics, science, academia, or otherwise.

“The church is the soul of the system,” Baker writes, and springing from that root is a notion of freedom and the good that “transcends our worldly instrumentalities and principalities.”

As Baker explains:

Why not just leave out the church? Why not leave out that Christian particularity that you insist is so important to culture? Why can we not just have the freedom and democracy and ignore the rest? Fine, the faith may have helped us reach this point, but I do not know why we need it now. We have evolved socially and politically.

The simplest answer is to invoke Elton Trueblood’s magnificent metaphor of the cut-flower civilization. A flower grows and becomes beautiful because it is rooted in the ground where it can access the things it needs to live, such as nutrition and water. The roots are life. If you cut the flower at its stem and put it in a vase, it will remain beautiful for a time, but it will die and decay. What was beautiful will be lost. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, August 4, 2014

wilhelm-ropkeWilhelm Röpke is one of the most important 20th century economists that almost no Americans know anything about. Fortunately, that may soon change as Röpke’s classic work on economics, A Humane Economyis being republished by ISI Books with an introduction by Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute.

Intercollegiate Review has posted an excerpt from Gregg’s introduction:
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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…)

Mincaye of the Waodani

Mincaye of the Waodani

As we continue to encounter the adverse effects of certain forms of foreign aid and other misaligned efforts to alleviate poverty, it becomes increasingly clear that those in need require a level of care, concern, and discipleship not well suited to detached top-down “solutions.”

But just as we ought to be careful about the types of solutions we create, we ought to give the same level of attentiveness to the needs themselves, which are no less complex and difficult to discern.

Steve Saint, author of End of the Spear and missionary to the Waodani people of Ecuador, offers some helpful insights and warnings along these lines, critiquing the West’s tendency to project its “standards, values and perception of need onto others,” particularly when it comes to material needs.

“When people visit the Waodani,” he explains, “they look around and think, ‘Wow, these people have nothing!’” Yet, when the Waodani encounter the lifestyles of foreign outsiders, they tend to find them unseemly and excessive. (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…)