Acton University: Day 2

This morning’s session of the annual Acton University sponsored by the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, MI, (392 people participating from 51 countries).  People map out their own courses. 

Today, I began with a presentation by Kishore Jayabalan, head of Rome’s office of Action, on the Catholic Social Encyclicals.  It was a sound presentation, though a bit familiar to me in some respects. 

After a break, Samuel Gregg spoke about globalization from a theological and historical perspective. 

During lunch there was a talk by Mustafa Akyol, on Islam and free markets.  He had been unable to come the day before, probably because of weather, and this gave him a chance to speak to everyone.

In the afternoon, I attended a very engaging talk by Jennifer Roback Morse called Beyond Contracts: Marriage and Sustainable Markets.  From her course description:  Marriage and family play important roles in building and maintaining both a strong society and a market economy. Marriage and family breakdown have short and long term economic costs and myriad externalities. This course will be highly economic.

Tonight we will hear a talk called Theology of Capital in Falling World by Brian Griffiths.

BTW… there is a little bit of a scuffle going on under the entry about Day 1

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13 Responses to Acton University: Day 2

  1. Padre Steve says:

    I would like to have heard that talk on Globalization. Being down here in Ecuador you learn to appreciate the “American” way of seeing things, as well as how our understanding of things might be misunderstood by other nations. It is a pretty complicated issue and the Church has a great responsibility to grapple with these issues. So many Latin American nations have fallen into a socialist worldview. I would hope the Church would not adapt that perspective. I don’t expect the wholehearted embrace of Capitalism, but I do hope it doesn’t get misunderstood. As our own politicians lean to the left I pray our Catholic leaders don’t just jump on the bandwagon!

  2. isabella says:

    Quick question – I could (and will ) look into this some more when I get home to Alaska, but am presently visiting family in Michigan and don’t want to monopolize my sister’s computer when she is kind enough to let me use it.

    Will this conference (and Acton in general) address things like non-market transactions – eg – how do you put a value on views, beauty, family unity etc.?

    Or – how to fairly allocate social costs like congestion and pollution that are now being borne by the poor, when the private benefits are going (primarily, anyway) to the wealthy developers who build more shopping malls after they tear down affordable housing and close trailer parks? That’s where I part company with the people who think the market will cure everything.

    And,yeah!!! I am going to go to the Tridentine Mass in Cedar this Sunday (can’t go where I live). It will be about a three hour drive in the rain but that’s OK. My chapel veil was the first thing I packed.

    isabella

  3. Corboy says:

    Looks kinda weird.
    Tell me, Fr. Any Opus Dei folk at this event?

  4. Corboy: Would that be bad? Good? What difference would it make either way?

  5. Limbo says:

    isabella

    the market will never cure everything…but the Mass will.

    This crazy world has been trying to live without the ‘Mass’ – Ember days and Rogation days for nearly 40 years now.

    I wonder if this ‘insignificant’ fact is ever mentioned at the Acton conference ?

    enjoy your Mass – it will be worth every minute of the 3 hour drive and God bless you for packing your chapel veil first !!

  6. Limbo says:

    Waaaahhh Isabella, I just saw a news report about flooding in the US something about ‘Cedar’
    Could that stop you from attending your Mass ????

  7. athanasius says:

    Looks kinda weird.

    No, instead it is run by a priest who said the first homosexual marriage in the United States and declared that he wanted to marry a gay man, namely Fr. Serico.

  8. isabella says:

    Hi again. I sure hope the weather doesn’t keep me away from Cedar. I’m up in Cheboygan, MI now and most of the bad flooding is south of Traverse City, so far. Thanks for the heads up; I’ll check the weather again before I set out – and pray for sunshine and good detours. I am very excited and I agree with Limbo’s comment that the Mass will save the world before the markets, so the gas and the drive will be well worth it.

    (I’m still interested in “broken” markets and have never heard of Acton before, so will do some reading when I get home in a few weeks.)

    isabella

  9. Isabella, when I consider how you posed your question

    “how to fairly allocate social costs like ______ that are now being borne by the poor, when the private benefits are going … to the wealthy developers ______ ?”

    I see you have recognized a crucial economic conundrum that stumped even Adam Smith, called the diamond-water paradox. Unfortunately most of us assume that a system of political economy that permits such moral hazard is ok, so long as it guarantees “fairly allocate(d) … costs” which is de facto socialism. If I may use your malady metaphor
    “I part company with the people who think the market will cure everything.” to illustrate my perspective: humans naturally interact in an economy, some are self sufficient on pastoral land. some not so lucky barter at market, some city dwellers mint coins to trade with former (farmers and shopkeepers) in distant cities, some urban traders “carpool” and incorporate their trade the former (city merchants) on a national scale, some trade in stock certificates in the former (the corporations) on an international scale. the global economy. How do you begin to identity what the “social costs” are at this global level?

