Category: News and Events

The Good Rich and What They Cost Us, Robert Dalzell Jr.In a new book, The Good Rich and What They Cost Us, Robert Dalzell Jr. aims to address “a great paradox at the core of the American Dream: a passionate belief in the principles of democracy combined with an equally passionate celebration of wealth.”

In a review for the Wall Street Journal, Amity Shlaes notes that although the book provides an in-depth look at the history of American philanthropy, the author’s own personal prescriptions lend too high a trust to government redistribution:

“The Good Rich” starts out like a tour through a portrait gallery, describing rather than judging. For much of his narrative, Mr. Dalzell refrains from giving his own opinion explicitly and reports merely that the rich have often blamed themselves for their lapses or oversize good fortune, or that their peers did.

Toward the book’s end, though, Mr. Dalzell drops his own screen, putting forward a familiar argument: that democracy suffers unless wealth and philanthropy are redistributed to reduce economic inequality. Even the “good rich” cost us: They don’t give wisely, Mr. Dalzell contends, spending too much on “elite institutions like Harvard, Yale, MIT and Princeton, which seems unlikely to reduce the income gap by much.” …For the sake of the public good, then, the rich must fashion better charity projects while handing over more of their money to the government.

Such philanthropic efforts deserve to be thoroughly examined. Likewise, from the poorest of us to the wealthiest, we should be energetic in examining our own activities, using discernment and wisdom in how we use our resources. But as Shlaes indicates, if it’s difficult for we individuals to wrestle with these deep questions about stewardship — particularly when we’re calling on the Divine for wisdom, as many philanthropists under Dalzell’s microscope claim to have done — how much more difficult will it be for a bloated government machine to utilize proper discernment? (more…)

In my cautionary post on the constant temptation to indulge in earthbound economics, I mentioned that even seemingly noble, intangible features such as “happiness” can be just as futile and vain when pursued on our own terms and for our own limited purposes.

If we don’t order and define things properly, the “pursuit of happiness” can easily distract us away from our eternal quest for widespread spiritual transformation. As the author of Ecclesiastes points out, when “testing ourselves” with mere pleasure—even the pleasure of “toil”—all is ultimately “vanity and a striving after the wind.”

In an article for The Atlantic, Emily Esfahani Smith offers some fascinating insights on this broader intersection of happiness and meaning, building initially off of psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl, who believed that “it is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.”

This is why some researchers are cautioning against the pursuit of mere happiness. In a new study, which will be published this year in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Positive Psychology, psychological scientists asked nearly 400 Americans aged 18 to 78 whether they thought their lives were meaningful and/or happy. Examining their self-reported attitudes toward meaning, happiness, and many other variables — like stress levels, spending patterns, and having children — over a month-long period, the researchers found that a meaningful life and happy life overlap in certain ways, but are ultimately very different. Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a “taker” while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a “giver.”

“Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided,” the authors write…

…”Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others,” explained Kathleen Vohs, one of the authors of the study, in a recent presentation at the University of Pennsylvania. In other words, meaning transcends the self while happiness is all about giving the self what it wants. People who have high meaning in their lives are more likely to help others in need… (more…)

Blog author: abradley
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
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The Food Bank For New York recently released their annual report on the state of hunger in the city and the growing disparity between low-income New Yorkers and New York City’s professional class. The report refers to this disparity as the food “haves” and “have nots.” The report, “NYC Hunger Experience 2012: One City, Two Realities,” was released Tuesday at the 21st annual Agency Conference.

The New York Non-Profit Press summarized the key findings:
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Recently  Samuel Gregg, was interviewed by Sheila Liaugminas of Relevant Radio. They discuss Gregg’s latest book, Becoming Europe.

Listen to the interview here:

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Michael Novak, author of The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, says this about the book:

If you don’t know Samuel Gregg’s writing, you don’t know one of the top two or three writers on the free society today: free in its culture, free in its politics, and free in its economy. In this book, Gregg has produced a profound explanation of the economic crisis shaking the Old Continent, and shows where the New World seems headed in the same direction. Gregg’s Becoming Europe is magnificent in its scope, compelling in its analysis, and ultimately hopeful in its conclusions–provided, that is, Americans dare to take up once again the challenge of liberty and want to live up to the promise of America’s founding.

