Posts tagged with: capitalism

A friend at church recently loaned me the New York Times bestseller Same Kind of Different as Me, which tells the story of how a wealthy art dealer named Ron Hall and a homeless man named Denver Moore struck up a friendship that changed both their lives. I’m only half way through it, but it’s already instructive on several levels that connect to the work of Acton.

Denver grew up as an illiterate sharecropper in Louisiana, an orphan who loses a series of guardian relatives while growing up and eventually finds himself in a class a notch below sharecropper—the field laborer who isn’t entitled to a share of the crops he works but simply works dawn to dusk for the food, clothing and minimal shelter he’s given on credit. In Denver’s case, since he couldn’t read, write, or do arithmetic, he couldn’t determine how much he owed, what the interest was, what his labor was worth, or even that he’d been denied his right to an education.

Economic conservatives talk a lot about the morality of the free economy, and the power of the markets to better the lives of the poor. It’s stories like Denver Moore’s that underscore why Acton spends so much time talking about a free and virtuous society, about the importance of ordered liberty. You see, in the book, at no point did anyone put a gun to Denver’s head and make him pick cotton dawn till dusk. At a superficial level, he was a participant in an un-coerced labor market (slavery had been abolished generations ago, after all). But any thoughtful look at Denver’s extraordinary story of struggle, despair, and escape will register the fact that Denver’s liberty had been violated in a host of subtle and not-so-subtle ways during his youth. These were like the strands of a spider web: individually they are of little consequence and hard to see, but taken together they have the power to bind. (more…)

ForbesAlejandro Chafuen, president and chief executive officer of Atlas Economic Research Foundation and board member of the Acton Institute, recently wrote a piece for about crony capitalism.

Chafuen used to spend his summers in Argentina, so he begins his article with a story about a friend from Argentina. Enrique Piana, known to his friends as “Quique,” was heir to “Argentina’s oldest and most respected trophy and medals companies.”

During part of the ’90s, the government of President Carlos Menem, and then-Minister Domingo Cavallo, had a policy for the importation of gold and exports of gold fabrications that amounted to a major subsidy for exporters. Attracted by the incentives, Quique, who had become CEO of his company, became a key player in a scheme whereby exporting overvalued gold-plated products netted them 30 million in subsidies for fake transactions. As it seems that none of the medals were sold at artificial value to true customers, the only victims here ended up being the Argentine tax-payers.

The scheme involved a “business” in the United States. As there is still substantial respect for rule of law in the United States, Quique was indicted, captured, and—after some months in a U.S. jail—extradited to Argentina. In his book, he lists the government officials who he claims knew about the scheme and who received bribes for his fraudulent activities. I will not mention them here. None of them were sentenced to jail. (more…)

John Mackey, the well-known CEO of Whole Foods, sat down for an interview with Reason TV’s Nick Gillespie this week and I found a few quotes from their exchange particularly interesting. You can watch the full interview here: John Mackey Video

When asked what the original “higher purposes” of his business were when Whole Foods began, Mackey responded:

“Sell healthy food to people. Make a living for ourselves. Have fun. But our purposes have evolved over time…I would say one of our higher purposes now is to heal America.”

Mr. Mackey writes all about such things in his recently-released Conscious Capitalism. Citing familiar statistics regarding the millions of Americans who are overweight and suffering from diseases that “correlate directly with diet and lifestyle choices,” he feels that his chain of high-end groceries are a very real contribution to the betterment of the nation.

I applaud much of what Mackey says publicly when it comes to free enterprise and the moral case for capitalism (more on that in a minute), but the idea that ultra-expensive, cage-free items – in a store that is primarily frequented by already-healthy (and wealthy) patrons – will “heal America” is a bit over-the-top. (more…)

Samuel Gregg recently spoke with Marie Stroughter from African-American Conservatives. They discuss Gregg’s new book, Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future. 

Stroughter asked Gregg about the dichotomy between “cuddle capitalism” (the European social model) and a dynamic market economy.  Gregg says that Americans are more and more choosing a ‘Europeanized’ economy favoring security over economic liberty.

Listen to the full audio here:

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You can purchase the hardcover or eBook version of Becoming Europe here.

JMM_15.2_WebThe newest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality has been published. The issue is available in digital format online and should be arriving in print in the next few weeks for subscribers. This issue continues to offer academic engagement with the morality of the marketplace and with faith and the free society, including articles on economic engagement with Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate, biblical teaching on wealth and poverty, schools as social enterprises, the Reformed philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd’s economic theory, and much more.

As we have done in the past, Jordan Ballor’s editorial is open access, even to non-subscribers. In “Between Greedy Individualism Editorial and Benevolent Collectivism” he examines the enduring impact of Michael Novak’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, writing,

At the time of its publication, Novak’s work must have been like a window thrust wide open in a dank room, introducing a breath of fresh air and the sanitizing rays of sunlight. Against ideologies that posit state power as a neutral or even benevolent force arising of necessity against the rapaciousness of the market, Novak observed instead that it was democratic capitalism that arose first as a system designed to check the invasiveness of state tyranny. The “founders of democratic capitalism,” wrote Novak, “wished to build a center of power to rival the power of the state.” Indeed, “they did not fear unrestrained economic power as much as they feared political tyranny.” Still more would they fear the union of economic and political power that we find all too often today in corrupt and cronyist regimes.

