Category: Economics

244-BudgetCover-FY2016What is the President’s budget?

Technically, it’s only a budget request—a proposal telling Congress how much money the President believes should be spent on the various Cabinet-level federal functions, like agriculture, defense, education, etc. (A PDF of the 150 page document can be found here.)

Why does the President submit a budget to Congress?

The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 requires that the President of the United States submit to Congress, on or before the first Monday in February of each year, a detailed budget request for the coming federal fiscal year, which begins on October 1.

What is the function of the President’s budget request?

The President’s annual budget request serves three functions:

As Christians continue to turn their attention to the intersection of faith and work, it can be easy to dwell on such matters only insofar as they apply to our individual lives. What is our purpose, our vocation, and our value? How does God view our work, and how ought we to render it back to him? What is the source of our economic action?

These questions are important, but the answers will inevitably point us to a more public (and for some, controversial) context filled with profound questions of its own. Stewardship is step one: calling, work, service, generosity, and so on. But what about the ripple effects of all that? How does the personal aspect connect with the public?

As Greg Forster explains in his talk at the recent Faith@Work Summit“You can’t separate stewardship from economics.”

Whether we recognize it or not, our work has profound implications for the broader social and economic order beyond gross domestic product. As we glorify God through our work, we are also creating and cultivating social and spiritual capital with our neighbors, yielding service and fostering trust as we bless strangers and receive similar blessings in return. Lester DeKoster calls it the “fabric of civilization,” weaved together by the Holy Spirit to restore “the broken family of humankind.” (more…)

A friend of mine recently shared this short clip of Thomas Merton’s last lecture. He has some interesting things to say about communism and monasticism, as well as what is clearly a sly promo for Coca-Cola at the end.

“From now on, brothers, everybody stands on his own feet.” This would be a great summary statement of what the monastic vow of poverty actually meant to most monks, historically. With regards to monasteries being the only places that have ever fulfilled the socialist ideal “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” I would add that they were able to do this because they valued the division of labor and the potential good of enterprise.

Monasteries, ancient and medieval, were centers of production, invention, and exchange, in addition to faith and worship. We may often think of the Scriptures and works of literature, philosophy, or theology that they copied in their scriptoria, but these same communities have also left us volumes of financial records, documenting extensive holdings in land and capital, as well as ventures in banking, lending, and long distance trade.

For one monk’s take on the good of commerce, see my recent Acton Commentary, “The Monk as Merchant,” here.

Also, I’ll be lecturing again on “Markets & Monasticism” at this year’s Acton University, our summer conference. If you haven’t done so already, take the time to learn more about it here.

primer-pentecostalIn the latest Journal of Markets and Morality, Joseph Gorra reviews Dr. Charlie Self’s new book, Flourishing Churches and Communities, calling it a “joyous, practical, and insightful primer to the integration of ‘faith, work, and economics” that will inspire “a pathway for leaders of Pentecostal thought to reflect on public life in a renewed way.”

The book is one of four tradition-specific primers from the Acton Institute, and although it focuses specifically on a Pentecostal perspective, Gorra rightly observes that Self writes in a way that draws wide appreciation for the work of the Spirit in economic life. Avoiding “provincial understandings” of Pentecostals themselves, Self is careful to present Pentecostalism in a “nontriumphalistic manner,” Gorra writes, which mainstream evangelicals may find “accommodationist to many of their own theological sensibilities.”

As an example, the book seeks to highlight and illuminate five key principles, which on their face fit rather snugly within these discussions across Christianity as a whole:

  1. Work is good.
  2. Although sin has effaced human nature and work, it has not erased the divine nature in people and the ability to bring good to the world.
  3. God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ and is now working through the church to express the life of the kingdom in the present age.
  4. God the Holy Spirit actively energizes compassion for the poor and wealth creation for community flourishing.
  5. Cultural, economic, and social institutions are built on transcendent moral foundations.

As Gorra duly notes, numbers 4 and 5 are perhaps the most distinctly Pentecostal, demonstrating where Pentecostalism may offer its most distinct contribution to such matters: (more…)

When is a ban not a ban? One answer might be when it is based on moral suasion rather than legal coercion. (I would also accept: When it’s a Target.)

In this piece over at the Federalist, Georgi Boorman takes up the prudence of a petition to get Target to remove smutty material and paraphernalia related to Fifty Shades from its shelves.

Boorman rightly points to the limitations of this kind of cultural posturing. Perhaps this petition illustrates more of a domination mentality than authentic cultural engagement, and Boorman’s right to offer many more hopeful options for engaging the kinds of cultural corruption that this case provides evidence of. I also tend to favor the more direct, personal, and relational methods of engagement to petitions, charters, public statements, and open letters, and there’s a lot of wisdom offered in Boorman’s piece.

shades_banned (more…)

Creación_de_AdámDorothy Sayers, playwright, novelist and Christian scholar, wrote an important work in the 1930s entitled, Are Women Human? In her essay, she presents the biblical case for gender equality in a humorous and insightful way, grounding mutuality in theological anthropology. From the Genesis narratives to the new earth of Revelation, she affirms this thesis:

We are all human beings, made in the image of God with a job to do. And we do our jobs as a man or a woman.

This theological vision — of men and women in mutual love and respect carrying out their vocations for the glory of God and the good of others — undergirds the best of ecclesial, economic, political, and social liberty, and it has implications for the full range of human interactions and relationships. Notice the order of reflection: Creator > human identity > the call to worship/work > gender identity.

Alas, the effacing (not erasing) of the imago dei has led humankind down all manner of oppressive pathways, from dehumanizing and disintegrating practices of pagan and secular ideologies to the degrading subjugation of women, minorities, and many others in the name of “religious tradition.”

For followers of Jesus, a full vision of God’s reign includes living the future now in the power of the Holy Spirit, with the church as the herald and witness of the fullness to come. This includes redeeming the wholeness of being human, integrating all facets of individual and social being, including relational shalom. Women and men who love Jesus are icons of the coming kingdom. Singleness is not incompleteness, but a signpost of a future where all God’s people are married to Christ and sisters and brothers of one another. Marriage is a special illumination of Christ’s delight in his church, not a superior status. (more…)

detroitDetroit home owners are being put out of their homes, but it’s not because of bankers. Then by who?

It’s the Detroit city government seeking to collect back real estate taxes. There are always tax foreclosures, but foreclosures are growing from 20,000 in 2012 to an expected 62,000 in 2015. Who is putting poor people on the streets in Detroit? The government.

There is a twist here based on the fact that Detroit homes have an old (and therefore way too high) assessed valuation that the taxes are based on. So for the homeowners, it’s easier to let the property go into a tax foreclosure and then buy it back at a tax sale than it is to pay the overdue taxes based on assessed property values that have fallen 70% in recent years. People follow incentives.

We have a narrative in America stating that all financial evils come from the banks. Even Scott Burns used his space to hammer the banks for the 2008 collapse. His proof: The fines that large banks have paid to the government. (more…)

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,

Blog author: ehilton
Friday, January 23, 2015

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

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.