Category: Economics

heart-exchangeThe subject of contracts is not particularly romantic, which is part of the reason I’d like to talk about contracts—and how we might reach beyond them.

In some ways, we’ve come to overly ignore, downplay, or disregard contracts. Across the world, we see grandmaster politicians and planners trying to impose various “solutions” with the flicks of their wands, paying little attention to core features like trust and respect for property rights. Here in America, our government is increasingly bent on diluting or subverting our most fundamental agreements, whether between husband and wife or foreclosed Billy and his bank.

In other ways, however, we are excessively contract-minded, particularly when it enables us to slack off or lead predictable, controllable lives. We want guarantees to ensure the maximum reward for the minimum amount of work. We want legislation that protects our jobs and locks in our wages and retirement. We want to put in our 40, return to our couches, grab one from the cooler, and say, “that’s that.” We want to give our effort insofar as we receive our due, insulating ourselves from risk, sacrifice, and discomfort wherever possible.  (more…)

aimthesolution“You have never met a mere mortal.” – C.S. Lewis

God has called each of us to redemptive stewardship, crafting us in his own image that we might assume this calling in boldness and love. Thus, as we approach complex issues of poverty alleviation and seek to empower others on this path, we must be careful that our efforts affirm the dignity and destiny of the human person.

As noted in the Acton Institute’s core principles, “the human person, created in the image of God, is individually unique, rational, the subject of moral agency, and a co-creator,” possessing “intrinsic value and dignity, implying certain rights and duties both for himself and other persons.” A brief perusal of Genesis 1 will confirm as much, yet far too often we distort and confuse this framework, defining those in severe need according to their present station and developing our “solutions” in turn.

Such attitudes can manifest subtly (our vocabulary) or severely (coercive measures), even or especially among the boots on the ground and the “experts” that fuel them. “Anti-poverty(!)” programs and policies may indeed abound (even the Millennium Development Goals nod to “human dignity”), but little of that matters if the promoters or measures themselves treat others as inferior, incapable, or altogether dispensable. (more…)

The most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, volume 17, no. 2, has been published. The full content is available online now to subscribers and will be in the mail in the next few weeks. This issue features another fine slate of scholarship on the morality of the marketplace and Christian social thought more broadly.

As is our custom, this issue’s editorial by executive editor Jordan Ballor is open access (here), as are the first two installments of our Controversy section (here and here). This issue’s controversy centers on the role of labor unions in a free and flourishing society.

Our Reviews section features reviews of 16 books in the categories of Christian Social Thought, Ethics and Economics, and History and Philosophy of Economics.

This issue also features a Scholia translation of a selection from the Danish Lutheran theologian Niels Hemmingsen, “On the Law of Nature in the Three States of Life,” including an important introduction by E. J. Hutchinson and Korey D. Maas on Hemmingsen’s influence on the development of the Lutheran natural law tradition.

Lastly, for those looking to peruse the past year of scholarship in the Journal of Markets & Morality, this issue also includes the volume 17 index, which is also open access (here).

For those of you interested in an individual or institutional subscription, detailed instructions explaining how to subscribe through our website can be found here.


Arthur Brooks

Arthur Brooks

Arthur Brooks is not the first to notice the demographic deterioration of Europe (Acton’s Sam Gregg wrote about it in his book, Becoming Europe), but Brooks points out that Europe isn’t just getting old, but “dotty” as well. Brooks writes in The New York Times about Europe’s aging population, and its loss of vibrancy.

As important as good economic policies are, they will not fix Europe’s core problems, which are demographic, not economic. This was the point made in a speech to the European Parliament in November by none other than Pope Francis. As the pontiff put it, “In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a ‘grandmother,’ no longer fertile and vibrant.”

But wait, it gets worse: Grandma Europe is not merely growing old. She is also getting dotty. She is, as the pope sadly explained in an earlier speech to a conference of bishops, “weary with disorientation.”


Cuba-food-vendorRemember when you bought that first thing – a car, maybe – with your own first income? Remember the feeling of pride it gave you? You’d scrubbed pots and pans in the diner kitchen all summer. Or maybe you were the “go-to” babysitter for everyone in your church. You earned that money, and  you bought yourself something.

