Category: Economics

DowntonAbbey1After what seemed to be an interminably long wait, Downton Abbey, a British period drama on PBS, recently returned to America. Many of us who have been hooked on the show for four seasons tune in each Sunday night to watch the new twists in the saga of the Earl and Countess of Grantham, their household, and their servants.

But as with most pop culture artifacts, this series about Victorian England is having a subversive effect on the views of modern Americans. Who would have guessed when the show premiered in the U.S. in 2011 that it would undermine liberal arguments about the significance of income inequality?

Many of those concerned about income inequality, though, don’t quite grasp that fact yet. Indeed, some even think the show proves their point. For example, Brett Arends, a columnist for MarketWatch, recently wrote an article titled, “Inequality worse now than on ‘Downton Abbey’” in which he notes,
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i_heart_government_handoutsIt’s no secret that government entitlement programs have increased dramatically over the past few decades. It’s no secret that some would like to continue to expand such programs. And it’s no secret that America cannot afford to keep doing this, either economically or morally.

Nicholas Eberstadt tackles the issue of entitlement in “American exceptionalism and the entitlement state.” It’s a worthy read; I’d like to offer a few salient points.

Eberstadt begins by likening America to a transplant patient. The transplanted organ is healthy, but the patient is still really sick. America – the patient – has attempted to graft a foreign organ – the European welfare state. That transplanted organ is doing what it was designed to do, but it’s killing the patient nonetheless. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, January 22, 2015
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As Luis de Molina (1535-1600) writes in A Treatise on Money (forthcoming):

It is clearly evident that petty exchange is useful to the republic, as it is often that men need coins of a lesser value in order to buy the things they need daily, or to give alms, or for other such things in which the coinage of a higher value is of no use.

socialmobility-121One of the most important important socio-economic factors in America is also one of the least talked about: social mobility.

Social mobility is the ability of an individual or family to improve (or lower) their economic status. The two main types of social mobility are intergenerational (i.e., a person is better off than their parents or grandparents) or intragenerational (i.e., income changes within a person or group’s lifetime). While there is no truly adequate gauge to measure such opportunities, we can get a fair estimate based on measurements of social mobility.

And by that measure, African Americans are fairing poorly. The Brookings Institute recently highlighted three disturbing facts about the social mobility of black Americans:
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This post is part of a symposium on vocation between the Patheos Faith and Work Channel and the Patheos Evangelical Channel, and originally appeared at the Oikonomia blog, a resource from the Acton Institute on faith, work, and economics.


3218139011_6c328939cb_bWe’ve seen a renewed focus among Christians on the deeper value, meaning, and significance of our daily work, leading to lots of reflection on how we might “find God in the workplace.” As a result, Christians are becoming ever more attentive to things like vocation and calling, looking for transcendent purpose and value in the world of work, beyond simply funding missionaries or evangelizing co-workers.

Yet for those of us who find ourselves in seasons or careers that seem at odds with our vocation, such revelation can only add to our frustration. “If God has placed a calling on my life in the realm of business, what am I doing here?” we ask. We read or hear stories from stock brokers, garbage collectors, artists, and academics who feel “called by God” to their particular stations, yet when we look our own position, we feel and seenothing of significance. What gives?

If these are questions you’re wrestling with, God may indeed be in the process of moving you on to something else; if so, the process of uncovering those next steps will involve plenty of prayer, counsel, discernment, prudence, and wisdom (a topic for another day). But he may be calling you to simply endure and continue right where you are. In either case, the question remains: How can we persevere in the here and now? (more…)

vox-inequalityImagine that the wealth of both the poorest and richest Americans were to double overnight (and the middle class wealth stayed the same). Would the poor be better off? Most of us would agree they would be. But those obsessed with income and wealth inequality would fret that the poor were in even worse shape than before since inequality just got much, much worse.

