Posts Tagged Acton Institute

Work Restores the Broken Family of Humankind

I recently pondered what might come of the global economy if we were to to put God at the forefront of our motives and decision-making. The question came as a reaction to Tim Keller, whose recent book calls on Christians to challenge their views about work. By re-orienting our work to be a “servant” instead of a “lord,” Keller argues, we will actually find more fulfillment in the work that we do.

Over at the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog, I take things a bit further, noting that our work, in its very essence, puts us in the service of others. To make the point, I rely heavily on Lester DeKoster’s Work: The Meaning of Your Life, in which he argues that “work is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others.”

As DeKoster explains:

Our working puts us in the service of others; the civilization that work creates puts others in the service of ourselves. Thus, work restores the broken family of humankind… Through work that serves others, we also serve God, and he in exchange weaves the work of others into a culture that makes our work easier and more rewarding…As seed multiplies into a harvest under the wings of the Holy Spirit, so work multiplies into a civilization under the intricate hand of the same Spirit.

If we change our thinking on this, orienting our work first toward God and then toward neighbor, we will experience not only a transformation of our basic spiritual commitments but of civilization at large—social, economic, and spiritual.

Today, we are seeing this truth play out in bold and mysterious ways. If globalization has demonstrated anything, it’s the transformational power of expansive human collaboration and cooperation—the transcendent, liberating experience of diverse and interdependent human service. The more freedom and opportunity people have been given to orient their work toward God and neighbor, the more we have seen them rise from poverty in all its forms.

Yet amid such a vivid display, there is still plenty of room for growth. As the winning rhetoric of the recent election demonstrates, our discussions on everything from farm subsidies to auto bailouts to union insulationism to company off-shoring are still plagued by a protectionist ethos that seeks to distort the very essence of work for the mere purposes of personal comfort and self-satisfaction. Instead of asking how we might elevate our work to more accurately and comprehensively meet real and existing human needs, we continue to glorify work as an idol to ourselves.

As Keller and DeKoster remind us, we must fight this temptation with diligence, praying for Read the rest of this entry »

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Corresponding the Shape of Good Economics to the Shape of the Gospel

Shape of EconomicsOver at the Acton Institute PowerBlog, I piggy-back on a recent Michael Bull post to offer a reminder that we needn’t give all the credit to the market when we reap the benefits of market exchange, free trade and globalization.

For Christians in particular, we should view capitalism as a launching pad for spiritual and social transformation, not a mere means to materialistic ends:

Capitalism is, after all, a mere framework for human engagement. Although the constraints it imposes (“thou shalt not steal”) and the features it elevates (ownership, stewardship, risk, and sacrifice) may fit well within a broader Christian context, it says more about what we can and can’t do than what we might or might not imagine or accomplish…

… For the Christian, then, capitalism provides a simple baseline from which we can launch, holding the potential to lead us toward a broader, deeper network through which we can more freely and fully obey the callings of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we proclaim good news to the poor. In allowing for this free-flow of individual callings, we are given opportunities and choices that many other systems would assume on our behalf.

As Bull writes, we as Christians are called to reach beyond the bare minimum—a truth I’ve emphasized routinely here on the blog:

The final step of Covenant is that you, the risk taker, become a shelter, a house, for the helpless. The final step is generosity. Capitalism only works in a moral society. This is why we can correspond the shape of good economics to the shape of the Gospel. Jesus gave His life to give abundant life to us all. He believed in the promise made to Him by the Father, the promise of resurrection—a new body. Poverty was not something to be embraced eternally. Christian socialists forget that Jesus now owns everything. All the great saints were rich people who risked their wealth for even greater wealth, a wealth that included a legacy of other people—a household. The “glory that was set before Him” was also the glory of the Church, a new body that includes every believer. Jesus Himself is our covering. We are only saved because of His atonement, His “covering.” He, the king of kings, the great Land Lord, is our shelter. Read the rest of this entry »

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Christian Mattress Merchants Reach Beyond Economic Exchange

Urban Mattress, Christian businessOver at the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog, I discuss a recent article at Christianity Today on a mattress business whose Christian owners seek to transform what many see as “one of the sleaziest industries in the world.”

