Wilhelm Röpke is one of the most important 20th century economists that almost no Americans know anything about. Fortunately, that may soon change as Röpke’s classic work on economics, A Humane Economy, is being republished by ISI Books with an introduction by Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute.
John Horvat II, author of Return to Order, recently interviewed Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, about a variety of topics, including: Gregg’s interest in economics, Becoming Europe, Thomas Piketty and his controversial Capital in the Twenty-First Century, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the greatest threat to the American economy.
John Horvat: I have had the great pleasure of reading several of your books on economics. I suppose my first question is: how did you end up in the middle of the “dismal science?”
Dr. Gregg: I did some economic history as an undergraduate and for my graduate study, but it was really through studying natural law philosophy when doing my doctorate that I came to enter into some of the deeper background questions about the strengths and weaknesses of economics and economies. I was also very interested in the relationship between economics and culture – the latter being understood as the choices, beliefs, actions, values, and institutions that shape a society, including its economic arrangements. (more…)
Liberalism, historically, is a broad intellectual tradition including a large and disparate group of thinkers. The epistemological differences between John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant do not stop them all from being liberals. In economics the range extends from Friedrich Hayek to John Maynard Keynes. In political philosophy, from John Rawls to Robert Nozick. For that matter, both the American and French Revolutions have liberal foundations, though often (and rightly) contrasted.
I conclude by encouraging a more nuanced engagement with the West than is sometimes the case in the East:
[F]or a responsible, “liberal engagement” with the West from an Orthodox Christian perspective, it will not do to dismiss anything we don’t like as Western and liberal and, therefore, wrong. As Solzhenitsyn put [it], “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” And if that is true, then both East and West, including Western liberalism, have plenty of good and evil to go around.
How might Orthodox Christians better evaluate one of the many liberalisms that make up the water in which we swim in the West today?
In yesterday’s edition of The Transom, which I highly recommend, Ben Domenech included a discussion that places the debates over raising the minimum wage within the broader context of the effects of inflation more generally.
Here’s a section:
There shouldn’t be any debate about the reality of the problem that the costs of basic staples, health care, and higher education are chewing up ever-increasing portions of the median family budget which is, in inflation-adjusted terms, smaller than it’s been since 1995. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over the past five years, the average prices for all goods are 7.7% higher; the average price of bread is 10.4% higher; and the average price of meat/poultry/fish/eggs is 16.2% higher. In the past decade, the average worker has paid 89 percent more toward their health care benefits, while their wages grew 31 percent. The rising costs of the government-fueled higher education bubble makes American parents concerned they can no longer afford to send their kids to college. On top of it all, Americans no longer feel confident about their ability to find a new job which can pay them enough to make up for the costs of these goods and services.
The problem is not that the cost of unskilled labor is too low. The problem is the costs of what workers can buy with the fruits of that labor are too high. And the reason for that is largely due to government and systems which socialize risk and insulate producers from reality, not the realities of a competitive marketplace. http://vlt.tc/16×9 Those who favor a free market response to these inequality-related concerns ought to view the minimum wage push as an opportunity to put forward an agenda that speaks to these real concerns with a gas & groceries agenda. This is not going to be solved by more government requirements which raise the cost of labor and will absolutely lead to more low-skilled unemployment: it is with an agenda that would smash the insulated systems which have led to these higher costs.
Ben goes on to outline in some detail what an agenda might look like, which includes “ending the government’s management Soviet-style programs of dairy and raisins.” Horror of horrors, the Daily Beast and dairy producers would have us believe that the result would be $8/gallon milk. I can’t be the only one who wonders what the market price of commodities from milk to oil and sugar might be without various protectionist measures and subsidy schemes.
Ben ends the section with a key question: “Some Republicans have taken up more populist anti-corporatist and anti-cronyist arguments in recent months, because they can read the same polls we do. But will they stand up to cronyism, or are they just interested in demagoguery on the issue until they hold the reins of power again?”
Income > spending = surplus
Surplus x time = wealth
According to Mr. Micawber from Dickens’ David Copperfield:
Annual income £20, annual expenditure £19.975 = happiness
Annual income £20, annual expenditure £20.025 = misery
Wilhelm Röpke is one of the most important 20th century economists that almost no Americans know anything about. To really learn about the man whose influence was considered largely responsible for enabling Germany’s post-World War II economic “miracle,” you should read Samuel Gregg’s Wilhelm Ropke’s Political Economy. But if you don’t have the time (or $109.25) to spend, you can read Ralph Ancil’s introductory article at Front Porch Republic:
Throughout his professional life Röpke was concerned about a socially and morally responsible market economy and the policies it entails. An ardent opponent of all forms of collectivism, he spoke and wrote not only against the ideologies of national socialism and communism, but against the more subtle forms of collectivism found in the ostensibly more democratic and free countries of the West.
Röpke’s central social policy concern was the distribution of economic power. Freedom and basic human happiness are best met in an economy where individuals and families are able to take responsibility for their own lives, he believed, and that meant some social and economic arrangements are better than others. Throughout his writing, Röpke therefore decentralization, deproletarianization, family farms, and small-scale artisans and merchants.
