Ministers are called upon to provide counsel in times of personal crisis. One of the most common of these crises is the loss of a job. Sometimes the fact of being unemployed causes a person to undervalue his or her self worth, or to face a difficult transition to a new line of work. It can mean a costly move, more time spent in school, or possibly venturing out toward starting an enterprise.
No matter what the result, unemployment reminds us that little in this life is certain. But it can also draw us closer to family and faith, and impart lessons about fortitude and initiative. Losing a job doesn’t have to be a long-term tragedy. With the right institutional conditions (and this is true primarily in the US), unemployment can be only a temporary setback that yields a positive long-term result.
In many parts of the world, however, unemployment is a grave social matter that signals a deeper, underlying problem: the lack of market flexibility to respond to human needs. This can take the form of punishing tax levels, mercantilist trade policy, wage controls, costly business regulations, or an absence of property rights. The result, however, is always a cycle of poverty and despair.
Economists often talk about scarcity as a feature of the market. There are limited means and unlimited wants. One implication of this concept is that there is never a shortage of work as such. What we need are institutions that make cooperation possible between people so that work can be mutually advantageous. The very institutions (wage contracts, property titles, freedom to associate) that aid this cooperation are often inadvertently harmed through governmental intervention in the labor market. Part of the mission of the Acton Institute is to examine the human side of such questions and to demonstrate why we should have more confidence in markets as humane institutions. Your support of our work helps us in our efforts to research, publish, teach, and impart this unique perspective.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico