Thursday, November 3, 2011
The article is not a light read, as you might expect from these authors, but the methods and conclusions are interesting.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
His arguments for eating local seem to be the following:
- Local food production is more secure, since we are not depending on another country for our produce.
- Local food gives us a reason to celebrate seasons, since we will only get asparagus for 2 months out of the year.
- We should prefer food produced close to us, because we can meet the farmers.
- Eating non-local produce from conventional retailers wastes energy by shipping food excessive distances, which in turn uses too many fossil fuels which pollute the air.
- Eating local produce encourages better farming and consumption practices because it allows relationships to develop between producers and consumers.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Here is his conclusion:
But the fact is that Red Inequality is much more important. The zooming wealth of the top 1 percent is a problem, but it’s not nearly as big a problem as the tens of millions of Americans who have dropped out of high school or college. It’s not nearly as big a problem as the 40 percent of children who are born out of wedlock. It’s not nearly as big a problem as the nation’s stagnant human capital, its stagnant social mobility and the disorganized social fabric for the bottom 50 percent.
If your ultimate goal is to reduce inequality, then you should be furious at the doctors, bankers and C.E.O.’s. If your goal is to expand opportunity, then you have a much bigger and different agenda.
Monday, October 31, 2011
Friday, October 7, 2011
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
There are a number of tax misconceptions that we could correct with these numbers. One is that the super rich pay less in taxes than the middle class or moderately wealthy. On average, this is not true, even if we look only at the income tax. The regressive nature of the payroll tax is also made explicit here, which is interesting, and the incidence and small magnitude of the estate tax is also worth noting.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
The best part of Haan’s work is his wiliness to delve into specific scripture passages in depth. This focus allows him to illustrate well the connection between economic problems and individual sin. He convincingly describes the path from idolatry to injustice, with the focus on individual responsibility before God (i.e. chapter 4). Haan does not stop there, however. He also is able to show where the Bible addresses systematic injustice and dysfunction. This ability to hold together the importance of both personal responsibility and systemic order is his true gift to the field of biblical economic ethics. Haan’s essay on Isaiah 58 (chapter 19) especially stands out in this regard.
Unfortunately, in some important areas, Haan’s ethical vision seems too narrow. In his strong reaction to the abuse of political and economic power, he too quickly attributes the sins of Latin American dictators to an underlying economic system. It is true that combinations of economic and political power have, historically, been extremely dangerous, but this observation does not automatically implicate the discipline of economics the way Haan argues it does. Haan’s reading of Milton Friedman, for example, (pg. 73) strangely misses the motivation behind Friedman’s suspicion of government control of the economy. Indeed, libertarians like Friedman share many of Haan’s concerns about the abuse of political and economic power. They disagree only on whether a reliance on markets will lead to a concentration of power, as Haan argues, or decentralized power, as Friedman (1982) famously argued. This narrow and negative view of economic ethics also shows up in Haan’s treatment of poverty and wealth. Readers will search in vain for a moral distinction between wealth gained through abuse of government power and wealth gained through entrepreneurial activity. Instead Haan seems to agree with the dependency theorists that all wealth is necessarily implicated in oppression (see chapters 7 and 21).
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Friday, August 19, 2011
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Two things are competent to man in respect to exterior things. One is the power to procure and dispense them and in this regard it is lawful for man to possess property. Moreover this is necessary to human life for three reasons. First, because every man is more careful to procure what is for himself alone than that which is common to many or to all: since each one would shirk the labor and leave to another that which concerns the community, as happens when there are a great number of servants. Secondly, because human affairs are conducted in more orderly fashion if each man is charged with taking care of some particular thing himself, whereas there would be confusion if everyone had to look after any one thing indeterminately. Thirdly, because a more peaceful state is ensured to man if each one is contented with his own. Hence is to be observed that quarrels arise more frequently where there is no division of things possessed. (Sum. Theo., II-III, q. 66, art. 2.)
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
This is one of the reasons I have so much respect for the work of Stephen Webb, a theologian at Wabash college who has written extensively on Christian eating practices. His book Good Eating contains a humble, winsome, and distictively Christian defense of vegetarian eating, while calling to task the many theological, philosophical, and political problems with the animal rights movement. This book went a long way in convincing me that I could, in good conscience, participate in this movement.