In a new article at Intercollegiate Review, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at the current state of “idea conservatives” and their place in the broader context of American conservative thought encompassing an amazing diversity of ideological subspecies. But it is ideas and core principles, more than anything else, that informs conservatism and its various movements, despite the many fractures and fissures. Gregg makes a compelling case for rooting “conservatism’s long-term agenda” in the “defense and promotion of what we should unapologetically call Western civilization.” His article is the first contribution to ISI’s symposium, “Conservatism: What’s Wrong with it and How Can We Make it Right?” Excerpt from the Gregg article:
… as the French theologian Jean Daniélou S.J. once observed, there is no true civilization that is not also religious. In the case of Western civilization, that means Judaism and Christianity. The question of religious truth is something with which we must allow every person to wrestle in the depths of their conscience. But if conservatism involves upholding the heritage of the West against those who would tear it down (whether from without and within), then conservatives should follow the lead of European intellectuals such as Rémi Brague and Joseph Ratzinger and invest far more energy in elucidating Christianity’s pivotal role in the West’s development—including the often complicated ways in which it responded to, and continues to interact, with the movements associated with the various Enlightenments.
Such an enterprise goes beyond demonstrating Christianity’s contribution to institutional frameworks such as constitutional government. Conservatives must be more attentive to how Judaism and Christianity—or at least their orthodox versions—helped foster key ideas that underlie the distinctiveness of Western culture. These include: (more…)
Some Christian free market enthusiasts mistakenly believe we have to make a choice between socialism and Randianism. But as Joel Miller points out, there are far better intellectual leaders than Ayn Rand. Wilhelm Röpke is a prime example:
Capitalism has had many defenders. Some, rather than being anti-religious like Rand, are self-consciously Christian. Rand’s contemporary, Wilhelm Röpke, is one such example.
Looking back at the tremendous upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century, many responded by embracing socialism, both in Europe and even America. Not Röpke. A professional economist, he lectured, wrote several books, and was partly responsible for engineering Germany’s post-WWII recovery. One of his books, published one year after Atlas Shrugged hit the market, remains essential reading today.
[. . .]
Socialism is a dead end, one that represses human freedom. But I don’t need Rand to tell me that. Rand’s critique is unnecessary and ultimately unhelpful because it is undergirded by an atheistic, anti-Christian philosophy. Our choice isn’t between socialism and Rand. We would be far better served by giving more space to people like Wilhelm Röpke.
Over at the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters makes some comments about my book Becoming Europe based on a review he had read by Fr. C.J. McCloskey. Here are the most pertinent of his observations:
I know that American exceptionalism lives on both the left and the right, but when did the right become so Europhobic? And why? National Catholic Register has a review of a new book by the Acton Institute’s Samuel Gregg entitled Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, & How America Can Avoid a European Future. I confess, come August, when Europeans sensibly take the month off and head to the beach or the mountains for time with their families, I am envious of them, not scornful. When I look at Europe’s lower rates of income inequality, I am envious, not scornful. When I look at the creative ways Germany minimized unemployment during the recent economic downturn, I was deeply envious.
Of course, given the fact that Gregg works for the libertarian Acton Institute, where the false god of the market is worshipped day in and day out, it should not surprise that he misses the Catholic and Christian roots of the modern social welfare state as it exists in Europe. And the fact that Rev. C. John McCloskey misunderstands the Christian roots of the modern social welfare state shows the degree to which some members of the Catholic clergy have bought into what can best be described as the Glenn Beck narrative of the relationship of faith and culture.
Alas, Mr. Winters apparently hasn’t actually read the book. Because if he had, he would know that Becoming Europe (1) notes several good economic things happening in Europe (such as in Germany and Sweden) and (2) addresses at considerable length the various Catholic and Christian contributions to the development of European welfare states and the European social model more generally. In the case of the latter, I’d direct his attention to Chapters 2 and 3 of Becoming Europe where these matters are discussed extensively. The point is that it is always prudent to perhaps read a book before venturing criticisms of its arguments.
Then there is the label of “libertarian.” Again, if Mr. Winters took a moment to read a few of my writings, he’d know that, in books such as On Ordered Liberty, I‘ve articulated critiques of libertarian thought, especially with regard to the way that libertarian thinkers approach, for instance, moral questions. Figures such as Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman have many interesting economic insights. But I have always viewed their philosophical positions (which include, among others, commitments to nominalism, epicurism, utilitarianism, social-evolutionism, and social contractarianism) to be less-than-adequate. In many ways, their conceptions of the human person are virtually indistinguishable from modern liberals such as John Rawls. (more…)
Daly contends, “The horrors of Bolshevik governance stemmed directly from their repudiation of the precious fruits of Western political thought.” It is a classic example of the tendency of some to promote cheap moralisms while ignoring the empirical realities of any given context, what then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger termed in 1985, “the antithesis of morality.” In addition to fostering mass suspicion, starvation, and ultimately a despotic police state in Russia, the Bolsheviks also have the blood of literally millions on their hands, Orthodox Christians as well many Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and others—the rotten fruit of their noble quest for the common good. (more…)