Now imagine living in a world where that could never happen. You are told by the government that they will care for your every need, no need to pay for anything. Everyone will get the same things, and all will be well. We call this place “Cuba,” and that system has not worked. (See also, Soviet Russia, Bay-area communes and Shakers.)

With the U.S. sanctions against the island nations now lifted, Cuba is beginning to see economic life again. The Communist government also recently changed laws about self-employment.

Joan Perez-Garcia has always had a job – the government guaranteed him one – but he’s never made much money. That is changing. (more…)

coins_ladderOne holdover from 2014 into the new year is the cry for an increase in the minimum wage. President Obama pledged (in a December 2014 speech) to bump the minimum wage up to $9/hour nationally. Many believe that this move will help stimulate the still-sluggish economy.

Michael R. Strain, at  the American Enterprise Institute, isn’t wholly against raising the minimum wage, but he’s not wholeheartedly for it, either. He thinks we are asking the wrong question. Do we need to raise the minimum wage, or do we need to increase employment?

The labor market for young and low-skill workers is in terrible shape. More than 14 percent of workers aged 16–24 are unemployed. The situation is even worse if you look only at teenagers, over 1 in 5 of whom are unemployed. The unemployment rate for high-school dropouts over the age of 24 is 10.8 percent — a two-decade high — and only 4 people out of every 10 in that group have jobs. And there are still a staggering 4.1 million unemployed workers who have been looking for a job for six months or longer, many of whom are young or low-skill. (more…)

china-christiansFor the past three decades China has been the world’s fastest-growing major economy, with growth rates averaging 10 percent a year for 30 years. As Brian J. Grim, founder and president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, notes, there are many reasons for the growth, such as market mechanisms, modern technology and Western management practices. But one factor that is often overlooked is the role of Christianity:

23692407_BG1To end the 2014 on an incredibly dehumanizing note, CBS aired an episode of Undercover Boss that stirred up protests from all walks of life. Undercover Boss is usually a wonderful program that allows CEOs to see what is happening on the ground in their companies and reward hard workers accordingly. However, this particular episode profiled Doug Guller, the CEO of Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill, who fired a bartender after she decided not to dehumanize herself by wearing a T-shirt instead of a bikini top on television and “rewarded” another employee for her loyalty by promising to pay for her breast enlargement surgery. (See videos below.)

The episode was so bad that Cosmopolitan released as scathing review saying, “what’s also crazy is that CBS aired all this as if it were good fun and zany reality TV, not horribly misogynistic workplace discrimination.” Writers like Rebecca Rose observed that Guller “has always been totally tone deaf about the sexism he enthusiastically promotes and frankly seems to enjoy having offending people with his business practices.”

1964 tvI heard Fr. Robert Sirico say once that most of us now carry more technology in our pockets than it took to put a man on the moon in 1969. If you remember that, you’ll also remember when a radio was a substantial piece of furniture and having a color television made you a very popular kid in the neighborhood.

In the 1964 Sears Christmas catalog (if you don’t know what that is, ask your mother. Or your grandmother.), you could get a really swanky television console for $750. For that price today, you can head to your favorite electronics store and pick up six 24-inch flat screen televisions – one for every room in the house. AEI’s Mark J. Perry has a little fun comparing the Christmas of 1964 to 2014’s holiday, at least in terms in what the average family can get for their money. He adjusts for inflation for those console tvs:

The original prices are listed ($750 for the Sears Silvertone entertainment center and $800 for the more expensive one), and those prices are also shown converted to today’s 2014 dollars using the BLS Inflation Calculator: $5,700 for the basic 21-inch color TV model and $6,100 for the more expensive model.


AzpilcuetaCoverCLP Academic has now released On Exchange, a new translation of a key section in Martín de Azpilcueta’s Manual de confesores y penitents, his most influential work.

Originally published in 1549, the section was included as one of four appendices to the Manual, offering commentary on Gregory IX’s prohibition of nautical usury. The release is part of the growing series, Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law.

Azpilcueta (1492-1586), also known as Doctor Navarrus, was a leading canonist and moral theologian of the early modern period. Although On Exchange was meant to provide moral guidance for pastors and penitents, it has drawn the attention of economic historians for its indirect analysis of 16th-century economic realities, including explorations on exchange practices, supply and demand, and the nature of money. As noted in the book’s overview, Azpilcueta’s “account of the fluctuation of the value of money marks a significant development in early modern economic thought.” (more…)