Category: Effective Compassion

Today at Ethika Politika, I caution against the sort of scapegoating that justifies ideologies at the expense of human effort:

Do you support capitalism? Socialism? Distributism? Something else? Wonderful. What does that look like among the mess of market forms that actually constitute the economy you participate in every day? Rather than criticizing those policies that fall short of your saintly ideal or align too closely with your Hitler, what ones constitute a first step in the right direction for you? And why? And what are the actual consequences, intended or otherwise, that may come about?

While there is a place for simply outlining one’s ideal, if we wish to actually do some good ourselves, we need to get our hands dirty in the mire of material reality. Gnostic scorn for the concrete and this-worldly boasts a broad road with a wide gate, but it is the narrow road of reality that leads to life; not only for ourselves, but for the common good; not just for this world, but for the kingdom of God.

In his recent book Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action), Jordan Ballor begins with a similar call: (more…)

French economist Thomas Piketty

This summer’s issue of The City, which includes an article by myself on Orthodoxy and ordered liberty, opens with a symposium of five articles on “The Question of Inequality.” These include two articles on Pope Francis, two on French economist Thomas Piketty’s recent book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and one on the Bible.

Having recently written a two part article on the subject for the Library of Law & Liberty (here and here), I took copious notes as the topic is an ongoing subject of research.

In order to recommend the symposium to our readers here, who no doubt have interest in the topic, I compiled the following highlights:

Josiah Neeley, “What Does Bono Know That the Pope Doesn’t?”

Argentina is now the world’s only “formerly developed” country.

[E]ven in the United States a great deal of inequality is the result not of the heroic innovator but of government favoritism.

Donald Devine, “Does Pope Francis Hate Capitalism?”

[B]y 1910 … Argentina’s per capita Gross Domestic Product [was] number ten in the world.

Peron’s Argentina [in the mid-twentieth century] was perhaps the first comprehensive welfare state…. [And] the result has been a much poorer country.

The actual experience of markets [contra Pope Francis] is hardly autonomy. The U.S., one of the freer countries, has 300,000 regulations.

[B]etween 2005 and 2010 the total number of poor in the world actually fell by half a billion people as trickle down prosperity lifted millions from absolute destitution.

Today’s reality is the over-regulatory welfare state, not wild markets. (more…)

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.

Earlier this month, I wrote a two part article for the Library of Law & Liberty, critiquing the uncritical condemnation of income inequality by world religious leaders.

In part 1, I pointed out that “while the Pope, the Patriarch, the Dalai Lama, and others are right about the increase in [global income] inequality, they are wrong to conclude that this causes global poverty—the latter is demonstrably on the decline. And that, I would add, is a good thing.”

F. A. Hayek

In part 2, drawing on the work of F. A. Hayek, I noted, “As societies learn to use their resources ‘more effectively and for new purposes,’ the cost of manufacturing luxury goods decreases, making them affordable to new markets of the middle class and, eventually, even for the poor.” I continue, “Such inequality not only accompanies the very economic progress that lifts the poor out of poverty, it is one essential factor that makes that progress possible.”

We may add to this two more ways in which focusing solely on income inequality can be misleading from article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Nicholas Eberstadt: increased equality in lifespan and education. He writes,

Given the close correspondence between life expectancy and the Gini index for age at death, we can be confident that the world-wide explosion in life expectancy over the past century has been accompanied by a monumental narrowing of world-wide differences in length of life. When a population’s life expectancy rises from 30 to 70, the Gini index drops by almost two-thirds—from well over 0.5 to well under 0.2.

This survival revolution—and the narrowing of inequalities in humanity’s life chances—is an epochal advance in the human condition. Since healthy life expectancy seems to track closely with overall life expectancy, a revolutionary reduction in health inequality may also have occurred over the past century. Improvements in global mortality for the poor have contributed to the very “economic inequality” so many now decry. This is another reason such measures can be deceiving.

The spread and distribution of education has had a similar impact. In 1950 roughly half of the world’s adults—and the overwhelming majority of the men and women from low-income regions—had never been exposed to schooling. By 2010 unschooled men and women 15 and older account for a mere one-seventh of the world’s adults, and about one-in-six from developing areas. (more…)

Bruton_Church,_WilliamsburgThis summer I made a visit to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, and on a tour of churches, I heard a fascinating explanation of how society functioned when the church was the place where the poor had their material needs met, not the government. The Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg is one example.

