Posts tagged with: capitalism

G. K. Chesterton
(one of the founding fathers of distributism)

Today at Ethika Politika, in response to a few writers who have offered, in my estimate, less-than-charitable characterizations of capitalism, I ask the question, “Which Capitalism?” (also the title of my article). I ask this in seriousness, because often the free economy that people bemoan bears little resemblance to the one that many Christians support. In particular, I ask, “Which Capitalism?” in reference to the following from Pope John Paul II, who outlines in his encyclical Centesimus Annus (no. 42) two different forms of capitalism as follows:

The first is “an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector” that “is the victorious social system” since the fall of the Soviet Union and that “should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society.” The second is “a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious.”

All three of the authors I take issue with are Roman Catholic and two of them have voiced their support for distributism as an alternative to capitalism. However, I ask with all sincerity, “[S]hould not distributists be asking whether distributism is a form of capitalism, rather than setting it up as an alternative to capitalism?” Given the high praise given by Pope John Paul II to capitalism, rightly understood as the free economy, ought not distributists simply be arguing that they, perhaps, have some valuable insights for supporters of capitalism, rather than opposing distributism to capitalism, uncharitably understood? (more…)

Bono, foreign aid, development, capitalismBono, lead singer of U2 and co-founder of charity-group ONE, recently offered some positive words about the role of markets in reducing global poverty and spurring economic development (HT):

The Irish singer and co-founder of ONE, a campaigning group that fights poverty and disease in Africa, said it had been “a humbling thing for me” to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurialism in philanthropy, particularly as someone who “got into this as a righteous anger activist with all the cliches.”

“Job creators and innovators are just the key, and aid is just a bridge,” he told an audience of 200 leading technology entrepreneurs and investors at the F.ounders tech conference in Dublin. “We see it as startup money, investment in new countries. A humbling thing was to learn the role of commerce.”

The remarks have led to relative hype in “pro-market” circles, but I’d remind folks that these are brief statements made to a small group of innovators and entrepreneurs. ONE has plenty of wrinkles in its past, and Bono’s primary legacy in this arena consists of promoting the types of ineffective, top-down social engineering that groups like PovertyCure seek to expose. When Bono continues to claim that foreign aid, as he understands it, is still a “bridge”—even if just a bridge—it’s reasonable to assume that his orientation toward “bridge-building” has been left largely unchanged by his newfound appreciation for markets.

But although I’m not overly confident that Bono’s sudden self-awareness is enough to radically shift his aid efforts away from fostering dependency, this small admission helps illuminate one of our key obstacles to doing good in the world: overzealousness paired with overconfidence.
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The Fund for American Studies has produced a superb It’s a Wonderful Life-style video about life without capitalism. The video not only shows what life would be like if we banned free enterprise (i.e., a lot like Soviet Russia) but also makes the point that when you lose economic freedom you lose other freedoms too. As the angel says, “When you take away the carrot, all you’re left with is the stick.

My favorite part of the video:

Anti-capitalist activist: “I just wanted to get rid of the greed. I didn’t want to get rid of my microwave, my air-conditioner. . . ”

Angel: “Your Xbox.”

Activist: “My Xbox is gone?”

Angel: “Yeah, well, in this world that greedy Bill Gates work in a bowling ball factory in Akron. Lose-win, right?”

(Via: Cafe Hayek)

Bill Gates, easily one of the richest men in the world, recently talked about his wealth and his children’s inheritance, philanthropy and taxes in an article in the the UK’s The Telegraph.

He acknowledged that “[c]apitalism has worked phenomenally” and one need only look at North Korea vs. South Korea to see evidence of that. He also noted, “Capitalism has shortfalls. It doesn’t necessarily take care of the poor, and it underfunds innovation.”

Gates made several remarks to the British audience about the American tax system:

Just raising taxes on the rich won’t solve the crisis, but it seems reasonable to people – and there’s plenty of room to do that without creating disincentives or distortions.”

The news that the mega-rich Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, pays 15 per cent tax “wasn’t shocking at all. That’s the US system. If people want capital gains taxed more like the highest rate on income, that’s a good discussion. Maybe that’s the way to help close the deficit.”

What Gates failed to note is that the American government’s deficit problem is largely due to government over-spending, not under-taxing its citizens.

He announced at the time the article appeared that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was making a $750 million donation to fight AIDS, malaria and TB in Africa, and was also focusing on helping subsistence farmers on that continent. (In July of this year, Melinda Gates announced a “family planning summit”, hoping to raise $4 billion to give more women access to artificial birth control, largely focusing on Africa and Asia.)

Interestingly, Gates said he didn’t expect the Foundation to continue very long after he and his wife were dead.

“Our foundation won’t last long beyond Melinda’s and my lifetime. The resources will last about 20 years after whichever is the last of us to go. There is no family business, and my kids will make their own careers.”

While Gates doesn’t downplay his role in technological innovation, he says the personal passion he once spent on entrepreneurship is now focused on ending disease and starvation for the world’s poor. The Telegraph article also focuses on some fascinating aspects of Gates’ relationship with long-time business rival Steve Jobs, especially in the months leading up to Jobs’ death.

From the video vault, a classic presentation by Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, based on his monograph The Entrepreneurial Vocation.

Conference: “Global Commodities: The Material Culture of Early Modern Connections, 1400-1800″

Global History and Culture Centre – University of Warwick – 12-14 December 2012. This International conference held at the Global History and Culture Centre of the University of Warwick seeks to explore how our understanding of early modern global connections changes if we consider the role material culture played in shaping such connections. In what ways did material objects participate in the development of the multiple processes often referred to as ‘globalisation’? How did objects contribute to the construction of such notions as hybridism and cosmopolitanism? What was their role in trade and migration, gifts and diplomacy, encounters and conflict? What kind of geographies did they create in the early modern world? What was their cultural value vis-à-vis their economic value? In short, this conference seeks to explore the ways in which commodities and connections intersected in the early modern world.

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Book Review: “Ferguson on Green, Pauper Capital
David R. Green. Pauper Capital. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010. Reviewed by Christopher Ferguson (Auburn University)

The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, more commonly known as the New Poor Law, is arguably the most notorious piece of legislation in British history. Deeply controversial in its day, it has unsurprisingly generated a dense and diverse scholarly literature ever since, yet one in which the national capital has played a remarkably minor role. Indeed, David R. Green’s study is the first to attempt to explore the history of the Poor Law in nineteenth-century London in its geographic and administrative entirety. One need not read far to understand why, for the history of the Poor Law in London prior to and post 1834 is enormously complex. Green is to be commended both for undertaking a difficult task and for producing a study that is remarkably easy to read, despite the intricacies of its subject matter. His study makes the arcane history of poor relief in nineteenth-century London accessible to the non-specialist, while simultaneously yielding significant insights about this history for specialist scholars of poverty, policy, and the nineteenth-century British state.

Job: “Assistant Professor, History of Capitalism in Modern America, Brown University”

The Department of History at Brown University invites applications for a tenure-track assistant professorship in the history of capitalism defined broadly to encompass candidates working in labor history (free and unfree), business history, economic history, history of economic thought, history of consumer society, and the political economy of the nineteenth and/or twentieth-century US.

Article: “Economics Education and Greed”
Long Wang, Deepak Malhotra, and J. Keith Murnighan, Academy of Management Learning & Education

The recent financial crisis, and repeated corporate scandals, raise serious questions about whether a business school education contributes to what some have described as a culture of greed. The dominance of economic-related courses in MBA curricula led us to assess the effects of economics education on greed in three studies using multiple methods. Study 1 found that economics majors and students who had taken multiple economics courses kept more money in a money allocation task (the Dictator Game). Study 2 found that economics education was associated with more positive attitudes toward greed and toward one’s own greedy behavior. Study 3 found that a short statement on the societal benefits of self-interest led to more positive ratings of greed’s moral acceptability, even for noneconomics students. These effects suggest that economics education may have serious, albeit unintended consequences on our students’ attitudes toward greed.

Panel: “Christian Civic Engagement: Right, Responsibility, Opportunity”

Talking Points, October 15, 2012, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, with Amy Black (Wheaton College), Timothy Gombis (GRTS), and George Marsden (Notre Dame). The thrust of Talking Points 2012 is to generate reflection on how we might restore civility in America as a model for restoring and fostering civil discourse around the world. The last half-century has seen the emergence of evangelical Christians as a significant force in national elections and debates over domestic and foreign policy. Unfortunately, Christian civic engagement has been hijacked by polarizing voices and unimaginative choices. It isn’t simply the case that in order to be “politically engaged” we must choose to vote for party A or B. Christian civic responsibility and political engagement can be more creative and redemptive, and more civil and gracious, than has been modeled by leading figures over the last several decades. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary has invited three leading scholars to help us reflect upon how “Christian Civic Engagement” has taken shape in America, and to imagine how we might take up these rights and responsibilities as new opportunities emerge.

