Archive for March, 2011
In a recent post at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Jeffrey Tucker tries to explain why modern religious people have such a hard time grappling with economics. (“Why Religious People Struggle with Economics”)
Indeed, although the discipline was originally systemized by Catholics in the 15th and 16th centuries (as Tucker duly notes), today’s Christians — whether Protestant or Catholic, progressive or conservative — often fail miserably in their attempts to comment on the subject. This, after all, is why I started this blog in the first place.
For Tucker, the roots of the problem go much deeper than a lack of mere knowledge:
It’s not just that the writers, as thoughtful as they might otherwise be on all matters of faith and morals, do not know anything about economic theory. The problem is even more foundational: the widespread tendency is to deny the validity of the science itself. It is treated as some kind of pseudoscience invented to thwart the achievement of social justice or the realization of the perfectly moral utopia of faith. They therefore dismiss the entire discipline as forgettable and maybe even evil. It’s almost as if the entire subject is outside their field of intellectual vision.
If one exists, lives, and thinks primarily in the realm of the nonscarce good, the problems associated with scarcity — the realm that concerns economics — will always be elusive. To be sure, it might seem strange to think of things such as grace, ideas, prayers, and images as goods, but this term merely describes something that is desired by people. (There are also things we might describe as nongoods, which are things that no one wants.) So it is not really a point of controversy to use this term. What really requires explanation is Read the rest of this entry »
In my most recent post at Common Sense Concept, I take a look at Bill Easterly’s recent interview with economist Deirdre McCloskey, author of the new book, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World.
McCloskey seeks to topple our conventional views of what leads to economic growth, arguing that much of it comes down to maintaining proper attitudes about liberty and dignity.
Her thesis, as explained in the interview, is as follows:
Modern economic growth — that stunning increase from $3 a day in 1800 worldwide to now upwards of $130 a day in the richest countries, and anyway $30 as a worldwide average — can’t be accounted for in the usual and materialist ways. It wasn’t trade, investment, exploitation, imperialism, education, legal changes, genes, science. It was innovation, such as cheap steel and the modern university, supported by an entirely new attitude towards the middle class, emerging from Holland around 1600. (It has parallels in classical music and mathematics and politics, in all of which the Europeans burst out, 1600-1800.)
As usual, I turn McCloskey’s theory toward Christianity, and more specifically, evangelicalism, examining how evangelicals tend to view such elements (nowadays) and whether those views are attributable to some recent sociological trend or the belief system itself.
To use the evangelical sphere as an example, there seems to be an increasingly common sociological disdain for innovation and markets, which seems to imply that the “tenets” of evangelicalism conflict with Read the rest of this entry »
Hans Rosling recently gave a TED talk on the immense productivity that has come with industrialization (HT). To demonstrate such benefits, Rosling centers his discussion around the washing machine, a tool most Westerners simply take for granted.
Although Rosling puts significant emphasis on the silliness and hypocrisy that permeates the green movement, he concludes his talk by pointing back to the productivity factor. When products assume tasks for us — particularly labor- and time-intensive tasks — we are free to pursue other endeavors.
In the case of Rosling’s mother, the washing machine gave her time to go to the library, teach herself English, and inspire a love for scholarship in her son. Such stories should prompt all of us to think critically about Read the rest of this entry »
This week at Ethika Politika, I examine two distinct approaches to the common good, one of which thinks it can be dictated, and another of which thinks it must be discovered.
Using Michael Tomasky’s now-famous essay as a starting point, I examine the fundamental errors in assuming that the common good can be achieved by enacting pushy policies from the top down.
…In Tomasky’s view, the common good is not something we should participate in or collaborate toward; rather, it is a god we should be “demanded” to serve. It is not a goal to pursue, a mystery to unravel, or a fight to win, but a preexisting plan to be enacted – a candyland of utopian perfectionism, ready and waiting to be implemented in full. No longer must we waste our time “cultivating conditions” for a moral society, for such an achievement only requires that a legion of properly informed elites step up to the task — followed, of course, by a nation of noble slaves, anxiously awaiting direction and correction from their masters on top of the hill.
An additional problem with Tomasky’s approach is his false dichotomy between individual and community interests.
The real tension, I argue, is between top-down direction and organic imperative:
For the progressive, being “asked to contribute to a project larger than ourselves” (Tomasky) is akin to being bumped into submission by the bureaucrat’s billy club. In the approach presented here, such demands come primarily through the guidance our personal journeys, community struggles, and, above all, our moral understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Whereas the top-downers believe that truth is already known and thus freedom is unnecessary, the bottom-uppers see a world in which truth must be actively pursued, with freedom being the only thing that will get us there.
