Category: Acton Commentary

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, November 23, 2016

BernieTweetIn this week’s Acton Commentary I weigh in with some reflections on the US presidential results: “Naming, Blaming, and Lessons Learned from the 2016 Election.” I focus on much of the reaction on the Democratic side, which has understandably had some soul-searching to do.

The gist of my argument is that “the New Left forgot the Old Left and got left out this election cycle.”

For further elaborations on this theme, I recommend the following: “The Real Forgotten Man Of 2016 Was Bill Clinton,” by Ben Domenech; “Rust Belt Dems broke for Trump because they thought Clinton cared more about bathrooms than jobs,” by James Hohmann; and “Bernie Sanders, In Boston: Democratic Party Needs To Focus On Working Class,” by Simón Rios.

The only coherent way forward for the Democratic Party in America is to embrace an Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders-style approach to material inequality, to return the Old Labor vision of progressive politics. To paraphrase Sen. Sanders, going forward the Democratic Party has to be much more Piketty and much less RuPaul.

Winning in politics, as in sports, can make things seem like they are better than they really are. For the GOP, it could be that holding both houses of Congress and taking the White House ends up preventing the kind of reflection and reformation that really needs to happen. In that vein, I conclude the piece by pointing out that Trump’s economic message, which resonated among certain voters this time around, has its own problems and shortcomings.

White working class voters have suffered materially to some extent. The benefits of globalization and economic growth are not spread evenly, and there are some tradeoffs. The Right has largely been unwilling to acknowledge even short-term domestic losers in the global, free enterprise system.

But perhaps even more importantly than material losses, working classes have experienced suffering in a subjective and psychological sense, which includes feelings of isolation, purposelessness, and disrespect. Donald Trump became the vehicle for expressing this disaffection, while Clinton was the embodiment of a cronyist, corrupt Washington establishment.

dakotaaccesspipeline“Environmental protests that spring up around development projects on tribal lands point to an underlying systematic injustice,” says Rev. Gregory Jensen in this week’s Acton Commentary. “Native Americans often lack property rights to their traditional lands and waters. The protests now going on over the Dakota Access Pipeline are in part symptomatic of this gap.”

Resolving environmental conflicts between Native Peoples and developers is a good thing. But if the legal ownership of indigenous people to their own lands is left unresolved, then even the best-crafted “solution” merely ratifies the dependence of Native Americans on outside parties. Being dependent means being vulnerable to harm even by well-meaning others.

At Standing Rock the Dakota Access Pipeline protests are harming the very people they are trying to help. It is more than a little ironic that the protesters themselves are a source of inconvenience and frustration in the day-to-day life of the Sioux living in the immediate area.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, November 9, 2016

In today’s Acton Commentary, I offer a brief reflection on the results of Election Day in the United States, “Politics, Character, and Competition.”

I’ve heard a lot of wisdom and a lot of foolishness in the hours since the final results were announced. The initial speeches have now been made, and we are in that in-between time, the pause of sorts between the election and the inauguration of a new president.

It’s a good chance to take a breath and exhale, to get away from the helter-skelter of a truly historic and dizzying campaign. But it is also a good chance to think hard about where we are and how we got here. Once we have an idea about those things, then maybe we can have a better idea of where we ought to be going.

What happened yesterday was important, but it is easy to exaggerate its importance in the heat of the moment. Politics remains downstream from culture even as there are feedback loops. Reform is certainly necessary, but all true reform begins with ourselves.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, November 2, 2016

“If stewardship responsibility applies so strictly in regard to your body,” says Abraham Kuyper in this week’s Acton Commentary, “it applies even more decidedly to your mind, to every talent that God has given you in your mind and in your life.”

“For all things are yours,” the apostle says [1 Cor 3:21]. There is nothing that the subjects of King Jesus may not take up into their lives. Our King does not take his subjects out of the world. He has no use for the Anabaptist avoidance of society. The only thing to be avoided is what is sinful and unclean, but created things as such are not to be avoided. To one who is clean, everything is clean. Jesus does not clip your wings at all. He does not tie your wings to your body. Instead his will is that you spread your wings proudly and freely. The richer your life becomes, the better it is.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Hillbilly ElegyWhile the federal government’s “war on poverty” achieved some progress towards meeting basic material needs, says Ray Nothstine in this week’s Acton Commentary, it has no answers to the deeper dilemma of dependency and hopelessness faced by many Americans.

One book that highlights the problem and that is receiving considerable attention this year is J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy.” Vance uses his own story to depict a crisis of culture among the white working class, especially in Appalachia. When President Lyndon Johnson launched his Great Society programs over 50 years ago with an iconic visit to Eastern Kentucky, it produced forlorn images of families in dilapidated shacks. The region remains under siege by poverty.

The problem, in large part, as Vance explains, is wrapped up in cultural and family decay. Vance, who declares, “Poverty was a family tradition,” was able to break free from the cycle and escape a chaotic future by moving in with a grandmother. Stability in the home brought with it a possibility to change’s ones life trajectory.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Earlier this week the 2016 Nobel Prize in economics was jointly awarded to Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström on Monday for their shared contributions to our understanding of contract theory. “Taken together the work of Hart and Holmström has allowed all of us to understand more clearly what a “good” contract might look like,” says Victor V. Claar in this week’s Acton Commentary, “even when both parties face an uncertain future.”

Most of Professor Hart’s work has dealt with “principal-agent problems.” These arise out of information asymmetries: instances in which one party, the “agent,” is charged with carrying out the wishes of its overseer, the “principal,” though the agent knows more about its own behavior than the principal. Stated another way, principal-agent problems are characterized by an overseer who is not, in fact, all-seeing. In such cases the principal and agent do not share complete information about the behavior and effort of the agent: Thus, information is asymmetrical between the parties, with the agent holding the informational upper hand.

In such cases it makes sense for the principal to structure its contracts with an agent in a way that renders the incentives of all parties compatible. Otherwise the agent will serve two masters, serving his own interests first while merely appeasing the principal.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Makers of Modern Christian Social Thought Cover Front DraftThe contrast between the treatments by David Bentley Hart and Dylan Pahman of the question of the intrinsic evil of “great personal wealth” this week pretty well established, I think, that in itself wealth is among the things neither forbidden nor absolutely required. In fact, as Pahman puts it at one point, perhaps “Christians should strive to have wealth from which to provide for others.”

But all this is to merely show that wealth isn’t absolutely forbidden. From this it does not follow that we can merely do whatever we want or simply seek to gain as much as we can. Riches do remain a temptation, however, and a powerful one at that.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, the Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper expounds in some detail the power of money to corrupt us and turn us away from God. The temptation is unavoidable because of the way in which money can mimic God. As Kuyper puts it, “In money, there rules a power that closely approaches God’s omnipotence, at least insofar as the satisfaction of the needs and wants of one’s outer life is concerned.”

These warnings from Kuyper about the abuse of money and its power to enthrall us come from one of his later works, the first volume of Pro Rege, part of a three-volume series that focuses on restoring the Christian understanding of the lordship of Christ and its implications for all of life (these volumes are also part of the larger Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology).

One of Kuyper’s other works dealing with wealth, poverty, and economics is his earlier speech at the opening of the 1891 Christian Social Congress in Amsterdam. And earlier that same year Pope Leo XIII had promulgated the encyclical letter Rerum Novarum. Together these two texts usher in an era of modern Christian social thought and they sound very similar notes on the challenge represented by “the social question,” or the relationship between labor and capital.