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.

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My reading of the current economic and geopolitical situation is that at least in the short term, the United States will control enough pressure points to make life seriously difficult for the Chinese semiconductor industry.
As economies developed, the idea that a commodity has an inherent just price faded away. We now think of the value of a thing as being a price on which a buyer and seller agree. But the legacy of this idea of a just price lingers in the popular imagination. It is an odd lingering notion, however. If asked, few people would be able to explain when a price is just.
Key Founders believed that America’s future was to be a polity in which free and dynamic commerce would play a powerful role in defining society, as opposed to, say, the priorities of aristocratic or feudal societies. The “republic” side of this political economy equation is that this commercial society would operate within the context of institutions and sets of virtues that draw upon classical, religious, and moderate Enlightenment sources.
Aristophanes suggests that, like so many political matters, there are tradeoffs involved in the absolute versus relative wealth debate. There is no obvious, universally desirable solution: different societies will tolerate different levels of inequality and might be willing to sacrifice different levels of absolute wealth. Nonetheless, the warning from Aristophanes’ Poverty is clear: absolute equality means absolute destitution.
Without a leading semiconductor industry of its own, China will not have the military capability to challenge the United States for world military leadership and, for example, be able to “reconquer” Taiwan. Similarly, without the best in-house processors, it is difficult to exploit all the advantages promised by artificial intelligence, including its military applications such as programming advanced drones.
Finance facilitates the collaboration necessary for the functioning of a free market economy, but does it do so in accordance with concepts of justice and fairness?
ESG, the investment ideology that considers environmental, social, and governance issues, is an important part of the story of the rise of woke capitalism. Resisting ESG will require business leaders not just to communicate the good that they do, but also to cultivate the virtue of humility, which clarifies the importance of restraint and the meaning of community.
In The Next American Economy, Samuel Gregg argues that the free market is the answer to what ails our economy. But much of what’s understood as the blessings of free markets and free trade is no less the result of politics and partiality. There are always competing interests involved; a policy that works for families or for workers might not work for entrepreneurs, and vice versa.
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.
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.

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