Continuing our roundup of Acton comment on Evangelii Gaudium, here’s Acton’s Director of Research and Author of Tea Party Catholic Samuel Gregg joining host Al Kresta on Ave Maria Radio’s Kresta in the Afternoon to discuss Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, with particular emphasis on its economic elements. This interview took place on Monday, December 2nd.
Last night on CNBC’s The Kudlow Report, PovertyCure director and Acton Research Fellow Michael Matheson Miller joined host Lawrence Kudlow and Rusty Reno, Editor of First Things magazine, to discuss the position of the Roman Catholic Church on global capitalism in light of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium.’ The video is embedded below.
Good Monday morning to you! Acton’s Director of Research (and author of Tea Party Catholic) Samuel Gregg was called upon to provide analysis of ‘Evangelii Gaudium‘ on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America radio show. You can listen to the interview using the audio player below:
I also want to draw attention to the interviews conducted over the weekend with Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico that we posted on Saturday, just in case anyone is checking in after the long weekend and missed them. And of course don’t forget to check out Rev. Sirico’s video comments on ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ from last Wednesday if you haven’t had an opportunity to do so already.
Earlier this month, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave a lecture at the Lanier Theological Library, in which he explored the values of capitalism and socialism and their relative consistency with Christianity and the common good. While not asserting that either system is inherently “more Christian,” he does comment on the extent to which Christian principles are able to participate in each. He states:
While I would not argue that capitalism as an economic system is inherently more Christian than socialism … it does seem to me that capitalism is more dependent on Christianity than socialism is. For in order for capitalism to work – in order for it to produce a good and a stable society – the traditional Christian virtues are essential.
See the complete video of Justice Scalia’s lecture below.
Sustained 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.
For this week’s Acton Commentary, ahead of Labor Day weekend, I write about “working harder and smarter,” lessons we can learn from Ashton Kutcher and Mike Rowe.
One of the implications of connecting hard work with smart work is that the difficulty of work on its own does not determine its value in the marketplace. It isn’t a question of how hard you are working, but how hard you are working in productive service. This is why Lester DeKoster writes,
The paycheck follows upon work. Often the harder we work, the larger the paycheck—though, as many workers know, this unfortunately is not an invariable law. That is because, as we shall see, work and wage are not related as cause and effect.
He refers to money as the “bait,” which induces us to work and which tends to direct our work in service to others. But the bait can become a “trap” if we conflate the meaning of work with the wage: “Work endows life with meaning because of what work is, not because of what it earns. Paychecks buy goods and services provided to us through the gift of selves by others, but money buys no meaning. Life’s meanings are not for sale!”
In light of the latest hubbub over the minimum wage, I recently wrote that “prices are not play things,” arguing that we do ourselves and our neighbors no favors by trying to subvert and distort market signals according to arbitrary whims. Instead, I argue, we should reach beyond such low-ball thinking, focusing on creation and contribution rather than sitting and settling.
Over at Think Christian, Jordan Ballor offers some related thoughts, including a helpful reminder that while prices matter, wages do not represent a “commentary on the value of the human person as such.” Tying our self-worth to marketplace value, he argues, “can be a misleading and potentially destructive identification.”
In Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster pushes heavily in this same direction, going so far as to say that although work and wages move on “parallel tracks,” “neither track is the cause of the other or the goal of the other”:
What is a just wage? It is a paycheck that recognizes the personal relationships that underlie work and civilization. Involved are both the needs of the worker – at all levels – and success of the enterprise – in which all are involved…[T]hose whose work is concerned with the creation and administration of wage and price scales must be economic artists whose jobs bear heavy moral responsibility. What the traffic will bear or wage scales that only grim necessity will oblige the poor to accept are artistic guidelines that enjoy no endorsement from heaven. The search for just wage and fair price is never-ending, for the market is always changing and so are the forms required of work. Economic justice is by no means universal even in the best of civilizations.
How, then, do they relate? (more…)
The protests organized by labor organizations to advocate for an increase in the minimum wage have garnered attention, most recently from the NYT, which editorialized in favor of such moves. Over at Think Christian, I weigh in with an attempt to provide some more of the complex context behind the moral evaluation of such mandates.
In the piece, I’m really less interested in the plight of current-minimum wage workers relative to those who might become minimum-wage workers with an increase, those who are currently priced-out of labor markets because of minimum-wage legislation, and those who will be priced out with an increase.
Earlier this week, Joseph Sunde discussed the issue with an eye towards the price of labor: “Prices are not play things.” I largely agree with Joseph about the significance of the price associated with various kinds of labor. The signal that minimum-wage workers should be receiving is that their work is not that specialized or valuable in the marketplace. You can rage against the values of the marketplace all you like, but that’s what the prices signal.
From Main Currents of Marxism by Leszek Kolakowski (1927-2009):Marx took over the romantic ideal of social unity, and Communism realized it in the only way feasible in an industrial society, namely, by a despotic system of government. The origin of this dream is to be found in the idealized image of the Greek city-state popularized by Winckelmann and others in the eighteenth century and subsequently taken up by German philosophers. Marx seems to have imagined that once capitalists were done away with the whole world could become a kind of Athenian agora: one had only to forbid private ownership of machines or land and, as if by magic, human beings would cease to be selfish and their interests would coincide in perfect harmony. Marxism affords no explanation of how this prophecy is founded, or what reason there is to think that human interests will cease to conflict as soon as the means of production are nationalized. (more…)
What’s most notable about O’Rourke’s analysis is that it largely avoids the typical arguments about whether the Swedish system “works” — whether mouths are fed, entitlements are sustainable, healthcare is accessible, etc. — pondering, instead, what kind of spirit bubbles beneath its shiny skin:
Even O’Rourke is stunned to find such a neat-and-tidy realm of politeness and prosperity. “The Swedes, left wing though they may be, are thoroughly bourgeois,” O’Rourke writes. “They drive Saabs like we do, know their California chardonnays, have boats and summer cottages, and vacation in places that are as much like home as possible, which is to say at Disneyland.”
If life is all about cutting the pie evenly and outsourcing the “big things,” all while still holding dearly to your washer and dryer and that cute little cabin on the bay, Sweden beckons…
…[T]he bulk of O’Rourke’s critique eventually rests on the supposed perfection itself: whether a land wherein “nobody is doing anything bizarre” is one worth pursuing in the first place. Though O’Rourke is at first pleased to find “no visible crazy people” in the public squares, the lifeless humdrumness of it all quickly leads to uneasiness.
In the past, I’ve labeled such misaligned dreamlands as “robot utopias” – environments that, despite being imagined as comfy and cozy and efficient and equitable, are not particularly suited to human needs or divine dreams. (more…)