Posts tagged with: wealth

“The mundane progress driven by ordinary economic and social processes in a free society becomes dramatic only when its track record is viewed in retrospect over a span of years.” –Thomas Sowell

In a recent edition of Uncommon Knowledge, economist Thomas Sowell discusses his latest book, Wealth, Poverty, and Politics, which provides a comprehensive argument for the origins of prosperity.

“There’s no explanation needed for poverty. The species began in poverty,” Sowell says. “So what you really need to know is what are the things that enable some countries, and some groups within countries, to be prosperous.”

Revisiting many of the same themes and economic arguments found in his other works, Sowell adds a wider historical exploration of culture, geography, and politics, connecting the dots between each and critiquing competing social analyses along the way (e.g. Keynes, Piketty, etc.). (more…)

Makers of Modern Christian Social Thought Cover Front DraftThe contrast between the treatments by David Bentley Hart and Dylan Pahman of the question of the intrinsic evil of “great personal wealth” this week pretty well established, I think, that in itself wealth is among the things neither forbidden nor absolutely required. In fact, as Pahman puts it at one point, perhaps “Christians should strive to have wealth from which to provide for others.”

But all this is to merely show that wealth isn’t absolutely forbidden. From this it does not follow that we can merely do whatever we want or simply seek to gain as much as we can. Riches do remain a temptation, however, and a powerful one at that.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, the Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper expounds in some detail the power of money to corrupt us and turn us away from God. The temptation is unavoidable because of the way in which money can mimic God. As Kuyper puts it, “In money, there rules a power that closely approaches God’s omnipotence, at least insofar as the satisfaction of the needs and wants of one’s outer life is concerned.”

These warnings from Kuyper about the abuse of money and its power to enthrall us come from one of his later works, the first volume of Pro Rege, part of a three-volume series that focuses on restoring the Christian understanding of the lordship of Christ and its implications for all of life (these volumes are also part of the larger Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology).

One of Kuyper’s other works dealing with wealth, poverty, and economics is his earlier speech at the opening of the 1891 Christian Social Congress in Amsterdam. And earlier that same year Pope Leo XIII had promulgated the encyclical letter Rerum Novarum. Together these two texts usher in an era of modern Christian social thought and they sound very similar notes on the challenge represented by “the social question,” or the relationship between labor and capital.
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On September 12-14 the Acton Institute’s Rome office hosted its third annual “Economics, Development and Human Flourishing” conference in Assisi for seminarians and formation staff of the Vatican’s Pontifical Urban College.

Intense discussion and open debate was stimulated by challenging lectures on economics, political philosophy, anthropology, and Catholic social doctrine. The lectures were reinforced by showings of the Institute’s  video curriculum “PovertyCure”, a six-episode DVD rich in graphic content, intellectual analysis and dramatic stories about poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

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An African seminarian asks a tough question about economic injustice.

The second-year theology students — from different developing-world nations spanning 3 continents– listened attentively and asked provocative questions related to economic growth and poverty alleviation. Many questions regarded political corruption, crony capitalism, the causes of wealth, the meaning of vocation, material scarcity, as well as some very specific economic concerns in their home countries.

Acton’s president and co-founder, Rev. Robert A. Sirico and Poverty, Inc. producer Michael Matheson Miller traveled from Grand Rapids, while academic contributions from Rome scholars included Istituto Acton’s director, Kishore Jayabalan, and Salvatore Rebecchini, president of SIMEST, a company that promotes Italian investment in foreign markets. (more…)

Working For Our Neighbor“If you are a manual laborer, you find that the Bible has been put into your workshop, into your hand, into your heart. It teaches and preaches how you should treat your neighbor.” –Martin Luther

Christian’s Library Press has now released Working for Our Neighbor, Gene Veith’s Lutheran primer on vocation, economics, and ordinary life. The book joins Acton’s growing series of tradition-specific, faith-work primers, which also includes Baptist, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, and Reformed perspectives.

Veith, who describes Martin Luther as “the great theologian of vocation,” believes Luther’s approach is distinct in approaching vocation as a manifestation of “the spiritual and the physical, transcendence and incarnation, ascent and descent, faith and love, love of God and love of neighbor.” Luther’s theology “shows the interconnections of faith, work, and economics not just theoretically, but practically,” Veith writes, “and discloses how the ordinary, seemingly secular activities of everyday life are essential dimensions of Christian spirituality.”

Beginning with a hearty critique of Max Weber’s classic work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Veith argues that the Reformation’s influence on capitalism has long been mischaracterized and misunderstood. Although Weber properly identified a variety of psychological and cultural factors, his analysis of the theological and spiritual connections fell remarkably short. (more…)

What is the purpose of money? Is it for our survival? For our status, significance, or success? Is it for the service of ourselves or for the service of others?

In a talk for the Oikonomia Network, theologian Darrell Bock sets out to answer the question, drawing from the numerous treatments of money in the book of Luke — from the rich fool and Lazarus’ wealthy neighbor to Zacchaeus and the widow’s mite.

“Money is to be surrendered into stewardship,” he says, “because that is the way God has designed not just the resources that he gives us; that’s the way he’s designed our very lives.”

Money is ultimately about a stewardship of managing the creation in which God has placed us. It’s for others, and it’s for Him…It’s a stewardship that serves and leads to flourishing, and we are all stewards, every one of us. It’s a surrender to Christ. It’s a surrender to others. And it’s a surrender to the divine design. It’s a commitment not to serve the self, and it’s a commitment not to use other people as currency…

Yes, money does make the world go around, but we drive that bus. And it’s not the money that’s the agent of change; we are the agents of change. So how do we make money that matters? We don’t make money the old fashioned way, by earning it for ourselves. We make money useful the divine way, by stewarding it so that others can flourish and be developed, and by generating value for those who are around us.

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If you want to see what happens when a government fails its basic responsibilities of maintaining law and order, read this fine and saddening piece by Detroit Free Press columnist John Carlisle, “The last days of Detroit’s Chaldean Town.” In it you’ll encounter the fraying of the town’s social architecture built around faith, family, work, and government.

At a conference a few weeks ago I was involved in a discussion about the ‘worst’ jobs we had ever had. Mine was cleaning the meat room at a grocery store run by four Chaldean brothers in an area just a bit further east of Chaldean Town. I worked at a “training wage” for the better part of a year, I think, while in high school. I didn’t mind transferring out to make a bit less bagging groceries.

Joseph Sunde has written a fair bit on how “hard work cultivates character.” Earlier today I was reading through a classic speech by the famed American pastor Russell Conwell, which includes this bit of wisdom: “There is no class of people to be pitied so much as the inexperienced sons and daughters of the rich of our generation.” Conwell’s point was that the rich most often attained wealth by working smarter and harder. But “as a rule the rich men will not let their sons do the very thing that made them great,” thereby depriving them of the very same experiences that enabled the creation of wealth in the first place. This is actually as true for the moderately rich as it is for the extremely wealthy. As Michael Novak has put it, “Parents brought up under poverty do not know how to bring up children under affluence.”

So even though I hated that job cleaning the meat room at the Chaldean market, which closed some years later, I was sad to see it go and I’ll always carry those experiences with me and try to pass their lessons along to my own children. The rise and fall of Chaldean Town also has some things to teach us about flourishing at the community level.

The Poverty of NationsTheologian Wayne Grudem has teamed up with economist Barry Asmus to write a book on poverty entitled The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution. On this edition of Radio Free Acton, we explore the fundamentals of growth and human flourishing, and how Christians should understand economics and aid. You can listen via the audio player below.