“God somehow demands of us so much more than this transactional nature. It is really about the gift that we’ve been given, and the only response we can give back is with extravagance, with gratuitous beauty.” –Makoto Fujimura (Episode 6, For the Life of the World)

sara-feature-305x305We live in a society that has grown increasingly transactional in its way of thinking. Everything we spend or steward — time, money, relationships — must secure a personal reward or return. Even when we give things up for “useless” activities, it is framed in terms of self-indulgence or personal release. We are making “me time,” “emptying our busy brains,” or “rewarding ourselves.” Even our wasteful moments are in the service of balancing some imaginary busyness ledger.

But countering our transactional nature will require far more than surface-level tweaks such as these.

In For the Life of the World, Evan Koons discovers that we must learn to appreciate the value of God’s creation in and of itself. If we hope to unlock the Economy of Wonder, we must realize that everything need not be tied to or offered up for some sort of pragmatic use. God wants us to be gift-givers who focus not on scarcity but divine abundance.

In a new video blog, musical artist Sara Groves touches on these same themes, inspired by artist Makoto Fujimura, who also makes an appearance in FLOW. “Pragmatism and utility have infected every area of life,” she says. “…It’s the artist’s role to push back against pragmatism and utility.” (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, October 13, 2015

deatonYesterday, Princeton economist Angus Deaton won the Nobel prize in economic sciences for his work on “analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare.”

In honor of this recognition, here are six quotes by Deaton on poverty:

On poverty measurements: “Poverty lines are as much political as scientific constructions.”

On measuring global poverty: “Measuring poverty at the local level is straightforward, at the national level it is hard but manageable, but at the level of the world as a whole it is extremely difficult, so much so that some people argue that it is not worth the effort.”

On the international poverty line: “Focusing on the number of people who are below the line is like chasing an unicorn through the woods. I am not sure it is wise for the World Bank to commit itself so much to this project.”

Blog author: bwalker
Tuesday, October 13, 2015

While it has been pointed out repeatedly by your writer and others in this space that Pope Francis’ Laudato Si contains much to recommend it for the beauty, compassion and depth of spirituality contained within, there remains much that is problematic. For example, there’s this:

At the same time we can note the rise of a false or superficial ecology which bolsters complacency and a cheerful recklessness. As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear. Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a license to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.

All this is consistent with Pope Francis’ warning that fossil fuels are contributing to climate change, but what he should be advocating for is energy abundance rather than this:

There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gasses can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.

Yet, how does the Pope reconcile his call for reduction of fossil-fuel use with his call for cleaner water and increased green space in the following quotes?

Here’s Pope Francis on water:

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, October 13, 2015

On Tyrannical Experts and Expert Tyrants
Angus Deaton, Review of Austrian Economics

We should indeed champion the rights of the poor and their full participation in a democratic state. But it is too optimistic to believe that rights and democracy by themselves will guarantee growth and prosperity, and the argument that rights and democracy are both necessary and sufficient for population health is largely wishful thinking.

The Pope’s Subversive Message
Arthur C. Brooks, New York Times

The central theme of Francis’ visit was a call for unity. He has frequently urged us “to dialogue together, to shorten the distance between us, to strengthen our bonds of brotherhood.”

This couple lives on 6% of their income so they can give $100,000 a year to charity
William MacAskill, Quartz

Julia Wise is a social worker and her husband, Jeff Kaufman, is a software engineer. In 2013, their combined income was just under $245,000, putting them in the top 10% of US households. And yet, excluding taxes and savings, they lived on just $15,280, or 6.25% of their income.

Former Obama White House economist: $15 minimum wage is a ‘risk not worth taking’
James Pethokoukis, AEI Ideas

The Democratic Party platform calls for a $15 per hour national minimum wage. Hmm. Here is economist Alan Krueger, a former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, on the “fight for 15.”

A picture of British economist Deaton, winner of the 2015 economics Nobel Prize, is seen on a screen as Hansson speaks during a news conference in StockholmEarlier today the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that the  Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to economist Angus Deaton. Here are five facts about Deaton and his work:

1. Angus Deaton, aged 69, is a dual British and American citizen. In Britain he taught Cambridge Universityand the University of Bristol. In America he is the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of Economics and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Economics Department at Princeton University. He is a corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and of the Econometric Society and, in 1978, was the first recipient of the Society’s Frisch Medal. Deaton was President of the American Economic Association in 2009, and has been elected a member of both the American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Sciences.

2. Deaton won the Nobel prize for his “analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare.” Deaton’s work on consumption (the use of goods and services by households), particularly in poor countries, helped to bridge the knowledge gap between individual economic choices and macroeconomics. As the Nobel committee says, “By emphasizing the links between individual consumption decisions and outcomes for the whole economy, his work has helped transform modern microeconomics, macroeconomics and development economics.”

The Fall 2016 Acton Lecture Series continued on October 1st with an address by American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, who spoke on the topic of his latest book, The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America.

Conservatives are often vexed by the fact that liberal policies and their supporters are viewed by the public as more compassionate to the poor even though a great deal of evidence exists to show that that liberal “solutions” to any number of social problems—while superficially compassionate—often create as many or more problems than they solve in society. Why are people so inclined to support politicians and pundits who promote policies that demonstrably disadvantage the downtrodden? And why are people inclined to credit supporters of those counterproductive policies as being more compassionate and caring than those who promote ideas that actually lift the poor out of their poverty?

