Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Istituto Acton in Rome, was tapped by BBC World News last week for his analysis of the meeting between Pope Francis and President Obama at the Vatican. We’ve got the video, and you can watch it below.
In today’s New York Post, Acton’s Michael Matheson Miller discusses Pope Francis’ views on poverty, in light of the pope’s upcoming meeting with President Obama. Miller reminds the reader that the pope is not an economist or a politician. Trying to view him through that type of lens is a mistake, says Miller.
Pope Francis is not an economist or technocrat laying out policy; nor does he see the government as the primary solution to all of our problems. He is a pastor exhorting us to take seriously the “joy of the Gospel” and to integrate it into every aspect of our lives, including economics.
I think it is fair to say that some of the pope’s words on economics lacked precision, yet his comments about the corrosive effects of consumerism and the exclusion of the poor are incisive.
Miller acknowledges that the pope remains skeptical about free markets, which is problematic, given how much free markets have to offer the poor.
In La Cava, an impoverished neighborhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, I spoke with a pastor and a local city councilman. They explained that within La Cava there is no private property, and no rule of law. The police don’t even go inside, but only drive around the perimeter. (more…)
At Reason Thaddeus Russell argues that Macklemore and Lorde embody a kind of progressive cultural critique of capitalism, captured in the attack on “conspicuous consumption” made famous by Thorstein Veblen. Russell traces the “progressive lineage” of this critique: “Their songs continue a long tradition, rooted in progressivism, of protests against the pleasures of the poor.”
Having never listened to him, I have no opinion about Macklemore. Russell’s piece makes me want to take a moment to hear “Thrift Shop.” But over at Q Ideas today, I argue that in Lorde we find some cultural resources to inoculate us against the corrosive effects of envy.
The Christian tradition has long recognized that the poor can be just as materialistic and greedy as the rich. The poor just don’t usually have the same resources to bring those vices to such “conspicuous” manifestation. And it really is a stewardship problem to spend money on luxury goods when basic necessities are given short shrift.
At National Review Online, Acton’s Director of Research, Sam Gregg, takes issue with a New York Times article that takes a “dim view” of Congressman Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.). Specifically, Gregg takes on author Timothy Egan’s charge that Ryan suffers from “Irish-Amnesia” because the congressman suggests that we in the United States have created a culture of dependency.
Such attitudes and critiques, the piece argued, reflected a type of ancestral amnesia on Ryan’s part. Egan reminds his readers that some English politicians warned against intervening in the Irish famine of 1845-1852 on the grounds that the market would sort out the shortages and that, in any case, many of the Irish were lazy and needed to learn how to fend for themselves. (more…)
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Bill Gates — the richest man in the world — shares his thoughts on poverty and inequality:
Should the state be playing a greater role in helping people at the lowest end of the income scale? Poverty today looks very different than poverty in the past. The real thing you want to look at is consumption and use that as a metric and say, “Have you been worried about having enough to eat? Do you have enough warmth, shelter? Do you think of yourself as having a place to go?” The poor are better off than they were before, even though they’re still in the bottom group in terms of income.
The way we help the poor out today [is also a problem]. You have Section 8 housing, food stamps, fuel programs, very complex medical programs. It’s all high-overhead, capricious, not well-designed. Its ability to distinguish between somebody who has family that could take care of them versus someone who’s really out on their own is not very good, either. It’s a totally gameable system – not everybody games it, but lots of people do. Why aren’t the technocrats taking the poverty programs, looking at them as a whole, and then redesigning them? Well, they are afraid that if they do, their funding is going to be cut back, so they defend the thing that is absolutely horrific. Just look at low-cost housing and the various forms, the wait lists, things like that.
Philosopher and theologian, Michael Novak recently delivered a speech at the Catholic University of America on the vocation of business and Forbes published the transcript. Novak argues that “capitalism is lifting the world out of poverty.” As many Asian and African economies shift from socialist to capitalist, they are seeing enormous economic growth, and small businesses are the force behind these economic gains:
Even in developed nations, most jobs are found in small business. In Italy, over 80 percent of the working population works in small businesses. In the U.S., the proportion is just about 50 percent, but some 65 percent of new employment is in small businesses.
During the great economic expansion of 1981-1989, the U.S. added to its economy the equivalent of the whole economic activity of West Germany at that time. Sixteen million new jobs were created in the U.S., the vast number of them in small businesses. Startups peaked as new businesses came into being at a rate of 13 percent (as a portion of all businesses) – an all-time high. Much the same happened under Clinton in 1993-2001, but even better – 23 million new jobs were created.
In the creation of small businesses, four factors are necessary. First, ease and low cost of incorporation; second, access to inexpensive credit; third, institutions of instruction and technical help (such as the system of local credit unions in the U.S.), and the steady assistance of the extension services of the A&M universities; and, fourth, throughout the population habits of creativity, enterprise, and skills such as bookkeeping and the organization of work. Economic development is propelled, as John Paul II said, by know-how, technology, and skill (Centesimus Annus 32). Therein, perhaps, lie the greatest entry-points for Americans and others who wish to help poor nations by proffering assistance in economic development from the bottom up. (more…)
Pope Francis recently installed 19 new cardinals in a ceremony at the Vatican, the first that he has chosen in his pontificate. Most of the new Cardinals hail from outside Europe and North America, and the group includes the first Cardinal from the long-impoverished nation of Haiti. Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Istituto Acton in Rome, spoke with the BBC about what this new group of Cardinals means for the Roman Catholic Church, and how they reflect the changing face of the church in the 21st century. This interview originally aired on February 22, 2013.
The House Budget Committee has issued its report on The War on Poverty, 50 Years Later. It’s 204 pages long, so feel free to dig in. However, I’ll just hit some of the highlights.
Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty has created 92 government programs, currently costing us about $800 billion. The committee’s take on this is summed up as:
But rather than provide a roadmap out of poverty, Washington has created a complex web of programs that are often difficult to navigate. Some programs provide critical aid to families in need. Others discourage families from getting ahead. And for many of these programs, we just don’t know. There’s little evidence either way.
Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Istituto Acton in Rome, recently interviewed with the BBC to discuss Pope Francis’ views on poverty and economics as the pope enters the second year of his papacy. Enjoy the report via the audio player below.
Why do liberal and conservative evangelicals tend to disagree so often about economic issues? This is the second in a series of posts that addresses that question by examining 12 principles that generally drive the thinking of conservative evangelicals when it comes to economics. The first in the series can be found here. A PDF/text version of the entire series can be found here.
In my first post, I covered the first four principles (#1 – Good intentions are often trumped by unintended consequences; #2 – Our current economic and historical context must be taken into account when applying Biblical principles; #3 – To exploit the poor, the rich need the help of the government; #4 – We love economic growth because we love babies). In this post I want to consider points #5 (The economy is not a zero-sum game) and #6 (Poverty in America is more often a matter of personal choice than structural injustice).
5. The economy is not a zero-sum game.
In a zero-sum game, one person’s gain (or loss) is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the other participants. If the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero. It’s similar to dividing a pumpkin pie between five people: someone can only get a larger slice if someone else’s portion is smaller.
Many progressives in America, including far too many (though not all) liberal evangelicals, believe economics is a zero-sum game. They believe wealth, like a pumpkin pie, is fixed and that “there must be one winner and one loser; for every gain there is a loss.” This may be true in some economic systems, but it does not apply in free markets.