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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Review Essay: “Was Robert Bellarmine Ahead of His Time?”
John M. Vella, Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Despite his rehabilitation in the last quarter of the 19th century, Bellarmine’s intellectual legacy remains mixed. In one respect, at least, he was a product of his time because his vision of a res publica Christiana depended on a united Christendom that could never be restored. Yet, what is easy to see, in hindsight, was not so clear in the early 17th century. On the other hand, his defiance of royal absolutism, in defense of rule of law and religious truth, is far from outdated.
Conference: “Sister Reformations II: Reformation and Ethics”
The Theological Faculty of the Humboldt University organizes a symposium on Sisterreformations II, Reformations and Ethics, September 13-15, 2012 in Berlin. In the light of the fruitful collaboration between Reformation historians trained in the German and Anglo-Saxon academic traditions during the 2009 Berlin symposium ‘Sister Reformations: The Reformation in Germany and in England’, a second gathering will now take place in 2012 to examine the theme ‘Reformation and Ethics’. For, although all parties in the Sixteenth Century accepted moral renovation as intrinsic to the Christian life, the exact place of ethics in this process, especially in relation to faith, was one of the most disputed points not only between the Reformers and their adversaries but also between the different strands of the Reformation itself. Consequently, this new symposium, jointly planned by the chairs of Reformation History in Berlin and Durham (UK), shall consider the principal ethical and theological questions involved as well as the actual moral decisions and patterns of behaviour associated with the English and German Reformations.
Lecture: “An Occasional Lecture: Capitalism and the Family”
Steven Horwitz, Institute of Economic Affairs
In this talk, Steven Horwitz will argue that the enhanced freedom with respect to family choices that has characterised the modern family and is celebrated by those on the political left, is largely a product of the economic system, market capitalism, which they often reject. At the same time, those on the right who are troubled by these changes in the family, including the demand for same-sex marriage, need to realise that such cultural changes are an inevitable by-product of the economic freedom they claim to celebrate. Steven will argue it is capitalism that is the main driver of the evolution of the western family and the wider array of family structures, which characterises the 21st century, representing an increased cultural freedom brought on by the freedom to engage in capitalist acts between consenting adults and the wealth it brings in its wake.
Book Note: “Theology and Public Philosophy”
Kenneth Grasso and Cecilia Rodriguez Castillo, eds., Theology and Public Philosophy: Four Conversations
This volume brings together eminent theologians, philosophers and political theorists to discuss the relevance of theology and theologically grounded moral reflection to contemporary America’s public life and argument. Avoiding the focus on hot-button issues, shrill polemics, and sloganeering that so often dominate discussions of religion and public life, the contributors address such subjects as how religious understandings have shaped the moral landscape of contemporary culture, the possible contributions of theologically-informed argument to contemporary public life, religious and moral discourse in a pluralistic society, and the proper relationship between religion and culture.
Book Note: “Reckoning With Markets”
James Halteman and Edd S. Noell, Reckoning With Markets: The Role of Moral Reflection in Economics
Undergraduate economics students begin and end their study of economics with the simple claim that economics is value free. Only in a policy role will values and beliefs enter into economic work; there can be little meaningful dialogue by economists about such personal views and opinions. This view, now well over 200 years old, has been challenged by heterodox thinkers in economics, and philosophers and social scientists outside the discipline all along the way. However, much of the debate in modern times has been narrowly focused on philosophical methodological issues on one hand or theological/sectarian concerns on the other. None of this filters down to the typical undergraduate even in advanced courses on the history of economic thought. This book presents the notion that economic thinking cannot escape value judgments at any level and that this understanding has been the dominant view throughout most of history. It shows how, from ancient times, people who thought about economic matters integrated moral reflection into their thinking. Reflecting on the Enlightenment and the birth of economics as a science, Halteman and Noell illustrate the process by which values and beliefs were excluded from economics proper. They also appraise the reader with relevant developments over the last half-century which offer promise of re-integrating moral reflection in economic research.
In a follow up interview to “Is Capitalism Immoral?,” Joseph E. Gorra on the Patheos Evangelical channel talks with Rev. Robert A. Sirico, Acton Institute president and co-founder, about the publication of his new book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy. Gorra begins the interview by observing that “within Western societies today there appears to be a kind of fact/value dichotomy that operates as an assumption in much of our discourse, where questions of ‘economics’ (and the sciences in general) are in the category of knowledge and facts and therefore tend to trump questions of theology.”
Patheos: The dichotomous fact/value assumption also stunts our comprehension of what is true.
Sirico: It’s also true that some economists become hegemonic in thinking that the whole of truth is seen through their particular lens of expertise, rather than appreciating the immense complexity of humanity and situating their part of the truth within the broader truth of who the human person is. But that’s not just a problem for some economists—scientism infects almost every discipline that has a strong empirical element.
It would be humorous, if it were not tragic, when one becomes so blinded by the subjectivism of such relativism that they accuse others of what they themselves are infected with. What I am trying to do is broaden our comprehension of the truth that permeates everything—in the case of my book, how the economic can be seen to emerge from a reflection of human nature and empower us to do the good intentionally.
Read “Does Capitalism Promote Greed?: An Interview with Father Robert Sirico, Part 2″ on the Patheos Evangelical channel.
On the Patheos Evangelical channel, Joseph E. Gorra talks to Rev. Robert A. Sirico, Acton Institute president and co-founder, about the publication of his new book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy. Gorra frames the interview with this question: “Countless detractors over the years have argued that capitalism is intrinsically immoral. Is it true?”
Patheos: As you know, “capitalism” and “free markets” often invoke all sorts of various (even contradictory) images and ideas for different people. I want to start by having you articulate what it is that you are defending in this book in order to help readers break through some of the “noise” that’s out there on this topic.
Sirico: The word “capitalism” itself has Marxist connotations and is, to my mind, too narrow for the free economy I am talking about. Every sort of state or crony capitalist venture gets to use the name capitalism, and I am as suspicious of corporate welfare as I am for other kinds of welfare—and for many of the same reasons.
Patheos: What would be a better way to nuance “capitalism”?
Sirico: I really find helpful Blessed John Paul II’s delineation between what might be called “capitalisms” in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus where he says that the kind of “capitalism” which should replace the collapsed Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe and recommended to the developing world ought to be one “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…” but then he is quick to add, “even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy,” “market economy,” or simply “free economy” (see Centesimus Annus, no. 42). Such an expression of human liberty, grounded in ethical and religious tradition—especially natural law reasoning—and circumscribed by law, is to my mind, the best we can get on earth. This approach is neither libertine nor anarchistic.
Read “Is Capitalism Immoral? An Interview with Father Robert Sirico” on the Patheos Evangelical channel.