You can read his full editorial here. (more…)

Over at Fieldnotes Magazine, Matthew Kaemingk offers a good reminder that in our social solutions-seeking we needn’t be limited to thinking only in terms of market and state. By boxing ourselves in as such, Kaemingk argues, Christians risk an overly simplistic, non-Biblical view of human needs and human destiny:

When presented with almost any social problem (education, health care, poverty, family life, and so on), today’s leaders typically point to one of two possible solutions—a freer market or a stronger state. But in opposition to these rather myopic solutions, I think there is a more complex and biblical lens through which leaders can consider the social eco-system and the people who move around in it.

Instead of simplistic descriptions of human beings as either clients of the state or competitors in the market, the Christian Scriptures present humanity in a refreshingly complex way. We find a complex creature with a wide variety of gifts, abilities, interests, aspects, loyalties, and solidarities. Created in the image of God, human beings in the Bible are anything but simple. They are musical, communal, religious, artistic, familial, charitable, scientific, literary, moral, athletic, fun, and funny. The robust anthropology found in the Bible depicts a creature that could never be fully defined, controlled, content, or nourished by the market or the state alone—thank God.

This perspective ties in well with Rev. Robert Sirico’s final chapter in his book, Defending the Free Market, where he criticizes the popular notion of homo economicus, from which plenty of bad economic policy and market decision-making has been generated:

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. Familial love, voluntary dedication to philanthropy and faith, the creation of art and music would be at their most minimal level, and whole sectors of life would completely vanish. Focusing the whole of life on the acquisition of quantifiable goods does not bring true happiness or peace, as almost everyone knows. We all have material appetites, but we do not (pray God) always feed them…Human beings find ultimate fulfillment not in acquisition but in developing, sharing, and using their God-given creative capacities for good and giving themselves to others. (more…)

Over at Ricochet, Peter Robinson broaches the oft asked question about intellectuals and their disdain and rage against capitalism. Robinson unearthed Robert Nozick’s, “Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?” Nozick declared,

The schools, too, exhibited and thereby taught the principle of reward in accordance with (intellectual) merit. To the intellectually meritorious went the praise, the teacher’s smiles, and the highest grades. In the currency the schools had to offer, the smartest constituted the upper class. Though not part of the official curricula, in the schools the intellectuals learned the lessons of their own greater value in comparison with the others, and of how this greater value entitled them to greater rewards.

The wider market society, however, taught a different lesson. There the greatest rewards did not go to the verbally brightest. There the intellectual skills were not most highly valued. Schooled in the lesson that they were most valuable, the most deserving of reward, the most entitled to reward, how could the intellectuals, by and large, fail to resent the capitalist society which deprived them of the just deserts to which their superiority “entitled” them? Is it surprising that what the schooled intellectuals felt for capitalist society was a deep and sullen animus that, although clothed with various publicly appropriate reasons, continued even when those particular reasons were shown to be inadequate?

The entire essay is thoughtful and worth the read and it reminded me of some of my own observations of life at Ole Miss, my own Alma Mater. Much of what Nozick explains in the essay may be magnified at a school that has a similar cultural makeup as that one. The University of Mississippi or Ole Miss, at least from my own experience, is a very solid public university. There are some excellent professors in residence, especially within the college of liberal arts. For a public university, especially when it comes to capitalism and cultural norms, the student body is relatively conservative. I would say though from my own experience, however, it isn’t a place of grand academic probing or curiosity for most students. How many colleges genuinely can claim that characteristic today, though? That is not to say students are less intelligent or thoughtful than elsewhere.

A deep intellectual curiosity among the student body, in most cases, would not ingratiate you towards your peers and it certainly did you little favor in the social scene. I immediately noticed a tension between some of the academics and a large portion of the student body. Social development, popularity, networking, and the general social scene was all the rage for many students. Whether it was through popular fraternities and sororities and social gatherings, those activities and influences took precedence over the academy and academic pursuits.

A lot students came from financially successful families and many of those families were popular in Mississippi. They had little interest in repudiating their background, upbringing, and many of the cultural norms that surrounded them. While some academics on campus wanted the students to at least in part, to repudiate some of those values and norms. And many of those same students – who might be described as not “academic” or “intellectual” – were masters of the social scene, where often financial success comes in life, especially in the field of business and entrepreneurial enterprise. The resentment of some in academic circles was palpable. They felt betrayed by the wider culture – no beautiful woman at their side, no expensive sport utility vehicle, and little popularity. Thus there was a feeling that the system is rigged and unfair. I suspect in many of the the more traditional campus settings, feelings like this are especially common.

There has been a lot written on the topic of the academy’s rants and raging against the free market. Certainly much of it has to do with the deep perception that some professors aren’t rewarded to a greater degree than those that are less academic but maybe more socially astute in life and business.

Perhaps the best examples today are the professors in SEC schools who carry impressive academic degrees and credentials but are dwarfed in salary by football coaches with motorcades bigger than the state governor, and a support staff greater than entire academic departments on campus. They are a visible reminder of the popular jock who got the girl, while simultaneously, being the most admired figure on campus. Is capitalism or the free market really to blame though?