Make trade, not war? In an excerpt from his new book “The Commercial Society,” Sam Gregg examines the long held view that nations engaged in trade are less likely to wage war. He notes that nations which are busy with commercial pursuits, instead of war making, may also be more vigilant about “protecting the fabric of freedoms upon which commercial societies depend.”
In this week’s Acton Commentary, “The Minimum Wage: A Denial of Freedom and Duty,” I look at the concept of minimum wage legislation from the perspective of the employer/employee relationship.
In his second epistle to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul sets down a moral principle: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” But Paul’s words seem also to imply the opposite positive principle, something like, “If you will work, you should eat.”
Even so, I argue, it does not follow that the government should be the guarantor of this reality. Drawing in part on the thought of Abraham Kuyper, I find that “the civil government has a role in justly and fairly enforcing the contractual relationship between employer and employee. It does not, however, have the absolute right to determine the specific nature of this relationship in any and all circumstances.”
Throughout the commentary, I address some of the concerns raised in an interview conducted by Faithful America, a weblog associated with the National Council of Churches. Faithful America talked with man named Dan, who gave his experiences of working for and living on the minimum wage. A transcript copy of the interview is pasted in below the jump (the audio is available here). (more…)
For a quick overview of the current state of appreciation for economics and capitalism among various ‘academics,’ see the newly inaugurated e-journal Fast Capitalism. It might as well be subtitled: Marxism, Alive and Well. Most of the contributors to the first issue are in sociology, communications, or political science. Here’s a sampling:
In “Beyond Beltway and Bible Belt: Re-imagining the Democratic Party and the American Left,” Ben Agger, who teaches sociology and humanities at the University of Texas at Arlington, writes, “Electoral politics now matter. George W. Bush, Jr. and his evangelical-Christian supporters have seen to that. Bush threatens to undo the welfare state, roll back civil liberties (and block new ones), and isolate the United States from the rest of the world. His foreign policy is an admixture of isolationism and unilateral adventurism. Homeland Security, his contribution to our political lexicon, has a Nazi-era resonance. Gays, lesbians, foreigners, liberals, the left have been demonized by a supposedly literal interpretation of the Bible, which drives the Christian right, Bush’s base of support. This has the makings of fascism.” One other tidbit: “FDR’s welfare state, while not perfect, significantly buffered the ravages of capitalism for those without jobs and without hope.” Also check out the planks in his “agenda for American social democracy,” which include “economic restructuring,” in which “the Democratic Party must take the lead in reconceptualizing the United Nations not only as an international police force but as an agent of the redistribution of capital.”
See also Charles Lemert, Andrus Professor of Sociology at Wesleyan University, who is self-described as “once a minister, still a student of theology, seldom a church-goer.” He writes an encomium to Reinhold Neibuhr, praising him for, among other things, opposing the Ford auto company in the early 20th century. “Though called to serve a traditional, declining urban congregation, Niebuhr, still in his twenties, quickly engaged himself on the side of industrial workers in a city where automobile manufacturing ruled by the hand of Henry Ford who presented himself as the patron saint of economic justice in the offer of then higher wages. Thus began Fordism, born not of fairness, but of greed for efficient production. The higher wages famously broke Marx’s rule on the suppression of labor costs as the key to the extraction of surplus value. But the break was only apparent. The wages were taken back in the purchase of the automobiles labor produced—thereby doubly exploiting the laborer,” he writes.
And don’t miss “Politics and Self in the Age of Digital Re(pro)ducibility,” by Robert W. Williams, who teaches Political Science at Bennett College in North Carolina. His claim, explicitly made within “the Marxist tradition,” is that “there is a dialectic of in/dividuality present in the conjuncture of globalizing capitalism and liberal-democratic policies. The relationships that reduce us as separate selves to digitally mediated signifiers and that “reproduce” those signifiers as dividuals also provide the potential for resistance against the oppressions resulting from digital re(pro)ducibility.”
HT: The Blogora
Amy Welborn’s blog has a post on the January 21 conference Acton held in Rome and links to Jennifer Roback Morse’s recent Acton Commentary article.
Much of the debate is about whether there is one “European Social Model”. After all, European nations are still distinct enough to be affected by varying religious, cultural, and socio-economic factors. Yes, there may indeed be “Anglo-Saxon”, “Nordic”, “Continental” and “Latin” versions of the social model, but what they tend to have in common is this: high taxes, high regulations especially concerning labor markets, and radically secular populations.
