I recently wrote on the implications of “pathological altruism,” a term coined by Oakland University’s Barbara Oakley to categorize altruism in which “attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.”
Oakley’s paradigm depends on whether such harm can be “reasonably anticipated,” and as Greer’s story indicates, far too often the church isn’t anticipating much at all. Ship the stuff, check the box, and sing our merry songs. (more…)
Over at Rough Trade, the always intriguing James Poulos celebrates the increased attention now being given to the “relationship between economic and religious life,” pointing to the Acton Institute’s very own Samuel Gregg to kick things off.
Yet he remains unsatisfied, fearful of a return to what he views to be unhelpful “conceptual frameworks and cultural antagonisms” of the past, and urging us to push toward “a new mode of analysis that breaks away from the old, exhausting debates.” For Poulos, this means embracing an “economics of grace,” an interrelated component of something he has called “radicaltarianism” in the past (see more on this here and here).
Poulos observes the typical divides among Christians as follows:
Christians who accept these teachings [about the fall of man and grace] tend to split into two economic camps: those who lean toward an uncritical embrace of free-market capitalism, and those who tilt toward a far more skeptical, suspicious attitude. For the first group, the social upshot of Christianity is an institutional framework that supports flourishing with minimal reliance on the state. Christianity supplies a good foundation for market activity. For the second, the most durable and authentic institutional frameworks supplied by Christianity raise damning questions about the sustainability of neoliberalism — the secular “democratic faith” that gives market capitalism its modern philosophical foundations. For both groups, the key is that, ultimately, religion drives sustainable economic life. The difference is that the first group typically understands religion in a Protestant way, as a driver of explosive, and morally legitimate, economic growth, while the second takes a more Catholic view, doubtful of the moral purity of explosive growth, and focused much less on growing capital than other sorts of things, like families.
Describing the state of the debate more broadly, Poulos argues that our political factions have also proven unhelpful, using terms like “economic growth” based on limited materialistic assumptions. (more…)
Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, the outspoken missionary of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME) and editorial director of AsiaNews (a leading Catholic news agency) recounted some controversial stories from his nearly twenty years experience in China as a professor of Western civilization and foreign journalist.
Fr Cervellera, author of Mission China: The Empire between Market and Repression, expressed his concern for the “conversion of China” before it can truly become successful economically in the long term (coincidentally on the same day the pope asked us to do the same for China during his Wednesday public audience. See also the video of the audience.).
During the afternoon session of the Acton’s international conference series dedicated to Poverty, Entrepreneurship and Integral Development, Fr. Cervellera followed the inspiring testimony and practical proposals of successful Christian entrepreneurs in Asia, including financial moguls Charles Gave and Michael Hintze and social venture capitalist Kim Tan, of Malaysian origin, who has financed successful businesses throughout the developing world.
The PIME missionary spoke frankly about moral-anthropological underpinnings to sustain hard working, enterprising economies while referring to a tragic case in the booming industrial province of Guangdong where the free market experiment is underway.
Fr. Cervellera told the shocking story of “a wave of recent worker suicides at Foxconn”, a leading manufacturer of electronic components for Apple’s iPhone, Nokia, Siemens, and Sony.
Within the last year, Cervellera said there has been about “about twelve or thirteen suicides at the company where, every now and then, another worker would jump from a window of the adjacent workers’ dormitory.”
He noted that the Foxconn employees enjoyed a nice housing perk in addition to decent wages of about 1800 yuan a month, much more than average pay in the Chinese manufacturing sector.
But they worked like cogs in a machine with strictly calculated bathroom breaks and were forbidden to talk to one another at work stations.
Cervellera explained that the string of Foxconn worker suicides could not be remedied by “professional counseling, 70 percent salary increases, …or even a no-suicide clause written into Foxconn employees’ contracts”.
“The suicides continued and only came to a halt only when the company added safety nets to under the apartment building’s windows.”
Cervellera said the Foxconn suicides was a clear indication of a widespread spiritual vacuum in Chinese business culture, as most companies do not inspire or foster meaning in their workers’ daily lives.
He forewarned the audience that China must seek a symbiosis between economic and spiritual growth, where a “ a boom in faith and economic production occur together.”
Fr. Bernardo Cervellera said that all human success, especially economic success, must flourish under protected religious freedom – “the freedom to seek and apply spiritual value in our daily work and enterprise.” Without this, such freedom to succeed at the workplace ends up being meaningless, hollow, without real human significance:
“What does this all mean?… Many Chinese businesses have imbalanced focus in production and profit, without giving deep value to work itself and to the person who labors in a unique, talented capacity”, Cervellera said.
At the end of the conference, Acton introduced the extended trailer to its new documentary – Poverty Cure – where some of the moral anthropological obstacles to an enterprise culture in developing regions are brought to vivid light.
The President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, visited Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican yesterday, and the Vatican’s daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano carried a front-page article by Piñera on “Economic Development and Integral Development,” a theme of great interest to us at Acton and the subject of our current conference series Poverty, Entrepreneurship and Integral Development.
Chile is justly famous for its acceptance of free-market economics through the influence of the “Chicago Boys” who studied under Milton Friedman and others at the University of Chicago. Chileans can and should be grateful that their dictator, Agosto Pinochet, decided to leave the economy alone, unlike the other meddling dictators in Latin America who submitted their peoples to decades of economic planning and resulting misery. (Watch this clip from the fascinating PBS documentary The Commanding Heights on the Chicago Boys and Pinochet.)
Piñera’s article is noteworthy because 1) he takes economics seriously as a moral and human endeavor and doesn’t simply assume that it is vulgar albeit necessary aspect of life, and 2) he realizes that as important as economics is, it is just one aspect of life. He also backs up his economic arguments with facts and gives concrete examples of what his government plans to achieve.
If I were to quibble with anything, it would be his support of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG). No one will deny that the MDG are laubable goals, but as someone who worked for the Holy See Mission to the UN when these were being drafted, I find it a stretch to support them from a Catholic free-market perspective. The MDG rely far too much on mechanisms of the state to re-distribute wealth and do far too little to encourage entrepreunership through the core functions of the state – fighting crime, protecting private property, etc. Acton followers will recognize these arguments in our Poverty Cure initiative.
All in all, the President of Chile should be forgiven this misstep. His article nicely encapsulates what many of us know to be the surest way to promote material and spiritual advancment – through the promotion of a limited government, free entreprise, and a civil society based on sound religious and moral principles.
It doesn’t sound like rocket science, I know, but it’s always surprising how many religious leaders and development “experts” miss the boat on this.
Here’s my translation of Piñera’s piece from the Italian:
Economic Development and Integral Development
by Sebastián Piñera, President of the Republic of Chile L’Osservatore Romano Italian daily edition, 3 March 2011
Development has always been a central objective of humanity and constitutes a top priority for nations, governments and the international community. Countries are usually classified as developed or developing, but in recent years a third category has arisen: emerging nations.
True development, however, is much more than the simple production of goods or the attainment of a certain economic output. In Caritas in veritate, Benedict XVI has deepened and emphasized the concept and necessity of an integral development, as proposed by Catholic social doctrine. Such development must favor the realization of the human person in his material and spiritual dimensions. So conceived – embracing the whole dimension of man – development is called to promote the quality of life, the common good, and defend the life and inalienable rights of the human person at all times and in all places and circumstances, with a view to a transcendent humanism. (more…)
“Good news – the President has announced a reduction of the government work force by one million people (20%). Bad news – the cuts were ordered by President Raul Castro in Cuba.”
So began the 20th anniversary dinner of The Acton Institute tonight in Grand Rapids, MI. Acton co-founder, Kris Alan Mauren loosened up the crowd with the aforementioned joke which served the dual purpose of making me laugh, and disturbing me deeply. But of course, the fact that Canada, Germany, France, England, China, and even Cuba are currently moving the ball in the opposite direction that we are here in the United States is now common knowledge. and as Kris said, it reinforces why the stakes are so high right now for lovers of liberty.
The event itself was a delight, as always. Kate O’ Beirne was a fantastic master of ceremonies. She is a national treasure. Richard DeVos, the co-founder of Amway and one of the wealthiest men in America, was awarded the Faith and Freedom Award. His testimony was extraordinary. Humble. Visionary. Principled. Devout follower of Christ. 600 people came tonight to celebrate the organization that, the more involved with I get, the more excited I am to see what they represent. Acton’s mission is almost exactly identical to the ruling passion in my life: the intersection of markets and morality. Acton is so much more than a think tank (though they surely do feature the great intellects in the fields of religion and economics). But they also are an activist and educational organization, producing content in a variety of media that literally challenge the presuppositions people bring to the subjects of work, calling, wealth, freedom, and virtue. They are producing DVD’s that are viewed by millions of people, and are revolutionary in terms of content and message. My commercial for the organization could go on and on, but just go to their website and see for yourself all they are doing.
The video vignette from their new documentary, “Poverty Cure”, was powerful. “How can you know what causes poverty if you do not know what causes wealth?” Acton’s approach to the great social ills of our day is extremely contrarian to the right and the left. They do not advocate a cold “eat what you cook” kind of capitalism, and they certainly do not advocate the dependency-creating solutions of the left. They know that free markets open up the widest lanes to a society that can create and sustain real alleviation of poverty. As an African priest put it in the video clip tonight describing the solutions they pursue in their own village: “We do not aim to create job-seekers; we aim to create job-makers”. Thoughtful, sensible, and deeply compassionate. But not an iota of coercion or redistribution.
As always, Father Sirico’s keynote address was remarkable. In describing the necessity of a perspective that understands the dignity of man he said, “If we don’t get the anthropology right, we get nothing right. Human beings are a composite of heaven and of earth. It is the ultimate tragedy when we decide to try and dichotomize the two.” What he means, of course, is understanding the theological principle that man is created in the image of God, yet not God; man is a part of the created order, yet possesses a dignity and ability to reason that no other part of creation does. Understanding these things is the very first step in understanding economics. To reduce economics to mathematical abstractions is to give way to the worst kind of moral relativism.
Also, Bahnsen tips us off about an event he is organizing in Southern California in February:
Yours Truly, Father Sirico, Jay Richards, Andrew Sandlin, and Dinesh D’Souza will all appear TOGETHER in my hometown of Newport Beach, CA on February 25 & 26 of 2011. The Virtue of Prosperity: The Moral Implications of Wealth and Work – coming soon. The promotional materials are at the printer, and the web page will be up shortly. I am producing the event (and speaking at it), but am working with my friends at CCL and Acton. After hearing Father Sirico tonight, I am glad I will be speaking Friday (and he Saturday). He would upstage some of the great orators and preachers of the last three centuries.