Debating the Morality of the Free Market

Really? Is this your idea of the free market?

My commentary on environmentalism and the Eucharist (here) has generated some interesting responses. While most have been favorable some has been decidedly less so.Here is my expanded and edited response to one such critic who contacted me via social media.

In Christ,

+FrG

Dear …,

Let me say up front, I think the free market is only free to the degree that men and women are themselves truly free–that is to say, virtuous. It does seem to me though that want to define the argument in such a way that makes the free market inherently evil. You quote Pope Francis is support of this (“the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root”) but I’m not sure you and he are making the same argument. You only quoted a small part of the passage:

Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root.

If I understand him correctly, the Pope is arguing that social exclusion and economic inequality lead to violence and are the result of inequality of opportunity. He is not condemning the free market as such but, as he say at the end of the section quoted above “unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future.” He concludes not by asking us all to embrace voluntary poverty but rather the need to create wealth through morally good forms of economic development:

We are far from the so-called “end of history”, since the conditions for a sustainable and peaceful development have not yet been adequately articulated and realized (Evangelii Gaudium, 59).

In fact, I would guess that Pope Francis and I are probably closer on this point then are you and he. Continue reading

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Homily for Sunday August 31 2014: Follow Jesus!

Sunday, August 31, 2014: Placing of the Sash of the Theotokos in Halkoprateia & Twelfth Sunday of Matthew

Gennadius, Patriarch of Constantinople; Hieromartyr Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage; John, Metropolitan of Kiev; Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne

St Elias Orthodox Church
La Crosse, WI

EPISTLE: Hebrews 9:1-7
GOSPEL: Matthew 19:16-26

Sometimes it seems that Orthodox Christians are more interested in, well, being Orthodox than Christian. As a priest friend of mine put it one time, “In my parish we talk a lot about our parish, somewhat less about Orthodoxy. And Jesus? About Him we say hardly nothing at all.”

To be concerned with the health of my parish or to reflect on Holy Tradition are both good things. But they are secondary and if I’m not careful my concern for them can cause me to lose sight of Jesus Christ. As we sing in the Cherubic Hymn, life in Christ requires that I “lay aside all earthly care” so that I can “welcome the King of All.”

For the young man in the Gospel this morning his wealth mattered more to him then following Jesus and so when Jesus tells him “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” we are told that “he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.” We’ll come back to this in a moment but for now I need to ask myself what would make me walk away from Jesus? What matters to me more than Jesus? What is it that shapes my life more than being His disciple? Continue reading

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Homily for Sunday August 24, 2014: Forgiveness

Sunday, August 24, 2014: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost & Eleventh Sunday of Matthew

Martyr Eutyches, disciple of John the Theologian; New Hieromartyr Cosmas Aitolos, equal-to-the-Apostles and evangelizer of southern Albania; recovery of the relics of Dionysios, bishop of Zakinthos and of Peter, Metropolitan of Moscow

St Ignatius Orthodox Church
Madison, WI

 

THE EPISTLE: 1 Corinthians 9:2-12
THE GOSPEL: Matthew 18:23-35

Frequently we hear people—even Christians—contrasting justice and forgiveness as if the latter had somehow replaced the former. But this isn’t true. The opposite of forgiveness is not justice but vengeance.

For example, we read in Old Testament, “ eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,  burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21:24-25).  When we read this we need to remember that in the ancient world vengeance, the vendetta, was the norm). We have to understand that in context the Old Testament contains, “not … any smack of permission to mutual injury.” Rather, as Tertullian tells us, what we see is, “on the whole, a provision for restraining violence. … So the permission of this retribution was to be the prohibition … to all hot-blooded injury.”[1] Here God commands “[m]oderation …, so that the penalty may not be greater than the injury.,,, this is the beginning of peace.”[2]

While Jesus calls us to a higher standard (Matthew 5:38-48) and “wants our patience to be proven” by our readiness “to endure double hurt” this begins with my willingness to forgo not justice but vengeance and to “even pray to God continually on … behalf” of those who have done me wrong.[3] Turning to the Gospel, this is exactly what we see in the parable. Continue reading

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Homily for Sunday August 17, 2014

Healing of the Epileptic Boy

Sunday, August 17, 2014: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost & Tenth Sunday of Matthew

After-feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos; Hieromartyr Myron of Kyzikos; the righteous siblings Eutychios, Eutychian, and Kassiane of Crete; Venerable Alypios the iconographer of the Kiev Caves; Martyrs Paul and Juliana of Ptolemaïs in Palestine; Theodoretos of Solovky, enlightener of the Lapps

St Ignatius Orthodox Church
Madison, WI

 

THE EPISTLE: 1 Corinthians 4:9-16
THE GOSPEL: Matthew 17:14-23

St Paul’s rather pointed comments are meant to correct the spiritual elitism that seems to have infected “not a few in number”[1] in the Church in Corinth. At least some among the Christians in that place had begun to imagine that what they first received as a gift they now held as the result of “their own efforts” leading them to “glory in themselves and not in the Lord.”[2] And as if this were not bad enough, this has all happened in such a way that some in Corinth were “puffed up in favor of one against another” (v. 7).