The difference in opinion is based on our choice of perspective. If you care about the only inequality that matters (consumption inequality) then you’d cheer that people had more income to increase their consumption. But those concerned with the relative measure of income and wealth would (correctly) note that what bothers them merely got worse. The poor are richer, sure, but the rich got richer too and that’s. . . unfair? (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
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“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce.” –Proverbs 3:9

In his latest video, Dan Stevers highlights the importance of giving God our first and our best, focusing mostly on the story of Cain and Abel. “The concept of firstfruits extends to every aspect of our lives,” he writes. “God doesn’t accept leftovers; God must be first.”

The video contains excerpts from Robert Morris’ popular book, The Blessed Life: Unlocking the Rewards of Generous Living, which is a stirring exploration of the power of generosity. In the book itself, Morris begins the first chapter by explaining that the “principle of firstfruits” is really the key to understanding Christian stewardship as a whole:

The principle of the firstfruits is very, very powerful. I have heard it said that any first thing given is never lost, and any first thing not given is always lost. In other words, what we give to God, we don’t lose because God redeems it for us. But what we withhold from God, we will lose. Jesus echoed this principle when He said: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matt. 16:25, NIV).

The first belongs to God. We find this principle all through God’s Word. We can give God the first of our time. We can give Him the first of our finances. That’s what tithing really is—giving our first to God. It’s saying, “God, I’m going to give you first and trust You to redeem the rest”…The first portion is the redemptive portion. In other words, when the first portion is given to God, the rest is redeemed.

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Blog author: dpahman
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
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Not Abba Pistamon

Today at Ethika Politika, I examine some ancient economic wisdom from one of the desert fathers: Abba Pistamon. Far from the newest of Nintendo’s Pokemon monsters (despite the sound of his name), Abba Pistamon was one of the first Christian monks. The dialogue between him and an unnamed brother that I examine from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers has a lot to say about production, labor, profit, and exchange.

I write,

Far from a gnostic allergy to any involvement with the material world, Abba Pistamon acknowledges the good of production and exchange, appealing to past precedent of other revered monks before him (“Abba Sisois and others”). Commerce, he says, was common. In fact, according to the size and expansive enterprise of ancient monastic communities, we can say that his assessment is more than anecdotal. In ancient Christian sources, contempt for the merchant and trader is common, but the reality is more complicated. Sometimes traders and merchants went by a more respectable name: monks. We should not be surprised, then, that Abba Pistamon displays a certain natural business sense. But he does not stop at the merely economic aspects of production and exchange.

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World of Warcraft and Population Control

World of Warcraft’s latest expansion: Warlords of Draenor

You may have heard of the popular computer game World of Warcraft (WoW), which recently released its fifth expansion, which adds more quests, dungeons, and other content, in November. WoW has over 10 million players and there are few signs of this slowing down, which is impressive for a game originally released in 2004. What you might not have known is that there are complex economic and social structures in place everywhere in the game. But do these systems mirror real life in any meaningful way? I’d argue that making profit in WoW’s auction house reflects on one’s understanding of a free market since it employs similar principles. One Manhattan College professor recently likened playing WoW to a religious experience since it “tests a person’s’ ethics and values, and also gets them to think about things like environmentalism and moral issues.” I’m not sure if I’d attend a WoW church service, but the game is a great example of a virtual economy and being kind (or unkind) to your neighbor. (more…)

money-heartI think it is important to keep in mind that it is not the world of economics that is critical to human life on earth. When I left the field of economics for what I still believe to be a more important life agenda, it was because I regarded economics as driving cross-country at 80 mph with my eyes firmly fixed on the rear-view mirror.

We do, in fact, live in a world defined by economic and political realities, just as a fish lives in water. But that economic world has existed for less than 300 years and it will not last forever. When we talk of poverty or the benefits of living above poverty, it’s easy to think that the miseries of poverty are true miseries. But that misery is often only the economic part of the story. Poverty of mind, of person, and, worst, of soul are the true poverties. Comfortable affluence addresses the less important parts of being human.

I wrote my book, Integrated Justice and Equality, to rebuke the current supremacy of the trendy idea about income redistribution. But is income really the point of life? If I had not focused on biblical integration, my work would have just been a commentary on economic well-being without an anchor. (more…)