Now Webb has done it again, in an online piece that hits closer to home. His essay, published in The Other Journal, is a call for "gourmands" to take food less seriously. This is serious stuff from a guy who has already written two books on theology and eating. He correctly identifies the tendency for progressive Christians to assign too much theological significance to the slow preparation of food and to politically-minded purchasing habits. He takes William Cavanaugh's book Being Consumed to task for tying into the mix a poor critique of capitalism, and echos John Tiemstra's dissertation when he writes:
The attempt to return to more natural eating, whether in the form of buying local produce or immersing oneself in the arcane knowledge of how best to grill root vegetables, does not constitute a protest against the modern world and its capitalist masters any more than being able to discuss the much contested aromatic effects of arugula is a sign of advanced spiritual awareness and heightened cultural sensitivity.Here's the problem. I like Cavanaugh's book, even though he and I disagree on some of the main points. Somewhere in his line of argument, Webb goes from correctly identifying much of the foodie movement as justified gluttony to critiquing my sacred cow - politically motivated consumption:
There is something to be said, then, for the argument that locally grown produce and humanely raised animal products capture and extend the moral message of communion. In Christianity, however, these dietary decisions flow naturally from acts of worshipping God, not efforts to change the world. Moreover, Christianity reminds us that only when we bring the fruits of our labor to God can we hope to resist the temptation of making those fruits look better than they really are. When we try to make meals a means of moralistic debate, we demean the gifted character of nature’s provisions. When we try to inject morality into our meals, we inevitably take too much pleasure from our actions and mistake physical satisfaction for a sense of social accomplishment.How dare he.
He goes a little too far, however, both in the quote above, and in his critique of Cavanaugh. He quotes this passage from Cavanaugh's book:
“The key question in every transaction is whether or not the transaction contributes to the flourishing of each person involved, and this question can only be judged, from a theological point of view, according to the end of life, which is participation in the life of God” (viii).And then responds:
Cavanaugh seems to think that unless an ultimate theological end is the direct aim of every economic act, then those acts have no morally serious meaning. Every purchase we make must be theologically correct.His first sentence is incorrect, his second is correct. The problem is that he assumes that, for Cavanaugh, the "ultimate theological end" is quite narrow, when in fact, it is not. There is no problem with the statement that "every purchase we make must be theologically correct," if in fact God's will for humanity encompasses all parts of life. The key is to discern what part of our "ultimate theological end" is appropriately reflected in our consumption habits. Cavanaugh is right to point to the social nature of exchange as something that must be preserved in it's best form. Exploitation, fraud, and other results of greed must always be rejected in favor of service, justice, and other fruits of properly ordered self-interest and desire. If we can preserve shalom by watching what we buy, even if our sphere of influence is small, then there is no problem with trying to "change the world," one veggie burger at a time.
But there I go over-thinking food again.
Monday, August 1, 2011
Saturday, July 30, 2011
As we examine the implications of public justice regarding the negotiations over the debt ceiling, we must be careful not to define justice solely with regards to the situation of our current generation. This mistake has led us to overemphasize current conditions at the expense of the future. We have come to believe that we can justify limitless borrowing to provide additional health care, defense spending, retirement provision, and lower tax rates. Running a budget deficit every year, however, whether the economy is growing or in recession, steals possibilities from those in the future, especially from the poor. Interest payments become an ever increasing part of future budgets, crowding out choices for future generations.
