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Antitrust, Christianity, and Market Regulation
What can Christianity teach us about free markets and capitalism?
Welcome to the Bridge Policy Download produced by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
Today we’re bringing you a conversation between Alden Abbott, Senior Research Fellow here at Mercatus, Daniel Crane, the Frederick Paul Furth Sr. Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, and Kenneth Elzinga, the Robert C. Taylor Professor of Economics at the University of Virginia. They discuss the connection between the world of antitrust and Christianity, capitalism as a vehicle for good, protestant moral theology and antitrust policy, their latest co-authored book chapter, and much more.
If you’d like to contact a scholar involved in this episode, please email [email protected].
Note: This is a rough transcript that has been lightly edited for format. If you notice an error, please email: [email protected].
Alden Abbott: Welcome. I'm Alden Abbott, Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Today, I'm joined by Professors Kenneth Elzinga of the University of Virginia and Dan Crane of the University of Michigan, who will discuss their co-authored essay Christianity and antitrust. This essay appears in a new volume on Christianity and market regulation, edited by Professor Crane and Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute, coming soon from the Cambridge University Press. This is a fascinating book on an intriguing topic.
Before proceeding a word about our speakers. Professor Kenneth Elzinga is Robert C. Taylor Professor of Economics at the University of Virginia. He was the first recipient of the Cavaliers’ Distinguished Teaching Professorship at the university, a recipient of the Alumni Associations Distinguished Professor Award, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Award, as well as awards in education from the Kenan and Templeton foundations.
In 1992, he was given Thomas Jefferson Award, the highest honor the University of Virginia accords its faculty. Each fall, Professor Elzinga's introductory economics course attracts over a thousand students and is the largest class offered at the University of Virginia. His antitrust policy seminar, which is taught using the Socratic method, often has a waiting list of two years.
Mr. Elzinga's major research interest is antitrust economics, especially pricing strategy and market definition. He has testified in several precedent setting antitrust cases and was the economic expert for the prevailing parties in three Supreme court cases -- Matsushita, Brooke Group, and Legion. By the way, Mr. Elzinga taught me principles of economics and antitrust a few years back.
Daniel Crane is the Frederick Paul Furth Sr. Professor of Law at the University of Michigan. He served as Associate Dean for faculty and research from 2013 to 2016. He teaches contracts, antitrust, intellectual property, and legislation regulation. He previously was a professor at Yeshiva University's Benjamin Cardozo School of Law and a visiting professor at New York University School of Law and University of Chicago Law School. In Spring 2009 he taught antitrust law on a Fulbright Scholarship at the Universidade Católica Portuguesa in Lisbon.
Professor Crane's work has appeared in the University of Chicago Law Review, the California Law Review, the Michigan Law Review, the Georgetown Law Journal, and the Cornell Law Review, among other journals. He is the author of several books on antitrust law, including Antitrust, The Making of Competition Policy: Legal and Economic Sources, and The Institutional Structure of Antitrust Enforcement.
Now let's get started. If only for efficiency purposes, I'm going to address each of you by your first name. Even though it's maybe a bit awkward for me in that I still think of Ken Elzinga as my former professor, although I'm a bit long in the tooth. I think that’s maybe allowed me.
On top of that, I recognize that both of you have been professors for many years, however, at, Mercatus, we want to be informal. Now, Dan later in this interview, I want to ask you about the new book that you co-edited, Christianity and Market Regulation. But to get us started, let's focus on the chapter in that book, you and Ken co-authored, entitled Christianity and Antitrust: A Nexus.
My first reaction when I read the title is that this would be a very short paper. Antitrust is about markets and commerce, the secular world. Christianity is about the world of faith. An obvious question would be what's the connection? Let me start, Dan, and then I'll ask Ken to chime in. Painting with a broad brush, what's the connection between the world of antitrust and the world of Christianity?
Dan Crane: Well Alden, thanks very much for having me on the show. It’s great to be here with Ken and I really enjoy collaborating with him on this chapter and many mutual interests that we have as well. If I think about the relationship between antitrust and my Christian faith, I think about it in various different ways. One is that I hope that my faith touches everything I do. I hope that's true whether I'm a plumber or a nurse or a teacher or an antitrust professor, I hope that my faith has relevance for how I conduct myself and how I think about what it is I do.
