The 2014 Acton Lecture Series got underway last week with an address from Jay Richards on the topic of “Why Libertarians Need God.” In his address, Richards argued that core libertarian principles of individual rights, freedom and responsibility, reason, moral truth, and limited government make little sense in an atheistic and materialist context, but make far more sense when grounded in a theistic belief system. The video of the full lecture is available below; I’ve embedded the audio after the jump.
Many thanks to Ancient Faith Radio for graciously sharing its podcasts of the Conference on Poverty at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. The May 31-June 1 event was co-hosted by the Acton Institute. The conference was offered as a tribute to Deacon John Zarras, a 2006 alumnus of the seminary who earned his M.Div. degree over a period of several years as a late–vocations student. Deacon John, who fell asleep in the Lord last year, also served as a member of the Board of Trustees and the president of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Foundation.
What follows are four separate audio feeds, including Q&A follow up, from the Poverty Conference. Ancient Faith is broadcasting these as part of its regular podcasts by the Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield, Chancellor of St. Vladimir’s. But first listen to Fr. Chad’s May 24 broadcast, in which he addresses negative reaction to Acton’s participation in the conference by some associated with the seminary. He reminds listeners that Acton, on the issue of poverty, can provide a fresh and different approach that’s effective.
From Ancient Faith: (more…)
If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. (Deut. 15:7-8)
As part of its annual summer program series, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary is producing a conference on poverty on Friday, May 31, and Saturday, June 1. The event, held on St. Vladimir’s campus in Yonkers, N.Y., is being produced in collaboration with the Acton Institute.
The event, which looks at the causes of poverty, how Christians should respond to the poor, and broad questions of social justice, is offered as a tribute to Dn. John Zarras, a 2006 SVOTS graduate who earned his M.Div. degree over a period of several years as a late–vocations student. Deacon John also served as a member of the Board of Trustees and the president of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Foundation.
If you register online before May 15, the seminary will waive the $50 registration fee.
Speakers include Jay Richards, author of Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute; Susan R. Holman, adjunct lecturer at Episcopal Divinity School, senior writer at Harvard Global Health Institute, and editor of Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society; and Michael Matheson Miller, Acton Institute Research Fellow.
Former Acton Research fellow Jay Richards’ new co-authored book, Indivisible, has climbed onto The New York Times Bestseller list, holding onto a top ten spot for a second week. The book was published by FaithWords and, in an interesting cross-publishing arrangement, is also available in an Ignatius press edition with a foreword by Ignatius founder Fr. Joseph Fessio. Jay’s co-author, James Robison, is the co-host of the evangelical daily show LIFE Today.
If you’ve had the chance to hear Jay speak, or read his earlier book, Money, Greed, and God, you’ll recognize Jay’s dry wit in several places. Here’s an example of the prose style that makes the book so much fun to read (in a section on global warming):
Effect and cause—the warming and the cause of the warming—are two different things. This is a point of logic, not science. Retreating glaciers in Alaska, polar bears looking mournfully at the ocean from the edge of a chunk of sea ice, shorter winters year after year, may be evidence of warming, but can’t tell us why the earth has warmed.
The book is a high-flying overview, so it touches on everything from creation stewardship to economic freedom to the role of the family in maintaining a free society. Its organizing message is that economic and social conservatism reinforce each other in important ways that are often overlooked.
Here’s the book endorsement from Fr.Sirico:
It is relatively easy to observe that our society is fast reaching a climactic moment. How to discern a wise, credible, effective, and prudent course of action to avoid disaster is not easy to come across. Jay Richards and James Robison make an important contribution in pointing the way to avoid the worst effects of a coming cultural and economic tsunami. (Rev. Robert A. Sirico, President, Acton Institute)
If you have had the chance to read the book, be sure to add a quick review at the book’s Amazon page.
Earlier this week on the Acton Institute Facebook page, Rev. Sirico’s archived article “What is Capitalism?” was posted and sparked a lively discussion between two people (click here to see our Facebook page and the discussion). This blog post is to serve as my response.
Your idea of communionism, at least from what I understand from your comments, bears some resemblances to communism which has the end goal of society or the community possessing property in common. This, however, doesn’t preserve human dignity properly; nor does not foster interdependence among people. Instead it creates a society dependent on a centralized government.
