After being sentenced to federal prison in 2001 for racketeering, Louisiana’s former governor Edwin Edwards, long famous for his corruption and political antics, humorously quipped, “I will be a model prisoner as I have been a model citizen.” In his 1983 campaign for governor against incumbent David Treen, Edwards bellowed, “If we don’t get Dave Treen out of office, there won’t be anything left to steal.” The kind of illegal corruption once flaunted by Edwards is on the decline. There is less of a need. Legal corruption in government is more prevalent and easy enough to secure. (more…)
A friend at church recently loaned me the New York Times bestseller Same Kind of Different as Me, which tells the story of how a wealthy art dealer named Ron Hall and a homeless man named Denver Moore struck up a friendship that changed both their lives. I’m only half way through it, but it’s already instructive on several levels that connect to the work of Acton.
Denver grew up as an illiterate sharecropper in Louisiana, an orphan who loses a series of guardian relatives while growing up and eventually finds himself in a class a notch below sharecropper—the field laborer who isn’t entitled to a share of the crops he works but simply works dawn to dusk for the food, clothing and minimal shelter he’s given on credit. In Denver’s case, since he couldn’t read, write, or do arithmetic, he couldn’t determine how much he owed, what the interest was, what his labor was worth, or even that he’d been denied his right to an education.
Economic conservatives talk a lot about the morality of the free economy, and the power of the markets to better the lives of the poor. It’s stories like Denver Moore’s that underscore why Acton spends so much time talking about a free and virtuous society, about the importance of ordered liberty. You see, in the book, at no point did anyone put a gun to Denver’s head and make him pick cotton dawn till dusk. At a superficial level, he was a participant in an un-coerced labor market (slavery had been abolished generations ago, after all). But any thoughtful look at Denver’s extraordinary story of struggle, despair, and escape will register the fact that Denver’s liberty had been violated in a host of subtle and not-so-subtle ways during his youth. These were like the strands of a spider web: individually they are of little consequence and hard to see, but taken together they have the power to bind. (more…)
In 1978, John Mackey was 25-year-old college dropout who believed that democratic socialism was a more “just” economic system than democratic capitalism. But his views soon changed after he and his girlfriend borrowed $45,000 from family and friends to open a small vegetarian grocery store in Austin, Texas. Although he was only earning $200 a month from his struggling business, his friends on the left viewed him as a “capitalistic exploiter” who was overcharging his customers and exploiting his workers.
In a nutshell the economic system of democratic socialism was no longer intellectually satisfying to me and I began to look around for more robust theories which would better explain business, economics, and society. Somehow or another I stumbled on to the works of Mises, Hayek, and Friedman, and had a complete revolution in my world view. The more I read, studied, and thought about economics and capitalism, the more I came to realize that capitalism had been misunderstood and unfairly attacked by the left. In fact, democratic capitalism remains by far the best way to organize society to create prosperity, growth, freedom, self-actualization, and even equality.
Mackey’s small store morphed into Whole Foods Market, which now has 345 stores and $4 billion in annual sales, but he’s still an advocate of free markets who believes that capitalism is misunderstood. In a recent speech Mackey claimed that, “capitalism has a serious branding problem . . . the recent recession was . . . blamed on greedy financial corporations, deregulation, and capitalism—market failures—rather than on bad government regulations and monetary policies—government failures.”
Lee Habeeb and Mike Leven explain why it’s essential to make the moral case for conservatism:
If there is a single reason why conservatives continue to lose the battle of ideas, it’s because we don’t make the moral case for freedom and free markets. Our political class instead makes the economic case for our philosophy. Our smart guys are so impressed with their own intelligence, they think we can win the debate using numbers and data, charts and graphs, and political tactics and strategy.
It’s the Left’s secret advantage. They create the feeling that they care more about the average American because they make the moral case for their philosophy.
[. . .]
As the state takes more of our money, there is less for us to give to churches, synagogues, and mosques who take care of the weakest among us. And not just with a check, but with a caring human being connected to that material support.We can point to 20th-century Europe’s experience. As the state grew, the churches there had less influence and eventually emptied.
Over at Ricochet, Peter Robinson broaches the oft asked question about intellectuals and their disdain and rage against capitalism. Robinson unearthed Robert Nozick’s, “Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?” Nozick declared,
The schools, too, exhibited and thereby taught the principle of reward in accordance with (intellectual) merit. To the intellectually meritorious went the praise, the teacher’s smiles, and the highest grades. In the currency the schools had to offer, the smartest constituted the upper class. Though not part of the official curricula, in the schools the intellectuals learned the lessons of their own greater value in comparison with the others, and of how this greater value entitled them to greater rewards.
The wider market society, however, taught a different lesson. There the greatest rewards did not go to the verbally brightest. There the intellectual skills were not most highly valued. Schooled in the lesson that they were most valuable, the most deserving of reward, the most entitled to reward, how could the intellectuals, by and large, fail to resent the capitalist society which deprived them of the just deserts to which their superiority “entitled” them? Is it surprising that what the schooled intellectuals felt for capitalist society was a deep and sullen animus that, although clothed with various publicly appropriate reasons, continued even when those particular reasons were shown to be inadequate?
The entire essay is thoughtful and worth the read and it reminded me of some of my own observations of life at Ole Miss, my own Alma Mater. Much of what Nozick explains in the essay may be magnified at a school that has a similar cultural makeup as that one. The University of Mississippi or Ole Miss, at least from my own experience, is a very solid public university. There are some excellent professors in residence, especially within the college of liberal arts. For a public university, especially when it comes to capitalism and cultural norms, the student body is relatively conservative. I would say though from my own experience, however, it isn’t a place of grand academic probing or curiosity for most students. How many colleges genuinely can claim that characteristic today, though? That is not to say students are less intelligent or thoughtful than elsewhere.
