Posts Tagged government
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 »
In a recent campaign speech, President Obama doubled down on what has become a streak of denigrating business and pooh-poohing individual initiative.
The quote in question:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me because they want to give something back…If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen…The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
Although the President’s “you didn’t build that” line is the center of attention, such a response is only logical for those who believe, more fundamentally, that enduring excessive tax hikes is an ideal way to “give something back.” When from the government all blessings flow, then to the government all things must go.
On a more practical level, the notion of “giving back” through increased taxes assumes that any funds we have “given” to the government are somehow being over utilized—that we are getting too big of a bang for our buck, particularly if we go do something leechy like start a business. For Obama, it seems as though rich people and business owners in particular are getting above and beyond what they have contributed to our bloated federal bureaucracy, so how dare they push back when asked to “give back”? By this logic, our federal deficit is really a deficit of “giving back.” The federal government has not overpromised and under-delivered; we citizens have overly devoured and under-“given.”
Talking this way quickly becomes problematic, particularly because the word “give” is being used to describe something that “giving” is not (thus my excessive use of quotation marks thus far—my apologies). President Obama is not talking about business owners “giving something back” through charity, community service, social entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability, or, God forbid, value creation. He is talking about business owners submitting to his coercive political agenda, a primary plank of which happens to be making rich people pay for things they don’t want to pay for by getting non-rich majorities to throw stones at them.
Sounds like a good model for “giving something back.”
Yet I’m not one to say that we can’t give something back through government, or even that we shouldn’t. We should be thankful for the successes of government—for the positive achievements it has made toward maintaining social order and creating conditions for human flourishing. Plenty of people gave something to make these achievements possible, material or not. Indeed, as an example of purely material “giving,” Warren Buffett and Rep. Scott Rigell have participated in just that, donating freely and willingly to the IRS. If this is what Obama is advocating—voluntary contributions to the federal deficit—it would be far less problematic, though perhaps still inadvisable (show me the cuts).
So yes, we can and should give back to our communities and institutions, including government, and we should recognize that others have contributed to our successes through their own generosity and commitment (a point aptly made by Jordan Ballor).
But Obama is saying something quite different, for when this notion of “giving something back” is wielded as Obama wields it—toward his own narrow, explicitly coercive purposes—we should recognize that Read the rest of this entry »
Independence Day is on everyone’s mind, and thus, you should make time to read President Calvin Coolidge’s speech on the Declaration of Independence.
Coolidge contemplates what led the founders to write what they did and what inclined Americans to follow their lead. He is convinced that spiritual inclinations and orientation played the most important role:
Before we can understand [the founders’] conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.
The founders’ religious leanings were certainly diverse, but as Coolidge notes, their “wide acquaintance with the Scriptures” was a primary force in the development of their political thought. It was not only by the economic wisdom of Hamilton or the intellectual prowess of Jefferson that our country became what it is today. Something deeper and more profound was going on—something spiritual.
As Coolidge concludes:
No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.
We must reframe our thinking and realign our pursuits to “the things that are holy.” It is not by our material prosperity that we have become great, but through our spiritual empowerment and obedience to a higher order. When we as individuals are made free, we have the ability to pursue our dreams and achieve greatness, but we must remember to align those dreams and achievements to the source of all things good.
Happy Fourth of July! Above all, let’s celebrate the “things of the spirit.”
The makers of Instagram, a popular iPhone photo-sharing app, recently sold their company to Facebook for $1 billion. The company was founded a mere 18 months ago by a pair of twentysomethings. It has only 12 employees and brings in no revenue. No big deal.
This week at Values and Capitalism, I look at the story through a broader lens, pondering the implications of such sudden, unexpected technological changes and successes, particularly on those who think prosperity comes from creating five/ten/twenty-year plans to boost Industry/Company/Product X.
Here’s an excerpt:
The problem for the predictors and planners is that despite whatever economic or moral arguments they so cunningly concoct to justify shoving widgets X, Y and Z down our throats, one big, stubborn, complicating reality persists: as innovation continues, needs and desires change.
You can shake the Almighty Government Eight Ball all day long, but even if you get it right and are able to calculate some end-game net profitability for artificially propping up Failing Company X or Greenie Wizard Lab Y, who knows if such a plan will stay workable or cost-effective by tomorrow? Obama can toot the Subsidize Wind Farms horn till the ears of his great grandchildren are bleeding with debt, but what happens when Engineer Suzie wakes up the next morning with an idea for a cheaper, greener, more effective solution? Sorry Suzie, but we’ve already rolled the dice.
Yet this, I argue, is more than just an economic argument:
If you haven’t noticed, this is a clear economic problem (e.g. ethanol), yet coming at it from that angle will be unlikely to influence many progressives, whose positions, whether they admit it or not, rest mostly on rash-and-puffy moral superiority and a quest for control (e.g. “Smart Cars contribute to the common good, not your cute little digital Polaroids”). I’ll save those arguments for another day, because within the economic argument against this contorted game of Pick Your Favorites lies a different moral message about the way we view humans and human potential.
In short: Needs and desires change because people change.