Being more specific, I also think that Christianity and the Christian tradition have a lot to say about antitrust and its foundational ideas. That's true in two ways. One is general principles that we find in the Bible and the Christian tradition speak directly to many of the questions that we grapple with in antitrust. Also, I think this has really been neglected in research and study. There is a long-standing Christian tradition with respect to anti-monopoly, and it’s not like it’s a new idea to Christians to think from a Christian perspective about the nature of competition and market economies.
Ken Elzinga: You know Alden, when I think of the relationship between Christianity and antitrust, it reminds me of Abraham Kuyper, who is sometimes thought of as the Thomas Jefferson of the Netherlands. Kuyper once remarked that if Jesus is Lord, He's Lord of all. What I think Kuyper meant is that the Christian faith is not just about Sunday school and singing hymns. Rather, to follow Jesus is to follow Him into the marketplace, into the world of money, into the world of commerce.
Jesus actually spoke more about money than he did about prayer. So, if that's true, the institution of antitrust shouldn't be immune from the influence of Christian principles. One way I think about antitrust is that it establishes rules for how people pursue money, how they pursue financial gain. So, for example, one biblical principle that's common to the Christian faith, and to Judaism, is thou shall not steal, one of the commandments.
Alden, when you were my student, I used to quote the folk singer Woody Guthrie, with the lyrics, "some men rob you with a six-gun, some rob you with a fountain pen." Now the problem with that song today is that my students don't know what a fountain pen is and a lot of them probably don't know what a folk song is. But if you take those lyrics, you might think of antitrust as an endeavor to enhance consumer welfare or prevent consumer welfare from being reduced by people with fountain pens or spreadsheets.
In that sense, antitrust, if it's done right, it isn't always done right, but if it's done right, it squares with the commandment that keeps consumers from being robbed by people with fountain pens -- or as we might put it, having their economic welfare reduced by what are anticompetitive practices. That'd be one way in which I see a connection between what might seem at odds or peculiar, the relationship of antitrust and the Christian faith.
Abbott: That's very interesting. Of course, when people think about the business world, they think about something that's been described by some people as evil, capitalism. Now the economic institution of capitalism has always been criticized and under attack, certainly true today. How do you react to claims that giant business firms, and capitalism itself, are soulless and harm masses of people? That is, is capitalism, even if somehow regulated by antitrust, at odds with Christian concern for the poor and downtrodden? Dan, let me start with you.
Crane: There's a famous quote that's attributed to John Kenneth Galbraith, although it actually goes back before him really, which is that "Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under socialism, it's just the opposite." What that goes to for me is that any economic system can be used or exploited for good or for ill. Capitalism, like any other economic system, is only as good as the people who run it; the people who make decisions in it. Capitalism is dependent on the moral and ethical behavior of people in the system.
I don't think of capitalism as inherently exploitative of the poor. I think that in any system there are people who exploit and harm other people. That goes to me to our sin nature, and our sin nature is present in any system in which we operate. For me, capitalism holds great potential to be used as a vehicle for good to enrich people, to lift people out of poverty, to enhance freedom and opportunity. What I think about, do we see exploitation under capitalism? Of course, we do but I don't put that at the feet of capitalism itself.
Elzinga: Alden, Dan, and I didn't compare answers or coordinate on this, but I really appreciate his response. I'm going to take a little bit different direction; I think it's complementary to it. I'm going to go back to a book that was very influential in my life some years ago, by Michael Novak, who used to be a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He wrote a book called The Spirit, notice the terminology here, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. Novak writes out of a Roman Catholic tradition, then Samuel Gregg, who's Dan Crane's co-editor on this book also brings a Roman Catholic perspective. He wrote a book with the very intriguing title, For God and Profit.
In this book, Gregg shows how banking and finance serve the common good. Now, I speak from a Protestant tradition, and I would contend that the market system is the one form of resource allocation that has lifted literally millions of people out of poverty. It hasn’t lifted everyone out, but then not everyone has had the opportunity to live under what Adam Smith called the obvious and simple system of natural liberty.
