Posts tagged with: markets & morality

On Vatican Radio, Acton President and co-founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico discusses his new book Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for the Free Market Economy with reporter Ann Schneible.

According to Vatican Radio, the broadcasting station of the Holy See:

… Fr Sirico highlighted his objectives in writing this book. Defending the Free Market, he said, was written “with the intention of making accessible economic ideas that I thought were important in general terms; but, in particular, especially for religious people, to understand there is what we call a normative or moral dimension to economic activity.”

“It’s not just, live by the Ten Commandments and open a store,” Fr Sirico explained, but he wanted to demonstrate “that there’s something more internal to the whole dynamism of a market economy that makes sense both economically and morally.”

Click on the media player below to listen to Schneible’s full interview with Rev. Sirico:

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In response to the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare’a individual mandate, National Review Online launched a symposium — a roundup of commentary — which posed the following question: “What’s next for both conservatives and the Republican party on health-care reform?” Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg contributed this analysis:

Leaving aside the arguments that will continue about the SCOTUS ruling on Obamacare, one response of those who favor free markets and limited government must be for them to start preparing themselves for what will eventually happen, regardless of the results of the 2012 presidential election. And that’s Obamacare’s eventual economic demise. The economic track record of socialized medicine is very clear. Sooner or later, it implodes. Britain’s National Health Service is a perfect example. Even Sweden has realized that socialized medicine (and generous welfare states more generally) are unaffordable in the long term, and it has begun allowing private providers into its health-care market. In short, Obamacare’s essential economic unfeasability and extensive bureaucratization of health care (not to mention its disproportionately negative impact on the poor) will become all too clear in time. When that happens, conservatives must have off-the-shelf plans ready to go in order to restore sanity to the asylum of socialized medicine.

However, it’s also plain that conservatives, beyond citing the raw economics of real health-care reform, must ballast their case against socialized medicine with moral and cultural arguments. Far too many conservatives and free marketers critique socialized medicine almost solely in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. Economic analyses and arguments are important, but not many people will put everything on the line for a calculus of utility. Instead, critics must draw attention to the ways in which socialized medicine (1) saps personal responsibility, (2) facilitates the spoiled-brat entitlement mentality presently reducing much of Europe to an economic laughingstock, and (not least among such concerns) (3) creates an impossible situation for those of us who on grounds of faith and reason cannot and will not participate in schemes that legally require us to cooperate in other people’s choices for moral evil.

We can win numerous economic arguments. In some respects, that’s actually the easy part. But until we decisively shift — and win — the moral debate, the battle will be uphill all the way.

Read other viewpoints on NRO’s “What’s Next for the Opposition?”

Rev. Sirico’s new book is not the only recent entry on the topic of markets and morality (though from comparing reviews, it may be the best). Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel also examines the subject in What Money Can’t Buy. Unlike his wildly overpraised Justice, though, Sandel’s latest work is getting mixed reviews—even from those who you’d expect to sing his praises.

For instance, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, seems to believe that Sandel missed an opportunity to provide a stronger critique of the “rapidly growing commercialisation of social transactions.” Other reviewers appear to agree, though the real underlying problem, as Greg Forster explains, is that Sandel’s view of markets is inherently flawed:
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On his Koinonia blog, Rev. Gregory Jensen reviews Rev. Robert Sirico’s new book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy.

Jensen:

“Daring though the argument is, especially for a Catholic priest, it is also essential that it be made since for too many people (including business people), free market economic theory and policies are little more than a justification for greed. While not denying the excesses of capitalism and real sins of capitalists, Fr Sirico wisely doesn’t allow sin to have the last word. Rather, and like St Augustine who inspired his own spiritual journey, the helps us see the goodness hidden beneath the distorting effects of moral failure.

Though irenic in tone, Sirico is unwilling to cede ground to those who imagine—wrongly in his view—that “socialism, liberalism, collectivism, and central planning” (p. 185) are morally superior and more effective in generating wealth. They aren’t and however noble the intention they are come up morally and practically short because they neither anthropological sound nor effective in caring for the material needs of the human person. The latter is especially the case when we turn to the needs of the most vulnerable among us. It is the free market that best fits the truth of the human person. And it is only the free market that has demonstrated the ability not only to lift the human person out of the poverty that was the almost universal lot of humanity even as late as 200 years ago.”

