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Archive for the ‘Humane economics’ Category

In his book, Economics as Religion, Robert Nelson argues that modern economics is paradigmatically theological. Its proponents advance value judgments even while disowning their relevance in a neutral market, and maintain that theirs is a hard, not a soft, science. Economists are the new priesthood, who preach the way to material prosperity, human wholeness, and adhere to various (competing) ideological presuppositions which inform their policy-making.

Interestingly, Nelson draws a parallel between the Chicago school of economics and the Reformation:

Chicago economics falls in the tradition of the “protesters” against the mainstream orthodoxies of the times–one might thus see the Chicago school as a modern, secular continuation in the tradition of Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. Indeed, the connections to Protestant theology found at Chicago go beyond this sociological comparison. The welfare and regulatory state of the twentieth century has in many respects served as the modern equivalent of a church. If progressive religion has served as the gospel of this national church of America, the Chicago school of economics has protested that American Progressivism preaches a false religion, and that the church itself has been corrupted to serve special interests and other private purposes. Washington, D.C., is the new Rome where the original American virtues have been lost.

While the analogy shouldn’t be taken too far (since, as R.H. Tawney and others have pointed out, capitalism pre-dates Protestantism), the sociological parallel seems fairly apt. As one who grew up in the individualist wing of Protestantism, and also avidly read Friedman as a teenager, I found the two systems extremely compatible. While I believe that early Protestantism was not nearly so reactionary, many segments of modern Protestantism exemplify the true-orthodoxy-in-exile mentality that also typifies many in the Austrian and Chicago schools.

And further, I’m amused to realize that my own affirmations of, and objections to, the Chicago school and modern Protestantism are strikingly similar.

(Cross posted at Theopol.)

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Here’s an important post from Georgetown professor Patrick Deneen. He draws out some of the moral lessons to be learned from this latest financial fiasco.

When will we learn that bigger is not always better? Bigness is killing us.

HT: Rod Dreher

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Industrial and farming are two words that should never be in the same sentence except by way of contrast. Kinda like the words industrial and ecclesiastical. Mega-churches with cheap salvation. Mega-meats with cheap chicken. Everyone once in a while a news story offers a warning about the dangers, even the sins, of industrial farming practices and their effects on the food supply. Few seem to ever think deeply about the implication no matter how disturbing or disgusting the details. Today’s massive meat recall is such a story.

If your conscience is not bothered by eating that large, cheap steak from your local supermarket you might want to pick up a copy of Matthew Scully’s book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. If you are thinking… oh boy, I am not reading some left-wing diatribe from some animal rights freak… reconsider. Matthew Scully is a conservative who has written for National Review and the American Conservative. He has served as a speech writer to conservatives like G. W. Bush (does he still count as a conservative?), Dan Quayle, Bob Dole, Robert Casey, and Fife Symington). It is worth checking out.

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Gas prices are killing my family budget. Maybe the government could help by giving a little less help?
Read this article at Human Events by Terry Easton.

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Roepke in Geneva: Revidivus

Roepke brought the wisdom of his humane economics to Geneva. History is repeating itself as Roepke disciple/scholar Dr. Ralph Ancil toils amidst the hallowed halls of Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa.

Readers will be aware that Geneva College is the denominational college of the RPCNA. Although Dr. Ancil is not an RP (yet, we dare to hope!!!) his insight into the moral framework of free markets will no doubt be a great blessing to a college seeking to apply the Kingship of Christ over all areas of life.

Readers wishing to find a good introduction to Roepke’s ideas will find Ralph Ancil’s address to the prestigious Philadelphia Society illuminating.

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Roepke and the Human Economy
W.H. Chellis

Since we are talking economics here at De Regno, I must admit a prejudice. I have never been a fan of the “dismal science.” Yet, not all economists are made equal. Among 20th Century economists, the German born Wilhelm Roepke (1899-1966) has no peer (at least from my conservative and Christian perspective).

Roepke combined the classical economics of Adam Smith with the best of the European Christian humanist tradition. A primary author of Germany’s post-WWII “economic miracle”, Roepke is known for his books The Human Economy, The Social Crisis of our Time, and The Moral Foundations of Civil Society.

Roepke, who taught for a number of years at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, was a critic of the “cult of the colossal.” A Protestant, Roepke understood the social and moral framework upon which a humane free market must rest. A champion of economic freedom, personal restraint, and the principles of subsidiarity, Roepke was a critic of the “cult of the colossal.”

Christians who want to think about how their faith applies to economics will find no better guide than Wilhelm Roepke.

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Small is Still Beautiful, Pt. 2: “Economics and the Soul”
Charles Brown

This section of the book begins by counting the real cost of free trade. Conventional economists consider global free trade to be good—invariably and indisputably. Critics of this sacred dogma are condemned as “protectionists”. We live in a climate today where no one questions the assumptions upon which free trade theory is based. But changes in the world over the past few decades must lead us to reconsider the whole notion. Four billion people have entered the world economy in recent years. Workers in the United States now compete directly against laborers in China and India, although labor costs in the developing world are as little as 1/50 of those in the developed world. Since an American manufacturing company can save about 20% of its sales volume by moving its production to the developing world, there is little choice left but to send those jobs overseas. The economy virtually demands that companies do this; if not, a company won’t be able to compete against the cheaper labor.

The economic elites tell us that new jobs in the service sector and the high-tech industry should replace the lost manufacturing jobs. But this advice is short-sighted. Technological advances are making it easier to send those jobs overseas as well. Indeed, some companies have already begun outsourcing their customer service to places like India. Of course, on the positive side, global free trade has provided us with lots of cheap goods. However, “the hidden surcharge on cheap imported goods is yet to be paid.” And it may very well be a steep price to pay—not only the loss of American jobs, but also damage to the earth itself. “If the rest of the world prove to be as good consumers as the Americans…they will require 674 percent of the world’s finite resources, nearly seven times more than are actually known to exist.” At this point, conventional economists assure us that “something will turn up”—either more of the natural resource or a substitute for it. Is this optimism warranted? Is global free trade really a theory that you want to follow blindly?

Following Schumacher closely, Pearce offers an alternative to the global free trade theory which prevails in our contemporary culture. “To become truly relevant, economics must look beyond itself: the ‘how’ of economics needs to be reconciled with the ‘why’ of human existence. Economics needs to become meta-economics.” There are three parts to this theory of meta-economics: 1) an examination of the intrinsic purpose of economics; 2) a recognition that the physical factors of life are essentially qualitative as well as quantitative; 3) a consideration of man in his wholeness, not merely as an economic being.

“The fundamental error of modern economics is its mechanistic approach”, treating the actions of men “essentially the same as the behavior of atoms.” Pearce goes on to quote at length from the economic historian R. H. Tawney concerning modern political and economic thought: “Its essence is a dualism which regards the secular and the religious aspects of life…as parallel and independent provinces, governed by different laws, judged by different standards, and amenable to different authorities. To the most representative minds of the Reformation as of the Middle Ages, a philosophy which treated the transactions of commerce and the institutions of society as indifferent to religion would have appeared, not merely morally reprehensible, but intellectually absurd.”

Conventional economics teaches us to get rich and be happy. With no concept of “enough” but only “more”, it encourages greed. In fact, economist John Maynard Keynes went so far as to say that “avarice and usury” must be “our gods for a little longer” until everyone could become rich, and at that time they could then turn their attention to ethics. Once again, we see evidence of how modern economics is driven by a mechanistic materialism. It confuses need and greed; the former is physical, the latter metaphysical. Economics must address the metaphysical. Greed must not be fostered. Such desires need to be restrained and reduced. Man will not find happiness via uncontrolled economic growth. What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?

Finally, Pearce concludes this section with a chapter on “Economics with Soul”. Having demonstrated the subservience of economics to philosophy, Pearce proceeds to show how the concept of economics changes drastically when the underlying principles of philosophical humanism and materialism are replaced with Christian teaching. He focuses on the example of labor. In conventional economics, we are trained to view labor as a necessary evil. Both the employer and the employee see it this way, as an inconvenience. The employer’s ideal is “output without employees”, while the employee’s ideal is “income without employment”.

But for the Christian, labor constitutes “a road to holiness” (according to the Second Vatican Council). In our work, we develop our personalities and gifts; we learn to work with others; we learn to work for others to improve the broader society. Our work should promote the dignity and well-being of man. Many of today’s jobs, though, are dehumanizing—men are treated like machines. The emphasis has been shifted “from the worker to the product of the work, from the human to the sub-human.”

As a second example of the difference which Christian doctrine makes in our economic practices, Pearce cites the natural environment. The self-centeredness of modern economics means that the surrounding world is disregarded. But the Christian respects nature as the handiwork of God. Thus, economic development cannot ignore the moral dimension—”the use of the elements of nature, the renewability of resources, and the consequences of haphazard industrialization.

Commentary
It’s not hard to see how this section of Pearce’s book intersects with our purposes here at De Regno Christi. Jesus Christ is King, even of economics. As with all the other areas of life, economics cannot be divorced from the rule of Christ. Our economics must have a soul, and that soul must be shaped by the royal law of Christ. “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Greed is a sin, a deadly one, for individuals and for nations. When a national economy is driven by avarice, we have a huge problem. Our natural propensity for “more”, encouraged by our national economy, needs instead to be restrained.

Furthermore, when our labor practices treat a man as a machine, denying that he is God’s image-bearer, something is terribly wrong. Labor is a part of God’s good creation. Adam had work to do even before the Fall. Work is not a necessary evil, even though our modern economy sure makes it difficult for us to find anything “good” in our work. While it’s tempting to work simply “for the weekend”, we need to rediscover the wisdom and goodness of God’s law which commands us, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work.”

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