This is certainly the model pushed by the European Union and its most influential member states upon new member states, many of which are post-Communist and therefore quite suspicious of state power and control. And no matter what you call the model, it tends to result in lower economic growth and shrinking populations – which will eventually spell the end of the welfare state because such as system depends on increasing tax receipts from a growing work force.
Of course there are and will always be exceptions. The British Ambassador to the Holy See attended the Acton conference and noted the UK and Ireland as such; Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, President of the Ponitifical Council for the Family, agreed but added that the trend still exists and needs to be addressed directly.
The problem is a lack of economic and religious freedom. High taxes and regulations are signs of increasing state control over the economcy, and less economic freedom means less economic opportunity. (See Richard Rahn’s recent Washington Times column for the evidence.) On the religious front, Christians are marginalized in European public life, church attendance is declining, and the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply” is ignored. In the end, radical secularization and statism go hand-in-hand, as Mark Steyn argued in the Italian daily Il Foglio.
So how much more debate is needed? Isn’t reform the next necessary step? What Europe needs most right now are courageous leaders who are willing to risk unpopularity and even political defeat in order to promote a free and virtuous continent. They will have to remember the old saying that no good deed goes unpunished, but it’s a punishment that will eventually prove to be beneficial for Europe.
Pope Benedict’s long-awaited first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, was published this morning in Rome. The English translation of it can be found on the Vatican website by clicking here.
There’s obviously much to reflect on in this fairly short letter on Christian love, but a few aspects may be of particular interest to readers of this blog.
The pope cites a number of political philosophers, such as Nietzsche, Descartes, Aristotle, Plato, St. Augustine (several times), and Marx. Besides revealing what we already know about the former Cardinal Ratzinger’s formidable education, the encyclical reminds us that human and divine love is a theme the greatest minds have grappled with throughout the ages, and often through the lens of politics and religion.
The passage cited from Plato’s Symposium in n. 11 happens to be one of the most beautiful allegories of love ever penned; Pope Benedict compares it to the language of the Book of Genesis. Like any great teacher, he makes the reader return to the originals for their poetry and insights.
From the more prosaic perspective of social doctrine, the section on justice and charity (nos.26-29) contains an illuminating discussion of the distinct yet complementary functions of Church and State. The pope begins his treatment by taking on the Marxist critique of the Church’s charitable activity, i.e. what the poor need is justice, not charity, and even admits some truth to it:
It is true that the pursuit of justice must be a fundamental norm of the State and that the aim of a just social order is to guarantee to each person, according to the principle of subsidiarity, his share of the community’s goods.
But then comes this:
Marxism had seen world revolution and its preliminaries as the panacea for the social problem: revolution and the subsequent collectivization of the means of production, so it was claimed, would immediately change things for the better. This illusion has vanished.
After tracing the history of Catholic social doctrine from Bishop Kettler of Mainz to Popes Leo XIII and John Paul II, Benedict distinguishes “the necessary commitment to justice and the ministry of charity.”
The entire section deserves to be read with care and attention, but the general point is that the realms of justice and charity are interrelated yet distinct. Justice is the proper aim of the State, not the Church, but justice, and hence the State, is not enough.
Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbour is indispensable. The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need.
This is the Catholic case for limited government par excellence. Justice and politics are necessary and good objectives to pursue, but they are not what human life is ultimately about. Divine love transcends politics. This is the language of a political philosophy that points beyond itself to theology, and it’s perfectly fitting as Benedict’s first encyclical.
I don’t need to tell you to read the whole thing.
Proponents of social democracies claim that a large role for the state is important in tempering the profit motive of capitalism and creating a more humane and cultured state.
Free markets, they argue, result in an inhumane and disintegrated society, while the social democracy models of Europe protect the weak and create social cohesion. Yet these proponents rarely question whether the reality of Europe today bears this out. Even a cursory examination of European and American life reveals that the social democratic models have not achieved their goals. Europe is disintegrating more and more into a collection of individuals who rely on the state as their primary caregiver, and the effects on the family, society, and cultural output are insidious.