According to church records, Burton Parish formed in 1674 following the merger of several colonial parishes originating as far back as 1633. As a Church of England congregation, this Anglican parish church was the center of life and culture. For example, during the era of the American Revolution men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry attended the church. Not only did prominent people in politics attend the parish church, the church also served the central location for providing social services for the poor.

In 17th and 18th century Williamsburg, Virginia helping the poor was assumed, as a social norm, to be the responsibility of the church, not the state. In the Bruton Parish, the vestrymen, in addition to managing the affairs of he parish, were responsible for all poverty related social services. In the Anglican church, the vestry was established as a committee elected in local congregations to work with the wardens of the church to meet various needs. During the colonial era, if a person did not have adequate housing, adequate food or clothing, if women were widowed and children were orphaned, and so on, it was simply an assumption that the church would meet the needs of those on the margins locally and personally.
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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…)

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 7, 2014
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Saul Bellow, 1990Saul Bellow is a writer who has affected me profoundly before. I have recently found a pair of essays given by him as part of the Tanner Lectures under the title, “A Writer from Chicago.”

They are substantive and serious, and occasionally pithy. For instance, Bellow observes that “a degenerate negative romanticism is at the core of modern mass culture,” “Humankind is always involved in some kind of metaphysical enterprise,” and, “The descent into subhumanity begins with the thinning out of the imagination.”
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Crucible of Poverty

Stuart Ray, Donn Weinberg, and Anielka Munkel discuss solutions to poverty – July 17, 2014

On July 17th, the Acton Institute hosted a panel discussion titled “The Crucible of Poverty: Perspectives from the Trenches.” The discussion examined the issue of poverty, with a focus on what strategies for poverty alleviation have worked, what strategies have failed, and how we can better help the most vulnerable among us.

The panelists for the discussion were Mr. Stuart Ray, Executive Director of Guiding light Mission in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Mr. Donn Weinberg, Executive Vice President of The Harry and Jeanette Wienberg Foundation; and Ms. Anielka Munkel, Project Manager here at the Acton Institute, and a co-producer of the PovertyCure DVD series.

The discussion ranged from analysis of the roots of poverty in west Michigan to questions of federal policy relating to poverty, and how foundations can ensure that grant recipients are actually pursuing the goals supported by foundations.

The full discussion is available via the audio player below.

immigration pledgeIn a commentary for the National Catholic Register, Acton’s Director of Research Sam Gregg considers the topic of immigration, specifically the current U.S. border crisis. Gregg views the border crisis through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching, which he says gives us a principled and thoughtful (as opposed to emotional) framework.

We also have a rich tradition of teaching about political questions that embodies principles based upon the Gospel and the natural law: principles that lay Catholics have the primary responsibility, as Vatican II underscored, to apply to complex subjects such as immigration.

Catholic teaching on immigration contains many exhortations to be merciful. Indeed, the commandment to love our neighbor often means we’re required to go beyond the strict demands of justice, albeit not in ways that violate justice. At the same time, the Church articulates a framework for thinking — rather than merely emoting — through the immigration issue in a manner consistent with Catholic concerns for liberty, justice, human flourishing and the common good. And part of this involves affirming that there is a right — albeit not an unlimited right — to migrate.

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Recently, the World Bank agreed to partner with Nicaragua to give the country 69 million U.S. dollars in aid. This poses the immediate question of whether or not this aid will be effective in producing its stated goal of decreasing poverty and increasing economic productivity. Should the World Bank continue to give money to the government of Nicaragua, which – especially of late – has been showing a decrease in political stability and democratic processes? History shows that international loans provide little help when countries suffer from decreases in stability and equality within their system.

The World Bank justifies the money that Nicaragua receives: “Nicaragua has achieved a real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 5 percent in 2012 and 4.6 percent in 2013, returning to pre-crisis growth levels.” GDP, however, does not paint a complete picture of the country’s performance. Most of the wealth within Nicaragua is located among the upper class, making the GDP less accurate for the country as a whole. Gross Domestic Product in purchasing power parity (PPP) in 2012 was estimated at $20.04 billion USD, and GDP per capita in PPP at $3,300 USD, making Nicaragua the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
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