Governments are called, where possible, to establish conditions in which other institutions in society can fulfill their God-given callings, and in which this can continue in the future. Families should be enabled to support themselves through their work and have access by other means to what is necessary to fulfill their callings in society when they cannot support themselves by work. Government should provide this now, as well as enable this to continue in the future, e.g., by giving families access to education needed for earning in the future, by preserving the environment and natural resources so that society can flourish in the future, and by not burdening those living in the future with debts in excess of what is passed down to them in assets from such a productive infrastructure.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Both left and right address essentially the same American evangelical audience. Both insist that a correct understanding of the present situation requires a certain amount of abstraction. They differ only concerning which elements of our experience it is safe to ignore - about whether what we are really seeing is the invisible hand of market coordination of that of capitalist oppression. Both left and right tend to understand the present situation as one of crisis, but they disagree as to whether capitalism or stateism precipitatetd the crisis. Both fear the concentration of power in modern society, but they differ as to whether this concentration is most acute among the business elite or the bureaucratic political elite. Both left and right insist that the true social relevance of the Christian faith is only now being rediscovered after having been lost, but the differ on whether its relevance is anticapitalist or not. Both feel that american evangelicalism is moving in the wrong direction at present, but they disagree on the matter of which is actually the wrong direction. Both argue that their opponents are either ideologically blind or evil or both. At their extremes, both left and right insist that salvation is essentially economic, but they differ on whether the kingdom will be populated by social workers or entrepreneurs. Both fear that the faithful exercise of Christianity's social relevance will elicit persecution from a powerful anti-Christian cultural elite, but they disagree about who constitutes this elite. Finally, both left and right fail to appreciate fully the character of modern capitalism. The left fails to appreciate the remarkable ability of capitalism to create wealth and hence to alleviate material poverty, and the right fails to appreciate the ability of capitalism to dissolve the traditional culture and hence to exacerbate spiritual poverty.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Let me clarify the nature of my criticism of the current leadership in the business community:
1) Most fundamentally and problematically, they make money an end in itself: "how we keep score."
2) They believe they have no duties or responsibilities to others, or to the society as a whole. They accept no restraint on their own behavior for the sake of other people. They profess admiration for the poisonous, sociopathic "philosophy" of Ayn Rand.
3) They create a divide between themselves and ordinary working people, justifying big raises and bonuses for themselves, while making a virtue of keeping wages low by minimizing the contribution employees make to the success of the business, threatening to move abroad, to move to "right-to-work" states, to punish employees for supporting unions, and so on. This has resulting in wages failing to keep up with productivity increases, and a growing class division in the American economy and society.
4) They feel no compunction about taking advantage of others in business dealings, rather than trying to make sure that deals benefit both parties. Goldman Sachs recently paid an enormous settlement to the SEC for doing this in one particular case, but read books like Too Big to Fail or All the Devils Are Here and you realize how prevalent this has become, and how it contributed to the financial crisis.
5) Speaking of the crisis, the leaders of the finance industry have not stood up and said, "Yes, we messed up, and we have to change. Here's what we're going to do." Instead, they have resisted regulation tooth and nail, and basically said, "This was just a big accident, and there's nothing wrong with our industry. Just leave us alone." That won't do.
6) They press for tax breaks for themselves and their companies on the grounds that they will lead to job creation. There is no evidence that they will lead to anything of the sort. (In fact, the most effective ways to subsidize employment would be through the Earned Income Tax Credit and a single-payer health plan. Cutting the capital gains rate does not reduce the cost of hiring a worker.) This special pleading is entirely self-serving and lacks any sense of fairness. The special tax status of hedge-fund managers is a glaring case of this.
I am not "anti-business," and I do not believe that business leaders inevitably will behave this way. My entire career research program has been built on the idea that socially responsible, ethically informed business behavior is necessary to the proper functioning of a capitalist economy, and that business leaders play an important role in balancing and checking the power of government and the civil sector of society, in line with Michael Novak's understanding.
Furthermore, business leaders have not always behaved this way in our country. During the 1950s and 1960s our economy prospered in an atmosphere where we had a much greater sense of national unity and belonging, and where looking out for the interests of others was part of our national culture, including our business culture. There was then more of a sense that we were all contributing to the national project. There were many things about that era that were problematical, and I am not nostalgic for those "good old days." The point is that business leaders played a much more constructive role in our national conversation then.
My hope was that something good would come out of the current crisis, in that business leaders would recover a sense of themselves as servant-leaders, and lose some of the arrogance and hubris that they have acquired over the last 30 years. I have been profoundly disappointed. (This is a big reason that I plan to leave economic research and writing behind in my retirement.)