Tag Archives: Jay Richards

Jim Wallis debates Jay Richards on Christianity and economics

In this post, I have the video of a debate on the topic of what Christians should think about economics and economic policies. In addition to the video, I summarized the two opening speeches and the two rebuttals, for those who prefer to read rather than watch. We’ll start with a short biography about each of the debaters.

The video recording:

The debaters

Jay Richards:

Jay Richards, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute where he directs the Center on Wealth, Poverty and Morality, and is a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. Most recently he is the co-author with James Robison of the best-selling Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It’s Too Late”.

In addition to writing many academic articles, books, and popular essays on a wide variety of subjects, he recently edited the new award winning anthology, God & Evolution: Protestants, Catholics and Jews Explore Darwin’s Challenge to Faith . His previous book was Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem (HarperOne, May 2009), for which he received a Templeton Enterprise Award in 2010.

[…]In recent years, he has been a Contributing Editor of The American at the American Enterprise Institute, a Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and a Research Fellow and Director of Acton Media at the Acton Institute. Richards has a B.A. with majors in Political Science and Religion, an M.Div. (Master of Divinity) and a Th.M. (Master of Theology), and a Ph.D. (with honors) in philosophy and theology from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Jim Wallis:

Jim Wallis (born June 4, 1948) is a Christian writer and political activist. He is best known as the founder and editor of Sojourners magazine and as the founder of the Washington, D.C.-based Christian community of the same name. Wallis is well known for his advocacy on issues of peace and social justice. […]He works as a spiritual advisor to President Barack Obama.

[…]In 2010, Wallis admitted to accepting money for Sojourners from philanthropist George Soros after initially denying having done so. […]In 2011, Wallis acknowledged that Sojourners had received another $150,000.00 from Soros’ Open Society Foundation.

Wallis just came out this month in favor of gay marriage. He is also a strong supporter of Barack Obama, who is radically pro-abortion. Some pro-lifers have argued that Barack Obama has the same views on abortion as Kermit Gosnell, because Obama voted twice to allow abortions on babies who were already born alive.

The format of the debate

  • 20 minute opening speeches
  • 10 minute rebuttals
  • 10 minutes of discussion
  • Q&A for the remainder

SUMMARY

I use italics below to denote my own observations.

Jim Wallis’ opening speech:

My goal is to spark a national conversation on the “common good”.

A story about my son who plays baseball.

The central goal of Christianity is to promote the “common good”.

Quotes “Catholic social teaching” which values “human flourishing”.

The “common good” is “human flourishing”.

Is the purpose of Christianity is to make sure that everyone has enough material stuff or to preach the gospel?

When Christians go on mission trips, it’s good that they focus on things like human trafficking.

Democrat John Lewis is the “conscience of the U.S. Congress”.

John Lewis gets a 0% rating from the American Conservative Union in 2012.

John Lewis gets a 8% rating from the American Conservative Union in 2011.

John Lewis gets a 2.29% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union.

Nothing is going well in Washington right now except comprehensive immigration reform.

Does he think that Christianity means giving 20-30 million illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, while skilled engineers cannot even get green cards, even though there is a shortage of them? Does he think that the other people in society who earn more than they receive from the government ought to be taxed more in order to provide more services and benefits to those who earn less than they take from the government?

Jay Richards’ opening speech:

Two topics: 1) what is the common good? 2) what should Christians do to promote the common good?

Catholicism defines the “common good” as “Indeed, the common good embraces the sum of those conditions of the social life whereby men, families and associations more adequately and readily may attain their own perfection.”

We have natural ends that we are supposed to be achieving and some places, like South Korea, are better for allowing that to happen.

The common good is broader and prior to any sort of political specification.

It’s not the political good or what the state is supposed to do.

It’s not about the communal good, as in Soviet Russia, where the communal good was above individual and familial good.

The common good is the social conditions that promote the things that we humans have in common as individuals and members of family.

The common good takes account of who we are as individuals and in associations with other individuals, e.g. – families.

