Posts tagged with: free enterprise

Last week, CBS Radio Philadelphia host Dom Giordano took to the airwaves to address President Obama’s “You didn’t get there on your own” speech. The speech, which garnered plenty of discussion at Acton and elsewhere, drew varied responses from Giordano’s radio audience. Among those responses were several callers who recommended Rev. Sirico’s latest book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, as a useful corrective to the President’s speech. This prompted Giordano to read the book and invite Sirico, who was in Hong Kong at the time, on his show. What followed was a fruitful discussion on entrepreneurship, capitalism, and free enterprise. Excerpted below is the answer Sirico gave to the question “Why is the free enterprise system moral?”:

It’s moral because it reflects human nature. Human beings are several things simultaneously. Human beings are individual and yet we’re in relationship. From the first moment of our existence, we’re a unique biological entity. But we’re also in relationship with our mothers in the womb but later on with friends and neighbors. You can’t have a market economy without a society. …

But the second thing we are–and this gets to the moral dimension of it–we are physical, obviously, but we also transcend our physicality. We know innately that we’re more than the sum total of our material parts. When you blend these things together, you have a market economy that is productive, that is social, that can be moral. …

We’re never really satisfied when we’re acting beneath our capacity to be beings of destiny, beings of purpose, noble beings that can create. The very act of the creation involves working with other people as well.

Full audio here:

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Brian Fikkert, a Professor of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College and the Executive Director of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development, takes a look at Arthur Brooks’ The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise in this week’s edition of CPJ’s Capital Commentary.

I think it’s a pretty balanced review, and Fikkert rightly highlights some of the important strength’s of Brooks’ work. But he also highlights some specifically theological concerns that have animated my own engagement with “happiness” research:

At a fundamental level, Christians must reject Brooks’ ethical standard: human happiness as defined by autonomous human beings. Brooks’ ethics are rooted in Enlightenment humanism rather than the transcendent standards of God’s moral decrees. To determine if the free enterprise system is moral, Christians must determine if it satisfies biblical standards of justice, not autonomous humans’ notions of happiness.

It’s important to note, of course, that as the head of AEI Brooks is making a case to a much more heterogeneous audience than simply like-minded Christians. And he’s trained as a social scientist, not as a theologian. But I think it would be interesting to hear how Brooks would address some of these challenges not firstly as the president of the American Enterprise Institute but as a professing Christian.

The answer Arthur Brooks gave to Josh Good of Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE) at Dr. Brooks’ plenary at the most recent Acton University is a great place to start:

American Enterprise Institute president and 2012 Acton University plenary speaker Arthur Brooks has a recent column in The Washington Post that lists five myths about free enterprise. Brooks’ five myths address some of free enterprise’s most common critiques and do so by giving free enterprise a moral aspect. The five points are especially relevant this election season, he says, because the two candidates represent such different fiscal perspectives.  Here’s a look a myth #2:

2. Free markets are driven by greed.

I once asked Charles Schwab how he built the $16 billion investment company bearing his name. He never said a word about money. He spoke instead about accomplishing personal goals, creating good jobs for employees and the sacrifices along the way — including when he took a second mortgage on his home so he could make payroll.

Entrepreneurs are rarely driven by greed. According to, in 2011, small-business owners made 19 percent less money per year than government managers. And as Northwestern University business professor Steven Rogers has shown, the average entrepreneur fails about four times before succeeding.

Free markets and entrepreneurship are driven not by greed but by earned success. For some people, earned success means business success, while for others, it means helping the poor, raising good kids, building a nonprofit, or making beautiful art — whatever allows people to create value in their lives and in the lives of others.

Earned success gets at the heart of “the pursuit of happiness.” The General Social Survey from the University of Chicago reveals that people who say they feel “very successful” or “completely successful” in their work lives are twice as likely to say they are very happy about their overall lives than people who feel “somewhat successful.” And it doesn’t matter if they earn more or less; the differences persist.

Those acquainted of Acton Institute president and co-founder Rev. Robert Sirico will recognize arguments such as these from Sirico’s recent title, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy. Sirico, like Brooks, argues that free enterprise is the economic system that best complements morality.

To listen to Brooks’ 2012 Acton University Lecture, click here.

Prager University has a new course up and running. The lecturer? Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and author of Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America—and How We Can Get More of It as well as the recently published The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise. Brooks’ lecture, titled “Earning Happiness: The Moral Promise of Free Enterprise,” makes a case for the free market as the economic system most conducive to human welfare. In the lecture, Brooks says, “Free enterprise matters not just because of its unparalleled material benefits but because of its unparalleled moral benefits.”


The Prager University course page can be found here.

The ongoing debate about food trucks here in Grand Rapids took a step forward this week, as this past Tuesday the city commission “voted unanimously to amend its zoning ordinance so that food trucks can operate on private property for extended periods of time.”

As I argued late last year, “There’s perhaps no more basic way to serve another person than to provide them with food,” and food trucks are something that ought to be welcomed rather than disdained in the context of a vibrant and variegated urban social space.