From the article:

Rietema and Steve Van Diest, both former campus ministers, are bringing rest—and integrity—back to a business largely devoid of it. Four years ago, a Christian entrepreneur invited the Colorado natives to begin deploying their relational abilities in strip malls rather than on college campuses. They now co-own three Urban Mattress stores in Denver and have franchised four more. And, they argue, their current work is just as important as their former ministry….

…”I don’t have to do mental gymnastics with the product I sell,” Van Diest says. “It’s not a frivolous item. It’s not an image-conscious product. People come here after being worn down by horrible sleep, replete with aches and pain. If we can provide them with a small glimpse of grace for a third of their lives, that’s kingdom work. That matters to God.”

There is plenty to admire about Urban Mattress, but one of the most striking features in the article is the intimate nature of many of their customer interactions. Here, I argue that Christians should pay close attention. The social, moral, and spiritual implications of Christian business – nay, all business – stretch beyond philanthropy and sound business practices:

On this, Urban Mattress provides a good lesson not only on the broader implications of our economic transactions, but also on the broader potential of Christian business in general. Far too often we confine our thinking about Christian business to areas like philanthropy or “corporate evangelism.” By going further and offering this type of personal customer service, these owners show us how there can be more exchange in exchange than we allow for or recognize, whether social, psychological, or spiritual.

When we engage in the marketplace, whether as producers or consumers, there is something transcendent Read the rest of this entry »

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On Celebrating Bono’s Pro-Capitalism Conversion

Bono, ONE Campaign, capitalismI recently wrote about Bono’s recent comments on capitalism, arguing that although I’m not overly optimistic about the trajectory of his interventionist efforts, it marks a healthy development in any do-gooder’s evolution from hasty top-down planner to careful ground-up cultivator.

Over at the Hang Together blog, Greg Forster urges us to have more optimism about the Goggled One, arguing that even rhetorical developments are cause for encouragement:

Here’s my thinking. A big change has been slowly percolating for a while in the Christian international aid space. On-the-ground practice has not changed yet. But their social system of legitimization – the network of gatekeepers who anoint what’s good and what’s bad – are increasingly embracing the need for the kinds of changes we want. Bono is only the most recent example.

And it’s getting harder and harder to dismiss this as partisan rhetoric or libertarian ideology as more and more people who self-identify as progressives are getting on the bandwagon. Again, Bono is only the most recent example.

The big aid organizations have responded by adopting the rhetoric of change. I recall seeing promotional materials from World Vision that talked about helping people develop economic independence. Of course they’re not actually doing that, but the fact that they have to say they are is a canary in the coal mine for them.

It’s a little like how Democratic judicial nominees now have to clothe themselves in the rhetoric of judicial restraint in a way they never had to fifteen years ago. Or how the teachers’ unions have had to adopt the rhetoric of teacher performance and even choice. Or how President Obama has had to adopt the rhetoric of free enterprise and even pick up Arthur Brooks’ “earned success” language. As in those fields, so in this one: it’s an early sign that we’re winning. The gap between their words and their deeds will grow, and the pressure for real change is only going to get bigger.

They key for us now, as I see it, is to capitalize on this change without falling into either of two pitfalls. On the one hand, we don’t want to drive away our new friends. Joe Sunde’s skepticism in the post I linked above, while reasonable, needs to be tempered somewhat. We don’t want to punish people for moving in our direction, we want to reward them! (We believe that incentives affect behavior, right?)

Forster makes a good point about celebrating when there’s cause for celebration. I have no desire to punish folks like Bono for any movement they make in the direction of markets. My intent was merely to offer a cautionary qualification amidst the balloons and streamers. But perhaps I could’ve tooted my kazoo a bit louder up front.

I also think Forster’s point on rhetoric is a good one: “the gap between their words and their deeds will grow, and the pressure for real change is only going to get bigger.” School choice and judicial restraint are good examples of this, but I still think we need to call out mere rhetoric as mere rhetoric and guide people to an understanding of what real solutions look like beyond and before the rhetoric.

“Before the rhetoric?” you ask? Indeed, in my own thoughts on the matter, I was actually aiming to celebrate something preceding Bono’s words, particularly his new humbled attitude about the limitations of his own human hands, quite apart from any specific endorsement of this or that political or economic solution.

It’s no coincidence, of course, that this humbled approach to development and poverty alleviation has led him where it’s led him: to capitalism.

Read Forster’s full post here.

Also, read Ryan Anderson’s comments here.

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Bono Abandons Babel?

U2 singerThere’s been a bit of buzz over Bono’s recent remarks about the positive role of markets in reducing global poverty and spurring economic development (HT):

The Irish singer and co-founder of ONE, a campaigning group that fights poverty and disease in Africa, said it had been “a humbling thing for me” to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurialism in philanthropy, particularly as someone who “got into this as a righteous anger activist with all the cliches.”

“Job creators and innovators are just the key, and aid is just a bridge,” he told an audience of 200 leading technology entrepreneurs and investors at the F.ounders tech conference in Dublin. “We see it as startup money, investment in new countries. A humbling thing was to learn the role of commerce.”

I’m a bit skeptical about the broader significance of these remarks on Bono’s activism, but I do think they’re illuminating. Over at the Acton Institute, I argue that Bono’s new humbled attitude is precisely what we need in our attempts to improve economic development:

Although I’m not overly confident that Bono’s sudden self-awareness is enough to radically shift his aid efforts away from fostering dependency, this small admission helps illuminate one of our key obstacles to doing good in the world: overzealousness paired with overconfidence.

Bono describes his realization as a “humbling thing,” and “humbling” is precisely what the foreign aid experts and economic planners could use. As Friedrich Hayek famously wrote, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” As the story of the Tower of Babel well confirms, man has a natural disposition to think he knows more than he knows and can construct beyond what he can construct—all to make a name for himself. The juice of righteous anger is a powerful enabler, and once it’s pumping through our veins it takes even less time for our human tendencies to escalate. After all, we’re only out to deliver humanity to heaven’s doorstep.

Such overconfidence in our own designs can be particularly destructive in the realm of economics, a science that’s in a constant battle over whether it should seek to explain human action, control it, or bypass it altogether. Such planners find a perfect match in eager activists such as Bono. “We can build your tower to heaven,” they’ll say, “and you can make a name for yourself. If only the right policy buttons are pushed and the right economic equilibrium is arranged, the world can be set to rights.”

Of all people, Christians should be aware of the deeper spiritual questions we should be asking, cautious not to be wise in our own eyes:

The economic engineer’s intrusion goes well beyond barging into more natural and effective social institutions. For in doing so, he treats dignified man and the unpredictable, invaluable relationships in which he engages as the mere mingling of predictable pieces in a larger static game. Such an intrusion should cause great alarm for those of us seeking restoration among the suffering. For how can we hope to improve conditions for the human person if we skip past what it means to be a human person? For the Christian in particular, God instructs each of us to do what the Lord wills. Are we really to Read the rest of this entry »

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Cooperation, Competition, and Social Preservation

Busy MarketIn a continuation of my commentary on David Brooks’ analysis of modern conservatism, I offer a few more thoughts at the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog. Channeling Richard Epstein’s views on the ways in which market cooperation and competition provide a fundamental basis for social order and preservation, I re-emphasize that a heavy emphasis on economic freedom is crucial for a renewed traditionalist conservatism. It’s less of a “tension” than Brooks thinks:

I agree [with Brooks] that conservatism needs a renewed intellectual foundation brought about by a return to these emphases [i.e. custom, social harmony, and moral preservation], yet I disagree that a lopsided devotion to “economic freedom” is what’s stalling us. If we hope to restore traditionalist conservatism, we’d do well to recognize that this means restoring economic conservatism along with it. Brooks is upset that dogmatic pro-market folks have seized the Republican Party, yet this is the same Republican Party that nominated the architect of Romneycare and can’t seem to get serious about the deficit.

Conservatism is faltering all around, and the reasons for each sect’s demise are more or less interrelated. As I’ve written elsewhere, we need to restore a holistic conservative imagination that ties its social and economic strains together by grounding them both in Russell Kirk’s “enduring moral order.”

