Tag Archives: Economics

For Consideration: Right Answers Require Right Questions

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The first lesson to be taught is that when we run across a situation we don’t like – “outrageous exploitation of sick people,” for example – we should start by asking how the situation came about and why it persists. What’s actually going on here? That’s an extremely important lesson: for the dinner table, the conference room, the legislative hall, and the faculty lounge as well as the economics classroom. We all have a tendency, especially when we’re filled with indignation, to begin with the conclusions and subsequently to choose the facts that will enable us to reach our preestablished results. That does little to promote understanding; it merely hardens opinions already held. It does not lead to learning. And it fosters debate rather than discussion. Doesn’t it make far more sense to ask why, if the situation is as intolerable as it seems to be, it continues to exist? Social phenomena are not facts of nature, like mountains. They emerge from the choices individuals make in response to the situations they encounter, situations that are in turn largely created by the choices other people make. If we want to change society, we must first understand it. The first step toward understanding how markets work, and the beginning, I would say, of all social understanding, is the recognition that social phenomena are the product of particular choices in response to particular incentives. Incentives matter! To fix any social problem, we must alter the incentives. To do that, we must first discover what they are.

Paul Heyne (2008), “Teaching Economics By Telling Stories,” in in the 2008 collection of Heyne’s writings, “Are Economists Basically Immoral?” and Other Essays on Economics, Ethics, and Religion (Geoffrey Brennan and A.M.C. Waterman, eds.), p. 322, emphasis in original.

For Consideration

(Acton Power Blog) Key quotes from the work of the Austrian/British economist Friedrich Hayek:

 

On Faith in Freedom: Freedom necessarily means that many things will be done which we do not like. Our faith in freedom does not rest on the foreseeable results in particular circumstances but on the belief that it will, on balance, release more forces for the good than for the bad. (The Case for Freedom)

On Equality: From the fact that people are very different it follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only different but are in conflict with each other; and we can achieve either one or the other, but not both at the same time. The equality before th

English: GFDL picture of F.A. Hayek to replace...

F.A. Hayek (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

e law which freedom requires leads to material inequality. (The Constitution of Liberty)

On Democracy: A limited democracy might indeed be the best protector of individual liberty and be better than any other form of limited government, but an unlimited democracy is probably worse than any other form of unlimited government, because its government loses the power even to do what it thinks right if any group on which its majority depends thinks otherwise. If Mrs. Thatcher said that free choice is to be exercised more in the market place than in the ballot box, she has merely uttered the truism that the first is indispensable for individual freedom, while the second is not: free choice can at least exist under a dictatorship that can limit itself but not under the government of an unlimited democracy which cannot. (Letter to The Times (July 11, 1978))

On Wealth and Power: [W]ho will deny that a world in which the wealthy are powerful is still a better world than one in which only the already powerful can acquire wealth? (The Road to Serfdom)

On Private Property: What our generation has forgotten is that the system of private property is the most important guarantee of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not. It is only because the control of the means of production is divided among many people acting independently that nobody has complete power over us, that we as individuals can decide what to do with ourselves. (The Road to Serfdom)

On Ignorance: All political theories assume, of course, that most individuals are very ignorant. Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest. Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant. (The Constitution of Liberty

Nonprofits Get Critical Look in New Film on Fighting Global Poverty

Too often, caring for the poverty leads to the unintended consequence of leaving people in poverty. How to minimize what we all agree is an undesirable is at the heart of the Templeton Award winning documentary, Poverty, Inc. Here’s an interview with the film’s co-producer, Mark Weber.

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The film Poverty Inc., which features interviews with community leaders, business people, farmers, and others such as this entrepreneur from Ghana, argues that well-intended gestures by charities and governments in the West have harmed local economies in developing countries.

By Suzanne Perry

The documentary film Poverty, Inc. critiques the global aid system, or what it calls the “vast multibillion-dollar poverty industry,” for not only failing to achieve its mission but often doing more harm than good. Among the culprits: nonprofits.

The film, which features interviews with community leaders, business people, farmers, and others in countries that receive charity and government aid, argues that well-intended gestures by the West have harmed local economies, perpetuated dependency, and neglected to give a voice to the people who are supposedly being helped.

The people interviewed fault celebrities for being patronizing — for example, those who raised money for Africa by recording “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” a song that portrays the continent as a pitiful place in need of Western saviors. And they criticize the “one for one” model promoted by companies like Toms, which donates shoes to children in need for every pair it sells, saying handouts that end up hurting local workers are not the solution.

Poverty, Inc., directed by Michael Matheson Miller, a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, has been shown at more than 40 international film festivals and in November won a $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award, which recognizes projects that promote a better understanding of free enterprise.

Excerpts of a Chronicle interview with Mark Weber, a co-producer of the film, follow.

Your film highlights the unintended consequences of international aid that is intended to do good. Can you name an example that particularly stands out to you?

The one that really struck me is a story in Haiti of a solar-panel company called Enersa. It was started by two Haitian gentlemen, Jean-Ronel Noel and Alex Georges. They’re Canadian educated. They decided to come back to Haiti to build their country. They saw a tremendous opportunity for renewable energy and harnessing sunlight. They began, kind of the cliché entrepreneurial story, in their garage working with LEDs and things. They eventually grew and grew and grew, built a manufacturing plant, and had been employing a number of people, mostly men, mostly from pretty tough areas of Haiti. It’s an incredible success story of local people driving development in their own country.

Then the earthquake hits, and the factory held up, but it was damaged. Within a couple of weeks, they had it back up and running again. But because of the international relief effort, all of a sudden there was a flood of solar panels coming in from international NGOs to help Haiti. They went from selling 50 solar panels a month to selling five in six months. They were almost decimated by the relief effort.

There’s a good side to that story, too. There were two NGOs in particular — you could say three — that were supportive of their development. One was Partners Worldwide, and they provide mentorship, some training.

Another organization that supported them is Fonkoze, a microfinance organization that gave them a sizable loan at low interest. Especially after the earthquake, they were very patient with repayment. The third organization that helped them out, not in a direct sense, is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT had an open-courseware module that had something to do with creating solar panels, and these guys were able to teach themselves some of the things they needed.

So there’s lots of ways we can support each other. But flooding the markets with stuff is not one of them.

You interviewed more than 200 people in 20 countries. What were some of the prevailing views about the role nonprofits play in the international aid system?

I don’t want to paint too broad a brush. But I would say there’s a profound disconnect. If you watch the film, especially if you come from the NGO world, you may feel it’s pretty hard-hitting. The important thing to remember with “Poverty Inc.” is we’re not trying to say in 91 minutes here’s the whole story of poverty and development and NGOs, But there’s a side of the story that’s not being told and not being heard. The word that kept coming up over and over again when we would ask about this stuff was “neocolonialism.” People kept saying, This is not so different than what we experienced before. There’s this spoken benevolence, but the power dynamics are such that we either get displaced or held back in a number of ways.

You seem to put a big emphasis on the free market — or maybe the marketplace, you would call it — and business entrepreneurship as being a better solution than aid. Could you expand on that?

We never use the word capitalism; it’s not really a word that resonates with us. We try to be much more specific, to say that free and competitive ecosystems of exchange that exist in conjunction with certain institutions of justice ­— for instance, property rights, rule of law, freedom of association and exchange — these ecosystems absolutely correlate with economic growth and human flourishing.

The many lifesaving interventions of the foreign-aid community or NGOs or foundations are not to be discredited or downplayed at all. But I think we go too far when we call it development. Over 500 million people have come out of poverty in China in the last 25 years. You can make no serious argument that that’s because of foreign aid or the [U.N.] Millennium Development Goals. China is no utopia, but it’s clear to everyone that China today is freer than it was 25 years ago.

When we try to make the argument that the Millennium Development Goals or foreign aid played a big part in the rise out of poverty in the last 25 years, we’re actually taking credit away from the people it belongs to. We’re saying we’re the center of attention. We did this. No, everyday hardworking people in China, India, Brazil, throughout Africa — they are the protagonists of this story.

What would your advice be to all of the NGOs that are out there and part of the system? What can their role be in changing the dynamic?

I read a book recently by Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food. He says at the end of the book: I want to emphasize, I’m not trying to prescribe a menu for you. I’m trying to give you eating algorithms, mental programs that if you run them at the grocery store it will give you an infinite variety of healthy dishes. We’re trying to do the same thing with “Poverty Inc.” We’re not trying to give you a list of things you should do. We’re trying to discuss principles, to help provide an interpretive key. One of the many things you should put into your algorithm is local capacity: Is my effort in a relief situation, for instance, strengthening or displacing and diminishing local capacity?

In the film, there’s a powerful chapter called “Power for the Parents.” In my service to the child, am I excluding the parents? Am I approaching the family as a unit, or am I isolating individual children and working with them separately? If so, it can actually undermine the parent and break apart the family. I’ve never seen a child-sponsorship commercial with a parent. You’re basically saying to the person on the other end of that commercial, “You get to be this kid’s parent.”

How are NGOs responding to the film?

We were really encouraged: Compassion International had a screening for their staff. They had a focused discussion on, Are we as an organization doing enough to give power to the parents? If there’s not any tension or friction, the film is not doing its job.

Bono, the singer and co-founder of the antipoverty group ONE, has seen the film. His people tell us they share enormous common ground, and they agree with the critique of the Christmas song.

You’ve been screening the film across the United States and abroad. What kind of reactions has it generated?

The thing I’m most encouraged by is that students at universities have been the biggest drivers of screenings for us — seven or eight screenings at Harvard alone.

Have you noticed different reactions from different audiences?

There’s one scene in particular that is perfectly indicative of the disconnect between the West and the rest. The physician and former aid consultant Theodore Dalrymple says, “I bought my first house on the proceeds of foreign aid. Aid has been very good to me. It’s aided me immensely. It’s allowed me to have an interesting life, to travel, no tax. It couldn’t be better.”

At most screenings — I’ll give the Minneapolis-St. Paul film festival as an example — a mostly white, liberal audience. You could just cut the tension in the room with a knife. That’s the norm; most people react that way.

But at predominantly African audiences — I’ll give the Africa Business Club at Harvard as an example — they played the film the opening night of the Africa Business Conference. When that scene comes up, the whole room was just uproarious, laughing and clapping and hooting and hollering and whistling. It wasn’t shocking to them. They all knew, and they were all thankful and appreciative of this guy for saying it out loud. Those different reactions are very revealing of different assumptions.

The film is not doing a whole lot more than trying to bridge that gap.

Source: The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Respecting & Exercising Property Rights

The canons of the Church affirm the fundamental moral goodness of property; this doesn’t mean that all uses of property are of equal moral weight. Just as not all acquisitions and uses of property are all necessarily virtuous, neither are all necessarily sinful. Again the principle here is, in the words of St Maximus the Confessor, “it is only the misuse of things that is evil, and such misuse occurs when the intellect fails to cultivate its natural powers” (#4, Third Century on Charity). So while property is good, its misuse is evil and the result of a misunderstanding of property’s nature. Finally, the canons don’t offer us a fully formed theory of property rights. They do give us insight into the nature of property and how God intends us to make use it.

Apostolic Canons (XL), draw a distinction between the private and corporate ownership of property. Specifically between what belongs to the bishop (his “private goods” which would include not only clothes and money but also real estate) and what belongs to the diocese. The bishop is free to dispose of his own property as he sees fit; property in other words is alienable.  The bishop really owns his own property; he isn’t just a moral steward of this or that part of Creation. This means that, while the context of moral ad civil law he can transfer his property to a new owner.

The specific case in the canon is the bishop’s right to bequeath his property to his “wife, or children, or relations, or servants.” Doing so, again in the words of the canon, “is just before God and man” and necessary so that neither the bishop nor “his relations be injured under pretext” that his personal property belongs to the diocese. The bishop’s failure to provide for his family after his means to risk a state of affairs such that others will “cast reproaches upon.”

For this canon then the legal right to property and the morally right use of property are joined. The latter is the goal or the purpose of the former; what we own, we own so that we can care for those God has entrusted to us.

This, in turn, is why it is important to distinguish as a matter of law (ecclesial AND civil) what belongs to the bishop—and so his family—and what belongs to the diocese. Failure to do so not only means risking a lawsuit but also the greater moral and social harm of property being misused. Misuse here doesn’t necessarily mean using property for immoral purposes. Rather the concern is avoid any failure to use them for the purpose, and persons, for which and for whom it is intended. This is both a familial and ecclesial concern.

Clarity of ownership protects the right of the bishop’s family to his property; it also protects the right of the faithful to diocesan property. Just as with the episcopal family, it is unjust for “the Church [to] suffer any loss through ignorance of the bishop’s own property.” In other words, both sides needs to know who owns what.

This is why later councils stress the need for the bishop not only to be a good steward of the wealth of the diocese but that ownership be clearly, and legally, defined. In other words, the contemporary concern for procedural and substantive justice in matters of diocesan property is not unknown in the early Church.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Canons on Usury

Canons of the Holy Apostles

Canon XLIV:

Let a bishop, presbyter, or deacon, who takes usury from those who borrow of him, give up doing so, or be deposed.

 

First Nicea (325)

Canon XVII:

Forasmuch as many enrolled among the Clergy, following covetousness and lust of gain, have forgotten the divine Scripture, which says, “He hath not given his money upon usury,” and in lending money ask the hundredth of the sum [as monthly interest], the holy and great Synod thinks it just that if after this decree any one be found to receive usury, whether he accomplish it by secret transaction or otherwise, as by demanding the whole and one half, or by using any other contrivance whatever for filthy lucre’s sake, he shall be deposed from the clergy and his name stricken from the list.

Ancient Epitome of Canon XVII: If anyone shall receive usury or 150 per cent he shall be cast forth and deposed, according to this decree of the Church.

 

Laodicaean Council (364)

Canon 4:

Concerning the fact that those who are in priestly orders must not lend out money and take interest and the so-called “half-of-the-whole.” (Ap. c. XLIV.).

 

Quinisextum (Trullum 692)

Canon X:

A bishop, or presbyter, or deacon who receives usury, or what is called hecatostæ, let him desist or be deposed.

Canons on Money

Canons of the Holy Apostles

Canon XXIX:

If any bishop, presbyter, or deacon, shall obtain possession of that dignity by money, let both him and the person who ordained him be deposed, and also altogether cut off from all communion, as Simon Magus was by me, Peter.

 

First Nicea (325)

Canon XII:

As many as were called by grace, and displayed the first zeal, having cast aside their military girdles, but afterwards returned, like dogs, to their own vomit, (so that some spent money and by means of gifts regained their military stations); let these, after they have passed the space of three years as hearers, be for ten years prostrators. But in all these cases it is necessary to examine well into their purpose and what their repentance appears to be like. For as many as give evidence of their conversions by deeds, and not pretence, with fear, and tears, and perseverance, and good works, when they have fulfilled their appointed time as hearers, may properly communicate in prayers; and after that the bishop may determine yet more favourably concerning them. But those who take [the matter] with indifference, and who think the form of [not] entering the Church is sufficient for their conversion, must fulfil the whole time.

Ancient Epitome of Canon XII: Those who endured violence and were seen to have resisted, but who afterwards yielded to wickedness, and returned to the army, shall be excommunicated for ten years. But in every case the way in which they do their penance must be scrutinized. And if anyone who is doing penance shews himself zealous in its performance, the bishop shall treat him more lentently than had he been cold and indifferent. [There is great difficulty about the last phrase and Gelasius of Cyzicus, the Prisca, Dionysius Exiguus, the pseudo-Isidore, Zonaras and most others have considered the “not” an interpolation.]

Canon XVII:

Forasmuch as many enrolled among the Clergy, following covetousness and lust of gain, have forgotten the divine Scripture, which says, “He hath not given his money upon usury,” and in lending money ask the hundredth of the sum [as monthly interest], the holy and great Synod thinks it just that if after this decree any one be found to receive usury, whether he accomplish it by secret transaction or otherwise, as by demanding the whole and one half, or by using any other contrivance whatever for filthy lucre’s sake, he shall be deposed from the clergy and his name stricken from the list.

Ancient Epitome of Canon XVII: If anyone shall receive usury or 150 per cent he shall be cast forth and deposed, according to this decree of the Church.

 

Gangraean Council (340)

Canon 21:

We state these things, not by way of cutting off from the Church of God persons wishing to exercise themselves ascetically in accordance with the Scriptures, but those who take the matter of ascetic exercises as something to be proud of, and who regard those living and conducting themselves in an easier manner disdainfully, and who introduce novelties that are contrary to the Scriptures and the Ecclesiastical Canons. For the fact is that we admire virtue with humility and welcome continence with modesty and godliness, and esteem anachoretic departures from mundane affairs with humility, and honor modest cohabitation of matrimony, and do not despise wealth with justice and with the doing of good. And we praise frugality and cheapness of garments, worn solely for protection of the body and plainly made; whereas we abhor loose and outworn fashions in dress. And we honor the houses of God, and we embrace the meetings that occur therein as holy and beneficial; though we do not confine piety to the houses, but honor every place that is built in the name of God. And we consider the congregation in the church of God to be a benefit to the public. And felicitate those brethren who do good to the poor in accordance with the traditions of the Church by way of supererogation. And, concisely speaking, we prayerfully hope that all the things will be done in the Church and in church that have been handed down traditionally by the divine Scriptures and the Apostolic traditions. (Ap. cc. LI, LIII; cc. XXVII, LXXX of the 6th; c. XVI of the 7th; cc. V, XX of Gangra.)

 

Laodicaean Council (364)

Canon 4:

Concerning the fact that those who are in priestly orders must not lend out money and take interest and the so-called “half-of-the-whole.” (Ap. c. XLIV.)

 

Council of Chalcedon (451)

Canon II:

If any Bishop should ordain for money, and put to sale a grace which cannot be sold, and for money ordain a bishop, or chorepiscopus, or presbyters, or deacons, or any other of those who are counted among the clergy; or if through lust of gain he should nominate for money a steward, or advocate, or prosmonarius, or any one whatever who is on the roll of the Church, let him who is convicted of this forfeit his own rank; and let him who is ordained be nothing profited by the purchased ordination or promotion; but let him be removed from the dignity or charge he has obtained for money. And if any one should be found negotiating such shameful and unlawful transactions, let him also, if he is a clergyman, be deposed from his rank, and if he is a layman or monk, let him be anathematized.

 

Quinisextum (Trullum 692)

Canon XXII:

We command that those men be deposed from office, whether they be Bishops or Clergymen whatsoever, who have been ordained or are being ordained for money, and not in accordance with a test and choice of life. (Ap. c. XXIX; c. II of the 4th; c. XXIII of the 6th; ec. IV, V, XIX of the 7th; c. XCI of Basil; letters of Gennadius and Tarasius.)

Canon XXIII:

Concerning the rule that no one, whether a Bishop, or a Presbyter, or a Deacon, that imparts of the intemerate Communion shall collect from the partaker coins or any compensation whatsoever in exchange for such communion. For neither is grace bought, nor do we impart the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit for money; but, on the contrary, it must be imparted to the worthy without the incentive of knavishness. If, however, any person enrolled in the Clergy should be found to be demanding compensation of any kind of him to whom he imparts of the intemerate Communion, let him be deposed from office, on the ground that he is votary of Simon’s delusion and maleficence. (Ap. c. XXIX; c. II of the 4th; c. XXII of the 6th; cc. IV, XV, IX of the 7th; c. XCI of Basil; letters of Gennadius and Tarasius.)

 

Second Nicea (787)

Canon XIX:

That the vows of those in holy orders and of monks, and of nuns are to be made without the exaction of gifts.

The abomination of filthy lucre has made such inroads among the rulers of the churches, that certain of those who call themselves religious men and women, forgetting the commandments of the Lord have been altogether led astray, and for the sake of money have received those presenting themselves for the sacerdotal order and the monastic life. And hence the first step of those so received being unlawful, the whole proceeding is rendered null, as says Basil the Great. For it is not possible that God should be served by means of mammon. If therefore, anyone is found doing anything of this kind, if he be a bishop or hegumenos, or one of the priesthood, either let him cease to do so any longer or else let him be deposed, according to the second canon of the Holy Council of Chalcedon. If the offender be an abbess, let her be sent away from her monastery, and placed in another in a subordinate position. In like manner is a hegumenos to be dealt with, who has not the ordination of a presbyter. With regard to what has been given by parents as a dowry for their children, or which persons themselves have contributed out of their own property, with the declaration that such gifts were made to God, we have decreed, that whether the persons in whose behalf the gifts were made, continue to live in the monastery or not, the gifts are to remain with the monastery in accordance with their first determination; unless indeed there be ground for complaint against the superior.

Canon V:

That they who cast contumely upon clerics because they have been ordained in the church without bringing a gift with them, are to be published with a fine.

It is a sin unto death when men incorrigibly continue in their sin, but they sin more deeply, who proudly lifting themselves up oppose piety and sincerity, accounting mammon of more worth than obedience to God, and caring nothing for his canonical precepts. The Lord God is not found among such, unless, perchance, having been humbled by their own fall, they return to a sober mind.

It behoves them the rather to turn to God with a contrite heart and to pray for forgiveness and pardon of so grave a sin, and no longer to boast in an unholy gift. For the Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart. With regard, therefore, to those who pride themselves that because of their benefactions of gold they were ordained in the Church, and resting confidently in this evil custom (so alien from God and inconsistent with the whole priesthood), with a proud look and open mouth

vilify with abusive words those who on account of the strictness of their life were chosen by the Holy Ghost and have been ordained without any gift of money, we decree in the first place that they take the lowest place in their order; but if they do not amend let them be subjected to a fine. But if it appear that any one has done this [i.e., given money], at any time as a price for ordination, let him be dealt with according to the Apostolic Canon which says: “If a bishop has obtained possession of his dignity by means of money (the same rule applies also to a presbyter or deacon) let him be deposed and also the one who ordained him, and let him also be altogether cut off from communion, even as Simon Magus was by me Peter.” To the same effect is the second canon of our holy fathers of Chalcedon, which says: If any bishop gives ordination in return for money, and puts up for sale that which cannot be sold, and ordains for money a bishop or chorepiscopus, or presbyter, or deacon, or any other of those who are reckoned among the clergy; or who for money shall appoint anyone to the office of oeconomus, advocate, or paramonarius; or, in a word, who hath done anything else contrary to the canon, for the sake of filthy lucre—he who hath undertaken to do anything of this sort, having been convicted, shall be in danger of losing his degree. And he who has been ordained shall derive no advantage from the ordination or promotion thus negotiated; but let him remain a stranger to the dignity and responsibility which he attained by means of money. And if any one shall appear to have acted as a go-between in so shameful and godless a traffic, he also, if he be a cleric, shall be removed from his degree; if he be a layman or a monk, let him be excommunicated.

Canons on Property

Canons of the Holy Apostles

Canon XL:

Let the private goods of the bishop, if he have any such, and those of the Lord, be clearly distinguished, that the bishop may have the power of leaving his own goods, when he dies, to whom he will, and how he will, and that the bishop’s own property may not be lost under pretence of its being the property of the Church: for it may be that he has a wife, or children, or relations, or servants; and it is just before God and man, that neither should the Church suffer any loss through ignorance of the bishop’s own property, nor the bishop or his relations be injured under pretext of the Church: nor that those who belong to him should be involved in contests, and cast reproaches upon his death.

 

 

Council at Ancyra (314)

Canon 3:

As for those who were fleeing and were caught, or who were delivered up by their own intimates, or who otherwise had their property taken away from them, or who had to undergo tortures, or were cast into a jail, while crying out that they were Christians, and being torn to pieces, or who had anything put in their hands for violence by those employing force against them, or who had to accept some food of necessity, though confessing throughout that they were Christians, and ever exhibiting mournfulness over the occurrence in their whole make-up and their habit, and humbleness of life, they, as being without sin, are not to be excluded from communion. Even if they were excluded by someone as a matter of excessive strictness, or by some even through ignorance, they must immediately be admitted and restored to their rights. This applies likewise both to those who belong to the clergy, and to other members of the laity. A further question examined into was whether laymen can be promoted to orders if they incur the same necessity. It has been deemed but right that these persons too, as not having committed any sin, provided that their previous life has been correct and upright, be advanced to orders by imposition of hands.

 

Canon 6:

As concerning those who merely in obedience to a threat of being imprisoned and punished, and of having their property taken away, or of being forced to change their abode, have sacrificed, and up to the present time have failed to repent, and have neither been led to return, but have now come to join the Church and have become minded to return at a time coinciding with that of the Council, it has been deemed but right that until the great day they be admitted as listeners, and that after the great day they be obliged to serve three years as kneelers, and after two more years (as co-standers) they are to commune without an offering, and thus to arrive at perfection; so that they shall fulfill the whole period of six years. But if any persons were admitted to repentance before this Council convened, from that time let the term of six years be considered as having commenced. Nevertheless, if there be any danger and expectation of death ensuing from a disease or any other cause, let these persons be admitted conditionally.

 

Antiochean Council  (341)

Canon 24:

The rules and regulations of the Church must be rightly kept for the Church with all diligence and in all good conscience and faith reposed in God, who is the superintendent and judge of all things, and the affairs of the church should be governed with the judgment and authority of the Bishop entrusted with all the laity and the souls of all the members of the congregation thereof. What belongs to the dominion of the Church is manifest and well known to the Presbyters and Deacons under his jurisdiction, so that these persons ought to be well aware, and not ignorant, of whatever is property of the church, so that nothing should escape their observation to enable them, in case the Bishop should exchange life, in view of the fact that the things belonging to the dominion of the church are manifest, to prevent any of them from being embezzled or made away with and lost, and to see that none of the Bishop’s own things are disturbed on the pretense that they are ecclesiastical property. For it is just and pleasing to both God and man that the Bishop should leave his own property to whomsoever he may will it, but that things belonging to the church should be kept for it; and that neither should the church sustain any loss or damage, nor should property of the Bishop be confiscated on the pretense that it belongs to the church; nor should those persons be involved in any trouble in claims thereto, with the result of defaming him after death.
(Ap. cc. XXXVIII and XL.)

Canon 25:
A Bishop shall have authority over the property and funds of his church, so as to be able to administer it to all needing it with all reverence and fear of God. He too shall partake thereof so far as he may have need thereof (if he should have any need) for his own necessary wants, and for those of the brethren he has under his hospitation, so as not to leave them in any way unprovided for according to the divine Apostle, who says: “having food and raiment, let us be therewith content” (1 Tim. 6:8). But if he should not be content therewith, but should convert property (of the church) to the needs of his own household, and should fail to handle the revenue of the church, of the fruit of the fields, with the consent and approval of the Presbyters and Deacons, but should extend the authority to his own intimates and relatives or brothers or sons, with the consequence of thereby imperceptibly or unobservedly causing the assets of the church to be injured; he shall be held accountable to the Synod of the province. If, on the other hand, the Bishop and the Presbyters serving with him be traduced on the alleged ground that they are appropriating to themselves goods belonging to the church, whether it be from the fields or from any other alleged property of the church, on the alleged ground that the indigent are being oppressed, whereas, in point of fact, calumny and defamation are being inflicted by the words upon those so governing, and they are charged with liability to correction, the holy Synod or Council must determine what ought to be done.
(Ap, cc. XXXVIII and XLI.)

 

 

Council at Sardica (343)

Canon 12:

Since some of the brethren and fellow Bishops in a city in which they are appointed to be Bishops seem to own exceedingly little property there, but in other regions have large possessions of land, from which they can lend succor to the indigent, in such cases we judge it to be allowable, when it comes to their going to their own possessions and gathering in the crops thereof, for them to stay for three consecutive Sundays, that is, for three weeks, upon their own land, and, in order to avoid seeming to be negligent in the matter of coming to church along with others, we deem it allowable for them to visit the nearest church in which a Presbyter is conducting services and celebrate Liturgy:, though not to go continually and too frequently to a city in which there is a Bishop. For in this manner not only will his own affairs suffer no damage or loss or injury in spite of his absence, but the possibility of being charged with conceitedness and inflation will seem to be averted.

(Ap. c. LVIII; cc. XIX, LXXX of the 6th; c. XVI of the lst-&-2nd; cc. V, XX, XXI of Gangra; c. XI of Sard.; cc. LXXIX, LXXXII, LXXXIII, CXXXI, CXXXII, CXXXIII of Carthage; c. VI of Nyssa; c. X of Peter.

 

 

Council of Chalcedon (451)

Canon III:

It has come to [the knowledge of] the holy Synod that certain of those who are enrolled among the clergy have, through lust of gain, become hirers of other men’s possessions, and make contracts pertaining to secular affairs, lightly esteeming the service of God, and slip into the houses of secular persons, whose property they undertake through covetousness to manage. Wherefore the great and holy Synod decrees that henceforth no bishop, clergyman, nor monk shall hire possessions, or engage in business, or occupy himself in worldly engagements, unless he shall be called by the law to the guardianship of minors, from which there is no escape; or unless the bishop of the city shall commit to him the care of ecclesiastical business, or of unprovided orphans or widows and of persons who stand especially in need of the Church’s help, through the fear of God. And if any one shall hereafter transgress these decrees, he shall be subjected to ecclesiastical penalties.

Canon XXIV:

Monasteries, which have once been consecrated with the consent of the bishop, shall remain monasteries for ever, and the property belonging to them shall be preserved, and they shall never again become secular dwellings. And they who shall permit this to be done shall be liable to ecclesiastical penalties.

 

 

Quinisextum (Trullum 692)

Canon XLIX:

Renewing this sacred Canon too, we decree that Monasteries that have once been consecrated and established in accordance with the consent and approval of a Bishop shall remain Monasteries unto perpetuity, and the property that belongs to them shall be kept safe in the Monastery, and that they can no longer become worldly resorts, nor be let out by anybody whatever to any worldly tenants whatever. Though this has been done up till now, we nevertheless decree that it shall not be continued in any way whatever. Those who attempt to do this hereafter shall be subject to the penances provided by the Canons.

(c. XXIV of the 4th; c. XIII of the 7th.)

 

 

Second Nicea (787)

Canon XII:

That a Bishop or Hegumenos ought not to alienate any part of the suburban estate of the church.

If bishop or hegumenos is found alienating any part of the farm lands of the bishoprick or monastery into the hands of secular princes, or surrendering them to any other person, such act is null according to the canon of the holy Apostles, which says: “Let the bishop take care of all the Church’s goods, and let him administer the same according as in the sight of God.” It is not lawful for him to appropriate any part himself, or to confer upon his relations the things which belong to God. If they are poor let them be helped among the poor; but let them not be used as a pretext for smuggling away the Church’s property. And if it be urged that the land is only a loss and yields no profit, the place is not on that account to be given to the secular rulers, who are in the neighbourhood; but let it be given to clergymen or husbandmen. And if they have resorted to dishonest craft, so that the ruler has bought the land from the husbandman or cleric, such transaction shall likewise be null, and the land shall be restored to the bishoprick or monastery. And the bishop or hegumenos doing this shall be turned out, the bishop from his bishoprick and the hegumenos from his monastery, as those who wasted what they did not gather.

Canon XI:

Concerning those who have fallen without compulsion, without the spoiling of their property, without danger or the like, as happened during the tyranny of Licinius, the Synod declares that, though they have deserved no clemency, they shall be dealt with mercifully. As many as were communicants, if they heartily repent, shall pass three years among the hearers; for seven years they shall be prostrators; and for two years they shall communicate with the people in prayers, but without oblation.

Ancient Epitome of Canon XI: As many as fell without necessity, even if therefore undeserving of indulgence, yet some indulgence shall be shown them and they shall be prostrators for twelve years. Zonaras: The prostrators stood within the body of the church behind the ambo and went out with the catechumens.

 

 

Constantinople (861)

Canon 1:

The building of monasteries, which is something so seemly and honorable, and rightly excogitated by our blissful and devout fathers of old, is seen to be done wrongly today. For some men, bestowing the name of monastery on their own property and domain, and promising God to sanctify this, have recorded themselves as owners of the consecrated lands and buildings, and have contrived to devise a way in which to devote them to a divine purpose in name only. For they do not blush to assume the same authority over them after the consecration as they could have exercised before this without overstepping their rights. And so much commercialized has the thing become that many of the lands and buildings consecrated are being sold openly by the consecrators themselves, inspiring beholders with amazement and indignation. And not only have they no regret for what they have done in appropriating to themselves authority over what was dedicated to God once, but they even fearlessly confer it upon others. For these reasons, then, the holy Council has decreed that no one shall have a right to build a monastery without the consent and approval of the bishop. With his knowledge and permission, after he has executed the necessary prayer, as was enjoined legislatively by the God-beloved fathers of olden times, they may build a monastery together with all its accessories, recording everything belonging thereto in a breve and depositing the latter in the archives of the bishopric; the consecrator having no right whatever to make himself an abbot, or anyone else in his stead, without the consent of the bishop. For if one is no longer able to exercise ownership over what he has given away to some other human being, how can one be conceded the right to appropriate the ownership of what he has sanctified and dedicated to God?
(cc. IV, XXIV of the 4th; c. XLIX of the 6th; cc. XII, XIII, XVII, XIX of the 7th; c. II of Cyril.)

Canon 6:

Monks ought not to have anything of their own. Everything of theirs ought to be assigned to the monastery. For blissful Luke says concerning those who believe in Christ and conform to the monks’ way of life: “Neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but, on the contrary, they held everything in common” (Acts 4:32). Wherefore unto those wishing to lead the monastic life permission is given to dispose of their property to whatever persons they may wish, so long, that is to say, as the property may be legally transferred to them. For after their entering upon the monastic life the monastery has the ownership of all they bring with them, and they have nothing of their own to worry about other than what they have been allowed to dispose of beforehand. If anyone be caught appropriating or claiming any possession that has not been made over and conveyed to the monastery, and revealed to be enslaved to the passion of love of property, that possession shall be seized by the abbot or bishop, and shall be sold in the presence of many persons, and the proceeds therefrom shall be distributed to the poor and indigent. As for anyone who shall meditate holding back any such possession, after the fashion of Ananias of old, the holy Council has decreed that he shall be chastened with a suitable discipline. It is to be understood, moreover, that whatever rules the holy Council has made in regard to men who are leading the monastic life of monks, the same rules apply also to women who are leading the monastic life of nuns.

Canon 7:

We see many of the bishoprics falling down and in danger of being relegated to utter destruction, because, we venture to say, the heads of these establishments consume their thought and attention in projecting new monasteries, and exploiting these projects, and in contriving to convert the income thereof to their own use they busy themselves with the development of those. The holy Council has therefore decreed that not one of the bishops shall be permitted to build a new monastery of his own to the detriment of his own bishopric. If anyone be caught daring to do this, he shall be punished with the proper penalty, while the building he has erected shall be assigned to the estate of the bishopric as its own property, on the ground that he has not even so much as had a right to originate a monastery. For nothing that has been unlawfully and irregularly in vogue can be taken as the prejudice of what is canonically consistent.
(Ap. c. XXXVIII; c. XXVI of the 4th; cc. XI, XII of the 7th; cc. XXIV, XXV of Antioch; c. XV of Ancyra; c. 7th of Gangra; cc. XXXIV, XLI of Carthage; c. X of Theophilus; c. II of Cyril.)

Canons on Wealth

Gangraean Council (340)

Canon 21:

We state these things, not by way of cutting off from the Church of God persons wishing to exercise themselves ascetically in accordance with the Scriptures, but those who take the matter of ascetic exercises as something to be proud of, and who regard those living and conducting themselves in an easier manner disdainfully, and who introduce novelties that are contrary to the Scriptures and the Ecclesiastical Canons. For the fact is that we admire virtue with humility and welcome continence with modesty and godliness, and esteem anachoretic departures from mundane affairs with humility, and honor modest cohabitation of matrimony, and do not despise wealth with justice and with the doing of good. And we praise frugality and cheapness of garments, worn solely for protection of the body and plainly made; whereas we abhor loose and outworn fashions in dress. And we honor the houses of God, and we embrace the meetings that occur therein as holy and beneficial; though we do not confine piety to the houses, but honor every place that is built in the name of God. And we consider the congregation in the church of God to be a benefit to the public. And felicitate those brethren who do good to the poor in accordance with the traditions of the Church by way of supererogation. And, concisely speaking, we prayerfully hope that all the things will be done in the Church and in church that have been handed down traditionally by the divine Scriptures and the Apostolic traditions. (Ap. cc. LI, LIII; cc. XXVII, LXXX of the 6th; c. XVI of the 7th; cc. V, XX of Gangra.)

Early Church Teaching on Economic Issues

There are several canons from ecumenical and local councils (here) that touch on economic matters. A keyword search turned up canons on “wealth,” “property,” “money,” and “usury.” Here are want to look briefly at those mentioning wealth and usury.

While I need to do more work on the historical and pastoral context in which they were written one of the things that struck me is that canons are not necessarily antithetical to the free market. This is different from saying that the canonical tradition advocates for a free market; it doesn’t. There is however a fundamental appreciation and respect for private property and on the use of “wealth with justice and with the doing of good” (Canon 21, Council of Gangra, AD 340). We can, and should, argue over the concrete meaning “justice” and “doing good” but clearly the council doesn’t condemn wealth as such. To borrow from St Maximus, it isn’t wealth but avarice which is the sin.

The canons on usury are also interesting. Unless he gives up doing so the Canons of the Holy Apostles (canon 44) deposes a “bishop, presbyter, or deacon, who takes usury from those who borrow of him.” Likewise Canon 10 of the Council of Trullo (AD 692), condemns clergy take interest from a loan are deposed “or what is called hecatostæ.” Looking back to Canon 17 from the First Council of Nicea (AD 325), the term hecatostæ suggest that by usury the fathers might have meant “ask[ing] the hundredth of the sum” as monthly interest.

While most of us would like a credit card that charged a simple interest rate of 1%/month, a gloss of the canon from Nicea suggests that fathers likely meant a higher rate. “If anyone shall receive usury or 150 per cent he shall be cast forth and deposed, according to this decree of the Church” (Ancient Epitome of Canon XVII). It is unclear whether this is a monthly or annual rate or simply a straight fee for borrowing money.

Whatever usury meant concretely at the time, evidently the bishops in the early Church were not content to limit their moral teaching on economic matters to general principles. They put numbers on the table and condemn specific business practices as unjust or contrary to “doing good.” While I’m neither a church historian nor a theologian, it seems to me likely that at least some of the bishops were economically literate. It also seems to me that at least some were familiar with the business practices of their day.

While the bishops place limits on the use and acquisition of wealth they don’t disparage wealth creation. At Gangra the bishops express their esteem both for monastic poverty AND material success seeing both as consonant with humility. As they write they “admire virtue with humility … continence with modesty and godliness, … anachoretic departures from mundane affairs with humility, … modest cohabitation of matrimony, and do not despise wealth with justice and with the doing of good.”

Yes they condemn usury but the canons cited don’t reject charging interest. Just as married life requires that the couple mix their labor with the material world to create the wealth needed to fulfill and to establish a home “built in the name of God” (Gangra) there are times when borrowing and lending money are necessary for the economic life of a community. This might be why Nicea doesn’t condemns interest payments as such but a very specific interest rate. Finally it seems to me unlikely that this was simply an arbitrary figure. Given the specificity of the canon it likely reflected an abuse of what was an otherwise acceptable practice leading credence to the possibility that economics the bishops understood business.

Outcomes Not Intentions Are What Matter

There’s been some interesting conversation recently about Seattle based CEO Dan Price’s decision to pay all of his employees a minimum annual salary of $70,000 (for more see here).

Though well intentioned, Price’s business plan has evidently undermined the profitabiity of his business–this at least is what his brother claims in lawsuit (here). I think his brother is likely correct since, as the NYT’s article says, the plan has harmed worker morale, decreased productivity relative to labor costs and lead to key employees leaving the firm. Yes the company has acquired new clients but he will likely lose clients as well. We can’t judge the morality of a policy based solely on intention. Results matter and Price has likely harmed the economic health of his company, his brother as a minority shareholder and the loyal and hardworking employees that made his company a success.

Price’s decision bears a superficial resemblance to the parable of the workers in the vineyard recording in Matthew 20:1-16. In the parable, the vineyard owner pays those who came at the end of the day a full day’s wage. Not unexpectedly the workers who were there all day expected to be paid a premium for laboring all day in the sun. When they get only the wage for to which they agreed, they complain against the owner.

 And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ (vv. 11-12)

The vineyard owner, however, is not so easily intimidated.

…he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
(vv. 13-16)

The first thing to not is that the parable though isn’t about business but the Kingdom of God. Yes, we should conform our business dealing to the Gospel. In the parable when the landowner is challenged he responds by reminding the workers who claim that he treated them justly and that in any case his money is his to do with as he sees fit. What Price did was not given people what they were promised; instead changed the rules of the game.

Though his intentions were good, his actions were unjust. Moreover, what he did, he did not only with his own money but (so his brother argues in his lawsuit) other people’s money.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to help the unemployed and the working poor. There isn’t necessarily any moral or public policy problem with the government subsidizing the working poor. The fact is not every employee can generate enough profit for his or her employer to pay a living, much less middle class, wage. Actually, I think it would be a good idea to both abolish the minimum wage AND extend welfare benefits to include those whose income is below a set threshold. This could help those who otherwise would not be able to work.

Like the current Earned Income Tax Credit it would help those who, if they did work, be able to support themselves. More importantly though it would help people get into the job market and gain work experience to improve their situation.

Would this subsidize businesses? You could argue that it is, at least indirectly, it does. But I don’t think that’s quite fair.

First of all the business would be providing a demonstrable service to the community by helping people who might not otherwise be able to do so work. Given the importance of work to human dignity, this is a good for those who would otherwise be unemployed.

Second, the business owner is incurring some risk in hiring a worker who because of a lack of experience or education or personal discipline may not be able to do the job for which he or she was hired. Seen in that way, we aren’t subsidizing a company but giving them an incentive to employ someone who they might not otherwise hire.

The United States is a rich nation we can afford to do this. We subsidize all sorts of people and there’s nothing in my view wrong with this. What is wrong is judging policy or business decisions not by outcome but by intention. So the question is this: Are the people we want to help actually being helped and, if so, at what cost and to whom. Pretending that all jobs are worth the same salary, however, is morally wrong and financially calamitous.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory