Category: Acton Occasional Series

Cover-ScrutonDuring student protests in Paris in 1968, Roger Scruton watched students overturn cars to erect barricades and tear up cobblestones to throw at police. It was at that moment he realized he was a conservative:

I suddenly realized I was on the other side. What I saw was an unruly mob of self-indulgent middle-class hooligans. When I asked my friends what they wanted, what were they trying to achieve, all I got back was this ludicrous Marxist gobbledegook. I was disgusted by it, and thought there must be a way back to the defence of western civilization against these things. That’s when I became a conservative. I knew I wanted to conserve things rather than pull them down.

Scrunton, an philosopher who specializes in aesthetics, is one of the most intriguing conservatives in England. In a recent interview for Prospect, Scruton talks about his new book, How To Be a Conservative.

Here are six quotes from that interview:
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householdairpollutionWhat is the world’s deadliest environmental problem?

Household air pollution. According to the World Health Organization’s latest report air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk, and the main cause is entirely preventable:

Around 3 billion people still cook and heat their homes using solid fuels (i.e. wood, crop wastes, charcoal, coal and dung) in open fires and leaky stoves. Most are poor, and live in low- and middle-income countries.

Such inefficient cooking fuels and technologies produce high levels of household air pollution with a range of health-damaging pollutants, including small soot particles that penetrate deep into the lungs. In poorly ventilated dwellings, indoor smoke can be 100 times higher than acceptable levels for small particles. Exposure is particularly high among women and young children, who spend the most time near the domestic hearth.

Household air pollution (HAP) caused by the inefficient use of solid fuels results in 4.3 million premature deaths each year – almost three times as many as died from from AIDS. HAP is also an important contributor to ambient air pollution, which caused a further 3.7 million deaths in 2012. Additionally, more than 50 percent of premature deaths among children under 5 are due to pneumonia caused by particulate matter (soot) inhaled from household air pollution.

What is household air pollution?
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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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US CONSTITUTION iStock_000007427085XSmall-300x214Constitution Day is celebrated in America every year on September 17, the anniversary of the day the framers signed the document. Here are five facts you should know about the U.S. Constitution.

1. The Constitution contains 4,543 words, including the signatures and has four sheets, 28-3/4 inches by 23-5/8 inches each. It contains 7,591 words including the 27 amendments. It is the oldest and shortest written Constitution of any major government in the world.

2. Thomas Jefferson did not sign the Constitution. He was in France during the Convention, where he served as the U.S. minister. John Adams was serving as the U.S. minister to Great Britain during the Constitutional Convention and did not attend either. George Washington and James Madison were the only presidents who signed the Constitution.

3. There was a proposal at the Constitutional Convention to limit the standing army for the country to 5,000 men. George Washington sarcastically agreed with this proposal as long as a stipulation was added that no invading army could number more than 3,000 troops

4. The Constitution’s iconic opening line was not included in early drafts of the document. The preamble originally started with individual states listed from north to south: “We the people of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts…” et al. The five-person Committee of Style is considered to have been responsible for composing much of the final text, including the revised preamble.

5. More than 11,000 amendments have been introduced in Congress. From 1804 to 1865 there were no amendments added to the Constitution until the end of the Civil War when the Thirteenth amendment was added that abolished slavery. This was the longest period in American history in which there were no changes to our Constitution. The Constitution has only been changed seventeen times since 1791.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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ebola-treatmentWhat is the Ebola crisis?

Over the past six months, the Ebola virus has been spreading through several countries in Africa. The result is a potential epidemiological, humanitarian, and global security threat. “The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has the potential to alter history as much as any plague has ever done,” says Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. President Obama said he has “directed my team to make this a national security priority.” And Dr. Kent Brantly, an American who was infected by Ebola, recently told the U.S. Senate:

The use of our military is a legitimate and defensible request because if we do not do something to stop this outbreak now, it quickly could become a matter of U.S. national security-whether that means a regional war that gives terrorist groups like Boko Haram a foothold in West Africa or the spread of the disease into America. Fighting those kinds of threats would require more from the Department of Defense than what I am asking for today.

What is the Obama administration’s goal and strategy for the Ebola crisis?

In his recent speech, President Obama laid out four goals: (1) to control the outbreak, (2) to address the ripple effects of local economies and communities to prevent a truly massive humanitarian disaster, (3) to coordinate a broader global response, and (4) to urgently build up a public health system in these countries for the future — not just in West Africa but in countries that don’t have a lot of resources generally.

