Category: Business and Society

AirportOver at The Federalist today, I ruminate on a conversation I overheard at an airport recently. I was an innocent auditor, I assure you. In the words of Sam Gamgee to Gandalf, “I ain’t been droppin’ no eaves sir, honest.”

The conversation had to do with the prices of goods and services on offer at airports. To simply blame (or credit) capitalism with the situation is misleading. As I conclude, “We should try to understand the words people are using, the way they are using them, and the assumptions underlying such uses.” After all, capitalism means different things to different people in different contexts.
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Niels Hemmingsen 2At the conclusion of the English translation of Niels Hemmingsen’s The Way of Life (1578) (Latin: Via Vitae) is a series of short prayers. The selection includes one “for the aid of God in the needful businesses of our vocation.” The (modernized) text reads:

“Give me understanding, O Lord, and assist my endeavors, that I may faithfully and diligently perform the works of my vocation, to the glory of your name, the edification of your church, and the commodity of my neighbor.”

Hemmingsen was a significant Danish theologian in the sixteenth century, and a selection of his work on natural law is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming Fall issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality. Subscribe today to get your copy when it becomes available.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
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TriangleIn a remarkable letter last week, noted by Joseph Sunde, Mike Rowe inveighed against the sloganeering that passes for vocational discernment in today’s popular culture.

Mike singled out Hollywood as a particularly egregious offender:

Every time I watch The Oscars, I cringe when some famous movie star – trophy in hand – starts to deconstruct the secret to happiness. It’s always the same thing, and I can never hit “mute” fast enough to escape the inevitable cliches. “Don’t give up on your dreams kids, no matter what.” “Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have what it takes.” And of course, “Always follow your passion!”

Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities. Do we really need Lady GaGa telling our kids that happiness and success can be theirs if only they follow their passion?

Mike’s a great breaker of idols, whether they’re “Follow your passion,” “Do what you love,” or “Work smarter, not harder.” And while I generally concur with the thrust of Mike’s commentary here, I have noted in the past a Hollywood exception that proves the rule. Ashton Kutcher’s acceptance speech at last year’s Teen Choice Awards was remarkable in this regard. In Get Your Hands Dirty, I explore the wisdom in Mike’s approach, and I’ve also written about the fundamental coherence of perspective shared by Mike Rowe and Chris Ashton Kutcher (a coherence Mike himself recognized).

Like most slogans, “Follow your passion!” can lead to extremes. As I’ve argued along these lines elsewhere, true vocational discernment requires a bit of triangulation. It’s not just about you and your passion, and it’s not just about others and their wants. It is also about God and his plans for you.

And although I missed the premiere, I’m looking forward to checking out Mike’s latest effort, “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.”

CREAMIn a talk he gave at Kuyper College for the launch of the new business leadership major some years back, Vincent Bacote made an insightful observation about the “people in the room” where things were decided leading up to and during the Global Financial Crisis. What if, he wondered, the Christians who were certainly there had the resources (intellectual, moral, and spiritual) to do something about the direction that things were headed?

I also wrote about how we need to recognize that the church already occupies Wall Street (as well as all streets!) and the task of moral formation that this reality entails.

But this call to “occupy” Wall Street is perhaps as complex and challenging an arena of cultural engagement and cultural development as there is. This incisive piece from Michael Lewis outlines some of the “occupational hazards” of that particular call.
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Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
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I have spoken in the past in favor of net neutrality, writing,

Whoever is responsible for and best at enforcing it, net neutrality had this going for it: it was a relatively stable, relatively open playing-field for competition…. [T]he fact that companies tried to get around it via copyright protection privileges shows that it was, in fact, doing something to enforce freedom of competition. Now, without it, there is an opportunity for concentration of power…. As [Walter] Eucken illustrated, concentration can lead to instability, and instability leads to popular calls for state regulation, which tend in practice toward cronyism. Certainly, such a trajectory is not inevitable, but it is now more likely, giving good reason for pause at the idea that we do not need net neutrality — or something like it — in the future.

This week, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi voiced her support for net neutrality as well. So why would I object? Because the measures that Pelosi proposes give much more power to the government, following the trajectory outlined above in the direction of over-regulation. (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
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City Summer 2014In the most recent issue of The City, I have an essay on Orthodoxy and ordered liberty. I argue that Orthodox theological anthropology, which distinguishes between the image and likeness of God and two forms of freedom corresponding to them, fits well with the classical understanding of ordered liberty.

