Category: Publications

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
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Amity Shlaes, a senior fellow in economic history at the Council on Foreign Relations, has an excellent primer on public choice in the August 3 edition of Forbes, “The New PC.” Shlaes is also the author of the 2007 book, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.

Shlaes, who will be featured in the upcoming issue of Religion & Liberty, writes, “Government reformers view themselves as morally superior, but that is an illusion. They are just like private-sector operators, who do things that are in their own interest, not society’s. Those things include taking advantage of an economic crisis to aggregate power for themselves and their offices.” She goes on to point out five specific instances of recent government action that fits the public choice paradigm.

I have no doubt that many enter politics with good intentions. Some even follow through on those intentions and work for their constituencies. But a precious few remain uncontaminated and uncorrupted by the temptations that political power offers.

This reality is a strong argument in favor of term limits. Even though the individual constiuencies might lose out by replacing older, more senior representatives, who have garnered the most powerful appointments and consolidated the most influence, it has the happy consequence of putting caps on political clout. Every so often the slate is rubbed clean and alliances, power partnerships, and appointments need to be rebuilt.

Anything that puts an absolute ceiling on an individual politician’s power seems like a step in the right direction. Of course, an unintended consequence is that with the sundown of their political career always in view, an individual politician will be just that much more focused on greasing the skids to a comfy private sector job after the term limits come into effect.

John Hartley, the founder and editor of the International Journal of Cultural Studies, does for that journal something like what I did for the Journal of Markets & Morality awhile back. He takes his experience as an editor to reflect on the current state of the scholarly journal amid the challenges and opportunities in the digital age.

Hartley opens his study, “Lament for a Lost Running Order? Obsolescence and Academic Journals,” by concluding that “the academic journal is obsolete,” at least as regards to its “form – especially the print journal.”

There are a number of particular assertions made in support of this conclusion with which I would quibble. I stand by the prediction in my earlier piece, “Scholarship at the Crossroads: The Journal of Markets & Morality Case Study,” (PDF) in which I state, “for the foreseeable future electronic journals will not replace print journals, but both will exist together in a complementary fashion, each addressing different demands.”

But Hartley’s is an interesting and valuable perspective on the impact of digitization on academic journals. And I certainly agree with him that the complete digitization of journals and casting off the printed form “may reduce collegiate trust and fellow-feeling, increase individualist competitiveness, and inhibit innovation.”

He’s also certainly right in his preferred response to such possibilities: “In the face of that prospect, I’m going to keep on thinking about covers, running orders, referees and reading until the role of editor is obsolete too.”

One of the conclusions that resulted from the JMM case study was that instead of unlimited free access to all journal content, we would distinguish between “current” issues and “archived” issues. The former would require subscription to be accessed digitally, and the latter would be freely accessible (with some exceptions for special content). Thus far this solution seems to have worked well, despite the argument by some that in the “network” economy, “value is derived from plentitude” rather than scarcity.

To get access to current issues of the Journal of Markets & Morality, be sure to subscribe today.

Pope Benedict XVI’s much anticipated economics encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, is scheduled to be released early next week, according reports. For a good sense of this pope’s thinking on economics, we offer an article the then-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger presented in 1985 at a symposium in Rome.  The Acton Institute published it under the title “Market Economy and Ethics.”  As indicated by the following quote, the pope believed in integrating morals into economics in order to have sound and successful economic policy:

This determinism, in which man is completely controlled by the binding laws of the market while believing he acts in freedom from them, includes yet another and perhaps even more astounding presupposition, namely, that the natural laws of the market are in essence good (if I may be permitted so to speak) and necessarily work for the good, whatever may be true of the morality of individuals. These two presuppositions are not entirely false, as the successes of the market economy illustrate. But neither are they universally applicable and correct, as is evident in the problems of today’s world economy.

