Category: News and Events

The National Catholic Register’s Tom McFeely interviewed Sam Gregg, director of research at Acton, about President Barack Obama’s $75-billion plan to help mortgage holders at risk of default.

McFeely: What is your overall assessment of President Obama’s mortgage relief plan? Is it likely to work?

Sam Gregg: Without question, thousands are suffering as mortgage defaults rise across America. Their plight should not be trivialized. That said, I am deeply skeptical of the mortgage relief plan. I believe that it will be counterproductive and only harm those that it is intended to help.

First, we know that something like 55% of people who have defaulted on their mortgage and received a temporary reprieve typically re-default within six months. In short, this plan is likely to encourage people to stay in painful situations instead of moving on with their lives, rebuilding their credit, and investing their talent, time and energy in more productive activities.

Secondly, the plan will encourage some to stay attached to mortgages that are worth far more than the real value of the actual properties. Frankly, foreclosure or individuals renegotiating their mortgages with their banks would be better, and allow for a faster recovery of the housing market, which is truly in the interests of the common good.

Read “The Morality of Mortgage Relief” on the NCR site.

Thanks to Clear Channel Radio, I was able to attend Dave Ramsey’s event in Grand Rapids last night. I used to listen to Ramsey on the radio quite a bit as a seminary student in Kentucky and I was always impressed by how much he was inspiring American families to live within their means and become better financial stewards of their resources and income. His own personal faith testimony is very real and inspiring and that brings me to another point concerning his presentation last night.

Last month, Acton’s director of communications, John Couretas, wrote a commentary titled “Obama and the Moral Imagination,” where he asked “If religious conservatives and free market advocates are to oppose Obama on those issues where there is fundamental disagreement, they will have to craft their own counter-narrative to ‘change the trajectory.’ No small task.”

One of my immediate impressions about Ramsey is his mastery of the narrative style of teaching and motivating. He effectively uses his own personal testimony to motivate people. By using his story in the fashion that he does, he disarms possible objections to his teachings and allows attendees to embrace and connect their story to Ramsey’s story. And I mean, not only his financial story, but also his own faith story as well. I would also add that his humor is far wittier and funnier perhaps than any stand up comedy I have ever heard.

How does this then relate to fiscal conservatism and the importance of free markets? Several times last night Ramsey stressed this by saying that “you are not going to spend like Congress anymore.” He uses the story and behavior of Congress to powerfully contrast that with a new found ability of a person to budget, save, and invest. Ramsey even expressed his strong desire to see Congress overturned. He expressed confidence in the long term benefits of the market, while simultaneously denouncing the stimulus bill. Here is a you tube clip of Ramsey on his radio show railing against what he calls the “spending bill.” Ramsey made a good point I stressed last week on a radio appearance of my own, and that is this: “When America is more financially responsible, they will demand more financial responsibility from their leaders.”

The entire event is a creative introduction to his financial teachings, what he calls the seven baby steps to get your financial future on track. He ended the event by sharing more about his relationship with God, and stressing that it is relationship with God that matters most, and it is the greatest life changing principle he teaches.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Friday, February 13, 2009

Washington is all atwitter about the “Stimulus,” which is currently being pushed through Congress (without being read by most members). Acton’s own Michelle Muccio has come up with a plan of her own, and did a bit of independent research to see if her proposal would find any support:

Mark Tooley calls out “emerging church maestro” Brian Mclaren in a piece today in The American Spectator titled “A Real ‘Economic’ Recovery.” I was introduced to Brian McLaren in seminary when new students were required to read his books in introductory classes. Unfortunately, I was one of only a handful not impressed. He also lectured in person to a class I took, but honestly I don’t remember much about the lecture, except conservatives were generally denounced and “big oil” was of course bad.

I can also relate to the beginning of Tooley’s piece where he highlights some of the stereotypes heaped upon religious conservatives. A few years ago, I attended a religious left conference as a reporter for Tooley’s Institute on Religion and Democracy in Cambridge, Mass. At the conference, one of the participants accused the Bush administration and a collection of evangelicals at the Pentagon of using the book of Revelation as a blueprint for implementing official U.S. foreign policy. It was bizarre to say the least, and the lady making this accusation was actually mildly rebuked by a somewhat more rational professor from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Back to McLaren. Tooley responds to McLaren’s idea of an economic recovery with wit and humor, all along making serious points. Tooley concludes the piece by noting:

McLaren is hoping to “sabotage” these addictions to “stuff” by redefining “recovery” to mean waking up from a drug-induced “comfortable, dreamy, half-awareness” into a new world of solar panels and Fair Trade coffee. But this post-industrial fantasy is itself hallucinatory, portraying the Religious Left as even loopier and more archaic than the worst stereotypes about the Religious Right.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, February 12, 2009

In my Winter 2007 article on economic globalization for AGAIN Magazine, I quoted economist Wilhelm Roepke. (AGAIN is published by Conciliar Media Ministries, a department of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church of North America). Roepke:

Economically ignorant moralism is as objectionable as morally callous economism. Ethics and economics are two equally difficult subjects, and while the former needs discerning and expert reason, the latter cannot do without humane values.

In light of all that has happened with the U.S. economic meltdown in the last few months, I continue to subscribe to the following statement from the same article:

… there is no real understanding of “social justice” without an understanding of basic economic principles. These principles explain how Orthodox Christians work, earn, invest, and give to philanthropic causes in a market-oriented economy. Economic questions are at the root of many of the problems that on their face seem to be more about something else — poverty, immigration, the environment, technology, politics, humanitarian assistance.

I remain a convinced believer in the market economy, which is a different thing than saying that I believe in the “free market” (a misnomer for industrialized economies that have always been subject to heavy regulation) or laissez faire economics (not a good idea and, again, a term that refers to something that doesn’t exist).

