Acton Media’s second documentary makes its public television debut Sunday, May 2, with a 3-4 p.m. airing on Detroit Public Television (HD channel 56.1). The film trailer is here.
This week’s Acton Commentary from Baylor University economics professor John Pisciotta:
Americans have less confidence and trust in government today than at any time since the 1950s. This is the conclusion of the Pew Research Center survey released in mid-April. Just 22 percent expressed trust in government to deliver effective policies almost always or most of the time. With the robust expansion of the economic role of the federal government under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the Pew poll is evidence of an opportunity for advocates of freer markets.
That Americans distrust their government is not unadulterated good news. An effective rule of law, one aspect of which is a government that can be trusted to act justly and equitably, is a necessary precondition of the free and virtuous society. Still, in the context of the extraordinary extension of government control in areas such as finance and health care, news of political skepticism offers an opportunity for those who recognize that both the moral and economic wellbeing of our nation depends more on the health of individuals, families, and other institutions than on the engineering of bureaucrats. The apostle Peter advised Christians to “always be ready to give an answer” to those who ask for “a reason of the hope that is in you” (I Pt 3:15). This advice is relevant for defenders of private sector reliance. We must not merely repeat slogans regarding private enterprise. We must express the reasons why we defend decentralized, voluntary organization of our economy over centralized control. Here are my top 10 reasons, in reverse order, for the hope that is within me.
10. Difference in competition. Competition is at work in both government and private markets, but the competition in markets is more civil and evenhanded. Business competition is similar to golf. Each competitor works to improve his own performance. Political competition—between parties, between candidates for office, and among legislators—is more like basketball. While a competitor works to elevate his own game, participants also attempt to undercut, debilitate, and intimidate opponents. It is common to see political advertising that is hostile, even to the extent of lying about the opponent. Combative ads are the exception in business appeals to consumers.
9. Enterprise expansion. In private markets, a business venture has to be profitable to expand, whereas expansion is “in the DNA” of government ventures and programs. Program beneficiaries and bureaucratic suppliers work in collaboration with elected politicians to expand particular government programs. The basic idea is this: If a government program is good, an expanded program would be even better.
Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg is quoted in yesterday’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial on Goldman Sachs:
The most shocking moment in Tuesday’s Senate hearing on Goldman Sachs wasn’t Sen. Carl Levin’s repeated use of the big investment house’s scatological description of its own dubious offerings.
No, it was when one of Goldman’s high cluckety-clucks actually said that it has no ethical responsibility to tell clients that it is betting against the same investments it recommends.
That really is (expletive deleted).
Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute reminded in 2008 that it wasn’t merely loose monetary policy, massive bank overleveraging, the subprime mortgage implosion and government-backed social re-engineering programs that landed the economy in a pickle.
“(I)f the current financial upheaval teaches us anything, it should be how much market capitalism depends upon most people developing and adhering to some rather uncontroversial moral virtues.”
We are learning the hard way that “prudence, temperance, thrift, promise-keeping, honesty and humility — not to mention a willingness not to do to others what we wouldn’t want them to do to us — can’t be optional-extras in communities that value economic freedom,” says Dr. Gregg.
“If markets are going to work and appropriate limits on government power maintained, then society requires reserves of moral capital,” he adds.
It’s clear the financial sector has lots of work to do.
The Gregg quote is drawn from his October 2008 Acton commentary, “No Morality, No Markets.”
Some come like Nicodemus – a religious leader who came to talk to Jesus in private – at night. Many have felt remorseful about what happened on Wall Street and how it has hurt so many people. They describe the behavior in their profession with words such as “greedy,” “risky,” or “reckless.” These business and banking leaders do feel sorry, but repentance means that remorse must be coupled with a change in the behaviors that led to the problems.
The Prophet, who can read their very thoughts (“repentance and accountability were far from their minds”), bids them to change their ways and reminds them about God and Mammon. But it is not so much a conversion of hearts and minds Wallis is asking for, as it is the divine wrath of Washington regulators. His three-point plan (emphasis mine):
First, provide transparency and accountability. Given the human condition and the many temptations of money, we need transparency and accountability in financial markets and instruments, including high-risk and questionable ones such as the now infamous “derivatives.” To protect the common good, we need to enact greater regulation and oversight of all elements of the banking industry.