Rick DeVos, the founder of Grand Rapids-based ArtPrize, framed the issue quite well:

It’s called free enterprise and we should be embracing it no matter who is on the receiving end of its disruption…. The more we build the experience of downtown Grand Rapids as a great place to spend time, the more everyone doing business in downtown Grand Rapids will benefit.

Let’s get out of the way…and celebrate greater food choice in Grand Rapids.

While things have taken a step forward in Grand Rapids, the fight for food trucks and free enterprise continues throughout the country, and bears watching. The interaction between regulations and the non-profit sector is of particular interest, as both charitable ministry efforts as well as the formation of non-profit advocacy groups have been impacted by governmental policies.

In a follow up interview to “Is Capitalism Immoral?,” Joseph E. Gorra on the Patheos Evangelical channel talks with Rev. Robert A. Sirico, Acton Institute president and co-founder, about the publication of his new book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy. Gorra begins the interview by observing that “within Western societies today there appears to be a kind of fact/value dichotomy that operates as an assumption in much of our discourse, where questions of ‘economics’ (and the sciences in general) are in the category of knowledge and facts and therefore tend to trump questions of theology.”

Patheos: The dichotomous fact/value assumption also stunts our comprehension of what is true.

Sirico: It’s also true that some economists become hegemonic in thinking that the whole of truth is seen through their particular lens of expertise, rather than appreciating the immense complexity of humanity and situating their part of the truth within the broader truth of who the human person is. But that’s not just a problem for some economists—scientism infects almost every discipline that has a strong empirical element.

It would be humorous, if it were not tragic, when one becomes so blinded by the subjectivism of such relativism that they accuse others of what they themselves are infected with. What I am trying to do is broaden our comprehension of the truth that permeates everything—in the case of my book, how the economic can be seen to emerge from a reflection of human nature and empower us to do the good intentionally.

Read “Does Capitalism Promote Greed?: An Interview with Father Robert Sirico, Part 2” on the Patheos Evangelical channel.

We have just wrapped up Acton University, our annual conference that focuses on integrating Christian theology and sound economic thinking. In light of that, it was interesting to read this post at, “America’s Premier Heresy,” where Scot McKnight takes a look at the Prosperity Gospel, especially as presented by Pastor Joel Osteen.

If you’re not familiar with the Prosperity Gospel, it preaches that God wants all of us to be wealthy and healthy in this life, and that riches and health are ours, simply for the asking, in faith and obedience to Him. The problems of poverty, ill-health, unemployment, underemployment and general malaise are that we don’t implore God to shower us with blessings. Once we recognize that God has only positive things in store for us, and we ask for them, it’s all ours.

It was interesting – to say the least  – to have been reading this blog post while surrounded by some of the most intelligent people on the planet who had gathered at Acton University to discuss things like alleviating poverty in the developing world, business as mission and vocation, and the role of envy and fairness in economic thought. McKnight poses these interesting questions:

If you could offer a better theology to proponents of prosperity theology, what would it look like? How does an economic theory work into your critique or your offer?

Last week’s activities at Acton University offered a plethora of answers to these two questions, but I’m going to focus on just a few. First, the Rev. Robert Sirico’s new book Defending the Free Market recognizes the need for economic answers to questions of poverty. The recognition isn’t one of glamorous outpourings of wealth from a sugar daddy in the sky. It is, as Fr. Sirico puts it, “humdrum business”. That’s right: It’s just hard, creative work of human beings that lifts people out of poverty and helps them forge opportunities for themselves, their employees, families and communities. It’s not the same as asking God to simply make these things appear in one’s life; it’s being willing to partner with God, if you will, to bring about change.

Second, those who attended Acton University had the privilege of hearing Arthur C. Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute speak. (You can download a recording of his speech here.) Much of Mr. Brooks’ speech is typified in this quote from his book The Road to Freedom:

Under free enterprise, people can pursue their own ends, and they can reap the rewards and consequences, positive and negative, of their own actions.

Again, notice that the emphasis is placed on the work we must do, as free human beings, in order to create good things in our lives.

Finally, Amy Sherman, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Faith in Communities at Sagamore Institute talked to us about our stewardship responsibilities in our work lives.

The big Gospel reminds us of God’s big story. He created a paradise and invited us to steward it, legitimating all kinds of work. We blew it, but God did not retract the cultural mandate from us even after the Fall. But the Fall meant that our work would be much more difficult and sometimes feel futile. Jesus’ redemption means that the restoration project is underway. Jesus’ great salvation work pushes back every aspect of the curse: redeeming the broken relationship between humans and God, humans and themselves, humans with one another, and humans with the creation itself. All of that is Jesus’ work, not just “saving souls.”

The 800+ attendees at Acton University can answer the questions posited by Mr. McKnight in his critique of the Prosperity Gospel. What economic theory and theological insights can we offer as an answer to the theology of Joel Osteen? It’s just plain, hum-drum business, free enterprise and the freedom for people to create – in cooperation with God – a better life and abundant economic opportunities.

(For more on the Prosperity Gospel, listen to Glenn Sunshine’s Acton Lecture Series presentation “Wealth, Work and the Church“.)