Acton Institute president and co-founder Rev. Robert Sirico’s Research on Religion podcast went live today. In it, Rev. Sirico sits down with host Tony Gill to discuss his new book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for Capitalism, and a range of other topics, including the morality of capitalism, faith-based initiatives, and Austrian economics. The podcast is available to listen to or download online and regularly offers fresh perspective on relevant topics. Today’s is no exception. Check it out.
On his Koinonia blog, Rev. Gregory Jensen reviews Rev. Robert Sirico’s new book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy.
“Daring though the argument is, especially for a Catholic priest, it is also essential that it be made since for too many people (including business people), free market economic theory and policies are little more than a justification for greed. While not denying the excesses of capitalism and real sins of capitalists, Fr Sirico wisely doesn’t allow sin to have the last word. Rather, and like St Augustine who inspired his own spiritual journey, the helps us see the goodness hidden beneath the distorting effects of moral failure.
Though irenic in tone, Sirico is unwilling to cede ground to those who imagine—wrongly in his view—that “socialism, liberalism, collectivism, and central planning” (p. 185) are morally superior and more effective in generating wealth. They aren’t and however noble the intention they are come up morally and practically short because they neither anthropological sound nor effective in caring for the material needs of the human person. The latter is especially the case when we turn to the needs of the most vulnerable among us. It is the free market that best fits the truth of the human person. And it is only the free market that has demonstrated the ability not only to lift the human person out of the poverty that was the almost universal lot of humanity even as late as 200 years ago.”
Read “More than Mere Economics” here.
The deadline to register for the 2012 Acton University conference is this Friday, May 18! This means that you have less than five days to visit university.acton.org to finish that application you started a few days ago.
If I were going to try to explain Acton University, I could say that attendees and faculty alike are professionals who are among the best in their respective fields. I could also say that the number and variety of resources brought to the event by everyone involved, whether directly or indirectly, is simply astounding. Or, I could explain that both of these elements help us to create an environment that cultivates your ability to articulate your understanding of the Judeo-Christian view of liberty and morality and its application in a free and virtuous society. Try as I might, though, none of this accurately describes the experience you’ll have at Acton University this summer. But remember: You only have until Friday to register so that you can find out for yourself!
David Clayton, permanent artist-in-residence at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, has written an appealing piece at The Way of Beauty, that connects the seemingly unlikely arenas of liturgy and economics. His thoughts are based on The Wellspring of Worship, by Jean Corbon, in which Corbon associates work and culture to the human experience of worship and liturgy.
Clayton admits that linking liturgy and economics may be a stretch, but upon further examination shows that, with a proper understanding of the human person, the relationships we have and bring to both our worship and our work lives are intrinsically united. Our culture suffers a sense of distance and alienation, according to Clayton, that springs from lack of liturgy, then spreads into our economics:
…the sense of alienation of the person from society through variously too much work, the lack of it, or the wrong sort; the lack of genuine community in work that supports the family, and a culture bereft of grace and beauty with art that doesn’t look like art at all, music that doesn’t sound like music, ugly mass-produced goods and ugly houses, factories, civic buildings and churches. Many who have this view blame in varying degrees causes such as capitalism, the unfettered free market, mass production, industrialisation to name four.
I share this concern about the culture and the nature of work today, not as an economist about which I know very little, but just as someone who is part of society and works. However, like Corbon, I feel that the problem to be solved is liturgical…
Clayton then reminds the reader of the importance of anthropology:
My belief is that if we adopt a model of economics that is rooted in a liturgical view of the anthropology, then we can transform the industry and the economy into power houses for culture of beauty. It will never be perfect, but it can be a lot better.
While the author is an artist and not an economist, his ability to identify harmony and beauty in the world allows him to see the relevance that harmony brings to our economic transactions and affairs. To be human is to be in relationship: with God and each other. That begins in our liturgical practices and permeates society, and our day-to-day economic affairs, our work and our culture.
Is ‘fair trade’ more fair or more just than free trade? While free trade has been increasingly maligned, The Fair Trade movement has become increasingly popular over the last several years. Many see this movement as a way to help people in the developing world and as a more just alternative to free trade. On the other hand, others argue that fair trade creates an unfair advantage that tends to harm the poor.
