Archive for the ‘Economic Development’ Category

Talk on Thursday, 11/6/14, at St. John Paul II Newman Center on Leo XIII and his On the Rights & Duties of Capital & Labor (Rerum Novarum)

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

I’ll be presenting a free talk entitled “Leo XIII and his On the Working Classes (Rerum Novarum),” for the School of Catholic Thought at the St. John Paul II Newman Center at 6PM Thursday, November 6, 2014, after evening Mass at the St. John Paul II Newman Center Library, 700 S. Morgan St. Chicago, info@schoolofcatholicthought.org, 312-226-1880. Here’s the announcement in PDF format.

Here’s a png version —

Announcement_LeoXIII_RerumNovarum_102814b

A podcast of the now completed talk is posted here. Here’s the link for Rerum Novarum, the great 1891 encyclical of Leo XIII.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Podcast of the Seventh Class Session, Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church Course

Friday, June 13th, 2014

Here is the audio podcast of the seventh class session of the course The Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church held on the evening of 4/22/14 at the St. John Paul II Newman Center in Chicago as part of the School of Catholic Thought.

Here is the Page for the course, containing links for previous session podcasts, along with notes.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Aphorism LXXI

Friday, November 8th, 2013

There has been much hoopla in the past several years over the economic success of the so-called “boystown” same-sex enclaves in a number of cities. While such areas very positively provide safety and security for citizens to quietly enjoy the benefits of life without harassment, it is also true that these enclaves cannot be solely sustained by the LGBTQ population itself, which is relatively small in number.

One secret to the economic success of the “boystown” neighborhoods is that they are located within larger “boozetown” drink and entertainment districts serving recent college graduates and young professionals.

Without “boozetowns,” “boystowns” would not thrive, nor would pride parades have grown to number in the hundreds of thousands.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Prelude to a Just and Merciful Society

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

The problem of sustaining not only the continuing existence of human society but also of a just human society has challenged both dreamers and those who consider themselves realists.

This second group, so-called and sometimes self-appointed realists, is comprised to a great degree also of dreamers who happen to be unaware about essential skills and knowledge they themselves and society in general do not possess which may apply to the very problems they propose to solve.

The present paradox of achieving social justice involves theoreticians and political actors who think political power can directly achieve justice, when power, exerted over time to sustain continuous human systems instead more likely forms institutions and therefore bureaucracies which, sometimes very usefully, slow the effects of power and sometimes stop power dead in its tracks, for the principal reason that the power-wielders very often lack the foresight, knowledge, and skills to properly construct and lead the institutions and bureaucracies. This is another manifestation of what I (not originally) call the political illusion, an illusion that assumes that political power can in an of itself solve human problems over the long term.

Political power, since it must be sustained in one way or another–even in a dictatorship–by the consent of at least an elite in the population, tends to turn long-term capital assets, principally buildings, infrastructure, and institutions, into short-term political assets, and thus to exhaust the potential of these assets to sustain a just society.

Political power-seeking is thus the very enemy of sustainabilty, because sustainability properly treats long-term assets as long term assets, while political action generally doesn’t.

The phenomenon of the serial ribbon-cutting politician who immediately loots a new project for the next round of supposed innovations elsewhere in an endless and decaying series of unsustainable promises is only but one example. In general, few public projects are established with the supply chain of resources to sustain themselves over time, since politicians tap cash from all sources for their next series of promises or for their next inevitable crisis.

Political infrastructure thus differs from real infrastructure the way a Wild West movie set, composed of facades, differs from a real town. Self-styled political realists to a great degree dwell in the Wild West movie set version of reality, which is useful for media photo-ops but not for when it rains.

To build an unsustained, unsustainable public institution may one day be considered a crime. Some day, we will view unsustained public housing, public hospitals, public schools, and public infrastructure as public acts of injustice.

Community and political movements nevertheless often try to build institutions that may outlast themselves, schools and places of employment being a common example.