Second, provide consumer protection. Any pastor can now tell you stories of how parishioners were mistreated, cheated, and damaged by current banking practices. Many clergy strongly favor protecting consumers from predatory financial practices. They want a strong independent Consumer Finance Protection Agency, with jurisdiction and enforcement power over all companies in the financial sector, in order to protect people from fraudulent, misleading, and abusive practices.
Third, limit size and risk, so banks are no longer too big to fail – and are bailed out at public expense. This means setting limits on the size of financial institutions and the risks they can take. Ban bank ownership of private investment funds, and establish an orderly process to dissolve a failing bank, in order to avoid future taxpayer bailouts. Give a stronger voice to shareholders and investors in institutional practices and policies – including determining the executive compensation of companies, and the now infamous bank executive bonuses.
A much more intelligent and balanced analysis of the financial crisis was published yesterday by Russ Roberts, a professor of economics at George Mason University and a scholar at the Mercatus Center. Note the complete lack of cheap moralizing that informs so much of Wallis’ economic “analysis.” This is from the introduction to Roberts’ “Gambling with Other People’s Money”: (more…)
News reports today on the Greek debt crisis are packed with scary terms like “implosion” and “financial doomsday” and “ebola” and “contagion.” The anxiety has ratcheted up considerably this week, and not just for EU heads of state but also for President Obama. He should be worried. As I pointed out in a previous post, “Die Hard — The Welfare State,” the United States awaits its own day of reckoning for the sins of mounting government debt, a bloated public sector and a lack of political will — by both Democrats and Republicans — to come to grips with the problem. The day of reckoning will come. The only question is when. A roundup:
Alexis Papachelas in the Greek daily Kathimerini:
The financial figures are devastating and, even by the most optimistic forecasts, repaying our debt will be extremely hard. The EU and the IMF are willing to lend us money for 2010, but hesitate to make any commitment for the years to come – first because they also have domestic issues and, second, because they fear they may need an additional 450 billion euros for Spain or Portugal. Moreover, Greek politicians have made a very bad impression on them, so they think that even if Greece were to sign an EU-IMF deal, the risks are high. They see no social and political consensus down the road, nor any sign of professionalism or political will among the political elite.
Background on the next Acton Lecture Series event:Join us on Thursday, May 6 to hear Mr. Joseph Morris’ lecture Alinsky for Dummies: His Persistent Influence and Its Meaning for American Society and Politics. Saul Alinsky might be called the “anti-Acton.” As Lord Acton warned that power corrupts, Saul Alinsky — the father of modern “community organizing” — rejoiced that corruption empowers. Decades after Alinsky’s death his ideas and teaching continue to shape the American political and social landscape. Barack Obama’s first job in Chicago was as an “organizer” for an Alinsky group; Hillary Clinton’s undergraduate thesis was written on Alinsky’s precepts; contemporary organizations from the notorious ACORN to the Catholic-Church-supported United for Power and Justice are among Alinsky’s progeny. This lecture will supply an overview of Alinksy’s thinking and show its application in current events. Luncheon participants are encouraged (although certainly not required) to read Alinsky’s short but seminal Rules for Radicals, widely available in inexpensive paperback editions, prior to the lecture. Mr. Joseph A. Morris, a graduate of the college and the law school of the University of Chicago, is a partner in the law firm of Morris & De La Rosa, with offices in Chicago and London, maintaining an active practice in constitutional, business, labor, and international law. He is a member of the bars of the Supreme Court of the United States, the Supreme Court of Illinois, and several other courts. Mr. Morris served under President Reagan as assistant attorney general of the United States [in charge of international affairs and director of the Department of Justice Office of Liaison Services. He has appeared on numerous national and local television and radio programs. He has served as an American delegate to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. A leader in B’nai B’rith, he is also a member of the advisory board of Catholic Citizens of Illinois.
The lecture will take place at the Waters Building in Downtown Grand Rapids [map it]. Tickets are $15 for regular admission and $5 for students. To register, visit the Acton Lecture Series page or e-mail Melissa Burkholder at firstname.lastname@example.org
Join us on Tuesday, April 27, at Derby Station in Grand Rapids as we continue our Acton on Tap series, a casual and fun night out to discuss important and timely ideas with friends. This time around, Jordan Ballor & Ray Nothstine will host our discussion and friendly debate on the question, “Are Tea Parties good for America?” Our casual start time is 6pm; The discussion starts at 6:30.