Christians don’t have to be doing the same things to promote the common good, e.g. – pastors, entrepreneurs, etc.

The church, as the church, has as its primary goal making disciples of all nations.

But even in that capacity, the church should be interested in more than just conversions and saving souls.

We also have to care about God’s created reality including things like physics, education, etc.

How should Christians promote the common good in politics?

Question: when is coercion warranted?

In Romans 13, Paul says that the state does have power to coerce to achieve certain ends, like justice.

Most Christians think that there are some things where the state can use coercion, for example, to prevent/punish murder.

It is OK for the police to use coercive force to maintain public order and the rule of law.

But we need to ask whether other things are legitimate areas for the state to use coercive force.

We should only give the state power to coerce when there is no other way to achieve a goal.

We need to leverage the science of economics in order to know how to achieve the common good.

Jay Richards' main point in the debate
Jay Richards’ main point in the debate

Henry Hazlitt: “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

For example, what happens if we raise the federal minimum wage to $50. What happens next for all groups? That’s what we need to ask in order to know which policies achieve the common good.

When it comes to economics a lot of things have been tried in other places and times.

We can know what works and doesn’t work by studying what was tried before and in other places.

Many things are counter-intuitive – things that sound good don’t work, things that sound bad do work.

Principle: “We are our brother’s keeper”. Christians have an obligation to care for their neighbors.

We all agree on the goal. But how do we do things that will achieve that goal?

We have to distinguish aspirations from principles and prudential judgment.

Principle: We should provide for the material needs of the poor.

Prudence: Seeing the world as it is, and acting accordingly.

Example policies: which minimum wage is best? None? $10? $20?

We decide based on seeing how different economic policies achieve the goal of helping the poor.

Jim Wallis’ first rebuttal:

Jesus commanded us to “care for the poor and help to end poverty”.

Actually, Jesus thought that acknowledging him and giving him sacrificial worship was more important than giving money to the poor, see Matthew 26:6-13:

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 

a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 

“This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 

11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 

12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 

13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

It’s not clear to me whether Jim Wallis thinks that preaching is more important than redistributing wealth to address material inequality.

I like what Jesus said in a TV series, even though it’s not in the Bible when an actor playing Jesus said to “change the world”.

Jesus never said to “change the world” in the Bible. Should we be concerned that he is quoting a TV actor playing Jesus instead of Jesus.

Here is a terrific story about Bill Bright.

I love Catholic social teaching.

Quote: “All are responsible for all”.

I go to the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland every year. I spoke once at 7 AM on the 4th floor.

It’s a funny place for a Christian to be if they care about the poor – rubbing shoulders with leftist elites. He must have named a dozen high-profile people that he spoke with during the debate, as if he could win the debate by some sort of argument from name-dropping. He mentioned the Davos thing several times!

The greatest beneficiary of government actions to deal with the economic crisis was Wall Street banks.

I’m going to tell you a story about what a Washington lawyer says to Jesus.

I’ve had conversations with business leaders where I tell them to integrate moral truths.

I talk about the Good Samaritan parable.

Quote: “Do you love your undocumented neighbor?”

Quote: “Do you love your Muslim neighbor?”

Jay Richards’ first rebuttal:

Who is responsible for your own children? Who knows the most about them?

Parents should have more discretion over their children because they have more knowledge about their child and what’s best for them.

The Good Samaritan doesn’t show that government should confiscate wealth through taxation and redistribute it.

The Good Samaritan emphasizes voluntarily charity to help people who are not necessarily your immediate neighbor.

Some of the things we do should be for the good of other people in other countries.

But then we are back to leveraging economics to know what policies are good for those other people in other countries.

The principle of subsidiarity: if a problem can be addressed by a lower level of society (family) then we shouldn’t make higher levels (government) address it.

The best place to take care of children is within the family.

Only if the family fails should wider and wider spheres get involved.

Although we want to think of the common good in a global sense, we don’t want to lose sight of the fact

The financial crisis: we need to integrate moral truths, but also economic truths.

We don’t want to assume policies based on intuitions, we want to check our intuitions using economic principles.

Why did we have a financial crisis in mortgages, but not in commodities futures or technology, etc.?

Greed is a contributing factor in all areas of business.

Something more was going on in the mortgage markets than just greed.

There were specific policies that caused the mortgage lending crisis.

The root cause of the problem were “affordable housing policies” that lowered lending restrictions on low income people.

The policy ended up degrading the underwriting standards on loans.

Government intruded into the market and undermined the normal ways of

People were getting massive loans with no income, no jobs, no assets and no down payment.

The federal government created a market for risk loans by guaranteeing

There was a government imposed quota on mortgage lenders such that 50% of their loans had to be given to high-risk borrowers.

That is what led to the financial crisis. Not the free market, but intrusions into the free market.

These policies were well-meaning and implemented by people from both parties. But they had bad effects.

Jay Richards: How to end poverty in 10 tough steps

I saw that Stand to Reason’s Amy Hall blogged about a lecture by Jay Richards, a Christian expert in economics. Amy linked to this post by Justin Taylor which summarizes the talk (above).

Summary:

  1. Establish and maintain the rule of law.
  2. Focus the jurisdiction of government on maintaining the rule of law, and limit its jurisdiction over the economy and the institutions of civil society.
  3. Implement a formal property system with consistent and accessible means for securing a clear title to property one owns.
  4. Encourage economic freedom: Allow people to trade goods and services unencumbered by tariffs, subsidies, price controls, undue regulation, and restrictive immigration policies.
  5. Encourage stable families and other important private institutions that mediate between the individual and the state.
  6. Encourage belief in the truth that the universe is purposeful and makes sense.
  7. Encourage the right cultural mores—orientation to the future and the belief that progress but not utopia is possible in this life; willingness to save and delay gratification; willingness to risk, to respect the rights and property of others, to be diligent, to be thrifty.
  8. Instill a proper understanding of the nature of wealth and poverty—that wealth is created, that free trade is win-win, that risk is essential to enterprise, that trade-offs are unavoidable, that the success of others need not come at your expense, and that you can pursue legitimate self-interest and the common good at the same time.
  9. Focus on your comparative advantage rather than protecting what used to be your competitive advantage.
  10. Work hard.

His book “Money, Greed and God” is a perfect introduction to economics and how it relates to the Christian worldview. I always encourage Christians to move beyond good intentions to good results by studying economics. We are supposed to be helping the poor, but how should we do it? Economics is the science that allows us to understand which policies we should support to do that.

Jay Richards: why should Christians learn about economics?

Here’s a good basic introduction to the free enterprise system by Dr. Jay Richards:

In this lecture, Dr. Richards covers the following topics:

  • the piety myth – thinking that good intentions matter more than good results
  • the greed myth – thinking that capitalism is about greed instead of about innovation and serving others
  • the zero sum game myth – thinking that voluntary exchanges between buyers and sellers result in win-lose outcomes
  • the materialist myth – thinking that there is only a set amount of wealth to be divided by competition

It turns out that the best system for lifting the poor out of poverty – by work or charity – is the economic system that creates wealth through human ingenuity and hard work. That system is the free enterprise system.

Something to read?

If you can’t listen to the lecture and don’t want to buy the whole book “Money, Greed and God?” Then I have a series of posts on each chapter for you.

The index post is here.

Here are the posts in the series:

  • Part 1: The Eight Most Common Myths about Wealth, Poverty, and Free Enterprise
  • Part 2: Can’t We Build A Just Society?
  • Part 3: The Piety Myth
  • Part 4: The Myth of the Zero Sum Game
  • Part 5: Is Wealth Created or Transferred?
  • Part 6: Is Free Enterprise Based on Greed?
  • Part 7: Hasn’t Christianity Always Opposed Free Enterprise?
  • Part 8: Does Free Enterprise Lead to An Ugly Consumerist Culture?
  • Part 9: Will We Use Up All Our Resources?
  • Part 10: Are Markets An Example of Providence?

Parts 4 and 5 are my favorites. It’s so hard to choose one to excerpt, but I must. I will choose… Part 4.

Here’s the problem:

Myth #3: The Zero Sum Game Myth – believing that trade requires a winner and a loser. 

One reason people believe this myth is because they misunderstand how economic value is determined. Economic thinkers with views as diverse as Adam Smith and Karl Marx believed economic value was determined by the labor theory of value. This theory stipulates that the cost to produce an object determines its economic value.

According to this theory, if you build a house that costs you $500,000 to build, that house is worth $500,000. But what if no one can or wants to buy the house? Then what is it worth?

Medieval church scholars put forth a very different theory, one derived from human nature: economic value is in the eye of the beholder. The economic value of an object is determined by how much someone is willing to give up to get that object. This is the subjective theory of value.

And here’s an example of how to avoid the problem:

How you determine economic value affects whether you view free enterprise as a zero-sum game, or a win-win game in which both participants benefit.

Let’s return to the example of the $500,000 house. As the developer of the house, you hire workers to build the house. You then sell it for more than $500,000. According to the labor theory of value, you have taken more than the good is actually worth. You’ve exploited the buyer and your workers by taking this surplus value. You win, they lose.

Yet this situation looks different according to the subjective theory of value. Here, everybody wins. You market and sell the house for more than it cost to produce, but not more than customers will freely pay. The buyer is not forced to pay a cost he doesn’t agree to. You are rewarded for your entrepreneurial effort. Your workers benefit, because you paid them the wages they agreed to when you hired them.

This illustration brings up a couple important points about free enterprise that are often overlooked:

1. Free exchange is a win-win game.

In win-win games, some players may end up better off than others, but everyone ends up better off than they were at the beginning. As the developer, you might make more than your workers. Yet the workers determined they would be better off by freely exchanging their labor for wages, than if they didn’t have the job at all.

A free market doesn’t guarantee that everyone wins in every competition. Rather, it allows many more win-win encounters than any other alternative.

2. The game is win-win because of rules set-up beforehand. 

A free market is not a free-for-all in which everybody can do what they want. Any exchange must be free on both sides. Rule of law, contracts, and property rights are needed to ensure exchanges are conducted rightly. As the developer of the house, you’d be held accountable if you broke your contract and failed to pay workers what you promised.

An exchange that is free on both sides, in which no one is forced or tricked into participating, is a win-win game.

If you do get the book, be sure and skip the chapter on usury. It’s just not as engaging as the others, in my opinion.

Are solar eclipses common? What has to be in place to observe a solar eclipse?

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

If there were a Designer of the universe, what would He have to do to allow creatures living on a planet to observe a solar eclipse?

Consider this article from Discovery Institute.

Excerpt:

A rare convergence of events allows Earthlings to witness not just solar eclipses, but perfect solar eclipses, where the Moon just barely covers the Sun’s bright photosphere. Such eclipses depend on the precise sizes, shapes, and relative distances of the Sun, Moon, and Earth. There’s no law of physics or celestial mechanics that requires the right configuration. In fact, of the more than 65 major moons in our Solar System, ours best matches the Sun as viewed from its planet’s surface, and this is only possible during a fairly narrow window of Earth’s history encompassing the present. The Moon is about 400 times smaller than the Sun. But right now, the Moon is about 400 times closer to the Earth than is the Sun. So, the Moon’s apparent size on the sky matches the Sun’s. Astronomers have noted this odd coincidence for centuries. And, since the Sun appears larger from the Earth than from any other planet with a moon, an Earth-bound observer can discern finer details in the Sun’s chromosphere and corona than from any other planet. This makes our solar eclipses more valuable scientifically.

The recent pictures of solar eclipses sent back from the Opportunity rover on Mars nicely illustrate how much better our solar eclipses are. The two small potato-shaped Martian moons, Deimos and Phobos, appear much too small to cover the Sun’s disk, and they zip across it in less than a minute.

Not only do you need things to be finely-tuned to see the eclipse, but you also need observers to be there.

More:

It’s intriguing that the best place to view total solar eclipses in our Solar System is the one time and place where there are observers to see them. It turns out that the precise configuration of Earth, Moon and Sun are also vital to sustaining life on Earth. A moon large enough to cover the Sun stabilizes the tilt of the rotation axis of its host planet, yielding a more stable climate, which is necessary for complex life. The Moon also contributes to Earth’s ocean tides, which increase the vital mixing of nutrients from the land to the oceans. The two moons around Mars are much too small to stabilize its rotation axis.

In addition, it’s only in the so-called Circumstellar Habitable Zone of our Sun–that cozy life friendly ring where water can stay liquid on a planet’s surface–that the Sun appears to be about the same size as the Moon from Earth’s surface. As a result, we enjoy perfect solar eclipses.

Why would the Designer of the Universe want his observers to exist in exactly the right place to observe the solar eclipse? What is the point of seeing a solar eclipse?

Here is the point:

Our ability to observe perfect solar eclipses has figured prominently in several important scientific discoveries, discoveries that would have been difficult if not impossible on the much more common planets that don’t enjoy such eclipses.

First, these observations helped disclose the nature of stars. Scientists since Isaac Newton (1666) had known that sunlight splits into all the colors of the rainbow when passed through a prism. But only in the 19th century did astronomers observe solar eclipses with spectroscopes, which use prisms. The combination of the man-made spectroscope with the natural experiment provided by eclipses gave astronomers the tools they needed not only to discover how the Sun’s spectrum is produced, but the nature of the Sun itself. This knowledge enabled astronomers to interpret the spectra of the distant stars. So, in a sense, perfect eclipses were a key that unlocked the field of astrophysics.

Second, in 1919, perfect solar eclipses allowed two teams of astronomers, one led by Sir Arthur Eddington, to confirm a prediction of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity–that gravity bends light. They succeeded in measuring the changes in the positions of starlight passing near the Sun’s edge compared to their positions months later. Such a test was most feasible during a perfect solar eclipse. The tests led to the general acceptance of Einstein’s theory, which is the foundation of modern cosmology.

So, you’ve got fine-tuning for the eclipse, fine-tuning for the observers, and with that in place, the observers can collect scientific evidence… including evidence that confirms cosmic fine-tuning as well as general relativity. General relativity is important because if gives us the expanding universe – one of the evidences for the Big Bang cosmology. The Big Bang cosmology states that the entire physical universe came into being out of nothing, about 14 billion years ago. Who could have caused that? If we don’t have eclipses, we are losing out on evidence of cosmic fine-tuning and cosmic creation.

There’s a new Discovery Institute podcast featuring Jay Richards, co-author of the amazing book “The Privileged Planet”.

Details:

On this episode of ID: The Future, CSC Senior Fellow Jay Richards explains how perfect solar eclipses are the tip of an iceberg-size design argument found in a book he co-wrote, The Privileged Planet. The conditions for a habitable planet (right distance from the right size star, a big but not too big moon that is the right distance away to stabilize Earth’s tilt and circulate its oceans) are also conditions that make perfect solar eclipses from the Earth’s surface much more likely. And perfect eclipses aren’t just eerie and beautiful. They’ve helped scientists test and discover things, and are part of a larger pattern: The conditions needed for a habitable place in the cosmos correlate with the conditions well suited for scientific discovery. As Richards notes, this correlation is inexplicable if the cosmos is the product of chance. But if it’s intelligently designed with creatures like us in mind, it’s just what we might expect.

The MP3 file is here.

If you have not seen The Privileged Planet, you can get the same argument as in the book in just over an hour. You can either buy The Privileged Planet DVD, or click here to watch it on YouTube. And it’s narrated by John-Rhys Davies.

Jay Richards: why should Christians learn about economics?

Here’s a good basic introduction to the free enterprise system by Dr. Jay Richards:

In this lecture, Dr. Richards covers the following topics:

  • the piety myth – thinking that good intentions matter more than good results
  • the greed myth – thinking that capitalism is about greed instead of about innovation and serving others
  • the zero sum game myth – thinking that voluntary exchanges between buyers and sellers result in win-lose outcomes
  • the materialist myth – thinking that there is only a set amount of wealth to be divided by competition

It turns out that the best system for lifting the poor out of poverty – by work or charity – is the economic system that creates wealth through human ingenuity and hard work. That system is the free enterprise system.

Something to read?

If you can’t listen to the lecture and don’t want to buy the whole book “Money, Greed and God?” Then I have a series of posts on each chapter for you.

The index post is here.

Here are the posts in the series:

  • Part 1: The Eight Most Common Myths about Wealth, Poverty, and Free Enterprise
  • Part 2: Can’t We Build A Just Society?
  • Part 3: The Piety Myth
  • Part 4: The Myth of the Zero Sum Game
  • Part 5: Is Wealth Created or Transferred?
  • Part 6: Is Free Enterprise Based on Greed?
  • Part 7: Hasn’t Christianity Always Opposed Free Enterprise?
  • Part 8: Does Free Enterprise Lead to An Ugly Consumerist Culture?
  • Part 9: Will We Use Up All Our Resources?
  • Part 10: Are Markets An Example of Providence?

Parts 4 and 5 are my favorites. It’s so hard to choose one to excerpt, but I must. I will choose… Part 4.

Here’s the problem:

Myth #3: The Zero Sum Game Myth – believing that trade requires a winner and a loser. 

One reason people believe this myth is because they misunderstand how economic value is determined. Economic thinkers with views as diverse as Adam Smith and Karl Marx believed economic value was determined by the labor theory of value. This theory stipulates that the cost to produce an object determines its economic value.

According to this theory, if you build a house that costs you $500,000 to build, that house is worth $500,000. But what if no one can or wants to buy the house? Then what is it worth?

Medieval church scholars put forth a very different theory, one derived from human nature: economic value is in the eye of the beholder. The economic value of an object is determined by how much someone is willing to give up to get that object. This is the subjective theory of value.

And here’s an example of how to avoid the problem:

How you determine economic value affects whether you view free enterprise as a zero-sum game, or a win-win game in which both participants benefit.

Let’s return to the example of the $500,000 house. As the developer of the house, you hire workers to build the house. You then sell it for more than $500,000. According to the labor theory of value, you have taken more than the good is actually worth. You’ve exploited the buyer and your workers by taking this surplus value. You win, they lose.

Yet this situation looks different according to the subjective theory of value. Here, everybody wins. You market and sell the house for more than it cost to produce, but not more than customers will freely pay. The buyer is not forced to pay a cost he doesn’t agree to. You are rewarded for your entrepreneurial effort. Your workers benefit, because you paid them the wages they agreed to when you hired them.

This illustration brings up a couple important points about free enterprise that are often overlooked:

1. Free exchange is a win-win game.

In win-win games, some players may end up better off than others, but everyone ends up better off than they were at the beginning. As the developer, you might make more than your workers. Yet the workers determined they would be better off by freely exchanging their labor for wages, than if they didn’t have the job at all.

A free market doesn’t guarantee that everyone wins in every competition. Rather, it allows many more win-win encounters than any other alternative.

2. The game is win-win because of rules set-up beforehand. 

A free market is not a free-for-all in which everybody can do what they want. Any exchange must be free on both sides. Rule of law, contracts, and property rights are needed to ensure exchanges are conducted rightly. As the developer of the house, you’d be held accountable if you broke your contract and failed to pay workers what you promised.

An exchange that is free on both sides, in which no one is forced or tricked into participating, is a win-win game.

If you do get the book, be sure and skip the chapter on usury. It’s just not as engaging as the others, in my opinion.