Have you always wanted to interact with one of Acton’s staff members? Do you have questions or ideas related to Acton’s foundational principles that haven’t been answered? Do you want the chance to participate in an intellectual discussion organized by Acton?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this is your chance!
How do potatoes from Idaho end up in supermarkets in New York City? As economist Walter Williams explains, its because of the power of the profit motive.
I had the privilege of giving the opening lecture last night for the “Limited Government and the Rule of Law” conference taking place here in Grand Rapids this weekend. The talk was on “Christian Origins of Limited Government,” and was followed by an excellent Q&A session.
One of the questions had to do with economic consequences or effects of the Fall into sin, particularly with respect to the curse. There are of course myriad implications for economics from the curse, starting first with the recognition of the toilsome nature of labor in the fallen world:
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
Presumably this means that human work isn’t as productive as it would be otherwise. One practical effect of this is scarcity. Fallen work doesn’t produce as many goods and services as non-fallen work; and it would seem there are in fact both qualitative and quantitative consequences for the fruits of human labor. The noetic effects of sin would have some implications here, as well, as it may be that Adam’s insights into the nature of the world were adversely effected. Where he had previously known the nature of things by immediate perception, this insight may well have been clouded. Certainly, as Abraham Kuyper notes, we no longer possess that direct insight that Adam had before the Fall.
So if we understand economics to be, at least from one perspective, reflection on the dynamic between limited resources and unlimited needs, wants, or desires (as Victor Claar described it in his talk on envy earlier this week), then we have clear implications for economics on the scarcity side stemming from the curse.
But I would also argue that the curse has impacted the other half of the dynamic as well. Our desires have become disordered, inordinate, and confused. We want the things we shouldn’t, and we want the things we should want more than we should want them. The acquisitive, grasping, desiring side of human nature is unmoored from and detached from its natural human limits and orientation. We see evidence of this disorder in the aspect of the curse that is applied to the wife: “Your desire will be for your husband, / and he will rule over you.”
So if the curse was the introduction of scarcity into human life, it also was the introduction of desires no longer appropriately limited by obedience to God’s will. Economics in this fallen world deals directly with these (and other) consequences of the curse.
Dismal science, indeed!
Here are some events worth noting next week:
On Wednesday, April 11, Victor Claar will join us for an Acton on Tap. Victor Claar is a professor of economics at Henderson State University in Arkansas, and previously taught for a number of years at Hope College. I’ll be introducing Victor and the topic for the evening, “Envy: Socialism’s Deadly Sin.” We’ll begin to mingle at 6pm, and the talk will commence at 6:30, followed by what’s sure to be some lively discussion. Join us at Derby Station, and if you’re on Facebook, check out the event page, where some enjoyable dialogue has already commenced.
That same evening George Weigel is visiting Grand Rapids to lecture as part of the Catholic Studies Speaker Series at Aquinas College. Weigel is a prolific author, perhaps best known for his magisterial biography of Pope John Paul II, and holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC. At 7pm at the Wege Ballroom, Weigel will speak on the topic, “John Paul II, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and the Future of Catholic Higher Education.” Check out the event and Catholic Studies at Aquinas College on Facebook.
The following morning, Thursday, April 12, at 8am Victor Claar will be headlining a breakfast at Kuyper College. Kuyper has recently introduced a business leadership major, and this breakfast is the latest event held to promote development among the students, faculty, staff, and broader community around the vitally important challenges of faithful engagement of business and economic aspects of life. Claar is the co-author of Economics in Christian Perspective, and will draw on this well-regarded text as he provides principles for understanding the relationship between Christian faith and commercial activity. There is some limited seating available for this breakfast, so check out the details at Kuyper’s website for more information on reserving a spot.
I’ll also be attending the 21st annual Wheaton Theology Conference, which this year focuses on the theme, “Bonhoeffer, Christ, and Culture.” One of my many projects at present is a dissertation (my second!) on Bonhoeffer’s ethics, and so I’m looking forward to this event, which runs Thursday and Friday next week and is at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.
A week ago, Dr. Samuel Gregg addressed an audience here at Acton’s Grand Rapids, Michigan office on the topic of “Europe: A Continent in Economic and Cultural Crisis.” If you weren’t able to attend, we’re pleased to present the video of Dr. Gregg’s presentation below.