Category: Economics

JMM_19 1Our most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, vol. 19, no. 1, has now been published online and print issues are in the mail.

In addition to our regular slate of articles examining the intersections between faith, freedom, markets, and morality, this issue contains a new entry in our Scholia special feature section: “Advice to a Desolate France” by Sebastian Castellio. Writing in 1562, Castellio was one of the first early modern defenders of freedom of religion on the basis of freedom of conscience, in the midst of a turbulent time of conflict between Roman Catholics and Protestants in sixteenth-century France. His insights should still be valuable today, both to scholars and others who value that same freedom.

As is our usual custom, this issue’s editorial, “Self-Interest and Moral Contexts,” is open access. In it, I examine the necessity of context for determining the morality of the choices of market actors:

The economic idea of self-interest as the driving motivator of economic (and other) behavior is as widely accepted by economists as it is criticized by others. The critics, generally, object to the assumption that “widespread and/or persistent human behavior can be explained by a generalized calculus of utility-maximizing behavior,” to quote George Stigler and Gary Becker. Is not that selfishness? And is not selfishness immoral? And do not people, at least sometimes, act morally? Furthermore, should not they be encouraged to act altruistically instead of only thinking of their own interests?

In reality, context complicates such moralisms.

The full editorial can be read and downloaded here.

Read the entire issue here.

Subscription instructions to access all of our content can be found here.

In the May 20 issue of the London-based Catholic Herald, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg has a new piece that draws on his book For God and Profit: How Banking and Finance Can Serve the Common Good. “Rather than simply engaging in blanket condemnations that occasionally verge on moralism and which reflect little actual knowledge of the financial sector, we should follow our forebears’ example by first seeking to understand modern financial practices,” Gregg writes.

The article is not currently available online. The Catholic Herald has kindly shared it with PowerBlog readers as a PDF. Click on the following link to download a copy of the article: “Think twice before you condemn bankers”

large_five-reasons-to-understand-our-economy-nxu9sa2s“Economic activity is one of the most common and basic forms of human interaction and the Bible has much to say about it,” says Dale Arand. “However, it takes time to understand the complexities of our modern economy so that we can better apply God’s principles to our everyday activity.”

Arand offer five reasons it’s worthwhile to understand economics, including:

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Today at The Stream, I examine the dissonance between the goals of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and his recommended means:

[W]hile Sanders’ goals may seem comparable to Scandinavia, there’s little Nordic about his means. It all reminds me of a quip from the Russian Orthodox philosopher S. L. Frank, a refugee from the brutality of actual, Soviet socialism. “The leaders of the French Revolution desired to attain liberty, equality, fraternity, and the kingdom of truth and reason, but they actually created a bourgeois order. And this is the way it usually is in history,” Frank wrote. Sanders wants Scandinavia, but his policies would put us on a track more in line with Argentina or Greece. Good intentions are not enough.

Sure, Sanders is nicer than Trump, for example, and there are real differences between them. Sanders rails against the evils of America’s “millionaires and billionaires.” Trump is one.

But Sanders’ brand of politics still amounts to populist demagoguery, still ultimately appealing to the worst in us. It is to our great shame that we now have no major candidate who consistently appeals to the best. In the meantime, we’d do well to resist such polarizing demagoguery in whatever form it takes.

Read my full article, “Sorry Bernie: Scandinavia Isn’t Socialist,” at The Stream here and see the rundown on why Sanders’ policies wouldn’t get us what Nordic countries have.

Following up on yesterday’s post “Samuel Gregg on David Bentley Hart and Murderous Markets,” Rev. Gregory Jensen, author of the Acton book The Cure for Consumerism, observes that “Hart’s assertion that ‘the New Testament treats such wealth not merely as a spiritual danger, and not merely as a blessing that should not be misused, but as an intrinsic evil’ is simply wrong.” Writing at his Palamas Institute site, Jensen, an Orthodox Christian priest, added that “it is a gross overstatement to assert the Scriptures treat wealth as such as morally evil.” More from Jensen:

Whatever might be the contemporary roots of Hart’s moral reasoning on economics, his argument that wealth is evil is more in keeping with the thought of the early Christian heretic Pelagius than with, such as, Ambrose, Augustine, Basil the Great and John Chrysostom. These fathers were all critical of wealth and the wealthy but avoided the extremes found in Pelagius.

While making this argument in any detail is more than I can do here, let me make a start by offering some observations from Peter Brown 2014 work, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. I have removed the footnotes.

Go to “The Pelagian Criticism of Wealth” to read Jensen’s comments and the excerpt from Brown’s book.

overtime-on-clocks-KATHY-CAPRINOIn announcing the Obama administration’s new overtime rule (for more on this news, see this explainer), Vice President Joe Biden says companies will “face a choice” to either pay their workers for the overtime that they work, or cap the hours that their salaried workers making below $47,500 at 40 hours each work week.

“Either way, the worker wins,” Biden said.

Biden has held political office for more than four decades, and yet he has still not learned one of the most basic and important concept in economic and political policy: consider that which is unseen.

As Frederick Bastiat explained 125 years before Biden first took office,

In the department of economy, an act, a habit, an institution, a law, gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause—it is seen. The others unfold in succession–they are not seen: it is well for us, if they are foreseen. Between a good and a bad economist this constitutes the whole difference—the one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen, and also of those which it is necessary to foresee.

If Biden, President Obama, and the others in the administration were better economists, they might have forseen the following five consequences of this disastrous policy:
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venezuela-food-shortagesThe Venezuelan economy is buckling under the weight of its severe socialist policies, and even as its president admits to a nationwide economic emergency, the government continues to affirm the drivers behind the collapse, blaming low oil prices and global capitalism instead.

This was supposed to be the dawn of “21st-century socialism,” as the late President Hugo Chavez proclaimed over 10 years ago, complete with the right tweaks and upgrades to its materialistic, mechanistic approach to the human person. “We have assumed the commitment to direct the Bolivarian Revolution towards socialism,” he said, “and to contribute to the socialist path, with a new socialism…which is based in solidarity, in fraternity, in love, in justice, in liberty, and in equality.”

Alas, with a shrinking economy, booming inflation, violent outbreaks, and empty food shelves, “21st-century socialism” is feeling mighty nostalgic in all the wrong ways.

In the years before Chavez, the country was in better shape than much of the continent. Now, thanks to the temptations of centralized power, the arrogance of centralized planners, and a series of faux upgrades to age-old bad ideas, the nation is crumbling. The oil prices simply served as the messenger. (more…)