Posts tagged with: poverty

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
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BernieTweetIn this week’s Acton Commentary I weigh in with some reflections on the US presidential results: “Naming, Blaming, and Lessons Learned from the 2016 Election.” I focus on much of the reaction on the Democratic side, which has understandably had some soul-searching to do.

The gist of my argument is that “the New Left forgot the Old Left and got left out this election cycle.”

For further elaborations on this theme, I recommend the following: “The Real Forgotten Man Of 2016 Was Bill Clinton,” by Ben Domenech; “Rust Belt Dems broke for Trump because they thought Clinton cared more about bathrooms than jobs,” by James Hohmann; and “Bernie Sanders, In Boston: Democratic Party Needs To Focus On Working Class,” by Simón Rios.

The only coherent way forward for the Democratic Party in America is to embrace an Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders-style approach to material inequality, to return the Old Labor vision of progressive politics. To paraphrase Sen. Sanders, going forward the Democratic Party has to be much more Piketty and much less RuPaul.

Winning in politics, as in sports, can make things seem like they are better than they really are. For the GOP, it could be that holding both houses of Congress and taking the White House ends up preventing the kind of reflection and reformation that really needs to happen. In that vein, I conclude the piece by pointing out that Trump’s economic message, which resonated among certain voters this time around, has its own problems and shortcomings.

White working class voters have suffered materially to some extent. The benefits of globalization and economic growth are not spread evenly, and there are some tradeoffs. The Right has largely been unwilling to acknowledge even short-term domestic losers in the global, free enterprise system.

But perhaps even more importantly than material losses, working classes have experienced suffering in a subjective and psychological sense, which includes feelings of isolation, purposelessness, and disrespect. Donald Trump became the vehicle for expressing this disaffection, while Clinton was the embodiment of a cronyist, corrupt Washington establishment.
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“The mundane progress driven by ordinary economic and social processes in a free society becomes dramatic only when its track record is viewed in retrospect over a span of years.” –Thomas Sowell

In a recent edition of Uncommon Knowledge, economist Thomas Sowell discusses his latest book, Wealth, Poverty, and Politics, which provides a comprehensive argument for the origins of prosperity.

“There’s no explanation needed for poverty. The species began in poverty,” Sowell says. “So what you really need to know is what are the things that enable some countries, and some groups within countries, to be prosperous.”

Revisiting many of the same themes and economic arguments found in his other works, Sowell adds a wider historical exploration of culture, geography, and politics, connecting the dots between each and critiquing competing social analyses along the way (e.g. Keynes, Piketty, etc.). (more…)

The following article is the Acton Institute’s English translation from the Italian “Il Papa e la condanna dei soldi. Parla Padre Robert Sirico” written by  Matteo Matzuzzi and published in the Rome-based daily Il Foglio on November 8.  Readers should note that there is no official English translation of Pope Francis’ November 5 address to leaders of lay movements gathering inside the Vatican. The original speech in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese can be found here.


“It certainly would be absurd to criminalize money if one’s sincere concern is the well-being of the poor. Lamenting the struggle of the poor is not the end goal of moral compassion. Ameliorating their concern is. And at least at the material level, this requires the production of wealth,” said Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the American think tank, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, which aims to promote a free, virtuous and humane society.

Rev. Sirico shared his views with the Italian daily ll Foglio following the Pope’s long speech delivered last Saturday before an audience of charismatic lay movement leaders who had come to the Vatican for their third world gathering. During the audience, Pope Francis relaunched his accusation that money is “an idol that rules instead of serves, which tyrannizes and terrorizes humanity.”

Francis

Pope Francis regularly speaks to leaders of cultural and social change during specially arranged private audiences inside the Vatican.

It is money, continued the Holy Father, “that rules with the whip of fear, inequality, economic, social, cultural and military violence. [It] generates ever more violence in a seemingly unending downward spiral. There is a basic [form of] terrorism stemming from the global control of money on earth and which threatens all of humanity.”

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Today at Mere Orthodoxy, I argue that

the duty of the Christian statesman (or stateswoman) to the poor requires defending human rights, supplying urgent needs, reducing barriers to market entry, and guaranteeing access to the institutions of justice, seeking realistic, gradual reform as possible and prudent.

