Last night on CNBC’s The Kudlow Report, PovertyCure director and Acton Research Fellow Michael Matheson Miller joined host Lawrence Kudlow and Rusty Reno, Editor of First Things magazine, to discuss the position of the Roman Catholic Church on global capitalism in light of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium.’ The video is embedded below.
As David Deavel points out, free market economists and distributists “are often at each others’ throats.” Deavel is attempting to scrutinize distributism – what it is and what it isn’t – in a series at Intercollegiate Review. He claims that while distributism has its flaws, it has some valid points and there is much good to be found in the arguments of distributists.
So what it distributism?
Distributists like to describe themselves as an alternative or third way that avoids what they describe as the pitfalls of both capitalism and socialism. They also claim that their system (alone, they sometimes say), is faithful to papal social teaching and the Catholic social tradition more broadly. Their goal, they claim, is a society of widely distributed property and widely distributed wealth and power. This differs, they say, from both socialism, in which the state owns the means of production, the vast bulk of wealth, and all power, and from capitalism, which is, they say, a system in which a very few private people own the means of production, wealth, and have the lion’s share of power.
Anyone who’s driven across the American landscape knows that there will be a familiar string of fast-food chains, gas stations and box stores along the expressways. You could virtually eat the same meal as you drive from one coastline of America to the other. Michael Matheson Miller, Research Fellow and Director of PovertyCure at the Acton Institute, takes up this issue, asking, “Does capitalism destroy culture?”
[S]ince the cultural critique comes from political observers at almost every point on the political spectrum, and since the bureaucratic-capitalist economies of the world really are cultures in crisis, the criticism is worth attending to seriously.
If we are going to analyze the cultural effects of market economies then I think the one of the first things we need to do is distinguish between those things Peter Berger called “intrinsic” to capitalism and those “extrinsic” to it. We need to distinguish among at least three things:
- the cultural effects caused by capitalism,
- effects aided and abetted by capitalism,
- and those things that exist alongside capitalism and are often conflated with capitalism, but that are distinct from it.
I will say from the outset that I support open, competitive economies that allow for free exchange, but I would not call myself a “capitalist.” Capitalism is generally a Marxist term that implies a mechanistic view of the economy and a false dichotomy between “capital” and “labor.” Capitalism also comes in a variety of forms and can mean many things. There is corporate capitalism, oligarchic capitalism, crony capitalism, and managerial-bureaucratic capitalism, such as we have in the United States. However, cultural critics of capitalism usually don’t make those distinctions and, even if they did, many would still be critical of an authentically free market. So without trying to tease apart all of these strands at the outset and so risk never getting anywhere let me use the term “capitalism” and ask and answer the question with the broadest of brushstrokes. Does capitalism corrode culture? I think the answer is yes and no.
“We see poverty in the developing world and we ask—what can I do?” says Michael Matheson Miller, Research Fellow at the Acton Institute and the Director of Poverty Cure, “But what if the question that animates our activity is the wrong one?”
What if instead of asking how we can alleviate poverty, we asked, “How do people in the developing world create prosperity for their families and their communities?” This sounds like a simple shift, but it can transform the way we think about poverty and the poorest among us because it takes the focus off ourselves and puts it where it belongs. People in need are not objects of our charity, they are subjects, and should be seen as the protagonists of their own development. Changing the question helps lead to an inter-subjective relationship.
Ask people in the developing world what they want most, and they don’t mention more aid or charity. They want jobs; they want the opportunity to build businesses; they want access to markets, to broader circles of exchange so they can provide for their families. As Ghanaian entrepreneur Herman Chinery-Hesse told me, “The people here are not stupid. They’re just disconnected from global trade.”
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.
Michael Matheson Miller, Acton’s Director of Media and PovertyCure, joined host Hugh Hewitt on the Hugh Hewitt Show this afternoon to discuss the election of Pope Francis, and how his experiences in Argentina may influence his actions as Pope in addressing issues of poverty. He notes that Pope Francis is not a proponent of Liberation Theology, and quotes the new Pope’s earlier writings:
We cannot truly respond to the challenge of eradicating exclusion and poverty if the poor continue to be objects, as targets of actions by the state and other organizations in a paternalistic and aid based sense, instead of subjects in an environment where the state and society create social conditions that promote and safeguard their rights and allow them to build their own destiny.
Listen to the full interview here:
The latest Radio Free Acton Podcast is part 2 of “Reflecting on the Legacy of Pope Benedict.” Director of Research Samuel Gregg and Research Fellow Michael Matheson Miller discuss the upcoming papal conclave. They explain the process that will be used to choose Benedict XVI’s successor and what should be on the cardinals minds as they go about this process.
Click the play button below to enjoy the podcast:
Acton’s Director of Media, Michael Matheson Miller, discusses the current state of American thought on state, Church, family and liberty in Legatus Magazine. He focuses on the work of two Frenchmen: Alexis de Tocqueville and Jean Jacques Rousseau.
Many of the differences can be boiled down to what we mean by community. Rousseau’s vision of community is what the sociologist Robert Nisbet called the “political community.” For Rousseau, the two main elements of society are the individual and the state. All other groups — including the Church — are viewed as inhibiting individual freedom and detracting from political community that is found in the state.
Tocqueville’s vision of community, on the other hand, is not reduced to the “political community” but instead means a wide variety of associations, different levels of groups, and layers of authority. Society is not made up of autonomous individuals and an omnicompetent state, but is a diverse group of overlapping associations like families, churches, schools, and mutual-aid societies.
PovertyCure’s six-episode DVD series on human flourishing is now available for purchase. This high-energy, 152-minute documentary-style series challenges conventional thinking, reframing the poverty debate around the creative capacity of the human person. Listen to the voices of entrepreneurs, economists, political and religious leaders, missionaries, NGO workers, and everyday people as host Michael Matheson Miller travels around the world to discover the foundations that allow human beings, families, and communities to thrive.
Speaking at a conference at Bethel College, Acton’s Director of Media, Michael Miller, told the audience that while good intentions are necessary in the fight against poverty, they simply aren’t enough. Miller spoke directly on the topic of foreign aid to developing nations:
Western countries providing financial aid to developing nations seems to make sense, but there is no correlation between the extent of aid and economic progress in those countries, Miller said.
Much of the aid goes to foreign governments and helps subsidize corruption, Miller said. “It’s not actually going to the people,” he said, referring to that system as “crony capitalism.”
And some of the aid goes to subsidize Western companies, which enter poor nations and provide goods or services instead of promoting the ability of residents to establish their own businesses, he said.
“People are saying, ‘We don’t want any more aid. Stop helping us,’ ” Miller said.
Miller, leader of the PovertyCure initiative, noted that free markets offer the best hope for developing nations and their economies. Allowing the people in the developing world to take responsibility for their own economic progress shifts the focus from foreign aid to local businesses, creating sustainable jobs.
Read “Speaker questions providing aid to poor around the world” in the South Bend Tribune.