Acton #2

The study sessions are most excellent, especially since I am learning in areas I know virtually nothing. So I get to indulge my curiosity bump fully in areas like limited government, economics and Catholic Social Thought. You can see more about Acton and hear recording of some of the lectures here.

In a sin marred world, things always go bad. So who limits the badness? God ultimately, but within the limits He sets, is it government regulation or free market forces? The State is to punish wrong doers (Rom. 13:4) but who limits the evil state? Acton and I believe that the better force is people as a whole (market) than government officials. For example, should government or the market set prices? I remember 1979 when the government tried to set gasoline prices. It was a disaster. But I also remember the situation a couple of years ago when gas went to $4.00 per gallon and people were calling for government intervention. It didn’t happen and the prices in Portland are around $2.70 per gallon now. 

Limited government means the state should not do everything, should not be the agency responsible for social services. Other agencies, church, family, business have areas they do better than the state. When people get to places of power, they tend to lose contact with the ordinary people, lose the common good as a top value, and serve people of power and influence. BTW, Michael Miller defined common good as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach fulfillment more fully and more easily.” Of course that begs the question of what fulfillment really means, but the direction is right on. Examples of things the government is not the best agency is feeding the people or converting the people to Jesus. 

One question that made me think: should all immoral things be illegal? Should all things that are morally wrong also be against the law of the state? What of adultery? It is surely immoral, but should it be illegal? I absolutely want it limited. Do I want the state watching and punishing that behavior? If so the state has to watch lots of behavior to see if it’s adultery. I find myself thinking I’d rather not have the state doing that. Ditto with lies. Some lies are illegal: contract fraud for example. But what if a father lies to his children about his porn addiction?

In the area of economics, should we develop our thinking from the concept of scarcity (distribution of limited goods) or the basis of maximizing exchange of goods, many of which are not scarce. Information and grace are examples of non-scarce goods. The goal is win win where both parties are better off after the trade than before. So the limits are that there can’t be fraud, exploitation and private property which is to say, I must have ownership of the thing I trade.

Does justice mean equal distribution of goods (think Robin Hood and take for the rich to give to the poor) or does it mean all people work under the same law? I’m inclined to the latter. It frustrates me that government employees have PERS and we have Social Security and our 401K programs.

Are economics explained by seeing people maximizing their material well being? In part, but certainly not exclusively. Think of all the gifts that are given and non-material oriented activities like parenting, church, and such.

There’s lots more and I still have two days to go!

3 thoughts on “Acton #2

  1. Pingback: Reflections from Recent Action Conference « Western Seminary

  2. I’ve always resisted the idea that a smaller local bank is inherently better in a moral sense than a larger bank (or store or whatever). Is it wrong to bring in WalMart when some smaller businesses cannot compete with the lower prices and larger variety of goods? If market forces are the guide, then WalMart is more successful. The pressures on WalMart to give more employee hours and benefits was driven my public comment by buyers and potential employees rather than government regulation, as it should be as I see it. On the other hand the difficulty of competing against WalMart gives them lots of power to exploit. But if they get too messed up, someone will start PortMart and get to them. SeaPort successfully took on the major airlines when they figured out a way to bypass TSA. So I am still on the side of market force while being very wary of the power of large, well connected corporations. The way to limit is not government, but market, I think.

  3. Gerry,

    I’m wondering what you might hear on the question of concentration of wealth and power, the abuses that tend to arise given human fallenness, and how to regulate the abuses through market or government or ecclesiastical influences.

    For example, I prefer (market) to bank with a (well-networked) locally owned credit union then one of the BIG banks that have concentrated wealth even further in the past couple years. But those mega-banks have used their (government) clout to try to run out small competitors. I guess I’d like to see more local capitalism and less global capitalism. Of course, there will always be a continuum — Nike started locally.

    Or think Wal-Mart price competition (material maximalism) over the mom & pop locally owned business on the human scale (maybe more appreciative of non-material values). Or maybe even think mega-commuter-church and smaller neighborhood fellowships.

    Philosophically, the issue is connected with Chestertonian social teaching and Hilaire Belloc (Distributivism as a middle way between capitalism and socialism).

    Also, wonder what you might be hearing about (e.g. Kuyperian) principled pluralism vs. some kind of privileged place for Christian social teaching (whether based on natural law or on Bible).

    Thanks for all the thoughts you’ve shared. Certainly agree about extending the curiosity beyond one’s area of expertise.

    Have fun!

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