In modern societies, wealth is not tied to land or long-lasting material things, nor is it transmitted across generations; it is fluid, shapeshifting, and usually doesn’t extend beyond the horizon of our own lives and personal needs. This series attempts to offer fresh ways of imagining wealth so that it becomes more conducive to cultural vibrancy and helps us flourish.
Pillar: Business & Economics
The fifth pillar, business and economics, is built upon concern for the common good and the ways in which the economic order contributes to—or detracts from—human flourishing. Public Discourse examines the ways in which the market is shaped by—and gives shape to—our understanding of the human person, the role of the family, the rule of law, and education and culture.
In a post-industrial society where marriage and fertility are expressions of values, rather than buttresses for economic security, policies that strive to make it as easy as possible for people to get married and have children should be at the forefront of the agenda. Broader state investment alone cannot take the place of a pro-family culture, from media outlets to religious institutions to schools.
As some of the financial benefits to marriage have eroded, it can be tempting to use policy to make family formation more attractive. The rising median age at first marriage and first birth, however, largely arise from a mix of technological progress and preference for career, which aren’t things policies can reverse. Better solutions come from civil society, where entrepreneurs work to find solutions to the everyday problems modern parents face and religious communities help young adults order their priorities.
In some ways, the central problem of America has become liquidity: wealth, energy, and the self all have lost their solidity. The flow of money has had a profoundly corrosive effect on our financial institutions and also our social ones. But there’s no going back to a golden age. Only by reinvigorating our modes of association can we successfully address the pathologies brought on by the quest for financial (not economic) independence.
An ethic of stewardship induces a person to acquire and care for property, and the ownership of property helps to stimulate an ethic of stewardship. When both are present and healthy, the formation of intergenerational wealth—in the form of intergenerational property—will naturally emerge.
The drive for maximal efficiency and convenience has impoverished the fabric of our daily lives. As we forget the value of place, we occupy increasingly thin, homogenized, placeless environments. The role we can play in these sterile settings is only one of consumption, not citizenship. That is why we must turn to third places: they help us form close friendships and increase our civic involvement, and they compose the social infrastructure of a community.
Conservatives have recently set aside their natural wariness of government intervention to propose new “pro-family” welfare programs, such as Senator Romney’s Family Security Act. In post-Roe America, the search for ways to support families is more pressing than ever. The problem is that there is very little evidence that these types of policies work.
The Fed has overestimated its power to manage the economy, and hubris is a dangerous thing in monetary policy. Starting in March 2020, the Fed increased the money supply significantly and the inevitable result was inflation. Unfortunately, the Fed continues to believe in its ability to fine-tune the economy.
While the United States and EU inflation rates are similar, America's inflation is fundamentally different. It is less painful in the short run but more difficult to manage in the long. To curb inflation—and especially inflation expectations—FED Chairman Jerome Powell must act, and quickly.
The emergence of the online sharing economy calls to mind the Socratic desire to abolish ownership with the goal of ending competition and discord. But, as Aristotle reminds us, this is a corrosive vision that would exacerbate rather than mitigate conflict, while also preventing the cultivation of key virtues such as generosity, moderation, and political friendship.
For the first time in forty years, we must confront the consequences of a rapidly depreciating dollar. To tame the inflationary beast and to build a more humane economy, especially for the poor, we need to grapple with inflation’s practical and moral effects.
In a carefully researched and insightful book, Steven Koonin highlights the significant uncertainty underlying climate models and statistics, the limits of technical and political responses, and the need to reassert the core values of scientific independence and integrity that drive social progress.
While still on the fringe, organizations like The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) seek to push anti-growth ideas into the political mainstream. The vision is economically illiterate, politically implausible, and incompatible with America’s constitutional freedoms.
Is it possible to argue that commercial activity is inherently virtuous, that it does not need to be tolerated as a necessary evil, but rather should be embraced as a positive good? If we all have the mind of the maker, if we are all created in the image of God, then we are all creators. For some, creativity manifests itself in commercial life. The changes of the eighteenth century, the bourgeois deal, allowed whole new sets of people to finally unchain their creative impulses.
Inflation is on the rise in the United States. With it, there are politicians now arguing that "greedy businessmen" are to blame for it. This is not only a misleading notion but also a dangerous one, as it could end up leading to policies as destructive as the ones implemented in countries like Venezuela.
Precisely because our demographic future is uncertain, we should be even more careful and consider all scenarios. Many children grow up surrounded by a high number of adults, but with very few children in their family environment. Many regions, especially rural ones, will begin to run into problems in providing basic public goods, such as universities or hospitals, which require certain minimum sizes to operate with reasonable efficiency. The housing market, higher education, and electoral distribution will all be dramatically impacted by these demographic changes.
For the last three centuries, humanity has been participating in a race in which, on the one hand, it is increasingly difficult to come up with new ideas, but on the other hand, there are more and more of us engaged in research. So far, these two forces have counteracted each other, leading to economic growth. With a falling population, however, we will start to lose the race.
If we think there’s too much government regulation, then the authentically conservative solution is not to say, “Well, let’s just try to operate a landscape of isolated individuals jostling in a competitively economic marketplace,” but “Let’s create institutions of countervailing power so that where exploitation is happening, the people themselves are equipped to resist it, and the government doesn’t need to intervene to fix it.” If designed correctly, a system of sectoral labor unions can actually help achieve the conservative goal of limited government.
Rory Groves argues in his 2020 book, Durable Trades, that we should secure careers that will see us through from entry to retirement while supporting—rather than opposing—the relational and economic development of our families and communities. In my family’s case, farming was a way to enjoy the benefits of a durable trade while making up the gap between a single income and a double income.
American “family values” before the baby boomers and Roe v. Wade and second-wave feminism were shaped more by modern notions of industrial progress than by eternal truths about the human person. The sexual revolution emerged from axioms that had already permeated the mainstream for decades. Even among social conservatives, those axioms still shape our discourse about the family today.
The world’s demographic future is highly unusual. Those younger than age fifty will witness a prolonged decline in the human population. The decline will not be caused by an epidemic or climate change, but rather by the collapse of fertility around the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic provided us with many real-world examples of timeless economic principles.
Catholic tradition has never considered the relationship between the principle of universal destination of goods and the right to private property as one between a “primary” and a “secondary” right. The former does not formulate a right at all, but only a fundamental principle from which the right to private property receives its ultimate justification.
Our schools of business should be places where the whole academic community, which includes administrators, faculty, and the students themselves, can work together towards educating tomorrow’s business leaders, cultivating the very best in them. We should not allow the cheating subculture’s self-righteous and narcissistic agenda to undermine the higher quest for excellence.
The best way to decide whether to say yes to the job offer in front of you lies, as is so often the case, on the other side of more questions.