Category: Acton Commentary

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.”
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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.

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“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.”

Historical church figures are being recruited for partisan political purposes, which means it must be election season. In this week’s commentary (published October 10), Acton Research Fellow Kevin E. Schmiesing looks at the case one HuffPo writer makes for St. Vincent de Paul as a supporter of President Barack Obama. But Schmiesing warns that “viewing Vincent’s work as little more than political activism not only distorts his biography; it reduces his extraordinary, grace-enabled sanctity to ordinary humanistic compassion.” The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

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Angola inmates in the prison auto shop. (Photo by Erin Oswalt for Acton Institute)

In mid-September I ventured down to South Louisiana to visit and tour the Louisiana State Penitentiary, more commonly known as Angola Prison. My commentary this week “Angola Prison, Moral Rehabilitation, and the Things Ahead” is based on that visit. Burl Cain, Angola’s warden, will be featured in an upcoming issue of Religion & Liberty. I will be providing more information on Angola and my time down there, but think of this commentary as an introduction of sorts to what I witnessed.

A portion of the upcoming interview with Cain will reflect upon Chuck Colson. That good things are happening at places like Angola are in a large part directly related to Colson and his legacy and work on behalf of Prison Fellowship. I’ll have a lot more to say about Angola, but when you study in-depth the history and mystique of this prison, for it to change like it has, you know God is present.

“Most of us enjoy an economy where we can purchase with ease the things we need and enjoy. However, there is no moral justification for the commercialization of some things; human beings are not products to be bought and sold,” writes Elise Hilton in the latest Acton Commentary (published October 3). The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

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In his Acton Commentary today, Jordan Ballor writes,

All work has a spiritual dimension because the human person who works in whatever capacity does so as an image-bearer of God. “While the classic Greek mind tended to scorn work with the hands,” write Berghoef and DeKoster, “the Bible suggests that something about it structures the soul.” If we derogate work with the hands, manual and skilled labor, in this way, we separate what God has put together and create a culture that disdains the hard and often dirty work of cultivating the world in service of others. The challenge that faces the church and society more broadly then is to appreciate the spiritual meaningfulness of all kinds of work, to celebrate it, and to exhort us to persevere in our labors amidst the unavoidable troubles that plague work in this fallen world.

This point—the need for a renewed appreciation of “the spiritual meaningfulness of all kinds of work” and “manual and skilled labor” in particular—reminds me of the following story that I recently reflected on elsewhere from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

Abba Agatho was asked: “Which is more difficult, bodily discipline, or the guard over the inner man?” The Abba said: “Man is like a tree. His bodily discipline is like the leaves of the tree, his guard over the inner man is like the fruit. Scripture says that ‘every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.’ So we ought to take every precaution about guarding the mind, because that is our fruit. Yet we need to be covered with beautiful leaves, the bodily discipline.”

Abba Agatho was wise in understanding, earnest in discipline, armed at all points, careful about keeping up his manual work, sparing in food and clothing. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Trailer at Overton Farm, Cranham - geograph.org.uk - 670364In today’s Acton Commentary, “Mike Rowe and Manual Labor,” I examine the real contribution from a star of the small screen to today’s political conversation. Mike Rowe, featured on shows like The Deadliest Catch and Dirty Jobs, has written letters to both President Obama and Mitt Romney focusing attention on the skills gap and our nation’s dysfunctional attitudes towards work, particularly hard labor, like skilled trades and services.

In his letter to Romney, Rowe writes that “Pig farmers, electricians, plumbers, bridge painters, jam makers, blacksmiths, brewers, coal miners, carpenters, crab fisherman, oil drillers…they all tell me the same thing over and over, again and again – our country has become emotionally disconnected from an essential part of our workforce.”
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“As Secularism Advances, Political Messianism Draws More Believers” is my commentary for this week. So much can be said about religion and presidential campaigns but for this piece I wanted to elevate some important truths about virtue and discernment in our society today. Here’s a quote from the piece:

Worries about religious imagery in campaigns and Messianic overtones are warranted especially if these religious expressions replace a vibrant spirituality in churches and houses of worship across America. If spiritual discernment and spiritual truths wane in America, the public is crippled in its capacity to discern political truths such as the proper and limited role of government.

If any Powerblog readers are near Raleigh, North Carolina, I will be giving a lecture on religion and presidential campaigns at the John Locke Foundation on August 27. At Locke, I will give more attention to the historical analysis of religion in campaigns, with special attention to recent history.

For this election cycle, I think it’s fairly certain in a race this close and heated, criticism of Romney’s Mormon faith will resurface, but from the political left this time. It’s already happening now, but will certainly increase after the conventions.

Religion and faith is such an instrumental part of presidential campaigns that in 2004, George W. Bush spent considerable time courting the old order Amish vote in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The presidential race was so tight that the Bush team did not want to cede one religious vote that might turn out for him in those states. He made a historic stop in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and met privately with around 50 members of the Amish community asking for their prayers and support. As separatists, most of the old order Amish do not typically vote in national elections. The encounter left Bush visibly moved and some said tears welled up in his eyes. At another meeting with the Amish Bush declared, “Tell the Amish churches I need their prayers so I can run the country as God wishes.”

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Spiritual Competition and the Zero-Sum Game,” I examine a standard complaint against the market economy: that it engenders what Walter Rauschenbusch called “the law of tooth and nail,” a competitive ethos that ends only when the opponent is defeated. In the piece, I trace some of the vociferousness of such claims to the idea of economic reality as a fixed or static pie:

The moral cogency of the argument against competition is enhanced in a framework where the goods that are sought after are static. Whether conceived of in terms of market share or the size of a firm, business and political leaders often use language that makes it seem as if economic gain comes at the expense of others.

Gordon Rupp and Mo FarahWhere goods are static, or otherwise limited in some way, the competitive stakes are raised. Of course we see this not only in market activities but in other areas of life as well, and perhaps these competitive realities are no better illustrated than in competitive sports. We saw numerous examples of competition in the past fortnight of Olympic coverage that ran the gamut from the good, the bad, and the ugly. One of the most memorable moments for me was the conclusion of the men’s 10k track race, when Mohamed Farah of the UK bested his American friend and training partner Galen Rupp. Here are two fierce competitors who embrace, and Rupp celebrates not only his own silver medal but his friend’s great gold-medal performance.

As I conclude in the commentary, competition that drives us to do and be better, in both spiritual and material terms, “ought to be celebrated rather than scorned.”