Posts tagged with: morality

Below is an excerpt from a 1925 Washington Post editorial on President Calvin Coolidge’s Inaugural Address. The comments speak directly to the moral arguments Coolidge was making for a free economy. It is the kind of moral thinking about markets and taxes we desperately need today from our national leaders.

The excerpt comes from an excellent book, The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election by Garland S. Tucker, III.

Few persons, probably, have considered economy and taxation moral issues. But Mr. Coolidge so considers them, and his observations give a fresh impression of the intensity of his feeling on this subject. He holds that economy, in connection with tax reduction and tax reform, involves the principle of conservation of national resources. A nation that dissipates its resources falls into moral decay. Extravagance lengthens the hours and diminishes the rewards of labor. “I favor the policy of economy,” says Mr. Coolidge, “not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people” [emphasis added]. He would protect those who toil by preventing the waste of the fruits of their labor. The burden of taxation is excessive. It makes life more meager, and falls hardest upon the poor. The United States is fortunate above other nations in the opportunity to economize. It is at peace and business activity has been restored. “The collection of any taxes which are not absolutely required, which do not beyond reasonable doubt contribute to the public welfare is only a species of legalized larceny,” is Mr. Coolidge’s vigorously expressed conclusion on the subject of economy.

It’s a logical, simple, and a deeply moral message. Some might call it common sense. Our times and the economic peril we face clearly calls for a commitment to reducing government spending and our tax burden. It has fallen on deaf ears in Washington and much of America. Coolidge’s words resonate today because it is the cure for our fiscal cliff and the ailing economy. And as Coolidge understood so well, it is the moral thing to do.

It makes little, or really no sense for Americans to fork over more taxes without a balanced federal budget and seeing some fiscal responsibility out of Washington. The fact that the United States Senate hasn’t passed a budget in well over three years doesn’t mean we aren’t spending money, we are spending more than ever. The last time the Senate passed a budget resolution was April of 2009.

We are constantly bombarded with rhetoric that “taxing the rich” at an even greater rate will somehow dig us out of this mess. That’s delusional of course but the line works well in focus groups and polls. Here is a great common sense post from Frank Hill on the problems with that line of reasoning. Hill directs The Institute for the Public Trust and has a solid understanding of the economic and budget challenges facing the nation. His blog is a must to follow and as always Acton’s Principles for Budget Reform are worth reading.

There has been a lot of news coverage and debate about Republicans who signed a tax pledge. Now some of them feel boxed in and want flexibility to cut a deal. The criticism from some is that they want to cave without demanding any real concessions. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) is leading the charge of criticizing Republicans who want to raise taxes. His argument is that budgets need to be balanced and taxes cut to spur economic growth.

At any rate, it’s obvious we have a spending crisis in Washington not a crisis stemming from a lack of revenue. More revenue won’t cure the ailment that plagues Washington.

At this hour, it seems that the number of leaders who are making the moral argument on the rights of Americans to keep more of their property is rapidly dwindling. Strong economic conservatives like Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan made impressive moral arguments about the importance of low taxes in a free society. It not only makes economic sense but it makes sense morally. And for the record, if a politician signed his name to a pledge he or she should show some backbone and principle by honoring his word. Property and taxes are important issues, but today there is little leadership on the issue, especially the kind of moral leadership this nation desperately needs.

A schoolhouse in New England from the 1830s.

According to a recent Pew Center report, “Record levels of bachelor’s degree attainment in 2012 are apparent for most basic demographic groups.” 33% of 25- to 29- year-olds are completing both high school and college. According to the report, this number is up from five years ago and at record levels for the United States in general. But what does it mean? Statistics like these are constantly being produced, but they are no good to us if we do not know how to interpret them. After attending the joint Acton/Liberty Fund conference this past weekend on Acton and Tocqueville, I have Tocqueville on the brain and wonder if, perhaps, he might have some insights that are still relevant today. (more…)

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I take a look at the relationship between sacrifice and self-interest. One of the common complaints against market economies is that they foster selfishness.

But as Paul Heyne points out, it is crucially important to distinguish between self-interest and selfishness: “Many of the most eminent and sophisticated theorists in the economics profession make no effort to distinguish between self-interest and selfishness or between rational behavior and greedy behavior.” The failure to make such a distinction leads to some pretty strange conclusions about the motivations behind human behavior. If you want to know why people work, just look at what they do with the money they earn.

To this end, I also highlight the perspective of Herman Bavinck, who describes the rhythmic relationship between the spheres of family and work:

Through the family God motivates us to work, inspiring, encouraging, and empowering us to work. Through this labor he equips us to survive not for the sake of satisfying our lusts but for the sake of providing for our family before God and with honor, and also to extend the hand of Christian compassion to the poor.

We go out to work to provide for our families, and we return home from work to enjoy and share the fruits of our labors. We do this daily, in fact. There is a deeply intimate connection here in the cycle between home and work, the dual aspects of the cultural mandate: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and exercise dominion over it.
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Writing for National Review Online, Rev. Robert A. Sirico offers three salient points about last night’s election:

1. Americans give signs of moving in a morally and politically more progressive direction, by which I mean that the appeal to the wisdom of past ages and tradition is simply not as compelling as it once was. People today, not all, but many, seem to want the trappings of the tradition (the white gown at the wedding), but not its obligations (chastity before it), thus indicating they would rather live off the legacy of the past than work to create a new and enduring legacy for the future.

