Category: Economics

Accra Confession 2004The Accra Confession, a document arising out of the Reformed ecumenical movement, was promulgated ten years ago. At the time, Rev. Jerry Zandstra and I wrote with some rather harsh criticisms of the document.

In the meanwhile, the original group that organized the Accra Confession, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, merged with a smaller ecumenical group, the Reformed Ecumenical Council, to create the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). At the Uniting General Council held at Calvin College in 2010, where the status of the Accra Confession for the new movement was to be determined, the Acton Institute distributed a packet of material, including a book-length engagement with the Accra Confession and the larger mainline ecumenical movement’s economic witness.

In Ecumenical Babel I devote a full chapter to the Accra Confession as perhaps the most imbalanced and skewed of all the mainline ecumenical documents on economic justice. For other critical engagements of the Accra Confession, I recommend Stan du Plessis, “How Can You Be a Christian and an Economist? The Meaning of the Accra Declaration for Today,” and Roland Hoksbergen, “The Global Economy, Injustice, and the Church: On Being Reformed in Today’s World.”

There are a number of celebratory posts recognizing the anniversary of the confession at places like Ecclesio, and for a critical engagement of Ecumenical Babel you can read an essay by Christopher Dorn in Perspectives. (Ecumenical Babel was also reviewed for CommentCalvin Theological Journal, Journal of Markets & MoralityJournal of Interdisciplinary Studies, and Journal of Ecumenical Studies. I respond at some length to Dorn’s essay in my latest book, Get Your Hands Dirty.)

The World Communion of Reformed Churches purports to represent 80 million Christians of 229 member denominations in 108 countries. An ecumenical group of this significance and diversity can do better than the Accra Confession in its social witness, and after ten years, it must do better.

Earlier this month, I wrote a two part article for the Library of Law & Liberty, critiquing the uncritical condemnation of income inequality by world religious leaders.

In part 1, I pointed out that “while the Pope, the Patriarch, the Dalai Lama, and others are right about the increase in [global income] inequality, they are wrong to conclude that this causes global poverty—the latter is demonstrably on the decline. And that, I would add, is a good thing.”

F. A. Hayek

In part 2, drawing on the work of F. A. Hayek, I noted, “As societies learn to use their resources ‘more effectively and for new purposes,’ the cost of manufacturing luxury goods decreases, making them affordable to new markets of the middle class and, eventually, even for the poor.” I continue, “Such inequality not only accompanies the very economic progress that lifts the poor out of poverty, it is one essential factor that makes that progress possible.”

We may add to this two more ways in which focusing solely on income inequality can be misleading from article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Nicholas Eberstadt: increased equality in lifespan and education. He writes,

Given the close correspondence between life expectancy and the Gini index for age at death, we can be confident that the world-wide explosion in life expectancy over the past century has been accompanied by a monumental narrowing of world-wide differences in length of life. When a population’s life expectancy rises from 30 to 70, the Gini index drops by almost two-thirds—from well over 0.5 to well under 0.2.

This survival revolution—and the narrowing of inequalities in humanity’s life chances—is an epochal advance in the human condition. Since healthy life expectancy seems to track closely with overall life expectancy, a revolutionary reduction in health inequality may also have occurred over the past century. Improvements in global mortality for the poor have contributed to the very “economic inequality” so many now decry. This is another reason such measures can be deceiving.

The spread and distribution of education has had a similar impact. In 1950 roughly half of the world’s adults—and the overwhelming majority of the men and women from low-income regions—had never been exposed to schooling. By 2010 unschooled men and women 15 and older account for a mere one-seventh of the world’s adults, and about one-in-six from developing areas. (more…)

Oikonomia, Acton, PatheosThe Acton Institute has just launched Oikonomia, a new blog at Patheos’ Faith and Work Channel, which will provide resources specific to the intersection of faith, work, and economics. Other partners at the channel include The High Calling, Steve Garber’s Visions of Vocation, and Theology of Work Project, among others.

The blog will include a variety of content from across the Acton ecosystem, including articles, commentaries, video clips, and book excerpts, providing a centralized source of information on whole-life discipleship, stewardship, and human flourishing.

We encourage you to check out the blog, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

We also recommend following the Faith and Work Channel on Facebook and Twitter as well, which will be sharing updates on the blog, along with resources from a variety of other great sources.

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles DVD & Blu-Ray Combo Pack

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles DVD & Blu-Ray Combo Pack

For the Life of the World is an entertaining film series that explores the deeper meaning of Salvation. Have you ever wondered, “What is my Salvation actually FOR?” Is it only about personal atonement, about getting to heaven, or something that comes later? Is it just to have a “friend in Jesus?”

Join Evan Koons and his friends – Stephen Grabill, Amy Sherman, Anthony Bradley, Makoto Fujimura, John M. Perkins, Tim Royer and Dwight Gibson – as they discover a “new perspective,” the BIGGER picture of what it means to be “in the world, not of it.” This seven-part film series will help you, your friends, church or organization investigate God’s Economy of All Things – OIKONOMIA (a Greek word that has a lot to say about God’s plan for his creation, the world, and us.)

