Posts tagged with: academia

I’m at the “Whole Life Discipleship: Integrating Faith, Economics, and Work” conference today at Regent University. As I have the opportunity today, I’ll blog (and tweet) some of the lectures. First up is Stephen Grabill of the Acton Institute, and here are some highlights:

He focused on three basic questions: What is political and economic freedom? How do we use Scripture in our approach to social life? What about natural law?

On the first: A Christian anthropology is anti-revolutionary in the sense of van Prinsterer and Kuyper. In this sense Groen was a protestant Lord Acton. The spirit of human autonomy manifest in the French Revolution is at odds with the spirit of Christ manifest in all areas of life.

On the second: The missing theological piece of the puzzle is that the Bible is only part of the revelation of that we need to get to concrete positions on various social questions. The distinction between special vs. general revelation is critical here, as is the place of natural law in relation to general revelation.

On the third: If we can figure out what to do with  natural law, we will have taken a critical first step in articulating a vigorous public theology. The natural law tradition acknowledges both special and general revelation. Natural law is a forgotten legacy of the Reformation, and it’s one that we have to recover to connect faith and economics today.

I hope to update this post with more as the day progresses.

Update: The next session is a talk by Dr. Gerson Moreno-Riano of Regent University.

His lecture focuses on explicating the following question:

What is a humane economy, and how does this relate to enterprise and entrepreneurship?

First, he explores a theory of humane economics, rooted in a robust moral anthropology. Economics is a theory of human action, production, distribution, consumption. Economic action is fundamentally moral in nature, preferring some goods to others, some ends to others. Insufficiency is a natural, basic fact of human existence: every human being needs other human beings. Perhaps the chief tenet of the natural law is human insufficiency (assuming relations to neighbors and God). A humane economics is one that enshrines natural limits to economic activity, accepting the natural hierarchy of human goods, guarding against the commodification of everything.

Second, a culture of enterprise is to be understood as one promotes entrepreneurship.Empathy as an essential part of anthropology, is an essential part of enterprise at the heart of an economic system. Moral ecology (Novak) and culture address the climate of a person’s socialization, a person’s relation to others. Human beings are born needy and wanting. This reality of insufficiency must be recognized. Self-awareness calls human beings to recall their lowly state and contextualizes their expectations. The moral consequence is that there must be an empathetic orientation toward the other, focusing on the needs, the lack, of other people. Enterprise, the focus on innovative responses to human needs and wants, is therefore a moral consequence of empathy.

Finally, the role of entrepreneurs in an entreprise culture must be explored. in a humane economic system. To support human flourishing a culture of enterprise  must have a holistic account of human insufficiency, the principle that human beings have unattainable non-economic needs, as well as attainable economic needs. Entrepreneurs have a critical social role in addressing the latter: attainable economic needs. Since these needs are so variable, actual embodiments of entrepreneurship are equally variable. There are many different kinds of entrepreneurs, focused on many different kinds of goods. Creativity, however, seems to be one of the characteristic features of entrepreneurship. Only when entrepreneurs become wisdom-lovers, and wisdom-lovers become entrepreneurs, can we hope to move to a culture of enterprise that promotes a humane economics.

Further reading: Gerson Moreno-Riano, “Democracy, Humane Economics, and a Culture of Enterprise,” Journal of Markets & Morality 13, no. 1 (Spring 2010).

Even philosophers can be entrepreneurial when economic reality comes crashing in, creating an existential crisis. That’s one lesson from this intriguing Washington Post story (HT: Sarah Pulliam Bailey), “Philosophical counselors rely on eternal wisdom of great thinkers.”

The actual value of philosophical counseling (or perhaps better yet, philosophical tutoring) might be debatable. But it does illustrate one response to the variegated crisis faced by higher education, particularly by those in the liberal arts and humanities. When you are done with school and have dim employment prospects and looming loans, you have a few different choices. You can ask, “Would you like fries with that, sir?” Or you can get out and create something for yourself in an entrepreneurial fashion.

These philosophical counselors represent something significant in the latter realm of response. And this is illustrative of the new kind of mindset that academics are going to have to have, even if they find places in traditional educational institutions. For a long time the entrepreneurial dynamism in higher ed was largely expressed in founding new centers and even independent think tanks and research institutions. This will continue, but it seems to me at the individual level scholars are going to have to be more creative and innovative simply to make ends meet. This will mean starting consulting businesses and creating new ways of providing a service to people, often outside of a traditional classroom setting. These realities are new for many in the liberal arts, but they are nothing new to researchers in the natural sciences.

So higher education is definitely undergoing a kind of destruction, but philosoprenuerial efforts like those in the WaPo piece will help determine whether that destruction is “creative” or not. I have hope that the decadence of humanities higher education can be challenged by these kinds of economic and moral realities.

