Category: Acton Commentary

When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, that event visibly marked the collapse of a Communist ideology that had oppressed, tortured and killed millions for decades. But now, 20 years later, Communist authorities are once again taking aim at an old target — the Christian Church. Samuel Gregg looks at the alarming persecution of Roman Catholics in Vietnam in his commentary, “Corruption, Communism, and Catholicism in Vietnam.”

Gregg articulates the horrifying reasons for the continued persecution that Catholics in Vietnam are subject to:

Some of the reasons for this treatment of Vietnam’s Catholic Church are historical. Vietnam’s rulers are acutely aware that Catholics were among the most committed anti-Communist Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. Many Vietnamese also identified Catholicism with French colonial rule.

This background, however, is of marginal significance in explaining the violent crackdown presently being experienced by Catholics throughout Vietnam. Put simply, it’s about government corruption.

Catholic clergy and lay Catholics are not the only target, but the property of the Catholic Church is also emerging as another target for the government:

In late 2008, for example, Vinh Long provincial officials announced their intention to “appropriate” the land of a convent of nuns which also functioned as an orphanage in order to build a hotel. More recently, land in Hanoi that the government itself acknowledges has been owned by a Catholic monastery since 1928 was simply given over by the state for residential construction.

In an era where religious tolerance is becoming more widely accepted it is disheartening to see corrupt governments still persecuting the faithful.

In his commentary, Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, explains how labeling Pope Benedict XVI as the “greenest pope in history” is actually misleading.  Instead, Benedict’s attention to the environment is grounded in an orthodox Christian theological analysis.  Gregg articulates this assertion by citing Benedict’s most recent social encyclical Caritas in Veritate:

Also telling is Benedict’s insistence upon a holistic understanding of what we mean by the word ecology. “The book of nature”, Benedict insists, “is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations” (CV 51). In other writings, Benedict highlights the incongruity of people being outraged about wanton environmental destruction, while ignoring or even promoting the deep damage done by ethical relativism to society’s moral ecology.

Incidentally, the phrases “climate change” or “global warming” appear nowhere in Caritas in Veritate. Again, this is not surprising. Benedict has been careful not to prejudge the science of this complex subject. In his 2008 World Day of Peace message, Benedict observed that in thinking through environmental problems, “It is important for assessments to be carried out prudently, in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom, uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions.”

Gregg reminds us that Benedict’s stance on environmental concerns is based upon a orthodox Christian theological reflection on man’s relationship with the natural world, and that the pope is careful to not romanticize nature.

With health care continuing to be a hot button issue, Hunter Baker brings to light a new argument in his commentary.  While Baker provides us with many prudential reasons to oppose the expansion of government health care, such as the currently proposed government plan not having any provision for preventing the trial lawyer windfalls that have helped contribute to medical inflation, he also articulates the fundamental problems that arise with the expansion of government health care:

If we move from being a republic where certain freedoms (not only freedom of speech and religion, but also freedom of contract and freedom to own private property) are basically non-negotiable, to a simple mass democracy in which shifting coalitions of voters extract resources from their opponents, then we have lost the American genius of ordered liberty. The American founders did not set out to achieve a more perfect democracy. They set out to create and maintain a free republic.

The key to running a free republic characterized by ordered liberty is the citizens, themselves. Unless the citizens embrace virtue, convicted by God that they must do what is right rather than merely indulging their wills and appetites, their hard fought liberty will be lost. The fate of a people who will not restrain themselves is rule by a government that will increasingly exercise control over them. The American idea was that our people should be citizens rather than subjects. American citizens, once far more country than city in origin, were to be free to provide for themselves rather than gathering in coalitions to ask for government largesse funded on the backs of the productive efforts of others.

Baker reminds us of the importance of the health care debate, and amongst all of the discussion that is occurring we must not forget the principles that our government is founded upon.

Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, reflects on business ethics in his recent commentary.  Gregg explores the presence of business ethics courses in business schools; however, with the large presence of business ethics courses we still have a lack of ethics present in business.  The lack of ethics in business became a major factor in our current financial crisis.  Gregg further explains that business is not just about management or the business ethics that are taught, but businessmen and women need to also learn stewardship:

Business, however, is about more than management. It also involves stewardship (inasmuch as managers have moral and fiduciary responsibilities to their clients and investors) and entrepreneurship – the actual creation of wealth. Many business leaders would be shocked to discover that studying entrepreneurship remains optional in many business schools today.

This underlines another problem for some business schools. It’s not clear that all business professors are convinced of the morality of economies based on free enterprise, limited government, and rule of law. This ambivalence cannot help but be communicated to their students, which they take with them into the marketplace. It is very difficult for business schools to teach the moral habits associated with successful business when many business professors regard private enterprise and markets as, at best, useful but morally-insignificant phenomena.

Gregg also makes references it Pope Benedict XVI’s new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, to demonstrate the need for morality in business:

Hence, though Benedict speaks approvingly of the rise in ethics-consciousness in the worlds of finance and business, he cautions that simply attaching the label “ethical” to a given enterprise tells us nothing about the actual morality of its practices. What ultimately matters, the Pope affirms, is the precise vision of morality – and therefore the understanding of the human person – informing not simply a particular business, but the entire economy (CV 45).

In his commentary, Matt Cavedon, communications associate at the Acton Institute, addressed new taxes that are being proposed to combat the high obesity rates in the United States and to provide financial support for health care reform.  The new taxes proposed to help fund health care reform will begin to tax what Congress deems junk food or unhealthy food.  Cavedon exposes the hypocrisy fostered by taxes on such junk or unhealthy food:

In “The Sin Tax: Economic and Moral Considerations,” the Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, has argued against the idea of taxing sins to pay for public services. If the government relies on taxes on unhealthy foods to pay for health care programs, how can it both fight obesity and maintain steady revenue? Sirico says it cannot: “Under a sin tax, the state finds itself professing to discourage certain behaviors while relying on their continuance as a source of revenue.” The government may say unhealthy eating is bad, but it would rely on it for tax money.

The problem of hypocrisy leaves aside the question of whether government is qualified to be the moral police officer of our pantries in the first place. Sirico points out that “the government’s sense of morality, especially when it is influenced by excessive power, is often at war with traditional standards and common sense.” With food taxes, eating apple pie would become more of a punishable sin in the eyes of the government than cheating on a spouse.

Cavedon further explains the hypocrisy of taxes on junk and unhealthy food while also articulating the moral disorientation of such taxes.  “Obesity is a problem” Cavedon states, “but higher taxes are not the answer.”

Liberty is something we have valued for years in the United States, and the recent events that have occurred in Iran and Honduras demonstrate there are many people throughout the world who wish they were blessed to live in a country that protects and values liberty.  As we get ready to celebrate the Fourth of July, Kevin  Schmiesing, research fellow at the Acton Institute, writes a very timely commentary on liberty.

Schmiesing explains the delicacy of freedom and how it can only set its roots down and bloom in a mature civilization that has a virtuous culture.  Furthermore, Schmiesing also reminds us to be wary of those who use liberty as camouflage to deceive us into supporting certain issues and policies.  Schmieising states:

Such deceptive allures permeate our policy debates. The promises of government-run social security, having undermined the duty-in-freedom to provide for ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, are perched on an increasingly unstable base of a shrinking proportion of workers. Abdicating our responsibility to provide for and direct the education of our children, a government system has raced to a lowest-common-denominator approach devoid of moral or religious content–and often enough not very effective in conveying skills or knowledge either. Faced with the daunting prospect of taking charge of the cost of medical care for ourselves and our families, many are willing to cede control over value-laden health care decisions to government agencies.

According to Schmiesing, we must not forget the link between freedom and goodness.  This Fourth of July is a great time to appreciate the freedom and liberty that we are blessed to have every day.

A version of this commentary also appeared in the Detroit News on June 30.

Today, the Wall Street Journal published a letter I wrote to the editor opposing mandatory health insurance. This solution would burden the poor beyond their means, and it would deny the principle of subsidiarity by sacrificing family economic decisions to the priorities of federal legislators. Here is the text of the letter:

“Sen. Ron Wyden’s plan to make every uninsured American buy health insurance makes about as much sense as would forcing every poverty-stricken and starving Haitian to buy food (“Wyden’s Third Way,” The Weekend Interview, June 20). Sure, having every American insure himself would save us all money from unneeded emergency room visits, but there are bigger things in the way of universal coverage than just imposing a legal mandate.

Requiring every American to buy health insurance would make millions of families change their economic priorities in ways that would lead to unfortunate consequences. Almost everyone believes that getting health insurance for themselves and their families is a high priority, but virtually no one thinks that insurance comes before food and housing. Even if the government passes the Healthy Americans Act or some other sort of mandate, and succeeds in making everyone buy insurance, the victory will be Pyrrhic. The needs that come before insurance for the 15% of Americans will still exist, but the money they use to meet these needs won’t.

According to research done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, National Public Radio, and the Harvard School of Health, health insurance costs individuals an average of $4,800 annually. The cost for families to get insurance is even higher, at around $12,000 annually. These kinds of costs would push many people over the edge financially. How does Sen. Wyden propose that we pay for more people who will be unable to afford food, housing and education if they have to pay for health insurance? Effective health-care reform would be better accomplished by other means. Sen. Wyden’s own proposals to switch America from employer-based to individual health-insurance markets, for example, would do a great amount of good by encouraging competition and innovation without making life harder for the people having the most difficult time getting insurance.

Matt Cavedon
Cambridge, Mass.”

Amongst the health care debate Ray Nothstine offers a good analysis of Verterans Health Care.  Nothstine brings a good argument to light for those to consider who are in support of reforming health care.  Many supporters of reforming health care look to the health care provided by the Veterans Administration (VA); however as Nothstine is able to demonstrate, the VA health care system is far from perfect.  Nothstine also provides real life situations that demonstrate the flaws of the health care system managed by the VA.

Nothstine advises those who want to reform health care and model it after the VA health care system to proceed with caution:

Veterans’ health care has accomplished amazing feats, and many of the health officials and workers who work in that industry do so because of their desire to serve those who served their country. But the government must and should do a better job taking care of veterans, especially those wounded in America’s wars. The government needs to prove it can handle existing obligations before proposing the adoption of any universal government plan. If it cannot handle the challenge of caring for 8 million veterans, how will a government bureaucracy manage a system dealing with 300 million Americans?

Read Nothstine’s entire article by clicking here.

In a time of changes and reform in institutions one wonders if reform is truly necessary.   Oskari Juurikkala addresses this lingering thought and answers that, yes, reform is truly necessary but it needs to be rooted in true good and our faith in God.  Juurikkala states:

Institutions matter, but they do so in a way that differs from the reformist vision. According to Aquinas, human laws have two basic functions: to coordinate and to educate. But not to coordinate the maximization of gross domestic product, nor to educate in marketing and finance. Law – all law – should be at the service of the true good, helping us to know, love and serve the Lord, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

In order to achieve necessary reform we must be educated in virtues.  However, we can not look to government to be the educator.  Juurikkala argues we must look beyond government when seeking an education in virtues:

But government is not the primary educator in virtue. That is the turf of families, churches, and other social institutions. The proper task of government is to assist those other institutions, when necessary, by coordinating their organization and appropriately channeling resources and energies to their support. This is the principle of subsidiarity.

It is our families, churches, and social institutions that we bring the necessary reform, not a growing government.  Read the commentary on the Acton Website and comment on it here.

Today Dr. Donald Condit looks at a new federal proposal called the Patients’ Choice Act, which promises more freedom in choosing health care insurance. “The PCA will enhance patient and family ability to afford health care insurance and incentivize healthier lifestyles,” Condit writes. “In addition, it would surpass other options in fulfilling our social responsibility to the poor and vulnerable.”

Read the commentary on the Acton Website and comment on it here.