Category: General

Comparing artists is about as helpful as comparing beer or theologians; it often simply comes down to a matter of taste. However, just as with theologians, there are new insights to be gained from artists, even if they don’t turn out to be our favorite (I suppose the same holds with beer, as well.)

Robert Royal, in an article for the Catholic Education Resource Center, poses the question of whether or not French poet Paul Claudel might be the best modern Catholic poet ever.

I believe the greatest modern Catholic poet, and the most unknown, even to Catholics, is Paul Claudel (1868-1955). His family was modest, his father a local government official. A strong creative streak was hidden somewhere because his sister Camille was a gifted sculptor and student, then mistress, of Rodin — but that’s a story for another day. Claudel studied for a diplomatic career, but was also attracted to poetry. He succeeded spectacularly in both realms.

Some of his predecessors — Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud — were poetes maudits (“cursed poets”), who more than dabbled in sin and occultism. Yet all finished as Catholics. Rimbaud in particular — who stopped writing in his teens and is today sometime a patron saint of self-indulgent rock musicians — helped bring Claudel to belief.

Partly because of the marvelous realm beyond smug modern materialism that Claudel discovered in Rimbaud, he found himself in Notre Dame of Paris on Christmas Day 1886 during Vespers: “The children in the choir were singing what I later learned was the Magnificat. In an instant, my heart was touched and I believed.”

Royal points out that Claudel was not a starving artist, but had a thriving diplomatic career, and frankly, didn’t write that much while he was still actively working. Claudel has a great sense of humor, especially about himself, and while his work is rooted in French culture, most Christians will find themes with which they can identify. His poem, ‘The Day of Gifts’, particularly showcases his self-deprecation and knowledge of his sinfulness before God:

But if by chance You should have need of a lazy and imbecilic bore,
If a prideful coward could prove useful to You, or perhaps a soiled ingrate,
Or the sort of man whose hard heart shows up in a hard face—
Well, anyway, You didn’t come to save the just but that other type that abounds,
And if, miraculously, You run out of them elsewhere . . . Lord, I’m still around.
As with beer and theologians, you may not find Claudel to your taste. But then again, you may find a new favorite.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, July 9, 2012

Where Money Meets Morality

How can one defend “just weights and measures” while advancing a policy that would have the money supply altered—distorting its true value—by majority vote?

Is Meritocracy A Sham?
Walter Russell Mead, The American Interest

[T]here are certain consequences of success in a meritocracy that put people, and especially American people, without a strong religious faith at great risk, and I think we can see today in American life some of the consequences that come when a powerful but to some degree godless social elite lacks the spiritual resources and vocabulary that would better equip it for its role.

Faith and War: How Christians Debated the Cold and Vietnam Wars
Reviewed by Jill Gill, H-Net Reviews

Christians spanning the conservative-to-liberal theological spectrum both supported and criticized the Cold and Vietnam wars, yet until recently few scholars have tried to tackle that daunting subject in a comprehensive manner.

Why is Economics so Confusing?
Economics for Everybody

First, most people only hear little bits and pieces, and so don’t see how everything fits together. This can be extremely confusing. How does employment relate to interest rates? How do interest rates relate to recessions? And what are they really talking about anyway on CNBC?

Last week’s Wall Street Journal features a column from Michael Meyerson detailing the religious perspective of the Declaration of Independence. With questions of religious liberty occupying a sizable space in the public square, the article is especially timely. According to Meyerson, the Declaration’s brilliance lies in the “theologically bilingual” language of the Framers. Phrases like “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” employ what he calls a nondenominational inclusivism, a show of rhetoric that neither endorses nor rejects any particular religious ideology. The underlying implication of this statement, which captures the broader thrust of Meyerson’s article, is that the Framers recognized religion’s intrinsic value in a democratic state. He goes on to argue that the Framers’ understood religious expression as not only permissible, but desirable, for a budding nation. This is especially evident in two oft-forgotten but explicitly religious passages of the Declaration. First, the Framers’ acknowledged their own  “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.” They also professed a “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” Such phraseology, Meyerson argues, testifies to the value that the Framers’–among them some staunch supporters of church-state separation–placed on religious freedom:

Even Jefferson and Madison, often described as believing in a total separation of religion and government, continued the practice of using inclusive religious language. Jefferson urged in his first inaugural, “May that infinite power, which rules the destinies of the universe, lead our councils to what is best,” while Madison stated that, “my confidence will under every difficulty be best placed . . . in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations.”

The Framers didn’t see such nondenominational language as divisive. They believed it was possible—in fact desirable—to have a public expression of religion that is devout, as long as it recognizes and affirms the variety of belief systems that exist in our pluralistic nation.

Similar sentiments are found in the writings of Michael Novak, an American Catholic philosopher and lecturer at 2012′s Acton University. Novak’x 2001 book, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, even addresses many of the same themes as Meyerson’s article. To listen to Novak’s Acton University Lecture’s click here. For a copy of On Two Wings, click here.

National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez talks to Rev. Sirico about his new book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, the link between economic liberty and public morality, and the differences between socialism and capitalism:

LOPEZ: How can you get more greed with socialism than capitalism?

FR. SIRICO: To the extent that socialism holds back creativity and thus productivity, it increases poverty. When people become desperate, even good people can become self-centered. Few of us are at our best in crowds where everyone is trying to get out the same exit, or when trying to grab for the last remaining sale item. Socialism begins with the material world (the redistribution of pre-existing things); capitalism begins with ideas and dreams (the creation of things). Socialism increases the hoarding instinct and often places power in the hands of petty dictators (wait in line in a governmental office to see what I mean). We all know where that leads.

Of course, I am not saying that a system of free exchange will abolish greed. But even here, free markets and competition tend to temper greed, subordinating it to the service of others, which is the only way you are going to be successful in the market.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, July 9, 2012

During the Revolutionary Era, Americans had the highest per capita income in the civilized world and paid the lowest taxes, says Thomas Fleming, and they were determined to keep it that way.

By 1776, the 13 American colonies had been in existence for over 150 years—more than enough time for the talented and ambitious to acquire money and land. At the top of the South’s earners were large planters such as George Washington. In the North their incomes were more than matched by merchants such as John Hancock and Robert Morris. Next came lawyers such as John Adams, followed by tavern keepers, who often cleared 1,000 pounds a year, or about $100,000 in modern money. Doctors were paid comparatively little. Ditto for dentists, who were almost nonexistent.

In the northern colonies, according to historical research, the top 10% of the population owned about 45% of the wealth. In some parts of the South, 10% owned 75% of the wealth. But unlike most other countries, America in 1776 had a thriving middle class. Well-to-do farmers shipped tons of corn and wheat and rice to the West Indies and Europe, using the profits to send their children to private schools and buy their wives expensive gowns and carriages. Artisans—tailors, carpenters and other skilled workmen—also prospered, as did shop owners who dealt in a variety of goods. Benjamin Franklin credited his shrewd wife, Deborah, with laying the foundation of their wealth with her tradeswoman’s skills.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Friday, July 6, 2012

The Ideal Economy of Wilhelm Roepke
Ralph E. Ancil, The Imaginative Conservative

We are often told that among the great benefits of our modern capitalist economy are our expanded choice, free­dom, and power to get what we want. And yet at the same time it is evident that there is still a deep and pervasive sense of dissat­is­fac­tion among us, as though the more we get what we want, the less happy we are.

More on the President’s Uninsured Tax
Veronique de Rugy, National Review Online

There has been, understandably, a lot of attention paid to the tax that uninsured Americans will have to pay if they decide not to buy insurance. I find this data useful to understand how it may work . . .

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Blog author: mhornak
posted by on Friday, July 6, 2012

If you, or someone you know, are searching for last-minute scholarship opportunities, I invite you to please take the time to learn more about the scholarship programs offered through the Acton Institute.

