Posts tagged with: greed

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
By

Giotto di Bondone - No. 27 Scenes from the Life of Christ - 11. Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple - WGA09209Last month the New York Times hosted a discussion on the question, “Has Capitalism Become Incompatible With Christianity?” There’s lots to be said about the “Room for Debate” feature, including a note on the caption for the lead image in the introduction.

The image is a rendering of the classic scene from the Gospels, Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. The NYT caption reads thus: “Jesus comes down hard on the bankers of his day.” Perhaps that’s a bit of ideological balance for the phrasing of the debate question itself, which supposes that at least at one time that “capitalism” and Christianity were compatible, even if they are no longer.

Occasioned by the NYT feature, although not a direct response, is a piece today over at Think Christian, in which I introduce what I consider to be some important distinctions to keep in mind when thinking about the Christian faith and economics.
(more…)

[Part 1 is here.]

The free economy frees entrepreneurs to create new wealth for themselves and others, which brings us to the issue of consumption. In his book Crunchy Cons, conservative author Rod Dreher describes consumerism this way: “Consumerism fetishizes individual choice, and sees its expansion as unambiguous progress. A culture guided by consumerist values is one that welcomes technology without question and prizes efficiency…. A consumerist society encourages its members both to find and express their personal identity through the consumption of products.”

Dreher’s critique of consumerism is pointed, and many people, including many Christians, could benefit from hearing it. At the same time, though, Dreher’s description runs the risk of obscuring the crucial differences between consumerism and capitalism.

It’s true that capitalist economies are far better at wealth creation than socialist economies, which is why freer economies tend to have fewer people living in extreme poverty. But capitalism and consumerism—far from being necessarily joined at the hip—are not even compatible over the long term. A moment’s reflection suggests the reason. (more…)

Calvin_Coolidge_and_Israel_Moore_Foster“The Power of the Moral Law” is the title of an address delivered by Calvin Coolidge at the Community-Chest Dinner in Springfield, Massachusetts on October 11, 1921. Published in The Price of Freedom, the text is only available online through Google Books.

Coolidge’s main point in his remarks was to reinforce the truth that it is prosperity not grounded in a deeper meaning that threatens our American Republic. Displaying his conservative thought, he challenges materialism of government interventionists and reminds proponents of business and the market that material success alone is insufficient. True progress must have a deeper foundation.

There are many lines that stand out in his address, but perhaps few stand out more than this simple sentence: “Ideals and beliefs determine the whole course of society.” Currently, we see this playing out powerfully in our culture today. The ideals that have held our Western and American civilization intact for centuries have largely eroded. Ideals and commonly held standards, especially in the academy, are attacked as backwards and oppressive.
(more…)

Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico joined guest host Eric Bolling on Your World with Neil Cavuto on the Fox News Channel on Christmas Eve to discuss the latest Hollywood blockbuster, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” as well as the recent phenomenon of “Tips for Jesus.”

greedIn a New York Times op-ed, Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and author, declared, “Rich People Just Care Less.” How does he know this? Because studies have been done. So there. Rich people lack empathy, don’t listen to people lower on the social ladder than themselves, and

…seem to pay particularly little attention to those with the least power. To be sure, high-status people do attend to those of equal rank — but not as well as those low of status do.

Except, it’s not quite true. It’s a little off. Skewed. Downright…flawed. (more…)

Book Review: “Ferguson on Green, Pauper Capital
David R. Green. Pauper Capital. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010. Reviewed by Christopher Ferguson (Auburn University)

The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, more commonly known as the New Poor Law, is arguably the most notorious piece of legislation in British history. Deeply controversial in its day, it has unsurprisingly generated a dense and diverse scholarly literature ever since, yet one in which the national capital has played a remarkably minor role. Indeed, David R. Green’s study is the first to attempt to explore the history of the Poor Law in nineteenth-century London in its geographic and administrative entirety. One need not read far to understand why, for the history of the Poor Law in London prior to and post 1834 is enormously complex. Green is to be commended both for undertaking a difficult task and for producing a study that is remarkably easy to read, despite the intricacies of its subject matter. His study makes the arcane history of poor relief in nineteenth-century London accessible to the non-specialist, while simultaneously yielding significant insights about this history for specialist scholars of poverty, policy, and the nineteenth-century British state.

Job: “Assistant Professor, History of Capitalism in Modern America, Brown University”

The Department of History at Brown University invites applications for a tenure-track assistant professorship in the history of capitalism defined broadly to encompass candidates working in labor history (free and unfree), business history, economic history, history of economic thought, history of consumer society, and the political economy of the nineteenth and/or twentieth-century US.

