Posts tagged with: economics

pope and cross

Pope Francis

Much has been said about Pope Francis’ views on economics (in fact, you can read Acton’s Special Feature on this here.) In The Wall Street Journal, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, discusses how the media has skewed Francis’ remarks as endorsing redistribution and denouncing capitalism. Cardinal Dolan says this is unfortunate, given what the pope has actually said. While the pope is clear that we must be generous in all our social activity, he is not denouncing capitalism.

The church believes that prosperity and earthly blessings can be a good thing, gifts from God for our well-being and the common good. It is part of human nature to work and produce, and everyone has the natural right to economic initiative and to enjoy the fruits of their labors. But abundance is for the benefit of all people.

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Time magazine, 1964: Lyndon B. Johnson as Man of the Year

Time magazine, 1964: Lyndon B. Johnson as Man of the Year

As noted here on the Acton PowerBlog earlier this week, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of war on poverty. Economist Nicholas Eberstadt, in an interview with the American Enterprise Institute, discusses what he calls the “brave new welfare state” we now have due to over-grown public assistance and unintended consequences of government programs.

Asked if we need to spend more money on anti-poverty initiatives, Eberstadt answers:

Let me suggest this is not the right way of framing the question. Quite the contrary: if we presume that government entitlement transfers are the answer to the poverty problem, we are pretty much doomed to failure before we even start.

For a healthy national community of prosperous and independent citizens, we need a nation with strong families, solid education, a serious work ethic, and a good jobs market. Anti-poverty programs can only substitute for these fundamentals—and unfortunately such programs are necessarily rather limited and imperfect substitutes. Of course there is a role for public resources in addressing public need—but such government resources can be targeted more efficiently and intelligently than we are doing today.

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A couple of interviews to bring you up to speed on from that last couple of days:

First of all, here’s Acton Director of Research Samuel Gregg on the GRN Alive morning show on the Guadalupe Radio Network this morning to discuss current efforts to raise the federal minimum wage, giving his analysis on the likely impact of such a move on the economy and the job market.

And from yesterday, here’s Acton co-founder and President Rev. Robert A. Sirico with host Mike Rosen on The Mike Rosen Show on 850 KOA in Denver, Colorado, to discuss Pope Francis’ recent comments to United Nations officials, which included remarks on “legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State.” Rosen and Sirico speak extensively about Catholic teaching on economics, and about the misleading nature of the term “trickle-down economics.”

tea party catholicSam Gregg, Director of Research for Acton, is featured in an interview with the National Catholic Register. The interview ranges from Gregg’s education and career at Acton to how Catholicism and the free markets dovetail.

Trent Beattie questioned Gregg about St. Bernadine of Siena, who defended business and entrepreneurs. Gregg replied:

Most Catholics are unaware of the broad Catholic intellectual and institutional contributions to the development of market economies in general, especially during their early phases in the Middle Ages. Too often, we buy into the “Dark Ages” mythology about this period. So the fact that St. Bernardine of Siena — and many other Franciscans — were among the first to grasp the importance of the entrepreneur as a key catalyst for economic growth, or that they made clear and important distinctions between money-as-sterile and money-as-capital, get missed alongside all the other things that happened in the so-called “Dark Ages.”

I also think that many people have an imaginary understanding of St. Francis and the Franciscan orders that followed in his wake. They weren’t all poor mendicants. Lots of them were very intellectually serious men who lived, worked and often taught in urban centers, and thus experienced what some scholars have called the Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages. They didn’t try to resist it. Rather, they sought to understand it so that they could guide the faithful in the “how” of living a Christian life in the midst of this new world.

Beattie also asked Gregg to comment on common misconceptions that Catholics have about economics.

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Repurposed library card catalog

Repurposed library card catalog

I am not an economist. Truth be told, I only took one class in economics as an undergrad. However, I’ve learned a lot in the past few years, and one of the things I’ve learned is that most people don’t understand economics.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry knows this as well, and explains it far better than I could. In today’s Forbes, Gobry breaks down the understanding of economics into two broad camps: the “productivist” view and the “creativist.” First, the productivist:

Violently compressed, the productivist view of the economy holds that an economy works because it gives people stuff to do and stuff to buy. The reason why an economy which hums along hums along is because it produces enough stuff and people have enough money to buy that stuff so that people buy stuff and that gives jobs to the people who produce stuff, and in turn the stuff that is produced makes people want to buy them. To the productivists, the key thing is to keep the machine running and, hopefully, make it run faster, and more efficiently. But, fundamentally, what makes the economy run is this consumerist dynamic.