Through the Calihan Academic Fellowship program, Acton’s Research department offers scholarships and research grants from $500 to $3000 to graduate students and seminarians studying theology, philosophy, economics, or related fields. Applicants must demonstrate the potential to advance understanding in the relationship between theology and the principles of the free and virtuous society. Such principles include recognition of human dignity, the importance of the rule of law, limited government, religious liberty, and freedom in economic life. Please visit the Calihan Academic Fellowship page on our website to download applications and obtain additional information about eligibility, conditions, the selection process, application requirements, and deadlines. In order to qualify for the upcoming deadline for the 2012 Fall Term, all application materials must be postmarked by July 15.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, July 5, 2012

Why free enterprise is about morals, not materialism
Arthur C. Brooks, FoxNews.com

It’s not an easy time to be a free enterprise advocate in America. For years, we thought we had won. After all, almost no self-respecting public figures call themselves socialists anymore.

How to Put a Waitress Out of Work
Michael Saltsman, Wall Street Journal

When the government forces restaurants to pay servers more, jobs and tip income go down.

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Blog author: aknot
posted by on Thursday, July 5, 2012

Because there’s nothing sweet about it.

As the 2012 Farm Bill moves through Capitol Hill, the policy debates are ramping up. The bill, projected to seriously cut the deficit, has garnered bipartisan support thus far, but will likely meet more resistance in the House. Whether or not the 2012 Farm Bill will cut its projected $23 billion dollars is subjective. Fluctuating crop prices and the extent to which the weather cooperates (pray for rain) will determine that. What is certain, however, is that under the the proposed legislation, Americans will continue to pay too much for sugar. As it stands now, the bill keeps the existing sugar program entirely intact. This benefits the 61,000 Americans employed in the sugar industry and works to the detriment of taxpayers, sugar farmers in the developing world, and the 988,000 U.S. employees in industries that rely on sugar.

U.S. sugar policy, touched on in PowerBlogger John MacDhubain’s Tuesday post and Tad DeHaven’s Cato post from June, is essentially mercantilism and a prime example of regulation getting in the way of economic progress. On average, taxpayers spend $2.4 billion annually on sugar to raise $1.4 billion for American sugar producers.

What’s more, these government-mandated favors naturally come at the expense of others. Think of the sugar farmer in the developing world, whose access to economic liberty is severely limited by the U.S. government’s policy of price supports, trade restrictions, and domestic quotas. Then consider the American jobs lost when, about a decade ago, Life Savers moved a plant from Holland, Michigan across the border into Canada. The move cost Americans hundreds of jobs while saving the candy company $90 million. The Coalition for Sugar Reform estimates that for every American sugar growing job saved by the policy, three more are lost.

Fiscal policies cannot avoid moral consequences. Job loss and the stifling of economic development are moral issues just as much as they are fiscal or political. The way forward demands new policies rooted and sound economic and moral thinking. Presently, American sugar policy is not only fiscally inefficient, it’s morally bankrupt. And there’s the bad jokes.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, July 5, 2012

Have a new book, or one not so new, that you’d like to recommend to PowerBlog readers for packing away to the beach and vacation spot? Add your picks to the comment box on this post.

Let’s begin with five books selected by Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg, who was a contributor to National Review Online’s symposium, “Got Summer Reading?”

By Samuel Gregg

For those who sense we’re presently reliving the 1930s (sigh), this is the book Paul Krugman and the other high priests of the economic left don’t want you to read. Anyone searching for an account of the New Deal that simply tells the truth about how and why it failed will benefit from reading Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man (2008). Her well-written narrative of the Roosevelt administration’s failures and arbitrariness as it wrestled with the Great Depression not only reveals the New Dealers as truly out of their depth; it also indirectly raisesquestions about some disturbing trends in contemporary American political and economic life.

Another book that gets beneath superficial commentary on a subject that needs further discussion is David Satter’s It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway (2012). As we all know, the Left in America and Europe (in fact, everywhere) has never really acknowledged the full barbarity of Communism. Satter’s text, however, underscores just how much denial and downplaying of the sheer moral and physical destruction wrought by the Soviet experiment continue to poison contemporary Russian politics and culture. (more…)