In his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas explains some of the core the problems with common property. Like Aristotle, he notes, that individuals are better managers of property because it allows for a more orderly fashion of management, and as he states “human beings content with their own property live in a condition of peace. And so we observe that quarrels arise rather frequently among those who possess goods in common not individually.” The quarrels can arise because no individual is specifically responsible for the care of the common property. There is no person who feels like he or she has stake in the property. A direct result, and historical example, of common property is the tragedy of the commons.
In Capital Marx argues that there is no value in human labor per se. He states “human labour, creates value, but is not itself value. It becomes value only in its congealed state, when embodied in the form of some object.” This is contrary to Christian beliefs. There is intrinsic value in human labor itself. To work is a calling and a form of stewardship. In the encyclical Laborem Exercens, (“On Human Work”), Pope John Paul II explains how working is a direct expression of our human dignity. Such preservation of human dignity cannot be found in a system that devalues work.
The idea of property that you advocate is also found in Marx’s Capital and the Manifesto of the Communist Party. This idea is flawed on many levels. It doesn’t take into account that the entrepreneur purchases the raw goods that the workers use to make the end product. As a result, based on any definition of property, the entrepreneur is the sole owner of the raw goods and it is his or her private property, not the worker. The worker engages in a contract with the entrepreneur in an exchange of services. Just because the worker uses his or her services, which he or she is paid for by the entrepreneur, does not translate into the worker becoming the owner of the raw good which becomes the final product.
The idea of private property that you advocate, rescinding property rights for all corporations, is dangerous on many levels. It puts political rights, religious rights, and all private property rights in danger. Marx notes that the abolition of private property for the bourgeois leads to the abolition of family because, according to his argument, the family is rooted in property and private gain. Furthermore, Marx articulates that his beliefs, which bring forth a communist centralized system, also abolish religion.
In Federalist Paper No. 10 James Madison argues how the first object of any government is the protection of property. Furthermore, in Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville explains that what makes America successful is its protection of private property for all. No landed property class exists. He articulates how the protection of private property translates into the protection of political rights even to the least of all citizens. Furthermore the right to property fosters “…obedience to established law, of the influence of good mores in republics, and of the assistance that religious ideas lend to order and freedom…” What makes America special and successful, according to Tocqueville, is the protection of rights for all people. As Tocqueville demonstrates, the right of property needs to be protected because other rights stem from it. This right extends to even corporations. Rights should be guaranteed for all, not winners and losers picked by the government.
Again, private property should be protected at all levels, for both individuals and corporations. Hernando de Soto explains this in his book and in an essay both titled, The Mystery of Capital. Through examples found in his essay, book, and case studies (which can be found by clicking here), de Soto effectively argues using proven facts, statistics, and real world examples that the protection of capital and private property rights has led to economic prosperity in the west, whereas the lack of protection is a leading reason to the economic disparity in poor countries. If we fail to protect private property rights on all levels, then we begin down a path of economic decline. Without the protection of private property rights, and an effective legal structure to guarantee such protection, the wrong message is being sent to businesses. No business will want to invest in an economic climate that is hostile towards them.
A market system, which is what Rev. Sirico argues for in his article “What is Capitalism?” actually fosters virtues that all Christians value. This is articulated by Stephen Grabil in his essay “The Market, School of Virtue.” Here Grabil shows that greed is not what makes a free market churning, but instead it is virtue. Some of the virtues fostered in a free market are trustworthiness, self-control, sympathy, and fairness. Jay Richards, author of Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem, demonstrates that greed is a vice which even Adam Smith condemned. Richards also shows why greed does not lead to a successful market economy, but actually destroys it.
In regards to the referenced Fulton Sheen article titled “New Slavery” it is important to note that the article was written in 1943 when many monopolies were present in the market. Acton has never believed in or supported crony capitalism. Monopolies do not allow competition which is bad for the consumer and the worker. Also, Sheen does not advocate for the end of private property in his article. Instead he says we have a right to private property and our use of it should be righteous “Possession [of property] has two faces, two aspects: we all have a right to private property, but this is accompanied by our responsibility for its righteous use.” As Sirico articulates in the posted article, when the market is structured successfully it is the consumer who has primary control and then next is the worker. This is because of competition. Monopoly capitalism comes when the government gets into bed with businesses, and essentially block new entrepreneurs and potential new competitors from entering into the market.
Free markets are not just about an economic system. It is something greater than economics, it is about freedom. The freedom to choose what to purchase, the freedom for the worker to find an employer and not be forced into employment with the state or a monopoly, and the freedom to hold property and have it protected, this freedom is what capitalism is about. Tocqueville saw this in his visit to America and correctly articulated how the protection of private property, in all levels, has led to the great freedom Americans enjoy. However, Tocqueville also recognized the need for virtuous men and women because he knew America cannot succeed, nor its structure of government without them. As he states, “There are no great men without virtue; without respect for rights, there is no great people: one can almost say that there is no society; for what is a union of rational and intelligent being among whom force is the sole bond?”
In a recent article in World magazine, Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky urged evangelical minister Jim Wallis to drop the pretense of being post-partisan. Olasky, World magazine’s editor-in-chief, went on to assert that (1) Wallis’s organization, Sojourners, received money from the foundation of secular-leftist George Soros, and that (2) Wallis had lent the Sojourners mailing list to the Obama campaign.
In an interview here, Wallis appears to deny these charges. But now former Acton research fellow Jay Richards has followed up with some additional findings in a new piece at NRO. The findings strongly support Olasky’s claims, and make it all the more unclear why Wallis would respond to them by denying them and calling Olasky a professional liar.
Richards has been keeping tabs on Wallis for a while now. In an October 2005 review of God’s Politics, Richards shows how Wallis sits squarely on the left and has even capitulated to the secular left on key social issues. The book review also examines Wallis’s questionable biblical exegesis as well as some of the economic fallacies that drive much of Wallis’s political thinking.
Wallis may mean well, but the big-government policies he advocates have been a wrecking ball to the very communities he seeks to help. An Acton/Coldwater video short examines why the left’s approach to poverty alleviation has done so much harm. It’s called How not to Help the Poor.
We can read in Genesis that man was created by God, in His own image. Richards expands on that in a way that struck me as particularly novel. If God is the Creator with a capital ‘C’, then being created in His image, mankind has been endowed with the ability to create as well — we are creators with a little ‘c’. And mankind’s progress through history, with all of our worldly creations, should demonstrate that. But what have we “created” via our government, in the name of compassion? Is it working?
At the end of the day, most of the programs and policies of government initiated in the name of helping people amount to rounding up resources from the private sector and redistributing them to others. And there are plenty of people who argue we need to do more of that. But if these programs and policies are in fact not working, or perhaps even making things worse, and yet we continue to do them, I would suggest that we are ignoring the original goal of helping others and instead focusing on how these programs make us feel instead.
My guess is that it is a very rare sermon that gets into these areas. That is a shame, because it flies in the face of what believers in God are taught. As Saint James wrote (James 2:14-26 NRSV), “faith without works is dead.” But is faith though repeatedly failing works alive?
Read The Costs of False Compassion on the Civil Society Trust.
If you’re looking to catch up on the Climategate scandal, one of our interviewees from The Effective Stewardship DVD church curriculum, Steven Hayward, has an excellent summary and analysis here at The Weekly Standard.
Also, our friend Jay Richards has a good piece at today’s Enterprise Blog, which explains why attempts to settle the global warming debate by appeals to scientific consensus merely increase public skepticism.
Got the socialism blues? Worried that a friend or maybe a teenage son or daughter may contract a nasty case of it? Marvin Olasky at World magazine recommends former Acton research fellow Jay Richards’ 2009 HarperOne book, Money Greed and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and not the Problem:
Among the myths Richards demolishes: The Nirvana Myth (contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its real alternatives), the Piety Myth (focusing on good intentions rather than results), and the Materialist and Zero-Sum Game Myths (believing that wealth is not created but simply transferred).
Richards, one of that rare breed with a theology doctorate but an understanding of economics, also points out the errors of the Greed Myth (believing that the essence of capitalism is greed), the Usury Myth (that charging interest on money is immoral), and the Freeze-Frame Myth (that what’s happening now regarding population, income, natural resources, or so on, will always happen).
Want to administer some of the immunizations in delicious DVD form? Try a high-quality, narrative-driven Acton documentary that was irenic enough to air on scores of PBS stations around the country but with enough red meat to also air on Fox Business: The Call of the Entrepreneur shows why entrepreneurs and capitalism are part of the solution, and why socialism delivers the opposite of what it promises. The story of Jimmy Lai–the boy who escaped Communist China, founded a media empire, and confronted the Chinese leaders behind the Tiananmen Square Massacre–is alone worth the price of admission.