The “new birth of freedom” that Michael championed largely came to pass. And it has tended to weaken the two other legs holding up society: democratic institutions and a vital religious and moral culture. Michael observes that “greater incentives will stimulate greater economic activism.” True, but he did not recognize that ever-greater economic activity can crowd out political engagement and sideline religious and moral authority. This is what has happened. Capitalism, now global in scope, is swallowing up more and more of civic life, so much so that in some contexts economists and policymakers present free market principles as ironclad laws about which we have no choice. Dwindling manufacturing jobs, technological displacement, global flows of labor and capital—we are told we have no alternative. This is a cruel reversal of what Michael commended as the source of freedom and openness...We are drowning in freedom... Age-old expectations of marriage and children have become choices. We can even choose to become male or female.
Tuesday, December 26, 2017
R.R. Reno, editor-in-chief of First Things, has the solution: a kinder, gentler capitalism. His essay last October spawned a series of rigorous rebuttals at Public Discourse, the last of which is here. Reno lamented the economic “freedom” that Michael Novak promoted in his classic book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, has destroyed morality in the country:
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
Several authors want to make an honest woman of dismal science. Among them are Nobel Prize winner George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton who wrote Identity Economics, and Sam Bowles who penned The Moral Economy. Project Syndicate posted a quick review by Ricardo Hausmann who wrote, “Two recent books indicate that a quiet revolution is challenging the foundations of the dismal science, promising radical changes in how we view many aspects of organizations, public policy, and even social life. As with the rise of behavioral economics, this revolution emanates from psychology.”
Cognitive psychology spawned behavioral economics and its proponents have grabbed six Nobel prizes for telling us that humans are not always rational. Behavioral economists tried to corral the older Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMF), which actually said that in the long run professionals make the market behave rationally. EMFers always knew that in the short run people could act irrationally and often did. Behavioral and EMF economists talked past each other for the most part because the first dealt with the short run and the latter with the long run.
The new economics proposed by Akerlof and company want to improve behavioral perspectives by adding morality to the dismal science, which hasn’t been a part of mainstream economics since Adam Smith. Behavioral economics led to calls for the state to nudge people in the direction economists thought best for them,
such as forcing them to opt out of rather than into better choices....The new revolution assumes that when we make choices, we do not merely consider which of the available options we like the most. We are also asking ourselves what we ought to do.”
Akerlof and Kranton propose a simple addition to the conventional economic model of human behavior. Besides the standard selfish elements that define our preferences, they argue that people see themselves as members of “social categories” with which they identify. Each of these social categories – for example, being a Christian, a father, a mason, a neighbor, or a sportsman – has an associated norm or ideal. And, because people derive satisfaction from behaving in accordance with the ideal, they behave not just to acquire, but also to become....In the process, we may understand that we vote because that is what citizens ought to do, and we excel at our jobs because we strive for respect and self-realization, not just a raise.
Monday, December 11, 2017
Pew Research has provided the statistics to fuel the debate. Recently, John Hawkins wrote “Do Conservatives And Liberals Have Enough in Common to Keep A Country Together Anymore?” on Town Hall. As if counseling troubled marriage partners, Hawkins asked what we have in common?
The Constitution? Conservatives believe in it. Liberals believe in a “living Constitution” which is fundamentally no different than having no Constitution at all.
Religion? Conservatives tend to believe in Judeo-Christian values. Even atheists who are conservative tend to at least be friendly to those values. Liberals mock Judeo-Christian values.
What about patriotism? Conservatives tend to love their country. Liberals love this country like a wife-beater loves his spouse.