This Combo Pack includes a letter from Evan and two discs for your player of choice: DVD and Blu-ray. Enjoy seven episodes around 20 minutes each, along with episode teaser videos, a series trailer, and bonus content.

Explore how God’s purposes are woven into every area of our lives: family, work, art, charity, education, government, recreation and all creation! The Bible calls us Strangers and Pilgrims, living in "the now and not yet" of God’s Kingdom Come on earth. We are also called to be salt and light, to have a transforming presence among our neighbors. Rediscover the role of the church and how our lives lived on earth matter in God’s plan for the world.

Designed for deep exploration, the series invites viewers to watch the series again for new insights. Also, check out the companion Field Guide to jump-start group and individual investigation and enhance the film experience! FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD Field Guides are available in print or via streaming access at StudySpace.org.

Regular Price: $59.99

Special Price: $35.00

soil-hands-web“A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian… I cannot learn to love my neighbour as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him.” –C.S. Lewis

In Economic Shalom, John Bolt’s Reformed primer on faith, work, and economics, he includes a chapter on how we might understand flourishing in the social order through “a biblical understanding of the human person, created in God’s image and living in God’s world.”

Bolt reviews a variety of different areas and approaches, providing a firm critique of top-down social planners who, in their attempts to impose utopia, far too often impede, distort, or destroy the positive manifestations of organic and spontaneous order that already exist, whether in churches, schools, businesses, communities, or the family. That’s not to say such planners don’t have some role to play or vocation to fulfill, but it must be constrained accordingly and focused toward that which is productive and possible.

As political theorist Kenneth Minogue explains: “We could never produce a crystal by directly placing [i.e., mechanically] the individual molecules from which it is built up. But we can create the conditions under which such a crystal will form itself. . . . Similarly, we can create the conditions under which a biological organism will grow and develop” (507–8). (more…)

Reading through the German economist Walter Eucken’s work The Foundation of Economics (1951), I came across one of the most helpful charts for economic analysis I have yet to find. In it, Eucken gives every possible form of market in a single table:

Eucken Chart

The Foundation of Economics, p. 158

Eucken adds four qualifications that are important to keep in mind:

  1. “These forms of market are actual forms which have been or are to be found in actual economic life (often blended with one another, and existing alongside the forms of a centrally directed economy). They are not given a priori. They are discovered with their distinguishing characteristics by studying the planning data of those taking part in the market….”
  2. “Under each particular form of market a man can act according to different principles, for example, that of maximum net receipts or that of optimum output….”
  3. “Each of these forms of market can appear in four types: both open, both closed, or closed on either side only.”
  4. “Fixing of prices by the state occupies a special position, since it can follow any form of market and has different effects accordingly…. For example, the significance of coal prices being fixed by the state varies according to whether perfectly competitive, oligopolistic, or monopolistic supply, or some other form of market, exists, or whether both sides of the market are open, or whether the supply side is closed by an investment veto. Governmental price-fixing is to be treated as a variant of the different market forms and not as a special market form of its own.”

So, what does this amount to? (more…)

baby expensiveThe cost of raising kids in the United States has reportedly gone up, averaging $245,340 per child according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which factors in costs for housing, food, clothing, healthcare, education, toys, and more.

From the Associated Press:

A child born in 2013 will cost a middle-income American family an average of $245,340 until he or she reaches the age of 18, with families living in the Northeast taking on a greater burden, according to a report out Monday. And that doesn’t include college — or expenses if a child lives at home after age 17.

In response to these estimates, much of the reporting has aimed to paint an even grimmer picture for prospective parents, emphasizing other factors such as the likely trajectory of declining wages and rising costs in areas like healthcare and education.

Taken together, it’s enough to make your average spoiled youngster run in the opposite direction. And indeed, many actively are. As Jonathan Last details extensively in his book, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, birthrates in the Western world are in a free fall, with more and more adults opting for fewer and fewer kids, if any at all, and making such decisions later and later in life.

For those of us who shudder at the prospect of a world with fewer children, and who increasingly encounter negative attitudes about child-bearing and -rearing amongst our peers, many of whom are in their child-bearing “primes,” one wonders how we might respond with a compelling financial case for having children amid such supposedly grim prospects. (more…)

Radio Free ActonThis week on Radio Free Acton, Michael Matheson Miller continues his conversation with David Bromwich, Sterling Professor of English at Yale University, on the thought of Edmund Burke. Bromwich is the author of The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke, the first volume of what will be a two-volume intellectual biography of Burke. We kick off this portion of the conversation with some analysis of Burke’s position on free markets and crony capitalism..

To listen to Part 2 of Miller’s interview with Bromwich, use the audio player below; Part 1 is available here.