    Answer: Catholic Social Teaching of subsidiarity. We insist each level is responsible for its own disbursement of justice, that no higher level may usurp the power of a lower level to self-determination, that no lower level may arrogate responsibilities to its members they are not capable of adequately fulfilling. Thus transparency in relationships of co-ownership would be required to conduct public business, that corruptions of co-ownership would be prosecuted as a criminal act akin to trespass/stealing. Read about the political economy of moral hazard, eg “The essence of interventionism is precisely this: institutionalized uninvited co-ownership” at
    http://mises.org/story/2935

    It is not only the left of the political spectrum as practised by socialists who co-opt our ownership of publically-funded municiple products and services levied as taxes, but the right as practiced by corporatists who co-opt our ownership of public-offerings of private products and services traded on open markets, embezzling the wealth/capital that properly-seen is not theirs to dispose of (think Enron embezzling the CALpers annuity monies, or Bethlehem Steel leaving their retirees penniless when they misappropirated the pension fund monies). I thankfully had a career at an ethical firm in Germany that recognized that the non-salary benefits earned by its associates do not belong to the firm and they took legal steps to protect those monies in perpetuity — this is not the case for most employees of US firms, these corporatists commit moral hazard daily speculating with funds in their employees retirement accounts!

    The trickiest question of ownership comes up with a person’s currency holdings: e.g. in the US, what category are the dollars in your bill-fold? Are they public/municiple tokens of legal tender or private/traded certificates of stockholding of an enterprise or entity? Truth be told they are neither! The dollar is no longer backed by the US government, it is now known a Federal Reserve Note, an IOU from a consortium of private banks (some co-wned by Chinese or Gulf State sovereign wealth funds) to the value of a dollar. In former times and in other countries, these notes can be surrendered for a quantity of gold. The dollar has no such reserve. It can be surrendered for another piece of green and black printed paper, that’s all! Fort Knox is the Government’s reserve for its future fiscal obligations (social security etc) not the dollar reserve to protect the value of the “token” — it’s value “floats freely” on the open market determined by other co-owners (foreign or domestic) so long as the Government doesn’t interfere and manipulate the interest rate on these open market by asking the Fed to change the ammount it charges its members to extend credit in a tight squeeze. This would not be a problem if the the borrowing were “punative” ie the bank exacted a high price from irresponsible businessmen, but it is in fact the exact opposite the bank “indulges” bad business practices by lending them at a preferential cost – lower than anyone else can get access to such funds!!!

    Read “Beware the Moral Hazard Trivializers”
    http://www.mises.org/story/2987 to learn more about how big business corporatists are privatizing gain and socializing losses. Note I never used the term “capital” perjorativily – we all rely on capital to produce the means to exist, it is a good thing. The problems are manifested in how we “haves” selfishly accrue capital gains, while the global “have-nots” are left in the gutter. Are we Samaritans, who to recognize the plundered at the way side, or are we those who pass on by?

    May I conclude with your rejecting the “cure” – I do not think the parable said the Samaritan “cured” the victim, he relied on the innkeeper to help the victim recuperate, God willing. The “cure” is surely the salvific grace of Christ crucified, but the market is the means by which the innkeeper was in business, without which the Samaritan would have had to carry the victim all across Judea to traverse from Jericho back to his Mediterranean shore homeland. Interestingly enough this is exactly the path that the Temple river prophesized by Exekiel and again by John of the Apocalypse foretells! We cannot save the world by simply watching the sacred mysteries flow at Mass, we must be the water bearer that told the apostles where to find the cenacle of the Last Supper: we must promote the natural law of mankind that life here on earth may flourish long enough for souls to encounter the promise of eternal life, to become receptacles of grace, channelling it to the ends of the earth. Now political discourse enables us fallen men and women to debate what means we apply to built the channels. Subsidiaritively-speaking. the water cistern of each and every family has to be able to capture nature’s bounty in their rooftop gutters. In larger communities, piped water can be shared publically (see the ancient qanats of Syria or Turfan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turfan_water_system )

    In modern times water can be purified and piped much longer distances.
    Even distributed internationally in times of natural disaster in plastic bottles. Would you assist a dehydrated monsoon victim by telling him the market can’t cure his problem, the ruling junta will?
    Charity — like water — flows best when it flows unimpeded. Any intervention in a person’s liberty to live virtuously is a sin against charity, but that intervention can come from a dictatorship of relativism of the right or left handed variety. Transparent open markets are a metaphor for transparent open human hearts – they express relationships, some healthy some not so, but we don’t “cure” sinners by infantilizing them and restricting their movements, we teach mature conduct by insisting on responsibilities and accountability, this reconciling the harm caused by misdemeanors and holding the common good as the highest endeavor. Even our language uses economy words (account, reconcile are banking terms) to articulate the means to attain our end!

    God Bless Fr Z. for hosting these very interesting threads.

