Category: Acton Commentary

The “information theory of capitalism”, says Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse in this week’s Acton Commentary, upends conventional thinking about free markets and statist economic theories.

Ever since the rise of information theory in the 1940s, it is becoming increasingly clear that the universe is, in a sense, digital. Information, logic, data, whatever you want to call it, lies even deeper than the material operations that science has so ably discovered and quantified. This deeper informational dimension is dynamic and unpredictable. It is also how systems (biological, institutional, economic etc.) change and grow.

Gilder applies the principles of information theory to help us understand how economies grow. Known mostly for Wealth and Poverty, a book written over 30 years ago (earning him a reputation as “Ronald Reagan’s most quoted economist”), Gilder lays out what he calls the sum of all his work: Information, not the management of processes, creates economic growth.

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

“Oral histories often paint a rosy picture of the moral fiber of previous generations,” write Anthony Bradley and Sean Spurlock in this week’s Acton Commentary. “But close attention to history reveals the truth about human condition: that regardless of our social status, everyone is in need of moral formation – and thus it has always been.”

In Britain and elsewhere, as the contrast between the publicly held moral code and private behavior became clear, the code itself was discredited. The need for repentance and reform among today’s aristocratic elite – in Hollywood, on Capitol Hill, on Wall Street – is obvious. Thanks to the media, private indiscretions held in secret among the elite in a previous era are now part of the daily news cycle. Couple these stories with America’s high divorce rate and we begin to see why confidence in the virtues of marriage among our youth is on the decline.

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
posted by on Wednesday, January 29, 2014

All Saints church - C19 stained glass - geograph.org.uk - 1638069Kierkegaard once wrote, “The majority of men are subjective toward themselves and objective toward all others, terribly objective sometimes–but the real task is in fact to be objective toward one’s self and subjective toward all others.”

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Discounting the Unseen,” I explore our responsibility to presume the best of others, particularly with regards to what remains unknown or assumed about them. This is a significant task given our natural propensity to excuse ourselves and to condemn others. We might consider this to be a salutary if mundane exercise in moral imagination, described by Russell Kirk as “the power of ethical perception which strides beyond the barriers of private experience and events of the moment.”

To put it in economic terms, there should be a negative discount rate for the unseen actions and experiences of others. To put it in moral terms, we should have compassion on others, and moreover we should realize that the Christian is called “to defend and promote my neighbour’s honour and reputation.”

We’re scolded for blaming the poor, judging their lifestyle choices, says Elise Hilton in this week’s Acton Commentary. But what good can we do if we refuse to look at systemic issues?

We are told that we are guilty of blaming the poor, judging their lifestyle choices. But what good can we do if we refuse to look at systemic issues that indeed cause poverty: irresponsible sexual choices, dropping out of school, a revolving door of men in women’s and children’s lives? We must not demonize the poor, but we must cut the roots of poverty. And we need to be truthful – brutally so – to do that.

The full text of her essay, Maria Shriver’s Big, Big Government Rescue Plan For Women, can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, December 30, 2013

“Why not dictate that every employee earn several hundred thousand dollars a year?” asks Hunter Baker in this week’s Acton Commentary, “We could end every social problem with nothing more than political will.”

During a recent visit to Twitter, I happened across a post from a noted Christian academic. He had composed the kind of pithy remark which is tailor-made to launch a hundred admiring retweets. Paraphrasing slightly, it was something like this: “Conservatives, don’t talk to me about family values if you doesn’t endorse a minimum wage increase.” I am sure that he thought it was a pretty high-powered zinger.

The problem is that there is no necessary connection between family values and increasing the minimum wage. First off, there is a vigorous, unsettled debate over the effectiveness of the minimum wage. Economists differ substantially over whether it helps poor people, hurts them by reducing entry level job opportunities, or exerts little effect. It would be entirely possible for a proponent of family values to rationally conclude that the minimum wage is counterproductive and to therefore take the position the aforementioned prominent Christian academic presented as completely at odds with a “family values” perspective. This academic failed to take account of the fact that arguments about the minimum wage are not like arguments about something like gravity. There are respectable and even compassionate arguments on both sides.

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

2013-12-20 15.27.57In my Christmas commentary this week, “Gratification and Civilization,” I examine the connection between making your kids wait until Christmas morning to open their presents and the development of civilization.

Self-denial and self-sacrifice form the basis of human life together. As Matthew Cochran puts it in a piece last week at The Federalist, “Civilization depends on the tendency of men to produce more than they consume for themselves.”

A key factor of driving forward the development of civilization, then, is the family unit. For Cochran rightly warns that civilization “depends on masculine ambition.” The ambition to grow a business for someone “could mean feeding himself & his workers, along with any family they might have. His ambition could be a huge boon to society. Take that away, and you have a bunch of men doing what they need to do to stay comfortable, but nothing more—nothing for any women or any increasingly hypothetical children.”

The Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck explores the link between family and civilization in his study of The Christian Family. Bavinck describes the triad of father-mother-child:

The two-in-oneness of husband and wife expands with a child into a three-in-oneness. Father, mother, and child are one soul and one flesh, expanding and unfolding the one image of God, united within threefold diversity and diverse within harmonic unity.

These relationships are of civilizational significance:

This three-in-oneness of relationships and functions, of qualities and gifts, constitutes the foundation of all of civilized society. The authority of the father, the love of the mother, and the obedience of the child form in their unity the threefold cord that binds together and sustains all relationships within human society. Within the psychological life of every integrated personality this triple cord forms the motif and melody. No man is complete without some feminine qualities, no woman is complete without some masculine qualities, and to both man and woman, the child is held up as an example (Matt. 18:3). These three characteristics and gifts are always needed in every society and in every civilization, in the church and in the state. Authority, love, and obedience are the pillars of all human society.

One can hardly discuss the family during this season of the year without also reflecting on the holy family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Bavinck describes them as “the divine counterpart” to Adam, Eve, and their children. “The holy family is the example of the Christian home,” writes Bavinck.

And on this Christmas let us remember and be thankful for the greatest gift of all, the birth of Jesus Christ!

dexterThe domestic threat to religious liberty and the global slaughter of Christians around the globe is becoming harder to ignore. It certainly is now one of the most important news stories to follow for the New Year.

Yesterday, I delivered a lecture on the topic of religious liberty to the faculty of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind. My Acton commentary is an abbreviated version of the portion of the lecture that focused on the current domestic threat. I’ve already talked about how the American Civil Rights Movement might be one model to push back against the rising tide of Christian persecution in this country. It is becoming increasingly clear that churches need to do a better job preparing believers to handle and deal with religious persecution.

We are really living through a dangerous era of historic revisionism, where the agenda to drastically curb the influence of religion and a faith informed virtue from the public square is strengthening. I simply ask in my piece, “What would Western Civilization look like without God, and more specifically the Lord Jesus Christ? Francis Cardinal George warns us that “secularism is communism’s better-scrubbed bedfellow. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Nelson Mandela united a nation in a common identity that binds South Africans, says Garreth Bloor in the first of this week’s Acton Commentaries, without a prerequisite of uniformity of opinion, ideology or ethnic affiliation.

In my personal experience, the great statesman’s commitment to vigorous debate and free speech to these ends were underscored as patron of our African School Debating Championships, a student initiative I was fortunate to be a part of. Annually high school students from across the continent were invited to Johannesburg to debate freely on the key issues facing the continent and the world in the spirit of Mandela’s leadership style. Every individual who met Mandela was inspired to be a better person in every aspect of their lives, from whatever their planned profession down to their role within their families and communities.

Mandela worked off a starting point of human dignity, rising above ideology, while upholding the highest non-negotiable principles of non-racialism and the universal inherent equality of every person. His approach, embedded in a conciliatory spirit, is one of the finest contexts for honest and sincere discussion and debate.

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

Dee-Tiny-HouseThere is a kind of trendy “green” simplicity that is a luxury only the comparatively wealthy can afford, says Dylan Pahman in this week’s Acton Commentary. But there is a movement catching steam that might perfectly encapsulate a type of solar-powered simplicity:

The tiny house movement is a recent trend in the United States for building and living in eco-friendly domiciles about half the average size of an apartment. Graham Hill, a tiny house architect, described his philosophy in the New York Times: “Like the 420-square-foot space I live in, the houses I design contain less stuff and make it easier for owners to live within their means and to limit their environmental footprint.”

Among the tiny house online community, there is a healthy realism despite the otherwise romantic appeal. Melissa Tack, who built and lives in a tiny house with her husband Chris, recently reflected, “This isn’t the life for everyone, people find their happ[iness] in many different ways. I have a friend that finds her happiness in 8-12 cups of coffee a day, and others that enjoy spending their time with friends and family. Living in a Tiny House is what you make it to be.”

Read the rest here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Catching Fire

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Tyranny Is the True Enemy,” I explore the latest film installment of the Hunger Games trilogy, “Catching Fire.” I pick up on the theme that animates Alissa Wilkinson’s review at Christianity Today, but diverge a bit from her reading. As she writes, a major aspect of this second part of the series has to do with fake appearances and real substance, and the need to “remember who the real enemy is.”

Wilkinson is upset with the marketing buzz surrounding the film, arguing that it “declaws” the substantive message of the books themselves. There’s an element of truth to this. It comes home especially when watching an interview like this, in which Jennifer Lawrence seems to embody the idea that for a celebrity in today’s culture, “you never get off this train,” as Haymitch puts it to Katniss and Peeta on their own promotional tour.

But in focusing on the distracting nature of commercial merchandising of the films, I argue that Wilkinson ends up distracted from who the real enemy is. There is much that is morally problematic about the way that the Capitol operates. Wilkinson rightly shows the shallow consumerism and sensuality of Capitol couture. But the fact that this isn’t the real enemy, so to speak, can be shown by a bit of thought experiment.

Suppose that the consumption habits of the Capitol were far less odious to our moral sensibilities. Suppose the citizens all lived chaste, upright, and responsible lives in their city. Their oppression of the districts would be no less troublesome for all their virtuous consumption. The decadence of the Capitol only puts the real tyranny over the districts into sharper relief. John Tamny argues that to read Catching Fire as “anything other than a polemic against communistic, brutal government is a certain act of willful blindness.”

I won’t go quite that far, and I don’t agree that the film/book has nothing at all to do with critiquing consumerism, but I do think that such alternative readings often forget who the enemy really is. As Tamny (mis)quotes from Catching Fire, Katniss herself identifies the enemy as the one “who starves and tortures and kills us in the arena. Who will soon kill everyone I love.”

In the opening sequence of “Catching Fire,” Katniss is illegally hunting in an attempt to provide much-needed protein for her family. At one point, Katniss and Gale come across a flock of wild turkeys. This image is especially striking at the release of this film during the Thanksgiving season.

Far from promising a “turkey in every pot,” President Snow has no regard for the welfare of anyone in the districts. The citizens of the Capitol are all that matter, to the point that people like Katniss have to resort to illegal hunting and the black market for basic necessities like medicine and food.

There is a connection between hedonism and what might be called a “soft” form of tyranny characteristic of the vicious circle between the citizens of the Capitol and the government. And while tyranny in all its forms is to be rejected, the real enemy in the Hunger Games is the hard tyranny of President Snow and his jackbooted thugs. Everything else is, in the end, a distraction.