Acton Senior Fellow, Jennifer Roback Morse, addressed several of these issues in a lecture with titled “Catholic Social Teaching on the Economy and the Family: an alternative to the modern welfare-state.” The lecture was part of the Centesimus Annus Lecture Series, commemorating the 15th anniversary of the John Paul II’s encyclical. The second of the series, The Family in New Economy, was held on January 21st at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and Professor Manfred Spieker, one of Germany’s leading experts on Catholic social thought, also spoke. To listen to a Vatican Radio report on the conference go here.
Today everyone understands that communism is not a viable strategy for achieving either economic growth or solidarity with the poor.
The more urgent task now is to see that Western European socialism has also failed. Although some aspects of the Western European model originally claimed Christian inspiration and objective, it is now clear that the modern Western European welfare-state is collapsing. And while many modern countries share some of the problems I shall loosely call the “European social model,” it is Europe that most desperately needs a genuinely Catholic alternative.
Bill Robinson at The Huffington Post says that the real “enemies of marriage” consists of “those who treat it as a commodity, a temporary merger, a corporate buyout,” citing the impending fourth divorce of billionaire Ron Perelman.
In typically overblown fashion, Robinson asks, “Where are the Defense of Marriage Nazis when marriage is actually under assault? Why aren’t they boycotting Revlon? Is it possible billionaires and celebs are undermining this sacred institution more than ‘the gays’? David Hasselhoff, Babyface, and Christina Applegate, are just this week’s divorce stories. What kind of world are we living in when Eminem remarrying his ex-wife is considered the love story of the day?”
On the one hand, Robinson is right to point to divorce as the most pervasive threat to the institution of marriage. We shouldn’t forget that the biblical allowance for divorce is quite limited and was enacted only because of the reality of human sin, because our “hearts were hard,” and intended to function as a preservational check on further corruption.
But this doesn’t mean there aren’t other threats to marriage, which may just have the potential to be just as dangerous and insidious. It really isn’t an either/or question, but rather a both/and. For example, Acton senior fellow Jennifer Roback Morse highlights the move from gay “marriage” and polygamy, from “creating legal institutions to accommodate same sex couples and creating legal institutions to accommodate multiple spouses.”
In today’s Townhall.com column, Morse writes of the situation in Canada, which “have proven that the advocates of marriage are not being hysterical when they warn of the cultural and legal slide into polygamy.”
It’s a bit ironic to note how the world’s argument against the traditional Christian position has changed over the last few decades. When marriage and divorce laws were being relaxed in the last century, the move was hailed by feminists and others as a liberation from patriarchy and monogomous tyranny. When Christians opposed the change of such laws, they were labeled Neanderthals. But now that gay “marriage” is the issue du jour, the world asks, “Where are the Defense of Marriage Nazis when marriage is actually under assault?”
Christians need to witness to the world with humility and recognition of the realities of hypocrisy. When “born-again” Christians are “just as likely to divorce as non-Christians,” there are some huge problems. But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t other threats, or that Christians shouldn’t speak up. It just means that we should be consistent and careful in our witness. Indeed, Christian silence might end up being the greatest threat to the institution of marriage.
As the nation prepares to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 15, it’s time to broaden the discussion of race relations in America to include not just blacks and whites, but Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans. The long fixation on black-white relations has obscured some important measures of racial progress — or lack of it — in American society, argues Anthony Bradley. “In fact, the greatest impediment to appropriating King’s dream is our unwillingness to move beyond a white social barometer,” he says.
Check out this review of James Howard Kunstler’s new book, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century (Atlantic), which describes it as a “litany around the increasingly fashionable panic over oil depletion.” This paucity of oil will in large part contribute to a future in which “the best-case scenario is a mass die-off followed by a forced move back to the land, complete with associated feudal relations. As the title implies, this is to be an ongoing state rather than a crisis to be overcome – a sentiment that the US critic Susan Sontag described as ‘apocalypse from now on’.”
Kunstler in part attempts to rehabilitate the figure of Malthus, who he says was generally right, but who could not take into account the veneer of transitory economic advancement enabled through the use of fossil fuels. Kunstler’s book fits in with a newly ascendent genre of apocalyptic writing, which unanimously agrees that humanity faces extinction. “The core elements of the litany are predictable: climate change, disease, terrorism, and an-out-of-control world economy. Other elements such as killer asteroids, nanotechnology or chemical pollution can be added according to taste,” writes the reviewer Joe Kaplinsky. Indeed, the view is shared across ideological and religious lines. The Rapture Index, for example, is currently at its high point for 2006: 154.
