Posts tagged with: economics


Note: This is the latest entry in the Acton blog series, “What Christians Should Know About Economics.” For other entries in the series see this post.

The Term: Money

What it Means: In economics, money is a broad term that refers to any financial instrument that can fulfill the functions of money (more on that in a moment).

There are three basic ways to exchange goods and services: gifting (e.g., I give you a banana, expecting nothing in return); barter (e.g., I give you a banana, in exchange you give me an apple); by using money (e.g., I give you a banana, in exchange you give me $1). Money was invented (and reinvented in every culture) because it makes exchanges easier than the barter system.

What Money Is: Money is a shared belief system used to simplify exchanges of goods and services. To be used as money people have to share a belief that the item —whether paper, gold, rocks, etc. — can perform three main functions: be a store of value, be used as a unit of account, and serve as a medium of exchange.

In the next section we’ll examine these functions. For now, here are two examples of how money serves as a shared belief system:

long-term-unemploymentThe longer that Americans are unemployed, the more likely they are to report signs of poor psychological well-being. A recent Gallup survey found that about one in five Americans who have been unemployed for a year or more say they currently have or are being treated for depression.

Gallup finds that unemployed Americans are more than twice as likely to say they currently have or are being treated for depression than both those with full-time jobs and those who have been unemployed for five weeks or less. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are currently 3.4 million people who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more. These individuals accounted for 34.6 percent of all the unemployed.

A 2011 study of the long-term unemployed published by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University also found that half of participants experienced shame and embarrassment that led them to isolate themselves from friends and associates. Among the long-term unemployed, 31.1 percent reported spending two hours or less with family or friends the previous day, versus 21.5 percent among short-term unemployed adults.

Long-term unemployment is not just a mental health crisis; it’s also a spiritual crisis. And the church is the only institution in American that can adequately respond. “Fortunately, the church is in a unique place to explain Christ’s restoration of work,” says Michael Jahr, “the meaning of suffering, and the hope and peace that result from putting our trust in him.”

My older son’s college psychology class was recently assigned the film A Beautiful Mind, about the Nobel Prize winning economist and schizophrenia sufferer John Nash. The assignment was to watch the film, dig into Nash’s biography, and report on how the film altered Nash’s story of mental breakdown and recovery.


We watched the film together as a family (my second viewing), checked out the biography by Sylvia Nasar from a local library, and generally geeked out on Nash and game theory at the family dinner table over the next few days.

An additional motivation for the interest was that my mom’s engineer brother, my Uncle Milton, was a classmate of Nash’s at Carnegie Tech in the 1940s, with the two reconnecting at their 50th college reunion. In our digging into the Nash’s biography, we learned something of particular relevance to Acton Institute friends and followers, something I probably should have known already but didn’t: Nash’s decisive contribution to game theory likely has Austrian economics in its blood line. (more…)

bankruptcyThe Bible has a lot to say about the principles behind bankruptcy law, says T. Kyle Bryant. In the Old Testament, God gave Moses various laws concerning the poor, lenders, borrowers, and debt forgiveness.

From these passages, we get a glimpse of how God makes provision for people who cannot pay their debt after a certain number of years. Beside discouraging lenders from making “bad” loans (ones that could not be repaid in seven years), the law prevented overwhelming debt from ruining a person’s life forever. In this way, God’s law provided for a type of bankruptcy protection every seven years (and every 50 years for land).

The United States bankruptcy scheme is complex, but the similarities between it and the biblical system are striking. Both systems served to protect the relatively powerless consumers and give predictability and stability to the creditors. For example, in the Israelite law, debtors could be released from their debts every seven years—no matter the amount of the debt, it was gone. This prevented common debtors from having to sell themselves into slavery in perpetuity to pay for their debts. On the other hand, it gave a stable and predictable risk profile to creditors seeking repayment of those debts. Lenders could temper their desire to make risky loans with the knowledge that any chance of repayment after the seventh year was uncertain.

In a similar way, the Bankruptcy Code allows a person freedom from their debt every eight years. Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code governs (in large part) individual debtors and the discharge of a person’s debt. If someone has received a discharge of their debt under Chapter 7, they must wait eight years before they can file for bankruptcy again. This echoes the biblical pattern of debt being wiped away every seven years. (But whether this tempers creditors’ risky lending practices is another question).

Read more . . .

unemployedNote: This is the latest entry in the Acton blog series, “What Christians Should Know About Economics.” For other entries in the series see this post.

 The Term: Unemployment

What it Means: If you consult a dictionary, you’ll find a number of commonsensical definitions for unemployment: the state of being without a job; being without a paid job but available to work, etc. But like many other economic terms, the dictionary definition can vary significantly from how the term is often used. For example, since your teenage daughter, your neighbor’s stay-at-home spouse, or your retired grandfather are without a job, are they considered “unemployed”? In each case the answer is the same: It depends.

According to the federal government, to be unemployed a person must (a) be jobless, (b) looking for a job, and (c) available for work.

People are considered employed if they have a job (whether temporary, part-time, etc.). People who are neither employed nor unemployed are considered to be not in the labor force.

In America, the labor force consists of all persons 16 years old and over who are not serving on active duty in the military and are not confined to institutions such as nursing homes and prisons and either have a job or are looking for work. The labor force is made up of both the employed and the unemployed.

So unemployment refers to anyone who doesn’t have a job, wants one and is available to work, and is actively looking for work. That last part is particularly important because “discouraged workers” are not counted as unemployed. (See below for more on discouraged workers.)

Because jobs can serve the needs of our neighbors and lead to human flourishing both for the individual and communities, they are the most important part of a morally functioning economy. Workers dropping out of the labor force because they’ve grown discouraged is therefore one of the most pressing moral and economic issues in America today. Sadly, it is also one of the most overlooked.

Today, the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee released some stats showing the shocking decline in the male participation in the labor force, particularly men between the ages of 25-54:

Record 1 In 8 American Men In Their Prime Working Years Are Not In The Labor Force_0.preview


According to the committee members:


indexActon’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, recently wrote an article at Aleteia about the recent Great Recession and Former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s book, Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises. Gregg begins by noting that economists and historians are still speculating about the causes of the Great Depression and doesn’t doubt that similar debates will occur about more recent economic decline. He says, “it’s not surprising that some of those who were closets to the policy epicenter of the maelstrom are anxious to get their version of events on the record” and it’s hardly surprising that now Geithner is talking about it. Gregg continues:

Stress Test is written in the regrettably chatty, forced-informality manner of too many memoirs by politicians and public officials in our age of excessive casualness, selfies, and perpetual adolescence. For all that, however, Geithner does make a sincere effort to explain himself and his actions — even if his account won’t convince everyone.

Judging from this text (but also from other books written on the financial crisis by other players), Geithner comes across as an intelligent, decent man who found himself dealing with incredibly difficult problems in an environment full of Zeus-sized egos inside the self-referential bubble of Washington, D.C. “I wasn’t,” he writes, “a banker, an economist, a politician, or even a Democrat” (1). Indeed Geithner stresses over and over again his independence. The Left, according to Geithner, saw him as “Wall Street’s wingmen” while Wall Street thought he and others were “Che Guevaras in suits” (20). (more…)