Article: “Economics Education and Greed”
Long Wang, Deepak Malhotra, and J. Keith Murnighan, Academy of Management Learning & Education

The recent financial crisis, and repeated corporate scandals, raise serious questions about whether a business school education contributes to what some have described as a culture of greed. The dominance of economic-related courses in MBA curricula led us to assess the effects of economics education on greed in three studies using multiple methods. Study 1 found that economics majors and students who had taken multiple economics courses kept more money in a money allocation task (the Dictator Game). Study 2 found that economics education was associated with more positive attitudes toward greed and toward one’s own greedy behavior. Study 3 found that a short statement on the societal benefits of self-interest led to more positive ratings of greed’s moral acceptability, even for noneconomics students. These effects suggest that economics education may have serious, albeit unintended consequences on our students’ attitudes toward greed.

Panel: “Christian Civic Engagement: Right, Responsibility, Opportunity”

Talking Points, October 15, 2012, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, with Amy Black (Wheaton College), Timothy Gombis (GRTS), and George Marsden (Notre Dame). The thrust of Talking Points 2012 is to generate reflection on how we might restore civility in America as a model for restoring and fostering civil discourse around the world. The last half-century has seen the emergence of evangelical Christians as a significant force in national elections and debates over domestic and foreign policy. Unfortunately, Christian civic engagement has been hijacked by polarizing voices and unimaginative choices. It isn’t simply the case that in order to be “politically engaged” we must choose to vote for party A or B. Christian civic responsibility and political engagement can be more creative and redemptive, and more civil and gracious, than has been modeled by leading figures over the last several decades. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary has invited three leading scholars to help us reflect upon how “Christian Civic Engagement” has taken shape in America, and to imagine how we might take up these rights and responsibilities as new opportunities emerge.

Call for Editor: Enterprise & Society Editor Search”

The Business History Conference announces its search for editor of Enterprise & Society: The International Journal of Business History. Published by Oxford University Press, Enterprise & Society is one of the world’s leading journals in business history. Interdisciplinary in approach and international in scope, it offers a forum for research on the historical relations between businesses and their larger political, cultural, institutional, social, and economic contexts.

In my commentary this week, I used Louisiana as one of the backdrops to shine the light on government greed. I first became fascinated with the political scene in the Pelican State when I moved down to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

I stayed up late one night in 1996 watching C-Span2 while Woody Jenkins, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, appeared to have his election stolen. I was hooked from that point on.

Former Louisiana governor Earl Long once remarked, “When I die I want to be buried in Louisiana so I can stay active in politics.” Former Congressman Billy Tauzin said of his state: “One half of Louisiana is under water and the other half is under indictment.” Former governor Edwin Edwards, who is mentioned in the commentary, has a fascinating book profiling his antics and political corruption in The Last Hayride.

Louisiana has undergone a remarkable transformation and it is covered superbly by Jim Geraghty at National Review in “The Storm Calmer.” The transformation provides wisdom for the nation today. My commentary is printed below.

+++++++++

Government Greed Needs an ‘Occupation’ Too

When it comes to political crookedness and graft, Louisiana is infamous. The New York Times just profiled Edwin Edwards, whose reputation earned him the nickname “Fast Eddie.” The former governor of the Pelican State recently released after a 10-year prison sentence for racketeering naturally wants back in the political ring. A resident displayed the love many still have for the former lawmaker, telling the Times, “We all knew he was going to steal, but he told us he was going to do it.”

Edwards serves as one of the most flagrant examples of government greed, enriching countless cronies along with himself. But he is not alone. The Occupy Wall Street movement focuses on “corporate greed,” but the public sector variety, though it draws less media attention, is equally reprehensible.

Eminent domain abuse, bloated public pensions, deficit spending—which simply generate calls for future tax increases—and a tax code that discourages saving and investing, are just a few examples of government greed. The 19th century British preacher and evangelist Charles Spurgeon once remarked, “You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.”

His audience was the individual. But Spurgeon’s warning applies to a government demanding more wealth that should remain private and more of the public trust. Government excess and the way in which it mercilessly suctions revenue away from Main Street are alarming indeed. According to The World Bank’s annual Doing Business report, the United States no longer ranks as a top 10 country for starting a business; Rwanda is higher on the list. Half a century ago, business rapidly mobilized to help launch the greatest army of liberation in world history; now the nation’s private sector faces an uncertain future.

Today the Occupy Wall Street movement and its echo chamber in the media denounce corporate America. But a smaller headline in Bloomberg News about Washington edging out San Jose, Calif., as the wealthiest U.S. metropolitan area raised eyebrows, too. The total compensation package for a federal employee in the beltway now exceeds $126,000. There are many hard working and patriotic federal employees, but as the federal government payroll increasingly coincides with a diminishing private sector, government employees are rapidly moving closer to the 1 percent.

