Is the Market Moral?: A Dialogue on Religion, Economics, and Justice

Penn State Press

In the great tradition of moral argument about the nature of the economic market, Rebecca Blank and William McGurn join to debate the fundamental questions —equality and efficiency, productivity and social justice, individual achievement and personal rights in the workplace, and the costs and benefits of corporate and entrepreneurial capitalism. Their arguments are grounded in both economic sophistication and religious commitment.Rebecca Blank is an economist by training and describes herself as "culturally Protestant in the habits of mind and heart." She has also chaired the committee that wrote the statement on Christian faith and economic life adopted by the United Church of Christ. Addressing market failure, for her, requires that sometimes "freedom to choose" give way to other human values. William McGurn, a journalist and a Roman Catholic, uses his expertise in economics to reflect on the teachings of the church concerning the morality of the market. For McGurn, humans reach their fullest potential when they are free from the constraints of others. He writes that "our quarrel is not so much with Adam Smith or Milton Friedman but with the Providence that so clearly designed man to be his most prosperous at his most free."This book grapples with the new imperatives of a global economy while working in the classic tradition of political economy which always treated seriously the questions of morality, justice, productivity, and freedom.
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About the author

Rebecca M. Blank is dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. She was senior staff economist with the Council of Economic Advisers during the first Bush administration and was appointed to the council under President Clinton. William McGurn is chief editorial writer and a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal. He has also held key positions for National Review and Far Eastern Economic Review.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Penn State Press
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Published on
Dec 31, 2004
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Pages
151
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ISBN
9780815710219
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economics / General
Business & Economics / Economics / Theory
Business & Economics / Free Enterprise
Philosophy / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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David T. Ellwood
The nature of work in the United States is changing dramatically, as new technologies, a global economy, and more demanding investors combine to create a far more competitive marketplace. Corporate efforts to respond to these new challenges have yielded mixed results. Headlines about instant millionaires and innovative e-businesses mingle with coverage of increasing job insecurity and record wage gaps between upper management and hourly workers. A Working Nation tracks the profound implications the changing workplace has had for all workers and shows who the real economic winners and losers have been in the past twenty-five years.

A Working Nation sorts fact from fiction about the new relationship between workers and firms, and addresses several critical issues: Who are the real winners and losers in this new economy? Has the relationship between workers and firms really been transformed? How have employees become more integrated into or disconnected from corporate strategies and performance? Should government step into this new economic reality and how should it intervene?

Among the topics investigated, David T. Ellwood explores and explains the apparent paradox between the steady rise in per capita national income and the stagnant wages of middle- and working-class workers. Douglas Kruse and Joseph Blasi study relative changes in long-term vs. temporary work, and evaluate the introduction of profit-sharing schemes and high performance workplace programs. William A. Niskanen and Rebecca M. Blank, both former members of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, offer their perspectives on what direction government might take to make this a working nation for everyone. Though Niskanen and Blank take alternative approaches, they both conclude that the primary policy emphasis ought to be on the problems of the least skilled more than on inequality per se, and that a focus on childhood education and tax supports for low-income working families should be of primary concern.

A Working Nation paints a compelling and surprisingly consistent picture of today's workplace. While the booming economy has created millions of new jobs, it has also lead to an alarmingly unbalanced system of rewards that puts less-skilled, and many middle-class, workers at risk. This book is essential reading for those seeking the most efficient answers to the challenges and opportunities of the evolving economy.

Rebecca M. Blank
Congress must reauthorize the sweeping 1996 welfare reform legislation by October 1, 2002. A number of issues that were prominent in the 1995-96 battle over welfare reform are likely to resurface in the debate over reauthorization. Among those issues are the five-year time limit, provisions to reduce out-of-wedlock births, the adequacy of child care funding, problems with Medicaid and food stamp receipt by working families, and work requirements. Funding levels are also certain to be controversial. Fiscal conservatives will try to lower grant spending levels, while states will seek to maintain them and gain additional discretion in the use of funds. Finally, a movement to encourage states to promote marriage among low-income families is already taking shape.

