Category: Christian Social Thought

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Of all the documents that came out of the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council, Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Liberty) was, says Omar F.A. Gutierrez, the most revised, debated, and controversial. But as Gutierrez argues, it also represented a development, rather than a reversal of Catholic teaching:

The perception of the Church’s teaching by many was that whenever she found herself in the minority, the Church would cry religious liberty. However, if the Church was in the majority, the state would be obliged to suppress other faiths. If that perception was not addressed, argued the Secretariat, the desire of Blessed Pope John XXIII to make inroads with non-Catholic Christians would be impossible.

This was a tension particularly acute in the Catholic Church in America. Paul Blanchard’s 1949 anti-Catholic book American Freedom and Catholic Power portrayed the Church as a menace to the US Constitution and real religious freedom. Thus Father John Courtney Murray, Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston, Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York, and other American prelates agreed and worked to advance the declaration at the Council.

Read more . . .

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Friday, January 11, 2013

For those who voted for Mitt Romney, the Presidential Inauguration on January 21st could be a difficult day. Presidential elections have always been simultaneously exciting and frustrating. Today, alarmists on the left and the right place television advertisements, preach sermons, design billboards, and the like, proclaiming the apocalyptic consequences of the wrong person assuming the office of President of the United States. In the last election, Republicans and Democrats spent over $1 billion each courting support and votes from us, the people. But were all the negative ads, nasty rhetoric, baby kissing, money, and black-tie dinners really necessary given the fact that neither my vote nor yours actually determined the outcome of this presidential election? In all of U.S. history no single vote has been the deciding vote for president.

We are all aware that with respect to the presidency, voters last November were essentially voting in state elections in order to pass along to their representatives in the Electoral College which presidential candidate they prefer. Therefore, the actual weight of our votes varied by state since every state gets a number of electors that is the total of all of its representatives in each house of Congress. The fairness of this system has been debated for decades, and I offer it to remind us that we do not rely on direct democracy to select our president. America’s Founders understood this as a formula for future tyranny.

Given the campaign rhetoric, the millions of dollars spent soliciting voters, the way some religious leaders bound the consciences of their followers, and so on, I wonder if these activities gave voters the false impression that their individual presidential vote will make a difference and that politics is the only means of social change in America. In the 1968 article, “A Theory of the Calculus of Voting,” published in the American Political Science Review, William H. Riker and Peter Ordeshook made the point that, given the way our system works, an individual voter has virtually no chance of influencing the outcome of the election. Moreover, according to recent work of Columbia University professor Andrew Gelman, an individual voter has possibly less than 1 in 100 million chance of determining the outcome of the current race to the White House. In fact, it may be better to think of November 6th as the day when tennis fans show up to cheer their favorite player but do not have a direct impact in the outcome of the match.
(more…)

So … what happened? With regular coverage of the US “Fiscal Cliff” running up to the new year, PowerBlog readers may be wondering where the discussion has gone. While I am by no means the most qualified to comment on the matter, I thought a basic summary and critique would be in order:

  • With six minutes to read this 157 page bill, the US House of Representatives passed it. (Note: either I’m an exceptionally slow reader or none of them could possibly have read it.)
  • According to Matt Mitchell at Neighborhood Effects, the bill itself, comically titled “The American Taxpayer Relief Act,” has three strikes against it:
  1. “It ignored the evidence that tax increases are more economically harmful than spending cuts.” The bill puts the Cliff’s spending cuts off for two more months. (I see a sequel in the works: Fiscal Cliff  2: The Reckoning, perhaps?)
  2. “It opted to raise revenue through rate increases rather than loophole closings.” Why is this bad? “Put simply, a rate increase has deleterious demand and supply-side effects, whereas a loophole closing only has deleterious demand-side effects.”
  3. “It actually expanded corporate tax loopholes!” He continues by adding some valuable substantiation to this claim: “On the last point, don’t miss Vero’s pieces here and here, Tim Carney’s pieces here and here, Matt Stoller’s piece here, and Brad Plumer’s piece here.” The point: the primary (and likely the only) taxpayers who will see any relief from “The American Taxpayer Relief Act” are crony capitalists.
  • Small businesses, on the other hand, will be hit the hardest by the bill. As Eileen Norcross writes at The Spectacle Blog,

With tax rates raised on those earning over $400,000 some may imagine that only a rarified tier of high earners will be forced to fork over more income to the federal government. However, tax increases in this category also includes [sic] small businesses. These hikes will affect decisions over hiring, expansion, and wages. The outcome — slower economic growth for all.