This, Gobry says, is the way most people – even economists – understand economics. It’s right in the short-term, but flawed. This viewpoint holds that economics is merely an endless cycle of buying and selling. As long as there is products are made, bought and sold, everything should be okay. (more…)

milton_friedman2The Book: Milton Friedman: A concise guide to the ideas and influence of the free-market economist by Eamonn Butler

The Gist: As the subtitle suggests, this short book provides a concise overview of the ideas and influence of the late economist, Milton Friedman

The Quote: “[T]he supporters of tariffs treat it as self-evident that the creation of jobs is a desirable end, in and of itself, regardless of what the persons employed do. That is clearly wrong. If all we want are jobs, we can create any number—for example, have people dig holes and then fill them up again, or perform other useless tasks. Work is sometimes its own reward. Mostly, however, it is the price we pay to get the things we want. Our real objective is not just jobs but productive jobs–jobs that will mean more goods and services to consume.”

The Good: The book includes numerous direct quotes from Friedman . . .

The Blah: . . . but far too many of the quotes are taken from an interview in Playboy magazine rather than from Friedman’s own writings.

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Terminator-2-Judgement-Day-posterI oppose implementing Skynet and increasing minimum wage laws for the same reason: to forestall the robots.

It’s probably inevitable that a T-1000 will return from the future to terminate John Connor. But there is still something we can do to prevent a TIOS from eliminating the cashier at your local McDonalds.

In Europe, McDonalds has ordered 7,000 TIOSs (Touch Interface Ordering Systems) to take food orders and payment. In America, Panera Bread will replace all of their cashiers with wage-free robots in all of their 1,800 nationwide locations by 2016. There is even a burger-making robot that can churn out 360 gourmet hamburgers per hour.

I, for one, welcome our new fast-food robot overlords. I’m just not ready for them yet.
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poverty-declinedWould you say that over the past three decades (since about the mid-1980s) the percentage of people in the world who live in extreme poverty — defined as living on less than $1.25 per day — has:

A) Increased
B) Decreased
C) remained the same

The right answer is B: extreme poverty has decreased by more than half. Yet according to a recent Barna Group survey more than eight in 10 Americans (84 percent) are unaware global poverty has reduced so drastically, and more than two-thirds (67 percent) say they thought global poverty has risen during that period.

Additionally, more than two-thirds of US adults (68 percent) say they do not believe it’s possible to end extreme global poverty within the next 25 years. One exception to this pessimism is practicing Christians. Defined by Barna as people who have attended a church service in the past month and say their religious faith is very important in their life, practicing Christians under 40 are the most optimistic at nearly half (48 percent), with practicing Christians over 40 slightly higher than the general population (37 percent compared to 32 percent of all adults).

The reason for the pessimism about eradicating extreme poverty generally fall into one of five categories:

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Regulatory Climate IndexThe revitalization of cities has become a significant focus among today’s Christians, with many flocking to urban centers filled with lofty goals and aspirations for change and transformation.

Last summer, James K.A. Smith expressed concern that such efforts may be overly romanticizing certain features (community!) to the detriment of others (government), concluding that “farmer’s market’s won’t rescue the city” but “good government will.” Chris Horst and I followed up to this with yet another qualifier, arguing that while both gardens and good governance are indeed important, so is business and entrepreneurship.

Families, churches, institutions, businesses, and governments all need to be in right relationship if cities are to flourish, and this means that Christians need to gain a clear understanding of what these relationships look like. How do the economies of love, creative service, wisdom, wonder, and order interact and intersect, and how do we orient our actions and attitudes accordingly?

For example, if a city’s economic future is driven, among other things, by entrepreneurialismhigh levels of human capitalclustering of skilled workers and industries, or in the case of North Dakota’s Bakken region, bountiful natural resources, what role should the People of God play therein? What role do families play in those endeavors? What about churches, community associations, organizations, or businesses? How ought public policy to guide (or not guide) various efforts? Christians are called to be concerned with all of the above.

In a new study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation — Regulatory Climate Index 2014: The Cost of Doing Business in America — we see a great example of the types of questions we ought to be asking. Focusing on 10 cities across America, the study investigates “the efficiency of local regulations that apply to small businesses,” demonstrating the full impact that the dirtier, more “boring” and mundane elements can have on whether and how individuals are empowered to invest, serve, and sacrifice within and for their cities. (The project was led by Michael Hendrix, who has contributed here on the blog in the past.) (more…)

economicreligionSam Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research, makes the case that limiting religious liberty also infringes upon economic growth in The American Spectator. Gregg uses history to illustrate the point.

Unjust restrictions on religious liberty often come in the form of limiting the ability of members of particular faiths to participate fully in public life. Catholics in the England of Elizabeth I and James I, for instance, were gradually stripped of most of their civil and political rights because of their refusal to conform to the established Church.

The assault on their freedom, however, went beyond this. Perhaps even more damaging was the attack on their economic liberty. This came in the form of crippling fines being levied on recalcitrant Catholics by governments short on revenue, not to mention restrictions on Catholics’ ability to own and use their property as they saw fit.

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