Category: General

GYHD-Jordan-Baillor-e1378924768840Jordan J. Ballor has spent the past decade working for the Acton Institute. At Fieldnotes Magazine he share five lessons he’s learned from working at a think tank focused on the intersection of theology and economics:

1. Treat people like people. The Golden Rule, “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12), may seem like common sense, but it is much more uncommon to see what it really should look like in practice. I experienced this when I was walking back to my car from the office after work one day when I was approached by someone asking for help. At the time I was caught up in my own thoughts and worries, and the person in front of me was really just a problem, an obstacle. I took the easy way out and missed an opportunity to treat a person as if he was a person, made in God’s image and likeness.

2. Your work matters to God. It doesn’t matter if you are a preacher, a plumber, or a politician; the work you do is important to God. Most of us are not tasked with leading Fortune 500 companies, passing laws, or proclaiming the gospel from the pulpit. But we are all called to be faithful, to use our various gifts to serve others. The work you do matters to God because you matter to God and he has placed you where you are for a reason. So be a channel of grace in whatever you do. As Peter puts it, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).

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syria-chemical-attackWhat is going on in Syria?

In 2011, during the Middle Eastern protest movement known as the Arab Spring, protesters in Syria demanded the end of Ba’ath Party rule and the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held the presidency in the country since 1971. In April 2011, the Syrian Army was sent to quell the protest and soldiers opened fire on demonstrators. After months of military sieges, the protests evolved into an armed rebellion and has spread across the country.

Wait, what’s the “Arab Spring” and the “Ba’ath Party”?

The Arab Spring is the term the Western media has used to describe the various protests, demonstrations, riots, and civil wars that began on 18 December 2010 and spread throughout many countries with predominantly Arab populations.

The Ba’ath Party (short for the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party) is a political party that began in Syria which espouses Ba’athism, a mix of Arab nationalism, socialism, and anti-imperialist ideologies. Ba’athism calls for unification of the Arab world into a single state. The movement is split into two main factions, one in Syria and one in Iraq (Saddam Hussein was a Ba’athist).

What is the toll of the Syrian civil war?

To date, estimates range between 70,000 and 120,000 Syrians killed, 130,000 people missing or detained, 1.2 million refugees, and 2.5-3 million internally displaced.

I know the country is somewhere in the Middle East, but where exactly is it located?

Syria, which is about the size of North Dakota, is located north of the Arabian Peninsula at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. The country is bordered by Turkey on the north, Iraq on the east, Jordan on the south, and Lebanon, Israel, and the Mediterranean on the west. Its biggest cities are Aleppo (population 2,301,570) and Damascus (population 1,711,000).

Isn’t Syria one of the lands mentioned in the Bible?

The modern state of Syria is part of the area known throughout history as Greater Syria. In the Bible the city of Damascus is mentioned 67 times. The road to Damascus was the place of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9) and Antioch was the city in which the disciples were first called Christians.  (Acts 11:26)

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abc_lululemon_ceo_wanted_sign_jt_130615_wgPro-market advocates often talk about how markets are self-correcting. But why do businesses in free markets fix their own mistakes? Because if they don’t, customers and other stakeholders will punish them:

Lululemon, which produces yoga and other athletic apparel, provoked outrage from its devoted customer base when it released a flawed product earlier this year: see-through yoga pants. Founded in 1998, the company had built trust and loyalty among its yoga-loving clientele for delivering quality products: In just 15 years, Lululemon had grown to over $1.3 billion in annual revenue. So, it’s no surprise that Lululemon’s fans were upset and disappointed at the failure.

But Lululemon’s response to its mistake demonstrates why government intervention in the marketplace is unnecessary and, often, inferior to that of the free market. To address all the complaints the company received from consumers and stores, Lululemon recalled the pants on March 18, offered refunds, and apologized.

Despite the gesture, the market punished Lululemon for its error: Its stock price plummeted the next day, decreasing the company’s value by $250 million. Several weeks later, the chief product officer resigned. The repercussions for Lululemon’s mistake affect the short term as well as the long term: The damage to consumer confidence will take time to rebuild and revenues will reflect the damage.

The incentives for the company to address this mistake couldn’t be any higher. They will be far more powerful in encouraging better customer service than having the government inspect all clothes manufactured.

Read more . . .

GiveBack_webA recent ad on our listener-supported community radio station here in Boise spoke of a business sponsor’s practice of “giving back to the community.” This is done, of course, by sponsoring the radio station and other similar causes. As a fan of the station in question, I’m grateful for such local sponsors, and I’m grateful that they give to the community in that way. There is, however, a problem – not with the practice, but with the way we describe it. The phrase “giving back to the community” belies a deep misunderstanding of the nature of business.

The picture that seems to be assumed is that most of the time, through its everyday work, the business is in fact taking from the community. Then, from time to time, it chooses to “give back” to the same community. At a superficial level this language makes sense: most of the time it is customers – members of the community – who are giving money to the business, while the business is then giving money back through its charitable donations. But this misses the fact that the business – if it is successful – is always giving to the community. A profitable business, conducted with integrity, is not taking from the community at all; indeed, its profits are nothing more or less than indicators of the value that the community has received from the business.

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Little-House-on-the-Prairie-Book-and-Charm-With-Locket-9780060000462Was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series of children’s books written as an anti-New Deal fable? The Wilder family papers suggest they were:

From the publication of the first book in 1932, the series was immediately popular. And, at a time when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was introducing the major federal initiatives of the New Deal and Social Security as a way out of the Depression, the Little House books lulled children to sleep with the opposite message. The books placed self-reliance at the heart of the American myth: If the pioneers wanted a farm, they found one; if they needed food, they killed it or grew it; if they needed shelter, they built it.

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Does your state have the basic legal framework in place to combat human trafficking, punish trafficker, and supports survivors? The Polaris Project recently released their 2013 State Ratings on Human Trafficking Laws, which examines the progress states have made in passing legislation to combat both labor and sex trafficking.

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According to the report:

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burnt-churchHundreds of supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi were killed in Cairo this week by Egyptian security forces. The protestors, mostly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, responded by destroying Coptic Christian churches throughout the country.

Here’s what you should know about what’s going on in Egypt.

What is the Muslim Brotherhood?

The Muslim Brotherhood, begun in 1928, is Egypt’s oldest and largest Islamist organization.

Founded by Hassan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood – or al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun in Arabic – has influenced Islamist movements around the world with its model of political activism combined with Islamic charity work. The movement initially aimed simply to spread Islamic morals and good works, but soon became involved in politics, particularly the fight to rid Egypt of British colonial control and cleanse it of all Western influence. While the Brotherhood say they support democratic principles, one of the group’s stated aims is to create a state ruled by Islamic law, or Sharia. Its most famous slogan, used worldwide, is: “Islam is the solution.”

Ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, the Freedom and Justice Party.

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Pope-Ecumenical-Patriarch-Bartholomew-2013-03-20-620x320In Crisis Magazine, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg discusses how Pope Francis and the Catholic Church engage other religions and philosophies:

“Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.”

That, according to Pope Francis, is the response he gives when leaders ask him for advice about how to resolve their societies’ internal differences. It is, he recently told a gathering of prominent Brazilians, the only way for societies to avoid the dead-ends of what Francis called “selfish indifference” and “violent protest.”

Throughout the twentieth century, the Church provided powerful examples of how to proceed along this path. A case in point was the manner in which the Catholic Church in Poland in the face of constant—and, at times, extreme—provocation never ceased talking to the Communist regime, despite the fact that the conversation was with people who were generally of ill-will and who supported an evil political system.

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SexTraffickingWould legalizing adult prostitution decrease the demand for child sex slaves? That’s the curious argument made by one of my favorite libertarian economist. Donald J. Boudreaux , a professor of economics at George Mason University, recently wrote:

If men can legally buy sex from women 18 years of age or older, men will have less demand to patronize children. And sex entrepreneurs will have less incentive to ‘supply’ children. With all prostitution being illegal, those who demand as well as those who supply commercial sex are subject to prosecution regardless of the age of the women they patronize or employ. By making adult prostitution legal, however, not only will that trade become more open to public scrutiny, but also the ability of those in the commercial-sex market to avoid prosecution simply by patronizing and employing women aged 18 or older will likely dramatically reduce incentives to turn young girls into prostitutes.

Boudreaux is one of the most astute economists in America, so it’s surprising to find him make such shockingly naïve claims about sexual trafficking.

The theory behind Boudreaux’s idea is based on a basic economic concept: substitute goods. Goods or services that, as a result of changed conditions, may replace each other in use are considered “substitutes.” Two classic examples of substitute goods are margarine and butter and coffee and tea. If the price of coffee or butter rises, people are more likely to choose a suitable substitute, such as tea or margarine.

But what constitutes a suitable substitute can vary considerably. Anyone who has ever been to Starbucks knows that the rise in coffee prices – both as a commodity and a consumer product – has not caused people to give up their mug of java for a cup of Earl Grey. The taste and preferences of coffee consumers tends to be inelastic. For most coffee lovers, the price would have to rise considerably for them to switch to tea.

Boudreaux is implying that adult prostitution and child prostitution are suitable substitutes. Does he really think that pedophiles and hebephiles (people with sexual interest in pubescent individuals approximately 11–14 years old) would become teleiophiles (people with a sexual interest in adults) if only they could get a discount on the cost of sex with an adult prostitute?

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The painting Rembrandts Prodigal Son Revisited, by Jonathan Quist is part of The Larry & Mary Gerbens Collection of Art inspired by the parable of the Prodigal Son. The Jonathan Quist painting Rembrandts Prodigal Son Revisited, is featured in the book The Father & His Two Sons - The Art of Forgiveness“While he was still a long way off…”

On display at Acton Institute in Grand Rapids is an art exhibit centered on the parable of the prodigal son from Luke 15. “The Father and His Two Sons: The Art of Forgiveness,” was collected by Larry and Mary Gerbens. It includes a 1636 etching by Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn, a painting by American artist Robert Barnum, and a reproduction of Rembrandt’s famous “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” among others. Though the works span six countries of origin and five centuries, each portrays a scene from the well-known parable.

Winds rip trees from their roots. Branches are bent backward against the sky. Chaos rules as the wayward son runs toward his father’s farm in Robert Barnum’s Americanized representation. In the distance, an outhouse flies into the air. The son battles gale-force winds to get back to his father. The viewer can almost feel him being tossed about like a leaf.

Rembrandt takes us 30 seconds later in the story. In his 1636 etching, the son kneels at his father’s feet, but his father reaches to raise him up. The stone steps they stand on are firmly attached to the ground. The foundations of the house are secure. We can see great compassion in the father’s embrace.

Of course, the older brother, who has never rebelled, feels jealous and marginalized. In the Rembrandt, he leans out of the window and looks directly at the viewer as if to appeal to an unbiased fourth party.

And, after the homecoming, his self-righteousness is still palpable. An etching by James Tissot (“No IV- The Fatted Calf”, 1881) shows him complaining that his father has never honored him in the way that he now honors his younger brother. Larry Gerbens pointed out that the older son is just as distant from the family as the younger is; another Tissot etching shows him daydreaming while his brother viciously takes leave of his father. (more…)