Posts tagged with: capitalism

As we noted yesterday, rock star Bono is now preaching the good of capitalism in alleviating poverty. James Pethokoukis at AEI illustrates exactly what happened in China when the power of entrepreneurial capitalism was unleashed.

china

Bono spoke on the topic of capitalism and poverty at the 2012 Global Social Enterprise Event at Georgetown University:

In the world of celebrity-do-gooders, Bono has earned the reputation of being more than a mouthpiece. Over two decades, the musician has created the ONE campaign, worked with Amnesty International, collaborated on the Band Aid bono clintonconcerts, and became increasingly involved in poverty-stricken Africa. He worked for years to promote debt forgiveness for African nations, while working for increased foreign aid.

And now? Bono says capitalism is the answer. Rudy Carrasco writes at Prism Magazine:

…Marian Tupy, who writes at the Cato Institute blog, ‘For years, Bono has been something of a pain, banging on about the need for billions of dollars in Western foreign aid…’

The world has taken notice that Bono has adjusted his economic tune. In a November 2012 speech at Georgetown University, Bono said, ‘Aid is just a stopgap. Commerce [and] entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty than aid.’ One month earlier Bono had shared at a tech conference in Ireland that he was humbled to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurship in philanthropy.

These recent declarations, however, have been brewing for a few years. A 2010 New York Times op-ed by Bono notes how ‘lefty campaigners’ and business elites are learning to collaborate: “The energy of these opposing groups is coming together [because both] see poor governance as the biggest obstacle they face.”

Bono’s affirmation—that business takes more people out of poverty than aid—should be a rallying cry for a new generation.

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Anyone who’s driven across the American landscape knows that there will be a familiar string of fast-food chains, gas stations and box stores along the expressways. You could virtually eat the same meal as you drive from one coastline of fast-food-exit-signAmerica to the other. Michael Matheson Miller, Research Fellow and Director of PovertyCure at the Acton Institute, takes up this issue, asking, “Does capitalism destroy culture?”

[S]ince the cultural critique comes from political observers at almost every point on the political spectrum, and since the bureaucratic-capitalist economies of the world really are cultures in crisis, the criticism is worth attending to seriously.

If we are going to analyze the cultural effects of market economies then I think the one of the first things we need to do is distinguish between those things Peter Berger called “intrinsic” to capitalism and those “extrinsic” to it. We need to distinguish among at least three things:

  • the cultural effects caused by capitalism,
  • effects aided and abetted by capitalism,
  • and those things that exist alongside capitalism and are often conflated with capitalism, but that are distinct from it.

I will say from the outset that I support open, competitive economies that allow for free exchange, but I would not call myself a “capitalist.” Capitalism is generally a Marxist term that implies a mechanistic view of the economy and a false dichotomy between “capital” and “labor.” Capitalism also comes in a variety of forms and can mean many things. There is corporate capitalism, oligarchic capitalism, crony capitalism, and managerial-bureaucratic capitalism, such as we have in the United States. However, cultural critics of capitalism usually don’t make those distinctions and, even if they did, many would still be critical of an authentically free market. So without trying to tease apart all of these strands at the outset and so risk never getting anywhere let me use the term “capitalism” and ask and answer the question with the broadest of brushstrokes. Does capitalism corrode culture?  I think the answer is yes and no.

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2940044212701_p0_v1_s260x420How should Protestant Christians think about faith, work, and economics? To help answer that question, the Acton Institute commissioned a series of primers about political economy and the church from four faith traditions: Baptist, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, and Reformed (forthcoming).

Chad Brand, the author of the Baptist primer, Flourishing Faith, was recently interviewed about the book and asked, “What is a Baptist political economy?”

What political economy describes is the interface between government and whatever economic system prevails in a given nation or culture. The political economy in the Soviet Union in the 1980s was a communist state with a socialist understanding of economics — a controlled-market economy. The United States was basically founded as a republic with a free market economy.

So when we introduce the idea of a Christian, and specifically Baptist, political economy, what we’re asking is, “How does the church rub itself up against a free market republic?” “How does a Baptist understanding of theology and ecclesiology interface with that.”

Because Baptists have long held the idea of religious freedom, political freedom, individual freedom and so on, the place where a Baptist political economy most manifests itself is in a kind of republican or libertarian form of economics. “Laissez faire” isn’t in the Baptist Faith and Message, but if you read and believe its statements on government and anthropology, I think you would come to the same conclusion that the government that governs least, governs best.

The notion of political economy has been around for quite some time — the first professor of political economy was a guy by the name of Thomas Malthus at the University of Oxford in about 1815 — but it hasn’t edged its way into evangelical circles until fairly recently.

Read more of the interview here and a review of Flourishing Faith here.

In a May 16 address to four new Vatican ambassadors, Pope Francis denounced the “cult of money” in today’s culture, stating that we are now living in a disposable society, where even human beings are cast aside.

Phil Lawler, at CatholicCulture.org asks if this means the pope is a socialist. Not so:

Socialists make their arguments in moral terms, because if the argument is stated purely in practical terms, the socialists will lose. By the same logic, capitalists prefer to state their arguments in practical economic terms. Unfortunately, in doing so, they cede the moral high ground to their opponents. With rare exceptions—one thinks immediately of Michael Novak and of the Acton Institute–defenders of capitalism have not taken the trouble to state their case primarily in moral terms. And that’s unfortunate, because a powerful argument can be made that capitalism, tempered by a Christian moral framework, is the best available solution to the problem of poverty.

Nothing that Pope Francis said—nothing that any Pope has said—would rule out that approach. (Pope John Paul II opened the door to a Christian defense of capitalism in Laborem Exercens, then pushed it wide open in Centisimus Annus.) To be sure, the teaching magisterium has been critical of the excesses of capitalism, and of capitalism raised to an all-encompassing ideology. Pope Francis today repeated that condemnation of “ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good.” Hard-core libertarians will be uncomfortable with that language, certainly. But then hard-core libertarians are often uncomfortable with the Ten Commandments.

Read “What capitalists should learn from the Pope’s critique” at CatholicCulture.org.

Does the free market encourage moral behavior? Virgil Henry Storr, Research Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at George Mason University, recently wrote a report called “The Impartial Spectator and The Moral Teachings of Markets.” He addresses critics’ concerns that the free market brings out and nurtures human vices.

Countless commentators have stated that “engaging in market activity can be corrupting.” Storr highlights two notable quotes. Aristotle “believed that there was something unnatural about the kind of wealth getting that occurred in the market.” Karl Marx “believed that the market could transform man into a ‘spiritual and physical monster.’”

Storr, who is also Director of Graduate Student Programs in the Mercatus Center, addresses these famous claims with quotes from those who have “made the point that markets are moral training grounds where virtues are rewarded and cultivated.” Michael Novak stated that engaging in trade “teaches care, discipline, frugality, clear accounting, providential forethought … fidelity to contracts, honesty in fair dealings, and concern for one’s moral reputation.” Deirdre McCloskey, Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says:

Capitalism has not corrupted the spirit. On the contrary, had capitalism not enriched the world by a cent nonetheless its bourgeois, antifuedal virtues would have made us better people than in the world we have lost. As a system it has been good for us.”

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Conservatives need to stop shying away from principled, as opposed to merely utilitarian, defenses of economic freedom and its associated institutions, says Acton research director Samuel Gregg in an article for Public Discourse:

Some fiscal conservatives are certainly too sanguine about creative destruction’s unintended negative effects on our lives. But these side effects are not sufficient reasons to try to slow or even stop the process, let alone assume that higher taxes and the welfare state (which itself breeds plenty of dysfunction) are the appropriate response.

Still, it doesn’t seem wise to play down these negative impacts. Given the conservative commitment to limited government, it would seem that the authentically conservative response would be to investigate and apply Tocquevillian “civil society” solutions to such problems before looking to the state for remedies.

Read more . . .

As Michael Novak observes in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, “A successful corporation is frequently based upon the principle of subsidiarity. According to this principle, concrete decisions must be made on the level closest to the concrete reality. Managers and workers need to trust the skills of their colleagues. A corporate strategy which overlooks this principle–and many do–falls prey to all the vices of a command economy, in which all orders come from above.”

According to a study by Melba J. Duncan in the Harvard Business Review, such delegation makes economic sense: “Generally speaking, work should be delegated to the lowest-cost employee who can do it well.”

A recent BusinessWeek article updates the case for executive assistants. Anyone who has had significant contact with corporate settings knows that the EAs are the ones who really get things done. But for such delegation to be effective and efficient, it must be empowering. As Duncan writes, “The most effective executives think deeply about the pieces of their workload that can be taken on—or restructured to be partially taken on—by the assistant.”

Even the “lowest-cost employee” has a stewardship responsibility.

Of course, delegation can go too far, too.

The Pavilion End pub with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background

Last week following Acton’s seminar on morality, virtue, and Catholic social teaching with a group of financiers, bankers, and other business executives in London, I was invited to attend a private eulogy service organized by the Freedom Association for the late Lady Margaret Thatcher.

The eulogy service was organized in “proper British fashion” while sharing memories and more over ales at a pub—The Pavilion End—located right behind St. Paul’s Cathedral where Britain’s conservative elite gathered for formal prayer, hymns, and a sermon given by the Bishop of London at Margaret Thatcher’s elaborate state funeral.

A few hundred in attendance at The Pavilion End pub listen to the impressive speakers

A few hundred in attendance at The Pavilion End pub listen to the impressive speakers

I joined this unique opportunity, of course, to pay my own international respects as an adopted American son of Britain’s great Mother of Liberty. It was during my 1980s Catholic conservative upbringing that I gained immense respect for the Iron Lady, who joined forces with our own President Ronald Reagan and Rome’s John Paul II. In the end, this powerful triumvirate won the Cold War and effectively rolled back the Iron Curtain to inspire unprecedented economic growth and human flourishing in the modern world. (more…)

1. “Pennies don’t fall from heaven, they have to be earned here on earth.” (Speech at Lord Mayor’s Banquet, 11/12/79)

2. “If a Tory does not believe that private property is one of the main bulwarks of individual freedom, then he had better become a socialist and have done with it.” (Article for Daily Telegraph, “My Kind of Tory Party,” 01/30/1975)

margaret-thatcher-43. “I came to office with one deliberate intent: to change Britain from a dependent to a self-reliant society – from a give-it-to-me to a do-it-yourself nation. A get-up-and-go, instead of a sit-back-and-wait-for-it Britain.” (Speech, 1984)

4. “My policies are based not on some economics theory, but on things I and millions like me were brought up with: an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay; live within your means; put by a nest egg for a rainy day; pay your bills on time; support the police.” (The News of the World, 9/20/81)

5. “The choice facing the nation is between two totally different ways of life. And what a prize we have to fight for: no less than the chance to banish from our land the dark, divisive clouds of Marxist socialism and bring together men and women from all walks of life who share a belief in freedom.” (Speech, 1983)
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