    I must visit Fr Rob’s blog to see how he reflects on what he learned!

  10. Clare Krishan says:

    Oops mea culpa, I overlooked including a citation to help folks learn about the diamond-water paradox:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_value

    I hope Fr. Z’s reference to my contributions under Day 1 thread don’t amount to earning me a slot in the line at the confessional ;-) – I do struggle with rising to the bait when offered, I apologize for those who may have been offended!

  11. And more here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marginalism#The_paradox_of_water_and_diamonds

    N.B. the Italian layman, Stefano Zamagni, reported to be assisting the Holy Father with his next encyclical

    http://blog.siena.org/2008/06/benedicts-new-encyclical.html

    is an economist who recognize this conundrum, and I expect the encyclical to answer it for Catholics head on, not to dwell in dusty reminiscences from past documents on social justice, but rather plow a path to a hopeful harvest for the New Millenium! To argue “usury” will drive the most radical moralists into the welcoming arms of Islamic riba-haraamists, and doom them to the de-hellenized voluntarism of definitions of interest such as classical Islamic jurisprudence’s “surplus value without counterpart” (co-incidentally as irrational as the ‘labor-theory of value’ or the cost-plus calculus). Usury is derived from the sense of “usurping” – the kingdom, the power and the glory from whom? From the Absolute Trut. In any weighing of justice we may value the material goods but the weights on the scale are Gods! the natural law is a consistent metric of Man, as depicted for physical measurements in the eponymus image of Leonardo da Vinci:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Vitruvian_Man_Measurements.png

    which has been consistently gouged, fleeced, filched in modern times:

    Osee 12:7 Chanaan in manu eius statera dolosa calumniam dilexit

    by those who assay(*) the value of human efforts in scales of their own making not those of the assayer-in-chief, our Creator who holds the balances at Judgement Day.

    A medieval English tradition still practised in Westminster evidences how highly Christians valued their ransom from bondage through the Cross and avoided associating themselves with the oppression of Hosea’s prophecy:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_of_the_Pyx

    Oh would that Christians be so wise today – we ought be glad that is costs us 2 cents to mint a penny
    http://mises.org/story/2938

    ___
    (*) assay = examination and determination as to characteristics of weight, measure, or quality, as in
    we permit the Supreme Court to examine and determine what __weight__ of human life constitutes a person (Roe V Wade),
    we permit the Florida courts to examine and determine what __measure__ of human life deserves their protection (Terri Schiavo) and we
    permit the medical profession to examine and determine what __quality__ of existence warrants patient care (the poor and destitute don’t warrant maternal health care, contraception is the only economically viable option under a “labor theory of value”)

    Shame on us….

  12. More at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marginalism#The_paradox_of_water_and_diamonds

    N.B.
    the Italian layman, Stefano Zamagni, reported to be assisting the Holy Father with his next encyclical
    blog.siena.org/2008/06/benedicts-new-encyclical.html
    is an economist who recognize this conundrum, and I expect the encyclical to answer it for Catholics head on, not to dwell in dusty reminiscences from past documents on social justice, but rather plow a path to a hopeful harvest for the New Millenium! To argue “usury” will drive the most radical moralists into the welcoming arms of Islamic riba-haraamists, and doom them to the de-hellenized voluntarism of definitions of interest such as classical Islamic jurisprudence’s “surplus value without counterpart” (co-incidentally as irrational as the ‘labor-theory of value’ or the cost-plus calculus). Usury is derived from the sense of “usurping” – the kingdom, the power and the glory from whom? From the Absolute Trut. In any weighing of justice we may value the material goods but the weights on the scale are Gods! the natural law is a consistent metric of Man, as depicted for physical measurements in the eponymus image of Leonardo da Vinci:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Vitruvian_Man_Measurements.png

    which has been consistently gouged, fleeced, filched in modern times

  13. blog hoggin’ (contd):

    Osee 12:7 Chanaan in manu eius statera dolosa calumniam dilexit

    by those who assay(*) the value of human efforts in scales of their own making, not those of the assayer-in-chief: our Creator who will hold the balance at Judgement Day.

    A medieval English tradition still practised in Westminster evidences how highly Christians valued their ransom from bondage through the Cross and avoided associating themselves with the oppression of Hosea’s prophecy:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_of_the_Pyx
    Oh would that Christians be so wise today – we ought be glad that is costs us 2 cents to mint a penny
    http://mises.org/story/2938

    ___
    (*) assay = examination and determination as to characteristics of weight, measure, or quality, as in
    we permit the Supreme Court to examine and determine what __weight__ of human life constitutes a person (Roe V Wade),
    we permit the Florida courts to examine and determine what __measure__ of human life deserves their protection (Terri Schiavo) and we
    permit the medical profession to examine and determine what __quality__ of existence warrants patient care (the poor and destitute don’t warrant maternal health care, contraception is the only economically viable option under a “labor theory of value”)

    Shame on us….