Category: Business and Society

shovel_and_dirt_No2Why do liberal and conservative evangelicals tend to disagree so often about economic issues? This is the fourth in a series of posts that addresses that question by examining 12 principles that generally drive the thinking of conservative evangelicals when it comes to economics. The first in the series can be found here; Part 2 can be found here; and Part 3 can be found hereA PDF/text version of the entire series can be found here.

9. Social mobility — specifically getting people out of poverty — is infinitely more important than income inequality.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama signaled that income inequality will be his domestic focus during the remainder of his term in office. The fact that the president considers income inequality, rather than employment or economic growth, to be the most important economic issue is peculiar, though not really surprising. For the past few years the political and cultural elites have become obsessed with the issue.

That was not always the case. In 1990, a Nobel-winning economist wrote:

One reason that action to limit growing income inequality in the United States is difficult is that the growth in inequality is not a simple picture. Old-line leftists, if there are any left, would like to make it a single story–the rich becoming richer by exploiting the poor. But that’s just not a reasonable picture of America in the 1980s. For one thing, most of our very poor don’t work, which makes it hard to exploit them. For another, the poor had so little to start with that the dollar value of the gains of the rich dwarfs that of the losses of the poor.

The economist who wrote that was none other than Paul Krugman, who more recently said, “the president was right. Inequality is, indeed, the defining challenge of our time.”

The reason for Krugman’s change of opinion has less to do with economics than with political partisanship. In the apparent absence of other real economic problems, some progressives have decided to allow covetousness to drive their political agenda.
(more…)

will work for foodThere is no reason to assume that the preferential option for the poor is somehow a preferential option for big government, says Acton research director Samuel Gregg. Gregg writes that lifting people out of poverty — and not just material poverty but also moral and spiritual poverty — does not necessarily mean that the most effective action is to implement yet another welfare program:

What does living out the option for the poor mean in practice? We must engage in works of charity — those activities that often address specific dimensions of poverty in ways that no state program ever could. And this means giving of our time, energy, and human and monetary capital in ways that bring Christ’s light into some of the darkest places on earth.

Yet this does not mean that Catholics are required to give something to everything, or even that Catholics must give away everything they own. As Fr. James Schall, SJ, writes, “If we take all the existing world wealth and simply distribute it, what would happen? It would quickly disappear; all would be poor.” Put another way, living out the option for the poor may well involve those people with a talent for creating wealth doing precisely that.

Read more . . .

“‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say–but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’–but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Cor. 10:23-24).

Christians are called to productive service of others in our work. The fact that someone will pay you for your work is a sign that they value it, and we must say that they are better-positioned than anyone else (other than God) to decide what’s best for them. But human beings are not infallible. In fact, we are highly fallible. We deceive ourselves and desire things that are not good for us.

Does the provider of a good or service have a moral obligation not to provide certain goods (or bads) or services? When does a “service” become a “disservice”?
(more…)

Help-Wanted-Whites-OnlyThe legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., like most mortals, evokes a certain ambivalence regarding what should be celebrated and what should be rightly critiqued. There are certainly parts of his life and thinking that warrant correction, rebuke, and challenge, but this will be true of all us if we live long enough. On this MLK holiday, however, I am thinking about my parents. My parents spent the first third of their lives being denied the equal application of the rule of law because of Jim Crow laws.

During Jim Crow, my parents could not trust the justice system. State and local courts of justice were unreliable. My parents were not free to take roads trips wherever they pleased, especially at night. They were not allowed to attend certain elementary and high schools. They were not allowed to even apply to several colleges. They were not allowed to equally compete in the marketplace against whites in the South. What made Jim Crow additionally immoral is that they were laws that protected a particular class of people so that they could not suffer the consequences of racial discrimination. Jim Crow protected whites in the South from learning the hard lesson that racial discrimination is bad for business and undermines social flourishing.
(more…)

MedicaidMoney_jpg_800x1000_q100If a large Oregon study is any indication, says Jonathan Witt in this week’s Acton Commentary, the Affordable Care Act may drive up frivolous emergency room visits and do little to improve people’s physical or economic health:

In essence, the healthcare industry becomes the enabler in a lucrative game in which patients put off needed lifestyle reform, opting instead for prescription pills, surgeries and conversations about “genetic predispositions.” None of this gets at the root problem, and indeed exacerbates the root problem. People face a moral challenge, to accept responsibility as stewards of their bodies to live a healthy lifestyle. The system, instead of spurring them on to do the responsible thing, all too often invites them to believe they are not responsible and should entrust their genetically hopeless selves into the hands of the medical/pharmaceutical industrial complex.

The full text of his essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

net-neutralityIn a ruling that has significant implications for the future of the Internet, an appeals court has ruled that the FCC cannot impose so-called “net neutrality rules.” What exactly is net neutrality? And why should Christians care?