To accomplish these goals, President Obama plans to:
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scotland-independenceWhat’s going on in Scotland?

On September 18, voters in Scotland will vote in a referendum whether they want the nation to become independent from the rest of the United Kingdom.

What is the reason for the push for Scottish independence?

Mainly for political and economic reasons. Scotland is more economically liberal than the rest of the UK and in favor of a broader welfare state. And because of offshore oil resources, many believe an independent Scotland would not only be wealthier than the rest of the UK, but would put the them in the top 20 of countries globally.

What’s the argument against independence?

As the Better Together campaign explains, “We think that the case for staying a part of the UK is a compelling one – and it is based around a simple notion: We have the best of both worlds in Scotland.”

The idea is that Scotland currently benefits from the safety and security of being part of one of the biggest economies in the world. They also have their own Scottish Parliament making decisions about many domestic policy issues, so leaving the UK wouldn’t be much of a benefit for the small country.

Wait, what’s the United Kingdom? Is that the same as Great Britain?
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Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, August 21, 2014
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7figuresFeeding America is a nationwide network of 200 member food banks, the largest domestic hunger-relief charity in the United States. The Feeding America network of food banks provides food assistance to an estimated 46.5 million Americans in need each year, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors.

The report “Hunger in America” is Feeding America’s series of quadrennial studies that provide comprehensive demographic profiles of people seeking food assistance through the charitable sector.

Here are seven figures you should know from the latest report:
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children-600pxWhat is the “border crisis?”

The “border crisis” is the frequently used term for the spike in unaccompanied minors who were caught illegally crossing the border U.S. border over the past few months. According to the Congressional Research Service, the number of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) arriving in the United States has reached alarming numbers that has strained the system put in place over the past decade to handle such cases.

In 2013 the federal government housed about 25,000 minors who were going through deportation proceedings. This year, that number is expected to rise to over 60,000. There has also been an increase in the number of UAC who are girls and the number of UAC who are under the age of 13.

What countries are the minors coming from?

Four countries account for almost all of the UAC cases (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico) and much of the recent increase has come from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

In fiscal year 2009, Mexican UAC accounted for 82 percent of the 19,668 UAC apprehensions, while the other three Central American countries accounted for 17 percent. By the first eight months of FY2014, the proportions had almost reversed, with Mexican UAC comprising only 25 percent of the 47,017 UAC apprehensions, and UAC from the three Central American countries comprising 73 percent.

Why aren’t UACs turned away at the border?
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comparativeadvantageNote: This is the latest entry in the Acton blog series, “What Christians Should Know About Economics.” For other entries in the series see this post.

The Term: Comparative advantage

What it Means: The ability of an individual or group of individual (e.g., a business firm) to produce goods or services at a lower opportunity cost than other individuals or groups.

Why it Matters: There is a story of the distinguished British biologist, J.B.S. Haldane, who found himself in the company of a group of theologians. On being asked what one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of his creation, Haldane is said to have answered, “An inordinate fondness for beetles.”

When we examine creation to uncover what it reveals about the character of God, one of the things we discover time and time again is the Creator’s fondness for diversity. Like Haldane, we can see this by looking at biology (e.g., there are more species of beetle than birds or mammals combined). But we can also find it when we turn to economics.

A primary example of God’s enthusiasm for diversity is the concept of comparative advantage. While the definition of the them makes it sounds dull and wonky, comparative advantage is a beautiful, theologically profound norm of creation.

Fully appreciating the nuances of the ideas requires timely reflection. But understanding it can be achieved when a few minutes. In this brief video, economist Donald J. Boudreaux does a masterful job of explaining how, when combined with trade, comparative advantage improves human communities.
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7figuresLast week the Census Bureau released a report on demographic changes in the United States. The median age declined in seven states between 2012 and 2013, including five in the Great Plains, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. 

“We’re seeing the demographic impact of two booms,” Census Bureau Director John Thompson said. “The population in the Great Plains energy boom states is becoming younger and more male as workers move in seeking employment in the oil and gas industry, while the U.S. as a whole continues to age as the youngest of the baby boom generation enters their 50s.”

Here are seven figures you should know from the latest report:
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7figuresLast week the State Department released the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report, a congressionally mandated report that looks at the governments around the world (including the U.S.) and what they are doing to combat trafficking in persons – modern slavery – through the lens of the 3P paradigm of prevention, protection, and prosecution.

Here are seven figures you should know from the latest report:
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