Posts Tagged enterprise

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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My Intellectual Journey: Legos, Puzzles, and Communism

Common Sense ConceptI will now be writing a weekly post at Common Sense Concept, which is a brand new site backed by the American Enterprise Institute. The site is part of AEI’s Project on American Values and Capitalism, which was the sponsor of the recent event I participated in on envy and economics.

CSC will focus on the promotion of morality and values in our policymaking, particularly as they relate to free enterprise.

The first major event will be a debate between Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis and AEI President Arthur Brooks at Wheaton College. The debate will center on the question, “Does Capitalism Have a Soul?” I myself am hoping to make it out to the event, and if you’re anywhere near the Wheaton/Chicago area, I encourage you to do so as well.

I will be writing on the site’s Two Cents Blog on Faith and Free Enterprise along with some extremely bright evangelical thinkers. I look forward to participating in the conversation and am excited to watch this effort continue to evolve.

My first post is already up on the blog, and it provides a glimpse into my intellectual journey from childhood to adulthood. I talk about LEGOs, puzzles, and most importantly, how horrifying communism sounded as a six-year-old.

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

Being the ignorant little kid I was, I asked my Mom if the U.S.S.R. was the biggest country in the world. She walked over to the puzzle, glanced at the back of the box, and informed me that as of a few months ago, the U.S.S.R. no longer existed.

For a six-year-old, that’s a bit hard to swallow. How can a country just Read the rest of this entry »

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Morality and Economics: How Do We Discuss the Two?

I will now be writing a bi-monthly column for Ethika Politika, the blog of the Center for Morality in Public Life. Since the discussion will usually overlap with the one taking place here, I will be cross-posting excerpts to keep you in the loop.

To stay connected with Ethika Politika outside of these posts, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or via RSS.

My first column is about the proper placement of economics in discussions of morality.

Here’s a taste:

If we want to advance economic freedom in the belief that it leads to “authentic human flourishing,” we must recognize that the actual economics are secondary to the actual morality behind them. We must understand that the most fundamental moral framework behind the free enterprise system is reinforced by the economic data — it is not defined by it.

But how are we to go about this? If we are to analyze economic issues primarily on moral grounds, where should we begin?

To hear my answer, read the full article.

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Nullification: Federalism, Societal Innovation, and the Church

Historian Thomas E. Woods has a new book out titled Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, in which he argues for a return to the Jeffersonian idea of nullification.

For those who are unfamiliar with nullification, Christopher Oppermann provides a good description in his review of the book:

The concept of nullification is simple, yet powerful: That individual states can and should refuse to enforce unconstitutional federal laws; and that the states, not the federal government, should have the final word on constitutional interpretation.

If you’re interested in learning more about Woods’ perspective, I recommend watching his interview with Jeffrey Tucker (courtesy of the Mises Blog):

I have yet to read the book, so for now I’d simply like to use this as a springboard for discussing the merits of federalism when it comes to societal innovation.

Woods’ primary argument for nullification is that it provides a check on the federal government, but nullification can also enhance competition among the states.

As an example, Woods points to Virginia and Kentucky’s nullification of the Alien and Sedition Acts. In this case, the argument for nullification was that the acts were in violation of the First Amendment. Even though nearly every Northern state disagreed with Virginia and Kentucky, nullification allowed them to take a Read the rest of this entry »

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Q&A with Arthur Brooks: A Conversation about The Battle

Arthur BrooksThroughout the 1990s and 2000s, the term “culture war” was used to describe a variety of public moral conflicts. AEI’s Arthur Brooks sees a new fight taking place in today’s culture, but this time it’s not about guns, abortions, or gays.

This time it’s a battle over free enterprise.

Brooks, who is president of the American Enterprise Institute, successfully captures this struggle in his new book, The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government will Shape America’s Future.

Brooks was kind enough to talk about The Battle with Remnant Culture in this one-on-one interview. I am confident his answers will sufficiently whet your appetite, but I also encourage you to read my highly favorable review if you’re interested in purchasing a copy.

Q: Your primary argument is that we are currently in the midst of a culture war between free enterprise and big government. Why do you see this as a cultural struggle?

The struggle between free enterprise and big government is not about which system is more efficient at producing goods or services. It’s about who we are as a people — about our beliefs and values. It shows what we think about things like fairness, initiative, self-reliance, and accountability. These aren’t economic terms. They’re “character” terms, expressions of culture. Free enterprise is the system that best accommodates these values and beliefs, and this makes the struggle against big government a cultural one. The fact that free enterprise also is the most efficient means of creating wealth and economic growth is a secondary consideration. Though not a bad one, at that.

Q: Explain the concept of the “70-30 Nation.

As I point out in The Battle, Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of free enterprise. No matter how pollsters frame the question, about 70 percent of us prefer free enterprise over big government. The other 30 percent are more inclined toward the statism and redistributionism of Europe’s social democracies. The “hard core” of the 30 percent is made up of the usual suspects — from the worlds of academia, the media, and entertainment industries. And most worryingly of all, it is comprised of a growing number of young people.

Q: If the 30 percent coalition currently holds the “moral high ground” on economic issues, why do they remain at a mere 30 percent of the population?

Well, as we saw in the 2008 elections, the 30 percent has the ability to expand into a majority, on occasion. It was the financial markets crisis that gave them the opportunity to do just that. They developed a “narrative” about what caused the crisis, who was to blame for the crisis, and how government would Read the rest of this entry »

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The New Culture War: Free Enterprise vs. Big Government

The Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's FutureThroughout my childhood I was taught to live honestly, work hard, and pursue my dreams. It always seemed pretty generic. After all, it’s sort of the American disposition, which is probably why I never thought to question it.

That is, until I went to college.

From the start of my freshman year, I was bombarded by claims that capitalism was “immoral” and that the pursuit of happiness was selfish, materialistic, and possibly evil. Life was no longer about honing your free will or achieving your dreams, but about outsourcing such “burdens” to the benevolent State.

I had always believed that free enterprise was just and moral simply because it made sense. But here I was, surrounded by smart people, being asked to defend my political beliefs on moral grounds. I didn’t necessarily think I was wrong, but I felt stunned, overwhelmed, and confused.

I found myself in the middle of a moral struggle.

It is this type of struggle that Arthur Brooks hopes to capture in his new book, The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government will Shape America’s Future.

Although such struggles have been going on since the beginning of time, Brooks sees a distinct battle over free enterprise taking place at the forefront of our current political discourse. Now is the time, Brooks believes, for the free enterprise movement to face its enemy (“big government”) head on.

Brooks, who is president of the American Enterprise Institute, is no stranger to discussions of morality and public policy. His previous two books (Who Really Cares? and Gross National Happiness) closely examine such issues with specific focuses on charity and happiness, but this time around, Brooks is not interested in mere social analysis. Above all, The Battle is a call to action.

Brooks begins by diagnosing the country, which he believes is in the middle of an aggressive culture war over the fate of the free enterprise system. Although he claims that the movement retains a vast majority of the American people (approximately 70 percent), Brooks is convinced that the remaining 30 percent have gained the moral high ground and have thus been able to seize the reins of policymaking.

Brooks then moves on to a dissection of the (very) recent financial crisis — a particularly good specimen for showing how capitalism can be wrongly accused (especially on moral grounds). Brooks walks the reader through what he calls the “Obama narrative” of the crisis, pointing out each distortion and fallacy along the way (and there are plenty).

Brooks believes that through a mix of misplaced good intentions, lust for power, and good old-fashioned hypocrisy, the free enterprise movement has Read the rest of this entry »

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Money, Greed and God: Is Capitalism Evil?

Jay Richards is the author of a book called Money, Greed and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem, in which he argues that capitalism is completely consistent with Jesus’ teachings and the Christian tradition as a whole.

I haven’t read the book yet, but am a frequent reader of Richards’ writings on the Enterprise Blog.

I came across this video over the weekend, and although it’s a bit long, I encourage you to take the time to watch it.




What I found most striking was Richards’ discussion of self-interest vs. selfishness, which is a topic I have often discussed on this blog (particularly in my review of Ron Chernow’s Titan).

Richards notes that self-interest must be properly ordered, and when it is, we will realize that our families, our neighbors, and our communities are all in our self-interest. Selfishness, on the other hand, is “disordered” self-interest. For example, I may choose to commit adultery, and although such an act would be an act of selfishness, I would clearly not be acting in my holistic, long-term self-interest. I would end up feeling Read the rest of this entry »

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Case Study: Manakintowne Meets a Need

The video posted below is another submission to the Free Enterprise Video Contest. I recently wrote a post in response to the Grape + Bean submission by Caleb Brown.

The video highlights the Manakintowne Specialty Growers, a family-owned farm that grows fresh herbs and greens for restaurants and markets throughout Virginia.

You can watch the video here:

Communist leaders were infamous for their dreams of utilizing the State to create wondrous agrarian paradises, but while such grandiose visions may look quaint and picturesque on a propaganda poster, not everyone loves to grow stuff. One thing that’s obvious from watching this video is that free enterprise reserves the farming for the farmers, and it’s fun to see their passion.

Also, many critics of free enterprise point much of their criticism toward big businesses, forgetting that every business starts Read the rest of this entry »

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Commercializing Charity: “Buy This Lollipop and End Poverty!”

Gap Red Campaign

Can one kid change the world? Sure, but she'd maximize her impact by not buying the t-shirt.

When you go to the grocery store, do you pay the extra dollar for the Fair Trade coffee because the bag tells you it will help farmers in need? Or perhaps you like to spend a little more on your clothes because Bono told you it would end AIDS in Africa?

Do such actions come from genuine, unadulterated compassion, or do they come from a mixture of guilt, laziness, and even self-righteousness?

Or, perhaps you feel like capitalism simply isn’t capable of doing its job effectively without your “socially aware” purchases.

Jeffrey Tucker recently wrote a piece on the Mises Blog about the commercialization of charity — a trend that Tucker sees partly as proof of capitalism’s adaptability, but primarily as a ridiculous and ineffective sham.

Tucker recounts how a 12-year-old boy tried to sell him a glass of lemonade by saying he would use the profits to “stop child abuse.” For Tucker, this situation was simply the breaking point after a long day of being confronted by “socially conscious” Read the rest of this entry »

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Case Study: Would You Risk It All for Grapes and Beans?

Over the weekend I came across this video (created by Caleb Brown) via the Inertia Wins blog.

The video tells the story of a married couple who took the risk of starting a coffee and wine shop called Grape + Bean.




In response to the video, Inertia Wins blogger Ryan Young asked the perfect question: “What’s at stake for entrepreneurs?

Every day people take risks to start new businesses. Some risks are certainly bigger than others, and some endeavors are certainly more worthwhile than others. But who is to say which endeavor is worth what?

The beauty of the free market is that no central planner can dictate whose idea is more beneficial and whose isn’t. We, as a society, are in control. And thus, entrepreneurs must tailor their products to society if they wish to be successful.

In the video, the couple talks about how they put their livelihood and their family stability on the line by launching Grape + Bean.

But why? For what? Were they inventing a new means for time travel? Were they creating the Read the rest of this entry »

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