Posts tagged with: prosperity

Since the era of Adam Smith economists have been asking, “What creates wealth?” One key answer is specialization and trade. On a timeline of human history, the recent rise in standards of living resembles a hockey stick — flatlining for all of human history and then skyrocketing in just the last few centuries.

As economist Don Boudreaux explains, without specialization and trade, our ancient ancestors only consumed what they could make themselves. How can specialization and trade help explain the astonishing growth of productivity and output in such a short amount of time—after millennia of famine, low life expectancy, and incurable disease?

pope and cross

Pope Francis

Much has been said about Pope Francis’ views on economics (in fact, you can read Acton’s Special Feature on this here.) In The Wall Street Journal, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, discusses how the media has skewed Francis’ remarks as endorsing redistribution and denouncing capitalism. Cardinal Dolan says this is unfortunate, given what the pope has actually said. While the pope is clear that we must be generous in all our social activity, he is not denouncing capitalism.

The church believes that prosperity and earthly blessings can be a good thing, gifts from God for our well-being and the common good. It is part of human nature to work and produce, and everyone has the natural right to economic initiative and to enjoy the fruits of their labors. But abundance is for the benefit of all people.

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Colonial Church of Edina

Colonial Church of Edina

Pastor Daniel Harrell had a heart for missions, so upon unexpectedly receiving roughly $2 million from a land sale, his Minnesota church was energized to use the funds accordingly. Though they had various debts to pay and building projects to fund, the church was committed to allocating at least 20 percent to service “outside of their walls.”

“The sensible way to spend the 20 percent would have been to find a successful service agency and write the check,” Harrell writes, in a recent piece for Christianity Today‘s This Is Our City.* “But I hated that idea. Surely we could leverage this money in a way that would let us get personally involved.”

The process proceeded as follows:

We had the money. We had the wisdom and experience, especially in fields related to business. What we lacked was our particular calling (or the energy to follow it through). What if we challenged young adults in our church and wider community to generate an idea that could become our calling?

I proposed we take $250,000 and sponsor a social entrepreneurial competition. We could invite innovators ages 35 and younger to submit project proposals with gospel values of grace, justice, love, redemption, and reconciliation. We’d ask that applicants affirm the Apostles’ Creed, because we wanted our effort to promote Christian faith. Our church would provide funding and expertise, networking, creative community, and acceleration toward successful launches. We’d use business acumen to make the projects sustainable and stress measurable outcomes. (more…)

Blog author: johnteevan
posted by on Thursday, September 5, 2013

Simon Vouet - La Richess - c. 1633Sustained prosperity is new and sustained prosperity for masses of people is completely unprecedented. What is sustained prosperity? It’s three or more generations of people who do not need to focus on survival or live in economic depression, but who can live comfortably even if they live paycheck to paycheck.

The only people who previously enjoyed sustain prosperity were the aristocratic landowners and royals especially of Europe and Asia. After the industrial revolution a few business men and bankers were added to that list but only if their wealth was handed down for more than two generations. No even we do.

Isn’t this the definition of the very rich? Yes, but what is new is that the entire group of people we call the ‘middle class’ has also become comfortable in the four generations since WWII.

How big is the middle class? Even though there are billions who do not enjoy this prosperity, fully 1.80b people are in the global middle class today (and another .15b people are rich). Of that 1.8b there are 18% who live in the U.S., another 36% live in Europe, and 20% are in the BRIC nations.

How did so many join the middle class? It was through the opportunities of new businesses, new inventions, a new high level education for the public, and new skill and knowledge based jobs. These are only possible where there is liberty and governments that allow businesses to prosper.

Why do Africa, the Mid-East, and Latin America have a very small middle class population? Because those regions still retain the old definitions of aristocratic and inherited wealth. That’s the polite way to say it. The reality is more that corrupt governments have plundered their own nations and their own people by corralling the wealth of the land including oil and minerals for themselves.
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McDonald’s has been under fire over its Practical Money Skills Budget Journal, a planning tool designed to help employees organize their personal finances. The tool’s sample budget fails to account for a variety of first-world expenses, leading to a predictable cacophony of folks calling for newer, fresher, more enlightened price-fixing tricks. Stephen Colbert channels the sentiments well.

