Category: News and Events

In this week’s Birth of Freedom short video Sam Gregg, author of On Ordered Liberty, discusses the views that two influential ancient philosophers held regarding human equality and the practice of slavery.


If you haven’t seen the other 7 video shorts, you can check out the rest of the series, learn about premieres in your area, and discover more background information at www.thebirthoffreedom.com.

A 2001 radio interview of Barack Obama surfaced yesterday in which he said that “one of the tragedies of the Civil Rights movement,” and one of the limitations of the Warren Supreme Court, was that although they won such formal rights as the right to vote and “sit at the lunch counter and order,” they “never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth.”

A caller to the station, WBEZ Chicago 91.5 FM, then asks if the courts are “the appropriate place for reparative economic work to take place.” Obama responds that “you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally,” but a more effective approach is “the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributed change.”

Does the radio interview demonstrate that Obama harbors radical views? Does it suggest that the black liberation theology of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, plays a bigger role in Obama’s thinking than he claims? Should black Americans get substantial monetary payments from other Americans as repayment for slavery and racism? If these are the primary questions swirling around this radio interview in the coming days, an important question may go begging: Would reparations specifically, and wealth redistribution generally, actually help poor black Americans?

In a new Acton video short, “How not to Help the Poor,” experts on poverty fighting argue that government wealth redistribution has devastated poor communities.

One of the experts interviewed is Robert Woodson, a former Civil Rights activist and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. “We in Washington today lead the nation in 21 separate categories of poverty expenditures,” he notes. “Explain to me why a child born in Washington D.C. has a life expectancy that’s lower than a child born anywhere in the western hemisphere second only to Haiti. We have the highest per capita expenditure on education and we’re 48th in outcomes for kids.”

Woodson does not find the answer in the history of blacks under slavery but in U.S. social policy after 1960. “The black marriage rate in 1930 to 1940 was higher than in the white community. Eighty-two percent of all black families had a man and a woman raising children. But what happened in 1960 when government intervened with the poverty programs, a major paradigm shift occurred and contributed to the decimation of the family.”

Why do such well-intended programs have such devastating consequences? And what has proven to help lift up the poor? The video short also explores these questions.

An early transcript of the Obama radio interview is available here.

Lawrence J. McQuillan offers a less than surprising economic assessment for the Golden State in the City Journal, causing people to flee for better opportunities elsewhere. McQuillan states:

California continues to be burdened with high taxes, punitive regulations, huge wealth-transfer programs, out-of-control spending, and lawsuit abuse. And there’s no end in sight to the state’s fiscal madness.

Some entrepreneurial minded residents are finding states like Nevada more hospitable for economic opportunity. Nevada ranks second when it comes to inbound migration. The Pacific Research Institute’s 2008 U.S. Economic Freedom Index ranked Nevada sixth in the country in “economic freedom.” South Dakota secured the top spot for 2008.

The rankings and report PRI has compiled is worth studying. It’s not a bland read either, for example thoughts and quotes concerning the relationship between political and property rights by leaders like James Madison are included.

Undoubtedly the report would be very beneficial for state legislators to use as a tool for serving their constituents. McQuillan also notes in his piece:

Economic freedom—or the lack thereof—affects states in multiple ways. Migration alters the political map through congressional apportionment. Current projections suggest that California’s mass exodus will deprive it of a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2010 census. Economic freedom also impacts pocketbooks. In 2005, per-capita income in the 15 most economically free states grew 31 percent faster than in the 15 states with the lowest levels of economic freedom. Policies friendly to economic freedom help states shore up their finances, too. The 15 freest states saw their general-fund tax revenues grow at a rate more than 6 percent higher than the 15 states with the least economic freedom.

This week’s Birth of Freedom Video Short features Susan Wise Bauer, author of The History of the Ancient World. She addresses the question, “How did Christian slave owners justify slavery?”, describing how slave owners operated under a false (prescriptive instead of descriptive) understanding of the New Testament’s teaching concerning slavery.




