I Wrote a Book

Front CoverI’m delighted to announce the publication of my first book: Foundations of a Free & Virtuous Society!

The back cover text written by my wonderful editor Kevin Schmiesing does a great job summing it up:

Creative, quirky, and always winsome, Dylan Pahman builds a systematic case for a positive relationship between a biblical understanding of the human person and the economic flourishing that freedom enables. His tour of scripture, philosophy, and economics mirrors the curriculum of the Acton Institute’s highly successful conferences. Free-market advocates will discover a sound theological groundwork and people of faith will learn how to speak “Economish” as they follow Pahman through this crash course in the principles of a free and virtuous society.

The table of contents is as follows:

FOREWORD by Samuel Gregg vii
INTRODUCTION xi

Part 1
Christian Anthropology
1. What Does It Mean to Be Human? 1
2. What Is Society? 25
3. What Is an Economy? 49

Part 2
What If?
4. Property and Prices 77
5. Inequality, Equality, and Freedom 107

CONCLUSION 135

APPENDIX: ACTON INSTITUTE’S CORE PRINCIPLES 139
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 143
ABOUT THE AUTHOR 145

At less than 150 pages, the book is designed to be an accessible crash course in a Christian approach to the intersection of faith and economics.

Pop references include: Back to the Future, Sliders, Choose Your Own Adventure, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Calvin and Hobbes, and many more!

Ever wonder how Sunday relates to Monday through Saturday? Ever wonder how to speak the language of economics? Ever wonder how to bring morality into the marketplace and more effectively alleviate poverty and seek social justice? Then my book is for you!

You can buy it on Amazon here.

Public Discourse: On the Importance of Incompetence

Today at Public Discourse, I have an essay on the importance of incompetence as a category of political analysis. I wrote it over a month ago, so I would likely have chosen different examples, but the basic point still comes through:

The French literary critic Émile Faguet is one of the few to attempt a theory in his book The Cult of Incompetence, now over a century old. Faguet wrote, “That society . . . stands highest in the scale, where the division of labour is greatest, where specialisation is most definite, and where the distribution of functions according to efficiency is most thoroughly carried out.” But, according to Faguet, democracies are a form of government particularly ill-suited to such efficiency. Incompetence is a failure of the division of labor, and democracies demand and seek out such failure.

How so? On the whole, a democracy is a group of people with no relevant qualifications or experience for government claiming political sovereignty for themselves. Rather than choosing the most competent persons for any given public position, they often elect people who reflect their passions and prejudices, and those people appoint others who will further their political careers. I think Mark Twain understood this when he wrote, “Reader, suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” This is not exactly a formula for competence.

Read the whole essay here.

Public Discourse: The BIG Problem with Technological Unemployment

Today at Public Discourse, I question the ability of proposals for a basic income guarantee (BIG) to solve the potential problem of massive unemployment due to automation in the future. I am skeptical on economic and spiritual grounds, but also hopeful that the future won’t be as gloomy as some predict.

On the economic problem, I write,

When income is procured through the threat system of taxation and redistribution, no wealth is created. Thus, when people who have contributed no wealth to an economy are given a grant from those who have, the money they spend is only the fruits of production being returned to the producers. The unproductive consumers are merely a conduit for funneling what was taken back to those who produced it in the first place. It is like trying to increase your bank account by writing yourself a check. And unless the receivers are required to spend 100 percent of the BIG, the result will not even be zero-sum. It will be negative-sum.

On the spiritual problem:

Labor puts us in a unique relation to our neighbors and the material world. It pulls us outside ourselves and situates us in society and the world around us. “Work,” wrote the Reformed theologian Lester DeKoster, “is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others.” Without work, we are left with a nagging sense of uselessness. According to Genesis, human beings were even made to work in Paradise—it is fundamental to who and what we are. As Arthur Brooks has pointed out, earned success is a key factor of happiness.

On why we can be hopeful for the future:

As time goes on, we will find that certain jobs are more resistant to automation than others. In something of a reversal of trends from the last decade or so, creative applications of the liberal arts may even increase demand for people with those skills. Furthermore, automation will create markets to serve its own needs. We will probably have a greater demand for mechanics and programmers, for example. No doubt, with our aging Baby Boomer population, we will see increased demand for elder care in the next twenty-five years as well. And who knows what markets may be created by future technology that few have yet imagined? Even if 47 percent of current jobs will be automated, new labor markets may be created to replace them.

Read the whole essay here.

Powerblog: Rogue One and Religious Diversity

Today at the Acton PowerBlog, I look at the unique depiction of the Force in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’:

We already know of two traditions of Force religion: the Jedi and the Sith. But shouldn’t we expect that an inter-galactic religion should have many divergent traditions? Global religions on Earth certainly do. And those differences matter. Think of how sociologist Max Weber argued that the “Protestant ethic” shaped the “spirit of capitalism.” Even those who have disagreed with Weber do not generally dispute that religious sub-traditions have important impacts on societies and economies — how much more so on galaxies?

While I don’t have high hopes for complex inter-religious relations in future Star Wars movies, I take Rogue One’s contradictory monistic depiction (as opposed to the light/dark dualism of the other films) to be a positive move toward a better portrayal of religious diversity in Star Wars beyond the antagonism between the Sith and the Jedi.

Read the whole post here.

PowerBlog: Vouchers, the Progressive Policy that the Right Loves

Today at the Acton PowerBlog, I ask the question, “why isn’t there more skepticism on the right [for school vouchers] and support on the left?”

Excerpt:

Vouchers do increase competition, but they also increase the potential for government influence. When tuition money comes from the state, the state can attach strings. Those who hope this could be a boon for private schools may find that if, purely hypothetically, vouchers became universal, down the line the very thing that helped these schools and families in the short term is used as a channel to manipulate them and undermine their sovereignty.

It’s not as if we haven’t recently seen religious organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor have to fight all the way up to the US Supreme Court3 just to prove that they should qualify for a religious exemption to the Affordable Care Act. Do we want religious schools across the country to have to fight the same battles, with equal uncertainty of success?

Add to this the fact that for Betsy DeVos (again, only hypothetically at this point — she hasn’t proposed anything yet) to mandate vouchers from her post as Secretary of Education would be a hugely top-down move, violating state’s rights in determining education policy.

So why aren’t more people on the right skeptical?

But that’s not all. There’s another angle to this as well: Vouchers work by redistributing resources from the upper classes (primarily through income and property taxes) to the lower classes. They are explicitly aimed at fighting economic inequality, not only by providing funding but through the goal of better educational outcomes, which in turn correlate with higher incomes. It reduces the privilege of the privileged. Sounds pretty progressive to me.

So why don’t more people on the left support them?

Read the whole post here.

Mere Orthodoxy: Rejoicing and Weeping After Election 2016

Today at Mere Orthodoxy, I offer my take on a Christian response to the complex and still hotly discussed results of our 2016 presidential election:

Writing to early Christians in Rome, St. Paul the Apostle offered a succinct summary of the Christian ethic in the twelfth chapter of his epistle. It is worth reading the whole thing with the events of the last week in mind, but here I’ll just look at one verse: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Many are weeping and rejoicing after last Tuesday. A Christian who weeps ought to know how to rejoice with those who rejoice. One who rejoices ought to know how to weep with those who weep.

I realize that this is hard to do. Rejoicing with those we agree with is easy. Weeping with those we agree with is easy. Weeping with those who mourn the very thing that we celebrate – that’s hard. Rejoicing with those who celebrate the very thing that we mourn – that’s hard. But that is “the way which leads to life.”

This way is especially difficult, given the self-aggrandizement and demonization of others that have so often characterized this election cycle. Do you think everyone who voted for President-elect Donald Trump is racist, xenophobic, misogynist, Islamophobic, and homophobic? If so, I doubt you are rejoicing with those who rejoice right now. Do you think everyone who voted for Sec. Hillary Clinton is a pretentious, radically pro-choice, uber-progressive, out-of-touch, sore loser? Then you probably aren’t weeping with those who weep today.

Something to keep in mind when sitting across from eccentric uncle Earl this Thanksgiving.

Read the whole post here.

PowerBlog: 2016 Election Turnout Encourages Humility

Yesterday at the Acton PowerBlog, I continued my dive into the post-election data. As with my last two posts, I found some surprising things when examining more detailed reporting on voter turnout.