McDonald's Budget

Sample Budget for McDonald’s Employees

On the finer points, it can be tempting to get into the weeds, and many already have. Some have focused on the budget itself, debating everything from the actual cost of heat to the necessity of a $100 cable bill. Others have aimed to play the CFO, imagining how Big Mac prices might be impacted if McDonald’s paid its workers the $15 per hour they demand. It’s all been thoroughly deconstructed, but rest assured, the next hypothetical is well on its way.

Yet as fun as all this back-and-forth may be, it misses the larger reality: Prices are not play things.

As economist Art Carden has pointed out, raising the minimum wage is likely to lead to a host of deleterious effects: (more…)

fast-food-worker1Most of us have spent at least a little time working in jobs we weren’t thrilled about. For me, it peaked with McDonald’s (no offense, Ronald).

For Trevin Wax, it was Cracker Barrel:

I never wanted to work at Cracker Barrel. I had business experience as an office manager, plus five years of international missions experience tucked under my belt.

But none of that mattered when the most pressing question was, How will you provide for your wife and son this week? Like many before and after me, I did whatever was necessary.

In the past, I’ve referred to such work as “needs-based” — an adjective that would seem highly redundant to most of our ancestors, not to mention plenty of today’s poor. Our now-widespread discussions and contemplations about vocation and personal calling are somewhat new, and we should be careful to recognize why exactly we have the reactions we do about working at reliable, air-conditioned joints like Cracker Barrel.

Each new wave of economic progress and individual empowerment has brought more opportunity to look upward and onward, beyond meeting our own needs and toward something bigger and brighter and so on. This is a marvelous thing, but with such opportunity and privilege also comes a temptation to look inward when it’s convenient — to rejoice in ourselves when we succeed and get grumpy when we wind up sniffing grease at Cracker Barrel.

Wax, however, looks back on his experience as much more than a pay-the-bills moment. Rather, the 18 months he spent at Cracker Barrel serves as “a reminder of the Lord’s faithfulness to us during a difficult, sometimes frustrating, season of life.” Pointing out that “there are hidden blessings in unwelcome work,” Wax proceeds to offer four reminders for those who find themselves in work situations that don’t seem to fit the mission. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 24, 2013

Life of Michael Angelo, 1912 - The Prophet JeremiahWhy do the wicked prosper? This plaintive query is a consistent cry from the psalmist and the prophets. As Jeremiah puts it, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?”

The concern in large part has to do with injustice; why do those who are so morally and spiritually bankrupt enjoy such great temporal blessings?

Over at the IEA blog, John Meadowcroft passes along an answer, at least insofar as it relates to the political structures of social democracy. Drawing on Friedrich Hayek, Geoffrey Brennan, and James Buchanan, Meadowcroft writes that “we should expect that the people most willing to work to attain political office will be those who expect to gain the most from holding it.” And it turns out that quite often those who stand to gain most from political office are those who, in the words of Brennan and Buchanan, “place higher values on the possession of such power.”

Meadowcroft concludes by invoking Hume’s “dictum that political institutions should be designed as if every person was a knave with no end other than his or her own private interests, even though we know that not all people behave knavishly.” The lesson for political power is that it ought to be limited such that the knaves who seek it for their own selfish ends (or those who are turned into knaves by the exercise of their power) ought to have their ambitions blunted by the constrained scope of their authority.

In the context of political power, the wicked tend to prosper, that is, they tend to become powerful precisely because it is so important to them to become powerful. The truth of this insight from public choice theory can also be applied more generally to the prophetic concern.

Why do the wicked prosper? The answer is in part, at least, because the wicked under examination here are the ones who are so attracted to material or temporal gain that they are willing do to pretty much anything to get it. They often achieve their goals, and thus prosper in this limited sense for a season. But in enabling them to achieve what they so desire, God allows their desire to become its own judgment.