Remember, if you haven’t seen the other 7 video shorts, you can check out the rest of the series, learn about premieres in your area, and discover more background information at www.thebirthoffreedom.com.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, October 16, 2008
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While efforts to explain the financial crisis will continue for years (historians are still debating the causes of the Great Depression, eight decades later), it seems certain that its genesis cannot be fully understood without some recourse to the moral dimension of human action in the economy. Acton Institute commentators—Jonathan Witt, David Milroy, Sam Gregg—have already weighed in on the question.

Economists have long deplored the poor savings rate in the United States, arguing that our ever-increasing debt load (national and personal) would eventually come back to haunt us. British intellectual Peter Heslam points out that this problem is essentially moral, a failure to value the traditional virtue of thrift.

He writes:

Hebrew and Christian scriptures support a theology of thrift. Literally, thrift means ‘prosperity’ or ‘well-being’, meanings encompassed in the Hebrew notion of shalom, which is central to the biblical theme of redemption. True, Jesus warned against laying up treasure on earth. But his warning is against greed and miserliness, which undermine thrift.

The only puzzling note Heslam hits is his final exhortation for government to push the sale of bonds. Granted that treasury bonds represent savings on the part of their buyers and granted that this is a better use of income than gambling, the other side of the coin is that bonds represent government borrowing from its people—not a good strategy for decreasing national indebtedness.

Better to put the money into stocks, corporate bonds, even passbook savings and certificates of deposit. This kind of saving is investment, the lifeblood of the market economy.

(The point here dovetails with Jordan Ballor’s endorsement of stewardship, posted as I typed this.)

In the wake of the global financial crisis, stories from the pundit class and blogosphere abound proclaiming the imminent death of the conservative movement. This is part of a longer and broader discussion with roots in the post-Reagan era of American politics. (As you’ll see in my comments below, I’m not so inclined to think that a move toward particular kinds of populism is necessarily a move away from conservatism.)

Writing in the American Conservative earlier this month, Claes G. Ryn argues that our recognition of the corrupting nature of power shouldn’t make us abdicate all forms of government and authority:

Without some people governing others, basic social order could not exist, to say nothing of effecting desirable change. The prejudice against power-seeking has left politics too much to people with the wrong kind of ambition, most of whom desire power as an end in itself. Yet wanting power need not be immoral. Pursuing it can be a means to good.

Ryn is professor of politics at the Catholic University of America and chairman of the National Humanities Institute. He notes, in agreement with the older liberal tradition, that,

the old American constitutionalism is inseparable from the moral-spiritual culture that gave it birth. Limited government and liberty were made possible by people who, because of who they were, put checks on their appetites, ran their own lives and communities, and generally behaved in ways conducive to freedom under law. Restoring American constitutionalism would presuppose some kind of resurgence of that old culture. Americans would have to rearrange their priorities and start acting differently, placing more emphasis on family, private groups, and local communities. They would have to want to take back much of the power ceded to politicians far away. Is that likely to happen? If not, the Constitution may not be salvageable.

Ryn discusses what he calls the “coup from within,” where under the guise of conservatism, “People of great ambition who want to exercise the power being abdicated by Americans are trying to make us accept and even welcome the final disappearance of constitutionalism and its culture of modesty and self-restraint.”

I’m not as pessimistic as Ryn about the seemingly inevitable outcome of the crisis and the government interventions and consolidations of power, at least in the economic sphere. He says of those perpetrating the coup, “Their response to the crisis, which they have aggravated, will hasten the crumbling of the American constitutional order. Their prescriptions contain the outlines of tyranny.” He may well be right about that, and Ryn’s concerns shouldn’t be limited to the American scene but apply to the international scene as well. As John Witherspoon said, “A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue.”

But despite all this, common sense folk are realizing again that virtues like frugality, thrift, and self-discipline are necessary parts of a broader view of stewardship. This is in part why the bailout has had difficulty finding any serious measure of popular support…it is a plan that is counter-intuitive on so many levels, and despite the media’s best efforts to sell the bi-partisan scheme, the American citizen isn’t convinced. In fact, the concept of stewardship is a pretty good model for Ryn’s view of the appropriate pursuit of power.

It is certainly an uphill battle to practice traditional virtues against a government and a culture that tells us to spend all we can on credit. We have just about maxed out the credit borrowed from the moral and cultural capital of previous generations. In response to those pushing the expansion of federal and executive power, it’s time to, as Ryn says, “expose their false solutions to what are real problems and to explore by what measures the best of our civilization might, despite daunting odds, be given a new lease on life.”

