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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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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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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Doing Justice for the Low Wage Worker

One of the many things I came to appreciate serving Greek Orthodox parishes is how much work is involved in operating a family run restaurant. Owners and their families often put in long hours doing hard manual labor for small profits and with little financial security. A similar state of affairs holds true for the other small business owners I’ve known both in my family and in the different parishes I’ve served.

It’s important to keep this all in mind when looking at not simply small businesses or “mom & pop” eateries but also at those larger corporations that typically pay low wages. Because Marxism has become a part of the cultural waters in which we swim, it easy to assume that low wages are inherently and objectively unjust. The argument here goes something like this: In paying low wages, the employer is exploiting his employees by not giving them the “true” value of their labor. It is the worker, not the owner, who is the source of the profits generated by the business.  Put another way, the worker gets nothing besides his wage and that wage falls far below the value he gives to the employer. But is this really true? Continue reading

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The Battle for Purity

Paul S. Loverde, the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, has an interesting essay on the First Things site (Let the Battle for Purity Begin). Based in part on the new edition of his pastoral letter on pornography, “Bought with a Price” (available at Amazon for Kindle and at www.arlingtondiocese.org/purity), Bishop Loverde writes that

The pornography epidemic is something to which all people of good will must devote more attention and talk about more openly, but first we need to understand something of the scope and character of the problem.

He goes on to say that

Those who deny that the act of viewing pornography has any negative consequences must understand just how toxic the situation has become. It may be that a man now in his forties, say, remembers being a curious adolescent, stealing glances at a magazine in a neighbor’s home or in the aisle of a convenience store. As morally problematic and harmful as that act surely is, such behavior was arguably slow to become habitual and the physiological and psychological consequences were infrequently severe. That experience is far removed from what young people face today.

He goes on the discuss briefly some of the scientific research about the effects of pornography as well as the moral and spiritual consequences that he’s seen in his own pastoral ministry. Continue reading

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Food Packaging and the Environment

Quote

Another misconception promoted by ['local-food'] activists is that the absence (or much smaller volume) of packaging material at farmers’ markets has significant environmental benefits, a notion that conveniently ignores the fact that food packaging has the dual advantage of protecting food from microbes and greatly prolonging shelf life.  These advantages, in turn, significantly increase the probability of food being consumed instead of ending in a landfill or incinerator.

Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu (2012),The Locovore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet (footnote deleted), p. 101.

h/t: Cafe Hayek.

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Valuing Pastoral Care: Impressive and Important Aren’t the Same

Steve Horwitz and Sarah Skwire have an essay at Bleeding Heart Libertarians that addresses what he characterizes as a classical mistake made by feminists in understanding the value of housework. He writes that like many others, feminists confuse “impressive work with important work.” He goes on to say that

Garbage collection may well not be impressive. Neither are diaper changing, gutter cleaning, grocery shopping, or any number of other icky, sticky, stinky, slimy and otherwise unpleasant jobs that keep humans healthy, safe, clean, and dry. But if no one is doing those tasks, humans don’t stay healthy, safe, clean, and dry enough to do impressive work–like designing skyscrapers, doing brain surgery, writing novels, and so on.

This however doesn’t mean that we are free to dismiss unimpressive work “as unimportant.” Rather Continue reading

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