Click here to read a free sample, buy a copy, or learn more about Samuel Gregg and Becoming Europe.

 

Blog author: sstanley
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
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Ray Nothstine, managing editor of Religion & Liberty, was recently on Relevant Radio with Drew Mariani to discuss the issue of gun control.  According to the Chicago Tribune:

President Barack Obama unveiled a sweeping plan to reduce gun violence…that would require criminal background checks for all gun sales and a ban on military-style assault weapons. Obama also proposed an end to high-capacity ammunition clips, instead limiting clips to 10 rounds, according to details of the plan released by the White House. He would also toughen laws aimed at reducing gun trafficking.

Nothstine and Mariani discuss the recent executive actions regarding gun control and the reasonableness of restrictions. During the interview the dangers of increasing government authority arises and Nothstine asks, “how much can we really trust a government that doesn’t trust us in our own capacity for self government?” He addresses this point more fully in a recent blogpost:

We as a people need to again ask those fundamental questions about our capability for self government. When it comes to the 2nd Amendment or the entirety of our Bill of Rights, should we trust a government that is already hedging and placing limits on trusting us, when in fact, it was entirely meant to be the other way around?

Listen to the full interview here:

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Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
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You're part of this world, aren't you? A tree-herder should know better!

You’re part of this world, aren’t you? A tree-herder should know better!

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the First Kuyper Seminar, “Economics, Christianity & The Crisis: Towards a New Architectonic Critique,” held at the VU University Amsterdam. I gave a paper on “The Moral Challenges of Economic Equality and Diversity,” which focused on envy as a moral challenge particularly endemic to market economies: “Since envy arises out of inequality, envy and inequality go together. And since markets inevitably generate inequalities, therefore envy and markets go together.” This paper is part of a larger collaborative project on envy I’m working on with Victor V. Claar, which includes our co-authored paper, “Envy in the Market Economy: Sin, Fairness, and Spontaneous (Dis)Order.”

Another presentation at the conference by Henry Vyner-Brooks of the UK focused on the thought of “John Ruskin and the Economics of Inequality.” I was not previously very familiar with Ruskin’s thought, and Vyner-Brooks’ presentation brought forth a wealth of intriguing material from Ruskin. The Ruskin presentation was given on the first day of the conference, and it stimulated my thinking as I prepared to give my paper on the final session of the second and last day of the workshop.

One of Ruskin’s contentions regarding inequality had to do with the moral obligation of the wealthy to put their wealth to productive use. He made the analogy between plants that merely grow and expand their root system with plants that actually bear fruit, the difference between root and bulb, so to speak. This, I think, helped me clarify to some extent the difficulty in understanding precisely what “unrighteous” inequality, a reality affirmed by the vast majority of thinkers in the Christian tradition, consists in. I didn’t come up with any hard and fast rules or measures (e.g. the 99% vs. the 1%), but I did think of a dynamic from the Lord of the Rings that might be helpful.

The idle, unproductive, or “unrighteous” wealth could be seen as analogous to the initial lethargy of the Ents in The Two Towers. A recurring temptation for materially prosperous human beings is to think that they no longer need God and are not bound by moral obligations to others, particularly the poor. This reality is in part why John Calvin, when commenting on Isaiah 2:16, observed that “it most frequently happens that abundance leads to pride and cruelty,” and that “it is too frequent and common that riches are followed by luxury, effeminacy, and a superfluity of pleasures, which we commonly see in wealthy countries and commercial cities.”
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Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, recently had two interviews discussing his latest book, Becoming Europe.

Here is his interview on the Armstrong & Getty Show:

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Here is his interview on the Dennis Miller Show:

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Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, the vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International and former special adviser to Margaret Thatcher, said this about Becoming Europe:

Highly readable, well researched, and extremely timely. This book is the definitive case why America should cling to its belief that liberty and free enterprise are the source of human flourishing rather than follow Continental Europe into corporatism, big government and economic stagnation. It deserves to be widely read.

Becoming Europe is now available as a hardcover or an eBook. You can read a sample here or purchase it here.