Posts tagged with: political economy

Is the dominant economic system we have today, the market economy or capitalism, compatible with Christianity? Orthodox Christian theologian David Bentley Hart in a June 2016 First Things article titled,”Mammon Ascendant: Why global capitalism is inimical to Christianity,” is skeptical. As you might gather from the title of his article. On Public Discourse, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg takes a closer look at Hart’s curious economic postulates such as the one about the “purely financial market” and his rather overbroad claim that wealth is intrinsically evil. Then there’s the one about the investments that wealthy people and institutions make, with homicidal malice, in new businesses and the like. Gregg:

Even more contestable is Hart’s suggestion that the venture capital that, he concedes, built places like Manhattan and provided millions with jobs is somehow responsible for particular evils. Notable among these is what he calls “the carboniferous tectonic collision zones of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky” in which “a once poor but propertied people were reduced to helotry on land they used to own” and “forced into dangerous and badly remunerated labor that destroyed their health, and then kept generation upon generation in servile dependency.” This is an example of how, to use Hart’s words, “the market murders.”

To murder is to intentionally kill an innocent person. Is Hart really suggesting that the workings of “the market”—which is simply an economy in which there is a free creation and exchange of goods and services by individuals and communities in a particular institutional setting—involves the intentional killing of innocent people?

Did people on Wall Street, for instance, directly will the alleged enslavement of people in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky? Who, one might ask, “forced” people into these jobs in West Virginia? Could it be possible that some of these crypto-peasants weren’t so content with their three acres and a cow and actually regarded working in a mine as a better economic option, given their available choices at the time? It’s likely that the vast majority of their descendants live far more comfortable material existences, enjoy longer life-spans, and are better educated than their small-landowning forebears. Some are probably working on Wall Street.

Read “Global Capitalism versus Christianity? A Response to David Bentley Hart” on Public Discourse by Samuel Gregg.

One of the most common criticisms of capitalism is that the system exploits workers. It’s an old claim (dating back to at least Karl Marx). But is it true?

Philosopher Matt Zwolinski argues that even if individual capitalists want to exploit workers the free market tends to prevent them from doing so. However, government interference in labor markets does allow some parties to gain at someone else’s expense.

In an era where socialism is (inexplicably) once again in vogue, we should ask, “What would life be like in a world without capitalism?”

The Fund for American Studies has produced a superb It’s a Wonderful Life-style video that not only shows what life would be like if we banned free enterprise (i.e., a lot like Soviet Russia) but also makes the point that when you lose economic freedom you lose other freedoms too. As the angel says, “When you take away the carrot, all you’re left with is the stick.

My favorite part of the video:

Anti-capitalist activist: “I just wanted to get rid of the greed. I didn’t want to get rid of my microwave, my air-conditioner. . . ”

Angel: “Your Xbox.”

Activist: “My Xbox is gone?”

Angel: “Yeah, well, in this world that greedy Bill Gates work in a bowling ball factory in Akron. Lose-win, right?”

millenials-phonesA recent national survey by the Harvard Institute of Politics finds that a majority of Millennials (18- to 29-year olds) do not support capitalism as a political theory. One-third of them, however, do support socialism.

As a rule, I try not to put too much stock in such surveys because opinion polls make us dumb. But it’s become obvious that a significant portion of younger American are truly so under-educated that they truly believe socialism is preferable to capitalism.

Perhaps the problem is merely one of language. The reality is that the most ardent “capitalists” don’t like “capitalism” either.

Capitalism is merely an economic system in which the modes and means of production are mostly or entirely privately owned. That’s a rather broad categorization that includes such systems as corporatism, crony capitalism, social democracy, state capitalism, and welfare capitalism. Even those of us who can be described as “capitalists” would reject most of the other forms of capitalism we don’t like. (Which is why we tend to dislike the  unhelpful word “capitalism.”)

What many of us (I’m tempted to say true capitalists) prefer is not an amorphous capitalism, but an economic system that is outgrowth of the natural order of liberty: a free economy. There’s no agreed upon term for the system of a free economy (which is why capitalism is often used as a substitute) but it includes free people engaging in free enterprise in free markets. A free economy is not a laissez-faire, each-to-his-own system of consumerism. It’s a system in which people are allowed to use their resources and abilities most effectively to serve others.

My naïve hope is that if more Millennials understood that capitalism is mostly used as a derogatory term free enterprise and economic liberty, they’d realize that they really do support it after all. But in case they aren’t convinced here are five reasons why you, young Millennial reader, should support capitalism:
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walter_williams2On this day in 1936, Walter E. Williams was born in the city of Philadelphia. The George Mason University economist is famous for his classical liberal views, often arguing that free market capitalism is not only the most moral economic system known to mankind, but it allows for the creation of the most wealth and prosperity. He has discussed many diverse themes, including: race in the United States, politics, liberty, education, and more. A prolific writer, Williams has written ten books, dozens of essays for scholarly journals, and hundreds of newspaper articles.

In honor of turning eighty, here are ten excellent quotes from Williams:

At the beginning of each semester, I tell students that my economic theory course will deal with positive, non-normative economic theory. I also tell them that if they hear me making a normative statement without first saying, “In my opinion,” they are to raise their hands and say, “Professor Williams, we didn’t take this class to be indoctrinated with your personal opinions passed off as economic theory; that’s academic dishonesty.” I also tell them that as soon as they hear me say, “In my opinion,” they can stop taking notes because my opinion is irrelevant to the subject of the class — economic theory. Another part of this particular lecture to my students is that by no means do I suggest that they purge their vocabulary of normative or subjective statements. Such statements are useful tools for tricking people into doing what you want them to do. You tell your father that you need a cell phone and he should buy you one. There’s no evidence whatsoever that you need a cell phone. After all, George Washington managed to lead our nation to defeat Great Britain, the mightiest nation on Earth at the time, without owning a cell phone.

Democracy and liberty are not the same. Democracy is little more than mob rule, while liberty refers to the sovereignty of the individual.

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Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, March 31, 2016
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An Ethicist Reads The Art of the Deal
John Paul Rollert , The Atlantic

Donald Trump succumbs to the age-old temptation to see capitalism not as an economic system but a morality play.

Welfare System Is ‘Anti-Work,’ Researchers Say
Mariana Barillas, The Daily Signal

The war on poverty is a war on work, the authors of a new book that criticizes the nation’s welfare system assert.

Again, What Is Economic Freedom?
Jeffrey Tucker, FEE

Quite often when I am interviewed, I get the question: What precisely do you mean by “capitalism”? It’s an excellent question. The great debate among capitalism, fascism, and socialism suffers from a lack of clear language.

Nafta May Have Saved Many Autoworkers’ Jobs
Eduardo Porter, New York Times

There are still more than 800,000 jobs in the American auto sector. And there is a good case to be made that without Nafta, there might not be much left of Detroit at all.

dollarbillcryingActon’s director of research, Samuel Gregg, is looking ahead to a post-Obama economy. He notes that every presidency has problems it leaves behind upon exiting the White House, but we have some major economic and moral obstacles to overcome.

Gregg outlines the challenges: mounting debt, entitlement programs that keep growing, crony capitalism, unemployment. What to do?

Doing nothing isn’t an option for American conservatives. I’d suggest, however, that the incremental approach generally followed by conservatives—which often amounts to trying to adjust, rather than override or completely dispense with, policies enacted by progressives—isn’t going to be enough either. Conservatives are instinctively wary of major upheavals. Yet if they really believe that progressive economic policies are seriously damaging the common good, they should perhaps do what progressives do: implement fundamental changes.

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