Posts tagged with: Economic ideologies

Lake Karachay, Russia, often referred to as the most polluted lake on Earth

Lake Karachay, Russia, often referred to as the most polluted lake on Earth

At The Federalist, a round-table discussion brought up several issues regarding the encyclical, Laudato Si’. A quick reading of the discussion sees several themes emerge: the pope shouldn’t be writing about science, this encyclical comes down too heavily against free markets, and that modernity has much to offer in the way of solving humanity’s many problems.

Now, if free markets and capitalism are really to blame for pollution, it would stand to reason that those would be the countries with the worst ecological problems. That is not the case.

On the contrary, the management of the environment in communist countries has been and continues to be much worse than in capitalist ones. For example, Richard Fuller, president of the environmental non-profit Blacksmith Institute once identified the former Soviet Union as having “by far and away the worst problems…” when it comes to environmental protection and land use.


lonely-workerWhen it comes to free trade, critics insist that it hurts the American worker — kicking them while they’re down and slowly eroding the communal fabric of mom-and-pops, longstanding trades, and factory towns. Whether it comes from a politician, labor union, or corporate crony, the messaging is always the same: Ignore the long-term positive effects, and focus on the Capitalist’s conquest of the Other.

Trouble is, the basic logic of such thought leads straight back to the Self.

I recently made this point as it pertains to immigration, arguing that such notions of narrow self-preservation give way to our basest instincts and are bad for society as a whole. But it’s worth considering a bit more broadly, as well. For if the point is to defend the Small and the Local for the sake of The Great and Enduring Bubble of American Industry, at what point is this community of workers too big, too specialized, and too diversified for its own countrymen?

At what point are the Texans getting “unfair” growth compared to the Californians, or the Californians compared to the Oklahomians? If this is all as dim and zero-sum as we’re led to believe, what must we do to prevent our fellow productive citizens from harming their fellow countrymen via innovation and hard work? What bleak, self-centered reality dwells at the end of such logic? (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Reading through the German economist Walter Eucken’s work The Foundation of Economics (1951), I came across one of the most helpful charts for economic analysis I have yet to find. In it, Eucken gives every possible form of market in a single table:

Eucken Chart

The Foundation of Economics, p. 158

Eucken adds four qualifications that are important to keep in mind:

  1. “These forms of market are actual forms which have been or are to be found in actual economic life (often blended with one another, and existing alongside the forms of a centrally directed economy). They are not given a priori. They are discovered with their distinguishing characteristics by studying the planning data of those taking part in the market….”
  2. “Under each particular form of market a man can act according to different principles, for example, that of maximum net receipts or that of optimum output….”
  3. “Each of these forms of market can appear in four types: both open, both closed, or closed on either side only.”
  4. “Fixing of prices by the state occupies a special position, since it can follow any form of market and has different effects accordingly…. For example, the significance of coal prices being fixed by the state varies according to whether perfectly competitive, oligopolistic, or monopolistic supply, or some other form of market, exists, or whether both sides of the market are open, or whether the supply side is closed by an investment veto. Governmental price-fixing is to be treated as a variant of the different market forms and not as a special market form of its own.”

So, what does this amount to? (more…)

davebratIn a piece today for the NYT Magazine, economics reporter Binyamin Appelbaum examines David Brat’s fusion of faith and free-market economics. Appelbaum finds that mixture problematic, to say the least, but it’s hard to sort out whether it is the religious faith or the free-market sympathies that Appelbaum finds more troubling.

In the opening paragraph, Appelbaum asserts that before Brat’s rise to prominence “there was plenty of skepticism about whether he merited the label of academic economist.” Who these skeptics are, who knew so much about Brat “even before” his “out-of-nowhere” victory, we are simply left to ponder. It seems some of his colleagues at Randolph-Macon College now harbor such skepticism. (Brat is running against a Randolph-Macon sociologist, Jack Trammell. Brat once wrote that “Capitalism is the major organizing force in modern life, whether we like it or not. It is here to stay. If the sociologists ever grasp this basic fact, their enterprise will be much more fruitful.”)

Brat’s academic record is a wortwhile question to take up, and one that there has been a great deal of interest in following his primary victory. I, like many others, wanted to find out more, and went in search of Brat’s publications (with the help of one of our interns). I’ve had a chance to look at a few, and even turned up the paper on Ayn Rand that had gained such notice. The Rand paper turned out to be a co-authored piece with a student, and something which barely qualified as a poorly-edited introduction to a conference presentation. It is certainly not a smoking gun for tracking down Randian sympathies.

The problem with Appelbaum’s piece isn’t that he is asking questions about Brat’s academic record. These questions should be asked. The problem is the tone of Appelbaum’s inquisition and his presumption against the coherence of Brat’s position. The sarcasm oozes from Appelbaum’s prose: Brat “is certainly not in danger of winning a Nobel Prize.” Likewise Brat has written “discursive papers devoid of math,” “cited Wikipedia as a source,” and “never been published in a significant journal.”

bratI had a chance to talk with Michelle Boorstein yesterday about David Brat and a bit of his work that I’ve been able to become familiar with over the past few days. She included some of my comments in this piece for the Washington Post, “David Brat’s victory is part of broader rise of religion in economics.”

I stressed that Brat’s research program, which in many ways emphasizes the relationship between Christianity and capitalism, has at least two basic features. First, he’s focused on increasing theological awareness of economic realities: “I never saw a supply and demand curve in seminary. I should have.” This kind of increased economic sensibility would help the church to be a positive factor for social cultural change: “The church needs to regain its voice and offer up a coherent social vision of justice and rationality.”

But on the other hand, Brat has a message for economists as well. He challenges the mainstream assumption of economics as merely a positive, value-free science that can provide objective answers to questions without the trappings of morality or religion. A comment on Boorstein’s piece illustrates this important aspect of Brat’s work:

Dave helped me understand the essentiality of the links between capitalism (voluntary exchange that serves both parties’ interests) and theology (man’s obligation to serve God through work and use gain to carry out Jesus’ admonition to help the poor). At first, I thought he was joking. Surely one did not have to embrace a theological perspective to be a good capitalist. But he was not joking. I now have a much more nuanced and mature understanding of the “moral foundations of capitalism” than I did before I met Dave.

Brat’s faculty page includes portraits of John Calvin, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, and John Maynard Keynes. Obviously there’s a lot to David Brat and I look forward to becoming more familiar with him and his work.

Amid all of the bad reportage out there on Brat, and there is so much that it is hard to keep up, here are a few other pieces that I have found to be helpful:

Blog author: jballor
Monday, April 21, 2014

Karl Marx 001Ross Douthat (a scheduled plenary speaker at this year’s Acton University) has a noteworthy piece this week about the revival of sorts of Karl Marx: “Marxist ideas are having an intellectual moment, and attention must be paid.”

He looks at Marxism among Millennials, who perhaps can be excused for not knowing any better given their relative youth and the education many have received. Thus “the clutch of young intellectuals [Timothy] Shenk dubs the ‘Millennial Marxists,’ whose experience of the financial crisis inspired a new look at Old Karl’s critique of capitalism.” An example of what this might look like among evangelicals is this essay from The Evangelical Outpost, “Capitalism is Not God’s Dream for Humanity.” In this piece, Stormie Knott lists three dangerous things that about capitalism she learned from Marx: alienation, overconsumption, and exploitation.

To say that one might just as well learn those things from the Bible as from Marx, and with perhaps a bit more insight into the anthropological foundations of these problematics, would miss the larger point. Surely there are things one can learn from Marx. It’s just that the truths that Marx communicates are rather often more simplistic and less complex than the realities they purport to explain. But this is, perhaps, the nature of any ideology: to simplify and thus to distort.

Of course if one defines “capitalism” as that which alienates and exploits and so on, then you’ve covered your bases quite nicely, because how could anyone defend that?

This larger point is, as Peter Lawler notes, that Marx is one of the dominant narrators of the modern age, and one who must be reckoned with. His critique of the “conservative reactionaries” who sympathize with Marx is spot-on: “They too readily accept Marx’s description of capitalism as a realistic account of the world in which we live.  They think of themselves as living in a techno-wasteland and of freedom as having become another word, these days, for nothing left to lose.  Identifying capitalism with America, they become anti-American and anti-modern and almost as revolutionary in their intentions as members of Marx’s proletariat.”

Douthat concludes his piece by examining the work of Thomas Piketty, which Douthat says is “the one book this year that everyone in my profession will be required to pretend to have diligently read.” Not being among the intelligentsia, I have nevertheless duly placed my preorder of Capital in the Twenty-First Century on Amazon.

Blog author: dpahman
Monday, February 24, 2014

Today at Red River Orthodox, I offer a brief introduction to the liberal tradition for Orthodox Christians living in the West:

Liberalism, historically, is a broad intellectual tradition including a large and disparate group of thinkers. The epistemological differences between John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant do not stop them all from being liberals. In economics the range extends from Friedrich Hayek to John Maynard Keynes. In political philosophy, from John Rawls to Robert Nozick. For that matter, both the American and French Revolutions have liberal foundations, though often (and rightly) contrasted.

I conclude by encouraging a more nuanced engagement with the West than is sometimes the case in the East:

[F]or a responsible, “liberal engagement” with the West from an Orthodox Christian perspective, it will not do to dismiss anything we don’t like as Western and liberal and, therefore, wrong. As Solzhenitsyn put [it], “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” And if that is true, then both East and West, including Western liberalism, have plenty of good and evil to go around.

How might Orthodox Christians better evaluate one of the many liberalisms that make up the water in which we swim in the West today?

To give an example, I would positively recommend to my fellow Orthodox Christians the German ordoliberal school of economic thought for the following reasons: (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, February 13, 2014

"I don't build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build!"

“I don’t build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build!”

At Slate Miya Tokumitsu writes that the motto “Do What You Love” really functions as a kind of capitalism-supporting opiate: “In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, DWYL is, in fact, the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism.” While Tokumitsu singles out Steve Jobs, perhaps Howard Roark might agree.

If that’s true (and it is more than debatable), then this Think Progress piece which touts the Affordable Care Act as a liberation of workers to do what they love ends up being a funny kind of justification for the capitalistic status quo: “People need to work, sure, but that doesn’t justify forcing people to do a particular kind of work — one they wouldn’t choose to do otherwise — at the pain of bad health.”

The problem with these perspectives, and they both represent ends of a continuum, is that work isn’t either all about you or all about someone else (society, your boss, lords of capital, our elected royalty, and so on). Work is something that concerns both us and others; it has a subjective and an objective aspect that must be balanced.

The reality is that a flourishing society needs people working at occupations all across the spectrum, from more subjectively and inwardly focused artistic, creative, entrepreneurial, and inventive types to those who are working primarily with the service of others in mind, whether to provide for their families or to do the dirty work necessary for others to thrive. But all occupations need to have some element of both the subjective and the objective element, even if the ratio is somewhat different in each individual case.

Even so, the best way to balance these horizontal concerns, I argue today at Think Christian, is by triangulating them vertically, to add attention about God’s divine call into the mix. That gets us beyond, I think, “the conflict that inevitably follows the calculation of labor against capital, dog against dog, me against you.”

icon_22372Over at NRO, Thomas Sowell takes on what he calls the “lie” of “trickle-down economics.” Thus, writes Sowell, “the ‘trickle-down’ lie is 100 percent lie.” Sowell cites Bill de Blasio and Barack Obama as figures perpetuating the “lie,” along with writers in “the New York Times, in the Washington Post, and by professors at prestigious American universities — and even as far away as India.”

But we should also note that “trickle-down theories” get a mention in Evangelii Gaudium, too: “some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.”

In the midst of his discussion, Sowell asks the following penetrating questions:

Why would anyone advocate that we “give” something to A in hopes that it would trickle down to B? Why in the world would any sane person not give it to B and cut out the middleman?

Whether or not there is such a thing as “trickle-down economics” in the discussions about the market economy, isn’t there something akin to what Sowell asks about at play in usual redistributive welfare programs? Don’t we “give” something to governmental bureaucracies and agencies in the hopes that they will in turn redistribute it (hopefully in more than a trickle) to the poor?

And as for the “trickle” part of trickle-down welfare economics, Juan de Mariana long ago observed that “money, transferred through many ministers, is like a liquid. It always leaves a residue in the containers.” So why not give directly to the poor and cut out the middleman, as Sowell wonders?

That’s precisely the discussion that’s been going on over at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog, among other places, about direct cash transfers to the poor instead of bureaucratic welfare programs. Head on over to the BHL blog to check it out.

Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg sat down with Daniel McInerny, the Editor of the English edition of Aleteia, to discuss his latest book, Tea Party Catholic. McInerny and Gregg explore what Catholics should believe regarding limited government, free markets and capitalism. Check out Sam’s book here, and view the interview below.