There is a meme going around of a graph that shows depressed turnout for Democrats compared to 2012 and 2008, implying that Sec. Clinton lost because she failed to turn out her base. There may be some truth to this, but it doesn’t add up when we remember that presidents in the United States are elected by the Electoral College and thus on a state-by-state basis.

I write,

I’m unsure the source of the data. It may be completely accurate, but even if so it is misleading. As Carl Bialik wrote last week for FiveThirtyEight, “On average, turnout was unchanged in states that voted for Trump, while it fell by an average of 2.3 percentage points in states that voted for Clinton. Relatedly, turnout was higher in competitive states — most of which Trump won.”

So turnout was depressed for Clinton, but apparently only in those states that she won. Low turnout, then, can’t explain why she lost the states she didn’t win. And, in fact, this doesn’t even capture the phenomenon accurately, since she is on track to win some states by a greater margin than Obama did in 2012. Thus, depressed turnout in the states she won might mean fewer Republican-leaning voters there and not that she failed to turn out her Democratic-leaning base.

To me, this sort of complexity ought to encourage humility. There are limits to our knowledge and explanations, and failing to forget that only gives warrant to unhelpful, even if well-intended, self-justifications.

I write,

All this is not to say that anyone who shared the graph … is some self-serving huckster looking for Facebook “likes” or even that they are therefore rationalists. I almost shared it myself, in fact. It is interesting, and I’m thankful that someone shared it with me. Rather, my point is only to highlight that while turnout is another piece of the puzzle, it also turns out to be more than it appears. Correcting our assumptions about the existence of unexplainable aspects of reality can help us maintain our humility and safeguard against making hasty conclusions, mistakenly presuming that all of reality can fit into our heads, even as we admirably seek to know all that we can.

Read the whole post here.

PowerBlog: Beware the post-election narratives

Today at the Acton PowerBlog, I have a follow-up to my post from yesterday that examined New York Times exit polling data. The theme today is that no single narrative, no matter how comforting, can satisfactorily explain an unexpected event like the election of Donald Trump. Knowing this, we ought to guard ourselves against simply grabbing a hold of the narratives that best fit our own preconceptions.

Excerpt:

[W]hile fascinated by the many factors that appear to have affected the result of the 2016 presidential race, I’m also trying to resist the need to have an easy explanation. Depending on the person, casting the result as wholly good or wholly disastrous may be comforting, but doing so simply does not reflect the complex composure of those people, equally created after the image of God as you and me, who actually voted in this country.

Read the whole post here.

PowerBlog: Diverse Voters, Deep Passions

Today at the Acton PowerBlog, I take a look at what New York Times exit poll data tells us about last night’s election. Excerpt:

In all, despite sharp division and incisive rhetoric, the electorate was far more diverse in their voting this year than I, at least, expected, and than many made it seem in their reporting last night.

To me, the perhaps most interesting division is on the level of the passions that motivated voters: Trump voters were angrier and more pessimistic. They were also more opposed to Clinton than in favor of Trump. Clinton voters were more satisfied or enthusiastic with the status quo, more supportive of their candidate, and more hopeful for the future. However, these numbers were not always as sharply divided between parties as they were in 2012.

Read the whole post here.

Mere Orthodoxy: The Christian Statesman and the Gospel to the Poor

Today at Mere Orthodoxy, I argue that

the duty of the Christian statesman (or stateswoman) to the poor requires defending human rights, supplying urgent needs, reducing barriers to market entry, and guaranteeing access to the institutions of justice, seeking realistic, gradual reform as possible and prudent.

This essay will be the first in a series. As Jake Meador, editor of Mere O (as the kids call it), noted as a preface:

Over the next week we’ll be running pieces multiple pieces on political economics. The chief question we are addressing is “What duties a Christian magistrate has to the poor?” In today’s post, Dylan Pahman of the Acton Institute is giving a classical liberal answer to that question. Tomorrow we will be running a response to the same question written by a Christian socialist.

It is my understanding that we will then respond to each other’s essay and end with a statement of common ground.

So, if you ever wondered what hath Christian classical liberalism to do with Christian socialism? (other than “not much”), you can find out this week at Mere Orthodoxy.

Read the whole essay here.