Archived Posts March 2006 - Page 3 of 9 | Acton PowerBlog

While there is a general acceptance of the role of private property for social order and economic prosperity, the challenges to private property have not ended. The eminent domain issue is one threat; another comes from environmentalist groups such as the Foundation for Deep Ecology and others who see humans as a drain on the earth and nature. Some environmentalists advocate the consolidation of land to be put under federal control and promote stringent land usage restrictions that would prevent a landowner using his property fruitfully.

Their argument is nothing new: individuals left to themselves will not be as effective as central planners in decided the best way to allocate and protect resources, etc. etc—they are merely variants of the Marxian arguments used by economic central planners.

Despite the rhetoric, common ownership of land and resources has not been an effective means of addressing problems. It failed under applied socialism, and has not led to environmental protection and stewardship as environmentalists hope. Private property ownership creates incentives for people to use land wisely and in a sustainable manner. John Stossel gives an excellent illustrations of the importance of incentives and the private ownwership including privatizing elephant ownership in Africa.

St. Thomas Aquinas addressed the question of property and human incentives in the 13th century. He argued it is lawful to own property for three reasons:

First, because every man is more careful to procure what is for himself alone than that which is common to many or to all: since each one would shirk the labor and leave to another that which concerns the community, as happens where there is a great number of servants.

Secondly, because human affairs are conducted in more orderly fashion if each man is charged with taking care of some particular thing himself, whereas there would be confusion if everyone has to look after one thing indeterminately.

Thirdly, because a more peaceful state is ensured to man if each one is contented with his own. Hence it is to observed that quarrels arise more frequently where ther is no division of the things possessed.

Notice the humanist vision—the appreciation for the individual, an understanding of human nature, a respect for the capabilities of individuals to make decisions and control their own sphere. Also notice point number three. Compare this to the unspeakable violence perpetrated by socialist government leaders on their own citizens because they were not “content” with operating in their own sphere.

It is unfortunate Marx and the socialists were not steeped in the thought of St. Thomas early on. Who knows, it could have avoided some of the pain and suffering imposed by socialist governments on their own people. But the reality of Marxism has become clear. As Pope Benedict put it in his new encyclical Deus Caritas Est

Marxism had seen world revolution and its preliminaries as the panacea for the social problem: revolution and the subsequent collectivization of the means of production, so it was claimed, would immediately change things for the better. This illusion has vanished.

The leftwing environmentalists are part of a long line of central planners. They want to the control of property in the hand of government bureaucrats and planners, i.e., themselves. But planners are always less effective than those closer to the problem, because no matter how much they know, or think they know, they’ll never has as much knowledge as those individuals on the ground close to the situation. This is the principle of subsidiarity—rooted in Aquinas’ defense of private property. Wisdom of the past as applicable today as it was then.

I would like to highlight another passage from Pope Benedict’s homily (mentioned below by Kishore) from last Sunday’s homily that has particular relevance to our work at Acton:

We have listened together to a famous and beautiful passage from the Book of Exodus, in which the sacred author tells of God’s presentation of the Decalogue to Israel. One detail makes an immediate impression: the announcement of the Ten Commandments is introduced by a significant reference to the liberation of the People of Israel. The text says: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex 20: 2).

Thus, the Decalogue is intended as a confirmation of the freedom gained. Indeed, at a closer look, the Commandments are the means that the Lord gives us to protect our freedom, both from the internal conditioning of passions and from the external abuse of those with evil intentions. The “nos” of the Commandments are as many “yeses” to the growth of true freedom.

Hunter Baker at The Reform Club passes along a column by Maggie Gallagher that has him “rethinking” his position concerning illegal immigration. Gallagher notes, “Economic studies suggest that overall, immigration is a net wash, or a slight plus, for the American economy. But the pluses and minuses are not evenly distributed over the whole population: Lesser-skilled Americans who compete for jobs that don’t require Ivy League credentials take the hit, while people like me enjoy a lot of the benefits.”

Andrew Yuengert, a professor of economics at Pepperdine University, in his Acton monograph on immigration, makes the same observation. In his shorter white paper based on the monograph, Yuengert writes regarding the impact of immigrants on the cost of social programs, “the real problem is not the fiscal burden of immigrants but the concentration of the fiscal burden in a few localities.”

Baker identifies with the problems posed for low-wage natives in the US who are faced with increasing competition from immigrant workers (both legal and illegal). It is true that certain areas of the country are going to be negatively impacted in terms of the costs of government programs, as well as that certain sectors of the population in these areas will face increased competition for low-wage jobs.

Neither of these two facts can obscure the reality that liberal and legal immigration results in a net economic gain for the US. What these realities can do, however, is temper and specialize government policy.