Such examples are also instructive for those in other fields, perhaps especially theology. Increasingly institutions are realizing the need for “ecclesiastical entrepreneurs,” so to speak, and looking at new ways of integrating and aligning the interests of the academy and the church. In some cases this means new ways of combining programs, or launching new majors to provide expertise and instruction in a variety of institutional settings.

Paul Krugman made the mistake of over-sharing this past weekend when he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria he thinks that the United States economy would benefit from a military build-up to fight made-up space aliens. He’s been defended as being fed up with Republican obstructionism, being desperate to make a point, or even being wholly and completely correct. He’s entirely wrong though, and his thinking (what there is of it) is an example of the kind of depersonalized economics that has cost this country so much.

You’ve probably seen the video by now. If not, your sides will ache through the rest of this post:

Economics is more than just the manipulation of balance sheets, which is how the hyperinflation trillions-in-stimulus crowd see it. Professor Krugman does not accept that essentially, economic activity is the production of something valuable, and he does not believe that human labor has intrinsic worth, besides its taxability. Therefore what people do does not matter; in fact, if lying to them makes the economy function more smoothly, that’s fine.

This is a vision in which Man has no dignity—in which Man is not made in the image of God or anything else. The study of human interaction, then, is nothing more than moving numbers around on a page, and people are no different than plastic cars to be shifted across a traffic jam board game. (It’s telling that Krugman turns to space aliens to save our economy.) Contrast this view with what the Pope said this morning at World Youth Day.

What does have value? The state, which for progressives like Krugman is the engine of historical progress. Enter Keynsian economics, and this weekend’s gibberish.

In a recent Reuters opinion column, Mark Thoma faults academic economists for their failure to predict the housing crash. He says their failure can be attributed to the disconnect between academia and economic forecasters. I don’t agree with Thoma, but I do think he gets it right when he says the failure of modern day economics,

May have something to do with the desire among economists to become more of a science – a heavy focus on theory and math is the result.

During the classical period, economics was closely linked to psychology. In the early 20th century, neoclassical economics veered from the study of psychology as economists sought to reshape the discipline as a natural science.

Modern neoclassical economics draws influence dating back to René Descartes. According to Dr. Robert Nelson’s review of Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street by Tomas Sedlack, Cartesian thought encouraged a belief that mathematical equations are equivalent to religious truths. The economic man is seen as,

 ‘A mechanical construct that works on infallible mathematical principles, … and economists are [therefore] capable of explaining even his innermost motives’ through mathematical methods.

Philosophical implications suggest modern economics is essentially attempting to reduce individuals to numbers. Economic models that operate in a perfect abstract framework with absolute assumptions conflict with the unpredictable and sometimes irrational behavior of human nature. This may explain why data forecasting without a full picture of the human person is not sufficient in predicting major market failures like the housing crash.

Karen Ho takes an anthropological approach to the financial crisis in her 2008 book  Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street. As an anthropology graduate from Princeton, Ho is hired to work at an investment bank and writes about the corporate culture on Wall Street prior to the housing collapse. Homogenous recruitment, constant downsizing, high risk/high reward job liquidity, short-sighted bonuses, and deception of shareholder value were among many behaviors she observed. Such irrational and risky behavior should have been a red flag for any economist, shedding light on a major incentive problem.

Though it can be argued that the separation between modern economics and behavioral economics is necessary for empirical data and analysis, some economists want to see the gap close. According to Sedlack, modern economics should deemphasize the role of mathematics. Math is only the tip of the ice berg; it is vital, but not sufficient in economics. Nelson quoted him saying,

‘Below the mathematics lie much more fundamental issues’ of institutions, culture, and basic belief — even of religion. These issues do not readily lend themselves to mathematical methods.

Some human desires simply cannot be fulfilled by economic objects. A price value cannot be placed on the community, family, knowledge of God and so on. It is impossible to commodify or quantify these desires into an economic model. Richard Neuhaus famously said,

To attribute everything to the economic factor is to perpetuate the terrible lie of the Marxists. In addition to the economic is the political and, most important, the cultural. At the heart of the cultural is the moral and spiritual.

The number one failure of modern economics is an understanding of the human person that is incomplete. Economists must draw on anthropology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and theology to better understand what drives human behavior and decision making. Forecasters will never be able to predict the future the way they would like, but social studies coupled with empirical economic analysis may help economists better understand the why questions that numbers cannot explain.

Immigration is never a light topic to discuss, and even the proposition of a solution to the effects caused by immigration might well be considered radical. The idea of a harmonious multicultural society is idealistic, but in reality, is very difficult to achieve.