The need for reauthorization presents an opportunity to assess what welfare reform has accomplished and what remains to be done. The New World of Welfare is an attempt to frame the policy debate for reauthorization, and to inform the policy discussion among the states and at the federal level, especially by drawing lessons from research on the effects of welfare reform. In the book, a diverse set of welfare experts—liberal and conservative, academic and nonacademic—engage in rigorous debate on topics ranging from work experience programs, to job availability, to child well-being, to family formation. In order to provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of research on welfare reform, the contributors cover subjects including work and wages, effects of reform on family income and poverty, the politics of conservative welfare reform, sanctions and time limits, financial work incentives for low-wage earners, the use of medicaid and food stamps, welfare-to-work, child support, child care, and welfare reform and immigration.

Preparation of the volume was supported by funds from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Rebecca M. Blank
One in four American adults doesn’t have a bank account. Low-income families lack access to many of the basic financial services middle-class families take for granted and are particularly susceptible to financial emergencies, unemployment, loss of a home, and uninsured medical problems. Insufficient Funds explores how institutional constraints and individual decisions combine to produce this striking disparity and recommends policies to help alleviate the problem. Mainstream financial services are both less available and more expensive for low-income households. High fees, minimum-balance policies, and the relative scarcity of banks in poor neighborhoods are key factors. Michael Barr reports the results of an in-depth study of financial behavior in 1,000 low- and moderate-income families in metropolitan Detroit. He finds that most poor households have bank accounts, but combine use of mainstream services with alternative options such as money orders, pawnshops, and payday lenders. Barr suggests that a tax credit for banks serving primarily disadvantaged customers could facilitate greater equality in the private financial sector. Drawing on evidence from behavioral economics, Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir show that low-income individuals exhibit many of the same patterns and weaknesses in financial decision making as middle-class individuals and could benefit from many of the same financial aids. They argue that savings programs that automatically enroll participants and require them to actively opt out in order to leave the program could drastically increase savings ability. Ronald Mann demonstrates that significant changes in the credit market over the past fifteen years have allowed companies to expand credit to a larger share of low-income families. Mann calls for regulations on credit card companies that would require greater disclosure of actual interest rates and fees. Raphael Bostic and Kwan Lee find that while home ownership has risen dramatically over the past twenty years, elevated risks for low-income families—such as foreclosure—may well outweigh the benefits of owning a home. The authors ultimately argue that if we want to demand financial responsibility from low-income households, we have an obligation to assure that these families have access to the banking, credit, and savings institutions that are readily available to higher-income families. Insufficient Funds highlights where and how access is blocked and shows how government policy and individual decisions could combine to eliminate many of these barriers in the future.
Rebecca M. Blank
Over the last three decades, large-scale economic developments, such as technological change, the decline in unionization, and changing skill requirements, have exacted their biggest toll on low-wage workers. These workers often possess few marketable skills and few resources with which to support themselves during periods of economic transition. In Working and Poor, a distinguished group of economists and policy experts, headlined by editors Rebecca Blank, Sheldon Danziger, and Robert Schoeni, examine how economic and policy changes over the last twenty-five years have affected the well-being of low-wage workers and their families.

Working and Poor examines every facet of the economic well-being of less-skilled workers, from employment and earnings opportunities to consumption behavior and social assistance policies. Rebecca Blank and Heidi Schierholz document the different trends in work and wages among less-skilled women and men. Between 1979 and 2003, labor force participation rose rapidly for these women, along with more modest increases in wages, while among the men both employment and wages fell. David Card and John DiNardo review the evidence on how technological changes have affected less-skilled workers and conclude that the effect has been smaller than many observers claim. Philip Levine examines the effectiveness of the Unemployment Insurance program during recessions. He finds that the program’s eligibility rules, which deny benefits to workers who have not met minimum earnings requirements, exclude the very people who require help most and should be adjusted to provide for those with the highest need.  On the other hand, Therese J. McGuire and David F. Merriman show that government help remains a valuable source of support during economic downturns.  They find that during the most recent recession in 2001, when state budgets were stretched thin, legislatures resisted political pressure to cut spending for the poor.

Working and Poor provides a valuable analysis of the role that public policy changes can play in improving the plight of the working poor. A comprehensive analysis of trends over the last twenty-five years, this book provides an invaluable reference for the public discussion of work and poverty in America.

A Volume in the National Poverty Center Series on Poverty and Public Policy

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