Posts tagged with: economics

DollarSignCapitalism is routinely castigated as an enemy of the arts, with much of the finger-pointing bent toward monsters of profit and efficiency — drooling only for money, caring nothing for beauty, and so on. Other critiques take aim at more systemic features, fearing that the type of industrialization that markets sometimes tend toward will inevitably detach artists from healthy social contexts, sucking dry any potential for flourishing as a result.

Yet while free economies certainly introduce a unique series of challenges for artists and consumers alike, and despite the wide array of bottom-dollar record-company execs and merchandising-obsessed Hollywood crackpots that demonstrate such obstacles, recent increases in economic empowerment have also led to plenty of artistic empowerment in turn.

Empowered to Create

The more obvious and overarching examples of this have to do with the simple ways in which widespread prosperity has freed up our time, energy, and resources. As collaboration and innovation accelerate, folks are continuing to discover new ways of doing more with less. As result, the tools and time needed to participate in a variety of artistic ventures, from hand-painting to stage acting to music production, are closer to common fingers than ever before.

Of course, market forces aren’t perfect. As channels of culture, they mostly funnel what they funnel, and that includes squalid appeals to the lowest common denominator. But neither are such forces limited to the hands of the tasteless and trite. Indeed, despite the best efforts of the powerful and privileged, many artists are now finding themselves increasingly equipped to bypass the big shots altogether, taking their art and their audiences with them, from the purchase of their paintbrushes to the publication of their portrait.

As a young boy, I dreamed of one day becoming a filmmaker. After working only two summers at minimum wage, I was able to save up enough cash to put that dream to the test, purchasing a-state of-the-art video camera and my very own digital editing equipment. Thanks to the innovations of others, and the basic freedoms that unleashed it all in the first place, at the age of 16, I was able to secure the tools needed to begin my work — tools that, only a decade prior, were confined to the hands of Hollywood bigwigs. (more…)

polish moneyPoland’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, announced Wednesday that the government would attempt to cut government debt by taking money from its citizens’ private pension funds. Poland currently has a two-fold pension system: mandatory contributions are made to the state pension fund and then to private funds. It is the state funds, known as ZUS, that the Polish government plans to “transfer” money from. According to Reuters:

…Prime Minister Donald Tusk said private funds within the state-guaranteed system would have their bond holdings transferred to a state pension vehicle, but keep their equity holdings.

He said that what remained in citizens’ pension pots in the private funds will be gradually transferred into the state vehicle over the last 10 years before savers hit retirement age.

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noun_project_8671For this week’s Acton Commentary, ahead of Labor Day weekend, I write about “working harder and smarter,” lessons we can learn from Ashton Kutcher and Mike Rowe.

One of the implications of connecting hard work with smart work is that the difficulty of work on its own does not determine its value in the marketplace. It isn’t a question of how hard you are working, but how hard you are working in productive service. This is why Lester DeKoster writes,

The paycheck follows upon work. Often the harder we work, the larger the paycheck—though, as many workers know, this unfortunately is not an invariable law. That is because, as we shall see, work and wage are not related as cause and effect.

He refers to money as the “bait,” which induces us to work and which tends to direct our work in service to others. But the bait can become a “trap” if we conflate the meaning of work with the wage: “Work endows life with meaning because of what work is, not because of what it earns. Paychecks buy goods and services provided to us through the gift of selves by others, but money buys no meaning. Life’s meanings are not for sale!”
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becomingeuropeBecoming Europe, the latest book from Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg, has been reviewed by Books & Culture: A Christian Review. Theodore Roosevelt Malloch, a research professor at Yale University’s Center for Faith & Culture, begins his review with a series of question, including, “Will entrepreneurship vanish in America, as it has, more or less, in Europe? And what will be the moral and political costs of what Gregg describes as ‘reduced freedoms’?”

Malloch notes how Gregg walks the reader through most of Europe’s long-standing desire to provide full employment and “to preserve the market from its own inherent instabilities“: (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 23, 2013

I ran across this video yesterday (courtesy of ESA), which I thought presented some interesting challenges and issues:

The video was presented on Upworthy as an example of something “all white people could do to make the world a better place,” that is, use their white privilege to address injustices.

A number of economists, including Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell, have written about the power of the market economy to overcome racism and discrimination, to put people into relationships on the basis of economic decision-making rather than skin color. As Friedman contended,

the preserves of discrimination in any society are the areas that are most monopolistic in character, whereas discrimination against groups of particular color or religion is least in those areas where there is the greatest freedom of competition.

But as a conversation I had with some others about the video also illustrates, there are times when (at least in the short run interests of the firm), something like profiling can seem to make some economic sense. The successful passing of one bad check can really hurt a store’s margins. Practically speaking the stores often take a complete loss.
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It sounds like a late-night tv scam: make tens of thousands of dollars and don’t work at all! And yet, it turns out that the U.S. government is offering just such a deal. For instance, a welfare recipient in the state of Connecticut can make up to uncle sam's money$38,761, according to a new Cato Institute study. In Hawaii, the figure is $49,175, over 200 percent above the Federal Poverty Level. As The Heritage Foundation has pointed out, nearly half of Americans pay no income tax at this point in history.

Michael Tanner and Charles Hughes have written “Work versus Welfare Trade-off 2013: An Analysis of the Total Level of Welfare Benefits by State.” Tanner has this to say about paying people not to work:

To be clear: There is no evidence that people on welfare are lazy. Indeed, surveys of them consistently show their desire for a job. But they’re also not stupid. If you pay them more not to work than they can earn by working, many will choose not to work.

While this makes sense for them in the short term, it may actually hurt them over the long term. One of the most important steps toward avoiding or getting out of poverty is a job.Only 2.6 percent of full-time workers are poor, vs. 23.9 percent of adults who don’t work. And, while many anti-poverty activists decry low-wage jobs, even starting at a minimum-wage job can be a springboard out of poverty.

Thus, by providing such generous welfare payments, we may actually not be helping recipients.

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Wizard of Id - Minimum WageThe protests organized by labor organizations to advocate for an increase in the minimum wage have garnered attention, most recently from the NYT, which editorialized in favor of such moves. Over at Think Christian, I weigh in with an attempt to provide some more of the complex context behind the moral evaluation of such mandates.

In the piece, I’m really less interested in the plight of current-minimum wage workers relative to those who might become minimum-wage workers with an increase, those who are currently priced-out of labor markets because of minimum-wage legislation, and those who will be priced out with an increase.

Earlier this week, Joseph Sunde discussed the issue with an eye towards the price of labor: “Prices are not play things.” I largely agree with Joseph about the significance of the price associated with various kinds of labor. The signal that minimum-wage workers should be receiving is that their work is not that specialized or valuable in the marketplace. You can rage against the values of the marketplace all you like, but that’s what the prices signal.
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For a limited time, the Acton Book Shop is offering a book by rabbinical scholar Dr. Joseph Isaac Lifshitz for free: Judaism, Law & The Free Market: An Analysis. Acton released this title at an academic conference late last year, and in it, Lifshitz judaism_law_and_free_marketexamines the Jewish treatment of themes such as property rights, social welfare, charity, generosity, competition, and concepts of order.

There are three ways to download this title.

Click here to download this title as ePub.

Click here to download this title for Kindle.

Click here to download as a PDF file.

Again, this is a limited time offer.

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Thursday, August 8, 2013

Is greed really good? Does self-interest equal sin? Samuel Gregg takes on these questions at Aleteia.org, in an excerpt from his new book, Tea Party Catholic: the Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy and Human Tea-Party-Catholic-196x300Flourishing.

In many ways, the free economy does rely upon people pursuing their self-interest rather than being immediately focused upon promoting the wellbeing of others.

One response to this challenge is to recognize that fallen humanity cannot realize perfect justice in this world. ‘We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it’, Pope Benedict wrote in Spe Salvi, ‘but we cannot eliminate it.’[v] This Christian truth helps us to understand, like Saint Augustine, that what fallen humanity can achieve ‘is always less than we might wish.’[vi]

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popeThe day Pope Francis was elected, I went directly to the bar. It was about noon when I first got word that white smoke had been spotted outside of the Sistine Chapel.  Soon after, my phone began to flood with texts declaring “Habemus Papam!” I called up a few of my Catholic friends and we decided that the best place to watch the announcement at St. Peter’s was none other than our favorite college pub.

The bar was empty so we asked the bartender to change the TV channel and ordered our first round. Our celebration had begun.

I remember the intensity in the room leading up to the reveal of our new Holy Father. When the announcement finally came, it was followed by a dramatic “Who?” None of us had heard of this beloved Cardinal from Argentina nor considered him in our discussions about possible Papal contenders. (more…)