Category: Economics

Following up on yesterday’s post “Samuel Gregg on David Bentley Hart and Murderous Markets,” Rev. Gregory Jensen, author of the Acton book The Cure for Consumerism, observes that “Hart’s assertion that ‘the New Testament treats such wealth not merely as a spiritual danger, and not merely as a blessing that should not be misused, but as an intrinsic evil’ is simply wrong.” Writing at his Palamas Institute site, Jensen, an Orthodox Christian priest, added that “it is a gross overstatement to assert the Scriptures treat wealth as such as morally evil.” More from Jensen:

Whatever might be the contemporary roots of Hart’s moral reasoning on economics, his argument that wealth is evil is more in keeping with the thought of the early Christian heretic Pelagius than with, such as, Ambrose, Augustine, Basil the Great and John Chrysostom. These fathers were all critical of wealth and the wealthy but avoided the extremes found in Pelagius.

While making this argument in any detail is more than I can do here, let me make a start by offering some observations from Peter Brown 2014 work, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. I have removed the footnotes.

Go to “The Pelagian Criticism of Wealth” to read Jensen’s comments and the excerpt from Brown’s book.

overtime-on-clocks-KATHY-CAPRINOIn announcing the Obama administration’s new overtime rule (for more on this news, see this explainer), Vice President Joe Biden says companies will “face a choice” to either pay their workers for the overtime that they work, or cap the hours that their salaried workers making below $47,500 at 40 hours each work week.

“Either way, the worker wins,” Biden said.

Biden has held political office for more than four decades, and yet he has still not learned one of the most basic and important concept in economic and political policy: consider that which is unseen.

As Frederick Bastiat explained 125 years before Biden first took office,

In the department of economy, an act, a habit, an institution, a law, gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause—it is seen. The others unfold in succession–they are not seen: it is well for us, if they are foreseen. Between a good and a bad economist this constitutes the whole difference—the one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen, and also of those which it is necessary to foresee.

If Biden, President Obama, and the others in the administration were better economists, they might have forseen the following five consequences of this disastrous policy:
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venezuela-food-shortagesThe Venezuelan economy is buckling under the weight of its severe socialist policies, and even as its president admits to a nationwide economic emergency, the government continues to affirm the drivers behind the collapse, blaming low oil prices and global capitalism instead.

This was supposed to be the dawn of “21st-century socialism,” as the late President Hugo Chavez proclaimed over 10 years ago, complete with the right tweaks and upgrades to its materialistic, mechanistic approach to the human person. “We have assumed the commitment to direct the Bolivarian Revolution towards socialism,” he said, “and to contribute to the socialist path, with a new socialism…which is based in solidarity, in fraternity, in love, in justice, in liberty, and in equality.”

Alas, with a shrinking economy, booming inflation, violent outbreaks, and empty food shelves, “21st-century socialism” is feeling mighty nostalgic in all the wrong ways.

In the years before Chavez, the country was in better shape than much of the continent. Now, thanks to the temptations of centralized power, the arrogance of centralized planners, and a series of faux upgrades to age-old bad ideas, the nation is crumbling. The oil prices simply served as the messenger. (more…)

Is the dominant economic system we have today, the market economy or capitalism, compatible with Christianity? Orthodox Christian theologian David Bentley Hart in a June 2016 First Things article titled,”Mammon Ascendant: Why global capitalism is inimical to Christianity,” is skeptical. As you might gather from the title of his article. On Public Discourse, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg takes a closer look at Hart’s curious economic postulates such as the one about the “purely financial market” and his rather overbroad claim that wealth is intrinsically evil. Then there’s the one about the investments that wealthy people and institutions make, with homicidal malice, in new businesses and the like. Gregg:

Even more contestable is Hart’s suggestion that the venture capital that, he concedes, built places like Manhattan and provided millions with jobs is somehow responsible for particular evils. Notable among these is what he calls “the carboniferous tectonic collision zones of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky” in which “a once poor but propertied people were reduced to helotry on land they used to own” and “forced into dangerous and badly remunerated labor that destroyed their health, and then kept generation upon generation in servile dependency.” This is an example of how, to use Hart’s words, “the market murders.”

To murder is to intentionally kill an innocent person. Is Hart really suggesting that the workings of “the market”—which is simply an economy in which there is a free creation and exchange of goods and services by individuals and communities in a particular institutional setting—involves the intentional killing of innocent people?

Did people on Wall Street, for instance, directly will the alleged enslavement of people in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky? Who, one might ask, “forced” people into these jobs in West Virginia? Could it be possible that some of these crypto-peasants weren’t so content with their three acres and a cow and actually regarded working in a mine as a better economic option, given their available choices at the time? It’s likely that the vast majority of their descendants live far more comfortable material existences, enjoy longer life-spans, and are better educated than their small-landowning forebears. Some are probably working on Wall Street.

Read “Global Capitalism versus Christianity? A Response to David Bentley Hart” on Public Discourse by Samuel Gregg.

One of the most common criticisms of capitalism is that the system exploits workers. It’s an old claim (dating back to at least Karl Marx). But is it true?

Philosopher Matt Zwolinski argues that even if individual capitalists want to exploit workers the free market tends to prevent them from doing so. However, government interference in labor markets does allow some parties to gain at someone else’s expense.

sower1The faith and work movement has grown significantly over the past decade, yielding a range of researchers and institutions that seek to explore the intersections of work, economics, and the Christian life.

Each year, Acton University offers a unique center of gravity for these intersecting voices, and now, in a new special report from the Washington Times, the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics has sponsored a similar symposium of thinkers, each tackling a unique angle on economic flourishing and the church.

Authors include familiar Acton partners such as Michael Novak, John Stonestreet, Amy Sherman, and Andy Crouch, as well as leading figures in the church (Tim Keller, Os Guinness) and the public square (Governor Sam Brownback, House Speaker Paul Ryan). (more…)

redistribution[Note: This is the second in an occasional series evaluating the remaining presidential candidates and their views on economics and liberty. You can find the first article here.]

In the previous article in this series I explained that the key to understanding Donald Trump’s economic policies is the recognition that, for him, policy and principle are secondary to process. The overriding concern for Trump is not money or wealth but deal-making.

“I don’t do it for the money . . . I do it to do it,” wrote Trump in The Art of the Deal. “I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.”

This flippant disregard for money is the type of thing that is only said by saints and trust fund kids. And Trump is no saint.

Trump started out in business with a loan from his father worth almost $7 million in 2016 dollars. He also inherited between $40 and $200 million when his father died in 1999. As a rich kid, he’d be fabulously wealthy even if he never worked a day in his life.

Because he has never had to be concerned about earning money, he has always treated it as a measuring stick. For Trump, dollars are the main way that “deals” are measured. The more dollars you can extract from someone else, the more you “win.”

This may sound like the normal process of capitalism, but it’s not. In a free enterprise system (at least in an ideal one) “deals” are mutually beneficial to both parties. The deal may not be equally beneficial to both parties or even beneficial in the same way, but each side must believe they are better off for having entered into an economic exchange. If they did not, they would not have agreed to the deal.

There is a way, however, to “win” at a deal without everyone involved agreeing that it was mutually beneficial: get the government to redistribute someone else’s property to you.
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