Category: News and Events

In the wake of Joseph Lawler’s piece on George Mason economists evaluating conservative magazines’ affinity for liberty on the basis of their treatment of sex, gambling, and drugs, Princeton’s Robert George is the perfect antidote. He could have reminded the measurers of liberty that those who favor laissez faire with regard to vice are often much less friendly to consensual acts of capitalism between adults. It’s a point he made in his seminal book Making Men Moral.

I’m currently attending a Union University conference honoring the work of Robert P. George. If conservatives are to have a chance of winning the argument over the proper balance of liberty and virtue, they could do no better than to look to Professor George as an example. As Russell Moore reminded the audience this evening, Robert George has never imitated the tendencies of many conservative and/or Christian academics to make themselves or their work more palatable to the ambient culture. Instead, he has unapologetically argued for a robust conception of the natural law and has mentored many academics to follow in his footsteps.

sanford-blog In the next issue of Religion & Liberty, we are featuring an interview with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. Sanford has made national headlines for his principled opposition to all bailout and stimulus legislation coming out of Washington.

He was elected South Carolina’s governor in 2002 and re-elected in 2006, becoming only the third two-term governor in modern state history. In 2008, Sanford was also named Chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Before becoming governor, Sanford served six years in the U.S. Congress after his election in 1994. For his consistent efforts to lower taxes and limit government growth he was ranked #1 in the entire Congress by Citizens Against Government Waste. He was rated similarly by the National Taxpayers’ Union, and Taxpayers for Common Sense inducted him into the Taxpayers Hall of Fame.

We would like to offer our PowerBlog readers an exclusive preview of the interview (the full interview will be available soon in the pages of Religion & Liberty):

You’ve taken a very principled approach in working for smaller government, lower taxes, individual liberty and fostering a culture of personal responsibility. Those principles are taking a battering in Washington today. Can anything turn the tide?

George Washington and his fairly battered band of patriots were facing far greater odds. The situation looked much more bleak. And yet they were resolved to creating the perfect union that they believed in. And they ultimately prevailed against incredibly long odds. So I think the answer rests in that silent and sleeping majority. Really making their voice heard. Not just for an election or election cycle but on a prolonged basis. And that’s what it will take to turn the tide. Really, that is the only thing that can turn the tide. However, if the status quo remains, we’re going to have profound problems coming our way that I think signal frankly the undoing of our Republic.

A lot of state governors are lining up for federal bailout money. Won’t this simply postpone the day of reckoning that some states need to face because of their own policies?

The answer is yes. That which is unsustainable is going to end. And so for instance California government grew by 95-percent over the last ten years. Federal government grew by about 73 percent. So you have state government that has grown at an even faster rate than the federal government. You have a state government that has gone out and issued long-term debt to cover the actual operations of government over the last couple years. It’s not sustainable. The idea is that you can just throw some federal money in to that unsustainable mix. But all you do is delay big structural reforms that are absolutely essential to California, for instance, being on firm financial footing. And this notion of mandating over a bad situation ultimately generally makes the situation worse. So, yeah, I do think it postpones the day of reckoning. And frankly makes the day of reckoning worse.

The line of business people asking for government bailout help seems to get longer by the day, how can you say no when jobs may be on the line?

The role of government is to promote, in my view, individual freedom. In other words, we have a governmental apparatus that is legitimate in nature in as much as it is to maximize one’s individual freedom. There are other folks who believe in the idea of a nanny state, and believe government is there to take care of your different needs, cradle-to-grave, chief among them being employment. Rather, government is there to create a foundation by which private sector can grow and create employment opportunities. Its job is not to create employment itself as I see it. And so I would say, yes, they’re lining up. There’s an article in today’s paper about car rental companies now lining up for a piece of the bailout funding. There was another article I saw where credit unions were getting money they’ve never gotten before. So, yes, there’s going to be an endless list. And it is again going to get to the point of the absurd before this thing is over and done. And the fact that the list is growing longer shows the fallacy it is to think that government can change economic laws.

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
Friday, February 13, 2009
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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
Thursday, February 12, 2009
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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
Thursday, February 12, 2009
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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.