The impending death of conservatism might just be the kind of big-government conservatism that is virtually indistinguishable from big-government liberalism on the scope and size of the government. If that’s the case, then let us celebrate: “Conservatism is dead. Long live conservatism.”

Acton Media’s seventh Birth of Freedom short features Rodney Stark, author of The Victory of Reason. In the video, he discusses the question “Why didn’t China have an industrial revolution before the west?” Although evidence points to the beginnings of an agricultural and industrial revolution in the 10th century, the lack of protection for private property has been a disincentive for innovation and hard work.

Acton Media’s video shorts from The Birth of Freedom are designed to provide additional insight into key issues and ideas in the film. A new short is released each Monday. Check out the rest of the series, learn about premieres in your area, and discover more background information at www.thebirthoffreedom.com.

Paola Fantini has expanded her blog post on Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s new work on Catholic social doctrine into a book review for the forthcoming Religion & Liberty quarterly published by the Acton Institute. She has also translated the prologue to the book by Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill. These articles are, to my knowledge, the first to translate anything from Cardinal Bertone’s “The Ethics of the Common Good in Catholic Social Doctrine” (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2008) into English. The Italian title is “L’etica del Bene Comune nella Dottrina Sociale della Chiesa.”

In her review, Fantini writes:

Not surprisingly, both Kirill and Bertone agree that a morally-orientated economy is a fundamental aspect for the development of a harmonious society, and both affirm that such a society should tend naturally to the common good when human activity is inspired by the principle of “fraternity.”

For Kirill, fraternity is primarily based on national identity and national growth; he often recalls the duty of serving the nation. At the conclusion of his prologue, he writes, “For us, the principal meaning of our work must be to serve God, our neighbour and the Patria [nation], through the creation of material and spiritual goods fundamental for a worthy life.”

Bertone, by contrast, stresses more universal, “transnational” aspects and never uses the nation-state as a center of focus. Recalling Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus caritas est, Bertone even criticizes the nation-state for crowding out charity with social spending. “The State, presupposing a [strong sense of] solidarity among citizens to realize their rights, makes social spending obligatory. In this way, the State compromises the principle of gratuitousness, denying space to principles other than solidarity.”

In the prologue to the book, Metropolitan Kirill is harshly critical of economic globalization which does not meet the demands of “efficiency and justice.”

History demonstrates that only the aspiration to an ultimate good, the ability to sacrifice material goods in favor of heavenly ones, the ability to pursue duties of a higher order, render society vital and give meaning to the life of every single person. The states and peoples that have negated the value of spiritual life have disappeared from the scene of history. For this reason it is very important, when one speaks of the economy and the growth of well-being, never to forget their ultimate end: to serve the material and spiritual common good, not to hinder but favor man’s salvation.

Read Fantini’s new review here. Read Metropolitan Kirill’s prologue here.

Dirt… we sweep our floors, wipe our shoes, and wash our clothes to get rid of it. But how often do we stop and reflect upon the very fact that without soil life would not be possible?

This November, the popular RBC television program Day of Discovery will launch a three-part series titled “The Wonder of Creation: Soil.”

Acton Institute research fellow Jay W. Richards will be featured as a guest expert in the series. It will air on Ion TV the following days:

The Wonder of Creation—Soil: Foundation of Life, Part I
November 9, 2008 at 7:30 AM

The Wonder of Creation—Soil: Sustainer of Life, Part II
November 16, 2008 at 7:30 AM

The Wonder of Creation—Soil: The Work of Life, Part III
November 23, 2008 at 7:30 AM

Jay W. Richards, Research Fellow and Director of Acton Media, was interviewed for a story in the Grand Rapids Press on the topic of religious and nonreligious views.

The article, written in light of outspoken atheist Bill Maher’s new movie, looks at differing views of people such as Christopher Hitchens and John Ortberg.

Jay Richards debated Christopher Hitchens at Stanford University last January on the topic of atheism vs. theism. Throughout the debate Hitchens grew increasingly angry and by the debate’s end, he had actually turned his back to Richards. “It’s clear he’s (ticked) off at God,” Richards said.