A deep intellectual curiosity among the student body, in most cases, would not ingratiate you towards your peers and it certainly did you little favor in the social scene. I immediately noticed a tension between some of the academics and a large portion of the student body. Social development, popularity, networking, and the general social scene was all the rage for many students. Whether it was through popular fraternities and sororities and social gatherings, those activities and influences took precedence over the academy and academic pursuits.
A lot students came from financially successful families and many of those families were popular in Mississippi. They had little interest in repudiating their background, upbringing, and many of the cultural norms that surrounded them. While some academics on campus wanted the students to at least in part, to repudiate some of those values and norms. And many of those same students – who might be described as not “academic” or “intellectual” – were masters of the social scene, where often financial success comes in life, especially in the field of business and entrepreneurial enterprise. The resentment of some in academic circles was palpable. They felt betrayed by the wider culture – no beautiful woman at their side, no expensive sport utility vehicle, and little popularity. Thus there was a feeling that the system is rigged and unfair. I suspect in many of the the more traditional campus settings, feelings like this are especially common.
There has been a lot written on the topic of the academy’s rants and raging against the free market. Certainly much of it has to do with the deep perception that some professors aren’t rewarded to a greater degree than those that are less academic but maybe more socially astute in life and business.
Perhaps the best examples today are the professors in SEC schools who carry impressive academic degrees and credentials but are dwarfed in salary by football coaches with motorcades bigger than the state governor, and a support staff greater than entire academic departments on campus. They are a visible reminder of the popular jock who got the girl, while simultaneously, being the most admired figure on campus. Is capitalism or the free market really to blame though?
Nicholas Freiling offers three helpful suggestions for how advocates of liberty can defend the free market:
1. Raising questions is always better than giving answers.
Capitalism defends itself. It is logical, coherent and well-supported. The last thing it needs is your careless, back-of-the-napkin arguments that can sometimes do more harm than good.
Instead of arguing defensively with your friends, try raising some interesting questions. Ask them about their beliefs. Why do they think like they do? What do they think about our economic future? How do they propose the government deal with things like inflation, student loan debt and gun control?
If you’re like me, you’ll quickly find that questions build bridges and create mutual understanding. If you’re lucky, your friends will begin to seriously consider their own opinions, and will become more open to listening to alternative points of view. Helping others come to their own opinions will create more lasting change than asking them to adopt yours.
In an essay for Big Questions Online, a site that examines questions of human purpose and ultimate reality, Rev. Robert Sirico considers whether morality is intrinsic to the free market:
Is a hammer intrinsically moral?
Your reply would most immediately be: “It depends on what it was used for. If employed to bash in the heads of people you do not like, the answer is no. If employed to help build a house for a homeless people, your answer might be yes. In either case, the precise answer is to say that the hammer is neither moral nor immoral; it is the person who chooses its use that can be evaluated morally.
Attending to these Big Questions will enable us to more deeply evaluate the economic organization of society. So the real issue here is not a financial one, but an anthropological one: What is man? Who am I? Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where am I going? What are my responsibilities to myself and others? How we answer these kinds of questions will have an enormous impact on every facet of our lives, including how we work and buy and sell, and how we believe such activities should be directed— in other words, on economics.
Read the rest of the article and join in the conversation at Big Questions Online.
AEI recently held a contest challenging people to make a video that could articulate a moral case for free markets in two minutes or less. The $40,000 top prize was won by Jared Fuller with this entry, “The Moral Paper Route.”
At AEI’s Values & Capitalism blog, Julia Thompson talks to Fuller about the making of the video.
On his personal blog, author and publishing industry executive Joel J. Miller asks, “What if we dumped Rand for Röpke?” Good question. Miller says that it’s simply unnecessary for Christians to invoke Rand in their defense of the free market. Why not base that defense on the work of a Christian economist instead?
“Unlike Rand,” he writes, “Röpke grounded his critique of socialism and his defense of free markets in a thoroughly Christian understanding of man and his world.” He goes on to say that not only is this critique “of an entirely differing quality than Rand’s, it’s far deeper as well. Röpke saw the materialist answers of socialism as papering over the spiritual crisis that beset Western civilization in the middle twentieth century, and still does to this day.”
Miller also includes a link (bottom of post) to a free, downloadable copy of Röpke’s The Humane Economy.
In the archives you’ll find links to the July 2 American Spectator piece titled “The Prophet of Europe’s Crisis” and have access to “The Profoundly anti-Keynesian Political Economy of Wilhelm Röpke,” a new podcast on the Library of Law and Liberty.
Last week, PowerBlogger Andrew Knot and I wrote posts about American sugar policy and farm subsidies, respectively. Now, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as the Catholic Relief Services and National Catholic Rural Life Conference, have come out with a joint letter on the 2012 farm bill that just passed the Senate. Among other things, they urge Congress to reduce agricultural subsidies, and limiting crop insurance to small and medium sized farms.
In 2010, the government gave out $96 billion in farm subsidies. As I pointed out last week, the median farmer’s income is already 25 percent higher than the median American’s. Furthermore, most of the farm money is going to a small number of the farmers. Big farms tend to get a much larger share of the handout than small and medium sized farms do. American agricultural policies represent welfare and protectionism for the already well off.
The USCCB’s letter can be read here.