To assume that the government can successfully pick winners and losers economically—whether with products, business or entire industries—is to assume that we humans live, or want to live, in a static world filled with static individuals who conceive of themselves in static terms. We will always buy what we currently buy, know what we currently know and pursue absolutely nothing of real value unless ole Goodie Government tells us otherwise.
But that’s not the way humans are, or, at the very least, that’s not what we were intended to be.
As much as folks might want to wield our semi-free economy toward constructing temples to Gaia and propping up eat-your-veggies initiatives, the market is or should primarily be about facilitating human engagement and human interaction. Such facilitation is integral to empowering human vocation, which should primarily informed by God and any on-the-ground cultural, social and religious institutions. All those select progressive “moral” causes might be fine-and-dandy as individual vocations in individual markets on any individual day of the year, but who is to say they are better or more desirable than innovating a new way to use our smartphones? (Don’t answer that, Joe Biden.)
To read the full post, click here.
By Josh Lowery, Guest Contributor
On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, remembrance took many forms around the country and even the world. For my own part, 9/11/11 was more emotional than 9/11/01.
Ten years ago, the most lasting image came from sitting in an over-crowded student lounge where I watched the events live, along with about one hundred other people, on a big screen TV. As the first of the two towers began to actually fall, it was surreal, and as a self-absorbed, 20-year-old college junior who had a small world view and a very small frame of reference for tragedy, I watched in stunned numbness.
Ten years later, at about the same time in the morning as when the second plane hit, I found myself rehearsing music for my church’s 10:00 a.m. service. During a brief break on stage, the media guy played about 10 seconds of a video to test the sound. The video was a roughly 2-minute-long audio montage of distress calls, media reaction and on-the-street sound bites from that terrible day, coupled with a stream of quotes from world leaders and dignitaries encapsulating the unity, resolve and general “oneness” that we all experienced in the immediate aftermath. After hearing a mere five seconds worth of audio, I found myself cascading quickly into a visible emotional state. I began nervously pacing around in a 5-foot radius of where I was standing (I was wearing a guitar that was plugged in at the time). I’d been caught off-guard by those sudden, interrupting sound bites and had a much more emotional reaction in a very short period of time than I did on 9/11/01 when the tragedy itself was unfolding.
What followed throughout the rest of that morning at church was a time of reflection ranging from inspirational to downright uncomfortable. There was an open mic (which is all you need know in order to imagine the possibilities), but all in all, the morning was memorable and served a good and proper purpose.
I then came home and was treated, courtesy of Facebook, to a host of 9/11 “reflection” articles representing an array of political persuasions. One in particular came from Tony Campolo’s blog, in which Kurt Willems, a self-identified Anabaptist, discusses the Last Supper.
Willems notes that despite Jesus’ “intel” on what Judas had already done (and was soon to do), Jesus nonetheless washed his feet along with those of the other disciples. Willems’ marveling of this as one of the most profound enactments by Jesus of his command that we love our enemies is something I absolutely resonate with. I would even go so far as to say that, short of perhaps the Crucifixion itself, this act stands above all other Gospel anecdotes in this regard.
But after this point, the writer and I sharply diverge. Willems takes what is a beautiful, practical, spiritual lesson from the life of Jesus and uses it as a political springboard. It surpasses the ironic that this would come from someone who belongs to a community of writers and activists who sanctimoniously criticize the “religious right” for its uneasy marriage of faith and patriotism. According to Willems, we should view Jesus Christ Himself as equal parts God and policy wonk. We are to look on Jesus’ washing of Judas’ feet as an all-encompassing metaphor for how national foreign policy should be executed.
After conceding that “this humble act was contextual in its application for people in the First Century,” Willems abruptly changes his tone, ambiguously chastising a myriad of nameless American churches for Read the rest of this entry »
I have recently criticized Jim Wallis & Friends for their blind, cultish support of “programs focused on reducing” (a blurry category, to be sure), which, as they tell us, are integral to helping the “least of these” and doing “what God requires.”
Taking a different tack is Rick Perry, governor of Texas and the latest to join a crowded field of GOP presidential candidates.
Over a week ago, Perry held a religious rally in Houston called “The Response,” in which he aimed to lead Americans to fast and pray for their country (“fascists!!”). Upon hearing about the event, I feared it could be a repeat of Glenn Beck’s fluffy relativism festival held last fall. But behold, Perry spoke directly and absolutely, cutting clear lines between church and state and not making any attempt to shy away from the name of Jesus.
“His agenda is not a political agenda,” Perry said. “His agenda is a salvation agenda.”
Watch the speech here:
In the weeks preceding, Perry garnered significant criticism from progressives everywhere, who strived to paint his beliefs as ridiculous (“prayer!? seriously?!”) and portray the event as a nasty conflation of politics and religion.
Oddly enough, Perry made the distinctions pretty clear:
He is a wise, wise God, and he’s wise enough to not be affiliated with any political party, or for that matter, he’s wise enough not to be affiliated with any man-made institutions. He’s calling all Americans of all walks of life to seek him, to return to him, to experience his love and his grace and his acceptance – experience a full-filled life, regardless of the circumstances.
I don’t mean this to be a full endorsement of Perry — he makes me nervous on federalism and corporatism — and I am not fully aware of his past when it comes to handling the intersection of politics and faith. But what he Read the rest of this entry »