For David Brooks, restoration is all about “balance,” but for the true conservative, it needs to be about integration.

But Eptsein says all this much, much better, pointing specifically to the role that markets play in channeling voluntary action through competition and cooperation. The real threat to social preservation, for Epstein, lies elsewhere:

The sad truth here is that the government can suppress freedom and competition in economic markets, and can also wreak great destruction to the voluntary associations that operate in other areas. One recent vivid example of government overreaching is the determined effort of the Obama administration to insist that Roman Catholic institutions should provide insurance coverage for contraception.

The greatest threat to the intermediate institutions that social conservatives rightly extol is not markets. It is Read the rest of this entry »

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The Moral Case for a Free Economy: An Interview with Father Robert Sirico

Rev. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, recently released a new book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, in which he aims to overturn common stereotypes of capitalism and dig into the real moral implications of free enterprise. Applying his usual wit and theological depth, Fr. Sirico delivers fundamental moral arguments for why capitalism does not , as the narrative goes, promote greed, selfishness, and cruelty, but instead leverages human creativity and generosity. More importantly, Fr. Sirico contemplates how we might use our economic systems to further realize our relationship with God and man.

In this interview with Remnant Culture, Fr. Sirico discusses some of the key topics of his book, including consumerism, Ayn Rand, equality, health care, and the common “caricature” of economic man.

Of course, I encourage you to read the book in full.

One of the most popular arguments Christians make against free enterprise is that it is based on or driven by consumerism. In your book, you argue that consumerism actually makes capitalism “impossible over the long term.” How so?

Of course, we all consume. That is a fact of life. The Christian concern is not with the fact that we have to consume things (as thought we were Gnostics who did not believe in the goodness of the created world), but that we not be consumed by things.

The capitalist cycle depends on people using whatever goods they have to produce something valuable for their neighbors, and making a profit in the process. People then reinvest their profit into expanding their business, and making more profit. It’s a virtuous cycle. If an individual immediately rushes out and spends every last cent he earns today, he would have nothing left over for reinvesting and expanding for tomorrow, and thus there would be no means for sustaining his business, not to mention obtaining daily necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing.

In writing about your “undoing” as a leftist, you describe a moment when you realized that the questions you were asking about Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman were similar to “the simple queries that the tall nun had posed to our First Holy Communion Class” — questions about who made the world, who God is, and why God made us. Why did studying economics inspire a return to these questions, and why are such questions important for us to consider when contemplating economics?

There is something “underneath” economics.  Economics is not really about money and charts and statistics. It is essentially about human interaction. At the center of each economic transaction stands the human person. When we talk about tax levels or private property or inflation, we are talking about realities that have profound effects on the ways people live their lives, and the ways they interact with each other. When you see that economic conditions influence the decisions people make and alter their lifestyles, you realize that people react negatively to things they view as violating their intrinsic dignity. High tax levels can be immoral not only because of the negative effects they have, but simply because it is immoral to take an inordinate amount of what someone has worked hard to earn. Pope John Paul II has made clear that unemployment is a grave wrong because it jeopardizes the lives of workers and their families.

Studying these economic realities forces you to go back to those basic questions: Who is man? How much may a government justly take from its citizens? What are the limits of government? What are its responsibilities? Much more than numbers are at stake here: intrinsic human dignity, flourishing and rights hang in the balance.

Advocates of free enterprise are often assumed to be robotic devotees of Ayn Rand, the atheist novelist and promoter of a so-called “virtue of selfishness.” Yet you argue that Rand’s beliefs stand in conflict with the very free enterprise system she claimed to support. Where are Christians to find themselves between Randian individualism and Marxist collectivism?

Rand’s theory is self-defeating because it denies the fact that the free market is based on Read the rest of this entry »

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Is “Christian Libertarian” an Oxymoron?

I don’t think the answer is necessarily “yes,” but I have some serious reservations with many prominent attempts to synthesize the two.

Joe Carter contemplates the question at the Acton Institute in response to this post by friend-of-the-blog and co-blogger at Values & Capitalism, Jacqueline Otto (though hers is actually a different response to yet another Carter post). The back-and-forth is well worth reading in full.