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality (short for “network neutrality”) refers to both a design principle and laws that attempt to regulate and enforce that principle. The net neutrality principle is the idea that a public information network should aspire to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally. At its simplest, network neutrality is the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally and that every website – from Google.com to Acton.org — should all be treated the same when it comes to giving users the bandwidth to reach the internet-connected services they prefer.

Net neutrality laws are legislation or regulation that prevents Internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating or charging different prices based on such criteria as user, content, site, platform, application, or type of attached equipment.

What is the basic argument in favor of net neutrality regulation?
(more…)

Blog author: johnteevan
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
By

I was reading an essay that I found in an old book I bought in Vermont. Dr H.J. Laski (Oxford and Yale) wrote, “The less obvious the differences between men in the gain of living, the greater the bond of fellowship between them.” In other words the less we talk about differences between the rich and poor, the better we will all like each other and get along. In the Depression which began as he was writing, nearly everyone was poor.

Those more cheerful days of fellowship ended with Michael Harrington’s The Other America written in 1962. Harrington described and defined the poor in America not as the lower working class (think coal miners back then) or as ghetto dwellers, but as The Poor. We declared a $7 trillion War on Poverty during 1960s, apparently with no adequate outcome as we still have 48 million people poor enough to be on food stamps.

The “bond of fellowship” has little chance today as it faces a daily reminder that the rich are very rich and that they are a sort of enemy of the poor. If the rich, the argument goes, would give up a small fraction of their immense profits or wealth then the poor would all be earning a “living wage.” That’s the energy behind the talk now of the $15/hr minimum wage.

KOPPITZ 0010Reading this profile of UPS’s “Mr. Peak,” Scott Abell, is an enlightening exercise, particularly after the close of this holiday season. Mr. Peak is the guy in charge of making sure that the thing you ordered the Friday before Christmas gets there by Christmas Eve. Or as Devin Leonard puts it, “It’s become so easy for people to shop via computers and smartphones that they frequently delay their purchases until the last minute. Mr. Peak’s job, in effect, is to fulfill the Internet’s promise of instant gratification.”

In my Christmas commentary, I wondered about what a civilization organized around the principle of instant gratification might look like. It wasn’t a pretty picture: “A society that sows the gratification of its material desires everywhere and always, without limitations of rest or Sabbath, will reap a harvest of barbaric sensualism.”

If the Internet promises instant gratification, is the world wide web a force for barbarism rather than civilization? No, but perhaps only if we are willing and able to adjust our expectations. The civilized thing to do might be to order your Christmas presents with more than a few hours to spare. It would certainly make life a bit easier on Mr. Peak. He had a pretty rough season this year.

Mr. Peak “tries to get his family to avoid Internet shopping altogether after Thanksgiving. ‘I’m not going to tell them not to shop,’ he says. ‘But I tell them that they should do it early. Early’s better.'”
(more…)

The following is a letter written in response to a post from my friend Brad Littlejohn on the topic of the minimum wage

Dear Brad,

Thank you for your thoughtful and substantive engagement on the question of the minimum wage. I don’t think the conversation we had on Twitter earlier did justice to your work here, so I’m offering this response in hopes of furthering the conversation. I hope you find it fruitful. I certainly have. I should also note that I have been assuming the context of policy proposals to increase the minimum wage at the federal level in the United States. There are certainly aspects of what we’re discussing that apply to a greater or lesser extent in other contexts and at other levels of government, but at the level of individual states, for instance, the stakes are somewhat reduced and ameliorated by the realities of federalism.

You write that you “want to reflect a bit more fully on what’s wrong with one of the common conservative arguments against the minimum wage: that the laborer is only worth his productivity.” I have significant concerns with equating someone’s worth with the economic value of their labor in the marketplace. I do not argue that the laborer is only worth his or her productive work. I argue that a worker’s work is only valuable in a market setting insofar as someone is willing to pay for it. I agree that there is a subjective element to work that is in some ways intimately identified with and inseparable from the person doing the working. But I do maintain that the worker and the work can, and indeed must, be distinguished. Perhaps what we disagree about is that you think the wage someone is offered is primarily a signal about how much that person is valued. I think that the wage someone is offered is primarily a signal about how much that person’s work is useful to others.
(more…)

Related to some recent discussions about the market for Christmas trees, an irreducibly commercial aspect of the holiday, I ran across this delightful post about a little-known poem by T.S. Eliot, “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees.”

In this piece, Eliot introduces the Christmas tree as a source of wonder for children, a source which can be cultivated into maturity so that at the end of times the fullness of the Christmas message might be harvested. As Maria Popova introduces the verses, they “speak to a very secular concern: our struggle to hold on to our inborn capacity for wonder, that same essential faculty that fuels both science and spirituality.”

20131227-213430.jpg
Thus, for Eliot, as the poem opens,

There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And the childish — which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.

The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder…

Read the rest at “T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Cultivation of Christmas Trees.'”