In summary, the bill—which the House had only six minutes to read—does almost nothing to address our debt and deficits, and what it does do is mostly negative and/or sub-optimal (unless you’re a crony capitalist, that is). Not only does this bill negatively affect most Americans today, it puts off, yet again, any hard decisions of reigning in our unsustainable spending addiction. We now have two more months before we careen over that cliff, but with how much time Congress had to negotiate an alternative deal before settling for a poorly designed, 157 page bill they only had six minutes to read, I’m not holding my breath. (more…)

Note: This is the third in a series on developing a Christian mind in business school. You can find the intro and links to all previous posts here.

When people ask me what business school was like, I’m tempted to say, “A lot like a medieval university.” Unfortunately, that comparison makes people think b-school is dark, musty, and full of monks—which is not quite what I mean.

In medieval universities, the three subjects that were considered the first three stages of learning were the trivium: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Our use of those terms, however, fails to convey the broader meaning they had in earlier centuries. In her excellent book on the trivium (Latin for “the three-fold way”), Sister Miriam Joseph explains:

Grammar is concerned with the thing as-it-is-symbolized,
Logic is concerned with the thing as-it-is-known, and
Rhetoric is concerned with the thing as-it-is-communicated.

These three language arts, adds Sister Joseph, can be defined as they relate to reality and to each other. Similarly, while the arts learned in business school are very different from the classical trivium, every course can similarly be classified in a “three-fold way”:
(more…)

January 11-13, 2013 has been set aside as a Weekend of Prayer to end human trafficking and slavery. This ecumenical event is meant to not only shed light on the issue but to also pray for victims, slave traders, “johns” and any affected by human trafficking.

According to the Weekend of Prayer website,traffickingMedium2

  • Human Trafficking is the third largest criminal industry in the world with an estimated 32 billion dollars made annually.
  • There are 14,500 and 17,500 people trafficked into the U.S. each year.
  • Out of the victims of human trafficking 70% are female and 50% are children.
  • Common places where pimps recruit women and children in the U.S. for sex trafficking are parks, playgrounds, homeless shelters,bus stations, junior high and high schools.
  • The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports an estimated 100,000 children are at risk of being commercial sexually exploited annually.
  • The average age of entry into the commercial sex industry is between 12 to 14 years old in the United States.
  • The average cost of a slave is $90.00.

There are many state and regional organizations that offer aid to victims of this crime. However, one of the two national organizations that received federal funding, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently lost $15 million in federal funding because of the Church’s pro-life stance, and refusal to provide and administer abortions, artificial birth control and sterilizations. Those funds allowed agencies across the U.S. to offer educational programs, shelter, food, and other necessities to victims. The bishops continue their anti-trafficking efforts, but without any federal funding.

The Weekend of Prayer website states, “In our opinion, God calls his people to lead efforts to eradicate this modern day slavery just as religious leaders in the nineteenth century led the fight to end slavery in their age.”

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Friday, January 4, 2013

800px-Programming_language_textbooksIn addition to my post in late November about the textbook bubble (spurred by this post from AEI’s Mark Perry), the Atlantic‘s Jordan Weissmann joins the discussion, asking, “Why Are College Textbooks So Absurdly Expensive?” (also the title of his article). It is a good question, and one that highlights the danger of disconnecting the determination of prices from the subjective valuing of consumer demand. There is no competition, no free market, where students are required to buy only certain books for their classes at artificially inflated prices. Weissmann provides a helpful summary of Kevin Carey’s related Slate article as follows:

Academic Publishers will tell you that creating modern textbooks is an expensive, labor-intensive process that demands charging high prices. But as Kevin Carey noted in a recent Slate piece, the industry also shares some of the dysfunctions that help drive up the cost of healthcare spending. Just as doctors prescribe prescription drugs they’ll never have to pay for, college professors often assign titles with little consideration of cost. Students, like patients worried about their health, don’t have much choice to pay up, lest they risk their grades. Meanwhile, Carey illustrates how publishers have done just about everything within their power to prop up their profits, from bundling textbooks with software that forces students to buy new editions instead of cheaper used copies, to suing a low-cost textbook start-ups [sic] over flimsy copyright claims. (more…)

Following up a bit on last week’s discussions of population and prosperity, I thought this section (44) from Caritas in Veritate to be a good summary statement of the various dynamics at play:

Morally responsible openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource. Populous nations have been able to emerge from poverty thanks not least to the size of their population and the talents of their people. On the other hand, formerly prosperous nations are presently passing through a phase of uncertainty and in some cases decline, precisely because of their falling birth rates; this has become a crucial problem for highly affluent societies. The decline in births, falling at times beneath the so-called “replacement level”, also puts a strain on social welfare systems, increases their cost, eats into savings and hence the financial resources needed for investment, reduces the availability of qualified labourers, and narrows the “brain pool” upon which nations can draw for their needs. Furthermore, smaller and at times miniscule families run the risk of impoverishing social relations, and failing to ensure effective forms of solidarity. These situations are symptomatic of scant confidence in the future and moral weariness. It is thus becoming a social and even economic necessity once more to hold up to future generations the beauty of marriage and the family, and the fact that these institutions correspond to the deepest needs and dignity of the person. In view of this, States are called to enact policies promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman, the primary vital cell of society, and to assume responsibility for its economic and fiscal needs, while respecting its essentially relational character.

