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A collection of short essays by Acton writers.


Ten good reasons for optimism

Oliver Riley R&L Transatlantic Blog

Leading economist Johan Norberg’s latest book, Progress, was a joy to read. He draws attention to the fact that pessimism across the globe is widespread—from the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff testifying before Congress that “the world is a more dangerous place than it has ever been” to Pope Francis claiming that globalization has condemned many people to starve. Then he gives us 10 good reasons in 10 good chapters why this sentiment is wrong.

Norberg zooms you through food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the environment, literacy, freedom and then equality before rounding things up with a chapter titled “the next generation,” in which he asserts that “the future is in our hands.” Along the way, you are bombarded with facts and figures and pleasantly surprised by the occasional graph, so that by the end you scratch your head and question just how on earth it could be possible that so many despair so much.

Occasionally the book reads a little staccato, and at times the speed at which the facts are hurtled your way can feel somewhat overwhelming. But overall it is hard to come away from the book feeling anything other than optimistic.


Nationalism is here to stay

Kishore Jayabalan Acton Rome

To a very basic degree, economics takes care of itself; to survive, people produce and consume on their own without being told to do so. But people also come together to form communities on their own. They worship God or gods on their own. They also disagree and fight about territory and religion on their own. Underlying all of human life and its many activities is a concern for justice and claims about the best way of life. Live and let live is the liberal/ libertarian answer to the question of how we ought to organize politically, but it does not go nearly far enough. The greatest thinkers, from Plato and Aristotle to Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to Hobbes and Locke to Rousseau and Nietzsche and all who have come after them, hold politics to be fundamentally more important than economics because it conditions how we think about justice.

Nationalism is an important issue today because we realize that the vast amounts of wealth provided by economic globalization is insufficient in at least two ways: It does not necessarily result in better human beings or in the common good, however we think of our community (ethnic, religious, political or global). The first concern is connected to virtue in general, the second to justice in particular. We are being forced to reconsider some old questions.

The modern world has provided us with many benefits, including the political form of the nation-state. Compared to alternatives such as the city-state or the empire, the nation has the advantage of providing people with both the freedom of self-determination and the solidarity of belonging to something larger than one’s own group or identity. At
its best, nationalism leads to cosmopolitanism.

As defenders of freedom, we need to take these challenges more seriously not only as individuals but also together.


The long shadow of EU law

Rev. Ben Johnson R&L Transatlantic Blog

The think tank Open Europe calculated that EU regulations siphon £13 billion ($16.2 billion) out of the U.K.’s economy a year. The Telegraph reports that the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which places high tariffs on imported food, “reportedly costs £10 billion in direct costs and by inflating food prices” annually. These analyses do not include another estimated 14.3 percent of all acts passed by the U.K.’s Parliament from 1980 to 2009, which “incorporated a degree of EU influence.”

By freeing itself of EU regulation, the U.K. can manifest another kind of European economic culture: one that frees the wealth-creating powers of the private sector by valuing innovation, growth, dynamism, initiative, entrepreneurship, subsidiarity, choice and the traditional charitable role of intermediary institutions. This contrasts sharply with Brussels’ economic culture: one that empowers global governance institutions by valuing regulation, preservation of the economic status quo, stability, bureaucracy pliable to the lobbying of labor unions and special interest constituencies, public-private “partnerships,” centralization and the social assistance (welfare) state.

Why would London wish to maintain this edifice after declaring independence? Should it do otherwise, the government warns, “UK’s statute book would contain significant gaps once we left the EU.”

That is precisely what many British experts hope for. “Brexit gives us the opportunity: all regulations, but not directives, will fall away automatically,” writes Tim Ambler at the Adam Smith Institute’s blog.


The Pope, the professor and the poor

Jordan J. Ballor Journal of Markets & Morality

The preferential concern for the poor, in Scripture as in the writings of Abraham Kuyper and Pope Leo XIII, should not be understood as pitting rich against poor in a kind of zero-sum game of righteousness. Where worldly and materialistic philosophies preach conflict between classes and groups, the gospel proclaims reconciliation. As Leo puts it: “The great mistake made in regard to the matter now under consideration is to take up with the notion that class is naturally hostile to class, and that the wealthy and the working men are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict.”

It is not, moreover, as if the poor are simply righteous while the rich are simply evil. The history and legacy of revolutions teach us that. As Kuyper observes, the corruption of the government came about “not because the stronger man was more evil in his heart than the weaker man.” Rather, “no sooner did a member of the lower class rise to the top than he in turn took part just as harshly—if not more harshly—in the wicked oppression of members of his former class.” Even a reversal of fortunes between entire classes would not solve the problem, for today’s victims often become tomorrow’s oppressors, and the cycle of violence continues.

Together Leo and Kuyper give us insight into the only way out of this sinful paradigm: the identification of the dignity of the human person in eternal and spiritual perspective, as created in God’s image, fallen into sin, called to redemption and intended for glorification.


Income inequality and poverty aren't the same thing

Joe Carter Acton Powerblog

Income inequality and poverty are separate issues. For many people this is obvious. But there are numerous Christians who believe income inequality is an important issue because they assume it is a proxy for poverty. If this were true, Christians would indeed need to be concerned about income inequality because concern about poverty is a foundational principle of any Christian view of economics.

Fortunately, there is neither a necessary connection nor correlation. A country could have absolutely no poverty at all and have extremely high-income inequality. The reason is because income inequality (measured by the Gini coefficient) measures relative, not absolute, income.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Harry Frankfurt, a philosopher who has written a book on inequality, makes the same point: income inequality and poverty aren’t the same thing. Here’s a quote from a recent Forbes article:

It is not inequality itself that is to be decried; nor is it equality itself that is to be applauded. We must try to eliminate poverty, not because the poor have less than others but because being poor is full of hardship and suffering. We must control inequality, not because the rich have much more than the poor but because of the tendency of inequality to generate unacceptable discrepancies in social and political influence. Inequality is not in itself objectionable—and neither is equality in itself a morally required ideal.

Joe Carter is a senior editor at the Acton Institute.


Unstable childhood lasts into adulthood

Joe Carter

Children who grow up in poverty are twice as likely to struggle with financial challenges later in life, said Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen recently.

A recent survey revealed that more than half of young people age 25 to 39 who reported that as children they worried over things like having enough food were currently facing financial challenges.

“Young adults who regularly or sometimes worried when they were children about their care, safety, or having enough to eat are also less likely to be employed, less likely to have consistent income month-tomonth, and less likely to be able to pay all their current monthly bills in full, compared with those who never or rarely worried about these concerns as children,” noted Yellen.

The research makes a compelling case for the need to think longer term about how to prepare people for success in the labor market:

In fact, this research underscores the value of starting young to develop basic work habits and skills, like literacy, numeracy, and interpersonal and organizational skills. These habits and skills help prepare people for work, help them enter the labor market sooner, meet with more success over time, and be in a position to develop the more specialized skills and obtain the academic credentials that are strongly correlated with higher and steadier earnings. Indeed, a growing body of economic and education literature has focused on the relative efficiency of addressing workforce development challenges through investments in early childhood development and education compared with interventions later in life.


 

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