Category: Economics

As I note every month when reporting on the latest unemployment data, jobs are one of the most important aspects of a morally functioning economy. They help us serve the needs of our neighbors and lead to human flourishing both for the individual and for communities. Conversely, not having a job can adversely affect spiritual and psychological well-being of individuals and families.

In fact, a new study finds that for marriages formed after 1975, a husbands’ lack of full-time employment is associated with higher risk of divorce:
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How much value does religion add to the U.S. economy? According to a new study the effect of religion exceeds the revenue of the ten largest tech companies—including Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook combined.

The study, recently published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, provides three estimates of the value of faith to U.S. society. The first and most conservative estimate takes into account only the revenues of faith-based organizations falling into several sectors (education, healthcare, local congregational activities, charities, media, and food). The second estimate takes into account the fair market value of congregational social services and contribution of businesses with religious roots. Their third, higher-end estimate based on the annual household incomes of America’s religiously affiliated population.

By their most conservative estimate, the economic contribution of the religion sector to the U.S. society is roughly $378 billion a year: healthcare ($161.0 billion), local congregational activities ($83.8 billion), education ($74.0 billion), charities ($44.3 billion), media ($0.9 billion), and food ($14.4 billion).

At ERLC, I have more more on this study and how they determined how religion affects the economy.

Every year, the U.S. Census comes out with its report on incomes and poverty. And every year the same finding repeatedly surprises me.

As economist David Henderson says, the report “always shows that there is mobility between income categories, even in the short run, and that poverty is temporary for most people in America who experience it. Virtually all reporters ignore it.”

First, the bad news. The report reveals that during the 4-year period from 2009 to 2012, more than one out of three Americans (34.5 percent) had at least one spell of poverty lasting 2 or more months.

But the good news is that few people stayed in poverty all four years. Chronic poverty from 2009 to 2012 was relatively uncommon, with 2.7 percent of the population living in poverty all 48 months.
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globe-hands-missionsMore and more, Western churches are opening their eyes to the risks and temptations inherent in so-called “short-term missions,” whether manifested in our basic vocabulary, paternalistic attitudes, or reactionary service.

As films like Poverty, Inc. and the PovertyCure series demonstrate, our cultural priorities and preferred solutions often distract us from the true identities and creative capacities of our neighbors. Paired with a passion to “do good,” and standing atop an abundance of resources, it’s easy to forget and neglect the importance of real relationship, holistic service, and long-term discipleship.

For missionary Nik Ripken, those missing pieces were made clear through a range of interviews with persecuted Christians in over 45 countries, whose opinions about what makes a “good” Western missionary challenged his own approach and priorities.

In a stirring set of reflections, Ripken describes this shift in his thinking. Serving in an unnamed Islamic country, Ripken was interviewing a group of persecuted Christians about their trials and struggles with their families, communities, and government. They were remarkably open and vulnerable in their answers until he changed the topic to Western missionaries.

“What do we do well?” he asked. “What things do we not do well? What should we start doing? What should we stop doing? What should we pick up? What should we lay down? What makes a good missionary?” (more…)

Today at Public Orthodoxy, the blog of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University, I have an essay on the need for Orthodox theology to more seriously engage modern economic science. The argument would likely apply in some degree to other theological traditions as well.

I write,

Personal relationships and the monastic life have different norms than impersonal markets. This does not mean that markets have no norms, nor that the norms of markets should overrule any other concerns. But it does mean that if we wish for our economies to be more moral, whether we hail from the political right or left (or somewhere outside of that simplistic binary), we must first understand what they are and how they function.

In the article, I quote Peter Hill and John Lunn on this distinction, but it can be found in the work of Paul Heyne as well. For example, in his essay “Are Economists Basically Immoral?” citing a newspaper article about Mother Theresa (now officially recognized as a Roman Catholic saint as of this past Sunday), he wrote,

I shall conclude with two recent newspaper items. One is a short news item reporting that Mother Teresa was about to appeal to prevent the execution of a convicted California murderer. I don’t know whether she did appeal or not, but the newspaper said that she was going to call the Governor and say that this man should be forgiven because that is what Jesus would have done. Now I don’t want to get into the issue of capital punishment; I just want to point out that if Mother Teresa made that argument she was mixing different moralities. I choose Mother Teresa because I can’t think of a person for whom I have more respect; she is a far better person than I am. But forgiveness is appropriate only in face-to-face relations or for God. The criminal-justice system of the State of California is not God nor is it running a face-to-face society. A judge who forgives a convicted criminal is not a candidate for sainthood but for impeachment. The morality of large social spheres is simply different from the morality of face-to-face systems. Arguments against capital punishment must take those differences into account, and so must our arguments for revised economic policies.

This is a crucial distinction that I have come back to again and again, and one that I explore in more detail at Public Orthodoxy today. Read my full essay here.

The key to creating economic flourishing is economic growth and the key to creating long-term economic growth is to create new ideas. But what is the key to creating ideas that lead to innovation?

Economist Alex Tabarrok says the idea equation goes like this: Ideas = Population x Incentives x Ideas/per hour

This equation is a useful way to lay out the factors affecting idea production, says Tabarrok in the video below. When we understand the factors behind production, then we can better predict how the future will go.

Mike Rowe was recently criticized for his new partnership with Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries, whose philanthropy for conservative and libertarian causes routinely garners controversy, despite its tremendous fruits.

Rowe, himself an increasingly provocative figure, recently interviewed Koch on their core areas of collaboration, including work, the trades, cronyism, higher education, and criminal justice reform. 

Koch on the politicization of “work ethic”: (more…)