The climate of fear and panic that has been raised first by the Bush administration and now President Obama (we’re in a “crisis that could become a catastrophe” he claims) should have us all screaming not “help!” but “stop!” The alarm we raise should be about the fantastic expansion of government control — in some cases outright nationalization — over what was one of the freer markets in the world. And let’s recall that most Orthodox Christian immigrants came to this country for economic opportunity — in many cases a chance to put their entrepreneurial gifts to work in a growing and prosperous country. How much opportunity will be left once Washington gets finished with its top down central planning project? If this current crisis has taught us anything, it is the importance of economic growth and sustaining that growth in a humane way over the long haul.

So, I go back to Roepke for guidance on what’s being proposed in Washington. In particular, I turn to his 1957 book, “A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of a Free Market” (ISI, 1998). Page numbers in brackets:

On the necessity for economic liberty [104]: “Since liberty was indivisible, we could not have political and spiritual liberty without also choosing liberty in the economic field and rejecting the necessarily unfree collectivist economic order; conversely, we had to be clear in our minds that a collectivist economic order meant the destruction of political and spiritual liberty. Therefore, the economy was the front line of the defense of liberty and of all its consequences for the moral and humane pattern of our civilization.” (more…)

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Thursday, February 12, 2009

William F. Buckley, 1956:

[I'd] sooner be governed by the first two thousand people in the Boston telephone directory than by the two thousand members of the faculty of Harvard University.

Rassmussen poll results, 2009:

Forty-four percent (44%) voters also think a group of people selected at random from the phone book would do a better job addressing the nation’s problems than the current Congress, but 37% disagree. Twenty percent (20%) are undecided.

In a Forbes blog post titled “Failure of Morality, Not Capitalism,” Rich Kaarlgard counters the critics of supply-side capitalism by pointing to an absence of morality. Kaarlgard declares:

Many people do blame capitalism for bringing us to this low moment in the economy. Do they have a point?

They do if capitalism, as they define it, is devoid of any underlying morality. True enough, it is hard to see any underlying morality when one surveys the present carnage caused by liar loans, shady banks, duplicitous politicians, Ponzi schemers and regulators angling for Wall Street jobs.

Kaarlgard concludes by noting the importance of returning to a free enterprise system with a moral framework, saying, “Every alternative you can imagine is much worse.” He also offers a video version of the post.

“Government budgets are moral documents,” is the often quoted line from Jim Wallis of Sojourners and other religious left leaders. Wallis also adds that “When politicians present their budgets, they are really presenting their priorities.” There is perhaps no better example of a spending bill lacking moral soundness than the current stimulus package being debated in the U.S. Senate.

In my commentary this week, “The Moral Bankruptcy Behind the Bailouts,” I offer clear reasons how spending more does not equate to morality, but quite the opposite in this case.

In fact, among many believers it seems that Christian thrift is lost as a value altogether. We forget how important financial responsibility and thrift was to the entire Christian tradition as important evidence of outward faith and devotion. Jordan Ballor offers some great words in his own commentary last year titled “The Fourth Pillar of the New Economy: Spend all you can:”

The eighteenth-century theologian and pastor John Wesley once preached that we should “earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” Productivity, frugality, and generosity are the core moral virtues that have animated prosperous and free economies in the West for centuries. But now the federal government seemingly wants to add a fourth and conflicting principle to these traditional values: “Spend all you can.”

As for Jim Wallis, not surprisingly he enthusiastically supports the stimulus package, and because of the enormous stakes involved for future generations, this shows a lack of moral judgment and courage on his part. It may also be that Wallis is hesitant to pull his support for this $1 trillion spending bill because he is afraid to go against a President that reminds him of the Prophet Nehemiah.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Here are some excerpted quotes from the text of President Obama’s Inaugural address that are relevant to the themes of this blog. Some are already beginning the parsing of these words:

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act – not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions – who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them – that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control – and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Blog author: jwitt
posted by on Friday, January 16, 2009

Eleven times since President Bill Clinton began the practice in 1994, the U.S. President has declared Religious Freedom Day on Jan. 16, calling on Americans to “observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools, and places of worship.” President Bush has done the same this year. The day is the anniversary of the 1786 Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, a work that built upon an earlier Virginia document, the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776. There American founder George Mason summarized the logic of religious freedom perhaps as well as any could: “Religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.”

On Jan. 15 I phoned my parents, who live in the Texas Panhandle. I was calling to tell my Dad I had registered my kids for the youth camp he’d founded more than fifty years ago. He was pleased, but also uncharacteristically subdued. Something was wrong.

It took a while to understand what had happened. First Dad mentioned Opal, a woman who had lived across the street for 40 years, a kind of third grandmother to my brother and sisters and me. Opal died a couple of years ago, and eventually the house was sold to a family of Iranian immigrants, the husband in his mid-forties, a beautiful wife a bit younger, and several teenaged children.

By nature as well as upbringing, my parents are throwbacks to a time when people knew their neighbors. They’d welcome anyone who moved onto their street, and of course anyone living in Opal’s house merited special attention.

So they made a point of saying hello, of being friendly. Language was something of a barrier, for the family’s first language was Farsi, but my father managed to make conversation and, devoted bird hunter that he was, it wasn’t long before he discovered that the man also was a devoted hunter. In Iran, he explained, he could hunt all over, everywhere. Here it was less clear where he could and couldn’t hunt.

Well, my father had the solution to that problem. He had been cultivating relationships with farmers and ranchers for more than sixty years. Naturally, my dad soon invited his new neighbor pheasant hunting. A few days later, in grateful return, the Iranian family invited him and my mom over for dinner. Come at six o’clock on Saturday night, they said. They would serve pheasant and duck. (more…)