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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.

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The only reliable method we have found to aggregate preferences, abilities, and efforts is the free market. Through the price system, it aligns incentives with information revelation. This method is not perfect, and its outcomes are often unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, like democracy, all the other alternatives, including “digital socialism,” are worse.
Economics today is a decadent discipline, with a rich legacy but atrophied creativity. Uncredentialed economists and maverick academics offer the best hope for reviving worthwhile economics.
To fix the social contract, we need more market capitalism, not less.
We often fail to see that business is a morally formative mode of solidarity even as it also serves as a means to prosperity. Aristotle might describe it as a “friendship of utility.” Respecting the communal form of the business firm, which is essential to its productivity, demands a deeper vision of the proper goals and just governance of businesses.
Are Pope Francis’s insights into our world’s social and economic situation perfect? No. Should we wish that his economic advisers would represent a broader range of views and include more pro-market voices? Yes. Nonetheless, Fratelli Tutti is anything but an unmitigated attack on markets and individualism, as some have been eager to depict it. It holds valuable advice for those who favor capitalism.
Should social conservatives embrace large-scale economic programs aimed at subsidizing family formation and childbearing? Is it more effective to focus on long-term economic growth? Are our declining birth rates really cause for concern, anyway? If they are, to what extent can the problem be solved by governmental family subsidies?
Conservatives need to start thinking of children as an investment in our economic future. Families, too, need to start thinking of children as an investment and not a cost—as they did in the past, when children were employed in farm work. The only way to do this in the modern economy—an economy that has severed the age-old link between children and additional labor—is by ensuring that economic resources are directed toward families by the state.
Minimum wages, despite good intentions, harm the very people they are intended to help. The right minimum was $0.00 in 1987, and it still is now.
What role does economic policy have to play in advancing a conservative agenda? Should the American right move away from a commitment to an unfettered free market and embrace nationalism, protectionism, and more government support for families?
Conservative critics of free markets are asking good questions, but their diagnosis of America’s economic challenges and proposed solutions leave much to be desired.
Lawrence Reed’s Was Jesus a Socialist? is both a great introduction to why socialism fails and an engaging challenge to Christians to let go of utopian myths.
While it gives a certain amount of frisson to frame the story of GameStop as the Good Guys beating the Bad Guys, the details just don’t fit that narrative. It’s really important to think about the moral implications of economic activity, but it is equally important to get the details right. A lot of harm can be done by mistaking every economic event as fitting into a predetermined moral script.
Today’s intra-conservative economic debates are about more than present-day economic policy. They also concern the Founding’s saliency for modern American conservatism.
The leftward drift of many American business executives is driven by both dubious economic calculations and cultural and political pressures that will corrode business’s legitimate freedoms and damage the economy’s capacity to generate wealth.
Do we really want a tax system that encourages very wealthy individuals to give money to the arts but does not encourage middle-class taxpayers to give money to local, religiously affiliated soup kitchens? That is the system we will have if the CARES Act’s above-the-line charitable tax deduction is not renewed.
We must insist on shareholder primacy if we want to hold publicly traded businesses accountable for their distinctive contribution to the common good.
Despite Andrew Koppelman’s good-faith efforts, he has not accurately stated important, fundamental convictions of religious liberty proponents concerning the character of moral reasoning and the nature of law.
Andrew Koppelman surely is correct that a same-sex couple must find it humiliating and embarrassing to be turned away from a wedding vendor. He is also right that the costs of using public law to remedy such indignities are significant, especially for the conscientious owners whose livelihoods are at stake. So, what to do? What we need is an institution that is capable of resolving these fraught disputes on a case-by-case basis. Fortunately, the common law provides such institutions.
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.
Soviet misunderstandings of the market were replicated as misunderstandings of the family—with damaging and dehumanizing consequences. Though Soviet family policy has mercifully ended, it is still worthwhile to examine its central ideas, because they live on today in Western family policy.
When people quickly compare the Norwegian and Venezuelan economies, they tend to see the one trait they have in common: a big public sector. However, when we study these countries in depth, it becomes evident that the two follow opposite economic principles. While Norway’s economy is among the freest in the world, Venezuela has become a prime example of what a socialist economy looks like.
Sixty years after its publication in America, Wilhelm Röpke’s “A Humane Economy” remains a model for engaging classical liberal economics with conservative insights into reality.
Allowing capital to move is exactly what generates wealth. Yes, we could freeze capital in its current location; but then we would repeat the economic decline of impoverished countries by locking up that capital’s full, invisible potential.
There are good reasons to believe that industrial policy significantly undermines rather than bolsters the common good.

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