Category: Economics

Yesterday, Pope Francis hosted a private audience in his Apostolic Palace for a few hundred international entrepreneurs and business leaders. The members of the International Christian Union of Business Executives (UNIAPAC) had gathered inside the Vatican’s walls for two days of meetings for the “noble purpose of reflecting on the role of business persons as agents of economic and social inclusion.”

Pope Francis, not always an affirming supporter of free market capitalism, focused on some of his usual challenging caveats to business persons. While business is certainly noble and its success is a vital part of the promoting economic growth for the common good, fallen man should nevertheless be constantly wary of his weaknesses for material idolatry (especially money), selfishness (not showing solidarity), and unguarded concern for acts of corruption (intentional deceit), the latter of which Francis said was “the worst of social plagues.”

This holds true for “all human activity”, the pope reassured those present, and not just business activity. It is an anthropological-spiritual discipline that we must keep on the forefront of our daily decision making. In this way, we sharpen our prudence and hone our focus when treading uphill individual paths to holiness and salvation. By way of constant prayer and deep spiritual discernment, man can more likely make the best moral choices, even in the most cut-throat and difficult business situations.

But sometimes this is risky for the seeker and promoter of virtue.

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Pope Francis addresses UNIAPAC Christian entrepreneurs and business executives at a private audience on November 17, 2016.

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bannon-capitalismSoon after winning the election, President-elect Donald Trump created waves of controversy by naming Steve Bannon, his former campaign CEO, as chief strategist and Senior Counselor in the new administration.

Yet while Bannon’s harsh and opportunistic brand of political combat and questionable role as a catalyst for the alt-right are well-documented and rightly critiqued, his personal worldview is a bit more blurry. Much has been written of Bannon’s self-described “Leninist” political sensibilities and his quest to tear down the GOP establishment, but at the level of more detailed political philosophy (or theology), what does the man actually believe?

Offering a robust answer to that question, BuzzFeed recently unearthed a transcript from an extensive Skype interview Bannon gave to a conference held inside the Vatican in 2014. Though the topics range from ISIL to Russia to the racial tensions within the conservative movement, Bannon spends the bulk of his initial remarks on the intersection of economics and Christianity, offering what’s perhaps the most detailed insight to Bannon’s own thinking that I’ve found.

Given the growing mystery of the man and his newfound position of influence in the next administration, it’s well worth reviewing his views on the matter. (more…)

The following article is the Acton Institute’s English translation from the Italian “Il Papa e la condanna dei soldi. Parla Padre Robert Sirico” written by  Matteo Matzuzzi and published in the Rome-based daily Il Foglio on November 8.  Readers should note that there is no official English translation of Pope Francis’ November 5 address to leaders of lay movements gathering inside the Vatican. The original speech in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese can be found here.


“It certainly would be absurd to criminalize money if one’s sincere concern is the well-being of the poor. Lamenting the struggle of the poor is not the end goal of moral compassion. Ameliorating their concern is. And at least at the material level, this requires the production of wealth,” said Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the American think tank, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, which aims to promote a free, virtuous and humane society.

Rev. Sirico shared his views with the Italian daily ll Foglio following the Pope’s long speech delivered last Saturday before an audience of charismatic lay movement leaders who had come to the Vatican for their third world gathering. During the audience, Pope Francis relaunched his accusation that money is “an idol that rules instead of serves, which tyrannizes and terrorizes humanity.”

Francis

Pope Francis regularly speaks to leaders of cultural and social change during specially arranged private audiences inside the Vatican.

It is money, continued the Holy Father, “that rules with the whip of fear, inequality, economic, social, cultural and military violence. [It] generates ever more violence in a seemingly unending downward spiral. There is a basic [form of] terrorism stemming from the global control of money on earth and which threatens all of humanity.”

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EdmundBurkeAdvocates of economic freedom have a peculiar habit of only promoting the merits of the free markets as they relate to innovation, poverty alleviation, and economic transformation. In response, critics are quick to lament a range of “disruptive” side effects, whether on local communities or human well-being.

