Category: Economics

o-man-taller-facebookFor most of my life I was, at 5-foot-10, of exactly average height. But in the span of one day in 1989 I became freakishly tall.

While I hadn’t grown an inch upward, I had moved 6,000 miles eastward to Okinawa, Japan. Since the average height of native Okinawans was only 5-foot-2, I towered over most every native islander by 8 inches. It was the equivalent of being 6-foot-6 in the United States.

Unfortunately, when I would leave the towns of Okinawa and step back onto the military base I instantly shrunk back to average height. My height advantage only lasted as long as I got to choose my point of reference.

Where did the truth lie? Was I truly tall or only of average height? The answer was completely dependent on my point of reference. Height, after all, is just a statistical artifact.

While this example may seem silly and rather obvious, it highlights how we our choice of what is a relevant standard of comparison can shape our thinking on important matters of economic policy. Take, for instance, the issue of poverty and income inequality. As Robert Higgs explains,
(more…)

black-friday1For many, Black Friday epitomizes everything nasty American hyper-consumerism. Stores everywhere are plagued with overly aggressive shoppers, each stuffed to the brim with carb-laden Thanksgiving chow and yet ever-more hungry for the next delicious deal.

It’s all rather disgusting, no?

Quite the contrary, argues Chris Horst over at OnFaith. “Black Friday may have its warts, but let’s not forget the reason for the Black Friday season,” he writes. “The DNA of Black Friday is generosity.”

Wielding a fine mix of basic economics, Christian history, and some good old nostalgia, Horst encourages us to not get caught up in anti-consumerist dismay and instead kick off the holiday season with charity and cheer:

Black Friday commences the Christmas season. This year, Sunday commemorates the official start of the Advent season, but for most Americans, Black Friday initiates the nostalgia and cheer we love most about December. It orients our imaginations toward others and away from ourselves…It’s when Americans turn their attention away from turkey and football and toward buying gifts for one another. We move from Thanksgiving to generosity, shifting from gratefulness for what we have to open-handedness toward those around us…

…Even more, this event is good news for more than just festive shoppers. Black Friday is a big deal for our economy and, consequently, a big deal for all of us…The $600 billion we spend on FitBits, Patagonia ski jackets, and hand-thrown pottery doesn’t just evaporate when we spend it. Those purchases create and sustain livelihoods in garage workshops in our neighborhoods and in warehouses across the globe. They help hobbyists turn their handiwork into employment and give many around the world a shot at a decent job.

This Black Friday, suppress your inner Grinch when you’re tempted to share the story of yet another crazy person fighting over a scarce number of flat screen TVs. Embrace the redemptive side of Black Friday, one that celebrates this season of family and generosity and one that propels our economy forward.

(more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
By

o-UNEMPLOYMENT-HEALTH-facebookFor many people the holiday season is their favorite time of the year. But for the 9 million Americans who are currently unemployed, this can be an especially difficult time. The feeling of hopelessness and despair that can come with looking for work often increase with the approach of Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Lauren L. Moy was recently unemployed during Thanksgiving and recalls the feelings of awkwardness when meeting with friends and relatives over the holidays. Moy offers recommendations for how to deal with unemployment at this time of year and why Christians have reason for hope:
(more…)

2014-Thanksgiving-GraphicWhile it may not seem like it when you’re at the supermarket checkout, Americans benefit tremendously from relatively low food prices.

Consider the typical Thanksgiving feast. According to an informal price survey conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the average cost of this year’s Thanksgiving meal for ten people is $49.41—less than $5 per person.

The AFBF survey shopping list includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient not only to serve a family of ten, but to have leftovers.

That same meal a century ago would have been much more expensive. According to Business Insider, when adjusted for inflation the same meal for ten would have cost $167.77. One reason is that turkeys are considerably cheaper. A 16-pounder in 1911 prices would cost roughly $110 today (the AFBF says the average turkey today costs $21.65).

So when you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, be sure to include prayer of thank that you don’t have to spend as much of our income on food as your ancestors.