Without developing the problem in its details here — which is not my task — let me merely underscore a sentence of Peter Koslowski’s that illustrates the point in question: “The economy is governed not only by economic laws, but is also determined by men…” Even if the market economy does rest on the ordering of the individual within a determinate network of rules, it cannot make man superfluous or exclude his moral freedom from the world of economics. It is becoming ever so clear that the development of the world economy has also to do with the development of the world community and with the universal family of man, and that the development of the spiritual powers of mankind is essential in the development of the world community. These spiritual powers are themselves a factor in the economy: the market rules function only when a moral consensus exists and sustains them.

Over at World Magazine, Lee Wishing cites a speech by Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, on the subject of putting our faith in God and our own abilities instead of the government to manage economies. He quotes Rev. Sirico: “Many thinkers throughout the ages have noted that we face a choice between holding a robust faith in God or putting faith in man and institutions such as the state.”  In such tough economic times, we are reminded that we need to put our faith and trust in God first.

rl_18_3 The new issue of Religion & Liberty featuring an interview with South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is available online, now in its entirety. From the very beginning, Governor Sanford has been a vocal critic of all bailout and stimulus legislation pouring out of Washington, regardless of who is occupying the White House.

For an update on the stimulus debate, and the governor’s role in the new stimulus law, The Wall Street Journal published Governor Sanford’s March 20 column titled, “Why South Carolina Doesn’t Want ‘Stimulus.'” Our interview is also unique in that Governor Sanford also talks about faith in the public square and the virtues related to spending restraint.

We have some excellent cultural analysis in this issue, which includes “Busting a Pop Culture Illusion” by S.T. Karnick. Karnick is the editor of the American Culture website. He calls the Disney “life without limits mindset, one of the main progenitors of modern, statist liberalism.” Bruce Edward Walker of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy offers a piece that uplifts the moral order over ideology. Walker declares:

For Eliot, the moral imagination derived from his Anglo-Catholicism; for Kirk, his Roman Catholicism. Devoid of moral imagination, all systems–political, social, economic, familial and spiritual–are bound to fail. True conservatives, both men believed, place moral considerations ahead of ideology. In fact, both held that true conservatism is the negation of ideology.

Two books are reviewed in this issue, Kevin Schmiesing reviews Philip Lawler’s The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture and I review Spiritual Enterprise: Doing Virtual Business by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch. Schmiesing’s review first appeared on the Powerblog in November.

In this issue we also pay tribute to one of the giants who was pivotal in the destruction of Marxist-Leninism. Alexander Solzhenistyn (1918 – 2008) is the “In The Liberal Tradition” figure for this issue. I was about 14 or 15 when my dad gave me a copy of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, and in reading his book it was plain for me that the fundamental flaws of the Soviet System were moral in nature. Nobody has written and articulated that case better and more effectively than Solzhenitsyn did. His works offered the first critique of the Soviet system I had come across from a non-Westerner. It’s not the first time we have written about Solzhenitsyn of course, Religion & Liberty’s Executive Editor John Couretas published “Solzhenitsyn and Russia’s Golgotha” in the Spring issue of 2007.

sanford-blog In the next issue of Religion & Liberty, we are featuring an interview with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. Sanford has made national headlines for his principled opposition to all bailout and stimulus legislation coming out of Washington.

He was elected South Carolina’s governor in 2002 and re-elected in 2006, becoming only the third two-term governor in modern state history. In 2008, Sanford was also named Chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Before becoming governor, Sanford served six years in the U.S. Congress after his election in 1994. For his consistent efforts to lower taxes and limit government growth he was ranked #1 in the entire Congress by Citizens Against Government Waste. He was rated similarly by the National Taxpayers’ Union, and Taxpayers for Common Sense inducted him into the Taxpayers Hall of Fame.

We would like to offer our PowerBlog readers an exclusive preview of the interview (the full interview will be available soon in the pages of Religion & Liberty):

You’ve taken a very principled approach in working for smaller government, lower taxes, individual liberty and fostering a culture of personal responsibility. Those principles are taking a battering in Washington today. Can anything turn the tide?

