Category: Acton Commentary

“America has been cashing checks on the promise of future Social Security checks, and on the promise of an endlessly robust housing market,” writes Jonathan Witt in his commentary this week. “But somewhere along the way, too many of us stopped funding the checking account with its principal asset: young adults who work hard, pay into the Social Security system, and buy homes for the families they themselves intend to raise.”

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Sam Gregg marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Alexis de Tocqueville whose great work “Democracy in America” warned about the dangers of a comfortable servility. “The American Republic,” Tocqueville wrote, “will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

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In this piece John Pisciotta, a professor of economics at Baylor University, offers a number of sound reasons for getting rid of earmarks on appropriations bills, including their tendency to invite corruption. “Those who seek them are tempted to skirt the law to win favor with a legislator so as to be graced with an earmark,” he writes. “We should not be surprised that a handful of former members of Congress now receive free room and board at federal prisons.”

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The First Amendment rights of religious groups are under assault in the public square. As Kevin Schmiesing reminds us in today’s Acton Commentary, “History’s tyrants recognized the progression that some of us have forgotten: Where people are free to act according their conscience, they will demand the right to determine their political destiny.”

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In this week’s Acton Commentary, I argue for simplifying the tax code. It should also be evident that any sort of tax reform should coincide with reforming the way Washington currently operates when it comes to spending.

April 15th is of course tax day, and national protests will also be occurring across this nation under the historically significant title of “tea parties.” One of the points I made in my piece is that it is important that these protests are not just a partisan vessel for bomb throwing and another opportunity to just recite talking points. I think people of most political and ideological persuasions can agree that government spending is out of control. It’s hard for numbers to lie. Repackaging partisan characters who have a large hand in the spending crisis won’t be very effective. Fortunately I think some of the organizers understand this.

Back to the tax code, much of my thinking on this issue can be summed up by noting the tax code is only a very visible problem or symbol of the larger crisis, which is government spending and a never ending need for more revenue. In regards to the lobbyist and special interests, there is a great quote I didn’t include in my commentary that is worth mentioning. In an article written by Bill Theobald titled “Budget 101: easy to spend, tough to tax,” University of Cincinnati professor of Law Paul L. Caron says of tax reform:

Major tax reform is possible in our system, but only if it is truly so fundamental that it creates a constituency greater (in the politicians’ eyes) than the special interests that would be hurt.

“Power permits people to do enormous good,” Lord Acton once said, “and absolute power enables them to do even more.”

This wisdom from the nineteenth-century’s champion of state prerogative applies as well today. Politicians are crippled by the lack of the one thing they need to yank our hobbled economy out of the mire of recession: adequate power. It is our duty to grant it to them.

Yes, from time to time this commentary space has been critical of government meddling in economic affairs, surmising, for example, that trying to cure poverty by funneling more money through Washington would do less to assist the poor than to pad the salaries of middle-class bureaucrats. We have emphasized the effectiveness of private and faith-based charity, of its capacity at once to use resources efficiently and to respect the individual’s dignity. We have argued that persons, morally formed, acting freely, and operating within the context of a rule of law, will generate a bountiful and equitable economic environment without counterproductive interference by the state. We have posited that our current difficulties derive from a combination of moral turpitude and government bumbling.

We were mistaken. (more…)

Davos capitalism, managerial capitalism run by a transnational elite, has lost faith in free markets. But these technocrats and politicians still believe that they, and only they, possess the solutions that will “fix” global markets. “We have tried the illusory third way — it is called Davos — and it has failed,” Michael Miller writes.

Read this commentary over at the Acton Website and comment on it here.

Edmund Burke: ...in the Reporters Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.

Edmund Burke: "...in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all."

In today’s Acton Commentary, “The State of the Fourth Estate,” I argue that the profession of journalism must be separable from traditional print media.

My alma mater’s flagship student publication, The State News, where I broke into the ranks of op-ed columnists, celebrated its centennial anniversary earlier this month. The economics of news media increasingly make it seem as if the few kinds of print publications that will survive in the next 100 years will be those that are institutionally subsidized, whether more traditionally as student newspapers or more innovative “nonprofit” models.

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson writes in the Financial Times that one hopeful prospect for the continuation of traditional print media is “that charitable endowments may replace commercial business models.” I have to say that this I’m much more optimistic about this possibility rather than the idea that government should somehow bailout mainstream media. (While deregulation might be a good step, direct subsidy would most certainly undermine the “free” press.) But as Alan Mutter notes in Edgecliffe-Johnson’s extensive and worthy analysis, “The idea of charitable endowments is a bit of a red herring.”

“Two prominent US newspapers are supposedly sheltered by not-for-profit parents, he says, but The Christian Science Monitor has abandoned its print edition and the Poynter Institute is selling the Congressional Quarterly to support its St Petersburg Times flagship: ‘There’s nothing about that form of ownership that insulates you,’” says Mutter, “a veteran newspaper editor who writes the influential Reflections of a Newsosaur blog.”

What bodes even more poorly for traditional print or “old” media is the alarming decline in public trust. The General Social Survey, which has conducted “basic scientific research on the structure and development of American society” since 1972, announced this week that in 2008 only 9 percent of those surveyed express a “great deal” of confidence in the press, a decline from 28 percent in 1976. (HT: Between Two Worlds) This decline in trust in the press is no doubt a major reason why less than half (43%) of people surveyed in a recent Pew poll said that the loss of their local newspaper would “would hurt civic life in their community ‘a lot.’”

Edgecliffe-Johnson quotes a publishing consultant Anthea Stratigos, who says, “The core journalistic values have to be there for the product to perform.” This is essentially my argument in brief in this week’s ANC: these “core journalistic values” are essential irrespective of the medium used. As another study from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism (also noted by Edgecliff-Johnson) concludes rightly, “The old norms of traditional journalism continue to have value.”

Let me give one quick example of how this recognition has been lost. Last year I attended a RightOnline conference, which was aimed at harnessing new media among conservatives. In a presentation from representatives of the Media Research Center, I raised the issue of the importance of the ability of sources to speak “off the record.” When I asked this question, it was dismissed out-of-hand: the gist of the response was, “There’s no such thing as ‘off the record’ in today’s digital age.” In a world where personal video recorders can fit into your pocket, nothing anyone ever says is off limits.

This has the real potential to undermine and destroy public discourse. Politicians are already so guarded that it is rare to find one who is willing to tell the straight, unadulterated truth. This kind of caustic and corrosive “paparazzi” mentality among new media practitioners is a real threat to the common good. And the extent to which “old” media have been influenced by this has undoubtedly played a part in the decline of the public’s trust over the last 30 years.

The International Blogging and New Media Association is starting to consider issues surrounding the need for professionalism. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is an excellent place to start. The Ninth Commandment is another.

More reading on the state of the newspaper:

In today’s commentary, Sam Gregg writes that “there is little reason to be optimistic about the probable effects of the Obama Administration’s interventionist approach to mortgage relief. In fact, it is most likely to be counterproductive.” More government complacency about moral hazard?

Read the commentary at the Acton Website and share your comments below.

“The Obama administration is looking to draw sharper lines on church-state interaction and to eliminate the ability of faith-based groups to hire only those who believe as they do,” warns Hunter Baker. Maybe one way to protect the mission of faith-based social service groups, and avoid a Culture Wars clash with the new administration, is to examine what we mean by “secular.”

Read the commentary at the Acton website and share your thoughts in the space below.