You can argue, I think, as a matter of taxonomy, and I think this squares with what Dan said, that capitalism doesn't have a soul, it doesn't have a heart for the poor, but in that sense, neither does socialism or central planning have a soul or a heart for the poor. We do have some empirical tests of which economic system seems to care better for the poor. We can compare North Korea and South Korea. We can compare Hong Kong and Mainland China. Argentina and Venezuela. I think that offers some evidence that markets do more for the poor than a system where you have state control over resource allocation.
Now, if I can add, I know it's a long answer, but let me add one other thing on this topic that I think also ties in with what Dan said. Here, I'm going to take the prerogative as being the old guy or the most senior person among the three of us. I have lived long enough in the academy to witness a remarkable reversal, and I want to comment on that. As I can remember, when I was first studying economics, the major criticism of capitalism, at least within an economic context, is that it was inefficient. It was inefficient compared to central planning. The argument was, I remember it well because I heard it many times. If you want more goods, you need a central plan.
Now clearly who thinks that anymore? Now, a very common criticism of capitalism is that it produces too many goods. Once, within my lifetime, it was argued that capitalism didn't produce enough shoes or whatever. Now capitalism produces too many shoes. I'll stop at that point, but I think there's an interesting confluence of what Dan said, and what I said in response to what's a really important question; is there something about markets versus central planning to have a deeper concern for the poor, a soul, a compassionate element?
Abbott: While capitalism has gotten some bad marks, socialism, as an economic regime has made a comeback in the past few years. We had a political candidate for the presidency openly identified as a socialist. I suspect many of your students now identify themselves as socialists, who are sympathetic to socialism, in a way our students of a few years ago did not. By the way, I might say I taught at George Mason Antonin Scalia Law School and I would not say that of my students.
I suspect the proponents of a basic tenet of socialism is that government ownership or control of business, or at least very, very tight regulation ensures equitable outcomes for individuals who might lose out in a more free-market-oriented environment. In short, some people just don't have the talent to succeed in a rough and tumble of market competition. How would you respond to the claim that socialism is more consistent with Christian social norms, sometimes it's called the so-called social gospel, than capitalism or free markets constrained by mere antitrust? Dan?
Crane: Alden, I've written another book called 7 Books That Rocked The Church. One of my chapters in that book is dedicated to Christianity and Marxism. Of course, there have been many Christians, Christians who I respect over the course of years who think that Marxism or socialism is consistent with or even compelled by a Christian worldview. It's not my view that Christianity compels necessarily any particular economic system. I do think, though, that Christianity has a very high regard for the individual.
For me, the key to a market-oriented society is the freedom of the individual to control their own economic life, to make investments, to make decisions, to care for their family. When you think of biblical stories, I think of one in 1 Kings 21, the story of Naboth's vineyard. Naboth owns this vineyard. The king, King Ahab, a wicked King, covets Naboth's vineyard and Naboth says, "I won't sell you. This was inherited from my fathers. I won't sell to you."
Ahab and his scheming wife, Jezebel, have to resort to shenanigans to bring false accusations against Naboth and have him killed so that the king can expropriate this individual's property. There are many lessons in that story. One of them is the idea of the righteousness of standing up even to a powerful person to one who wants to expropriate your property because this has been your heritage, the thing that God has given to you. I do have a very high regard for property, for the sanctity of contract, and for the rights of the individual, which I think are drawn from my Christian worldview and I think the Bible speaks directly to all those things.
Also, just to echo, at a more instrumental level, what Ken said about the empirical evidence we have about the effects of market-oriented societies on the well-being of the very, very poor. No force in history has been more effective at lifting people out of poverty than market-oriented systems. When you think about a country like China even, which today is a mixed economy, there is still formally a communist state but has transitioned since 1995 towards a more market-oriented society. Up to 800 million people have been lifted out of abject poverty to a higher standard of living because of relatively modest transitions towards a market economy.
Again, like Ken, I think that the empirical evidence is overwhelmingly in support of the claim that although – again – capitalism is not a perfect system, it depends upon the morality of those in it, that the system as a whole has great potential to enrich people's lives, give people opportunity, and to lift people out of poverty.
If, as Jesus did, we care about the well-being of the poor, then we should be concerned not only about theoretical utopian systems, but about the actual evidence that a particular system does or does not tend towards helping the poor. I think capitalism has a very good track record on that.
Elzinga: Alden, let me just confess that the attraction to socialism by many students, including some of my own, is somewhat baffling to me. Where that came from and the explanation for it, I think it probably takes somebody who's not in my tribe, an economist, but perhaps a cultural anthropologist, to explain this new affinity for socialism. Just as an observer and a reader of some of this literature, socialism does seem to offer almost a heaven on earth, something eschatological that some of my students might be attracted to.
Then along comes capitalism, along comes people teaching economics. Capitalism offers an invisible hand. It offers the pursuit of self-interest under a regime of law. There's just not a lot of romance in that, there's not a lot that grabs people's emotions. To come back to something that Dan mentioned, as to this claim that socialism is more consistent with social concerns, I don't see that in the Bible. Now, as Dan mentioned, some people do. I don't.
Jesus's followers owned private property. If they shared their possessions, from Jesus of the Scriptures, they did this voluntarily, they didn't do it under a regime of central planning. All the examples of charity and concern for the poor that Jesus gave were voluntary, they were done out of obedience to religious precepts. In that sense, they were not voluntary, they were precepts of behavior that was consistent with the faith, but it was not out of a government mandate.
To my mind, one of the most profound of Jesus’ teachings is the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is a very sobering parable to read if you're a follower of Jesus and think, "How do I match up with that? Where does my life mimic that of the Good Samaritan?" Jesus didn't commend the Good Samaritan because this man from Samaria followed the instructions of the IRS to help the man who fell among thieves. The Good Samaritan wasn't ordered to do this by someone from the Galilean governing authorities, he did this out of a sense of compassion, out of a sense of love for others, out of a, call it a social concern but it's not a social concern that came out of an economic system that you might call capitalism or socialism.
Abbott: We also learn, by the way, the parable about the servant who buried the talent. You can actually find something in Gospel parables about the virtues of actually using property and using funds wisely to increase them.
Talking about history now. The Sherman Act dates back to 1890. Supposedly the first place of American antitrust Washington DC to Congress passing the Sherman Act, but there's a much older anti-monopoly or pro-competition tradition. How did Christianity contribute to it?
Crane: Alden, Christianity has had a lot to do with anti-monopoly going really to the origins of the Christian state in Rome. You see a succession of Christian Roman emperors issuing edicts intended to fight things like cartel behavior and monopolizing of markets. In the medieval period, the Scholastic Catholic scholars were always working through ideas about economics, often under the rubric of just price theory, but one corollary of just price theory was the idea that a monopoly price was an unjust price.
Now, I don't think that the Scholastics fully worked out an economic theory the way we would today, certainly not the terms that we would, but they certainly understood the phenomenon of monopoly and prices contributing to harms to people who buy things. And so they were very attuned to this. Then the Protestant reformers, Martin Luther, and I didn't really know this until I started doing research for this chapter Ken and I wrote. Martin Luther wrote extensively on economics, and particularly on competition and economics.
Martin Luther wrote at length about people cornering markets in order to be a monopolist, and he even wrote about something that Ken has been a landmark figure in which is predatory pricing law. He describes predatory pricing, the practice of pricing so cheaply that your competitors can't compete and so they're forced to exit the market, and then you can recoup in the market. This is classic contemporary predatory pricing theory.
He thought this was abominable, he thought that people who were predators should be ostracized, should be punished. It's really not the case that even coming up to the time of the Protestant Reformation, that Christian thinkers are unaware of the very kinds of questions that we deal with today. And maybe I should let Ken pick up the story with Adam Smith.
Elzinga: Yes, I'll just mention. 1890 was a very good year for antitrust, but under a different name, not using the term antitrust as Dan indicated, there's a long tradition in the Christian faith with concerns about monopoly, and price-fixing, and as I say in our chapter, we give a lot of examples of this. In terms of Calvinism, I think one of the most interesting parts of our chapter is showing the link between Adam Smith, and Christian teaching.
Now Adam Smith, most people I think would agree is the founder of modern economics, and Dan and I show in our chapter how much Adam Smith admired, not just was influenced by, but admired Presbyterian clergy, and these were clergy who wrote about a lot of things including issues of markets and economics. And these Presbyterians, of course, were all products of the Reformation and they, in particular, were influenced by John Calvin.
Abbott: Interesting. Can you Dan and Ken say something about how Calvinism, or more generally Protestant moral theology, what do they have to say about antitrust policy? Is there anything else you'd want to add?
Crane: I could just say one of the important contributions that Calvin made, of course, Max Weber refers to Calvin as the father of capitalism because of the work ethic, but another thing that Calvin gives us is to break the medieval suspicion of economic investment as usurious. There's an old Christian prohibition on usury, and then Islam has one, and many faith traditions have prohibitions on usury. What Calvin I think showed was that usury meant abusive lending to poor people or exploitive lending to poor people.
It didn't mean that you couldn't make investments and get returns on those investments. The idea that the economic system that allows people to put their capital into risk but into investment and get returns from that is, of course, the very engine that drives market-oriented societies. Again, although Calvin is not the only person to make that observation, I think Calvin was important in ascribing a positive connotation to lending an investment of money for productive as opposed to exploitive uses.
Elzinga: Yes. Just to put an academic footnote on what Dan said, this connection is still explored by economists. Ben Friedman, his new book Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, a very important piece of scholarship. Deirdre McCloskey, another economist has done important work on what she calls The Bourgeois Virtues which McCloskey recognizes to be essentially Christian virtues.
Abbott: One thinks of the Dutch master paintings of burgers and in society a lot of wealth was created in the Netherlands by Calvinists who believed in those virtues. Let me turn now, from Protestantism back to, not the Middle Ages but to contemporary Catholicism. In his 1991 encyclical called Centesimus annus which means 100 years, basically referring to an encyclical a hundred years earlier on so-called social theology of the Catholic Church by then-Pope Leo XIII.
Pope John Paul II, who, of course, saw communism at firsthand reflected on our socialism and capitalism in light of the fall of the Soviet Union. He wrote quote, "We have seen it is unacceptable to say that the defeat of so-called real socialism sees capitalism as the only model of economic organization. It is necessary to break down the barriers and monopolies which leave so many countries on the margins of development, and to provide all individuals and nations with the basic conditions which will enable them to share in development.” Now, obviously, both of you are Protestants, but as a Roman Catholic, I'm curious what your reaction to that quote would be.
Elzinga: Well, I'll lead off on that. First of all, thanks for calling that quote to my attention, I think I'd read that earlier but not recently. Not meaning any disrespect, I find the quotation from Pope John Paul II cryptic in a way that may be my deficiency rather than the text. No doubt about it, there are monopolies that leave, quoting the Pope, "Many countries on the margins of development."
From my understanding often, these monopolies are state-owned or state-sanctioned; they’re not the monopolies that antitrust can undo or unravel. To my mind, more problematic in these countries is simply the absence of a basic rule of law that protects property rights. And if property rights are not protected, markets can't function really because the incentive that people have, going back to what Dan said about investment, the incentive you have to invest in property is diminished, whether that property is agricultural, manufacturing, trade, or even human capital.
Crane: I wish to add to that. The idea that there are barriers that create monopolies is certainly true and I think as Ken said, the most durable and pernicious of those barriers are ones that governments impose. I think, for example, a relationship between international trade and human welfare. To me, international trade is just an extension of what we've been talking about, the imperative to allow people to sell their products and services abroad. That is hugely beneficial to human welfare and well-being as well and injects an element of competition into the market.
We, I think, lost a little bit the thread between trade and monopoly, but if you go back to 1912, for example, the presidential election, trade, and antitrust, were the central economic issues in that election and they were always linked questions. The idea that that part of what it meant to bolster monopoly was to put up high barriers and tariffs that limited foreign competition. To the extent that what we're suggesting is that we need to create an interconnected economic order that allows people to flourish and profit from trade broadly defined, I agree entirely, and there I finger the blame on governments, often corrupt governments, that limit competition by making it impossible for people to exit or enter and for goods or services to exit and enter.
Abbott: I think that's a good point. I think, just to put things in context, it's interesting some Catholic thinkers came from countries which had a lot of corruption, and which had governance associated with corruption and not protecting property rights. Sometimes there's a danger that based upon one's upbringing, one might have the idea that capitalism somehow has this special form of cronyism which, of course, is a distortion of what pro-market capitalism is. That's something also to consider.
John Paul II’s encyclical also specifically addressed whether capitalism should be the goal of countries making efforts to rebuild their economy and society. He wrote "The answer is complex. If by capitalism is meant an economic system which recognizes a fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a business economy, market economy, or simply free economy. But, if by capitalism, has meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong judicial framework, which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious then the reply is negative." What are your thoughts about that long quote?
Crane: I can just jump in and say if the thing that we shouldn't have is capitalism unrestrained by a strong juridical framework, I agree. We don't have that. We're nowhere near having a wild west order in which people can do whatever they want to in the economic sphere. We have labor laws, we have consumer protection laws, we have antitrust laws, we have environmental laws, we have all kinds of constraints on human behavior in the business sphere. I agree. We can argue about the particulars of those regulations, and certainly regulations can impede effective competition in certain circumstances. But I don't disagree at all that capitalism, like any other form of human behavior, should be constrained and organized by law.
To Ken's earlier point, to me, law obviously plays an important role in a market society, protecting property rights, protecting the freedom of contract are two essential functions of law without which you can't have a functioning market order. Again, I don't disagree at all with the idea that a market system requires the rule of law and requires regulation. The question is, what kinds of regulations are conducive to human flourishing in that environment?
Elzinga: All I'll add to that, Alden, is to second what Dan said, I like the perspective that Dan brings to the quote. I also liked this statement from the Pope better than the first one that you read.
Abbott: It's interesting, as I said, having done some work with foreign competition antitrust agencies and hearing about the corruption in their government, the special favors handed out, and so forth. Again, I think it's something that we have the advantage of having grown up in a relatively free, rule of law society, and those who haven't seen it firsthand really, I think, sometimes have inherent suspicions about what they think capitalism is because they don't really fully understand what it can be under the rule of law.
Now since you’re both Protestants, let's get to perhaps a leading Protestant writer, say Christian apologist, he is one of the leading apologists of the last century, C. S. Lewis, author of the Narnia books, which are quite well known. Now I might mention also it's quite interesting because C. S. Lewis was brought to Christianity, he had been an agnostic or an atheist, by a fellow academic at Oxford, J. R. R. Tolkien, and both had fought in World War I and it was Tolkien, who was a Roman Catholic, who convinced Lewis about the value and the worth of Christianity.
They had a long-term friendship, so it's quite interesting talking about ecumenical agreement Tolkien and Lewis were fast friends. But getting back to Lewis, Ken, you have a paper entitled C. S. Lewis and Freedom: Christianity's Most Famous Apologist Meets Adam Smith, in which you argue there was a strong correlation between the views of Smith and Lewis on economics. Would C. S. Lewis have been a fan of antitrust?
Elzinga: Well, first of all, with regard to Lewis, I think a lot of Christians and non-Christians would agree that he's one of the most important defenders of the Christian faith, and I was very much influenced by Lewis's book Mere Christianity in my own coming to faith. That led me to start reading other things by Lewis, the Narnia tales that you mentioned, the Screwtape Letters. Then I started reading stuff that was not the common books, papers, letters, and so on.
What I found in Lewis was a profound distrust of central planning. Now he didn't use the jargon of the antitrust economist or the antitrust lawyer, he didn't write about free markets, or monopolies, or cartels but he did make statements like this. Let me quote one, possibly two of them. I'm quoting Lewis here. "Is there any possibility of getting the super Welfare State’s honey and avoiding the sting? Let us make no mistake about the sting, to live his life in his own way to call his house his castle, to enjoy the fruits of his own labor, to educate his children as his conscience directs, to save for their prosperity after his death, these are wishes deeply ingrained in civilized man."
Now I've read a lot of Lewis. I never found Lewis to use the term monopoly, but he did refer to robber barons. He actually referred to robber barons. He believed that robber barons were less of a threat to individuals, to ordinary citizens, than the Leviathan state. Let me burden us with one more quote here. Lewis writes, "Of all the tyrannies," now, that's quite a statement just from the start, "Of all the tyrannies," this is a guy who wrote the Screwtape Letters. He knows a lot about tyrannies and sin.
"A tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies." Then he says why, "The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
Now I take these quotes to mean Lewis, very thoughtful Christian, would be very sympathetic to what Adam Smith called an obvious and simple system of natural liberty and enter the role of government to keep markets free so that the state didn't have to control the economy directly. Now maybe I'm taking some liberties with Lewis here, maybe finding things that I wanted to find, but I don't think so. I think that's a fair reading of these two quotes and other quotes that I found in Lewis's writings.
Abbott: Quite interesting. Certainly, it's, your comments Ken, I think are consistent with studies in the last half-century on public choice and rent-seeking. Some of the greatest harms to liberty are brought about by governance regulations. For instance, excessive occupational licensing, other regulations that prevent people from earning a living or that prevent them from being able to acquire property in various ways.
Certainly, and the problem with those, as some antitrust judges and professors have commented, the problem with those regulatory limits on liberty is that the market can't whittle them down, so to speak. They're permanent until the law or regulations change. Indeed, in terms of limiting competition, I certainly would agree that the government is often guilty of some of the worst depredations, shall we say, against individual liberty.
Now, let's go to the classroom. Since you're both excellent professors, I had the honor of visiting University of Michigan and giving a lecture, talking to Dan there. I missed my opportunity to visit Professor Elzinga when I was at the Federal Trade Commission. Who knows? Maybe someday I'll make it down, but you’re veteran teachers of antitrust, and teach it from an economic perspective. But as we've seen you're believing Christians, well, how does your Christian faith influence the way you teach?
Crane: Well, I'll say I hope that my Christian faith influences everything I do, from the way I dress in the morning, to the way I drive my car, to the way I take care of my family, and to the way I conduct myself in the classroom. More specifically, even though I certainly don't walk into my classroom at the University of Michigan and teach antitrust from a Christian perspective, one thing that I care about deeply is, what I tell my students, is the existential questions. Why are we doing what we're doing? This is something we start with on day one and something we come back to again and again throughout the semester.
What are the purposes of antitrust law, and how are those things rooted in our own world views? I certainly don't tell my students they have to have any particular account of this. In fact, encourage them to explore many different accounts of why we have antitrust, and what we want to do. Those are morally significant questions. For me, everything comes back to one's worldview, one's view about the place one lives, the community one occupies, one's duty to one's neighbor, as Ken mentioned, the ultimate question. In the parable of the good Samaritan is who is my neighbor? To whom do I owe duties of care and charity and love?
All of those questions are very much implicated in the existential question, what is antitrust? Is it a consumer welfare prescription? What does consumer welfare mean? Is it about just deadweight losses or wealth transfers, dynamic efficiency, static efficiency? Are there other values? Is it about protecting the small businessman? Is it about protecting labor? All of these things are existential questions in antitrust. Even though I certainly wouldn't suggest to my students that they have to think about it in a particular way, I certainly think about those things stemming from my own Christian worldview.
Elzinga: Alden, as you may recall, I teach my antitrust policy class Socratically. In direct response to your question, how does Christianity affect what I'm like in the classroom, it may seem like Jesus doesn't affect my teaching, but Socrates does. Apart from classroom pedagogy, the Christian faith really does affect how I teach or I want it to. Here's how. To me, one of the most sobering stories about Jesus is that He washed the feet of His disciples. He actually washed the feet of His disciples. It wasn't the other way around, where their rabbi, their teacher, had His students serve them in this manner.
I keep a picture of Jesus washing the feet of a disciple in my office to remind me that the vertical relationship between me and my students is with me at the bottom, not with me at the top. That metaphorically, I'm to be a foot washer. I'm to be willing to serve my students. I do that with many failures and haltingly at times, but that's where Jesus really meets me as a teacher, is to say, "Ken, are you, in some sense, willing to wash the feet of your students?"
Abbott: Right, that's very good. It reminds me of lots of liturgically minded churches, some Episcopal churches, and Catholic Church on Holy Thursday, of course, a priest washes the feet often of altar servers or other men in the congregation, and again, shows the role as a servant. I think good teachers, by my own experience, just having seen them, good teachers have to be empathetic and should be willing to listen and not cater in a bad way but listen and understand the concerns of students. That's gratifying.