Perhaps even more importantly, they can give incentive and direction for private social endeavors to help alleviate the job displacement and negative economic effects. Charities could target immigrant communities and take the burden off the state to provide education and health care. Other programs could focus on training and education for immigrants and natives to move on from low-wage jobs.

Immigration should be seen as an opportunity and incentive for natives in low-wage earning jobs to get better training, experience, and education and improve to higher paying positions. A benefit of increased competition for jobs is that workers are given the incentive not to remain indefinitely in positions that don’t give them the standard of living they desire.

For Yuengert’s views especially as regards illegal immigration, listen to this radio interview (mp3) from The Jerry Bowyer Show.

Actonites know about all the benefits of globalization.

Most of these benefits are economic but also have much greater and often unseen social impact as well. Increased international trade in goods and services promotes division of labor and an efficient use of scarce resources, resulting in lower-priced, higher-quality products. The poor are often the greatest beneficiaries as both producers and consumers. People all over the world come to recognize their increased interdependence, not only with their local grocer or tailor, but with others in faraway lands.

Only the most xenophobic and nationalistic foes of economic and social progress would be against globalization, right?


In nearly every country of the world, including those who have thrived in the last 10-20 years of increased trade, globalization is under attack and in danger of being reversed.

See here for the troubles being reported in Europe, here in the United States, and here in India. And there’s plenty more out there.

This most recent backlash against globalization shows how fears of insecurity prey on mass perceptions and how arguments in favor of economic efficiency are rarely strong enough to resist these fears.

Readers of the Acton PowerBlog know how important religious leaders can be in shaping moral arguments and more of these leaders need to understand just what is at stake here. A collapse of the global economic system resulting from increased protectionism would be an unmitigated disaster for everyone.

There are reports that Pope Benedict is planning a social encyclical on work. It would be a perfect opportunity to re-examine John Paul II’s groundbreaking “Centesimus Annus” and the more recent trends the world has seen.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Last spring I participated in a symposium at the University of St. Thomas School of Law on “pro-life progressivism.” The proceedings have now been published in the school’s law review, which is available here.

To simplify, the conference was designed to explore the possibility of extending the political and intellectual appeal of a position that is against abortion and the death penalty, and left-leaning on economic policy. To the organizers’ credit, they invited the airing of opinions critical of pro-life progressivism from various perspectives. My role was to question the “progressive” part of the equation, which I did, somewhat indirectly, with a brief history of “conservative” Catholic social thinkers.

Not part of the conference, but included in the published journal, is an extremely interesting piece by Patrick Shrake. Shrake argues that the privacy jurisprudence of the last 40 years should be overturned and that the kind of state anti-contraception laws that started the mess could be upheld. Catholics and others who both accept the moral case against artificial birth control and are wary of an activist state will view the article ambivalently, but it is at the least a serious and thought-provoking argument.

I will be speaking at the Scholarly Communications Symposium next month at Drexel University in Philadelphia. On Friday, April 28, I will be the second of three presenters, and will give a talk titled, “The Digital Ad Fontes!: Scholarly Research Trends in the Humanities.”

The other speakers are Dr. Blaise Cronin, Rudy Professor of Information Science and Dean of the School of Library and Information Science at Indiana University, and Rosalind Reid, editor of American Scientist, the magazine of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society.

You can visit the conference webpage for abstracts of the lectures. The event is free and open to the public (registration required).

The Solemnity of St. Joseph is usually celebrated on March 19, but as it fell on the third Sunday of Lent, it has been moved to today, March 20. The Solemnity is also the the former-Joseph Ratzinger’s “onomastico” or name/patron saint’s day.

In addition to being a patron of the universal Church, St. Joseph is also known as the patron saint of workers. For the occasion, Pope Benedict said the following during his homily in St. Peter’s Basilica yesterday (click here for the full English text, courtesy of Zenit):

Work activity must serve the true good of humanity, allowing “man, as individual and member of society, to cultivate and fulfill his full vocation” (“Gaudium et Spes,” No. 35). For this to occur, the necessary technical and professional qualification is not enough; neither is the creation of a just social order attentive to the good of all sufficient. A spirituality must be lived that will help believers to sanctify themselves through their work, imitating St. Joseph, who every day had to provide for the needs of the Holy Family with his hands, and who because of this the Church indicates as patron of workers.

And at the Angelus address, the pope referred to John Paul II’s 1989 apostolic exhortation “Redemptoris Custos”, Custodian of the Redeemer, which is full of remarkable observations on the simple, devout life of Christ’s earthly father. The full text can be found on the Vatican’s website by clicking here.

It’s not too much to read, but there’s a lot to reflect upon, even more to incorporate into our everyday lives, and an excellent way to start a work week!