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How Green is God?

Full Text of Speech: Morality and Capitalism

Nick Schulz interviews Professor P.J. Hill

Nick: “Hi I am Nick Schulz, the Editor of and welcome to an episode of American conversations. Our guest today is Professor P.J. Hill. Professor Hill is a Professor of Economics at Wheaton College in Illinois. Thank you for being with us.”

Professor Hill: “Thank you.” Nick: “Now you are here at AEI to give a lecture this evening morality and capitalism at a time where many are denouncing the alleged greed that got us into the current financial mess and brought our economic mess. I want to return to this idea in a minute. But first I want to talk to you about some of your earlier work that I have certainly come to know over the years. You spend a lot of your time as an Economist analyzing the intersection of market activity and the environment, particularly as it relates to Property Rights. One thing I would like to know and draw out from you, how has morality of a moral view of the Universe informed your belief about markets, property, and the environment?”

 Professor Hill: “I would start with the idea property rights really have to be rooted to have some moral grounding, you have to have some idea of who is going to own what. My conception of the individual as a person of dignity and worth, from the Christian perspective that is the Imago Dae and from other perspectives there is other ways of grounding that but the idea of self ownership or the idea of owning property has to be grounded in some conception of who the person is. And so, for me the idea of people being of dignity and having worth really is the grounding the start of property rights. So I really start with concept of self ownership, and if you don’t start with that concept then things like slavery and other sorts of things are allowable. For me the moral issues really are foundational to the property rights issues, although there are a whole host of efficiency issues that also flow from that aside from the moral issues.”

Nick: “Now, but from that, so this notion of self ownership how does that notion reform your view about how we should think about the environment and free market environmentalism which is something you have been associated with?”

Professor Hill: “Right and most of my work with free market environmentalism has been with PERC, Property & Environment Research Center, in Bozeman, MT where I am a senior fellow. The PERC approach basically thinks about almost all our environmental problems as property rights problems. They really come from the lack of definition of property rights because when we think of as an environmental problem is usually a cost imposed upon somebody without their willing consent. What causes consent is ownership, and what allows consent is ownership, and so if you look at environmental problems through the lens of property rights it really lends a focus to it and it also tells you how you might think about solutions to particular environmental problems. Think about ways of giving feedback to it, holding people responsible for that which they do rewarding them for things that they do that advantage others, and penalizing them for things that harm others, and so a property rights regime then is both a way to giving feedback and giving incentives to get appropriate through to environmental care.”

 Nick: “I want to ask you about something and see if you notice this as you teach young people, I seem to detect a phenomenon of what I would call at least among evangelicals, a sort of embracing of green values of environmental ethics in recent years. What have you seen and what are your senses that you think are driving some of that?”

Professor Hill: “Well, I think that for a long time the evangelical church, did ignore some of the environmental issues because there was a fair amount of what Christians would think as of Paganism at the root of some of the environmental issues. I think this is unfortunate because I think there is a good reason for a creation care, for Christians to be deeply concerned about the environment. Unfortunately, from my perspective some of the Evangelical embrace of the environmental movement has done it with-out thinking very seriously about some of the consequences of embracing particular aspects of the environment movement and in some sense you have to think about, humans are really the curse on this causing all of the problems there is part of the environmental movement that would hold everything that is natural is good, except for humans, we are the unnatural part of the universe, that is not a Christian position. The Christians say that creation is good, and that humans created an image of God are a good part of that creation. Now that we are fallen we can do all sorts of bad things but the solution to environmental problems is not just getting rid of people and returning to a state of nature where things are perfect.”

Nick: “I want to switch gears here a little bit and talk to you about your lecture you’re giving a little later tonight. You ask if we the current context if we should be attempting a moral defense of market capitalism and your answer is yes, why is that?”

 Professor Hill: “One thing, from a realistic sort of perspective as you look around the world, and you think about alternative ways of trying to get people to coordinate, trying to secure cooperation among people who don’t know each other, market capitalism really still is our best bet. It’s not flawless, there are certain problems with it, and the last economic crisis certainly indicates there are problems with it. A lot of the problems with the current crisis of course are not just because of market capitalism, but because of a portion of intervention. Be that as it may, as you think about well, is there a third way that is pretty clear that centrally planned economies, socialism hasn’t worked. So many people are looking for this way, this third way, and I don’t think there is one, I think that Market capitalism appropriately underlay by a strong moral foundation in civic culture, is the best thing that we can do, and it is not going to be a perfect world, but I am willing to defend it as a moral system, as a system that meets certain prerequisites for moral life, and it certainly allows more of an opportunity for human flourishing for people to choose the moral life than ultimately systems do.”

 Nick: “That actually gets to my next question. The argument that you hear a lot even from people who are might be skeptical about markets, and they are well it delivers the goods right, so it’s efficient gets the goods and services when we want them, but you are going beyond that a little but that is not your primary justification you mentioned about flourishing, can you just talk a little bit more about your views of this aspect of it, because I think it is one possibly less appreciated aspects of what a market system does, or is capable of doing.”

 Professor Hill: “Many defenses of markets where you start with material goods. Markets produce a lot. I think it is important and the reduction of poverty is clearly a moral good, but human flourishing is the ability to act in a moral manner is very crucial and part of that means we have to have the freedom to act upon on how we want to order the world. There should be some sort of limits on that and one of arguments that I make is that market capitalism is both a system of opportunity but a system of boundaries, and boundaries actually come through private property rights. If you look at it as a historical perspective of private property rights mean the rich the powerful and the elite are constrained much more in terms of what they can do to the powerless, and the marginalized, and the people that are kind of outside where the perimeters of the systems there are alternatives. Kind of this Utopian idea, that if we get rid of private property they seem to think the powerless are going to gain power. I actually see the opposite. That private property is fundamental towards the protection of the rights, and the opportunity to flourish of the people who don’t have these sorts of opportunities.”

Nick: “Well, P.J. Hill, thank you so much for joining us for American conversations, I am Nick Schultz.”

Professor Hill: “Thank you.”


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