With more than a dozen smiling women looking over his shoulder in the East Room of the White House, President Obama signed a proclamation in support of National Equal Pay Day on April 8. The president said he was working to prevent workplace discrimination and helping workers take control over negotiations regarding their pay.
“My Administration remains devoted to improving our equal pay laws and closing the pay gap between women and men,” Obama said in the proclamation. “From signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to establishing the Equal Pay Task Force, I have strengthened pay discrimination protections and cracked down on violations of equal pay laws.”
Many who reject capitalism in favor of some “third way” do so because they often mistake it for government-corporate cronyism, says Jonathan Witt in this week’s Acton Commentary. But in countries that have begun extending true economic freedom to the masses, capitalist activity has already lifted hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty.
Happily, a new piece in The Economist magazine offers some helpful medicine for the confusion, insisting on the distinction between cronyism and capitalism while also pointing to some hopeful signs that a rising middle class around the globe is gaining the clout to fight the power structures that still wall millions out of the wealth creation game. My reservation about the article is that it misreads America’s Progressive era, and in the process, leaves cronyism’s favorite trick unexposed.
According to the piece, crony capitalism in America “reached its apogee in the late 19th century, and a long and partially successful struggle against robber barons ensued. Antitrust rules broke monopolies such as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. The flow of bribes to senators shrank.” Later, it tells readers that while developing countries are making progress against cronyism, “governments need to be more assiduous in regulating monopolies.”
“What would God’s March Madness look like?” asks David Mitchell in this week’s Acton Commentary. “Could competition focus churches and church members the same way a college tournament focuses people on basketball?”
What counts as service to others?
If you prayed about it and decided that it was service that’s good enough. The intent is that service to friends and family might not count because that is something you are supposedly already doing. You’re already coaching your kids and mowing your mom’s lawn. But could you check in on shut-ins a bit more this month?
Can we make team T-shirts?
How would you match up the churches?
In today’s Acton Commentary, “Everything Really is Awesome,” I make a connection between the LEGO movie and the latest film release by the Acton Institute, “For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles.” My point of departure is the ditty that appears in the LEGO movie, “Everything is Awesome.”
Another implication of this connection is that everyone is awesome, in the same way that we recognize with the Psalmist:
O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
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.
“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.
Kierkegaard 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.
“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.
In 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!