Archived Posts August 2011 | Acton PowerBlog

Since its inception, the Journal of Markets & Morality has encouraged critical engagement between the disciplines of moral theology and economics. In the past, the vast majority of our contributors have focused on Protestant and Roman Catholic social thought applied to economics, with a few significant exceptions. Among the traditions often underrepresented, Orthodox Christianity has received meager attention despite its ever-growing presence and ever-increasing interest in the West.

This call for publication is an effort to address this lacuna by engaging such a rich and long-standing tradition. Submissions are welcomed in a variety of forms: they could be historical, critically engaging the thought and context of one or more particular figures influenced by the Orthodox Christian tradition (such as Vladimir Solovyov, Sergey Bulgakov, Nicholas Berdyaev, or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) or assess the impact of significant events in the history of the Orthodox Church; they could be exegetical, seeking to carefully interpret often perplexing texts of various writers or to bring to the fore the economic thought of various official documents such as The Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church or various Patriarchal encyclicals from any of the Orthodox Patriarchates; they could be comparative, comparing and contrasting the similarities and differences between Orthodox economic thought and other Christian traditions; or they could be constructive, seeking to synthesize the thought of various writers and documents into a coherent and relevant whole or seeking to creatively engage economic problems and their popular solutions from the point of view of Orthodox theology and anthropology.

For example, is Vladimir Solovyov’s critique of abstract individualism and collectivism in The Justification of the Good an Orthodox analogue or precursor to economic personalism? How economically tenable are Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s various ecological, social, and economic statements? To what extent does The Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church encourage a freer and more virtuous society? Does Orthodox theology significantly engage the natural law tradition? Could the economic thought of sometimes not-so-Orthodox writers of the Eastern tradition be improved upon by being adapted to a more historically Orthodox perspective? Given the conciliar nature of the Orthodox Church, to what extent can one form Orthodox social and economic thought based upon the historic canons and councils of the Church?

In addition to articles, the Journal of Markets & Morality also welcomes translation proposals for our Scholia and Status Quaestionis sections, early modern or premodern texts for the former and more recent texts of the last few centuries for the latter, preferably those which have never before been translated into English. Indeed, to this day our only Orthodox contribution to the Journal has been a translation of Sergey Bulgakov’s “The National Economy and the Religious Personality” by Krassen Stanchev for our Status Quaestionis section, Volume 11, Issue 1 (Spring 2008).

For more information, or to submit a paper or translation proposal, see our submission guidelines.

The Journal of Markets & Morality is a peer-reviewed academic journal published twice a year—in the Spring and Fall. The journal promotes intellectual exploration of the relationship between economics and morality from both social science and theological perspectives. It seeks to bring together theologians, philosophers, economists, and other scholars for dialogue concerning the morality of the marketplace.

Last week I wrote a commentary titled the “The Folly of More Centralized Power,” making the case against ceding anymore power to Washington and returning back to the fundamental principles of federalism.

Rep. Amash (R-Mich.), a member of the freshmen class in Congress, made that case as well. Amash was asked about his Washington experience so far in an interview and declared,

When I was in the state government, I thought things were dysfunctional there in my opinion. Now I’ve discovered things in Congress are much worse than in state government and the state government runs fairly smoothly by comparison.

In speeches and townhalls, Rep. Amash has stated that the federal government has enumerated powers and it is not supposed to expand beyond that specific scope. I quoted the Virginia Constitution in my commentary. The line I cited was originally from the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776. It reads, “That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”

Blog author: kspence
Wednesday, August 31, 2011

If modern distributists would like to identify themselves as agrarians, they may, and line up behind John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, and the rest of the contributors to I’ll Take My Stand. Then they would be making a super-catechetical argument and we should not take issue with them on this blog. Their claim, however, is to offer the only modern economic theory which is fully in line with Church teaching, and that we cannot allow to go unchallenged.

The central claim of modern distributism, as articulated in this recent essay, is that when economists left off considerations other than the calculus of markets, their discipline ceased to be a human science, and so lost much of its value as an explainer of human action. Thus distributists attack capitalism, which according to their thinking became dehumanized:

Labor was no longer the source of all human values and its sustenance the purpose of all human production. Rather, it was just another “raw material,” like pig iron or hog fat, to be purchased at the lowest possible price. The question of justice was reduced to the question of “freedom”: so long as there was no coercion in the labor contract, the price was to be considered “just.” In the long run, so it was believed, all economic actors, acting in their own “self-interest,” would produce the best possible outcomes.

Distributists are right to say that the science of economics lost a part of its essence when it abandoned questions of human nature, but capitalism was around before that abandonment, and it will exist unaltered should the economic establishment come to its senses. And a distributist may commodify his hired hand just as a faithful husband may objectify his wife.

The history of industrialization is a gradual one: there was no paradigm shift at which all wage earners were thenceforth thought of as pig iron or hot fat, because that injustice is a personal sin.

Capitalism has given us the Twinkie, the deep fried Twinkie, and the ogre green Twinkie. It has not, in the end, given us an unwanted issue of Sports Illustrated each year, a multibillion dollar pornography industry, or a meaningless common culture. Richard Weaver isolated that culprit in his 1948 book Ideas Have Consequences when he said,

The average man of the present age has a metaphysic in the form of a conception known as “progress.”

According to Weaver, modern man has no metaphysic at all: he has become a materialist and an egotist. That is why too many companies treat their employees as “resources” and why too many banks thoughtlessly loan money to people who won’t be able to pay it back. It is why the business pages of newspapers routinely report that companies lie about their accounts, or that struggling firms have been bought up and liquidated without any thought for their employees’ lives. But “The Man” doesn’t treat employees as raw materials—individual men and women do that, and it is they who are guilty of injustice, not the system of capitalism. “The Man” and the distributist picture of our economy are largely a fiction.

Even if a switch in economic systems might reduce the incentive for unjust commerce, we can’t switch to distributism. Beyond a Spanish commune 0.17% the size of theU.S.economy, no one has ever effected a distributist economy—it’s certainly never been done politically.

The United States is not an agrarian country; it is, for better or worse, a fully industrialized one. Dreams of a network of pastoral communities dotting the rolling Kentucky hills, the Texas plains, and the California valleys must remain dreams—images of the citizen-soldiers of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall…

Thanks to PewSitter, the Catholic Drudge Report, for the link!

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

AEI President Arthur Brooks answers the question from MSNBC’s Matt Miller, “What do we do when huge forces beyond our control shape our destiny?”

Though Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene was not as devastating as expected, it took several dozen lives and has cause billions of dollars of damage. Some economists have tried to argue that the storm is a net gain for the economy—think of all the jobs that will be created by the clean-up and rebuilding! But treatment of the storm by the mainstream media has been surprisingly honest and nonpartisan, and their unguarded coverage is instructive.

ABC News reports that economic losses due to slowed commerce over the next week to ten days could be as much as $20 billion, which is more than the direct damage done by the storm. (Amusing twist: one of the economists cited in the ABC story is the guy claiming the new trees and roofs needed along the eastern seaboard constitute an “economic renewal,” although ABC seems to have decided to spare him the mockery by excluding that nonsense from its story.)

The media’s frank admission that a hurricane-forced suspension of business cannot be declared economic growth invites comparison with what is said when, for example, a snowflake falls on Hilda Solis’s eyelash as she walks into work and the Department of Labor is sent home at noon. Why does no one talk about the economic losses then? Where are the stories of systematic collapse? When the Department of Labor is not on the job! Oh, wait…

Men and women—their ideas and their hard work—are the only producers of wealth, but an economics that isn’t correctly based on human nature can pretend otherwise. As Henry Hazlitt, author of Economics in One Lesson, said,

No man burns down his own house on the theory that the need to rebuild it will stimulate his energies.

Deep down, even the Washington press corps knows that natural disasters don’t create jobs, and regulation doesn’t drive growth. It takes an Act of God to get it out of them though.

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, August 29, 2011

The Acton Institute has released a mobile app for smart phones and tablets based on the Android operating system. The free app keeps users up to date with the latest PowerBlog posts, commentaries, events and other goings on at the institute. Point your desktop/laptop computer or smart phone to the Android Market.

In the pipeline — the Acton iPhone app for Apple mobile devices. Stay tuned!

Distributism is not a new idea—it wasn’t conceived by G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. As Belloc explains in The Servile State, their idea was a return to certain economic principles of medieval Europe—a guild system, wider ownership of the means of production, etc.—in order to right the injustices of capitalism. But distributism goes back further than that, to Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus in the second century B.C., and the theory’s proponents would do well to learn from the tragic failures of the Gracchi.

Plutarch tells us that the two brothers were among the most virtuous men of their day. Tiberius, ten years older than Gaius, served with great distinction in the army and showed himself not only an excellent tactician but, in his famous dealings with the Numantines, a peacemaker also. He then returned to civilian life and was elected a tribune—a representative of the interests of the common man and one of the highest offices in the Roman Republic.

As Rome grew the army was no longer made up of farmers who tilled their fields six or nine months out of the year, so that by the time of the Gracchi, the citizen farmer class upon which the Republic had been built was basically extinct. The rich could buy out the farms of whomever they wished, and more and more common families left their lands and moved to the capital, where they lived as dependents on the public.

In an attempt to save the Republic, Tiberius moved to redistribute the land and prevent the rich from buying it up in large tracts. Whatever Tiberius’s intentions—and they were certainly noble—this was revolution, and the Senate reacted. Tiberius, who had with such skill arranged peace between his army and a barbarian tribe, became swept up in the political repercussions of his attempt to return Rome to her former glory, and was assassinated.

Gaius tried to accomplish the leveling that his brother had not, but he too made an enemy of the Senate and died violently. Plutarch says of them in his account:

What could be more just and honorable than their first design, had not the power and the faction of the rich, by endeavoring to abrogate that law, engaged them both in those fatal quarrels?

In his defense of distributism for the journal Dappled Things, John C. Medaille argues that it is the only political-economic system capable of rendering distributive justice which is not a “cure worse than the disease.” Substantial government intervention or workforce unionization present dangers too “massive,” he says, to consider. But if there is anything to be learned from the failure of the Gracchi, it is that a distributist system is, if not totally impossible to implement, certainly a cure worse than the disease.