Boston_Skyline_Web-Banner1Conversations about “faith-work integration” are alive and well, whether in the church, workplace, or academia, and the Acton Institute continues to offer a variety of resources on the subject, from its growing series of tradition-specific primers to various books and lectures to educational video curricula.

In keeping with these efforts, the Acton Institute will be a co-sponsor to the very first Faith @ Work Summit in Boston, MA from October 24-25, where a diverse group of businesspeople, students, pastors, and various others will gather to discuss the state of the faith-work movement and how we might move forward.

From the event’s web site:

On October 24 and 25, 2014, a seminary, a technology school, a business school, and a foundation join forces to convene a summit to address these two over-arching questions.

The purpose of the summit is to gather active leaders and participants in the faith at work movement to assess the state of the movement (achievements, needs, obstacles, opportunities, and resources) and together to develop an agenda going forward for individuals in the workplace, churches, marketplace ministries, seminaries and Bible schools, and universities and business schools.

This is a working conference, not a celebrity or performance-oriented event. All speakers, leaders, and organizers are donating their time and effort. We welcome and encourage every voice in attendance to help shape our understanding and our sense of agenda going forward.

This is an important gathering for the movement at large, and an encouraging sign of the growth and prevalence of this important conversation. I look forward to seeing the fruit that comes from it.

View a list of speakers here, and register for the conference here.

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles DVD & Blu-Ray Combo Pack

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles DVD & Blu-Ray Combo Pack

For the Life of the World is an entertaining film series that explores the deeper meaning of Salvation. Have you ever wondered, “What is my Salvation actually FOR?” Is it only about personal atonement, about getting to heaven, or something that comes later? Is it just to have a “friend in Jesus?”

Join Evan Koons and his friends – Stephen Grabill, Amy Sherman, Anthony Bradley, Makoto Fujimura, John M. Perkins, Tim Royer and Dwight Gibson – as they discover a “new perspective,” the BIGGER picture of what it means to be “in the world, not of it.” This seven-part film series will help you, your friends, church or organization investigate God’s Economy of All Things – OIKONOMIA (a Greek word that has a lot to say about God’s plan for his creation, the world, and us.)

This Combo Pack includes a letter from Evan and two discs for your player of choice: DVD and Blu-ray. Enjoy seven episodes around 20 minutes each, along with episode teaser videos, a series trailer, and bonus content.

Explore how God’s purposes are woven into every area of our lives: family, work, art, charity, education, government, recreation and all creation! The Bible calls us Strangers and Pilgrims, living in "the now and not yet" of God’s Kingdom Come on earth. We are also called to be salt and light, to have a transforming presence among our neighbors. Rediscover the role of the church and how our lives lived on earth matter in God’s plan for the world.

Designed for deep exploration, the series invites viewers to watch the series again for new insights. Also, check out the companion Field Guide to jump-start group and individual investigation and enhance the film experience! FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD Field Guides are available in print or via streaming access at StudySpace.org.

Regular Price: $59.99

Special Price: $35.00

sharing-economyJohn O. McGinnis, the George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law at Northwestern University, says we are in the midst of a sharing economy, and that’s a good thing. (Don’t get all socialist on me; a sharing economy is one driven by service and technology. We are not going to have to pool our food in the commune.) McGinnis says this type of economy is good for liberty as well.

There are three basic features of a sharing economy:

    1. It reduces costs, by matching up real-time idle services and resources with people in need.
    2. It employs the hard-to-employ, say, people who need a very flexible schedule.
    3. It creates new jobs – jobs that didn’t exist before.

    (more…)

    kid-digging-holeLast Saturday was hot and humid in our corner of the world, and thus, my wife and I quickly decreed a pool day on the front lawn. The kids were ecstatic, particularly our four-year-old boy, who watched and waited anxiously as I got things prepared.

    All was eventually set — pool inflated, water filled, toys deployed — but before he could play, I told him he needed to help our neighbor pick up the fallen apples strewn across his lawn.

    With energy and anticipation, he ran to grab his “favorite bucket,” and the work quickly commenced. Less than three minutes later, however, his patience wore off.

    “This is boring, Daddy,” he complained. “Can I be done now?”

    More than anything else, the response was comical. Within mere minutes, this simple, ten-minute task had become a heavy burden he simply could not bear.

    But it also signaled something profound about our basic attitudes about work, and how early they begin to form. Our kids are only beginning to edge upon the golden ages of chorehood, but as these situations continue to arise, I’ve become increasingly aware of a peculiar set of challenges faced by parents raising children in a prosperous age.

    In a society wherein hard and rough work, or any work for that matter, has become less and less necessary, particularly among youngsters, how might its relative absence alter the long-term character of a nation? What is the role of work and toil in the development and formation of our children, and what might we miss if we fail to embrace, promote, and contextualize it accordingly? In a culture such as ours, increasingly propelled by hedonism, materialism, and a blind allegiance to efficiency and convenience, what risks do we face by ignoring, avoiding, or subverting the “boring” and the “mundane” across all areas of life, and particularly as it relates to work? (more…)