When looking at the advantages and disadvantages of immigration, relative to the nation receiving immigrants, the economy is a concern that often comes up. In a recent IEA (Institute of Economic Affairs) paper, Nobel Prize winner Professor Gary Becker proposes a way in which the economy and the government of the country receiving immigrants could benefit. He believes that governments should sell the right to immigrate. Becker says, “The government should set a price each year and anyone would be accepted, aside from obvious cases such as potential terrorists, criminals and people who are very sick and who would be immediately a big burden to the health system.”

Becker uses the United States as a model for how the solution might play out. The U.S. has been admitting about one million legal immigrants a year. He says, “At a price of $50,000 per immigrant, let’s suppose this would attract one million immigrants.” At a 5 per cent interest rate, it has a present value of roughly $1 trillion. Of course, different countries could charge different rates, and the option of offering loans to those who couldn’t pay the amount up-front is a possibility. Through this solution, Becker believes a country would get immigrants who are young, skilled, and have the greatest commitment to the country.

Becker’s use of the United States as an example seems to suggest it is experiencing a revenue problem. But in fact, the government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

Immigration is not a new concept; it has been taking place since the dawn of time. Since the early days of Christianity, the welcoming of others has been encouraged.  In an interview with Thomas C. Oden in Religion & Liberty,” Oden notes, “Ancient Christian writers knew that all Christians were being called to receive strangers and travelers hospitably.” But this does not get to the question of whether the stranger is entering under lawful pretences. These two viewpoints often conflict. Oden goes on to say, “They conflict dramatically between those who would emphasize the hospitality in an absolute way, and those who would emphasize the moral requirement of following the law as a part of a just social order, including the duty to respect legal borders.” So even among late and present day Christians, there is great contrast in opinions regarding this issue.

But among Christians, policy makers, and all people for that matter, the key component to any decision should be based on human dignity. Becker’s proposal works to boost the revenue of countries, but seems to take lightly the rights of the immigrants themselves.  Sure, they will be accepted into the country and may eventually enjoy the same benefits as a natural-born citizen, but under the proposal, they are treated more as a commodity than a human being.

Although Becker’s proposal would work to moderate the illegal immigration problem, by offering a viable option for immigrants to enter legally, it does not address the cultural differences and religious factors that often play a large role in the discontent surrounding immigration. Germany, for example, has expressed great concern over the large influx of Muslim immigrants (coming mainly from Turkey) entering its borders. The predominant religion in Germany has long been Christianity, although church attendance rates have experienced a rather steady decline. The Turkish immigrants have proven to be very devout in their Islamic faith, which has made Germany question how strongly it wants to hold onto its Christian roots. These religious differences have fueled much of the debate which still continues.

The topic of immigration raises many questions about how it should be handled. Not every country holds the same stake in each issue surrounding immigration (culture, religion, economics, etc.), but each decision made should be premised on the dignity of the human person first. Becker’s proposal seemingly focuses on a solution based solely on revenue concerns. By doing this he fails to recognize immigrants who immigrate for humanitarian reasons (lack of resources, economic oppression, etc.)  For people yearning for freedom, having to pay a considerable amount to enter a county doesn’t exactly fit within the mantra of liberty. Use of the free market is in many cases a good thing, but when its use undermines the very freedom it attempts to foster, it is violating its own principles. This does not mean the immigration system should not be revised; restructuring the legal immigration system in the U.S. and other countries would help a great deal. But, in order for these changes to be truly positive, they should first and foremost be based on the dignity of the human person.

 

Just a brief note addition to Kevin’s post: the free article from May’s Touchstone magazine is Terence O. Moore’s feature, “Not Harvard Bound.”

A key quote:

The elite schools no longer command the reverence and deference of red-state America. The parents and students of “flyover country” are starting to put their money where their morals are or where they believe truth is.

There’s a discussion of Moore’s article at Touchstone‘s reader discussion site, Treaders.

HT: Mere Comments

In his New York Times column this week, Peter Steinfels has an insightful analysis of an intriguing and provocative new book by C. John Sommerville, The Decline of the Secular University.

Those who study the history of American academia are familiar with the story of the secularization of universities as recounted expertly by Christian scholars such as George Marsden (The Soul of the American University) and James Burtchaell (The Dying of the Light), who decry the shunting of religion from the corridors of intellectual influence. Sommerville, in contrast and in Steinfels’ apt description, “is less interested in any loss to religion than in the loss to the university.” In brief, Sommerville argues that the universities’ indifference or hostility to religion has rendered them increasingly marginal and ineffectual in a society that remains heavily religious.

HT: Rick Garnett at Mirror of Justice.