We read the same Bible and follow the same Jesus. We go to the same churches and even agree on the same social issues. So why then do liberal and conservative evangelicals tend to disagree so often about economic issues?
The answer most frequently given is that both sides simply baptize whatever political and economic views they already believe. While this is likely to be partially true, I don’t think it is a sufficient explanation for the views of more thoughtful and sophisticated evangelicals (which naturally, dear reader, includes you and me).* Even if we start with our naturally acquired political orientation, our engagement with the Bible tends to have a dialogical effect, causing us to modify and rethink our economic views in light of principles we discern from Scripture.
Because we conservatives and liberals come to different conclusions, though, one side will be right and the other wrong (or at least more right and more wrong than the other). We all believe our views on economics are true, which is why we are justified in holding these beliefs and think those who disagree are necessarily wrong. That is just how belief works.
But we often don’t have a sufficient depth of understanding about each others fundamental economic beliefs to know why exactly we come to such different conclusions. Too often we express disagreements about policy without comprehending what guiding principles are motivating our differences of opinion.
In a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal, Emory economics professor Paul H. Rubin makes an interesting argument about the way economists tend to over-elevate and/or misconstrue the role of competition in the flourishing of markets.
“Competition plays a supporting role,” he argues, but “cooperation makes markets thrive”:
The way we use the term competition instead of cooperation fosters anti-market bias. “Competition” carries a negative connotation because it implies winners and losers, and our minds naturally feel sympathy for the losers. But cooperation evokes a positive response: It’s a win-win situation with no losers. And in fact the word competition doesn’t depict market activity as aptly as the word cooperation. The “competitive economy” would be better described as the “cooperative economy.”
Consider the most basic economic unit, the transaction. A transaction is cooperative because both parties gain from a voluntary exchange. There is competition in markets, but it’s actually competition for the right to cooperate. Firms must compete for the privilege of selling to consumers—for the right to cooperate with consumers. Workers compete for the right to cooperate with employers. Competition matters because it ensures that the most efficient players will gain the right to cooperate on the best terms available. But competition plays a supporting role, while cooperation makes markets thrive. (more…)
Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg sat down with Daniel McInerny, the Editor of the English edition of Aleteia, to discuss his latest book, Tea Party Catholic. McInerny and Gregg explore what Catholics should believe regarding limited government, free markets and capitalism. Check out Sam’s book here, and view the interview below.
Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium continues to stimulate conversation, especially in the arena of economics. According to Francis X. Rocca at the Catholic News Service, many are heralding the pope’s call for doing away with “an ‘economy of exclusion and inequality’ based on the ‘idolatry of money.'”
Sam Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research, weighed in on the pope’s economic viewpoint. (more…)
How can we fix all that has gone wrong in our nation’s capital? Mandate military service for all Americans, men and women alike, when they turn 18. At least that’s the provocative solution Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank proposed this weekend:
There is no better explanation for what has gone wrong in Washington in recent years than the tabulation done every two years of how many members of Congress served in the military.
[. . .]
Because so few serving in politics have worn their country’s uniform, they have collectively forgotten how to put country before party and self-interest. They have forgotten a “cause greater than self,” and they have lost the knowledge of how to make compromises for the good of the country. Without a history of sacrifice and service, they’ve turned politics into war.
Some pundits have called Milbank’s column the “worst argument in favor of the draft ever.” While I agree it’s bad, I’ve heard worse (see: any draft-related argument made by Rep. Charlie Rangel). All arguments for the draft ultimately fail, though, because they are inconsistent with a free society. They also overlook the way that markets in a free society allow us to serve and protect our country.
Chad W. Seagren, who earned a PhD in economics from George Mason University and holds the rank of Major in the Marine Corps, explains why participation in the division of labor serves society:
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 examines 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.
Again, this is a limited time offer.
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 Flourishing.
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]
Last week, we took a look at what distributists get right in terms of economics, through the eyes of David Deavel at Intercollegiate Review. Now, Deavel discusses where distributism goes off the rails in that same series. It is a rather long list, but here are the highlights.
First, Deavel says that simple economics escapes distributists. Despite the fact that economics teaches that actions in the real world have real world consequences, distributists tend to ignore this fact.
They scoff at the notion that there might be predictive laws of economic behavior, such as supply and demand. But if there are such predictive laws, then it behooves us understand them. Distributists want third parties, such as governments or guilds, to arbitrarily set wages and prices according to abstract notions of justice.
As David Deavel points out, free market economists and distributists “are often at each others’ throats.” Deavel is attempting to scrutinize distributism – what it is and what it isn’t – in a series at Intercollegiate Review. He claims that while distributism has its flaws, it has some valid points and there is much good to be found in the arguments of distributists.
So what it distributism?
Distributists like to describe themselves as an alternative or third way that avoids what they describe as the pitfalls of both capitalism and socialism. They also claim that their system (alone, they sometimes say), is faithful to papal social teaching and the Catholic social tradition more broadly. Their goal, they claim, is a society of widely distributed property and widely distributed wealth and power. This differs, they say, from both socialism, in which the state owns the means of production, the vast bulk of wealth, and all power, and from capitalism, which is, they say, a system in which a very few private people own the means of production, wealth, and have the lion’s share of power.