Read “More than Mere Economics” here.

Wang Yue

On The American Spectator, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at the death of Wang Yue, a Chinese toddler run over — twice — in a public market while passersby continued on their way.

Gregg:

Accidents happen. But what made little Wang Yue’s death a matter for intense public discussion was the fact that nearly 20 people simply walked by and ignored her plight as she lay bleeding in the gutter.

What, hundreds of Chinese websites, newspapers and even state media outlets are asking, does this say about Chinese society? Have Chinese people lost all sense of concern for others in the midst of the scramble for wealth unleashed by China’s long march away from economic collectivism? One local official summarized the collective angst by stating: “We should look into the ugliness in ourselves with a dagger of conscience and bite the soul-searching bullet.”

Gregg points to widespread business-government corruption as a major contributor to China’s moral crisis:

The problem, from the perspective of China’s party-government-military elites, is such soul-searching may lead increasing numbers of Chinese to conclude that the circumstances surrounding Wang Yue’s death are symptomatic of deeper public morality problems confronting China, some of which could significantly impede its economic development.

One such challenge is widespread corruption. By definition, corruption doesn’t easily lend itself to close study. Its perpetrators are rarely interested in anyone studying their activities. Few question, however, that there’s a high correlation between corruption and widespread and direct government involvement in the economy. The more regulations and “state-business” partnerships you have (and China has millions of the former and thousands of the latter), the greater the opportunities for government cadres to extract their personal pound of flesh as the price of doing business.

Read “China’s Morally Hollow Economy” on the website of The American Spectator.

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, September 27, 2010
By

The Colson Center for Christian Worldview is preparing to release a new study DVD this fall titled, Doing the Right Thing: A Six-Part Exploration of Ethics. The DVD is designed as a resource for small-group studies and features leading thinkers who explore the need for ethical behavior in the marketplace, public square, political life and other areas. Hosts Brit Hume, Chuck Colson, Dr. Robert George and a distinguished panel — including Acton’s Rev. Robert Sirico and Michael Miller — undertake a six-part exploration of ethics before a live student audience in Princeton, N.J.

The panel, students and interviewed guests will examine and discuss the following questions over six 30-minute sessions:

– How did we get into this mess?
— Is there truth, a moral law we can all know?
— If we know what is right, can we do it?
— What does it mean to be human?
— Ethics in the Market Place
— Ethics in Public Life

Panelists and guests include:

— Donovan Campbell, Chuck Colson, Doug DeVos, Joni Eareckson Tada, Dr. Robert George, Jim Grant, Dr. Chris Hook, Brit Hume, Alveda King, Dr. David Miller, Michael Miller, Eric Pillmore, Dr. Neil Plantinga, Dr. Scott Rae, Bob Rowling, Dr. Stan Samenow, Fr. Robert Sirico, Ben Stein, Glenn Sunshine, Dr. Ken Swan.

Doing the Right Thing is a joint project between the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Lansdowne, Va., and The Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J., and was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

From Chuck Colson’s column on Christian Post. Read the entire article here.

If the Great Recession of 2008 has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t detach economic prosperity from moral issues. Greed, imprudent spending by individuals and by government, debt, all of these things brought our economy to where we are today. As I’ve said many times on BreakPoint, our economic collapse is the result of our moral and ethical collapse.

We don’t teach our kids that there are such things as right or wrong, and we wonder why they grow up to cheat and steal.

And the social costs of disintegrating traditional families in terms of crime, divorce, juvenile delinquency, are truly staggering.

You don’t think supporting traditional families — and marriage — matters? Well, then you’ve never been inside a prison, like I have. You haven’t met the thousands of young men and women I have who have told you about their missing fathers or their drugged-out moms.

No society that rejects the moral good can possibly stay solvent. The price tag for moral corruption, as we have learned, is simply too high.

