Back in 1983, economist Thomas Sowell wrote The Economics and Politics of Race, an in-depth look at how different ethnic and immigrant groups fared in different countries throughout human history. He noted that some groups, like the overseas Chinese, Japanese, and Jews, tended to thrive economically no matter where they went, bringing new skills to the countries that they arrived in and often achieving social acceptance even after facing considerable hatred and violence. Other groups, like the Irish and the Africans, tended to lag economically and found it difficult to become prosperous.

Sowell explained many of these differences by looking at the cultures both of the immigrant groups and of the dominant powers in the countries that they moved to. The Chinese, Japanese, and Jews, for example, valued work. They often arrived in countries with little more than the clothes on their backs, but they worked long and hard hours in menial labor and saved money scrupulously to make life better for their children. Even if they lacked social acceptance, they were allowed the freedom to develop their talents and contribute to the economic life of their new homes.

Irish and African cultures were never offered these opportunities. Ireland’s feuding lords had prevented hard work from being rewarded in Ireland, a situation that only got worse with British occupation. Sowell shows how Africans were similarly discouraged from working hard because slavery and the Jim Crow Era made it impossible for skills and effort to pay off in better standards of living. So long as hard work never paid off, there was no incentive for Irish or African cultures to emphasize entrepreneurship, and the members of these ethnic groups suffered from poverty rates much higher than those of other populations in the places they lived.

Fast forward to 2009. With many of the institutional barriers to the advancement of ethnic minorities gone from most countries, historically disadvantaged groups are catching up with the general population in economic terms. Pope Benedict revisited the theme of economics and culture in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, coming to similar conclusions as Sowell does about the role that culture plays in the development of the human person. (more…)

The ius gentium, or law of nations, has an important place in legal history. Variously conceived, the law of nations often referred to the code of conduct for dealing with foreign peoples according to their own local, national, or regional standards. As a form of natural law, the ius gentium has often been appealed to as a basis for determining what has been believed everywhere, always, by everyone. It’s an approach used, for instance, with some qualification by C.S. Lewis in the appendix to his book, The Abolition of Man, “Illustrations of the Tao.”

It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek (it includes input from Brad Pitt on the question “Can I Answer My Cell at a Movie if It Seems Urgent?”) and risqué (to be generous), but the editors at Wired magazine have developed a set of rules for digital behavior, in conjunction with a group of social scientists who determine descriptively what the proper etiquette for life in the 21st century. In “How to Behave: New Rules for Highly Evolved Humans,” the feature takes a “scientific approach” in determining the “new rules.”

As NPR’s All Things Considered reports, Wired editors faced the problem of determining normativity. “There was a lot of subjective opinion on how to behave,” Wired editor Nancy Miller says. “We sort of decided that the best way to go about this was the Wired way, which is try to find a scientific approach … to explain why and how we behave like we do, and what makes sense in this new era of technology.”

What we have in this Wired magazine article is something like an attempt to articulate the ius digitus, the law of the digital world as gleaned from its own sources. Potentially, at least, such a method might prove helpful, if not comprehensive. Awhile back I sketched out a framework for ethical digital discourse, and interacting with the established or not-so-established norms of digital behavior seems to be an important line of development.

Buzz Aldrin walks on moonToday marks the 40th Anniversary of the one of the greatest feats of human exploration, courage and innovation: man’s setting foot on the surface of the moon.

Responding heroically to the challenges of the “Space Race” (while its arch-nemesis, the Soviet Union, was clearly in the lead), the United States stood proud to represent the free and enterprising West. To put the challenges of victory into perspective, America was running adrift amid pretty rough waters at the time: two great wars in Asia had taken their tolls on the government’s treasury; cities and communities were torn by civil riots; national inflation was escalating at a record pace; and an irreversible paradigm shift was occurring in its traditional moral values. Sound painstakingly familiar?

Yet, America loved (and still loves) challenges and risks. It excels (and still wants to excel) under pressure. It was the land forged by underdogs, the under-rated, the under-financed, while driven by an ever-zealous entrepreneurial optimism and creativity when facing life’s “insuperable” obstacles.

And all these great values were apparently at stake, as the United States stood boldly united to beat the Russians in a manned-mission to the moon. Americans knew full well that the tides of history would be turned against them had the Hammer and Sickle been raised before the Stars and Stripes on that powdery lunar desert. The American “brand” of innovation and entrepreneurship its citizens had worked so hard to achieve would have received a disgraceful black-eye. (more…)

Rev. Robert A. Sirico had two recent appearances on Relevant Radio’s Drew Mariani Show to discuss the new social encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI.  His first appearance was prior to the release of the encyclical and he explained how Christians who support the free economy believe that it should not be based on greed.  To have a just society, we must have just people.  When money becomes the end of a person, and a person’s whole life is directed to that end, Rev. Sirico points out that then a person is destroyed.  Finally, he closes with an important message: If we do no understand love then we do not understand ourselves because we are the result of God’s love.

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In his second appearance, Rev. Sirico explains why Pope Benedict XVI does not have any intention to declare himself in the middle of a political debate with the release of Caritas in Veritate.  The pope does not recommend a political model.  Instead, Caritas in Veritate is meant to lay down the principles on how to govern a society.  The encyclical accepts the reality and benefits of a market economy but states a market economy does not contain the moral guide that a society needs.  Rev. Sirico also asserts that the ambiguities that are in Caritas in Veritate are intentional.  Certain principles need an application which requires the virtue of prudence.  The pope allows ambiguity because this will foster a debate and from the debate the Church can gain a greater insight from what it is trying to get to and then re-articulate its message.  Rev. Sirico reminds us that it is important to understand that the Church’s social teaching is not a dogmatic pronouncement that is not debatable.  Instead, it is a dynamic process.

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Kathryn Lopez, editor of National Review Online, has a Townhall.com column on Caritas in Veritate titled, “Liberal Catholics Can’t Handle the Truth.”  Lopez looks at the commentary on Caritas in Veritate, especially by the left, and shows why the encyclical should not be politicized.  The encyclical is about truth, which can not be bent to advance a political agenda, she asserts.  Kishore Jayabalan, director of Acton’s Rome office, was also quoted in Lopez’s article:

Neither side . . . seems ready to take Benedict’s theology — his own field of expertise — seriously. Part of this is a result of our habitual, liberal-democratic tendency to separate Church and State and not let theological arguments influence our politics. This tendency invariably blinds us to the pope’s combination of respect for life with the demands of social justice. … Reading ‘Charity in Truth’ for partisan purposes can yield moments of agony and ecstasy for left and right alike.

Both Jayabalan and Lopez remind us to read Caritas in Veritate without politicizing it or categorizing it left or right.

John Hartley, the founder and editor of the International Journal of Cultural Studies, does for that journal something like what I did for the Journal of Markets & Morality awhile back. He takes his experience as an editor to reflect on the current state of the scholarly journal amid the challenges and opportunities in the digital age.

Hartley opens his study, “Lament for a Lost Running Order? Obsolescence and Academic Journals,” by concluding that “the academic journal is obsolete,” at least as regards to its “form – especially the print journal.”

There are a number of particular assertions made in support of this conclusion with which I would quibble. I stand by the prediction in my earlier piece, “Scholarship at the Crossroads: The Journal of Markets & Morality Case Study,” (PDF) in which I state, “for the foreseeable future electronic journals will not replace print journals, but both will exist together in a complementary fashion, each addressing different demands.”

But Hartley’s is an interesting and valuable perspective on the impact of digitization on academic journals. And I certainly agree with him that the complete digitization of journals and casting off the printed form “may reduce collegiate trust and fellow-feeling, increase individualist competitiveness, and inhibit innovation.”