He contends that in The Long Emergency Kunstler essentially views humans themselves as the problem: “He has long argued against suburbia and the car, in favour of a ‘New Urbanism’. In places it is perhaps possible to read The Long Emergency as a revenge fantasy. Embittered at his inability to convince others that they should change their ways, Kunstler takes refuge under the wing of Nature’s avenging angel. He can be ignored (he attributes this to a psychological flaw in his detractors); the inhuman laws of nature cannot.”
For an introduction to New Urbanism, check out the controversy in the Journal of Markets & Morality on the question, “To What Extent and in What Ways Should Governmental Bodies Regulate Urban Planning?” beginning with an essay by Charles C. Bohl, director of the Knight Program in Community Building at the University of Miami, and continuing with a response by Mark Pennington, lecturer in Public Policy at the University of London. As is typical of the controversies, there is then one more cycle of responses.
Kunstler continues, noting that “apparently, those who will suffer most terribly in the long emergency are the US Republican states whose culture is built on violence and fundamentalist Christianity. Neighbourhoods with spacious housing (‘McMansions’) and ‘poor street detailing’, a particular insult to Kunstler, are singled out for destruction. Europeans, by contrast, may pull through in better shape. There is an uncanny alignment between the supposedly objective, inevitable laws of nature and Kunstler’s prejudices. Perhaps the best summary of his views is found in the book’s epigraph: ‘I don’t know if the Gods exist, but they sure act as if they do.’”
The remainder of the review gives a lengthy examination of Kunstler’s underlying claims, evidence, and prejudice, including his view of the effects of “entropy,” and is well worth a read.
The long wait is finally over. Federal vouchers are coming!
Before you get too excited, however, I have to inform you that the vouchers are not for education. You can’t use these vouchers to send your child to the school of your choice.
Instead, because of the government-mandated switch for broadcast TV from analog to digital bandwidths, set for Feb. 17, 2009, upwards of 20 million television sets will be obsolete, only able to receive the then-defunct analog signals.
“To avoid a consumer revolt, Congress has set aside about $1.5 billion to smooth the transition. Owners of outmoded TV sets will be eligible for two vouchers, worth $40 each, to help buy converter boxes that will enable today’s analog TV sets to receive digital signals,” Fortune magazine reports.
The government argues that the move will open up huge new areas of bandwidth for greater technical innovation and delivery. Once broadcast TV is moved to the digital spectrum, the old analog bandwidths will be auctioned off, and the government stands to make a pretty penny on the deal. “The sale of this valuable, scarce real estate is expected to bring in about $10 billion, maybe more. That will help reduce the federal budget deficit,” writes Marc Gunther.
Of course, those companies buying up the newly-opened space will be better off too: “With the new auction, we will finally become a broadband nation,” says Blair Levin, a Washington analyst with Stifel Nicolaus. “Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Intel, Dell — these companies will all benefit. The more broadband pipes you have, the more applications will come along, the more often you will upgrade your device.”
The interesting thing about these digital tuner vouchers is that one argument for their issue is that the poor will be disproportionately affected by the switch. Gunther writes, “But for consumers with one of those 70 million sets — many of whom are likely to be poor, elderly or uneducated, being forcibly switched from one technology to another will be a nightmare.”
Gunther goes on to describe the “nightmare scenario,” in which “people who depend on free, over-the-air TV for news and entertainment will lose their access, or have to pay more for it, so that the rest of us can get faster service on our Blackberries and ESPN on our cell phones.”
Last I checked, news and weather information on which people depend is still freely available over the radio. And maybe some of us would be better off with less access to TV. AC Nielsen reports (PDF) that “During the 2004-05 TV season (which started September 20, 2004 and just ended September 18, 2005), the average household in the U.S. tuned into television an average of 8 hours and 11 minutes per day.”
We’ve all heard the stories about families on federal assistance in the inner city with big screen TVs, or living in trailer parks with satellite dishes. Nowadays, Marx might say that TV is the opiate of the people rather than religion, or better yet, that TV has become the religion of the people.