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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Book Review: Tea Party Catholic? Really?

The Crossroad Publishing Company, $24.95

Some of my friends are put off by the title of Samuel Gregg’s recently published book. I’m sympathetic with their discomfort but I do wish that they had actually read the book and not just complained about the title. For that matter, I wish that if they weren’t going to read the whole book they at least read the whole title.

Oh, I’ve not told you the title yet have I? Let’s remedy this.

Tea Party Catholic: the Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing.

Charles Carroll, Signer of the Declaration of ...

Charles Carroll, Signer of the Declaration of Independence (1776), was a member of a Catholic church in Maryland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first thing that you might want to know is that while Gregg is aware (and I think sympathetic) to the “Tea Party” movement that has emerged in recent years, this is not fundamentally his focus. “Tea Party Catholic” refers to the “sole Roman Catholic signatory” of the American Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll of Carrollton Maryland. In Carroll Gregg finds a man who embodies the distinctively Catholic case for the importance of a limited government and a free economy to human flourishing. Make no mistake, Gregg is not a libertarian or an anarchist arguing for limited government and a free economy as ends in themselves. Rather he sees such limits as serving a more transcendent goal: human flourishing. Or, as Pope Benedict XVI writes in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate, “integral human development.”

There’s a great deal I can say about the content of Gregg’s argument but let me limit myself to two main points that I think are especially applicable to the situation of the Orthodox Church both here in the US and overseas.

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Social Justice, Hayek, de Tocqueville, and Holy Communion

A central challenge in fostering a more just society, as I suggested in a previous post, is the general lack of a cultural consensus on what justice actually is and so isn’t.  Forget for a moment the practical questions involved. How do we decide if the redistribution of income by way of the tax code, to name a point of popular contention, is just or unjust? What standard do we use? Returning to the practical dimension for a moment, in the absence of an agreed upon understanding of justice how do we decide how money is to be shifted or who receives what? Or putting aside this question how could we, as some have, say that such redistribution is morally justified as long as the benefit received by person “B” for every dollar outweighs the pain caused to person “A” for every dollar taken?  Not only how we answer these questions, but even the questions themselves assume a particular understanding of the nature of justice and so what it means to live as a member of a society.

This is why, to give him his due, the economist Fredrick Hayek objected on both grammatical and linguistic grounds to the term “social justice.” Absent at least well delineated and mutually agreed to anthropology, the term simply means nothing and so everything. Moreover though his criticism of the political implications of the term opens him to charges of cynicism, we need take  seriously his argument  that appeals to social justice on behalf of the poor don’t necessarily benefit the poor themselves as much they benefit those making the appeal in the name of the poor. Continue reading

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Self-Discipline Today or Hardship Tomorrow

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“Wishful thinking will not fix our nation’s spending and debt problem,” says Dylan Pahman in this week’s Acton Commentary. “The longer we procrastinate, the harder it will be for us to actually do it.”

In the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, a collection of wise stories and sayings from the first Christian monks, the following is attributed to one Abba Zeno: “Never lay a foundation on which you might sometime build yourself a cell.” This saying has at least two possible applications: 1) Do not start something you do not intend to see through. 2) Do not put off for tomorrow the asceticism you can do today. Unfortunately, both of these lessons are lost on our federal government when it comes to financial responsibility, and it is our children who will pay for the sins of their fathers.

The full text of his essay is here.

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Whose Justice?

Several years ago, the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre published a book exploring different and competing notions of, among other things, justice (Whose Justice? Which Rationality?). Based on my own experience one approach to resolving the conflict inherent in different models of justice is simply to ignore those models with whom we disagree. Alternatively, we can try and co-opt those other models trying to in someway make them our own.

Of the two approaches, the former is common among those Orthodox Christians who see the Church as in somehow isolated from the surrounding culture. Looking back at some of things I wrote as a graduate student in my mid to late 20′s this is was what I did. Becoming Orthodox meant that, again somehow, I could skip over the challenges of modernity. Of course I did this while obsessed with what I saw as modernity’s shortcomings and errors. In compassion for my younger self let me simply say this is  an understandable if ultimately maladaptive strategy typical of youth. Less charitably it falls somewhere on the continuum between psychological neurosis and spiritual delusion.

The latter approach might seem to be a more mature and sophisticated way of dealing with the conflict. Unfortunately, and like my youthful neurosis, it’s aim is to resolve conflict not through reconciliation but through a leveling of intellectual disagreement. Often this takes the form of arguing that the other side doesn’t actually believe what it says it believes. Rather they actually believe what I believe even if they are confused about this. Happily I’m here to help correct this state of affairs.

Far better I think to acknowledge our differences even while we look for points of commonality however elusive and frail such agreement might be. For those looking for a system neat and tidy this is an unsatisfying response to intellectual or cultural conflict. And yet especially for Christians it is the only way that we can hope to remain faithful to both our own convictions and the inherent dignity of those with whom we find ourselves in disagreement. And, needless to say, if I am willing to sacrifice your dignity can the loss of my own be far behind?
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St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary: Conference on Poverty

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Source: St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.

SUMMER May 31-June 1, 2013: Conference on Poverty

SUMMER PROGRAMS HOME PAGE

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for life!”Jay RichardsJay Richards

What can Orthodox Christians do to re–think how we respond to the issues of poverty, and how will we contribute positive solutions to address the needs of the poor? This conference is a collaborative effort with the Acton Institute, and is offered as a tribute to Dn. John Zarras, a 2006 SVOTS graduate who earned his M.Div. degree over a period of several years as a late–vocations student. Deacon John also served as a member of the Board of Trustees and the president of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Foundation.

Fr. Chad HatfieldFr. Chad HatfieldAdditional participants will be Jay Richards, author of Money, Greed, and God and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, andSusan R. Holman, adjunct lecturer at Episcopal Divinity School and senior writer at Harvard Global Health Institute.Susan B. HolmanSusan B. Holman
 

REGISTER ONLINE TODAY!! $50 registration fee is WAIVED until May 15!
  • Registration and Workshop—$50  
  • Room & Board—$70
  • Total—$120.00 

On–Campus Accommodations

On-campus housing is in non-smoking, non-air conditioned, dormitory rooms with shared bathrooms. Because there are a limited number of single rooms, they will be given to the first registrants. Staying on-campus includes meals at the refectory, which are catered, without individual meal options. The seminary staff will provide sheets and towels. Please bring your own personal items (such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and small fans.) Wireless access to the Internet for personal laptops will be available in the Library when the Reading Room is open, but wireless access in dormitory rooms cannot be guaranteed.

For questions about this event, please contact Tanya Penkrat, Special Events Coordinator, at tpenkrat@svots.edu, or 914.961.8313, x351 

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