Alas, in over-elevating the fruits of material welfare, we forget that such freedom is just as important as a restraint against the social dangers of an intrusive state as it is an accelerant to economic progress. If our concern is not just for economic prosperity, but for the wider flourishing of individuals and communities – social, spiritual, and otherwise – economic freedom has a role to play there, too.

As I’ve noted before, Edmund Burke builds the best bridge on this topic, offering a robust vision of liberty that connects these dots accordingly. In a new essay on Burke’s “economics of flourishing,” Yuval Levin highlights those very views, noting that, although his economic solutions were similar to those of his friend and contemporary, Adam Smith, Burke’s conclusions were more closely tied to a deeper commitment to human flourishing.

This begins with Burke’s view of liberty, which rejected any notion of radical individualism or choice as a good unto itself. As Levin explains, Burke “was moved to articulate his vision of human liberty precisely in opposition to a highly individualist, choice-centered understanding of what freedom entails and enables.” Or, as Burke himself puts it, true liberty “is not solitary, unconnected, individual, selfish liberty, as if every man was to regulate the whole of his conduct by his own will” but “social freedom” – “another name for justice; ascertained by wise laws, and secured by well-constructed institutions.” (more…)

recycling-moneyEach week my neighbors and I engage in a curious ethical ritual. On Wednesday morning before we leave for work we set outside our doors an artifact that expresses our obligation to the welfare of future generations. We call these objects recycling bins.

Recycling is one example of an action that we take in the present to benefit a group in the future. The earth has enough space and resources that all current generations could be extremely wasteful without having a noticeably detrimental effect on the global population. Future generations, however, would likely suffer if we were wantonly careless in our use of resources. For this reason the recycling of waste products is viewed as an important, albeit minor, act of personal virtue.

Although most people probably do not need to be persuaded that we have moral obligations to future generations, it would be useful to examine what form such an argument would take. Philosopher Jim Nolt outlines it as follows:

1. We have obligations to all currently living people.

2. Future people are in no morally relevant respect different from currently living people.

3. We have obligations to all future people.

To the argument Nolt adds:
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Blog author: jcarter
Monday, November 14, 2016
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socialism-0916“In spite of socialism’s sorry track record, millions of well-meaning people think it’s a virtual synonym for compassion,” says Lawrence Reed. “But socialists themselves are constantly retreating from their own handiwork. It’s socialism until it doesn’t work, then it was never socialism in the first place. It’s socialism until the wrong guys get in charge, then it’s everything but.”

Socialism never seems to have any theory of wealth creation, only fanciful schemes for its reallocation after somebody goes to the trouble of creating it.

Oxford Dictionaries (whose slogan is “Language Matters”) defines socialism as “a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”

What is meant by “the means of production, distribution and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole”? If you own a convenience store, are you supposed to put to some public vote the decisions about what to stock the shelves with or whom to hire for the night shift?

Read more . . .

Today at Mere Orthodoxy, I argue that

the duty of the Christian statesman (or stateswoman) to the poor requires defending human rights, supplying urgent needs, reducing barriers to market entry, and guaranteeing access to the institutions of justice, seeking realistic, gradual reform as possible and prudent.

Of particular interest to readers of the PowerBlog, I dedicate substantial space to explaining and advocating for free markets:

Jobs are what the poor need, and jobs are created by businesses. People settle for bad jobs only when good ones aren’t available. Thus, eliminating barriers to market entry ought to be of primary concern to the Christian statesman, combatting the unjust inequality created by closed markets. Barriers to entry include onerous occupational licensing and patent laws, high corporate taxes, zoning laws, overregulation, and subsidies. These things close markets to new competitors because, even though it might seem against their interest (except for subsidies), large, established firms are more likely to benefit from them and lobby for them (which is called rent seeking)….

In free markets, properly understood, these barriers are kept to a minimum, increasing competition and wealth creation. The more businesses there are looking for workers, the more demand there is for labor. Thus, not only will there be more jobs, but wages will be higher as well. It should be no surprise that the decline in American entrepreneurship has coincided with wage stagnation. Beyond wages, an additional benefit of increased competition is that it also drives down the price of consumer goods, thus lowering the cost of living for everyone as well. Free markets help the poor—and everyone else—in terms of production (labor), distribution (wages), and consumption (lower cost of living).

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