071016_schoen_middleClass_hmed5p.grid-6x2In the latest edition of his monthly newsletter, Economic Prospect, John Teevan offers three keys to cultivating a flourishing middle class, as excerpted below:

  1. Income and Jobs: America looks at jobs and incomes alone and can only explain fading middle class by blaming rich people. We can do better than just focus on money. Isn’t life more than your job and what it will buy? …
  2. Marriage and Family. The middle class would swell and poverty would be decimated if all people were married. The endless single-parent homes are poor almost by definition. It’s practically a rule that you can’t be middle class if you have a child and are not married. Marriage makes it possible to attain other middle class values such as upward mobility, a house…filled with “nice” things, along with pleasant home life, free time, and feeling successful. Whether you ask CNBC’s Larry Kudlow or Rainbow Coalition’s Jesse Jackson they agree: the one thing that would help individuals and the nation with respect to poverty is for most people to get married. Kudlow recently said that, “…marriage gives people a reason to work, a home one hopes is stable, and children for whom two parents feel responsible” (Nov 11,2014 T-U).
  3. Values and Morals. Middle class morals and values may seem like a quaint topic, but you can’t have a middle class without them. At one time the middle class was divided between blue and white collar jobs. What’s crucial is that (a) both collars valued work for income and also as proof of competence and responsibility. (b) The middle class values education. Literacy was essential in 1900, by 1950 it was a high school degree, and now you need at least an Associate’s Degree to have the education needed for joining the middle class. (c) A sense of civic responsibility is another middle class value so that parents are involved in their children’s schooling, local government, church, and other not-for-profits. Shouting NIMBY at a zoning meeting does not count. (d) Decency. Decency didn’t mean that there was no bad behavior but that bad behavior was not considered the norm; decency was the norm, but no longer. You can have an income of $25,000 or 85,000, but without these values you are not middle class. Why do middle class people tend to be decent, moral, educated and civic? Because it makes a real difference to them and their families.

Integrated Justice - front cover (1)Echoing some of the key themes of his latest book, Integrated Justice and Equality: Biblical Wisdom for Those Who Do Good Works, Teevan proceeds to critique the modern tendency to focus only on #1 (income and jobs) to the detriment of family and values/morals.

As Teevan explains, “a robust and even biblical view of life unites work, ethics, and family into a life that thrives and is worth living both at work and home”:

We can’t have a middle class just by juicing incomes; it takes middle class values as lived out in families as well. Is this obsolete thinking? The alternative is to wonder if the middle class itself is obsolete. And what if it is? Then the world will be divided into well-educated high income people and all others who do basic service, construction, transportation, retail and manufacturing. One drawback of our high focus on business and economics is that it is accompanied by the idea that ethics and family are secondary or even optional. A robust and even biblical view of life unites work, ethics, and family into a life that thrives and is worth living both at work and home.

For more of Teevan’s views on inequality and justice, see his book, Integrated Justice and Equality: Biblical Wisdom for Those Who Do Good Works, which is now available from Christian’s Library Press, an imprint of the Acton Institute.

The above excerpt is from Teevan’s monthly email, Economic Prospect, which you can subscribe to by sending him a request.

Taylor-Swift-SpotifyTaylor Swift recently made waves when her record label pulled her entire catalog off Spotify, a popular music streaming service. Fans and critics responded in turn, banging their chests and wailing in solidarity, meming and moaning across the Twitterverse about the plight of the Struggling Artist and the imperialism of mean old Master Spotify.

Yet as an avid and thoroughly satisfied Spotify user, I couldn’t help but think of the wide variety of artists sprinkled across my playlists, a diverse mix of superstars, one-hit-wonders, niche fixtures, and independent nobodies. With such reach and depth, had Spotify really duped and enslaved them all, leaving them brainwashed and helpless lest they rise to the courage, stature, and enlightened futurism of Ms. Swift?

Or could it be that some artists actually benefit from such platforms?