A corollary to all this is that there is an obligation on the part of the church and other morally-formative institutions to do their best within their mandates to encourage and promote the development of those who might seek to exercise authority (whether political or otherwise), not as selfish knaves but as suffering servants. Since there are no systems or structures that are incorruptible, it is perhaps just as important to develop non-knavish leaders as it is to limit the scope of any particular leader’s power.

Last week, in a reflection about American freedom and Christianity, I contended that the shift from emphasis on the pursuit of “property” to the pursuit of “happiness” illustrated the spiritual insight of the American founders. And today, Joe passed along a piece related to the economic climate in America at the end of the eighteenth century, which suggests that as “America had a thriving middle class,” the United States might have been designed especially to institutionalize, protect, and promote the materially-acquisitive ethos of the time.

That, at least, is the suggestion made by Brad Gregory in his book, The Unintended Reformation. In a chapter on “Manufacturing the Goods Life,” Gregory contends that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the broader vision of social life articulated by the founders was uniquely oriented toward merely material prosperity:

The substantive emptiness of the nation’s founding documents was possible not only because Americans were strongly shaped by Christian moral assumptions, but also because so many of them had simultaneously departed in practice from the traditional Christian condemnation of avarice.

A corollary of this is that America is uniquely anti-Christian:

If Christianity is among other things a discipline of selflessness in charitable service to others, then the United States’ legally protected ethos of self-regarding acquisitiveness, culturally reinforced at every turn, would seem to be its antithesis.

You might guess what this means for our evaluation of Europe, however, which ends up looking rather more Christ-like by comparison:

But, ironically, more than is true of federal or state institutions in the church-going United States, secularized Europeans’ welfare states since World War II have more in common with the social concerns and the moral commitments of the Christianity that made the Continent and Britain, because they at least seek to meet the most basic needs of every citizen.

It’s true, admits Gregory, that American freedom includes the ability to be spiritually responsible. But even the value of this is doubtful:

So too, it is obvious that he advent of modern capitalism and market-governed societies has facilitated the potential for human flourishing and the possibility of living meaningful human lives for hundreds of millions of people, which considered as such is also a very good thing. But those who are devoted to their families, demonstrate care for others, make charitable donations, and practice self-restraint do so within a world dominated by wall-to-Walmart capitalism and consumerism, with all that this implies.

What all this has to do with the Reformation is something that has to be explored within the larger argument of the book. I’m currently drafting a review of it, but it has already been reviewed and engaged in a number of significant places, like Books & Culture, the Wall Street Journal, and First Things. At this point I can recommend Gregory’s book if you want to see what the Reformation and global climate change have to do with one another (hint: the main link is the American “ethos of self-regarding acquisitiveness” outlined above).

If you weren’t able to join us in person for the inaugural lecture of the 2011 Acton Lecture Series, fear not: today, we’re pleased to present Rev. Robert A. Sirico’s “Christian Poverty in the Age of Prosperity” for our loyal PowerBlog readers.  The lecture was delivered on February 3rd at the Waters Building here in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The next lecture in the 2011 Acton Lecture Series takes place on March 16 and features Peter Greer, President of HOPE International.  If you’re interested in attending, click here to register.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Big Picture blog has some remarkable images from the last 48 hours in Haiti (warning: there are disturbing images among the collections).

In the wake of the disaster, many are looking back at Haiti’s history to see what has kept this nation in generations of economic despair. As the AP reports:

Two years ago, President Rene Preval implored the world to commit to long-term solutions for his nation, saying a “paradigm of charity” would not end cycles of poverty and disaster.

“Once this first wave of humanitarian compassion is exhausted, we will be left as always, truly alone, to face new catastrophes and see restarted, as if in a ritual, the same exercises of mobilization,” Preval declared.

Indeed, after the early days, weeks, and months following the disaster pass, the “paradigm of charity” needs to give way to the “paradigm of prosperity” if Haiti is to ever achieve its potential.