Of particular interest to readers of the PowerBlog, I dedicate substantial space to explaining and advocating for free markets:

Jobs are what the poor need, and jobs are created by businesses. People settle for bad jobs only when good ones aren’t available. Thus, eliminating barriers to market entry ought to be of primary concern to the Christian statesman, combatting the unjust inequality created by closed markets. Barriers to entry include onerous occupational licensing and patent laws, high corporate taxes, zoning laws, overregulation, and subsidies. These things close markets to new competitors because, even though it might seem against their interest (except for subsidies), large, established firms are more likely to benefit from them and lobby for them (which is called rent seeking)….

In free markets, properly understood, these barriers are kept to a minimum, increasing competition and wealth creation. The more businesses there are looking for workers, the more demand there is for labor. Thus, not only will there be more jobs, but wages will be higher as well. It should be no surprise that the decline in American entrepreneurship has coincided with wage stagnation. Beyond wages, an additional benefit of increased competition is that it also drives down the price of consumer goods, thus lowering the cost of living for everyone as well. Free markets help the poor—and everyone else—in terms of production (labor), distribution (wages), and consumption (lower cost of living).

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Pope Francis meets students from Jesuit schools at an audience in the Paul VI Hall.

We all (probably) want to reduce poverty, but how do we actually go about doing that? Pope Francis has been extremely vocal about this problem, but many have taken issue with his suggested solutions.When describing modern capitalism, he’s used phrases like “globalización de la indiferencia” and “cultura del descarte” or a globalization of indifference and a throwaway culture. Beyond soundbites and one-liners, many are trying to get at the exact meaning of the Pope’s statements on economics and poverty.

During a recent trip to Buenos Aires, Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg, spoke to La Nacion’s Ramiro Pellet Lastra about these issues. Gregg states that the Pope’s very populist language when discussing economics and poverty suggests that he does not appear to have a clear understanding of how markets actually function. Like Pope Francis, Gregg sees the common good as very important but argues that this is compatible with free markets. In fact when you dispense with free markets and economic freedom in the name of the common good, as did Communist systems, it leads to even greater poverty. (more…)

Makers of Modern Christian Social Thought Cover Front DraftThe contrast between the treatments by David Bentley Hart and Dylan Pahman of the question of the intrinsic evil of “great personal wealth” this week pretty well established, I think, that in itself wealth is among the things neither forbidden nor absolutely required. In fact, as Pahman puts it at one point, perhaps “Christians should strive to have wealth from which to provide for others.”

But all this is to merely show that wealth isn’t absolutely forbidden. From this it does not follow that we can merely do whatever we want or simply seek to gain as much as we can. Riches do remain a temptation, however, and a powerful one at that.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, the Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper expounds in some detail the power of money to corrupt us and turn us away from God. The temptation is unavoidable because of the way in which money can mimic God. As Kuyper puts it, “In money, there rules a power that closely approaches God’s omnipotence, at least insofar as the satisfaction of the needs and wants of one’s outer life is concerned.”

These warnings from Kuyper about the abuse of money and its power to enthrall us come from one of his later works, the first volume of Pro Rege, part of a three-volume series that focuses on restoring the Christian understanding of the lordship of Christ and its implications for all of life (these volumes are also part of the larger Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology).

One of Kuyper’s other works dealing with wealth, poverty, and economics is his earlier speech at the opening of the 1891 Christian Social Congress in Amsterdam. And earlier that same year Pope Leo XIII had promulgated the encyclical letter Rerum Novarum. Together these two texts usher in an era of modern Christian social thought and they sound very similar notes on the challenge represented by “the social question,” or the relationship between labor and capital.
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Every year, the U.S. Census comes out with its report on incomes and poverty. And every year the same finding repeatedly surprises me.

As economist David Henderson says, the report “always shows that there is mobility between income categories, even in the short run, and that poverty is temporary for most people in America who experience it. Virtually all reporters ignore it.”

First, the bad news. The report reveals that during the 4-year period from 2009 to 2012, more than one out of three Americans (34.5 percent) had at least one spell of poverty lasting 2 or more months.

But the good news is that few people stayed in poverty all four years. Chronic poverty from 2009 to 2012 was relatively uncommon, with 2.7 percent of the population living in poverty all 48 months.
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