I’ve written elsewhere about the transformative effects of economic freedom on the arts — how unleashing opportunity, innovation, and prosperity has yielded unprecedented amounts of time, training, and resources, all of which can be used to create more art, and do so independently. For musicians, the cost of equipment continues to go down, even as quality goes up, and as artists continue to grab hold of these resources, companies like Spotify are swooping in to service the next step.

Much like Kickstarter and iTunes, Spotify continues to experiment with new ways of empowering artists, helping folks bypass record labels altogether (“the banks,” “the marketing machine,” “the Man”) and connect them more closely with audiences. Countless artists have jumped in. And yes, countless others have opted out, particularly the ones with cash, fans, and sway. (more…)

Christianity sets forth that humans are made in the image of God — that we have particular God-like characteristics when it comes to creation, cultivation, compassion, relationship, and so on. Such a remarkable truth tells us something deeply profound about the world we live in, as well as how we ought to respond in any number of situations.

In an excerpted video from the PovertyCure series, John Stonestreet explains how the Christian worldview transforms our approach to poverty:

(more…)

Roberty P. Murphy at the 2014 Acton Lecture Series

Roberty P. Murphy at the 2014 Acton Lecture Series

On this edition of Radio Free Acton, we talk about sound money with economist and author Robert P. Murphy. What is money? Why does it have value? What happens when a government detaches the value of money from gold or other commodities? We look at these questions, find out what our dollars are really worth, and look at ways to restore the value of our money.

You’ll recall that Murphy was a guest of Acton a few weeks ago and delivered an address as part of the 2014 Acton Lecture Series. You can check out the video of his talk at that link, and listen to the Radio Free Acton podcast via the audio player below.

It has become a regular occurrence at conservative publications to note the strong correlation between traditional marriage and family and higher income levels. Take, for example, Ari Fleischer, who wrote the following in the Wall Street Journal last June:

If President Obama wants to reduce income inequality, he should focus less on redistributing income and more on fighting a major cause of modern poverty: the breakdown of the family.

He continues, “One of the differences between the haves and the have-nots is that the haves tend to marry and give birth, in that order.”

Despite my traditionalist leanings, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of these sorts of editorials. For example, contrast this with Ben Steverman’s recent article in Bloomberg:

Divorce among 50-somethings has doubled since 1990. One in five adults have never married, up from one in ten 30 years ago. In all, a majority of American adults are now single, government data show, including the mothers of two out of every five newborns.

These trends are often blamed on feminists or gay rights activists or hippies, who’ve somehow found a way to make Americans reject tradition.

But the last several years showed a different powerful force changing families: the economy.

He goes on: (more…)

hLOcRIn case you hadn’t noticed, “manly Christianity” has become somewhat of a thing. From the broad and boilerplate Braveheart analogies of John Eldredge to the UFC-infused persona of the now embattled Mark Driscoll, evangelical Christianity has been wrestling with how to respond to what is no doubt a rather serious crisis of masculinity.

Such responses vary in their fruitfulness, but most tend to only scratch the surface, prodding men to spend more time with the wife and kids (good), provide more steadily and sacrificially for their household (also good), spend more time in God’s creation (also good, I suppose), and eat more chicken wings and do more Manly Things™ (debatable).

Yet as Alastair Roberts artfully explains in a beautifully written reflection on the matter, the fundamental problem is, well, a bit more fundamental. (HT)

Due to a complex web of factors, some more controllable than others, society and culture have increasingly promoted a full-pronged infantilization of modern man, driven by or paired with its increasingly hollow philosophy of love and life. Thus, Roberts concludes, “The recovery of Christian masculinity will only occur as we commit ourselves to the restoration of biblical Christianity and the recovery of the weight and stakes of its moral universe.”

I have routinely written about the challenges of raising kids (particularly boys) in an age where economic prosperity, convenience, and a host of other newfound privileges make it easier than ever to insulate ourselves from external risks and skip past formative processes that were once built-in features of existence (e.g. manual labor). When it comes to the cultivation of the soul, our character, and the human imagination, what do we lose in a world wherein work, service, and sacrifice have been largely replaced by superficial pleasures and one-dimensional modes of formation? (more…)