Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Giotto di Bondone - No. 27 Scenes from the Life of Christ - 11. Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple - WGA09209Last month the New York Times hosted a discussion on the question, “Has Capitalism Become Incompatible With Christianity?” There’s lots to be said about the “Room for Debate” feature, including a note on the caption for the lead image in the introduction.

The image is a rendering of the classic scene from the Gospels, Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. The NYT caption reads thus: “Jesus comes down hard on the bankers of his day.” Perhaps that’s a bit of ideological balance for the phrasing of the debate question itself, which supposes that at least at one time that “capitalism” and Christianity were compatible, even if they are no longer.

Occasioned by the NYT feature, although not a direct response, is a piece today over at Think Christian, in which I introduce what I consider to be some important distinctions to keep in mind when thinking about the Christian faith and economics.
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Detroit WaterAs I was poring over the morning news the other day, it seemed to me that every few days there is another water crisis somewhere; whether it’s California’s drought, or more recently the controversial decision in which the Detroit water companies shut off the water supply to over 15,000 customers. But are we really looking at water regulation, appropriation, and the morality of shutting water off in the correct light?

Let’s start with some of the basics: Water is essential for survival. Water needs to be purified. But, how is this done? In most cities water companies or public utilities offer the service of collecting the water, filtering the water, and pumping it to our homes. How should a service like this be supported in a market? It should be supported by rewarding the provider of that service with a profit, so that they have an incentive to efficiently use their resources, and make it available to the widest range of people possible. To not pay, would be stealing from the water companies. (more…)

Economy of LoveFor today and today only, you can watch Episode 2 of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles for FREE over at Flannel.org.

Produced by the Acton Institute and spread across seven episodes, the series seeks to examine the bigger picture of Christianity’s role in culture, society, and the world. Episode 2 focuses specifically on the Economy of Love, and the grand mystery we find therein.

As host Evan Koons concludes: “Family is the first and foundational ‘yes’ to society because it is the first and foundational ‘yes’ to our nature, to pour ourselves out like Christ, to be gifts, and to love.”

Stream the full episode here for the rest of the day (July 23).

Watch the trailer for the series below, and purchase it here.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Line Crossed in the Middle East
Mark Movsesian, First Things

What the end of Christianity in Mosul means for Christians everywhere.

Hobby Lobby and Employment Discrimination
USCCB, Crisis Magazine

To dismiss concerns about religious freedom in a misguided attempt to address unjust discrimination in the workplace is not to advance justice and tolerance. Instead, it stands as an affront to basic human rights and the importance of religion in society.

The Nation’s $100 Billion Regulations Tab
Sam Batkins, The Federalist

President Obama’s pen-and-phone regulations are costing ordinary Americans hundreds of dollars every year, largely through extra costs to businesses.

Less US economic growth means fewer American babies — and then even less economic growth
James Pethokoukis, AEI Ideas

Interesting piece by WaPo reporter Todd Frankel on US fertility rates and the bad economy. Here is the hed: “They want a baby. The economy won’t play along: America’s birth rates are still near a historic low. One couple’s lesson in the new economics of having a child.”

Uwe Siemon-Netto during the Battle of Huế (1968).

Uwe Siemon-Netto during the Battle of Huế (1968).

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon and the end of America’s involvement in Vietnam. Uwe Siemon-Netto, a German, and former journalist for United Press International, covered much of the conflict in Vietnam. He has a new and excellent book titled, Triumph of the Absurd: A Reporter’s Love for the Abandoned People of Vietnam. Siemon-Netto is a Lutheran theologian and his extensive background in journalism and theology gives him tremendous credibility in discussing today’s media and culture, a big part of this R&L interview. I admire him for the relative ease in which he stands for truth, and in my opinion I believe students of Luther’s teachings will see a lot of Luther’s best qualities in Siemon-Netto.

David Urban, an English professor at Calvin College, authored a piece on John Milton, liberty, and virtue for Religion & Liberty. It was of course Milton who stressed the notion that true liberty stems “from real virtue.” A longer version of this article appears in the Journal of Markets & Morality.

Mark S. Latkovic reviews The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead by Charles Murray and Matthea Brandenburg reviews The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty by Nina Munk. The book by Munk, which has received considerable attention, is a thorough examination of the problems with aid and high minded theories for ending poverty in Africa. Writing in Barron’s, William Easterly titled his review “The Arrogance of Good Intentions.”

The “In the Liberal Tradition” figure is Lebanese diplomat Charles Malik [1906-1986]. Malik drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and served as the president of the thirteenth session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Rev. Robert Sirico offers us his thoughts on the need to lighten our burdens and Kris Mauren, our executive director, gives us an update on the Acton capital campaign.

Elise Hilton has been writing a good deal lately about our manufactured border crisis, and last week Al Kresta, host of Kresta in the Afternoon on the Ave Maria Radio Network, asked Elise to join him on his show to discuss the human tide currently engulfing the southern border of the United States. They discuss the response – or lack thereof – of the Obama Administration to the crisis, the underlying causes of the problem, and how the failures of the US government to address this problem are playing into the hands of human traffickers. The interview is available via the player below.