Arthur Brooks argues that a major part of the problem is in the methods of persuasion that conservatives have tended to use. He then looks to the past to show why Ronald Reagan was so successful in his political career, and proposes that today’s conservatives would do well to follow Reagan’s example: be happy warriors who fight for people, and not against bad policies.

You can view Brooks’ full presentation below. And as a bonus, after the jump I’ve included videos of the two speeches Brooks mentioned in his address: Ronald Reagan’s 1980 speech accepting the Republican nomination for president in Detroit, Michigan, and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” speech, delivered as the commencement address to the University of Michigan’s class of 1964 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


trump-towerThe duty to respect individual property rights has been a part of the law since the Decalogue included the commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” But for just as long, governments have included an exception for the state in the form of “eminent domain.”

The term eminent domain was taken from the legal treatise by the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius in 1625, which used the term dominium eminens (Latin for supreme lordship) and described the power as follows:

… The property of subjects is under the eminent domain of the state, so that the state or he who acts for it may use and even alienate and destroy such property, not only in the case of extreme necessity, in which even private persons have a right over the property of others, but for ends of public utility, to which ends those who founded civil society must be supposed to have intended that private ends should give way. But it is to be added that when this is done the state is bound to make good the loss to those who lose their property.

For most of U.S. history, the “ends of public utility” meant the government could take property to build highways and railroads. But in 2005 the Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that the general benefits a community enjoyed from economic growth qualified private redevelopment plans as a permissible “public use” under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

At the time, Acton president Rev. Robert Sirico said that, “In the Supreme Court’s “new” ownership society, the very safety and security of God-given, inalienable rights are threatened.” That has been the general position of most every conservative and libertarian since the unfortunate ruling was handed down. But there are some people who think taking private property and giving it to others for their private use is “wonderful.” People like Donald Trump.

Ellen Carmichael explains why Trump loves the Kelo decision and why he is wrong to support this misuse of government power:

To celebrate his 63rd birthday last week, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin participated in an exhibition hockey game. This was no ordinary pond hockey, however. It featured a cast of former NHL and professional stars. It also featured a stellar performance from Putin, who netted 7 goals in his team’s 15-10 victory.

This is a notable athletic achievement, particularly for a full-time politician who never had the chance to devote his life to sport. It is second only, perhaps, to the exploits of Kim Jong-Il, former North Korean dictator and “the greatest golfer in history.”


Blog author: jcarter
Monday, October 12, 2015

India is as rich as the US in 1881. A mesmerizing graphic shows where every country falls.
Dylan Matthews and Kavya Sukumar, Vox

As of 2013, India had a GDP per capita of $5,200, as measured in 2005 dollars. For comparison, the US had a GDP per capita (again, measured in 2005 dollars) of $5,200 in 1881.

Replace Welfare With a Negative Income Tax
Michael Shindler, Manhattan Institute

Amid years of perpetual congressional gridlock and partisan rivalry, the notion that both Republicans and Democrats could come together in support of sweeping welfare reform seems laughable. Yet, if it were to happen, the likeliest candidate for such a reformative policy might be the negative income tax (NIT).

The Case for Choice in Education
Veronique De Rugy, The Corner

The answer is and always has been that throwing money at the problem of failing schools, especially when the money will be spent on teachers’ salary and consultants, does nothing to address the structural problems and disincentives to perform that exist in these schools.

Study: Democrats Moving Left Faster Than Republicans Moving Right
The American Interest

At least since the 2010 midterms, it’s been a liberal talking point that Republican extremism is to blame for political polarization and gridlock.

John C. Kennedy III

John C. Kennedy III

In late September, the Wall Street Journal asked Catholic business leaders for their reaction to Pope Francis’ economic views in an article titled, “For Business, a Papal Pushback.” It ran with the teaser line: “Corporate leaders see merit in pope’s message, if not his broad-brush attack on capitalism.” Journal writer Scott Calvert interviewed Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg for his story. Gregg observed that Pope Francis had characterized market economies as generally exploitative. “He doesn’t seem to want to concede the sheer number of people who have escaped from poverty as a consequence of the opening up of global markets and the activities of business,” he said. “I know a lot of Catholic businessmen who are quite demoralized when they hear the pope talk about the daily reality in which they live.”

I recently had a chance to talk to John C. Kennedy III, a Roman Catholic Grand Rapids, Michigan, businessman and a board member of the Acton Institute, for his read of the Francis visit. Kennedy is president and CEO of Autocam Medical. Before that, he was president and CEO of Autocam Corporation, which he founded in 1988 and sold in 2014 (for PowerBlog coverage of Autocam’s legal pushback against the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to provide contraceptives and abortifacients go here). Beyond his business commitments, Kennedy devotes time to a number of organizations. He is a member of the Boards of NN, Inc., the parent company of Autocam Corporation, Grand Valley State University, Lacks Enterprises, Shape Corporation, the Van Andel Institute, and Advisory Board Member of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. Kennedy received his BA from the University of Detroit Mercy and his MBA from the University of Michigan.

Our exchange follows:

What was your reaction to the recent visit of Pope Francis to the United States?

Pope Francis’s visit was absolutely phenomenal. It really spoke to his leadership qualities. As a Catholic, I was proud of the leader of our church. The stamina of a 78-year-old man who went from morning to night every day, with beginning to end mass coverage, four or five times, was incredible. It’s just absolutely amazing to me. He did a great job. (more…)