To cure the spiritual disease that has infected his spiritual children, St John Chrysostom says that the Apostle “vilifies himself” and thus not only “shows how great he is” but show how petty are the Corinthians.[3] Paul’s words though are, as they often are, “hard to understand” and “which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16, NKJV). Specifically I’m thinking here about St Paul’s comments about suffering. Continue reading

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Homily for Sunday, August 10, 2014: Salvation & the Church

Martyr and Archdeacon Laurence of Rome

Sunday, August 10, 2014: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost & Ninth Sunday of Matthew; After-feast of the Transfiguration of Christ;Martyr and Archdeacon Laurence of Rome, Hieromartyr Sixtus, bishop of Rome & those with them; Venerable Laurence of Kaluga, the Fool for Christ’s sake.

St. Ignatius Orthodox Church, Madison WI

THE EPISTLE: 1 Corinthians 3:9-17
THE GOSPEL: Matthew 14:22-34

St Paul calls us “God’s fellow workers.” Other translations will call us “co-workers” or “co-laborers” with God. Whatever the phrasing the Apostle is making two points.

The first is that salvation is dependent not simply on divine grace but on human freedom. We are called to work together with God. In the theology of the Church this is captured by the word that has become popular in business and other areas of human action: “synergy.”  We are not saved either by our own efforts alone apart from God. But neither are we saved against our will.  Human salvation is a cooperative project and while God remains the senior partner in our salvation we each of us have a role to play.

The second point is this: Not only does salvation require my cooperation with God it is also the fruit of your labor. “According to the grace of God-given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it.” If God saves no one against his or her own will, neither does He save anyone alone. We are saved as part of the community of the Church. Continue reading

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EKK! NYC Council to Walmart: Stop Giving Money to Our Local Charities!

Quote

Have we as Americans really become THIS estranged from each other?

Source: Joe Carter (Acton PowerBlog).

Last week, Walmart announced that it distributed $3 million last year to charities in New York City. The giving included $1 million to the New York Women’s Foundation, which offers job training, and $30,000 to Bailey House, which distributes groceries to low-income residents.

Naturally, there was one group that was appalled by the charitable giving: local politicians.

More than half the members of the New York City Council sent a letter to Walmart demanding that it stop giving millions in charitable contributions to local groups in the city.

Twenty-six of the 51 members of the Council charged in the letter that the world’s biggest retailer’s support of local causes is a cynical ploy to enter the market here.

“We know how desperate you are to find a foothold in New York City to buy influence and support here,” says the letter, obtained by The Post and addressed to Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation.

“Stop spending your dangerous dollars in our city,” the testy letter demands. “That’s right: this is a cease-and-desist letter.”

For the sake of argument, let’s concede Walmart is trying to “buy influence and support” in New York City. Such activity is called “lobbying.” Are these NYC council members against lobbying? Will they soon be sending a cease-and-desist letter to their political contributors who are trying to “buy influence and support”?

There’s an old bumper sticker that reads, “Don’t Steal! The Government Hates Competition.” Maybe we need a new one that says, “Don’t Give to Charity! The Government Hates Competition.”

(Via: Hot Air)

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Breaking the Chains of Poverty: Good Intentions Not Enough

…I don’t think the aim should be to keep the poor poor and feel sorry for them and give them alms; I think the hope for the poor is to help them to break the chains of poverty and become independent people of initiative and energy on their own…

Michael Novak

Stephen Moore (chief economist at the Heritage Foundation) and Richard Vedder (a professor of economics at Ohio University) have an editorial in this morning’s Wall Street Journal (The Blue-State Path to Inequality States that emphasize redistribution above growth have a wider gap between lower and higher incomes) that speaks Michael Novak observation that concern for the poor is not enough, we need as well a “to help them to break the chains of poverty and become independent people of initiative and energy on their own”  (read  the rest here).Among other things they quote a Cato Institute report (“The Work Versus Welfare Trade-Off: 2013) that “measured the value of all welfare benefits by state in 2012.” What the research found is that generally “the higher the benefit package” paid by welfare the higher the rate of income inequality. They aren’t arguing “that state redistributionist policies cause more income inequality.” But their research does “suggest that raising tax rates or the minimum wage fail to achieve greater equality and may make income gaps wider.”

They go on to say that they “believe these income redistribution policies fail.”  After having spent “more than 25 years examining why some states grow much faster than others” they conclude that it “is nearly inescapable that liberal policy prescriptions—especially high income-tax rates and the lack of a right-to-work law—make states less prosperous because they chase away workers, businesses and capital.” After offering some examples of the differences among states with different economic policies they observe that

When politicians get fixated on closing income gaps rather than creating an overall climate conducive to prosperity, middle- and lower-income groups suffer most and income inequality rises. The past five years are a case in point. Though a raft of President Obama’s policies—such as expanding the earned-income tax credit and food stamps, and extending unemployment benefits—have been designed to more fairly distribute wealth, inequality has unambiguously risen on his watch. Those at the top have seen gains, especially from the booming stock market, while middle-class real incomes have fallen by about $1,800 since the recovery started in June 2009.

They conclude that the higher income inequality “is a reversal from the 1980s and ’90s when almost all income groups enjoyed gains.” Income inequality in “the United States has risen in each of the last three years and was higher in 2012 (.476) than when George W. Bush left office (.469 in 2008), though Mr. Bush was denounced for economic policies, especially on taxes, that allegedly favored ‘the rich.’”  Novak is correct, good intentions aren’t sufficient to raise the poor out of poverty. As a practical matter, at least in the US, policies in the service of income redistribution don’t work.

That said, and I merely ask this as a sympathetic outsider, do you think Pope Francis isn’t interested in lifting the poor out of poverty? I doubt this but, like I said I’m looking at his words from the outside.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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