Archived Posts February 2013 » Page 7 of 15 | Acton PowerBlog

In 1978, John Mackey was 25-year-old college dropout who believed that democratic socialism was a more “just” economic system than democratic capitalism. But his views soon changed after he and his girlfriend borrowed $45,000 from family and friends to open a small vegetarian grocery store in Austin, Texas. Although he was only earning $200 a month from his struggling business, his friends on the left viewed him as a “capitalistic exploiter” who was overcharging his customers and exploiting his workers.

jmackeyIn a nutshell the economic system of democratic socialism was no longer intellectually satisfying to me and I began to look around for more robust theories which would better explain business, economics, and society. Somehow or another I stumbled on to the works of Mises, Hayek, and Friedman, and had a complete revolution in my world view. The more I read, studied, and thought about economics and capitalism, the more I came to realize that capitalism had been misunderstood and unfairly attacked by the left. In fact, democratic capitalism remains by far the best way to organize society to create prosperity, growth, freedom, self-actualization, and even equality.

Mackey’s small store morphed into Whole Foods Market, which now has 345 stores and $4 billion in annual sales, but he’s still an advocate of free markets who believes that capitalism is misunderstood. In a recent speech Mackey claimed that, “capitalism has a serious branding problem . . . the recent recession was . . . blamed on greedy financial corporations, deregulation, and capitalism—market failures—rather than on bad government regulations and monetary policies—government failures.”
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Today at Ethika Politika, I explore the prospects for a renewed embrace of the Christian spiritual and ascetic tradition for ecumenical cooperation and the common good in my article “With Love as Our Byword.” As Roman Catholics anticipate the selection of a new pope, as an Orthodox Christian I hope that the great progress that has been made in ecumenical relations under Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI will continue with the next Roman Pontiff.

In addition, I note the liturgical season: “The calling of Lent, for Christians of all traditions, reminds us of the ascetic heart of the Gospel way of life.” I continue to say,

Indeed, how many of our social problems today—poverty, violence, abortion, etc.—would benefit from such personal and relational love? We cannot view such problems with regard to statistics and policies alone (though we ought not to ignore them). On a much deeper level, they show us the suffering of persons in crisis who need the love of those who live a life of repentance from past sin and striving toward the likeness of God, the “way toward deification.”

I have commented in the past on the PowerBlog with regards to asceticism and the free society, but here I would like to explore the other side of the coin. We ought to embrace the radical way of love of the Christian tradition when it comes to the social problems of our day, but as I note above, we ought not, therefore, to ignore statistics and policies.

In his 1985 article, “Market Economy and Ethics,” then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes, “A morality that believes itself able to dispense with the technical knowledge of economic laws is not morality but moralism. As such it is the antithesis of morality.” Heeding this warning means uniting good intentions and sound economics.

Failure to do so, despite having the right intentions and even the right morals, can lead to great error and unintended, harmful consequences. It reminds me of two passages from the readings for the past weekend’s Acton/Liberty Fund Liberty and Markets conference that I had the opportunity to attend. (more…)

Today in the United States is the federal holiday known as Washington’s Birthday (not “Presidents Day—see item #1). In honor of George Washington’s birthday, here are 5 things you should know about the day set aside for our America’s founding father.

George Washington1. Although some state and local governments and private businesses refer to today as President’s Day, the legal public holiday is designated as “Washington’s Birthday” in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code. The observance of Washington’s birthday was made official in 1885 when President Chester A. Arthur signed a bill establishing it as a federal holiday.

2. Washington was actually born on February 11, 1732, under the Julian calendar in effect at the time he was born. But his birthday is considered to be February 22 under the Gregorian calendar which was adopted throughout the British Empire in 1752.

3. Because the public holiday is on the third Monday in February, the observance can never again occur on Washington’s actual birthday since the third Monday in February cannot occur any later than February 21.

4. Some sources—including Wikipedia and the U.S. Mint—incorrectly claim that President Nixon changed the name of the holiday to “Presidents’ Day” to honor all past presidents. While Nixon did issue an executive order making the third Monday in February a public holiday, the claim that he changed the name is a modern myth.

5. Almost every February 22 since 1888 President Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address has been read in the United States Senate. Here is the text of that address:

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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, February 18, 2013

The End of a Catholic Moment
Ross Douthat, New York Times

The collapse in the church’s reputation has coincided with a substantial loss of Catholic influence in American political debates.

Pastor, Teach Your Businessperson to Be a Vine Worker
Sebastian Traeger, 9Marks Blog

My guess is, the longer you pastor businesspeople, or the longer you’re a businessperson in a church, the more likely you’ll experience something similar to one of these two scenes. Let’s call it the Pastor-Businessman Divide.

The Papal Abdication
Joseph Bottum, The Weekly Standard

Benedict XVI’s problematic farewell.

Syrian Christians ‘running out of places to survive’
Michael Carl, OCP Media Network

Human-rights activists say the situation for Christians in Syria is growing more intense and that the ever-shrinking Christian population is near the breaking point.

“You can be for markets without being against redistribution,” says Erik Angner, a philosophy professor at George Mason University. Angner argues that the Nobel-winning economist Friedrich Hayek offers an alternative to contemporary liberals and leftists on the one hand and conservatives and libertarians on the other. As Amanda Winkler notes,

In a controversial Politco op-ed published in 2012, Angner wrote that while Britain’s National Health System and the price-rigging elements of Obamacare violate Hayekian principles, creating an individual mandate and giving poor Americans some amount of money to spend on health care as they see fit does not. To Angner, vouchers for health care would function similarly to vouchers for education, helping to create stronger market forces and spurring the sort of competition that would lead to a more efficient and robust system.