Derby Station [view map]
2237 Wealthy St. SE, East Grand Rapids 49506
Find the event on Facebook.
I know I am a little late on this post, but…
This year marks the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, but if we want to understand its origins, one of the best sources is Alexis de Tocqueville’s master work, Democracy in America and his chapter on Democracy and Pantheism. It’s short, but to the point. It’s also Tocqueville so read it carefully.
I found an online version at the University of Virginia’s website. You can read the chapter and the whole book here or get Harvey Mansfield’s translation or the edition translated by George Lawrence and edited by J.P. Mayer.
It cannot be denied that pantheism has made great progress in our age. The writings of a part of Europe bear visible marks of it:…This appears to me not to proceed only from an accidental, but from a permanent cause.
When the conditions of society are becoming more equal and each individual man becomes more like all the rest, more weak and insignificant, a habit grows up of ceasing to notice the citizens and considering only the people, of overlooking individuals to think only of their kind. At such times the human mind seeks to embrace a multitude of different objects at once, and it constantly strives to connect a variety of consequences with a single cause. The idea of unity so possesses man and is sought by him so generally that if he thinks he has found it, he readily yields himself to repose in that belief. Not content with the discovery that there is nothing in the world but a creation and a Creator, he is still embarrassed by this primary division of things and seeks to expand and simplify his conception by including God and the universe in one great whole.
If there is a philosophical system which teaches that all things material and immaterial, visible and invisible, which the world contains are to be considered only as the several parts of an immense Being, who alone remains eternal amidst the continual change and ceaseless transformation of all that constitutes him, we may readily infer that such a system, although it destroy the individuality of man, or rather because it destroys that individuality, will have secret charms for men living in democracies. All their habits of thought prepare them to conceive it and predispose them to adopt it. It naturally attracts and fixes their imagination; it fosters the pride while it soothes the indolence of their minds.
And then at the end the chapter–Tocqueville makes a passionate call against it. He writes
Among the different systems by whose aid philosophy endeavors to explain the universe I believe pantheism to be one of those most fitted to seduce the human mind in democratic times. Against it all who abide in their attachment to the true greatness of man should combine and struggle.
There is nothing more to add. Hope you had a happy earth day
… Christians are rightly concerned that extremists have turned Earth Day into “Worship-Earth Day.”
Just listen to a few of these suggestions for Earth Day 2010 that some of the more radical groups are proposing: taking down “global eco-criminals” like Exxon-Mobil; having school kids meditate about the Spirit of Life (that’s “Spirit of Life” with capital letters); seeking international cooperation on reducing the human population; or working for, and I quote, the “ultimate, inevitable, and necessary dismantling of industrial civilization.”We Christians certainly do not want to be yoked with new agers, neo-pagans, or folks who just downright hate humanity. But there’s no reason for us to surrender creation care to them, either.
Our faith, our Christians worldview, tells us that the earth is good precisely because God created it and declared it good. It is worthy of our care, and indeed, we were commanded to tend it. Wasteful and immoderate use of natural resources is not a Christian virtue.
Colson also highly recommends the Acton Institute book, “Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition.” Get it from the Acton Bookshoppe.
Some Earth Day thoughts, beginning with some reflections on the month of April by two great poets, over at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
Prior to the inaugural Earth Day in 1970, we witnessed environmental catastrophes of nearly Biblical or World War proportions. Rivers caught on fire, whole species were on the brink of extinction and smog enveloped our cities. One could say a new breed of Man evolved from this morass, emboldened with the conservative spirit of preservation of our environment. It didn’t matter that many environmentalists considered themselves anything but conservative, because what was most important was their dedication to conserving and nurturing those aspects of life that bring immediate aesthetic, spiritual and corporeal value to our lives – namely clean water and air flowing through and over landscapes uncluttered by signifiers of human immoderation. Chaucer’s recognition of “aprill” as immediately realized rather than Eliot’s hope of April as a harbinger of rebirth.
Read “Earth Day 2010: Michigan’s Environment as Eden or Waste Land?” on the Mackinac Center site.