I certainly don’t consider myself a “libertarian,” but in my early deep-dive into politics I was actually quite close to crossing over. I still find myself swimming in many libertarian ponds, and I actually enjoy doing so (most of the time). What else is an economics-loving conservative to do?

Indeed, given my many inclinations toward libertarianism in the economics realm, and even some in the social (e.g. drug laws), some of my many (many, many) Christian libertarian readers might have even assumed that this blog was itself an attempt to reconcile the two. Fooled ya!

Anywho, Carter breaks his discussion down into five distinct types of Christian libertarians:

  • Type #1: Those who have developed a consistent philosophy in which libertarianism and Christianity are fully compatible.
  • Type #2: Those who mash the two words together.
  • Type #3: Those for whom the “Christian” in Christian libertarian is a weak modifier
  • Type #4: Christians who are really conservatives, but don’t like the label conservative
  • Type #5: Those who are Not-all-that-Christian and/or Not-all-that-Libertarian

I responded to his post with some initial “informal” reactions (not around any particular theme), so I thought I’d repost them here (albeit with some minor edits for this environment). Again, these are responses to the back-and-forth, so I encourage you to start by reading Carter’s post. Given that many of my favorite readers are self-described Christian libertarians, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and critiques about Carter’s post, my reactions, or all of the above. 

1. The libertarian movement is diverse.

And this is the case with the movement Type #1s. One of the challenges in such a discussion is that there are many different types of libertarians. This is, I think, largely due to that whole Internet popularization thing Carter speaks to. You’ve got the folks who like Milton Friedman, and then you’ve got those who think he is the devil because he semi-collaborated with Reagan and the Republicans and was, um, kinda sorta practical and effective. Likewise, you’ve got the folks who love Hayek (who detest Friedman), and then you’ve got those who think Hayek was Read the rest of this entry »

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Remnant Culture on The RJ Moeller Show

Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know RJ Moeller, founder of A Voice in the Wilderness, fellow blogger at Common Sense Concept, and more recently, illustrious host of the RJ Moeller Show podcast.

In the beginning of June, RJ was kind enough to have me on his show to talk about my personal background (boring!) and how/why Remnant Culture came to be (hopefully less boring). Topics include collective salvation, my indifference to American sports, and what, if anything, the recent tendency to prefix everything with “post-“ might mean (“post-postmodernism!”).

Listen to my first appearance on the podcast here.

Later that month, while attending Acton University in Grand Rapids, MI, I had the chance to spend some time with RJ in person (great guy…loves a good burrito). Throughout the week, RJ was busy recording a variety of bits for his podcast and was kind enough to invite me on again, this time along with a motley gang of other Acton U attendees, including Matt Levon, Britton Smith, and Drew Cleveland. Topics here include Acton U, recommended summer reading, and why Gordon Bombay is the best hope for the GOP.

Listen to the Acton U round-up here.

The podcast is relatively fresh on the market (only a few months old), but it’s quickly gaining steam, already hosting the likes of comedian Adam Carolla, Stand to Reason speaker Alan Shlemon, and WORLD Magazine editor Marvin Olasky.

It’s likely I’ll pop on the show again in the future, and will be sure to keep you posted. In the meantime, you can subscribe for yourself on iTunes or simply follow RJ’s blog.

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PovertyCure: Focus on Human Potential, Not Despair

I’ve written about PovertyCure in the past, but in the months since, their mission has taken significant shape. Thus, I thought it fitting to give their efforts an additional plug.

You can start by watching their promotional video, which sums up their approach quite effectively.

Share and distribute as you will:

The newly expanded web site contains a variety of valuable media resources, along with a mission statement and list of key issues that are strikingly on-target. Overall, it’s refreshing to see an anti-poverty campaign so unabashedly centered on human potential rather than human despair — one that seeks to build on truths we know rather than merely pacify or tame social chaos in the immediate.

At the center of all this must be the individual — the sacred human person whose plan and purpose in life needs locomotion, not bandaids. If we see fundamental change on that level, the rest will Read the rest of this entry »

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