Posts tagged with: economics

I rather like Serene Jones’ piece in Huffington Post, “Economists and Innkeepers.” Jones got some things right. She knows that Christian Scripture teaches many economic lessons, like subsidiarity and stewardship (although she doesn’t use those terms.) She says, “Economic theory is replete with theological and moral assumptions about human nature and society” and that is correct. As Istituto Acton’s Kishore Jayabalan reminds us,

Things like the rule of law, a tradition of equality for the law, which should cut down on corruption, which give people the confidence and security in the future to take some risks and to develop the goods that they have either personally or socially, and use them for the good of all.

We make economic, legal and moral decisions that affect others every day, in ways large and small. Jones is practically defining subsidiarity when she says, “I would argue that rather than being merely faceless economic units, we all have a moral responsibility for the care of each other.” (more…)

It’s no secret that certain parts of the world have been losing population for some time. The tightly-controlled Chinese birthrate is the first thing that comes to most minds regarding this topic. However, large parts of Asia, Europe and now even the United States are beginning to see clear danger signs when it comes to economies and low birth rates.

Taiwan’s birthrate is “dropping like a stone…” says an editorial in the Taipei Times. The majority of people realize there is a demographic problem. It could hardly be otherwise, since the total fertility rate—the number of children per woman—is an anemic 0.9. Few are motivated to do anything about it, however. Taiwan is now heavily urbanized, and city folk tend to have very small families. When asked, younger Taiwanese say that they are not interested in having children because they cost too much money, or take too much time. Women are more motivated to get a college degree and seek professional employment than to marry and have children. In this highly secularized society, children are not seen not as a blessing, but as a burden tying down the women who bear them. Goodbye, Taiwan.


Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, December 12, 2012

G. K. Chesterton
(one of the founding fathers of distributism)

Today at Ethika Politika, in response to a few writers who have offered, in my estimate, less-than-charitable characterizations of capitalism, I ask the question, “Which Capitalism?” (also the title of my article). I ask this in seriousness, because often the free economy that people bemoan bears little resemblance to the one that many Christians support. In particular, I ask, “Which Capitalism?” in reference to the following from Pope John Paul II, who outlines in his encyclical Centesimus Annus (no. 42) two different forms of capitalism as follows:

The first is “an economic system 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” that “is the victorious social system” since the fall of the Soviet Union and that “should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society.” The second is “a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious.”

All three of the authors I take issue with are Roman Catholic and two of them have voiced their support for distributism as an alternative to capitalism. However, I ask with all sincerity, “[S]hould not distributists be asking whether distributism is a form of capitalism, rather than setting it up as an alternative to capitalism?” Given the high praise given by Pope John Paul II to capitalism, rightly understood as the free economy, ought not distributists simply be arguing that they, perhaps, have some valuable insights for supporters of capitalism, rather than opposing distributism to capitalism, uncharitably understood? (more…)

On Nov. 28, the Canada-based Fraser Institute released the eighth edition of its annual report, Economic Freedom of North America 2012, in which the respective economic situation and government regulatory factors present in the states and provinces of North America were gauged.

Global studies of economic freedom, such as the Heritage Foundation’s 2012 Index of Economic Freedom and the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World 2012, rank the United States and Canada as two of the most economically free countries in the world. But, as data from the North America report shows, not all sections of the countries are experiencing an equal level of economic freedom and it is important to look at areas in which this falters.

States and provinces were evaluated and ranked within three categories: 1) Size of Government; 2) Takings and Discriminatory Taxation; and 3) Labor Market Freedom. The Canadian province, Alberta, claimed the top spot as most economically free, followed closely by Delaware. New Mexico placed 59th, making it the least economically free state, followed by Prince Edward Island of Canada, notching the rank of least economically free area in North America (between the United States and Canada).

The Economic Freedom of North America 2012 report draws a clear link between prosperity and economic freedom, through a comparison of states and provinces. “In the United States, the relatively free Georgia does much better than the relatively unfree West Virginia. In Canada, British Columbia, where economic freedom has been increasing in recent years, has been experiencing considerably greater growth on a per-capita basis than Ontario, where economic freedom has been decreasing in recent years.” (more…)

Given all the reassessment going on today about conservatism and its popularity and viability for governing, I recommend picking up a copy of The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election by Garland Tucker, III.

The author is Chief Executive Officer of Triangle Capital Corporation in Raleigh, N.C. Over the years, I’ve highlighted how Coolidge’s ideas relate to Acton’s thought and mission. And while I’ve read and written a lot about Coolidge, I knew next to nothing about John W. Davis. Davis was a lawyer, ambassador, and Solicitor General of the United States who hailed from West Virginia. He argued 140 cases before the Supreme Court. As the Democratic presidential nominee in 1924, he was also Coolidge’s election opponent.

Davis believed strongly in limited government and economic freedom. He criticized the policies of the New Deal saying, “Whether business is better today than it was yesterday, or will be better or worse tomorrow than it is today, is a poor guide for people who are called upon to decide what sort of government they want to live under both today and tomorrow and for the long days after.”

I reached out to the author to ask him some questions about his book and about the ideas and significance of Coolidge and Davis. Below is the interview:

Pin not actual size.

I commented last week on the “textbook bubble” (here) and have commented in the past on the “higher-ed bubble” and the character of American education more generally (see here, here, and here). To briefly summarize, over the last few decades the quality of higher education has diminished while the cost and the number of people receiving college degrees has increased. The cost is being paid for, in large part, through government subsidized loans. But with the drop in quality and increase in quantity, a college degree is not as impressive as it used to be; in many cases it no longer signals to employers what it used to. When a critical mass of those loans goes into default, we will have another housing-bubble-esque crisis on our hands. At the same time, government loans, which are largely indiscriminate with regard to the risk of the applicant and guaranteed on the backs of taxpayers, have incentivized colleges and universities to raise the costs to students for the sake of increased expenditures, inflating the bubble even more. Now, Alex Williams of The New Times reports last Friday,

The idea that a college diploma is an all-but-mandatory ticket to a successful career is showing fissures. Feeling squeezed by a sagging job market and mounting student debt, a groundswell of university-age heretics are pledging allegiance to new groups like UnCollege, dedicated to “hacking” higher education. Inspired by billionaire role models, and empowered by online college courses, they consider themselves a D.I.Y. vanguard, committed to changing the perception of dropping out from a personal failure to a sensible option, at least for a certain breed of risk-embracing maverick.

An increasing number of students are realizing that they, to quote Good Will Hunting, do not want to be $150,000 in debt for an education that they could have gotten “for a $1.50 in late charges at the public library.” (more…)

Below is an excerpt from a 1925 Washington Post editorial on President Calvin Coolidge’s Inaugural Address. The comments speak directly to the moral arguments Coolidge was making for a free economy. It is the kind of moral thinking about markets and taxes we desperately need today from our national leaders.

The excerpt comes from an excellent book, The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election by Garland S. Tucker, III.

Few persons, probably, have considered economy and taxation moral issues. But Mr. Coolidge so considers them, and his observations give a fresh impression of the intensity of his feeling on this subject. He holds that economy, in connection with tax reduction and tax reform, involves the principle of conservation of national resources. A nation that dissipates its resources falls into moral decay. Extravagance lengthens the hours and diminishes the rewards of labor. “I favor the policy of economy,” says Mr. Coolidge, “not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people” [emphasis added]. He would protect those who toil by preventing the waste of the fruits of their labor. The burden of taxation is excessive. It makes life more meager, and falls hardest upon the poor. The United States is fortunate above other nations in the opportunity to economize. It is at peace and business activity has been restored. “The collection of any taxes which are not absolutely required, which do not beyond reasonable doubt contribute to the public welfare is only a species of legalized larceny,” is Mr. Coolidge’s vigorously expressed conclusion on the subject of economy.

It’s a logical, simple, and a deeply moral message. Some might call it common sense. Our times and the economic peril we face clearly calls for a commitment to reducing government spending and our tax burden. It has fallen on deaf ears in Washington and much of America. Coolidge’s words resonate today because it is the cure for our fiscal cliff and the ailing economy. And as Coolidge understood so well, it is the moral thing to do.

Blog author: dpahman
Thursday, November 29, 2012

According to AEI author Mark Perry, there is another education-related “bubble” to worry about: the textbook bubble. He writes that this textbook bubble “continues to inflate at rates that make the U.S. housing bubble seem relatively inconsequential by comparison.” He continues, “The cost of college textbooks has been rising at almost twice the rate of general CPI inflation for at least the last thirty years.” Given that many students use loan money to purchase books as well as pay for classes, we might think of this as one of the many sources pumping air into the student debt bubble. But what choice do students (or professors, for that matter) have than to surrender to the textbook “cartel,” as Perry characterizes it? This bubble popping, while a bad thing for the textbook bubble-boys committed to the old, cartel-style model, could be a small relief and contribute to slowing the growth rate of the student debt bubble. (more…)

We need to trim government programs today in order make way for bigger government tomorrow.

That seems to be the message former treasury secretary and Obama economic advisor Larry Summers delivered today at the Washington Ideas Forum:

“If we want to have the same kind of society we always had…you may see some upward drift in government,” he said. “That’s why you need to work ever harder to eliminate government activities that don’t need to take place.”

Summers deserves credit for attempting to incorporate reality into the liberal economic worldview. Government will have to take an increasing share of GDP just to keep up with the growth of current government programs. But we can’t afford the programs we have now, which means we must, as Summers says, “eliminate government activities that don’t need to take place.”

But his message will fall on deaf progressive ears. Liberals are generally opposed to giving up any government funding of private activities, much less give up actual government activities. Remember just a few weeks ago when President Obama mocked the idea of defunding PBS? And the mere suggestion of cutting off taxpayer funds for the president’s favorite billion dollar corporation—Planned Parenthood—causes him to reach for his veto pen.

American liberalism suffers from a political paradox: There is no realistic way for America to keep paying for all the programs liberals want to keep—and there is no realistic scenario in which American liberals voluntarily give up any of those programs. Unfortunately, the only resolution to the problem will be an economic crisis that leads to forced austerity measure. That’s the future reality all of us will be forced to contend with tomorrow since liberals refuse to contend with present realities today.

I will not indulge in any sort of “what would Dorothy Day do” when it comes to thinking about the current US Catholic Bishops’ Conference taking place in Baltimore.  However, it is interesting to ponder this woman who exemplifies so much of 20th century Catholicism and the bishops’ agenda, especially as the bishops discuss cause for her canonization, while on the same day failing to pass a pastoral message on economics.

Their last pastoral letter on economics was in 1986, “Economic Justice for All”. Certainly, many things have changed since then, but as Dorothy Day knew, “the poor you will always have with you”. Her life tells much of the story of the 20th century: socialism, suffrage, labor unions, a failed live-in relationship and abortion. But it also tells the story of redemption: a love of Christ and His Church, Scripture and prayer, the Rosary and Psalms.

In 1960, Dorothy Day returned money sent to the Catholic Worker house by the city of New York – interest on the house owned by the Catholic Worker Movement. In her letter to the city, she said, “We do not believe in the profit system, and so we cannot take profit or interest on our money. People who take a materialistic view of human service wish to make a profit but we are trying to do our duty by our service without wages to our brothers as Jesus commended in the Gospel (Matthew 25.)”

She was chided for this. Some thought the money should have been kept and used for the poor. A benefactor told Dorothy that it was interest from the benefactor’s estate that was donated; what was wrong with interest? Dorothy acknowledged she was only doing the best she knew how, and that,

[o]f course we are involved, the same as everyone else, in living off interest. We are all caught up in this same money economy. Just as “God writes straight with crooked lines,” so we too waver, struggle on our devious path – always aiming at God, even though we are conditioned by habits and ancestry, etc. We have free will, which is our greatest gift. We are free to choose, and as we see more clearly, our choice is more direct and easier to make. Be we all see through a glass darkly. It would be heaven to see Truth face to face…There is no simple solution. Let the priests and the economists get to work on it. It is a moral and an ethical problem.

Dorothy Day would be the first to say her poverty was voluntary. She did not expect everyone to live as she did. She felt profound allegiance with the poor, and chose the most personal approach of all to serving them: she became one of them, lived with them, ate with them, served them.

“Let the priests and the economists get to work on it.” That sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea, from a perfectly radical follower of Christ.

(image of Dorothy Day: copyright by Vivian Cherry)