In particular, I examine these freedoms with regards to the family, religious liberty, political liberty, and economic liberty, arguing that the Orthodox ascetic tradition has much to offer to modern Christian social thought with regards to how best to order the freedom we have by virtue of being created after the image of God toward that freedom from passion and sin that finds its fulfillment in the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Of interest to our readers here, with regards to economic liberty, I write,

We are created with a capacity for freedom, autexousio, to be used for the purpose of the moral freedom of theosis: eleutheria. Thus, just as we ought to offer up our bodies as living sacrifices to God (cf. Romans 12:1), so also we are to offer up God’s creation to him through our labor. God has given us the earth in order “to tend and keep it” in a paradis[ai]cal state (Genesis 2:15). Thus, acknowledging … our propensity for failure, we nevertheless have a duty to make of God’s creation what we can, imitating the creativity of God and exercising the dominion he gave us (Genesis 1:26).

We must, then, have liberty in society to freely cultivate the resources of the earth for the sake of the higher good of self-sacrificing love. Helen Rhee affirms in Loving the Poor, Saving the Rich, her study of wealth and poverty in the early Church, the consistent patristic teaching of both the affirmation of private property rights and our moral duties to use our property for the good of others (what is known in the West as the “universal destination of goods”)….

You can read the full article online here.

And while you’re at it, take the time to subscribe to The City. It’s free and published in print and online three times a year. Subscribe here.

Blog author: johnteevan
Friday, August 29, 2014
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In his August 24, 2014 syndicated column Scott Burns tells of a study by Dunn and Norton who give five principles for having “Happy Money.”

  1. Buy experiences not things: go to Chicago rather than buy a new stuff.
  2. Make it a treat: don’t keep ice cream in the house, make it special by anticipating going out every Tuesday night for ice cream.
  3. Buy time: we are “time poor” people so slow down and avoid expenditures that devour time.
  4. Pre-pay your vacation so you don’t worry about spending “all that money.”
  5. Invest in others: give gifts or cash or support someone on a ministry trip or hand out $20 when you feel like it.

These ideas will help remove the tendency to endless question of “Is this worth it?” Burns does not mention it, but giving money to church, mission, health, poverty, orphan care or directly to people in need is “Happy Money” as well.

Sic semper tyrannis, eh?

Sic semper tyrannis, eh?

The Burger King acquisition of Tim Hortons and the resulting plans to move the corporate headquarters under the taxing authority of the Canadian government is being derided by some as unpatriotic.

This is the latest in a long string of similar phenomena over the last decade or so, as we see patriotic loyalty (or the lack thereof) becoming a political issue in the context of offshoring, globalization, outsourcing, and so on.

A response to the charge of being unpatriotic would seem to me to require at least two points.

First, the responsibilities of a business owner, CEO, or corporate board are different than those of a government politician. They have different loyalties, so to speak. So to judge the one by the standards of the other is an exercise in missing the point.

Second, I would respond with a query along these lines: Which is more unpatriotic, a greater disservice to a nation, for someone to be involved in: moving a business from one country to another or making the tax environment in a country inhospitable to businesses?

Aunt louisaOver at the Federalist, Gracy Olmstead wonders “what happens when people bring the country to the city?” She goes on to argue that “urban farming could have conservative implications and outworkings—and we should encourage these endeavors as much as possible, in our efforts to bring traditional principles back to urban environments.”

Is there a way to bring the city mouse and the country mouse together?

I’ve argued for the need for urban farming initiatives in the context of renewal movements in places like Detroit, and Michael Miller has cogently pointed out the entrepreneurial reality at the core of farmers’ markets.

But as Olmstead points to the diverse benefits of urban farming, I’m reminded of a story that pushes us beyond merely material and utilitarian calculus. The economist Wilhelm Röpke was a devotee of allotments for gardening and farming (Schrebergärten) commonly found in Europe, particularly after World War II.
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Reading through the German economist Walter Eucken’s work The Foundation of Economics (1951), I came across one of the most helpful charts for economic analysis I have yet to find. In it, Eucken gives every possible form of market in a single table:

Eucken Chart

The Foundation of Economics, p. 158

Eucken adds four qualifications that are important to keep in mind:

  1. “These forms of market are actual forms which have been or are to be found in actual economic life (often blended with one another, and existing alongside the forms of a centrally directed economy). They are not given a priori. They are discovered with their distinguishing characteristics by studying the planning data of those taking part in the market….”
  2. “Under each particular form of market a man can act according to different principles, for example, that of maximum net receipts or that of optimum output….”
  3. “Each of these forms of market can appear in four types: both open, both closed, or closed on either side only.”
  4. “Fixing of prices by the state occupies a special position, since it can follow any form of market and has different effects accordingly…. For example, the significance of coal prices being fixed by the state varies according to whether perfectly competitive, oligopolistic, or monopolistic supply, or some other form of market, exists, or whether both sides of the market are open, or whether the supply side is closed by an investment veto. Governmental price-fixing is to be treated as a variant of the different market forms and not as a special market form of its own.”

So, what does this amount to? (more…)