Category: Acton Commentary

Jordan Ballor looks at the bipartisan lack of discipline in Washington on debt and spending, and the effect on future generations. “Christians, whose citizenship is ultimately not of this world and whose identity and perspective must likewise be eternal and transcendent, should not let our viewpoints be determined by the tyranny of the short-term,” he writes. “If we continue the current course of American politics, the fiscal cliff will end up being nothing more than a bump in the road toward the cultural, economic and political bankrupting of America.” The full text of his essay follows. The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.


In this week’s Acton Commentary, I take a look at the relationship between sacrifice and self-interest. One of the common complaints against market economies is that they foster selfishness.

But as Paul Heyne points out, it is crucially important to distinguish between self-interest and selfishness: “Many of the most eminent and sophisticated theorists in the economics profession make no effort to distinguish between self-interest and selfishness or between rational behavior and greedy behavior.” The failure to make such a distinction leads to some pretty strange conclusions about the motivations behind human behavior. If you want to know why people work, just look at what they do with the money they earn.

To this end, I also highlight the perspective of Herman Bavinck, who describes the rhythmic relationship between the spheres of family and work:

Through the family God motivates us to work, inspiring, encouraging, and empowering us to work. Through this labor he equips us to survive not for the sake of satisfying our lusts but for the sake of providing for our family before God and with honor, and also to extend the hand of Christian compassion to the poor.

We go out to work to provide for our families, and we return home from work to enjoy and share the fruits of our labors. We do this daily, in fact. There is a deeply intimate connection here in the cycle between home and work, the dual aspects of the cultural mandate: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and exercise dominion over it.

Because it is right, because it is wise, and because, for the first time in our history, it is possible to conquer poverty … Lyndon B. Johnson’s Special Message to Congress, March 16, 1964

Anthony Bradley, commenting on the preference black voters showed for President Obama, points out that Lyndon Baines Johnson’s War on Poverty policies “introduced perverse incentives against saving money, starting businesses, getting married, and they discouraged fathers from being physically and emotionally present for their children — resulting in generational welfare dependence — black voters are lured to choose dependence over liberation.” The full text of his essay follows. The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.


“When Christian institutions attempt to mitigate or compromise this understanding of their mission–often as the result of the political pressure–they morph into shadowy versions of their former selves,” writes Rev. Robert A. Sirico. In this week’s Acton Commentary (published October 24), Rev. Sirico explains that by losing the Christological dimension, Christian charitable work becomes essentially secular. The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.


This week I wrote about the dignity of paying taxes (among other ways of contributing to social flourishing). But as we know, not all taxes are created equal. Indeed, as Antony Davies and James Harrigan write this week at US News, “Politicians are in the business of buying votes with tax breaks and sweetheart deals for their preferred constituencies, and they have to offset these deals by taxing disfavored constituencies at increased rates. The longer this game is played, the more convoluted the tax code becomes.”

As I argued previously at Capital Commentary, this amounts to a kind of back door social engineering (as well as playing favorites, picking winners, and so on). The fundamental purpose of taxation is not to buy votes and give preference to lobbies and special constituencies. Instead, as I write, “The point of taxation is to raise funds to enable the government to fulfill its moral, political, and social responsibilities.” Such a view is ultimately at odds with a Utilitarian theory, which considers taxation to be a tool rather used “to maximize overall well-being in society.” Matthew Weinzierl argues for greater attention to a theory of Equal Sacrifice, which on Weinzierl’s account “assumes individuals have the first claim to their output, and that they voluntarily agree to form societies that collect taxes in order to purchase public goods.”

For many on the Catholic left, the confusion of “non-negotiables” in Church teaching with matters of prudential judgment has become all too common. In this week’s Acton Commentary (published October 17), Dr. Don Condit looks at how Vice President Joseph Biden’s “facts” about Obamacare were received by the Catholic bishops. The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.


“No taxation without representation” was a slogan taken up and popularized by this nation’s Founders, and this idea became an important animating principle of the American Revolution. But this was also an era where landowners had the primary responsibilities in civic life; theirs was the land that was taxed and so theirs too should be the rights to vote and be represented. Thus went the logic. But the question that faces us now, nearly two and a half centuries later, is the flip side of the Revolutionary slogan: To what extent should there be representation without taxation?

Check out the rest of this week’s commentary, “The Dignity of Paying.”