But theorists, writers, and activists too often, if not always, lack the practical skills of institutional organization, know little of what Peter Drucker called the liberal art of management, and know even less of the practices of continuous organizational improvement, many of these based upon science and engineering, so their institutional innovations become like many others, mired in their own bureaucratic processes and procedures. This predicament leads to diminishing returns and to an endless series of unrealized bright ideas, and eventually, inertia or cataclysm.

Of the many challenges facing our global society in its history, one foundational challenge remains: how to feed, clothe, shelter, heal, and transport each other within a variable natural system subject to weather, accident, and disaster.

Upon this shifting foundation, the even more shifting patterns of human demography manifest themselves. And if there are not enough healthy people, questions of economic growth and social progress become moot.

While this outline may seem elementary, political activists often forget that a community is built upon a population that in the end depends on nature, and that the effective distribution of resources within this sphere depends as much, if not more, upon accumulated knowledge of science and engineering, as especially applied in contemporary agriculture, as it does upon politics. Informed, competent action thus comes into play.

Political power can, for a time, seem to defy the forces of natural, demographic, or economic “weather” or “gravity,” but inevitably these fundamental forces break through, and negate the effects of political power, because political power cannot direct weather or the force of gravity.

The initial economy, literally the translation of the original word, is the human household, predominantly composed as the family when a male and a female bond for life. From natural resources and human demography grow culture (religion, folkways, arts and letters, leisure, etc.) and economic activity, upon culture and economy grow institutions and organizations with their accompanying communications, science and engineering, public health, law, and politics.

None of these cumulative societal actions could exist without continuous human mastery of the necessary skills and knowledge leading to effective action, be that action successfully producing a crop, a road, an automobile, or a classroom of literate students.

None of these cumulative forms of organization could endure without the various methods that society has learned to hedge and to insure, and therefore immunize itself, against natural disasters and failures of crops, production, supply, and of public health.

And none of these activities could continue without the establishment of basic forms of trust throughout society, which ensures communication, continuity, and freedom of innovation. Religion, the arts, leisure activities, and other manifestations of culture play a key binding role in the establishment of common human references, and thereby trust.

Human mercy plays an even more critical role in sustaining human trust. The mercy of a U.S. Grant, inspired by Lincoln’s “with malice toward none,” on a Robert E. Lee and his soldiers spared a nation from guerrilla warfare, and thereby saved it.

The integration and advancement of human society in all of these fields of endeavor could also not exist without the accumulating and exchanging nature of the city, and its meeting places and crossroads of transformation and regeneration, whether these be houses of worship, theaters, studios, or ultimately universities, which bring together and sustain science, engineering, agriculture, arts and letters, law, medicine, and all the other disciplines of human mastery that fan out and populate families, businesses, schools, hospitals, labs, farms, mines, and all forms of active human enterprise.

Human society is thus composed of many interacting and composite goods, but it is fundamentally grounded upon natural resources subject to variability manifested by growth, decay, change, and disaster.

These processes of variability and especially decay echo throughout every human system, and must be thoroughly understood and mastered within each human context for a just and sustainable society to thrive. The mastery of the processes of variability and of decay is fundamental to human competence.

The political illusion lives as if nature or demography or economy would never break through and undermine societal stability, but inevitably they do. The political illusion is not so much devoted to progress as to the self-perpetuating of a given elite, in coalition with trailing elites. The political illusion claims to be about the many, but in the end, it is almost always about the few.

The principal political and economic theories of the past two hundred years, be they Marxist or capitalist, have represented wishfully dangerous and destructive short-cuts to human progress by promising their own particular leap over the practical challenges inherent in managing land, labor, and capital resources in putatively just and fair ways.

These short-cuts, framed as political ideologies, have subsumed art, religion, science, and culture into their domain as mere cheering sections, and have thereby weakened and corrupted these as independent, useful, and also transcendent societal assets. These political ideologies have killed millions upon millions of human beings, and in the end, have merely established flawed institutions and bureaucracies that to this day remain un-mastered, uninformed, inefficient, and ineffective.

Bureaucracy, in spite of itself, plays a useful role, as well. Bureaucracy manages critical information and resources, and accumulates, implements, and moderates law and regulation. Bureaucracy is therefore necessary for human survival, and is a principal pattern seen in mediating institutions.

But bureaucracy is also where everyone’s pet idea for reform goes to die. Politicians continue to give bureaucracy its (usually unfunded) mandate, and then they, who often manufactured bureaucracy in the first place, are reduced to haphazardly bullying it since nothing else, from their perspective, appears to work.

The problem of the 21st century is therefore, pace W.E.B. DuBois, not so much the color line, but un-mastered bureaucracy, and in general, lack of mastery of our own work and professional activities. Or to put it bluntly, the problem of the 21st century is our own incompetence.

It is therefore not progressives and not capitalists, but incompetent progressives and incompetent capitalists, who are the enemies of human progress.

None of us, from the digger of ditches to the President of the United States, really comes to their job well prepared to do it. We have met the incompetents, and they are we.

To build a just society, I therefore propose that we do not carry the discussion forward at this point from the point of view solely of political economy, which can come later, but to begin considering the dignity and capability of each human person, which for a Catholic like myself is usually the starting point.

Not only must each human person have the capacity to be good (meaning, morally good) for society to be good, as the mythical traveler Raphael Hythloday stated in Thomas More’s Utopia, but each human person must be informed and skilled enough to effectively do good.

Yet another virtue is needed. Each of these good and competent persons must have what Alexandr Solzhenitsyn called “civic courage,” the willingness to speak out when something wasn’t right. Without civic courage, our knowledge of what could be improved would be lost, and our society would also not be free.

Recently, when Cuban human rights blogger Yoani Sánchez was challenged by someone who pointed to the availability of food, shelter, and health care in Cuba, she didn’t stop to blink. Ms. Sánchez stated that a bird in a cage has such things. Civic courage makes such a discussion, but also a free society, possible.

Finally, each good person must be not only morally good and just, but merciful. The relationship of mercy with justice, one of the most profound contributions of Blessed John Paul II, is often the most overlooked aspect of a just society. [I write these words on 4/7/13, Divine Mercy Sunday. Here’s a reference to Pope Francis’s homily for the day.]

It is to the topics of moral goodness, competence, civic courage, and mercy in a free and just society that I will turn when I next have the chance to continue this essay.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The German Birth Dearth’s Implications for the Social Safety Net

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

According to recent demographic news, Germany may not have enough of a younger generation in coming years to pay the taxes to sustain a social safety net.

Immigration may not be able to close the gap, because immigration policy is a mass of contradiction in many developed countries.

In the US, states already have massive, unfunded pension obligations, even before the larger effects of a demographic winter are felt in a few decades.

Progressive dogma posits both low birth rates through universal artificial birth control and a social safety net.

But as births decline, fewer and fewer people pay the taxes and the debt for the larger group of the elderly, and the population chart begins to look like an inverted pyramid, with more of the old on top, and fewer of the young on the bottom.

With US immigration policy at an impasse, there is no ready solution.

Therefore, our present anti-birth progressive social policy doesn’t add up in terms of long-term public finance.

We can’t have low birth rates and a sustainable social welfare safety net at the same time, unless we open the doors to immigrants and give them the chance to succeed.

Please see my earlier posts on this general topic.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Two Unsustainable Political Illusions

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

One point of view of this Sanity and Social Justice blog is that both the public policy program of the Left and the program of the Right present unsustainable illusions. Both distort economic reality with partisan propaganda and spin. Both engage in wishful thinking. The same intensity of criticism should be focused on both the Left and the Right, but rarely is.

When completely victorious, as in the one-party rule of Chicago and Illinois, the Left descends into inefficient corruption and factionalism, fulfills few of its economic promises, and produces disorder if not financial and social ruin. When completely victorious, as for a time in the Reagan Era, the Right similarly lacks the discipline to fulfill its own economic commitments, engages in wishful thinking such as Jack Kemp’s (joined by Democrats) over-extending home ownership to an unsustainable percentage of the population, and descends into cronyism. Neither partisan platform ever fully realizes its economic vision. Each over-promises to critical, if not tragic, proportions.

It thus is something of a puzzle why people continue to believe that politicians can achieve economically what they say they will, when history perennially demonstrates that they consistently do not, and why people continue to treat political belief with a passion that surpasses religious devotion to the point of idolatry.

Part of the answer lies in the fact that our political beliefs do not represent historic or economic fact so much as they represent our own concept of ourselves, our own “identity maintenance,” as I have long called it. Also, since both the Right and the Left have consistently descended into cronyism, one can conclude that political passion depends in the end on that group of political cronies with which one wishes to throw in one’s lot. The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in unrealized and probably unrealizable political ideas, but in our own self-concept and self-interest, framed as the public good.

Against a world of illusory political discourse, one can respond with competence and effectiveness, the Aristotelian Ergon and Arete of Work seeking Excellence. The teacher acts as a good teacher, the doctor or nurse as a good doctor or nurse, and by extension the school or university is a good school or university, the hospital is a good hospital, etc., and it is to be hoped that the society is a better society as a result.

For centuries, heady and trendy intellectuals have tried in vain to transcend Aristotle only to confirm him. I’ve said before that Stanley Fish has labored mightily, and brought forth in the end a few two-thousand-plus-year-old lines from Aristotle. Modern political thought has bypassed Aristotle to its peril.

Political economy is grounded on the variable strata of the physical world of natural resources as moderated by meteorological forces, of long-wave demographic trends, of cultural tectonics, of shorter-term markets, of sudden and disruptive innovation and disease and disaster, and of shifting public policy interventions. To a certain extent, politicians must practice the art of taking credit for the weather and for the prosperity that comes from the occasional financial bubble as their own personal artifacts. To do so, they must artfully lie with consistency about both economics and history.

Political partisanship, however, does sometimes fulfill its promises on non-economic issues. The Germans voted in politicians who did in the end kill Jews, and the West has voted in politicians who did in the end kill babies.

For a Catholic like me, the present political choice is sometimes falsely cast as the choice between social compassion (the Left) and Pro-life (the Right), as if the Left could actually deliver on social compassion, or the Right could actually carry through on Pro-life. Both promised political products are highly unlikely.

It is however very likely that the Left will continue to kill the unborn, so in this particular regard the Left must be vigorously opposed. But it is not likely that the Right will endure in consistently defending the unborn, either. Killing the unborn is based upon selfishness, which is an enduring human constant.

My political critique is not naive cynicism, but is grounded in history, science, and common sense. Against the political illusions of both the Right and the Left, I suggest that we concentrate our resources on building a society based instead upon professional and institutional competence and effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability imbued with human compassion, and informed by science. This approach is based upon trust and hope in what truly endures in human society.

Morally-committed and scientifically-informed professions and institutions promulgate order, and outlive politics. I pity the partisan true-believer, who presently lives in a spinning, self-referencing Twitter-cloud-dream uninformed by history or by economic science, or, for that matter, by perennial philosophy and theology.

The first step away from this illusory world-view is to consistently direct one’s critique in one’s own direction to the same degree that it is directed toward one’s adversaries. This is an ancient Christian principle (Matthew 7:3) that extends well to politics.

For more on my analysis of the commonsense propositions that underlay political discourse, please see chapters 2 and 3 of my dissertation.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Why Research Universities Merit the “Freedom of the City”

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

What I shared with university colleagues on 5/6/12–

Colleague,

I’ve been thinking of implications of the various [Illinois] pension bills in the light of the larger question of the need for economic development in Chicago and in Illinois.

Yale economist Robert Shiller, the co-originator of the Case-Shiller housing index, recently made a dire prediction, that the housing market may not recover for a generation, meaning “in our lifetimes.”

The implications of this prediction, if correct, are profound. The political game of chasing around and announcing “jobs, jobs, jobs” may shortly be practically useless. Longer-term sources of economic growth besides tax incentive gimmicks to attract and retain businesses will have to be found.

Cities have historically grown and thrived because, as centers of commerce, they were in some sense free economic zones that became magnets of opportunity for both migrants and for entrepreneurs. But our generation of legislators, whether federal, state, and local, have somehow embraced bureaucracy and regulation as a solution, and are locking out opportunity.

By reducing constraints upon UIC’s [University of Illinois at Chicago] growth as an urban, state research university, Chicago and Illinois could become a greater research and educational magnet, drawing more scientists, more businesses, and more students, and rival Boston or LA within two or three generations, if we collectively make the right decisions to unshackle our research universities and institutes and let them grow and thrive. The “freedom of the city” must be extended to the University of Illinois (both UIC and UIUC [University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]) and to partner institutions as research leaders.

In order for such a strategy to succeed, civic leaders who are alumni of NU and U Chicago will have to drop their elite snobbery and allow UIC to thrive as well, since UIC in the long term can “bring the big numbers” of both graduates and researchers to help Chicago and Illinois thrive. But even these three Chicago research universities are not enough to build a “rival Boston” strategy for this region.

That is why legislative action that drives away research talent, and the dollars that senior professors and principal investigators bring with them, is exactly the wrong economic development strategy for Illinois.

As long as state research universities are lumped into legislation covering all matter of non-research institutions, and subject to numerous unintended consequences and unpredictability, the state research university will not thrive to the extent that it could in Illinois. We already see talented colleagues voting on the expected results of such election-year legislation with their feet before the final votes are cast.

Infrastructure alone will not bring Illinois or Chicago back. We have to have a “somewhere” to where the roads and bridges lead. Because real estate will not be an answer for perhaps a generation, state and other research universities do help answer the question of “somewhere.” So let’s not sandbag research universities with bureaucratic disincentives for success, OK?

There are so many encouraging changes taking place at UIC, especially UIC College Prep–there should be dozens more such Chicago and Illinois high schools!–that I’m sad to see some of our colleagues go at this critical moment for UIC.

But we do have a great opportunity, even in these awful times for Illinois, to actually make the right legislative decisions to shape a better future.

Regulatory freedom for the Research Universities of Illinois is part of the answer. The sooner the University of Illinois, including UIUC and UIC, can be set apart with its own legislation freeing the development of research and the attraction and retention of talent from regulatory constraints, the better.

But who will take the lead in spreading this message? Who’s got the guts to do this in an election year?

Much easier to add more bureaucracy and to call it “reform.” Yet where is the economic development–which is what we really need–in that?

So far, the legislature has taken the safe DMV approach–more rules and more roads. But rules and roads leading to what?

Cordially,

Albert Schorsch, III

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Aphorism L

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

In the spirit of putting dreams into action, we went to the Moon.

Then we asked, If we can go to the Moon, why can’t we resolve war, or poverty, or education?

Then we tried to resolve war, and poverty, and education, and didn’t.

Then we stopped going to the Moon.

Now we couldn’t go to the Moon any time soon, even if we wanted to do so.

(I thank one of my sons for the last line).

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Some Economic and Legal Arguments Against the HHS Mandate

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

I’ve already referred to the HHS mandate on abortifacients, sterilization, and contraception as a patented unsustainable Cook County, IL vote-buying scheme wrapped in a tangle of Illinois legislature-style unfunded mandates.

But there are also many strong economic arguments against the HHS mandate. Please see Prof. William Luckey’s 3/15/12 critique. Here’s also a short summary of related economic arguments from the Word on Fire Blog.

Here’s a 3/24/12 update on legal arguments against the HHS mandate.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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