That the United States has been blessed with great prosperity is beyond argument. Even critics of the American system of government and economy admit that the system of free enterprise has been unmatched in its ability to generate wealth. As Hunter Baker notes, this reality has occasioned a shift in the polemic against free enterprise. Pointing to John Kenneth Galbraith’s argument in The Affluent Society, which “implicitly conceded that earlier critics of the free economy had been wrong in their repeated assertions that competitive capitalism failed to yield broad benefits to the public,” Baker observes that “critics of the free market now argue more on the basis of inequality and relative deprivation instead of on the basis of absolute deprivation.”
Where the fairness of the unequal outcomes characteristic of market economies can no longer be assumed, the burden of proof shifts to those who would defend the merits of free enterprise.
“Scandinavian economies are some of the most market-oriented on the planet” says economist Scott Sumner, who adds “Denmark is the most market-oriented country on earth.”
This peculiar claim is even more curious considering that it is based on the Heritage Foundation’s 2012 Index of Economic Freedom. On the Heritage Index, which ranks countries based on ten components of economic freedom, the United States comes in at #10, lumped in with the “mostly free” countries. All of the Scandinavian countries are lower on the list: Denmark (#11), the Netherlands (#15), Finland (#17), Sweden (#21), Iceland (#27), and Norway (#40).
Each of these countries are considered “less free” on Heritage’s Index than such nations as the U.S., Canada, and Chile, mostly because they have high levels of wealth redistribution. But Sumners thinks that the “size of government and degree of market freedom” are “two completely separate issues.”
You might get goose bumps watching this fiery speech by Fr. Andrew Kemberling. After all, it is not every day we hear a wholesale condemnation socialism from a priest on the “pulpit” of a conservative political rally!
As the free market vs. socialism politicking are growing to a climax, surely more Christian believers like Fr. Kemberling are declaring they too have “earned a free pass” to engage in this heated debate to express their strong convictions against centrally planned, godless political regimes. (more…)
Online today on the American Spectator is an article by Acton’s president, the Rev. Robert Sirico. In it, Rev. Sirico discusses the phenomenon of “creative destruction,” peculiar to free market systems, wherein newer and better industries and technology gradually replace older, less efficient ones. Rev. Sirico explains that while on the surface creative destruction appears to be harmful, in the long run it is crucial to a healthy, flourishing economy:
“Sometimes what appears to be beaten back and damaged is really healthy and preparing for new growth. This is the case with what economists call creative destruction — the phenomenon whereby old skills, companies, and sometimes entire industries are eclipsed as new methods and businesses take their place. Creative destruction is seen in layoffs, downsizing, the obsolescence of firms, and, sometimes, serious injury to the communities that depend on them. It looks horrible, and, especially when seen through the lives of the people who experience such economic upheaval, it can be heartrending.
But think of the alternative. What if the American Founders had constructed a society where no industry was ever allowed to go under because it would mean a lot of innocent people losing their jobs? I mean, have you ever met a livery yard owner or a stable boy? How about a blacksmith or a farrier? Do you have among your acquaintances any makers of bridles, saddles, chaises, coaches, or buggy whips?
Read the entire article 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.
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf has reviewed Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for Free Economy at his popular blog, “What Does the Prayer Really Say”.
This is a timely book, given that we are in a crucially important election cycle in the USA. Profoundly different visions are on ballot in November. A major dimension of the different visions involves contingent choices concerning the economy, and therefore jobs, entitlements, etc. In the last chapter Sirico describes the fictive homo economicus, a the cold and selfish caricature of someone advancing “free market” ideas.
Beginning today, the conference “Religion and Liberty — A Match Made in Heaven?” gets underway in Jerusalem. Sponsored by the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies (JIMS), the Acton Institute and others, the event asks questions such as, “Is capitalism not only efficient but also moral?” In conjunction with this May 20-24 conference, Acton is offering its two Jewish monographs through Amazon Kindle at no charge.
The two titles:
- Judaism, Law & The Free Market: An Analysis by Joseph Lifshitz. [Kindle link]
- Judaism, Markets, and Capitalism: Separating Myth from Reality by Corinne Sauer and Robert M. Sauer [Kindle link]
Also see the Sauers’ 2007 Acton commentary, “Jewish Theology and Economic Theory.”
In the conference description, JIMS notes that “several speakers will discuss why Israel — in fact no country — should grant special privileges to religious institutions, nor subsidize religious activities. While few would advocate this approach for our Jewish state, there will be compelling arguments made about why religious communities in Israel would flourish with less government support. On Tuesday we will discuss how free markets enable religious communities to conveniently observe their traditions. There also will several panels which will provide the philosophical foundation for freer markets in Israel. More importantly our speakers will explain why free market policies will break down Israel’s oligarchical institutions that impose high product prices on Israelis and limit economic opportunity.”
Acton now has a dozen or so eBook offerings on social thought understood through a religious lens. For a listing of titles, please visit this page.
In a political climate dominated by debates about individual mandates and restrictions on religious freedoms, an issue like road privatization isn’t likely to be on the top of anyone’s list of major concerns. But the excellent post on “The Mirage of Free-Market Roads” by Timothy B. Lee, a writer with Ars Technica and the Cato Institute, is worth reading even if you don’t care about toll roads. Lee provides an intriguing example of why we need to think clearly about how we apply principles to policy:
I can always find common ground with the Distributists I meet. We want to replace the government-corporate cronyism that characterizes so much of our current economic system. And we want our culture to raise up young people with the skills, virtues and freedom to accumulate productive capital and invest it in ways that promote human flourishing for themselves and others.
But then there’s the question of centralized political power in the economy. Sometimes when Distributism is described, you get the sense that Distributism and one of its leading early proponents, Hilaire Belloc, have always been committed to a largely grass roots, bottom-up strategy of change. But Belloc himself painted a different picture in An Essay on the Restoration of Property:
We must seek political and economic reforms which shall tend to distribute property more and more widely until the owners of sufficient Means of Production (land or capital or both) are numerous enough to determine the character of society…. The effort at restoring property will certainly fail if it is hampered by a superstition against the use of force as the handmaid of Justice. (P.29)
So when I have a conversation with Distributists, the first thing I like to clear up is what they mean by Distributism. Do they merely want people and companies to model best-Distributist practices voluntarily, so as to propagate Distributist ideas and behaviors in a free marketplace of ideas? Do they just want to get the federal government out of the job of picking winners and losers in the economy? Or do they also want to vote in politicians who will arrogate to the federal government expanded powers to seize and redistribute private property and keep it more evenly distributed?
Until those questions are cleared up, the opportunities for muddle and fog are just too great to bother wading in.
Hilaire Belloc, An Essay on the Restoration of Property, (Norfolk, Virginia: IHS Press, 2002).