In considering issues of political economy today, it is always prudent to refer to wisdom from the past. The American Enterprise Institute’s recent publication “Economic Freedom and Human Flourishing: Perspectives from Political Philosophy” is a collection of essays that analyzes the thought of several prominent philosophers on the connection between the title’s two subjects. Many of the quotes below, pulled from six of the nine essays, challenge foundational aspects of classical liberalism and the value of the free market. As Yuval Levin comments at the end of his essay on Edmund Burke, markets can enable human flourishing, but they do not do so perfectly, “And it is precisely the friends of markets who should be most willing to acknowledge that, and to seek for ways to address it…for the sake of liberty and human flourishing.” (more…)
Guatemala is not known for freedom and stability, with a history colored by authoritarianism, political corruption, civil war, segregation, colonialism, post-colonial interventionism, and so on.
Dire poverty and street violence remain endemic, and yet hope remains: for political and economic liberty, yes, but also for freedom of spirit.
In a beautiful long-form essay for the new PovertyCure Magazine, J. Caleb Stewart explores the promise of Guatemala, highlighting the story of Antonio Cali, “a one-time socialist who began his drift from the left when he realized that entrepreneurship held more promise for the proletariat than redistribution.”
After stumbling upon a radio broadcast by an outspoken professor from Universidad Francisco Marroquín (UFM) — a Guatemalan university founded on principles of economic liberty — Antonio realized that he needn’t wait on others to transform his situation and surroundings. (more…)
The fabric of American society is tearing at the seams. Whether witnessed through the disruptive insurgencies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders or the more mundane fissures of pop culture and daily consumerism, Americans are increasingly divided and diverse.
Yet even in our rash attempts to dismantle Establishment X and Power Center Y, we do so with a peculiar nostalgia of the golden days of yore. You know, those days when institutions mattered?
This is particularly evident in the appeal of Mr. Trump, whose calls to burn down the houses of power come pre-packaged with a simultaneous disdain for the power of bottom-up diversity and the liberty it requires. Once the tattered castle on the hill is torched to the ground, we’re told, we will receive a greater castle on a higher hill with a far more deserving king. The scepter will be yuge, and with power restored to the hands of a man shrewd enough to exploit it, surely we will “win” again. (more…)
The Republican Party is fracturing on the topic of trade. Alas, in the same corners where free and open exchange was once embraced as a propeller for economic growth and dynamism, protectionism is starting to stick.
In response, free traders are pushing the typical arguments about growth, innovation, and prosperity. Others, such as myself, are noting that the trend has less to do with economic illiteracy than it does with a protectionism of the heart — a self-seeking ethos that wants “economic freedom” only insofar as it poses no threat to the preferred wage, vocation, or plot of dirt.
We have forgotten that work is not about us. It’s about serving others, and adapting that service when the signals say, “yes.”
On this, the “communitarian” wing of conservatism tends to push back, accusing free traders of being overly comfortable with social disruption and displacement, prioritizing efficiency and cheap widgetry over “stability” and “social well-being.”
Such critics would do well to heed Edmund Burke, one of the movement’s heroes. Burke was a staunch supporter of free trade not because he was indifferent to disruption, but because the alternative would cause much, much more. (more…)
As the Supreme Court considers how to rule in the Little Sisters of the Poor case, we have a timely edition of Radio Free Acton for your consideration. William B. Allen, Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy in the Department of Political Science and Emeritus Dean, James Madison College, at Michigan State University, joins the podcast to talk about what the 2016 presidential race says about the national character of the United States, and emphasizes the centrality of the freedom of conscience to all of our rights as Americans.
Allen is a deep and brilliant thinker, and it was a pleasure to be able to talk with him. You can listen to the podcast via the audio player below, and after the jump I’ve included video of his 2014 Acton Lecture Series address on American National Character and the Future of Liberty.
It’s become rather predictable to hear progressives promote protectionist rhetoric on trade and globalization. What’s surprising is when it spills from the lips of the leading Republican candidate.
Donald Trump has made opposition to free trade a hallmark of his campaign, a hole that his competitors have been slow to exploit. In the most recent CNN debate, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich each echoed their own agreement in varying degrees, voicing slight critiques on tariffs but mostly affirming Trump’s ambiguous platitudes about trade that is “free but fair.”
Why so much silence?
Unfortunately, as Tim Carney details at length, voters are biting and swallowing what Trump is peddling, and conservatives are struggling to find solutions that sell. “Conservatives may scoff at this Made in America mindset as economically illiterate,” he writes. “But politically, it seems to be a winner.” (more…)
“The twin tracks of work and wage do not meet, and cannot be scientifically related. They are bridged by morality, not by mathematics.” -Lester DeKoster
Low-wage workers continue to picket and protest around the country, demanding an increased minimum wage, improved access to benefits, and better working conditions. The political rhetoric has followed accordingly, with Bernie Sanders calling for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and Hillary Clinton arguing for $12 (due to differing magic potions, no doubt). Simultaneously, widespread angst over “excessive” executive compensation continues to fester.
But alas, prices are not play things, and we do society no favors by trying to distort market signals according to our own arbitrary whims (whether $12, $15, $100, or otherwise). Given the history and trajectory of the American economy, we ought not be stuck in the mire of such minimum-mindedness, seeking to control and micro-manage our way to peace and prosperity through top-down mechanistic means. The path to prosperity is one of creation and contribution, planted with seeds of service and opportunity, where new wealth is a natural byproduct of access to the pond.
Yet throughout all this, “market signals” are simply signals, the discernment of which requires human conscience before and after and throughout. When we think about the intersection of work and wages, “listening to the market” is not where it stops, as critics of the free market wrongly assume. The baseline of actual prices in a complex economy is where things begin, and the Christian wage-setter must be careful and attentive to how things ought to proceed.
In Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster explores these “twin tracks” of work and wage, noting that the proper bridge will not be built by arbitrary government edict, but by the art of “executive stewardship,” driven by God-given responsibility and God-directed conscience. “Work and wage draw together at the point where conscience functions,” he writes, “that is to say, work and wage tracks coalesce in persons making executive decisions.” When we inhibit the freedom of the human conscience, an inhibition of the economic order is sure to follow.
DeKoster devotes an entire chapter to this topic, an excerpt of which is available at the Oikonomia blog. Those who set wages have an “awesome obligation,” DeKoster writes, and their conscience must balance a host of factors, all pushing toward a variety of goals, including (1) the best product, (2) the best working conditions, (3) the best wage for everyone involved, and (4) “reflecting the best efforts at every job, to be sold at the lowest price compatible with the requirements.” In balancing all of this, the executive also heeds transcendent signals, whether through ethics or spiritual discernment. (more…)