More disturbing perhaps is a quote from the president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce who declared, “Wall Street has moved to K Street.” The mammoth increase in federal laws and regulation has generated an upsurge in the number of lobbyists and lawyers to manage the federal government’s far-reaching bureaucratic tentacles.

Greed of all sorts should be denounced. Unique to neither business nor government, its perennial presence illuminates the unchanged heart of humankind. For that reason the Founders understood that the power of government must be limited and virtue magnified. During the benediction at the Acton Institute’s Annual Dinner last week, Rev. Ren Broekhuizen offered this rightly famous quote from Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” He implored the assembled to mount their own righteous “occupation” of Wall Street, the government, business, and all of society.

Just last week, the 84-year-old former governor Edwin Edwards joked with well wishers and basked in the limelight at a parade during the International Rice Festival in Crowley, La. That same day Gov. Bobby Jindal coasted to reelection against a crowded field with nearly 66 percent of the vote. Jindal’s approval in part stems from sweeping reforms to antiquated laws that bred government greed and corruption. After Katrina and the BP oil spill, it was all the more apparent to Louisianans that the old way of doing things was toxic. Greed and corruption intensify suffering in a time of crisis.

As America faces its current economic crisis, Louisiana’s experience is instructive. Solutions can be found not in centralized power and burdensome regulation, which facilitate and reward government greed, but in framing sensible laws and reinvigorating a culture of virtue in business and government alike.

Kishore Jayabalan, director of Istituto Acton in Rome, is quoted extensively in a story about the Vatican’s note on economic centralization written by Edward Pentin, a reporter for the National Catholic Register. If you wonder why the Acton Institute is around — why we feel the need to connect your good intentions with sound economics — well, Kishore explains:

Kishore Jayabalan… welcomed the Vatican’s attempt to deal with the economic crisis, but he said their conclusions were based on “political and economic ignorance rather than experience.”

But the note, written by the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice, lacks more than sound economics; it lacks theological depth. It speaks throughout of the common good, but without a moral framework, that common good can have little ethical consequence. The kind of economic reform the note calls for could only be motivated by a conception of the common good rooted in a full, Christian understanding of human nature. Jayabalan again: “[the note] doesn’t speak of God or the natural law and so neglects this substantial notion of the common good,”

There is comparatively little talk even of greed and idolatry in the note — those vices seem get more attention at Occupy Wall Street drum circles than at the PCPJ. We’ll talk about them though:

Jayabalan, a former official at the Pontifical Council, said greed and idolatry are permanently recurring temptations that require “constructive ways” to combat them. And yet “quite surprisingly for an office of the Roman Curia and from a Catholic perspective, the note does not tell us much about the spiritual battle that must take place.”

Rather than draft this note, Jayabalan said the Vatican should have drawn on the “economic wisdom of the division of labor” which would have told them “to stick to what it knows and does best.”

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, March 18, 2010
By

In this week’s Acton Commentary I expand on a minor meme floating around the web towards the end of last year that criticized the purported claim made by Lord Brian Griffiths, a Goldman Sachs advisor and vice chairman: “The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is an endorsement of self-interest.”

I do a couple of things in this piece. First, I show that Griffith’s claim was rather different than that reported by various news outlets. Second, I place his reported comments within the broader context, which includes a greater emphasis on generosity than on self-interest. The entire transcript (PDF) of the panel discussion from which the quote was taken is an interesting read.

For instance, Griffiths also says this in the context of the question of ordering self-interest to serve justice: “…nobody, I think, on this panel believes in completely free markets. In fact, I don’t think I know anyone even in Goldman who believes in completely free markets.” By “completely free markets” Griffiths is talking about a pure lassez-faire view of the market. The broader context of Griffiths comments, including his emphasis on generosity and his qualification of endorsement of the market, should serve adequate notice to anyone who seeks to characterize him as a espousing some kind of radical view incompatible with Christian teaching. For more on the theological backgrounds of this topic, see my post over at Mere Comments.

And for even more background on Griffiths views, in addition to his Globalization, Poverty, and International Development, check out his plenary address, which includes endorsement of a kind of cap-and-trade system on carbon markets, given at 2008’s Acton University:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

In a new essay at The American, Jay Richards explains why capitalism isn’t based on greed.

In Acton’s first documentary, The Call of the Entrepreneur, Richards along Rev. Robert Sirico, Sam Gregg, Michael Novak and others touch on this matter in making the moral case for the free economy.