Category: Individual Liberty

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Not Quite Alone in the Wilderness,” I examine the intergenerational infrastructure of innovation and civilization through the lens of Richard “Dick” Proenneke, whose efforts to build a cabin in the Alaskan wild, alone and by hand, are recorded in the popular documentary, often featured on PBS.

Here’s a clip that gives an extended introduction into the project:

As Proenneke says, “I was alone, just me and the animals.” In his recent book Redeeming Economics, John Mueller relates how classical economists would often use the fictional example of Robinson Crusoe, who was shipwrecked on an island and left to survive alone, to get at the anthropological knowledge necessary for a coherent political economy. In this week’s piece, I do something like this with Proenneke, whose experiment has the advantage of being something that actually happened.
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(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

According to the religious liberties established under article 24, educational services shall be secular and, therefore, free of any religious orientation.

The educational services shall be based on scientific progress and shall fight against ignorance, ignorance’s effects, servitudes, fanaticism and prejudice.

All religious associations organized according to article 130 and its derived legislation, shall be authorized to acquire, possess or manage just the necessary assets to achieve their objectives.

The rules established at this article are guided by the historical principle according to which the State and the churches are separated entities from each other. Churches and religious congregations shall be organized under the law.

Mexico, 1917. The government under Benito Juarez constitutionalized an increasingly secular way of life, in order to “reform” Mexico and create a more modern state. A largely Catholic country, Mexico’s population found itself officially devoid of religion. The new constitution was used to criminalize religious gatherings, close churches and religious schools, arrest priests and religious for performing their duties, and essentially drove religion underground. Undeniably, the government set out to destroy the Catholic Church. (more…)

In the Wall Street Journal, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg turns to French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville to show how democratic systems can be used to strike a Faustian bargain. “Citizens use their votes to prop up the political class, in return for which the state uses its power to try and provide the citizens with perpetual economic security,” Gregg explains. This, of course, speaks to the current catastrophe that is the European welfare state. French workers, for example, “clearly expect the government to protect them from the economic consequences of their curious work habits,” he adds.

Some 180 years ago, Tocqueville predicted in his magnum opus “Democracy in America” that something similar would be one of democracy’s long-term challenges. Though Tocqueville never used the expression “welfare state,” he worried about the potentially corrosive effects of democratically elected governments that tried to use their powers to guarantee economic security for as many people as possible.

Democracy, Tocqueville argued, was capable of breeding its own form of despotism, albeit of the “soft” variety. He spoke of “an immense protective power” that took all responsibility for everyone’s happiness—just so long as this power remained “sole agent and judge of it.” This power, Tocqueville projected, would “resemble parental authority” but would try to keep people “in perpetual childhood” by relieving people “from all the trouble of thinking and all the cares of living.”

But here’s the catch. Many people today forget that Tocqueville wasn’t writing for an American audience. His book was for French readers and therefore, by extension, much of Europe’s 19th-century political elite. What would some of those elites today—such as a career-politician and confirmed statist like Arnaud Montebourg—make of his compatriot’s warnings?

Read “What Tocqueville Knew” in the Wall Street Journal.

And pick up a copy of Gregg’s new book, Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future.

John Mackey, the well-known CEO of Whole Foods, sat down for an interview with Reason TV’s Nick Gillespie this week and I found a few quotes from their exchange particularly interesting. You can watch the full interview here: John Mackey Video

When asked what the original “higher purposes” of his business were when Whole Foods began, Mackey responded:

“Sell healthy food to people. Make a living for ourselves. Have fun. But our purposes have evolved over time…I would say one of our higher purposes now is to heal America.”

Mr. Mackey writes all about such things in his recently-released Conscious Capitalism. Citing familiar statistics regarding the millions of Americans who are overweight and suffering from diseases that “correlate directly with diet and lifestyle choices,” he feels that his chain of high-end groceries are a very real contribution to the betterment of the nation.

I applaud much of what Mackey says publicly when it comes to free enterprise and the moral case for capitalism (more on that in a minute), but the idea that ultra-expensive, cage-free items – in a store that is primarily frequented by already-healthy (and wealthy) patrons – will “heal America” is a bit over-the-top. (more…)

In 1989, Erol Ricketts, a researcher with the Rockefeller Foundation, found that between 1890 and 1950, blacks had higher marriage rates than whites, according to the U.S. Census. The report, titled “The Origin of Black Female-Headed Families,” published in the Spring/Summer issue of Focus(32-37), provides an overview that highlights an important question.

Ricketts observes that between 1960 and 1985, female-headed families grew from 20.6 to 43.7 percent of all black families, compared to growth from 8.4 to 12 percent for white families. The rates of marriage for both black and white women were lowest at the end of the 1800s and peaked in 1950 for blacks and 1960 for whites. Furthermore, according to Ricketts, “it is dramatically clear that black females married at higher rates than white females of native parentage until 1950.” National data covering “decennial years from 1890 to 1920 show that blacks out-married whites despite a consistent shortage of black males due to their higher rates of mortality. And in three of the four decennial years there was a higher proportion of currently married black men than white men.”

According to Ricketts, this data helps us to see that the Moynihan Report was wrong to intimate that slavery made marriage worse among blacks. In fact, the “legacy of slavery,” according to the data, does not explain the obliteration of marriage that we’ve seen in the black community over the past 30 years. It is clear from the data, observes Ricketts, that 1950 is a watershed year for black families as black female-headed families grow rapidly in concert with blacks becoming more urbanized than whites. Between 1930 and 1950 the rates of black female-headed families, regardless of geographical environment, are parallel to the corresponding rates for whites.
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The morticians wanted the monks shut down—or even thrown in jail—for the crime the Benedictines were committing.

Casket-making MonksUntil 2005, the monks of St. Joseph Abbey in St. Benedict, Louisiana had relied on harvesting timber for income. But when Hurricane Katrina destroyed their pine forest they had to find new sources of revenue to fund the 124-year-old abbey. For over 100 years, the monks had been making simple, handcrafted, monastic caskets so they decided to try to sell them to the public.

According to the Wall Street Journal, after a local Catholic newspaper publicized the effort in 2007, local funeral directors got the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors—of which eight of the nine members are funeral industry professionals—to serve the abbey with a cease-and-desist order. Louisiana law makes it a crime for anyone but a licensed parlor to sell “funeral merchandise.” Violating the statute could land the monks in jail for up to 180 days.

Since the sole purpose of the “casket cartel” law is to protect the economic interest of the funeral industry, the Institute for Justice filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the monastery claiming the legislation restricts “the right to earn an honest living just to enrich government-licensed funeral directors.”

Yesterday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a unanimous final decision in favor of the casket-making monk, setting up what could become a historic clash at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals rejected Louisiana’s argument that it was constitutional to enact a law forbidding anyone but a government-licensed funeral director from selling caskets, especially if the only purpose of the law is to make funeral directors wealthier by limiting competition. In other words, the Court didn’t buy the State’s argument that crony capitalism is constitutionally protected.

Unfortunately, this latest ruling doesn’t solve the issue. As the Institute for Justice explains,
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(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

Clare Booth Luce was a woman of the 20th century: a suffragette, well-educated, a career woman, intensely loyal to her country. She was known in the literary world as a playwright and journalist, but during World War II, she became very interested in politics and chose to run for a Congressional seat in Connecticut as a Republican. Her platform was, in part, based on her belief that America (under the leadership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt) was ill-prepared for World War II. She served on the Military Affairs Committee, and espoused some isolationist stances.

Clare Booth Luce

Clare Booth Luce

Luce was a mother to one child, Ann, who was killed at the age of 19 in a car accident. The loss left Luce devastated, ill to the point where she was hospitalized for depression. Upon recovering, she began to write plays again, and eventually, found her way back into politics.

Under the Eisenhower administration, she was appointed ambassador to Italy and then Brazil. Her stances on Communism and her ire for Democratic foes often left her in hot water, and at one point, she resigned her post in Brazil after a scathing remark about a Democratic opponent.

She lived a rather quiet life following the death of her husband, but served as part of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board under Nixon, Ford and Reagan. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan; the medal is awarded for meritorious service to the United States and its security and national interests.

Luce was savvy, chic, smart and intensely driven. She was also aware, as a woman of the 20th century, that her work ethic reflected on other women as well: “Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, “She doesn’t have what it takes”; They will say, “Women don’t have what it takes”. By anyone’s standards, Luce had what it took.

(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

In today’s era of texting, Facebooking and emails, one wonders how comfortable our nation’s second First Lady would have felt about these forms of communication. Abigail Smith Adams, while not a “woman of letters” (she had little formal education), left behind letters that tell us much about her, her marriage and her desire to be part of a nation of liberty.

In 1775, the Massachusetts Colony General Court appointed Adams (and other young women) to question their peers as to their loyalty to the crown or their new nation. Her husband, John, told her she was now a “politician and now elected into an important office, that of judges of Tory ladies, which will give you, naturally, an influence with your sex.”

National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery

It was noted that Abigail enjoyed conversations about politics, especially as her husband’s own political career grew. One thing she might have in common with today’s politicians and their spouses is that she did not enjoy the so-called “fishbowl” that comes with this type of career. Clearly, the role of women at this time in the public realm was limited, which Abigail accepted, but perhaps chafed against. She wrote in one correspondence, “Let each planet shine in their own orbit, God and nature designed it so. If man is Lord, woman is Lordess — that is what I contend for, and if a woman does not hold the Reigns of Government, I see no reason for her not judging how they are conducted.”

She believed that women not only could be educated, but must be, in this new nation, for it was in education that virtue was learned. As her husband and his peers drafted the country’s Constitution, she wrote, “our new constitution may be distinguished for learning and Virtue…. If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen, and philosophers, we should have learned women.”

This formidable First Lady may have penned some of the most striking words of the young nation she helped found:

[R]emember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

Blog author: abradley
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
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In their book, American Society: How It Really Works, authors Erik Wright and Joel Rogers make the case that when we talk about social injustice most Americans think in terms of some sort of material inequality that might be considered unfair and possibly remedied if our social institutions were different. There are multiple problems with this reduction but it is fair to say that this is a dominant conceptual framework in our culture today. As a result, one of the ways to frame the “fairness” divide is to discuss it in terms of “fair play” versus “fair shares.”

Wright and Rogers explain that in the “fair play” vision, inequalities are fair so long as the rules by which people compete for valued goods are fair. In this framework there are winners and losers. When losers lose, as long as the rules are the same, the first assumption cannot be that they lost because of injustice and that, all things being equal, had they been equal from the start they would not have lost. That is, so long as there is equal opportunity, inequality of results is not a moral problem.
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Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) recently appeared on the MSNBC round-table discussion show Morning Joe and was asked by Senior Political Analyst Mark Halperin to give his personal take on the reality of a world where Obamacare is the law of the land. Here’s what transpired:

JOHNSON: Well, it’s obviously the law of the land right now. Obviously, I’m concerned about it. I think that the cost estimate of Obamacare is grossly understated. I think far more Americans are going to lose their employer-sponsored health care, because there are incentives for employers who drop the coverage and make their employees eligible for the huge subsidies in the exchanges. I think it will explode our deficit. It’s going to lead to rationing. It will lead to rationing and lower-quality care. Here is the basic economic problem.

MIKE BARNICLE: Why will it lead to rationing?

JOHNSON: Because it dramatically increases the demand for healthcare. Thirty million Americans getting their health care, kind of through a Medicaid-like process, while it dramatically reduces the supply. That’s an economic disaster. When you’re taking $716 billion out of payments, primarily to the providers, you’re reducing supply and increasing demand. That doesn’t lower the cost curve. That increases the cost curve.

HALPERIN: Well, again, just to stay on health care. Lots of big issues, I now you want to talk about. But, do you aspire to live in a country where we have universal healthcare? Is that a goal of yours?

Johnson: What I aspire is to health care being governed more by free-market competitive systems. I always use the example of one area of healthcare that generally isn’t covered by a third-party payer or by government. It’s eyeglasses. The free market has actually produced businesses that you can walk off the street, get eyeglasses in an hour, two for the price of one. Take a look at the quality of laser surgery – it’s gone up and up and the price has gone down the last ten years. The free market system is a marvel, in terms of guaranteeing the lowest possible price and cost, and the highest possible quality of customer service. But we’re moving in the opposite direction: government control.

HALPERIN: Yes or no, do you aspire for the United States to have universal healthcare coverage?

I wonder why no one asked Mark Halperin if he aspires to be a real journalist one day?

For the life of me, I cannot figure out if Halperin’s line of questioning has an agenda or not? He’s way too smooth and subtle to betray his own political leanings!
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