Well, let's move back to, of course, you're wanting to sell this great book, which Dan has edited and to which both of you contribute a chapter. Dan, you're the co-editor of the book, in which a chapter with Ken appears. I want to ask you a couple of questions about the book. First, give us a full title, and tell us when it is due out.
Crane: Sure, so the book is entitled Christianity and Market Regulation. As you mentioned, Alden, at the beginning, it's being published by Cambridge University Press, it's part of their Christianity and Law series, which is edited by John Witte at Emory University. It should be coming out at any day. We've submitted the final page proofs, and so I expect to see it in print any day now.
Abbott: Terrific. Where did you get the idea for the book?
Crane: It came to me as thinking about the Christianity and Law series, which I've contributed to some chapters in other books, but I wasn't aware of any effort to think, again, ecumenically across the Christian faith about market regulation, especially the law of market regulation from a Christian perspective. Sam Gregg and I collaborated on pulling together a group of authors. We are excited to have reached people from various different professions, economists, and law professors, and people who have served more business experience or political experience, but also people from around the world.
We have authors from United States, authors from Europe, authors from Australia, authors from South America, and again, from across the faith tradition. We have Protestants and Catholics who are coming at this from a broadly defined Christian perspective.
Abbott: Excellent. What are some of the rest of the chapters dealing with?
Crane: We have chapters on the morality of markets, on the common good, on public choice theory, on corporate law, entrepreneurship, financial regulation, bankruptcy, patents, and price controls. Really, a very broad set of topics from a very broad set of authors.
Abbott: To me, it's very interesting to look at how law and even religious law influences market regulation. In dealing with some officials from the Islamic world, a number of them were interested in studying and finding how antitrust could be made, indeed, was consistent with Islamic law, with so-called Sharia law, and that's quite interesting. I think it's not, as I say, Christianity, but also, it may be that there are ways of showing the consistency between other say, certainly the monotheistic religions, those traditions, and antitrust and competition.
Now, Ken, you've written mystery novels with another former professor of mine, the late professor William Breit, who's a fine man and a very good author. Mystery novels often have a surprise ending or end in a surprise. Is there anything like a surprise that readers of this new book might find in terms of its surprise? Dan, I'll start with you again.
Crane: I think the surprise to me, Alden, after having worked through this book is that it hadn't been written before, because, as you started by saying, it's not obvious at the outset that having a conversation about antitrust in Christianity bankruptcy or corporate law in Christianity will go very far, but there are so many questions once you start thinking through it, and so much historical material to bring into the conversation. I think the surprising thing to me is that, in my career as a scholar, haven't encountered anything like this before.
Elzinga: Alden, first of all, just to give a plug to Dan, Dan also, is a mystery writer. That's not what joined us together on this chapter, but we are unusual academics, and that we both are fond of the genre and we both have contributed to it.
The chapter that Dan and I wrote, I can't speak to the other chapters, but I think Dan makes an interesting point is it's a mystery that this book hasn't been written before because there's so much content to it. With regard to our chapter, it doesn't have a surprise ending, like an Agatha Christie mystery, where the reader was thinking, ''Oh my word I should have known that it was the cousin who did it, I just didn't see it at the time.''
I do think of all the people who believe economics is, to use Carlisle's term, the dismal science, or all the people who think economics is just math and graphs. I think it will surprise readers of our chapter, the chapter that Dan and I did, to learn that the dismal science, as it looks at issues of competition and monopoly, can actually be informed by, it can be illuminated by biblical principles. That may be a surprise to some of our readers.
Abbott: Well, it's a funny, happy surprise. I wish you a lot of good luck. I imagine you've signed up for all the talk shows to hawk the book and can make it a top Amazon bestseller, but we shall see. It certainly deserves to be widely read, and I know, Ken, you've also written essays on, as Dan has, religion from an economics perspective.
To me, it's always very interesting to see that scholars, there's some associations of Catholic and of also Christian scientists, that scholars can bring Christianity and a Christian perspective to their work. Fascinating. Well, let me thank you very much for your time, two great professors, great human beings, and great scholars. I hope you've enjoyed this. I've certainly learned a lot, and the audience have as well. Thank you.
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