He’s also certainly right in his preferred response to such possibilities: “In the face of that prospect, I’m going to keep on thinking about covers, running orders, referees and reading until the role of editor is obsolete too.”

One of the conclusions that resulted from the JMM case study was that instead of unlimited free access to all journal content, we would distinguish between “current” issues and “archived” issues. The former would require subscription to be accessed digitally, and the latter would be freely accessible (with some exceptions for special content). Thus far this solution seems to have worked well, despite the argument by some that in the “network” economy, “value is derived from plentitude” rather than scarcity.

To get access to current issues of the Journal of Markets & Morality, be sure to subscribe today.

Zenit published my article on the pope’s new social encyclical:

Encyclical Offers Opportunity to “Think With the Church”

By Jennifer Roback Morse

SAN MARCOS, California, JULY 17, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI’s “Caritas in Veritate” is his contribution to the course of Catholic social teaching.

Many commentators seem to read this document as if it were a think-tank white paper, and ask whether the Pope endorses their particular policy preferences. I must say that I surprised myself by not reflexively reading it in this way. After all, I spent many years teaching free-market economics.

I distinctly remember reading “Centesimus Annus” for the first time, and mentally checking to see if I agreed with it.

But this is not the correct way to read papal documents. The papacy’s prophetic role is to interpret the past, and provide guidance for the future, while avoiding the excesses of its own time.

In “Caritas in Veritate,” Benedict XVI argues for the centrality of moral considerations in both economics and politics. Without charity and truth, we cannot create a truly decent society, no matter how sophisticated our technology or how thorough-going our democracy.

Benedict XVI stresses the centrality of the social, cultural sphere for several reasons.

First, neither the economic nor the political spheres can function entirely on their own. Both the economic and the political sectors need to be peopled with individuals who have well-formed consciences. Therefore, economics and politics rely upon the Church, the family, and other social structures that shape the conscience.

Second, the cultural sphere needs its own defense. Both the economic and the political sectors have plenty of ideological defenders. The libertarian right seems to believe that the market can manage all of society. The socialist left seems to think that the government can solve every problem and wipe away every tear.

Extremists on both sides fail to respect culture’s distinctive role. (more…)

This morning, the New York Times reported that a broad bipartisan effort of senators convinced Democratic leadership to drop provisions in the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that would have weakened the right of workers to hold secret ballot elections to determine whether or not they would unionize.

EFCA had become known by many of its opponents as the “card check bill” because of its central proposal: if over half of workers at a firm signed cards authorizing a union to represent them, then there would be no federally-supervised election. An election would only happen if over a third of the workers specifically requested it before the card check benchmark was reached.

It is important to look at the different themes of Catholic social teaching regarding labor unions in order to understand the immorality of this suggestion. Pope Leo XIII’s social encyclical Rerum Novarum asserted the rights of workers to form associations in the late 19th century, saying that “to enter into a ‘society’ of this kind is the natural right of man.” Centesimus Annus, a social encyclical from Pope John Paul II, reiterated that the right to unionize exists “because the right of association is a natural right of the human being, which therefore precedes his or her incorporation into political society.” It is the right of free association that gives workers the right to unionize.

Free association among workers cannot be respected under card check schemes. EFCA had the potential to force millions of workers into unions that they did not want. Unions may be correct to argue that some businesses intimidate their workers into opposing collective bargaining, but the unions are guilty of intimidation, too. Unions can also have a direct impact on politics, too, by donating member dues to campaigns and using staff as campaign volunteers. Unions are also exempt from anti-monopoly laws, which allow them to exert far greater influence on the market than any business can.

Actions like these put many labor unions out of touch with Catholic social teaching. Pope Leo XIII warned that unions could seek to abuse their civil power by using it to harm workers and gain excessive power: “There is a good deal of evidence in favor of the opinion that many of these societies are in the hands of secret leaders, and are managed on principles ill-according with Christianity and the public well-being; and that they do their utmost to get within their grasp the whole field of labor, and force working men either to join them or to starve.” It is not unions in and of themselves that Catholic social doctrine supports; it is the right to join one if a worker so desires that is natural and good.