2. This tendency applies not merely to moral issues, but to economic and political ones as well. As expressed in the elections results, and confirmed over time in numerous polls, Americans want a prosperous economy with all the “toys” it will produce, but they also demand a wide assortment of political and governmental props to ensure they do not have to sacrifice too much or risk too much in order to attain it. In many respects it is as simple as wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too — writ large.

3. Finally, and with specific application to our religious institutions, now under more governmental threat than at most any other time in the history of the Republic, there must be a recognition of failure on our part to make persuasive, compelling, and authentic the message and identity we bear. The very existence of our social-service institutions is taken for granted at the moment that these have themselves lost their own raison d’être (witness the wholesale sell-out of Catholic Bishops by the Catholic Hospital Association in the face of the HHS mandate, among others). At least with regards to the Catholic bishops in the United States, along with various movements of Evangelical Protestants, there is a growing recognition of a failure in our role in forming a clear, vibrant, winsome, and effective “world view.” The recognition is growing, as I say, but what this election gives evidence of is that we have a great deal more yet to accomplish.

Read more of “One Election Cannot Fix What Ails Us” on National Review Online.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, October 12, 2012
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Panel: “Why Morality-Free Economic Theory Doesn’t Work”

“Why Morality-Free Economic Theory Does Not Work: A Natural Law Perspective in the Wake of the Recent Financial Crisis.” The recent worldwide financial crisis has revealed a serious flaw in current thinking about markets and morals. Contemporary legal theorists and political economists commonly assume that markets can (and even should) provide morally neutral zones for the exchange of goods among free persons, constrained by nothing other than the laws of contract and the imperatives of self-interest. Professor Bruni’s lecture will challenge this dominant assumption, and will offer an alternative, ‘natural law’ perspective on the interrelatedness of markets, morals, and human sociality.

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David Brooks recently took on the conservative movement for relying too heavily on pro-market arguments and tired formulas rather than emphasizing its historic features of custom, social harmony, and moral preservation.

As I’ve already noted in response to the Brooks piece, I agree that conservatism needs a renewed intellectual foundation brought about by a return to these emphases, yet I disagree that a lopsided devotion to “economic freedom” is what’s stalling us. If we hope to restore traditionalist conservatism, we’d do well to recognize that this means restoring economic conservatism along with it. Brooks is upset that dogmatic pro-market folks have seized the Republican Party, yet this is the same Republican Party that nominated the architect of Romneycare and can’t seem to get serious about the deficit.

Conservatism is faltering all around, and the reasons for each “sect’s” demise are more or less interrelated. As I’ve written elsewhere, we need to restore a holistic conservative imagination that ties its social and economic strains together by grounding them both in Russell Kirk’s “enduring moral order.”

For David Brooks, restoration is all about “balance,” but for the true conservative, it needs to be about integration.
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Brett M. Decker, editorial page editor of The Washington Times, recently interviewed Rev. Robert Sirico, president and co-founder of The Acton Institute, in response to Rev. Sirico’s latest book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy. In his answers, Rev. Sirico addresses the market’s moral potential as well as the present state of the nation. Excerpt:

Decker: Your new book is about the moral case for a free economy. What is the morality of the marketplace and how does it work? How does the market take care of the masses better than a government safety net?

Sirico: The morality of a market is rooted in the morality of the human person who is the center of that market. In precise terms, the market itself is neither moral nor immoral, but it becomes a vehicle for the moral and economic expression of the acting human person, who has the free will to choose good or bad.

When we speak of taking care of the masses, we usually mean taking care of their material needs (though there is much, much more to people than their material needs). The material needs of people are best met in societies that are prosperous, both in terms of the abundance of economic opportunities available to them and the amount of superfluous wealth that can be used generously to support the needs of those unable to provide for themselves. The one thing we know about markets from a wide array of economic studies is that the less taxed and regulated a society is, the more prosperous it is.

Entire interview here.

July 31st marks the 100th birthday of the economist Milton Friedman. Celebrations planned by proponents of free-markets will take place across the country to recognize and pay tribute to his legacy and the power of his ideas. I am speaking at an Americans for Prosperity event in town on the topic of school choice on his birthday.

My commentary this week is on school choice. Nobody has influenced and shaped the school choice movement more than Friedman. In my piece, I stressed the moral power of pivoting away from bureaucratic centralized schooling and encourage greater parental involvement in education. Simply put, school choice allows for parents to better shape the spiritual formation of their children. Nobody can make better decisions about the education of their children than the parents.

Finally, schools that have to compete for students and tax dollars will be forced to improve and be innovative for today’s complex and global marketplace.

Brian Fikkert, a Professor of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College and the Executive Director of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development, takes a look at Arthur Brooks’ The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise in this week’s edition of CPJ’s Capital Commentary.

I think it’s a pretty balanced review, and Fikkert rightly highlights some of the important strength’s of Brooks’ work. But he also highlights some specifically theological concerns that have animated my own engagement with “happiness” research:

At a fundamental level, Christians must reject Brooks’ ethical standard: human happiness as defined by autonomous human beings. Brooks’ ethics are rooted in Enlightenment humanism rather than the transcendent standards of God’s moral decrees. To determine if the free enterprise system is moral, Christians must determine if it satisfies biblical standards of justice, not autonomous humans’ notions of happiness.

It’s important to note, of course, that as the head of AEI Brooks is making a case to a much more heterogeneous audience than simply like-minded Christians. And he’s trained as a social scientist, not as a theologian. But I think it would be interesting to hear how Brooks would address some of these challenges not firstly as the president of the American Enterprise Institute but as a professing Christian.

The answer Arthur Brooks gave to Josh Good of Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE) at Dr. Brooks’ plenary at the most recent Acton University is a great place to start: