Category: News and Events

The latest issue of the newly launched Journal of Religion and Business Ethics is now available (vol. 1, no. 2).

Check out the contents at their website.

From the journal’s about page: “The Journal of Religion and Business Ethics is a peer-reviewed journal that examines the ethical and religious issues that arise in the modern business setting. While much attention has been given to the philosophical treatment of business ethics, this is the first journal to address the more inclusive scope of religious ethics and their understanding of right and just economic relationships.”

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I take a look at the prospects of “right-to-work” legislation in Michigan, “A Lesson from Michigan: Time to End Crony Unionism.”

One of the things that disturbs me the most about what I call “crony unionism” is the hand-in-glove relationship between the labor unions and big government. We have the same kind of special pleading and rent seeking in this system as we do in crony capitalism, but the labor unions enjoy such special protection that there isn’t even a hint of democratic competition.

The unions get windfalls from government subsidy and turn around and actively campaign for the expansion of government. The partisan character of some of the ad campaigns funded by labor unions are particularly egregious. I’ve recently seen a labor-funded ad running in Michigan that demonizes Republicans and lauds Democrats, and FactCheck.org ran a report earlier this month about attack ads from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

One of the noteworthy thing about unions in America is that the share of union members are increasingly coming from the public sector rather than the private sector. This adds an additional layer of concern to the larger problem of crony unionism. We in effect get government employees using government funds to campaign for the expansion of government.

Labor unions form a vital part of civil society, but when they are turned into arms of the government, their purpose is perverted and corrupted. Professor Charles W. Baird examines the merits of free labor in his Acton monograph, Liberating Labor: Liberating Labor: A Christian Economist’s Case for Voluntary Unionism.

Even the idea of debating whether unions should enjoy monopolistic privileges in a state like Michigan, dominated by organized labor interests for so long, is refreshing. And I think it might just be instructive about the kinds of alternative and innovative proposals that will have traction at the polls this November.

Religion & Liberty’s issue featuring an interview with Alexander Solzhenitsyn scholar Edward E. Ericson Jr. is now available online. Acton also published Solzhenitsyn & the Modern World by Ericson in 1994. It was a joy to have Ericson sit down with us in the Acton office to talk about Solzhenitsyn, his work, his life, and his legacy.

The issue also includes an excellent essay on the federalist and anti-federalist debate by Dr. John Pinheiro, a historian at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids. Pinheiro points out in the piece that the anti-federalists are important for understanding the balance between liberty and order in our Republic. He also adds that the anti-federalists are essential reading “if Americans hope to restore a sane balance between state and federal power.”

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Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
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There have been some engaging challenges to the view presented of work and its relationship to culture and civilization over the past few weeks (here, here, and here). I hope to post a more substantive response to some of the comments in the next few days. But in the meantime, let me pass along a helpful item that outlines the view of Pope John Paul II on the relationship between “culture” and “cultivation.”

Here’s a taste of the post, “Leisure and Art: A Start,” from David Michael Phelps:

It is also worth noting how closely JPII’s descriptions of the artist parallels his description of workers/entrepreneurs/etc. in other writings. [NOTE: here and here in particular] They follow from the same understanding that man transforms the world (and in doing so, himself) as he gets his hands dirty with the stuff of the world, enacts his creative will upon it, whether it be for a utilitarian end (work) or some gratuitous end (art).

Gratuitous work does not require leisure. In point of fact, as I think every artist worth his salt would agree, making art is rather laborious. Leisure doesn’t enter the picture until one lights a pipe, pours a beer, and sits back to admire the work.

As an aside, David Michael Phelps is the moderator of the latest installment of the RFA podcast, “The Stewardship of Art.” He’ll also be hosting the next Acton on Tap event the night before ArtPrize opens here in Grand Rapids, “Art, Patronage, and Cultural Investment.” You can check out details at the event’s Facebook page.

September in Grand Rapids means the return of ArtPrize, which bills itself as a “radically open” art competition, juried by the general public, and awarding the largest cash prize for an art competition in the world – $250,000 for first place.

As the competition takes place in the hometown of the Acton Institute – in fact, many artists exhibited their work in our building last year, and will do so again this year – it’s hard for us to miss it. And frankly, the questions that have been raised about the impact of such a non-professional, wide-open art contest with such a large prize at stake on the art world (for example, does ArtPrize foster real art, or are artists simply pandering to the public to have a shot at the prize) are too intriguing to pass up.

This edition of Radio Free Acton tackles the question of how Christians should steward the arts. The participants, Professors Nathan Jacobs and Calvin Seerveld, previously debated this topic in the Controversy section of our Journal of Markets & Morality (Volume 12, Number 2 – you can read the first part of their debate at this link), and we thought it would be interesting to bring them together for a live exchange as well. Special thanks are due to David Michael Phelps, who agreed to sit in as the moderator of the program.

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The Universidad Francisco Marroquín is webcasting a celebration of the life of Manuel “Muso” Ayau, its founder, live on Sunday, Sept. 12, at 1 p.m. local time. Watch the event here. The University also has published a special web page dedicated to the legacy of Ayau, with videos and other resources.

Read Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg’s PowerBlog remembrance of Ayau.

The following appreciation of the life and work of Ayau is from Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute:

When in January of 1990 I was invited to present a paper at the Mont Pelerin Society in Antigua, Guatemala, I had no idea that the visit to this small Central American country, and the people I would meet at the conference, would have such a lasting effect on me and the work I would end up doing the following two decades.

The president of the Mont Pelerin Society that year was Manual Ayau, known as Muso to his friends, among which I would be honored to be numbered.

Muso had a testy relationship with the Church. Although his daughter was a nun (in fact, the foundress of a monastery with a ministry to orphaned children), Muso found the opinions of numerous clergy on economic matters to be superficial at best and odious at worse, His special ire was directed at proponents of the attempted Christian-Marxist hybrid, Liberation Theology, which he saw as lending a moral patina to the socialist experiments his nation and much a Latin America suffer from.

So it was amusing to see Muso’s delighted reception of my speech in Antigua in which I endeavored to take apart the various fallacies of liberation theology: anthropological, theological and economic. At first his seems incredulous that priest could invoke Mises or Hayek, but he soon warmed up and invited me to join him on a speaking tour of remote parts of his country during his run at the presidency of Guatemala. Is country is worse off for not having elected him.

Muso was a man gifted with keen entrepreneurial talents which was not merely direct at building businesses: He used them to build a movement of ideas in a hostile environment.

Along with a band of brothers, Muso saw the effects of poverty in their homeland, and the ideology of the Fabian movement that would insure its continuance. This band of brothers, whom Muso described as “rebellious improvisers,” began a counter movement with the translations of solid books making the case for the free society. They formed, in 1959, one of the first think tanks in Latin America to promote the free economy, The Center for Social and Economic Studies.

Muso’s crowning achievement, and other than his family, his lasting legacy, will be the Universidad Francisco Marroquín, from which I had the honor of receiving an honorary doctorate at Muso’s hands. This university, one of the finest in Latin America, is guided by a clear philosophy of human liberty and organized in such a way to ensure that all who complete its curriculum grasp the interconnection between economic and personal liberty and the practical implementation of these principles in their respective spheres of influence.

Convinced that in order for a given society to appreciate the principles of human freedom, it was necessary for its leaders to be imbued with these ideas. The UFM today churns out young business and academic leaders who are capable of defending the free society.

Muso was as friendly as he was contentious; a man of vision and accomplishment, he could also be humble and an attentive listener.

Muso passed into eternity with his beloved wife Olga at his bedside and will be buried on the grounds of the monastery where it was his wish to watch these little, abandoned ones in the care of his daughter, Mother Inez Ayau at the orphanage she founded. A great champion for the cause of liberty has departed this world, leaving our hearts a bit dimmer. May the Author of Freedom grant him eternal repose in His presence.

On Public Discourse, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at fiat money and how today it “represents the end of a long process of development whereby governments have used their power of legal tender to use money to pursue various policy goals.”

This brief excursion into economic history hints at some of the deeper economic—not to mention moral—problems associated with fiat money. One is, as noted, the greater ease with which it permits governments to devalue currencies, thereby reducing the wealth of those with assets denominated in that currency. This surely constitutes an injustice to those individuals and businesses that have saved and behaved in a fiscally responsible manner while simultaneously letting the fiscally imprudent off the proverbial hook.

This underscores the second problem associated with fiat money: its facilitation of systemic moral hazard throughout entire economies. Moral hazard describes those situations whereby people are encouraged to take excessive risks because of the implied assurance that someone (usually the state) will bail them out if the enterprise or investment fails. From this standpoint, fiat money’s very existence arguably encourages the development of moral hazard throughout every sector of the economy. The high level of the U.S. federal government’s public deficit, for example, is at least partly premised on the unspoken supposition that the Fed (which is, after all, a government institution that operates within legal parameters set by Congress and whose members are nominated by the President) can simply print more money in paper or electronic form if creditors become worried that the U.S. government’s borrowings cannot be covered by anticipated taxation revenues, foreign borrowings, and its existing resources. This in turn encourages more people and governments to buy U.S. government debt in the form of bonds, which permits more deficit-spending, thereby encouraging a cycle of ever-spiraling public debt.

Read “Fiat Money and Public Debt” on Public Discourse.

From Chuck Colson’s column on Christian Post. Read the entire article here.

If the Great Recession of 2008 has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t detach economic prosperity from moral issues. Greed, imprudent spending by individuals and by government, debt, all of these things brought our economy to where we are today. As I’ve said many times on BreakPoint, our economic collapse is the result of our moral and ethical collapse.

We don’t teach our kids that there are such things as right or wrong, and we wonder why they grow up to cheat and steal.

And the social costs of disintegrating traditional families in terms of crime, divorce, juvenile delinquency, are truly staggering.

You don’t think supporting traditional families — and marriage — matters? Well, then you’ve never been inside a prison, like I have. You haven’t met the thousands of young men and women I have who have told you about their missing fathers or their drugged-out moms.

No society that rejects the moral good can possibly stay solvent. The price tag for moral corruption, as we have learned, is simply too high.

On Sept. 8, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg appeared live on the EWTN network to discuss “St. Thomas More: Saint, Scholar, Statesman, Martyr.” The show was hosted by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J.

Blog author: jcouretas
Thursday, September 9, 2010
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On his website, David Bahnsen reviews The Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future by Arthur C. Brooks:

The strongest points of the book, and the reason Brooks has done such critically important work here (World magazine has already recognized the book as its Book of 2010, by the way) are found in these two areas:

(1) The moral nature of the battle that exists

(2) The fundamental materialism that underpins the left’s approach towards creating income equality.

I heard Dr. Brooks speak about the latter at the annual Acton Institute dinner in 2009 and wrote about it here. Brooks concept of “earned success” is indisputably true and of fundamental importance in how we approach the problems in today’s world. Understanding the idea that true happiness comes from “earned success”, and not simply receiving a bigger slice of society’s overall wealth pie via government-coerced redistribution, is not mere economics. This latter point makes his former point all the more compelling. For what could be more immoral than advocating a policy worldview that dooms millions of people to unhappiness by robbing them of their human dignity? The arguments against the coercive and progressive and inefficient portions of our tax code are important (and all valid), but they miss the most important point of all: They fail to do what they set out to do, and make life worse for those they set out to help.

Read “The Battle for our Hearts and Souls” by David Bahnsen.