Category: Economics

Free-tickets-to-more-Pope-FrLast week, 80,000 residents of New York got a free gift: a ticket to see Pope Francis’s procession through Central Park on September 25.

Not surprisingly, soon after the tickets started showing up for sale on websites like eBay and Craigslist for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Also not a surprise is the disgusted reaction some people had to news about the ticket scalping:

“Tickets for events with Pope Francis are distributed free for a reason — to enable as many New Yorkers as possible, including those of modest means, to be able to participate in the Holy Father’s visit to New York,” Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said in a statement. “To attempt to resell the tickets and profit from his time in New York goes against everything Pope Francis stands for.”

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Cardinal Dolan (at an event I attended for free). I think he’s a wonderful, charming, gregarious leader. But on this point, I think he’s wrong.

Israel M. Kirzner

While reading economist (and rabbi) Israel M. Kirzner’s Competition & Entrepreneurship (1973), it occurred to me that his description of what the “pure entrepreneur” does could also be applied to what a good interdisciplinary scholar, such as someone who studies faith and economics, does (or at least aspires to do).

In our world of imperfect knowledge, Kirzner writes,

there are likely to exist, at any given time, a multitude of opportunities that have not yet been taken advantage of. Sellers my have sold for prices lower than the prices which were in fact obtainable…. Buyers may have bought for prices higher than the lowest prices needed to secure what they are buying…. The existence of these opportunities opens up a scope for decision-making that does not depend, in principle, upon Robbinsian [means-end] economizing at all. What our decision maker without means needs to arrive at the best decision is simply to know where these unexploited opportunities exist. All he needs is to discover where buyers have been paying too much and where sellers have been receiving too little and to bridge the gap by offering to buy for a little more and to sell for a little less. To discover these unexploited opportunities requires alertness. Calculation will not help, and economizing and optimizing will not of themselves yield this knowledge.

To simplify, for Kirzner the entrepreneur is an equilibrating force in the market, a contrast of emphasis from the conception of Joseph Schumpeter, where the entrepreneur is a disequilibrating force through creative destruction. Rather, for Kirzner, the entrepreneur is the person who sees the opportunity to buy low and sell high. And I think that is what interdisciplinary scholars do at their best as well. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Is free market capitalism moral or immoral? If it’s based on greed and selfishness, should it be rejected for an alternative economic system? And if capitalism is moral, what makes it so?

Walter Williams, a economist at George Mason University, answers these questions and explains why the free market is morally superior to any other approaches to organizing economic behavior.

Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott

In today’s American Spectator, Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg discusses the ousting of former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott and what that means for the Australian economy and beyond.

Gregg points out that the Australian economy “is on the brink of substantial economic regression.”

What’s especially worrying is the across-the-board decline in Australia’s economic productivity: something long masked by the resources boom but now more visible than ever.

The basic problem, however, that lies at the root of what the best commentator on Australian politics, Paul Kelly, describes as ‘the Australian crisis’ is ‘the intersection of a corrosive political culture and the need for hard and unpopular economic repair. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, September 10, 2015

casino-package-02In 1942, economist Joseph Schumpeter coined the term “creative destruction” for the process of incessant product and process innovation mechanism by which new production units (jobs, businesses, industries) replace outdated ones.

Schumpeter said this process was the “essential fact about capitalism.” This essential fact is also one of the essential reasons people oppose capitalism. Creative destruction sounds wonderful when it’s replacing things like rotary phones with iPhones and typewriters with laptop computers. Unless, that is, you’re in business of making typewriters and rotary phones. When it’s your job, business, or industry that is being lost and replaced by innovation, it’s much harder to appreciate the benefits of creative destruction.

While we need to find ways to help those who are harmed by creative destruction, we also need to make it clear to everyone why the process is necessary and eventually helps mankind far more than it hurts. Don Boudreaux has a very helpful metaphor for explaining how the process benefits everyone in the long run: Creative destruction is like an anti-casino.

georgia-prison-welding-class_1With the rise of the information economy, many millennials have steered clear from blue-collar jobs and manual labor, often prodded by their parents to pursue a “real education” and “a better life.

As folks like Mike Rowe have only begun to highlight, such attitudes have led to a serious skills gap in the trades, one that appears to hold steady even in the face of record unemployment. Yet despite these cultural shifts, such work does indeed provide significant value to the economy while affirming the dignity and creative potential of the worker.

Thus, while some prefer to hold their noses at the trades, others are seizing it as an opportunity to create and share value. Such is the case at Walker State Prison in Georgia, where a unique welding program offers to train prisoners in the high-demand trade of welding.

According to the American Welding Society, we will be short by nearly 300,000 welding-related positions by 2020 (HT), giving participating prisoners a good shot at meaningful careers upon their release.

And the prisoners aren’t complaining. They are eager to offer their skills, learn a craft, and contribute to society. Watch some highlights here:

One can’t help but be inspired by Christopher Peeples, for example, who at 26 years old is about to finish a 10-year prison sentence. Thanks to the program, he looks forward to wonderful job prospects, and his Dad (a craftsman himself) has been quick to share in the excitement. According to NPR, one recent alumnus of the program had three job offers upon his release, one of which offered $50,000 per year with a company truck.

Ultimately, though, this isn’t about money or even stability. It’s about authentic, whole-life rehabilitation.

By pursuing work in a needed skill — by orienting hearts and hands toward service to others and thus to God —  these men are entering into a transformative, collaborative exchange that will shape their very souls and spirits. Material provision is just the byproduct.

Of course, it would require no small amount of these programs to fill the skills gap we’re facing, and so the question remains: what are others waiting for?

As we continue to expand our economic imaginations and pursue vocational clarity, these prisoners offer a powerful example on how we ought to view and approach such work.

What a blessing it truly is.

onward-russell-moore-culture-gospelOne of the long-running mistakes of the church has been its various confinements of cultural engagement to particular spheres (e.g. churchplace ministry) or selective “uses” (e.g. evangelistic conversion).

But even if we manage to broaden the scope of our stewardship — recognizing that God has called us to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty across all spheres of creation — our imaginations will still require a strong injection of the transformative power of Jesus.

When we seek God first and neighbor second, we no longer proceed from the base assumptions of earthbound goods — the “love of man” what-have-you. Yes, our goals and actions will occasionally find overlap with those of the world, but eventually, the upside-down economics of the Gospel will set us apart. We will do certain things and make certain sacrifices that are foreign and incomprehensible to those around us.

This has implications for all areas, but much of it boils down to our basic views about the human person: his and her dignity and destiny as an image-bearer of an almighty God. Once our hearts are transformed according to his designs and our views about our neighbors are aligned to God’s story about his children, our cultural engagement will manifest in unpredictable and mysterious ways. This is, after all, what it means to be strangers in a strange land, as Episode 1 of For the Life of the World artfully explains.

In his latest book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, Russell Moore offers some valuable reflections along these lines, noting that we can’t possibly stand as witnesses of God’s love if our cultural comings and goings fail to respond through the lens of Christ’s kingdom. “The kingdom of God changes the culture of the church by showing us a longer view of who’s important and who’s in charge,” he writes.

What cultural engagement really requires, then, is a careful destruction of that basic lie the enemy continues to spread and embed across societies and civilizations: that the love of man and the worship of his goals is, indeed, enough. (more…)