Workers have the right to join labor unions, and many find that it is in their best interests to do so. Many others disagree. Opposition to unionization is not just found in corporate boardrooms. The majority of American workers do not want to unionize. Some do not want their dues going to interests that they oppose. Others want to negotiate with their bosses directly over the compensation they receive. Still others do not want unions to hamper the competitiveness of their employers, as has happened in Detroit in recent years. Only secret ballot elections can determine whether or not workers find unions to be a worthwhile endeavor, no matter how much unions may protest that they do not get exclusive access to workers in order to make their points.

Preserving the right to secret ballot elections is the best way to ensure that all workers have the right to associate according to their own desires. Senators Blanche Lincoln, Mark Pryor, Tom Harkin, and their colleagues should be commended for honoring what Pope Benedict XVI, writing in the social encyclical Caritas in Veritate, calls the “valid distinction between the respective roles and functions of trade unions and politics” that “allows unions to identify civil society as the proper setting for their necessary activity of defending and promoting labor.”

“I vote for Democrats for one primary reason. They raise taxes on the rich.”

So says Michael Sean Winters at In All Things, the blog of the contributors to America Magazine. Of course, most Americans, perhaps even Mr. Winter, generally need excuses to raise taxes on the rich. The hottest reason at the moment is to pay for universal health care coverage. Winter likes this reason. If passed, he says that it will be the “first outstanding example of a policy that reflects Benedict’s call for a more just society,” a slight departure from his predictions at In All Things back on November 25, when he said that the now-accomplished bailouts of the Big Three automakers and the passage of an economic “stimulus” bill would help “strike a more just balance in society.”

But I digress.

Winter believes that the way to promote “social justice” includes taxing the super-rich, which he defines as “families making more than $350,000 per annum” in order to establish a new federally-controlled health care system. The good news for medical students is that you, too, can be super-rich. The bad news for Winter is that there are far more reasons to oppose universal health care and cranking up taxes on well-off Americans than just the need to “put off buying that bigger boat for a month, or doing the repairs on the Condo in the mountains” and the desire to “keep the abortion funding out of the (health care) bill.”

For example, Winter acknowledges that some on the Right will “rant that the proposal will stifle investment,” before he dismisses it as “an argument that only an academic can make.” Right he is. Only an academic would argue that Winter is wrong in saying that higher taxes could not possibly reduce investment because “whatever happens between you and the tax man, you will make investments that will earn you more income to begin with.” An academic, or someone with money in the stock market who has ever been forced to make choices after Tax Day. Regardless of their merit in any given case, higher taxes reduce investment. That is not some partisan talking point. It is the fact that people cannot put as much money in bank accounts or the stock market when the government takes money away from them. If Winter really wants to take up to $54,000 more in taxes out of the hands of as many as 6 million Americans, he better expect less investment. (more…)

Kevin Schmiesing, research fellow at the Acton Institute, was interviewed by Ave Maria Radio recently on Caritas in Veritate.  Schmiesing explains how the idea of human development and progress figure as central themes of the encyclical.  It is important to remember that our ethical advancement must be ahead of material human development, and our ethics must be paired with our personal development.  Furthermore, Schmiesing explains that Caritas in Veritate warns against an all encompassing role for the state.

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Kishore Jayabalan, director of Istituto Acton, was also interviewed by Ave Maria Radio on Caritas in Veritate.  Jayabalan talks about the ways trade has brought many countries out of poverty in contrast to government-to-government aid.  The importance of subsidiarity is scattered throughout Caritas in Veritate, and Jayabalan articulates that subsidiarity should only be expanded to more remote areas of the world when the local authority is unable to respond to the needs of the people.  Furthermore, Jayabalan explains how globalization has made us all neighbors, but to Pope Benedict XVI it is important that we make these neighbors our brothers.

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