Economist Tyler Cowan is skeptical that Hayek’s approach would work since, he says, “it is hard to have major government involvement in health care without price controls, or should I write ‘price controls,’ in some manner or another.”

Perhaps more interesting than whether a Hayekian could support Obamacare is the question of whether a Christian who favors free markets should be in favor of income redistribution. Personally, for numerous reasons I’m in favor of encouraging individual redistribution and leery of state-mandated redistribution. One reason, as Arthur Brooks explains, is that “[It] just culturally makes it harder for people who believe in income redistribution to give intuitively, to take personal ownership of a problem.” Believing that aiding the poor is the role of the government provides a disincentive for personal engagement with those in need.

What would most Christians consider a strong, compelling argument (assuming any exist) for free markets and government-mandated redistribution?

“Our world is overpopulated.” If you repeat something often enough, it becomes “truth”. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb, warning that we’d all soon be fighting over food, space, and power as the earth sagged under the weight of all those darned people.last book

He was wrong, of course, and not just wrong: spectacularly wrong. It didn’t keep him from being a celebrity or from his ridiculous notion from being believed. But he was still wrong.

In What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, author Jonathan V. Last attempts to point out the fallacies of Ehrlich and his ilk. Last is clear: our world is not overpopulated; we are vastly under-populated, and it’s a problem. He goes so far as to say that America has a self-imposed “One-Child Policy” that is leading us to demographic disaster.

Last is chiefly concerned with the problems under-population will cause America, but he uses several other countries to illustrate where we are headed. There are a lot of numbers in this book: financial figures about the costs of raising children, population numbers, fertility rates, the changing age of marriage. The conclusion doesn’t get lost in all the numbers: we don’t have the ability – population-wise – to take care of ourselves. That is, with programs like Social Security and Medicaid requiring a vast army of workers to keep them propped up and paying out, we can’t keep up. And if there aren’t enough workers to pay into these systems, there certainly aren’t enough people to take care of Grandma and Grandpa as they age and need more and more care. (more…)

This week, Istituto Acton Director Kishore Jayabalan joined Al Kresta of Ave Maria Radio to discuss the historic resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. The special broadcast featured Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., founder of Ignatius Press, who did his doctoral dissertation under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Click on the audio link below to listen.

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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Friday, February 15, 2013

How America Can Avoid Becoming Europe
Rick Plasterer, Juicy Ecumenicism

The slide of western societies, first European societies and now the United States, towards a culture of entitlement, dependence, collectivism, and secularism was the topic of a presentation of Dr. Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute.

The Perversity of Sin Taxes
Eileen Norcross, The American Spectator

It’s not too surprising that states often turn to “sin” taxes for more revenues, especially during downturns.

Is Wealth Created or Transferred?
Jay W. Richards, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

A common image of this “Materialist Myth” is a pie. The economy is a fixed pie, and if one person gets too big a slice, someone else will get just a sliver. If you gain wealth, someone else lost it.

Coolidge, The Great ‘No, Thank You’ President
Brittany Baldwin, Doublethink Online

With the federal debt over $16 trillion and the prospect of lowering it remote, conservatives have turned their attention to the last president who accomplished what now seems to be an incomprehensible feat: a decrease in the federal budget and national debt.

On Catholic Online, Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse praised Pope Benedict XVI for his “deep understanding” of the Christian patrimony of Christendom. “The Christian foundation of culture should be self-evident to most, but in our post-Christian (and poorly catechized) age our historical memory has grown increasingly dim,” he said.

Jacobse, a priest in Naples, Fla., and president of the American Orthodox Institute, also lauded the pope for his work at healing the East-West divide between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. “The Orthodox wonder about Pope Benedict’s replacement,” Jacobse said. “If the new Pope is a cultural conservative in the mold of Popes Benedict and John Paul II, then we know that the rapprochement of the last four decades will continue. If not, it will be more difficult to find common ground.”

Benedict, he said, also had a deep understanding of the Orthodox patrimony within Christendom.

The Regensburg Address is perhaps the most penetrating analysis of the contribution of Hellenism to Christianity offered by a Western Christian in centuries. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Thursday, February 14, 2013

heartDespite the inevitable flurry of trite sugary clichés and predictable consumerism, Valentine’s Day is as good an opportunity as any to reflect on the nature of human love and consider how we might further it in its truest, purest form across society.

For those of us interested in the study of economics, or, if you prefer, the study of human action, what drives such action—love or otherwise—is the starting point for everything.

For the Christian economist, such questions get a bit more complicated. Although love is clearly at the center, our understanding of human love must be interconnected with and interdependent on the love of God, which persistently yanks our typical economist sensibilities about “prosperity,” “happiness,” and “quality of life,” not to mention our convenient buckets of “self-interest” and “sacrifice,” into transcendent territory.

The marketplace is flooded with worldly spin-offs, as plenty of cockeyed V-Day ditties and run-of-the-mill romantic comedies are quick to demonstrate. At a time when libertine, me-centered approaches appear to be the routine winners in everything from consumerism to self-help to sex, we should be especially careful that our economic thinking doesn’t also get pulled in by the undertow.

In her book Love and Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village, Jennifer Roback Morse cautions us against these tendencies and points us in the right direction, challenging us to reconsider our basic view of human needs and potential.

Morse begins with a critique of homo economicus (economic man), a portrait of man as Supreme Calculator, capable of number-crunching his way to happiness and fulfillment on the basis of cut-and-dry cost/benefit analysis. Such a view ignores the social and spiritual side of man while submitting to a cold, limiting, earthbound order. As Rev. Robert Sirico notes in the last chapter of his recent book, “Any man who was only economic man would be a lost soul. And any civilization that produced only homines economici to fill its markets, courts, legislative bodies, and other institutions would soon enough be a lost civilization.” (more…)