George Washington and his fairly battered band of patriots were facing far greater odds. The situation looked much more bleak. And yet they were resolved to creating the perfect union that they believed in. And they ultimately prevailed against incredibly long odds. So I think the answer rests in that silent and sleeping majority. Really making their voice heard. Not just for an election or election cycle but on a prolonged basis. And that’s what it will take to turn the tide. Really, that is the only thing that can turn the tide. However, if the status quo remains, we’re going to have profound problems coming our way that I think signal frankly the undoing of our Republic.

A lot of state governors are lining up for federal bailout money. Won’t this simply postpone the day of reckoning that some states need to face because of their own policies?

The answer is yes. That which is unsustainable is going to end. And so for instance California government grew by 95-percent over the last ten years. Federal government grew by about 73 percent. So you have state government that has grown at an even faster rate than the federal government. You have a state government that has gone out and issued long-term debt to cover the actual operations of government over the last couple years. It’s not sustainable. The idea is that you can just throw some federal money in to that unsustainable mix. But all you do is delay big structural reforms that are absolutely essential to California, for instance, being on firm financial footing. And this notion of mandating over a bad situation ultimately generally makes the situation worse. So, yeah, I do think it postpones the day of reckoning. And frankly makes the day of reckoning worse.

The line of business people asking for government bailout help seems to get longer by the day, how can you say no when jobs may be on the line?

The role of government is to promote, in my view, individual freedom. In other words, we have a governmental apparatus that is legitimate in nature in as much as it is to maximize one’s individual freedom. There are other folks who believe in the idea of a nanny state, and believe government is there to take care of your different needs, cradle-to-grave, chief among them being employment. Rather, government is there to create a foundation by which private sector can grow and create employment opportunities. Its job is not to create employment itself as I see it. And so I would say, yes, they’re lining up. There’s an article in today’s paper about car rental companies now lining up for a piece of the bailout funding. There was another article I saw where credit unions were getting money they’ve never gotten before. So, yes, there’s going to be an endless list. And it is again going to get to the point of the absurd before this thing is over and done. And the fact that the list is growing longer shows the fallacy it is to think that government can change economic laws.

As the media bombard us with misleading language describing the role of government in the economy (e.g., that a stimulus plan will “inject money” or “create jobs”), those who know better need to keep up a steady drumbeat of common sense concerning the potential and track record of the state’s involvement in economic affairs. Long-time Acton associate Paul Cleveland’s newly published Unmasking the Sacred Lies is a valuable contribution to the effort.

Professor of Economics at Birmingham-Southern College, Cleveland combines here a scholar’s appreciation of policy details with a down-to-earth style that will appeal to a wide audience. Cleveland is master of the telling anecdote, demonstrating in each of a series of policy areas—inter alia, monetary, transportation, education, and welfare—that government intervention often has pernicious consequences, whether intended or not. If, for example, you were not aware of just how contorted federal agriculture policy is, his chapter on that subject will be a disturbing revelation.

Academics will quibble with the simplified story lines of some of these analyses (e.g., this historian would dispute a few points in the treatment of Lincoln, slavery, and the Civil War), but the decision to sacrifice some complexity for the sake of readability is a trade-off any writer can appreciate.

Significantly, Cleveland concludes the book with a chapter titled, “The Lawlessness of Too Many Laws.” It is perhaps paradoxical, but in the present situation of pell-mell government expansion, I believe it is limited-government and (non-anarcho-) libertarian folks who are the defenders of the dignity and integrity of government. As Cleveland aptly observes, the generation of too many laws turns the normally law-abiding citizen into an unwitting law-breaker, with the result that the rule of law itself is severely compromised. Some would say we’re already there. At least in certain fields of economic activity, I think that’s hard to dispute.

If it is any longer possible to turn this ship around, it will be only by a massive intellectual and moral awakening. In that cause, this book can only help.

The latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality is now available online for current subscribers. This issue features the timely and challenging article, “Subprime Lending and Social Justice: A Biblical Perspective,” by William C. Wood, professor of economics at James Madison University and director of JMU’s Center for Economic Education. Prof. Wood notes that within the context of Christ’s call to love our enemies as well as our neighbors, “Christians cannot be complacent about credit markets even if they appear to be economically efficient as voluntary transactions.”

