The Fraser Institute has released the tenth edition of their annual report on economic freedom in North America. The report considers how such factors as size of government, takings and discriminatory taxation, and labor market freedom affect people’s freedom to choose how to produce, sell, and use their own resources, while respecting others’ rights to do the same. Read the report below to see where your state ranks.
“If we want to be coherent when addressing poverty,” writes Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg at Public Discourse, “our concerns can’t be rooted in emotivist or relativistic accounts of who human beings are. They must be founded on recognition of each person’s freedom, rationality, and dignity.”
In social sciences such as economics, positivism’s ongoing influence encourages the tendency to see values as irrelevant, hopelessly subjective, and hard to measure (which, for some people, means they don’t exist). Thus, making the argument that values matter economically still involves challenging more mainstream positions. But if establishing strong rule of law protocols is essential for long-term poverty alleviation, this connection may illustrate how widespread commitment to particular moral goods helps promote and sustain one institution that helps lessen poverty.
“If there is one thing that religious leaders around the world seem to agree on today,” says Acton research associate Dylan Pahman, “it is the evils of income inequality stemming from a globalized economy.” But as Pahman points out, there is a connection between inequality and poverty alleviation that affirms the moral merits of economic liberty:
It would seem the consensus is that economic inequalities have increased worldwide, and this is a clear moral evil. But when we examine the numbers, a somewhat different picture emerges. Even as inequality has increased, extreme poverty has simultaneously decreased—a clear moral good. Considered in this light, and with the help of Nassim Taleb and (in Part Two of this post) Friedrich Hayek, I will examine the connection between inequality and poverty alleviation and argue that the data affirm, rather than refute, the moral merits of economic liberty.
It stands to reason that if religious leaders are so willing to condemn global capitalism for its apparent evils, they ought to be even more eager to praise its actual goods. I will recommend a different moral metric, drawn from St. John Cassian and St. John Chrysostom, that would support people of faith in being attentive to the plight of the poor while prudently engaging the economic realities at hand.
Earlier this year I wrote a series of posts explaining 12 principles that generally drive the thinking of conservative evangelicals when it comes to economics. Number 9 on my list was:
9. Social mobility — specifically getting people out of poverty — is infinitely more important than income inequality.
Social mobility is the ability of an individual or family to improve (or lower) their economic status. The two main types of social mobility are intergenerational (i.e., a person is better off than their parents or grandparents) or intragenerational (i.e., income changes within a person or group’s lifetime). Researchers at Harvard University recently released a study of intergenerational social mobility within the United States which controlled for five factors: racial segregation, income inequality, school quality, social capital, and family structure.
Can you guess which factor makes the most difference for social mobility?
What are the barriers that prevent the poor from moving into the middle class? One surprising answer, says Megan McArdle, is an excess of social capital.
In the video below, McArdle explains why understanding how social and financial capital function in low-income communities can help us be more effective in helping then poor.
In a piece today for the NYT Magazine, economics reporter Binyamin Appelbaum examines David Brat’s fusion of faith and free-market economics. Appelbaum finds that mixture problematic, to say the least, but it’s hard to sort out whether it is the religious faith or the free-market sympathies that Appelbaum finds more troubling.
In the opening paragraph, Appelbaum asserts that before Brat’s rise to prominence “there was plenty of skepticism about whether he merited the label of academic economist.” Who these skeptics are, who knew so much about Brat “even before” his “out-of-nowhere” victory, we are simply left to ponder. It seems some of his colleagues at Randolph-Macon College now harbor such skepticism. (Brat is running against a Randolph-Macon sociologist, Jack Trammell. Brat once wrote that “Capitalism is the major organizing force in modern life, whether we like it or not. It is here to stay. If the sociologists ever grasp this basic fact, their enterprise will be much more fruitful.”)
Brat’s academic record is a wortwhile question to take up, and one that there has been a great deal of interest in following his primary victory. I, like many others, wanted to find out more, and went in search of Brat’s publications (with the help of one of our interns). I’ve had a chance to look at a few, and even turned up the paper on Ayn Rand that had gained such notice. The Rand paper turned out to be a co-authored piece with a student, and something which barely qualified as a poorly-edited introduction to a conference presentation. It is certainly not a smoking gun for tracking down Randian sympathies.
The problem with Appelbaum’s piece isn’t that he is asking questions about Brat’s academic record. These questions should be asked. The problem is the tone of Appelbaum’s inquisition and his presumption against the coherence of Brat’s position. The sarcasm oozes from Appelbaum’s prose: Brat “is certainly not in danger of winning a Nobel Prize.” Likewise Brat has written “discursive papers devoid of math,” “cited Wikipedia as a source,” and “never been published in a significant journal.”