I also point to Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises along the way, whose “harmony of all individual interests” provides great support.
To read the full post, click here.
More specifically, I examine the centrality of sacrifice in the Christian pursuit and the corresponding importance of grounding that sacrifice in the divine rather than the debased.
Here’s an excerpt:
We must move beyond our humanistic perceptions of generosity, pushing energetically toward a more heavenly orientation — one that is led by the Spirit rather than the flesh. As Kelly Kapic argues in his recent book, Jesus’ death on the Cross is not just a gift, but an invitation to participate in God’s unique movement of divine generosity.
To explore this point further, I look at a story in the Gospel of John in which Mary lavishes Jesus’ feet with expensive ointment. Judas scolds Mary for wasting precious resources, claiming that they would be better sacrificed on behalf of the poor.
Jesus responds with this: “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
As I argue in the post, Jesus is pointing to Judas’ fundamentally materialistic perspective of generosity — a view that sees human individuals (and their resources) as static and predictable variables to be manipulated through “generosity.”
As far as how this might contribute to our views about politics or Read the rest of this entry »
I recently wrote a piece at Ethika Politika discussing the problems we encounter when we pursue unity for the sake of unity. My basic argument — which is partially borrowed from Kenneth Minogue — is that moderation lends itself toward ambivalence, and ambivalence wanders from truth.
In this case, Chesterton points to the differences between artificial unity and active love (a close cousin of truth).
It is just here that Buddhism is on the side of modern pantheism and immanence. And it is just here that Christianity is on the side of humanity and liberty and love. Love desires personality; therefore love desires division.
It is the instinct of Christianity to be glad that God has broken the universe into little pieces, because they are living pieces. It is her instinct to say “little children love one another” rather than to tell one large person to love himself.
This notion of being “living pieces” translates quite well into an individualistic approach to our public endeavors, particularly when we consider the benefits that can come from active struggle and engagement.
Chesterton continues, noting that Jesus made it clear his blood and sacrifice would provoke division, not soften it:
We come back to the same tireless note touching the nature of Christianity; all modern philosophies are chains which connect and fetter; Christianity is a sword which separates and sets free. No other philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the Read the rest of this entry »
John Piper recently released several videos to coincide with the 25th-anniversary release of his defining work, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. As I have written elsewhere, the book’s primary aim is to demonstrate that “the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”
The book changed my life (no exaggeration), and much of its contents support Remnant Culture’s overarching thesis. Thus, it is no coincidence that one of these videos hits at the very core of what Radical Individualism is all about.
Piper’s main point is centered around Matthew 13:44, in which Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven as “a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up.” To gain the treasure, the man joyfully sells all that he has and purchases the field. (I have commented on this previously.)
In other words, to gain the Kingdom of Heaven, we must be willing to trade in everything. This requires a drastic regeneration of our understanding of value itself, which means that the resulting exchange will not involve an isolated choice or decision in human terms. Instead, the transformative experience of coming to know Christ will necessarily lead to Read the rest of this entry »
Cassidy’s piece provides a good overview of Islamic economic history (or, at least, one side of it). His eventual conclusion, however, does not exhibit the degree of critical curiosity that one would hope for. In the end, I think his approach is largely limiting to our discussions about the relationship between religion and economic growth.
According to Cassidy, we are not to analyze Islam itself as a religious belief system. Instead, we should focus on more “predictable” indicators of economic activity.
[Cassidy points to] more “traditional methods” of analysis, such as focusing on “the way beliefs are codified and institutionalized,” rather than dwelling on theology, philosophy or moral doctrine (as Weber and Novak do). For Cassidy, the matters related to the religion itself —the “spiritual stuff” — are largely unreliable. To make real progress in analyzing religion and economic growth, Cassidy believes we should look toward firmer, more measureable developments in the politico-religious (e.g. usury laws, business partnership, limitations or inheritance practices, etc.).
I disagree with this view and think that religion is indeed a valid investigation tool.
If we are going to analyze the merits of a particular religion as it relates to an economy, it makes little sense to toss out the fundamental features that define religious institutions and set them apart from those in the socio-political realm.
Whether formally codified/institutionalized or not, our religious beliefs and convictions fundamentally transform our perceptions, and thus they largely impact our visions. Regardless of whether the specific religion, god, or authoritative text is actually true, Islam has just as much potential to instigate such an effect as Christianity.
To read the full post, click here.