Category: Poverty

Today at Mere Orthodoxy, I argue that

the duty of the Christian statesman (or stateswoman) to the poor requires defending human rights, supplying urgent needs, reducing barriers to market entry, and guaranteeing access to the institutions of justice, seeking realistic, gradual reform as possible and prudent.

Of particular interest to readers of the PowerBlog, I dedicate substantial space to explaining and advocating for free markets:

Jobs are what the poor need, and jobs are created by businesses. People settle for bad jobs only when good ones aren’t available. Thus, eliminating barriers to market entry ought to be of primary concern to the Christian statesman, combatting the unjust inequality created by closed markets. Barriers to entry include onerous occupational licensing and patent laws, high corporate taxes, zoning laws, overregulation, and subsidies. These things close markets to new competitors because, even though it might seem against their interest (except for subsidies), large, established firms are more likely to benefit from them and lobby for them (which is called rent seeking)….

In free markets, properly understood, these barriers are kept to a minimum, increasing competition and wealth creation. The more businesses there are looking for workers, the more demand there is for labor. Thus, not only will there be more jobs, but wages will be higher as well. It should be no surprise that the decline in American entrepreneurship has coincided with wage stagnation. Beyond wages, an additional benefit of increased competition is that it also drives down the price of consumer goods, thus lowering the cost of living for everyone as well. Free markets help the poor—and everyone else—in terms of production (labor), distribution (wages), and consumption (lower cost of living).

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sweatshop-workersA recent study of Ethiopian workers released last week by the US National Bureau of Economics Research found “sweatshops” were unpleasant, risky, and paid even less than self-employment in the informal sector. But, the researchers also found, countries were still better off than not having those jobs at all. As Michael J. Coren of Quartz writes,

By encouraging mass hiring in the economy, even low-wage factories could lift everyone’s wages. Fewer desperate workers competing for jobs meant employers must pay more for labor, argue economists Chris Blattman of the University of Chicago and Stefan Dercon of Oxford University in the latest study. But countries could ensure those factories treated their workers more fairly, and remove barriers for entrepreneurs building their businesses.

“More manufacturing firms is a good thing,” said Blattman in an interview. “This is going to happen. This is the development process in most countries. We shouldn’t sugar coat it.”

I think that’s the right approach: Don’t “sugar coat” the hardships such work entails—but don’t ban sweatshops either.

A “sweatshop” is the pejorative term for a workplace that has working conditions those of us in the West deem socially unacceptable. Because of Western laws and norms, sweatshops are now found mostly in developing countries.

To understand the defense of sweatshops requires recognizing that it is not a defense of deplorable living or working conditions. In fact, a moral defense of sweatshops is based on limiting or ending deplorable living or working conditions. The disagreement centers around how we go about that task of pursuing justice.
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Samuel Gregg, director of research at Acton Institute, was recently interviewed by Carl E. Olson of Catholic World Report about his new book For God and Profit.  Gregg is a frequent contributor to CWR on the topics of political economy, economic history, ethics in finance, and natural law theory.

The first question asked of Gregg was “Is it fair to say that Church teaching about money and economics is widely misunderstood and often misrepresented? If so, what are some of the reasons?” His response:

Catholic social teaching outlines clear principles for people who want to addresses issues surrounding finance and economic life in a way that takes human flourishing seriously. These include the principles of the dignity of the person, solidarity, subsidiarity, the preferential option for the poor, the principle of common use, the principal of private property, to name just a few. These principles are drawn from Revelation and the natural law. But they are not well understood by some Catholics. One reason for this is that they tend to be buried—including, I must say, in the social encyclicals—amidst a range of historically-contingent reflections and the offering of prudential judgements on present-day affairs.

The English language version of Rerum Novarum (1891) is about 14,000 words. Laudato Si’ (2015) is approximately 40,000 words. More than one person has suggested that this partly reflects the magisterium entering into the details of far too many economic subjects, the vast majority of which Catholics are free to disagree about among themselves. If we’re interested in equipping lay Catholics to think through economic issues, more time should be invested in explaining principles of Catholic social teaching and how they relate to each other. Less time, I’d argue, should be spent addressing questions upon which Catholics may legitimately hold a variety, even sometimes quite different views.

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Blog author: jcarter
Monday, October 24, 2016
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“Billions of souls have been able to pull themselves out of poverty,” says Arthur Brooks, “thanks to five incredible innovations: globalization, free trade, property rights, the rule of law and entrepreneurship.”

By the way, these five things were all made possible by the historically anomalous peace after World War II that resulted from America’s global diplomatic and military presence.

When I was a kid, when we Americans saw the world’s poor, they saw us, too. We saw their poverty; they saw our freedom and our prosperity. They threw off the chains of poverty and tyranny by copying our American ways. It was the free-enterprise system that not only attracted millions of the world’s poor to our shores and gave them lives of dignity, but also empowered billions more to pull themselves out of poverty worldwide.

The ideals of free enterprise and global leadership, central to American conservatism, are responsible for the greatest reduction in human misery since mankind began its long climb from the swamp to the stars.

Read more . . .

20140313__0314wealth1“No one in America should be working 40 hours a week and living below the poverty level,” said Joe Biden last year, “No one. No one.”

That’s a sentiment I share with the vice president. And the good news is that almost no one who works 40 hours a week lives below the poverty level.

That’s the finding of the latest report on income and poverty from the Census Bureau. For those aged 18 to 64 who work full time, year round the poverty rate is a mere 2.4 percent. Those who did not work full-time had a poverty rate that was more than ten times higher—31.8 percent.

But as Preston Cooper points out, the number of full-time workers in poverty may be even less since the definition of poverty used by the Census Bureau does not take into account taxes and transfers such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which tops up the wages of low-income workers.
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Hurricane Matthew has come and gone, but it has left one country, Haiti, in ruins.  Just like in the aftermath of many disasters, we will see a flood of emergency aid and disaster relief pour into this country; Many have good intentions and a strong desire to help.  This is a good thing.  It’s important that people rally around each other in times of need. The problem arises when this becomes the permanent model.

This is the core theme of a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, written shortly after the storm was over.  Mary Anastasia O’Grady, a writer at WSJ, says this:

If people are living in tin-roof shacks when a hurricane hits, ruin is predictable. But why are so many Haitians still living in such dire poverty in the 21st century? (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
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These Russian Orthodox cosmonauts get it. Click photo for source.

… Or does religion need Mars? So argues social commentator James Poulos at Foreign Affairs:

What’s clear is that Earth no longer invites us to contemplate, much less renew, our deepest spiritual needs. It has filled up so much with people, discoveries, information, and sheer stuff that it’s maddening to find what F. Scott Fitzgerald called a fresh green breast of a new world — the experience of truly open horizons and an open but specific future. That’s a problem that does suggest a terrible calamity, if not exactly an imminent apocalypse. But by making a fresh pilgrimage to a literally new world — say, red-breasted Mars — we could mark our pilgrims’ progress from the shadows of ignorance and apartness from God.

I’m sympathetic to Poulos’s general point that Mars — and those, like Elon Musk, who want to colonize it — needs religion. (Perhaps even Calvinism in particular!) However, I’m not so sure that Earth has lost its ability to evoke spiritual renewal. (more…)