We might wonder a bit about what it might look like for States to “assume responsibility” for the family’s economic and fiscal needs and the wisdom of various ways of accomplishing this. I should note again the distinction between policy solutions as such (coercive or otherwise) and the moral exhortation involved in holding up “to future generations the beauty of marriage and the family.” Moral exhortation or even social “pressure” and coercion are simply not identical.

But in any case the encyclical’s perspective on the human resources at the heart of any prospering society is illuminating: “Morally responsible openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource.” It is in this sense that, as Manfred Spieker has observed, Caritas in Veritate is not simply an encyclical about globalization, but rather a work that “demonstrates the decisive battle for human society is not made in the field of economics but in the field of bioethics. It is the encyclical that integrates bioethics into the social doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church.”

The human person is at the center of a creative and dynamic economy. As Michael Novak put it thirty years ago, “Practical insights are the primary source of wealth.” In addition, “Intelligence is also the primary form of capital.” As such, he concluded, “The cause of wealth lies more in the human spirit than in matter.”

The BBC News reports that 1 out of 10 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 are struggling to cope with life. The main culprit: despair related to unemployment. The survey of 2,000 teens and young adults was conducted by The Prince’s Trust Youth Index.

The survey commentators seem surprised that education and training opportunities alone are not enough to provide hope for unemployed young people. Young people rightly want to know why they are training for jobs that do not exist. This has been particularly difficult for Northern Ireland where 20% of 18 to 24-year-olds cannot find employment. From the BBC:
(more…)

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Monday, December 31, 2012

It was once said that the sun never set on the British Empire. The Brits colonized vast areas of the earth, civilizing exotic places  with the likes of afternoon tea and cricket. Oh, and happily using up natural resources along the way.

Those days are gone, but we’ve entered a new era of colonialism: renting the wombs of women in exotic places to fulfill a desire to have a child, under any circumstances. And now the natural resources are the wombs of destitute women.

Wesley J. Smith in National Review Online calls this “biological colonialism“, and cites a story from The Independent. This renting of wombs seems centered in India, where regulations are minimal, and the law allows not only married couples to rent a womb, but gays and lesbians as well. Smith notes this story:

Stephen Hill and his partner Johnathon Busher first held their twin girls in their arms less than 12 hours after their birth in a Delhi hospital last April.The gay couple, from the West Midlands, had been together for 18 years when they decided they wanted a family.

In 2011, they travelled to India and agreed a contract with a clinic in Delhi where Mr Hill’s sperm was used to fertilise an egg from a donor they had selected, and the resulting embryo was implanted in a surrogate mother. When the twins were born there was an “awkward moment” before the surrogate mother agreed to hand them over, as her husband had been telling medical staff the infants were his own. “She was reminded that it was a deal and she was fine. She was a little bit too attached and she needed to be reminded,” Mr Busher said. “We produced the contract and we were able to take them out of the hospital. We were so happy our feet didn’t touch the ground.”

It is hard to know where to begin with the horror of this “transaction”. The mother was a “bit too attached”? “We produced the contract”? Then there is the underlying notion that someone who wants a baby should simply have one – “I want it, I deserve it, I’m going to buy one” – as if it’s the latest tech toy or car.

200 years ago we were buying and selling people and calling it slavery. Now we’re calling it parenthood.

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Friday, December 28, 2012

388px-The_Last_of_the_Spirits-John_Leech,_1843Matt Mitchell at Neighborhood Effects offers an interesting perspective regarding the fiscal cliff. As we hurriedly approach the edge, Mitchell’s insights ought not to be ignored, whatever the outcome of today’s last minute meeting at the White House. Evoking the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, he writes,

At the risk of mixing metaphors, we should think of the fiscal cliff as the Ghost of the Fiscal Future. It is a bleak lesson in what awaits us if we don’t get serious about changing course.

Mitchell goes on to hint at the serious issue of intergenerational justice that our government’s current fiscal behavior will affect if it continues unchanged:

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office [CBO] now projects that, absent policy change, when my two-year-old daughter reaches my age (32), revenue will be just a bit above its historical average at 19 percent of GDP while spending will be nearly twice its historical average at 39 percent of GDP. This is what economists mean when they say we have a spending problem and not a revenue problem: spending increases, not revenue decreases, account for the entirety of the projected growth in deficits and debt over the coming years. (more…)