About Fr Gregory Jensen

Together with my wife Mary, I entered the Orthodox Church on the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (15 August) in 1991. On the feast of st Nicholas (6 December 1996) I was ordained to the Holy Priesthood by His Eminence Metropolitan MAXIMOS at St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Pittsburgh, PA.

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

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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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Samuel Gregg: On Economic Misconceptions

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One of them is the notion that wealth is a fixed amount. This is called the “zero-sum game” fallacy. It implies that one person can only become wealthy by other people becoming poor. Entrepreneurship and the right institutions in place (especially the rule of law) are the factors that nullify that myth.
Another misconception is how the economic value of something is determined. It’s not through the labor that creates an object or service. Rather, it’s through the subjective value that is attached to the good or service by hundreds of thousands of people in a market place. The price of a book I write is not determined by how many hours I spent working on it, but by what people are willing to pay for it. And what they are willing to pay for it is determined by how much they want it compared to all the other books, services and goods they want.

Then there is the notion that free trade can only benefit the wealthy or wealthy countries. Again, if you look at the stories of how nations escape poverty, it’s not through subsidies, protectionism and closed markets. Rather, it’s through entering what St. John Paul the Great called the circles of exchange and embracing institutions such as rule of law.

The whole question regarding economic misconceptions is a fascinating one — so much so that we even have a course at Acton’s summer university program on that topic. We address and correct common economic fallacies, and this is something that many people — Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, evangelical and Jewish — find extremely helpful.

Read more: Cultivating Capitalism’s Compatibility With Catholicism.

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Moral Witness Requires Clear Thinking on Environmental Science

Here’s the central point of my most recent essay for the Acton Institute:

Yes theology and science “have different points of departure and different goals, tasks and methodologies” but they “can come in touch and overlap.” For this convergence to be fruitful we must resist “the temptation to view science as a realm completely independent of moral principles.” Science can, and often does, serve as “a natural instrument for building life on earth” (Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church). However when we limit ourselves merely to the findings of the natural, social and human sciences, we risk confusing expediency with prudence and diluting the Church’s witness.

You can read the whole essay here: Pebble Mine: Moral Witness Requires Clear Thinking on Environmental Science.

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To Lift Up the Poor, Must We Soak the Rich?

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Ross Douthat,

Before we talk about significantly expanding our investments in education, elementary and collegiate, how confident should we feel that our existing “investment” in the “future productivity” of the poorest Americans is reaping value-for-the-dollar rewards?

You can read the whole thing here: “To Lift Up the Poor, Must We Soak the Rich?”

h/t: Acton PowerBlog.

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My Essay at Ethika Politika “The Forgotten Good of American Individualism”

I have an essay up on Ethika Politika ((The Forgotten Good of American Individualism”). Here’s the summary and opening paragraph:

Recently, two Christian social critics—one Roman Catholic, the other Eastern Orthodox—tackled some of the problems that emerge from individualism in American culture.

 

Thomas Storck (“The Catholic Failure to Change America”) does so in light of the tradition of Catholic Church; his Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah (“Secularism and Depersonalization”) looks at the same intellectual territory as an Orthodox Christian. While both men have done a good job in explicating the negative consequences of individualism for the life of the Church—both East and West—and the larger society, they left unexamined the opportunity for human flourishing and growth in Christian holiness, implicit in American individualism.

If you have a moment, please read the whole thing and maybe leave a comment.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Re-Distribution of Wealth of Wage Theft?

An interesting editorial by Corey Robin in the New York Time (The Republican War on Workers’ Rights) that highlights I think the underlying moral problem of using wealth redistribution to level out income inequality.

Stay with me a moment.

The Robin reports that in

…most states, tipped workers earn an hourly wage that is less than the federal minimum — the federal subminimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 per hour — because they’re supposed to make up the rest in tips. (They often don’t; the poverty rate among waiters and waitresses is 250 percent higher than it is among the general work force.) But non-serving staff who don’t get tips must be paid the minimum wage.

But then the editorial takes an interesting turn.

Republican state legislators have devised a way around that. In 2011, lawmakers in Wyoming introduced a bill that would have allowed restaurants and other employers to force their serving staff to pool their tips; tips would be redistributed among the nonserving staff, who could then be paid the subminimum wage. That same year, Maine legislators passed a bill declaring that “service charges” were not tips at all. Because they aren’t tips, they don’t belong to the serving staff. Employers can pocket them — without informing customers — whether they redistribute them among the staff or keep them.

There are two different issues here. The second of these, Maine legislators “declaring ‘services charges’” are not tips and so “don’t belong to the serving staff” is problem one that will cost all the serving staff money. If so then the employer has (potentially at least) unjustly withheld wages from the wait staff.

The first issue–allowing “restaurants and other employers to force their serving staff to pool their tips; tips would be redistributed among the nonserving staff, who could then be paid the subminimum wage”–raises an interesting policy question. If, as Robin asserts, this is “wage theft” what do we call collecting taxes with the explicit aim of income redistribution?

Why, in other words is it “theft” when employers redistribute wages among employees but it is an expression of “social justice” when the government does? A key moral difference is that in the latter case the redistribution is coercive through the government’s authority to tax. In the former, however, the relationship between employer and employee is voluntary (at least in the formal sense, I understand that in particular cases, the employee may not have any other options but to work for a given employer).

It would seem to me that all things being equal the employer’s actions are at least morally defensible. But if they aren’t, if they are immoral (“theft”) then so too are any and all government programs that seek to less income inequality through a policy of mandated wealth redistribution.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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