The concern for the poor and love of others that Wood observes particularly in the New Testament is also a major theme of the new Scholia translation. Wolfgang Musculus, a second-generation reformer and major biblical commentator of the early modern era, penned his commentary on the book of Psalms in 1551. Here for the first time is Musculus’ full commentary on Psalm 15 translated into English in conjunction with the exegetically-related appendices on oaths and usury. With regard to the question of usury, in his introduction to the Scholia Jordan J. Ballor writes, “Musculus’ reflections on usury in Psalm 15 are significant because they represent a stream of Protestant thought that largely has been ignored by economic historians.” Musculus himself contends that lending at profit to the least among us “is not only condemned as inhuman by the laws of Christ but also by the laws of nature. For it is plainly inhuman to pursue a profit from the sweat and calamities of the poor.”

Also in this issue:

The editorial by executive editor Stephen Grabill, “Hope Amid Financial Calamity,” and article abstracts of current issues are freely available to nonsubscribers (you can sign up for a subscription here, including the very affordable electronic-only access option). And as per our “moving wall” policy of two issues, the most recent publicly-available archived issue is volume 10, number 2 (Fall 2007).

If you are a student or a faculty member at an institution of higher learning, please take the time to recommend that your library subscribe to our journal. If you are in interested layperson or independent scholar, please consider subscribing yourself.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
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It’s the time of year when the experts among us proffer gift lists, a subset of which is book lists. I’ll spare you my own book list, per se, but it has been a while since I used this space to note some new titles of interest at the intersection of faith and economics. Here then, some noteworthy books (whether they are appropriate for those with whom you exchange Christmas presents, I leave to you):

Are Economists Basically Immoral? A collection of essays by Paul Heyne, published posthumously.

Rethinking Rights, edited by Bruce Frohnen and Kenneth Grasso. Another important entry in the ongoing critique of a liberalism that grounds rights too insecurely in the benevolence of the contemporary state.

Handbook of Economics and Ethics. The latest in Elgar’s series of reference works on key issues in economics.

The Wisdom of Generosity: A Reader in American Philanthropy. The vigor of charitable work in the United States has been often remarked. Here William Jackson gathers excerpts from a wide variety of sources to furnish a sense of the character and motivation of American giving.

Rethinking Business Management, edited by Acton’s Sam Gregg, with James R. Stoner, Jr. The proceedings from a Witherspoon Institute Conference on the subject, bringing together philosophers, economists, and theologians in a timely examination of the need for business education reform.

Appearing in the next issue of Religion & Liberty will be my review of Philip F. Lawler’s The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture (Encounter Books, 2008). There is no point in dwelling on how well-written and insightful the book is, as it has already won plaudits from other, more significant reviewers, but I can give my own “Acton spin” to Lawler’s exceptional work. Here is the piece in full, an exclusive preview for PowerBlog readers:

Lord Acton’s quotation concerning the corrupting effect of power is widely known. Less so is the fact that the target of his criticism on that particular occasion was the power possessed not by government but by church officials. Acton’s understanding of ecclesiastical authority (as distinct from power) is debatable, but his insight into human nature is not. A case study—not that we need another to file away in the vast archives of the history of human frailty—is the collapse of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

Philip Lawler documents the details in this skillfully written account of the triumphs and travails of Boston’s Catholics. The history is episodic rather than thorough, but Lawler chooses his episodes well. The bulk of his attention goes to the last forty years, and much of that is focused on the sexual abuse scandals of the last ten. For anyone who has followed these developments closely, there will be little in the way of new revelations. Yet Lawler’s style, at once sympathetic and bluntly critical, is engrossing. The devout Catholic reader who was dismayed by the character and scale of the abuse scandal will be drawn back to those unpleasant times when it seemed that each new day brought fresh reasons to be ashamed of one’s faith.

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