Call for Editor: Enterprise & Society Editor Search”

The Business History Conference announces its search for editor of Enterprise & Society: The International Journal of Business History. Published by Oxford University Press, Enterprise & Society is one of the world’s leading journals in business history. Interdisciplinary in approach and international in scope, it offers a forum for research on the historical relations between businesses and their larger political, cultural, institutional, social, and economic contexts.

Blog author: aknot
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
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Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg is featured in The American Spectator today with an article titled, “The Book That Changed Reality.” The piece lauds Catholic philosopher, journalist and theologian Michael Novak’s groundbreaking 1982 book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. Called his magnum opus, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism synthesized a moral defense of capitalism with existing cultural and political arguments. Gregg notes this and comments on the book’s timely publication and lasting influence:
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The legal institutions of capitalism exist not to advance any particular purpose, says Robert T. Miller, but to facilitate the advancement by individuals of their various, often conflicting purposes:

As this article in the Wall Street Journal explains, Missy Franklin, a seventeen year-old from Colorado who won the gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke last week, has steadfastly refused lucrative endorsement contracts. Why? Because she wants to preserve her amateur status so that she can swim competitively in college. In other words, she prefers competing to money. Happily, the economic freedom of capitalism includes not only the freedom to make money but also the freedom not to make money, if one so chooses. That’s an important lesson. If most people in Ms. Franklin’s position choose the money, that just shows that they have desires and views about the human good different from hers.

I can imagine some scolds arguing that, although Ms. Franklin’s is the better course, many young people with her opportunities would go for the money because they are seduced into doing so, and thus there should be legal limits on offering phenomenal young athletes endorsement contracts. Now, some people in Ms. Franklin’s position are no doubt seduced: they honestly believe that they should forgo riches, but they choose them anyway because they cannot control their desires. That certainly happens. But these scolds miss a bigger point, which is that some people honestly believe that going for the money is the best option. There is a very wide range for legitimate disagreement about what’s good and what’s bad in individual cases, and for some people like Ms. Franklin, given their individual circumstances, which could well be different from hers, taking the money may well be the right choice. The person best positioned to make this decision—meaning the person with the best information and indeed the moral responsibility for the choice—is the individual himself. The freedom provided by capitalist economies thus leads both to better choices (because individual decisions are made by people with superior knowledge of individual circumstances—a Hayekian point) and places moral responsibility where it belongs, with individual human beings.

Read more . . .

In his new book, Defending the Free Market: the Moral Case for a Free Economy, the Rev. Robert Sirico points out that capitalism has been given a bad name that it truly doesn’t deserve:

Rightly understood, capitalism is the economic component of the natural order of liberty. Capitalism offers wide ownership of property, fair and equal rules for all, strict adherence to the rules of ownership, opportunities for charity, and the wise use of resources. Everywhere it has really been tried, it has meant creativity, growth, abundance and, most of all, the economic application of the principle that every human being has dignity and should have that dignity respected.

So why all the distrust, distaste and dislike for capitalism? Charles Murray at The Wall Street Journal suggests that capitalism has been segregated from that which conforms us to the good: virtue.

Historically, the merits of free enterprise and the obligations of success were intertwined in the national catechism. McGuffey’s Readers, the books on which generations of American children were raised, have plenty of stories treating initiative, hard work and entrepreneurialism as virtues, but just as many stories praising the virtues of self-restraint, personal integrity and concern for those who depend on you. The freedom to act and a stern moral obligation to act in certain ways were seen as two sides of the same American coin. Little of that has survived. To accept the concept of virtue requires that you believe some ways of behaving are right and others are wrong always and everywhere. That openly judgmental stand is no longer acceptable in America’s schools nor in many American homes.

Murray goes on to say that the principled stewardship that has been a hallmark of middle class America needs to be restored in order for capitalism to once again be seen as not only good, but great.

Read the entire article here.