The Italian online daily Ilsussidiario.net recently turned to Rev. Robert A. Sirico with a a couple of key questions about the financial crisis: “So what went wrong with our culture that turned up so badly in our markets? Or were the cause and effect reversed: something went wrong in our markets that turned up badly in our culture?”

Here’s part of the exchange:

Have moral or cultural causes contributed to the financial crisis? If so, what are they?

One could point to a wide variety of moral and cultural failures that precipitated the current financial crisis. These would be the same kind of moral failure that we could find in all of social interactions. A late friend once wisely noted something to the effect that the market would always manifest every vice and virtue that men exhibit in free inter-action, because that is in fact what the market is.

What is different in this case is that through a series of political inducements, people have been tempted to act in ways that they might not have otherwise. In the economic literature this is called “the moral hazard”. Moral hazard takes place when people are unable to see the risks associated with their actions because of some obstruction or distortion by a third party which has introduced an information asymmetry.

This is what happened in the US, which quickly metastasized internationally, in the housing market. Intervention into this market through the Federal National Mortgage Association and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae – both of which incidentally were and remain government-sponsored enterprises) essentially induced people to take out loans they could not afford and banks to offer loans to people who did not have a credit history indicating they could repay them. I might also add that a number of Congressmen and Senators saw Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae as vehicles for using taxpayers’ money to build up reliable voting constituencies.

Read “The Cultural and Moral Failures that Precipitated the Crash” on Ilsussidiario.net.

As part of its First Principles series in Political Thought, the Heritage Foundation has published The Moral Basis for Economic Liberty by the Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute. You can read the paper online or download as a PDF.

Abstract:

Today, those who defend free markets and capitalism often do so solely on managerial or technical grounds, but economic liberty needs a moral defense as well. Defense of economic liberty without reference to morality will ultimately prove injurious to liberty itself. Rightly understood, capitalism is simply the name for the economic component of the natural order of liberty. It means expansive ownership of property, fair and equal rules for all, economic security through prosperity, strict adherence to the boundaries of ownership, opportunity for charity, wise resource use, creativity, growth, development, prosperity, abundance. Most of all, it means the economic application of the principle that every human person has dignity and should have that dignity respected.

And a key insight:

So long as economic liberty—and its requisite institutions of private property, free exchange, capital accumulation, and contract enforcement—is not backed by a generally held set of norms by which it can be defended, it cannot be sustained over the long term. Into the moral vacuum left by capitalism’s defenders rush notions hostile to economic liberty, notions drawn largely from the values and vocabularies of interventionism and socialism.

Further, if a principled defense of markets based on the sanctity of private property and the virtue of voluntarism is absent from public life, it is very likely that the moral center of the buying public has begun to slip as well. In any market, the kinds of goods and services producers provide reflect the values of the consuming public. What consumers are willing to purchase will determine what kinds of goods and services are most prominent in the market.

Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg is quoted in yesterday’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial on Goldman Sachs:

The most shocking moment in Tuesday’s Senate hearing on Goldman Sachs wasn’t Sen. Carl Levin’s repeated use of the big investment house’s scatological description of its own dubious offerings.

No, it was when one of Goldman’s high cluckety-clucks actually said that it has no ethical responsibility to tell clients that it is betting against the same investments it recommends.

That really is (expletive deleted).

Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute reminded in 2008 that it wasn’t merely loose monetary policy, massive bank overleveraging, the subprime mortgage implosion and government-backed social re-engineering programs that landed the economy in a pickle.

“(I)f the current financial upheaval teaches us anything, it should be how much market capitalism depends upon most people developing and adhering to some rather uncontroversial moral virtues.”

We are learning the hard way that “prudence, temperance, thrift, promise-keeping, honesty and humility — not to mention a willingness not to do to others what we wouldn’t want them to do to us — can’t be optional-extras in communities that value economic freedom,” says Dr. Gregg.

“If markets are going to work and appropriate limits on government power maintained, then society requires reserves of moral capital,” he adds.

It’s clear the financial sector has lots of work to do.

The Gregg quote is drawn from his October 2008 Acton commentary, “No Morality, No Markets.”