In discussions of political issues, the American public is too often described in a binary format: Left/Right, Republican/Democrat, Red State/Blue State. But a new survey by the Pew Research Center takes a more granular look at our current political typology by sorting voters into cohesive groups based on their attitudes and values:
Partisan polarization – the vast and growing gap between Republicans and Democrats – is a defining feature of politics today. But beyond the ideological wings, which make up a minority of the public, the political landscape includes a center that is large and diverse, unified by frustration with politics and little else. As a result, both parties face formidable challenges in reaching beyond their bases to appeal to the middle of the electorate and build sustainable coalitions.
The new typology has eight groups: Steadfast Conservatives, Business Conservatives, Solid Liberals, Young Outsiders, Hard-Pressed Skeptics, Next Generation Left, Faith and Family Left, and Bystanders. (See addendum below for descriptions of each group.)
Pew Research’s most recent report uses cluster analysis to sort people into these eight groups based on their responses to 23 questions covering an array of political attitudes and values. Here are a few of the interesting highlights from the report:
I had a chance to talk with Michelle Boorstein yesterday about David Brat and a bit of his work that I’ve been able to become familiar with over the past few days. She included some of my comments in this piece for the Washington Post, “David Brat’s victory is part of broader rise of religion in economics.”
I stressed that Brat’s research program, which in many ways emphasizes the relationship between Christianity and capitalism, has at least two basic features. First, he’s focused on increasing theological awareness of economic realities: “I never saw a supply and demand curve in seminary. I should have.” This kind of increased economic sensibility would help the church to be a positive factor for social cultural change: “The church needs to regain its voice and offer up a coherent social vision of justice and rationality.”
But on the other hand, Brat has a message for economists as well. He challenges the mainstream assumption of economics as merely a positive, value-free science that can provide objective answers to questions without the trappings of morality or religion. A comment on Boorstein’s piece illustrates this important aspect of Brat’s work:
Dave helped me understand the essentiality of the links between capitalism (voluntary exchange that serves both parties’ interests) and theology (man’s obligation to serve God through work and use gain to carry out Jesus’ admonition to help the poor). At first, I thought he was joking. Surely one did not have to embrace a theological perspective to be a good capitalist. But he was not joking. I now have a much more nuanced and mature understanding of the “moral foundations of capitalism” than I did before I met Dave.
Brat’s faculty page includes portraits of John Calvin, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, and John Maynard Keynes. Obviously there’s a lot to David Brat and I look forward to becoming more familiar with him and his work.
Amid all of the bad reportage out there on Brat, and there is so much that it is hard to keep up, here are a few other pieces that I have found to be helpful:
- “The guy who beat Eric Cantor penned a scathing, seemingly unpublished book about the economics profession,” Vox
- “David Brat Just Became the Christian Right’s Favorite Economist,” NYMag
- “Capitalism and ethics drive Brat’s world view,” Washington Post
- “David Brat to Bernanke: Don’t Underestimate the Value of Protestants,” WSJ
- “5 Shocking Dave Brat Quotes the Media Will Never Report,” Intercollegiate Review
In a powerful profile of his son Jamie, a young man with Down syndrome, Michael Bérubé explores some of the key challenges that those with disabilities face when trying to enter the workforce:
The first time I talked to Jamie about getting a job, he was only 13. But I thought it was a good idea to prepare him, gradually, for the world that would await him after he left school. My wife, Janet, and I had long been warned about that world: By professionals it was usually called “transitioning from high school.” By parents it was usually called “falling off the cliff.” After 21 years of early intervention programs for children with disabilities…there would be nothing. Or so we were told.
At 13, Jamie reported that he wanted to be a marine biologist. A very tall order, I thought; but he knew the differences between seals and sea lions, he knew that dolphins are pinnipeds, and he knew far more about sharks than most sixth graders. And despite his speech delays, he could say “cartilaginous fish” pretty clearly. Perhaps he could work at an aquarium?
Bérubé goes on to tell the story of Jamie’s education and upbringing, which includes the unfortunate descent from that lofty childhood dream to his current unemployment at age 22. “By the end of the year [at age 13]…Jamie had lowered his sights from ‘marine biologist’ to ‘marine biologist helper,’ Bérubé writes. “And by the end of eighth grade…when he was asked what he might do for a living when he graduated, he said dejectedly, ‘Groceries, I guess.’”
Despite testing at rather high levels for his disability, and despite having years of experience working in various low-wage and volunteer jobs, Jamie continues to struggle in his search for a career, even in areas like factory work, food service, or hospitality. (more…)
Because jobs can serve the needs of our neighbors and lead to human flourishing both for the individual and communities, they are the most important part of a morally functioning economy. Workers dropping out of the labor force because they’ve grown discouraged is therefore one of the most pressing moral and economic issues in America today. Sadly, it is also one of the most overlooked.
Today, the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee released some stats showing the shocking decline in the male participation in the labor force, particularly men between the ages of 25-54:
According to the committee members: