Category: Economics

Peter Johnson, external relations officer for the Acton Institute, discusses the muddled economic message in the recent encyclical for The Federalist:

While I don’t doubt for a moment that Pope Francis sincerely wants to help the poor, I think it would be difficult for even the most erudite Catholic scholars to find a coherent message in a passage like this.

For example, he praises business as a “noble vocation” while summarily disparaging “economies of scale.” While he recognizes that poor people need to be connected to the larger economy to rise out of poverty, he also encourages “civil authorities” to constrain those in the larger economy who actually have the capital to invest in new enterprises.

This vacillation between upholding the merits of enterprise and disparaging profits runs throughout the encyclical. If I could sum up his view on commerce in one sentence it would be this: Business is okay, as long as you don’t make too much money.

Read the entire post “Pope Francis’ Incoherent Economics” here at The Federalist.

Alexis_de_tocqueville_croppedWhat is social justice? Is it a vision of a perfectly just society? Is it an ideal set of government policies? Is it a particular theory or practice? Is it a virtue? A religious concept? A social arrangement?

In a lecture at Acton University on his forthcoming book, Social Justice: What It Is, What It Isn’t, Michael Novak sought to answer some these questions with a particular framework around intermediary institutions.

Offering a broad survey of the term’s origins, history, and modern use and application, Novak countered modern misconceptions of social justice (e.g. as another word for equality), and sought to outline a definition that’s (1) connected to the original understanding, (2) ideologically neutral, and (3) applicable current circumstances.

Leaning first on Pope Leo XIII for an original understanding, he proceeded to channel Alexis de Tocqueville, describing social justice in terms of our activity in basic, day-to-day associations. This begins with religion, of course, which “dominates our hearts,” he said, without the support of the state, and in turn, transforms our orientations and imaginations toward citizens, institutions, and law. With this as the basic order of things, social justice begins when the individual rightly understands his relation to God, and proceeds to engage with civilization accordingly. (more…)

monkIn a lecture on markets and monasticism at Acton University, Dylan Pahman gave a fascinating overview and analysis of the interaction between Christian monasticism and markets. He’s written on this before and has a longer paper on the topic as well.

In the talk, he highlighted a range of facts and features, from monastic teachings on wealth and poverty to the historical realities of monastic communities and enterprises. Over the centuries, monasteries have contributed a host of products and services to civilization and culture, often countering the common assumption that all such communities are flatly against trade, production, and wealth creation.

One point that stood out in particular was Pahman’s summary of a recent study by Nathan Smith, in which Smith ponders how these communities have managed to succeed for so long, particularly given their many (internally) socialistic traits. According to one study, the average longevity of monasteries is 463 years(!), which is far longer than the lifespan of most companies and states, never mind your run-of-the-mill secular commune (Portlandia variations included).

There are a variety of forces that may contribute to this, including unique pressures of lifelong commitment, corresponding theological reinforcement, etc. But when it comes to some of the more universal traits that help monastic communities thrive, they may offer some lessons to help orient and affirm our broader thoughts about community in the context of work, trade, enterprise, and worship. (more…)

Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, spoke with Business Spectator about the economic message of the new encyclical:

When you read through the text, you find the free market, and finance in particular, is identified more or less as responsible for many environmental problems, Dr Gregg said.  It’s almost a subterranean theme of the encyclical …In many respects it’s a caricature of market economies.

Read more at “Pope Delivers Strong Message on Climate Change.” from Business Spectator.

woman-with-air-conditionerIf you are of a “certain age,” you grew up without air conditioning. As unthinkable as it is now, we made due with window screens and fans. And we survived.

Honestly, it was pretty miserable sometimes. Especially if your dad happened to have a vinyl recliner that you sat on during hot, humid August days watching Brady Bunch re-runs. Peeling  yourself off one of those is an experience that will scar you forever.

Air conditioning is more than just a way to make our lives more comfortable; it’s economically advantageous. (more…)

lonely-workerWhen it comes to free trade, critics insist that it hurts the American worker — kicking them while they’re down and slowly eroding the communal fabric of mom-and-pops, longstanding trades, and factory towns. Whether it comes from a politician, labor union, or corporate crony, the messaging is always the same: Ignore the long-term positive effects, and focus on the Capitalist’s conquest of the Other.

Trouble is, the basic logic of such thought leads straight back to the Self.

I recently made this point as it pertains to immigration, arguing that such notions of narrow self-preservation give way to our basest instincts and are bad for society as a whole. But it’s worth considering a bit more broadly, as well. For if the point is to defend the Small and the Local for the sake of The Great and Enduring Bubble of American Industry, at what point is this community of workers too big, too specialized, and too diversified for its own countrymen?

At what point are the Texans getting “unfair” growth compared to the Californians, or the Californians compared to the Oklahomians? If this is all as dim and zero-sum as we’re led to believe, what must we do to prevent our fellow productive citizens from harming their fellow countrymen via innovation and hard work? What bleak, self-centered reality dwells at the end of such logic? (more…)

immigrationAs the number of Republicans vying for the presidency reaches new levels of absurdity, candidates are scrambling to affirm their conservative bona fides. If you can stomach the pandering, it’s a good time to explore the ideas bouncing around the movement, and when necessary, prune off the poisonous limbs.

Alas, for all of its typical promotions of free enterprise, free trade, and individual liberty, the modern conservative movement retains a peculiar and ever-growing faction of folks who harbor anti-immigration sentiments that contradict and discredit their otherwise noble views. For these, opposing immigration is not about border control, national security, or the rule of law (topics for another day), but about “protecting American jobs” and “protecting the American worker.”

Consider the recent shift of Scott Walker. Once a supporter of legal immigration, Walker now says that immigration hurts the American worker, and that “the next president and the next Congress need to make decisions about a legal immigration system that’s based on, first and foremost, protecting American workers and American wages.” Or Rick Santorum, who has made no bones about his bid for the protectionist bloc. “American workers deserve a shot at [good] jobs,” he said. “Over the last 20 years, we have brought into this country, legally and illegally, 35 million mostly unskilled workers. And the result, over that same period of time, workers’ wages and family incomes have flatlined.” (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, June 4, 2015
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Last year Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard, published the intriguing book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. While some of his assumptions and conclusions about the overall decline of violence are questionable, he does seem to be correct about the decline of warfare over the past several decades. Consider this chart, produced by Vox, which shows the decline in deaths attributed to war since the 1940s.

battle-deaths

Human nature doesn’t change. With every generation of humanity come the same human problems, such as violence and war. So what accounts for the decline?

Along with violence, another aspect of human nature is that, as economists would say, we respond to incentives. So while we can’t change the violent nature of humanity, we can sometimes change the incentives to promote peace among nations. In an interview with Vox’s Zack Beauchamp, Pinker explains that some of the decline in war over the past 60 years has been the economic incentives associated with free enterprise:
(more…)

ehrlichIn a new mini-documentary, the New York Times kindly confirms what we already know about Paul Ehrlich. His predictions about overpopulation have been astoundingly wrong, and his views about humanity are no less perverse.

Author of the famous panic manifesto, Population Bomb, Ehrlich made a name for himself by predicting mass starvation and catastrophe due to over-population. If left to our own devices, Ehrlich argued, we unruly beasts will feast and gorge and reproduce ourselves into an oblivion. His solution? Targeted starvation, abortion, and sterilization of the “selfish” and unenlightened. If the Earth is to endure, we must pay the price for humanity’s ultimate transgression: existence.

The documentary summarizes these views quite well, and includes a series of striking interviews with former disciples who have since rejected his theories. As for Ehrlich, he remains steadfast in his doubts about human value and possibility. “My language would be even more apocalyptic today,” he says. (more…)

globe-fabricIn Leonard Reed’s famous essay, “I, Pencil,” he highlights the extensive cooperation and collaboration involved in the assembly of a simple pencil — complex coordination that is quite miraculously uncoordinated.

Reed’s main takeaway is that, rather than try to stifle or control these creative energies, we ought to “organize society to act in harmony with this lesson,” permitting “these creative know-hows to freely flow.” In doing so, he concludes, we will continue to see such testimonies manifest — evidence for a faith “as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.”

In his book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster explores the theological aspect of this phenomenon, noting God’s grand design in these webs of service and exchange. For DeKoster, this “practical faith” points rather clearly to a Creator, and when we recognize it, we begin to see how His purposes might manifest through our work in ways out of our immediate control or humanistic intent.

Echoing Reed’s essay, DeKoster refers to this web of exchange as the “fabric of civilization,” stitched together with the “countless tiny threads” of human work, each dependent on the other, but each mysteriously guided by an independent source. (more…)