Posts tagged with: economic freedom

Part 1 is here.]

An economically free society doesn’t have to be hyper-utilitarian, materialistic and banal; and yet, here we are, living in a capitalist age marked by these very features. Some social conservatives who see capitalism as one of the main culprits argue that we should turn away from both socialism and greedy capitalism, toward a more humanitarian and community-based approach, toward a small-is-beautiful aesthetic of farmer’s markets, widespread property ownership, social responsibility and local, collective enterprise, a political and economic strategy that would allow us to move beyond the noisy, vapid, bustling tackiness that has come to characterize so much of modern life.

The poet farmer and essayist Wendell Berry, and journalist and Crunchy Cons author Rod Dreher are among the more prominent contemporary defenders of this view. They build on the earlier work of writers such as E.F. Schumacher, Malcolm Muggeridge, G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc.

Belloc, in particular, often regarded as the father of Distributism, advocated government policies that would divide productive property more equally and spur the economy toward more buy-local patterns and greater individual contact with the land. His Distributist vision called for an active, top-down approach to the reallocation process. Here’s how Belloc put it in his 1936 work “An Essay on the Restoration of Property”:

We must seek political and economic reforms which shall tend to distribute property more and more widely until the owners of sufficient Means of Production (land or capital or both) are numerous enough to determine the character of society…. the effort at restoring property will certainly fail if it is hampered by a superstition against the use of force as the handmaid of Justice.

There are some problems with this vision of cultural renewal. (more…)

[Part 1 is here.]

A common reading of Western history holds that the principles of the free economy grew out of the secular Enlightenment and had little to do with Christianity. This is mistaken. The free economy (and we can speak more broadly here of the free society) didn’t spring from the soil of the secular Enlightenment, much less, as some imagine, from a Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest, dog-eat-dog philosophy of life.

The free economy sprang from the soil of Christian Medieval Europe and the Renaissance, beginning in the monasteries and city states of Medieval northern Italy and spreading from there across Europe, taking particularly firm root among the Dutch and English.

Voltaire, Edward Gibbon, and other secular Enlightenment thinkers propagated the myth of a so-called Dark Ages, an age of regression, religious superstition and irrationality. And some of my Protestant forebears happily seized upon this distorted characterization in the interest of discrediting Catholicism. (more…)

[Part 1 is here.]

The free economy frees entrepreneurs to create new wealth for themselves and others, which brings us to the issue of consumption. In his book Crunchy Cons, conservative author Rod Dreher describes consumerism this way: “Consumerism fetishizes individual choice, and sees its expansion as unambiguous progress. A culture guided by consumerist values is one that welcomes technology without question and prizes efficiency…. A consumerist society encourages its members both to find and express their personal identity through the consumption of products.”

Dreher’s critique of consumerism is pointed, and many people, including many Christians, could benefit from hearing it. At the same time, though, Dreher’s description runs the risk of obscuring the crucial differences between consumerism and capitalism.

It’s true that capitalist economies are far better at wealth creation than socialist economies, which is why freer economies tend to have fewer people living in extreme poverty. But capitalism and consumerism—far from being necessarily joined at the hip—are not even compatible over the long term. A moment’s reflection suggests the reason. (more…)

[Part 1 is here.]

Even a cursory look at the annual list of the freest and least free economies in the world suggests a strong correlation between economic freedom and the prosperity of its citizens, including its poorest citizens. But there’s another correlation that tends to capture the attention of those making a cultural critique of the free economy. They note that America is economically free, and that it’s experiencing cultural decay, so they conclude the first causes the second. The conclusion isn’t absurd, but it also doesn’t follow necessarily. Sometimes correlation is due to causation, and sometimes it isn’t. To avoid confusion and false conclusions, we need to distinguish the idea of economic freedom from some things it isn’t.

A lot of people view economic freedom as synonymous with big corporations cutting sweetheart deals with politicians to suppress competitors and consumer choice. This stuff goes on all the time, of course, but it isn’t economic freedom. It’s the leviathan state and big business colluding to manipulate the market, to stack the deck in favor of political insiders. Every market economy on the planet has some of this sort of thing, since economies are operated by fallen human beings. The question is, where does cronyism tend to be the worst? (more…)

On Tuesday, April 29, the Acton Institute hosted the conference Faith, State, and the Economy: perspectives from East and West at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. This conference was the first in a five-part international conference series – One and Indivisible? The Relationship Between Religious and Economic Freedom.

The one-night event, moderated by Acton’s Rev. Robert A. Sirico, featured four prominent speakers who offered deeper insight into the question of the relationship between religious freedom and economic liberty. The speakers represented a diversity of global perspectives on the relationship between religious and economic freedom.2014-04-29_0226_REV

Rev. Prof. Martin Rhonheimer of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, located in Rome, presented on Christianity and the Limits of State Power. Rhonheimer discussed the important and inherent link between limited government and a flourishing free market, the historical roots of the free market in Christian civilization, and the danger of Christians who fail to understand the link between Christianity and a free market economy.

Following Rhonheimer, Archbishop Maroun Elias Lahham of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem for Jordan offered his perspectives on Christians and the Challenge of Freedom in the Middle East. Samuel Gregg, the Director of Research at the Acton Institute, followed with an engaging analysis on contemporary issues in his presentation Religious Liberty and Economic Freedom: Intellectual and Practical Paradoxes. Gregg revealed some of the ways that greater economic freedom may lead to greater religious liberty, using the Chinese situation as a case study.

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Not the Chinese government, which should come as no shock.  But what about the United States?  As this Weekly Standard blog post points out, two prominent Hong Kong democracy advocates recently visited Washington in an attempt to secure American support for political reform there, but to little avail.

The people of Hong Kong have long enjoyed economic freedom, often ranking at the top of the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom.  Since moving from British to Chinese rule in 1997, Hong Kong has maintained much of its economic freedom, but is now under pressure to choose from among “Beijing-approved” candidates.  Hmm.  Makes one wonder about the status of religious freedom there as well.

Who better to ask than Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kuin, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, outspoken advocate for religious freedom in mainland China, and one of the speakers at an upcoming Acton conference  “Faith, State, and the Economy: Perspectives From East and West”?

The conference will take place on April 29 in Rome and is the first in a series called “One and Indivisible? The Relationship between Religious and Economic Freedom.” For more information visit the conference series webpage.

After a week filled with heated media discussions on religious liberty, Mollie Hemingway provides a devastating critique of how, legislation aside, our media and culture appear bent on diluting and distorting a freedom foundational to all else.

The piece is striking and sweeping, deeply disturbing and yet, for those of us in the trenches, somewhat cathartic in its clarity. Whether politics is downstream or upstream from culture, it appears rather clear that this battle is not a figment of our imaginations. Back and forth and back again.

I encourage you to read the whole piece, but her concluding paragraphs helpfully crystalize why, regardless of your political perspective, your religious beliefs, or your personal position within the social and economic order, diminishing religious liberty will result in road-blocks aplenty on the path to human flourishing:

Religious liberty is a deeply radical concept. It was at this country’s founding and it hasn’t become less so. Preserving it has always been a full-time battle. But it’s important, because religion is at the core of people’s identity. A government that tramples religious liberty is not a government that protects economic freedom. It’s certainly not a government that protects conscience rights. A government that tramples religious liberty does not have expansive press freedoms. Can you think of one country with a narrow view of religious liberty but an expansive view of economic freedom, freedom of association, press freedoms or free speech rights? One? (more…)