What does Lent tell us about Markets and Morals?

What does Lent, which starts today, have to do with a topic I’m very interested in: markets and morals? Last week I wrote that in order to reform a system, it’s good to have concrete alternatives, often tied to concrete traditions of thought. Through my classes in economic sociology and in social theory, I introduce students to scholars they may not encounter elsewhere in college, such as Friedrich Hayek or Amartya Sen. I use those readings, and this series of video interviews with scholars about markets and morals created by the Templeton Foundation, to teach students that markets are good but they also need to be regulated by morals.

Although I don’t directly teach Catholic social teaching, my reading of papal encyclicals on development and charity undoubtedly influence why I generally support free markets but am also concerned about economic inequalities. As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church points out, Catholic Church’s social teaching grows out of its moral teachings and its understanding of the human person. Lent is a time when Christians engage in particular practices to remind ourselves of our nature as persons and our duties towards others.

For example, during Lent, Catholics and other Christians are reminded to practice almsgiving. For Christians, charity is a duty, not a choice. As Pope Benedict XVI’s 2005 encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is love) reminded us, giving alms must be accompanied by compassionate love for the other, or else it is not Christian charity.

During Lent, the Catholic Church calls its faithful to conversion. [Read more...]

James Naismith Meet Jeremy Lin

by John Schmalzbauer, Missouri State University

(Earlier this week, Jerry Park explored the fascinating role of basketball in the lives of second-generation Asian Americans.)

More than any other player, Knicks superstar Jeremy Lin connects the game of basketball with its religious origins. Christened the “Taiwanese Tebow” for his outspoken evangelical Christianity, Lin would make basketball inventor James Naismith proud.

The story of Naismith’s peach baskets is a well-told tale. So is Lin’s religious testimony.

Less obvious is the connection between Naismith’s “muscular Christianity” and the campus ministry that nurtured Lin during his years at Harvard University.

An ordained Presbyterian minister, Naismith studied theology at Montreal’s McGill University. There he encountered North America’s first YMCA chapter. Convinced that “there might be other effective ways of doing good besides preaching,” he took a position at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. Influenced by the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg, he joined the school’s football team. Before each game, Stagg prayed for “God’s blessing on our game,” [Read more...]

Contraception, Cheap Sex, and the Nonmarital Birth Rate

Every once in a while something in the New York Times will bring a smile to my face and offer hope. Well, that wasn’t this week, yet again. In Saturday’s edition came the discouraging news that over half of babies born to American women under age 30 are being born to unmarried mothers. Since the overall total is 41 percent, it means women over age 30 are more apt to be married when childbearing. But I think most reasonable people can still agree that it’s better—on average—when fathers are engaged in their children’s lives than when they’re not.

Now, I haven’t come down too hard on contraception in my previous writings and two books, but it boggles my mind to think that the logical answer to slowing the skyrocketing nonmarital fertility rate is to pump more (and free) birth control into the relationship system (which is also called the mating market, and once was called the marriage market, back when the pursuit of sex and the timing of marriage were more tightly connected). It’s a little like printing money to stimulate an economy: it sounds like a helpful thing, it could work, but it may backfire, and it’s hard to know with confidence what exactly will happen, and whatever happens may well generate unintended consequences, but it sounds noble because at least it’s doing something.

To be sure, contraceptive usage prevents very many pregnancies—duh—but what it doesn’t prevent is all of them, given normal contraceptive failure rates (which vary) and the fact that many people don’t use them correctly (due to lots of reasons, ignorance being only one of them). But what I think typically gets left out of discussions about contraception—because it’s challenging to accurately discern it [Read more...]

How Do You Define Happiness?

By Becky Hsu

This past week, while people were celebrating (or not celebrating) Valentine’s Day, an oddly-coupled pair of news items emerged pertaining to research on happiness.

A multi-country survey concluded that partners are the main source of happiness: nearly two-thirds of couples say their partner is the most important source of happiness in their lives. However, a study in New Zealand found that widows and widowers are among the happiest people who have tied the knot (particularly women). So, what are to conclude from this? Are people happy because of their spouses? Or, are people happier after their spouses die?

The trick is in how people define happiness to begin with. When someone asks you, “How happy are you, on a scale of 1-10?” your answer will depend on at least three things:

1) Mood. Have you had a good week? A good day? [Read more...]

Harvard, Hoops, Hope, and Hype: America’s Lin-fatuation

My Facebook newsfeed is suffering from Linsomnia. Discovering a new celebrity like Jeremy Lin for someone in my line of research interests is enough to throw every other project off the desk and spend long nights keeping track of what is happening to America’s favorite new point guard, and what people are saying. Like a lot of writers who have commented on Lin, I too have not been an avid NBA watcher much less the Knicks (although mentioning them has helped break the ice a couple of times: “So uh, how ‘bout those Knicks?” Try it sometime.)

So what are people saying about him? While normally I prefer to make the best of data that has already been collected through a survey, every once in a while I’ll try my hand at collecting and creating data. Believe it or not there is an actual science to this but for the purposes of this blog I confess I didn’t apply the same kind of rigor that would make my findings publishable. One way to create data on Jeremy Lin is to do what’s called content analysis. I have been bookmarking every possible news article, blog and other written work about him that has been shared with me and have systematically coded for themes and key phrases that repeatedly show up on an excel file.  Admittedly, there may be bias in the articles that are shared with me.

You know how some ideas seem really good at the time? [Read more...]