What just happened with Obamacarehealthcaregov site?

In a two-to-one decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dealt a serious blow to Obamacare by ruling the government may not provide subsidies to encourage people to buy health insurance on the new marketplaces run by the federal government.

What did the court decide?

Section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code, enacted as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) makes tax credits available as a form of subsidy to individuals who purchase health insurance through marketplaces—known as “American Health Benefit Exchanges,” or “Exchanges” for short.

This provision authorized low-income Americans to receive tax credits for insurance purchased on an Exchange established by one of the fifty states or the District of Columbia. (The credits were for household incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty line.) But the Internal Revenue Service interpreted the wording broadly to authorize the subsidy also for insurance purchased on an Exchange established by the federal government.

The court ruled that a federal Exchange is not an “Exchange established by the State,” and section 36B does not authorize the IRS to provide tax credits for insurance purchased on federal Exchanges.

Can you explain that without the legalese?
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sisters of charityIn a gutsy, thoughtful article at the American Thinker , Danusha V. Goska describes her intellectual journey from a family of card-carrying Communists to discovering she wanted to spend time with people “building, cultivating, and establishing, something that they loved.”

There’s a lot to mull over in Goska’s piece, but it was her discovery of a moral and religious framework that struck me. Rather than a “nihilistic void” that had been her life, Goska encountered people whose faith informed their actions in concrete and truly helpful ways. They weren’t just protesting against something; they were working towards something. She recounts her time with both the Peace Corps and the Sisters of Charity:

Peace Corps did not focus on the “small beginnings” necessary to accomplish its grandiose goals. Schools rarely ran, girls and low caste children did not attend, and widespread corruption guaranteed that all students received passing grades. Those students who did learn had no jobs where they could apply their skills, and if they rose above their station, the hereditary big men would sabotage them. Thanks to cultural relativism, we were forbidden to object to rampant sexism or the caste system. “Only intolerant oppressors judge others’ cultures.”

I volunteered with the Sisters of Charity. For them, I pumped cold water from a well and washed lice out of homeless people’s clothing. The sisters did not want to save the world. Someone already had. The sisters focused on the small things, as their founder, Mother Teresa, advised, “Don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love.” Delousing homeless people’s clothing was one of my few concrete accomplishments.

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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Idle RichOver at his blog, Peter Boettke writes, “The idle rich are never really idle in a free market economy.”

Now while we might want to distinguish between the rich and their riches, could it be that even in their consumption, conspicuous or otherwise, the rich are contributing to a rising tide that lifts all boats? Wesley Gant makes that related case over at Values & Capitalism: “Is It Possible to Waste Money?”

Gant seems to conclude that it isn’t possible to “waste” wealth. “Humans do not consume resources; they create and exchange them,” he says.

One might argue, however, as John Mueller does, that humans create and exchange things, but that they also consume and distribute them. It’s a truncated and reductionist economism that doesn’t do justice to that fuller picture. A basic problem with this kind of view is that it cannot distinguish between types of consumption. Maybe we need “ethics” rather than “economics” proper to do so, but that just goes to show the limitations of the economic way of thinking.

On Gant’s account, it would seem that there is no such thing as bad stewardship. Now it may be that consumption of luxuries is not always bad, or that such consumption often does have some redeeming virtues. But is it the case that such reasoning can justify any exchange or consumption? (As long as it doesn’t involve the government, of course!)

Perhaps the guy who got the one talent and buried it in the ground should have just given the wealthy owner a basic lesson in such economics.

cherrypieShould we always take the side of the individual consumer?

That’s the question Rod Dreher asks in a recent post on “Amazon and the Cost of Consumerism.” It’s a good question, one that people have been asking for centuries. The best answer that has been provided—as is usually the case when it comes to economic questions—was provided by the nineteenth-century French journalist Frédéric Bastiat.

Bastiat argues, rather brilliantly, that,

consumption is the great end and purpose of political economy; that good and evil, morality and immorality, harmony and discord, everything finds its meaning in the consumer, for he represents mankind.

He summarizes his argument as follows:

There is a fundamental antagonism between the seller and the buyer.

The former wants the goods on the market to be scarce, in short supply, and expensive.

The latter wants them abundant, in plentiful supply, and cheap.

Our laws, which should at least be neutral, take the side of the seller against the buyer, of the producer against the consumer, of high prices against low prices, of scarcity against abundance.

They operate, if not intentionally, at least logically, on the assumption that a nation is rich when it is lacking in everything.

Bastiat uses this as the basis of his argument that the interests of the consumer, rather than the producer, align more closely with the interests of mankind (see addendum below for more on this reasoning). Producers want scarcity since it increases their profits. If they can’t produce scarcity in the market, they’ll seek out government protections that create artificial scarcity (which is why those who are pro-business are rarely pro-market).

Book publishers don’t like the fact that Amazon is reducing the scarcity of their product, because it lowers the cost. But what is the result from the consumer side? The lower prices allow consumers to consume more books than they otherwise would be able to afford.
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