Category: News and Events

“You are a slow learner, Winston.”
“How can I help it? How can I help but see what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”
“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.” – George Orwell, 1984

In a calculation that surely qualifies as “new math,” the government has created an equation in which $29,000 is equal to $69,000. Within the current welfare structure a single mother is better off making $29,000 per year in income and subsequent welfare benefits, than she is making $69,000 per year in income alone. This perverse incentive is what perpetuates the cycle of poverty and condemns impoverished moms to dependence on a paternalistic state. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and SNAP (food stamps) are all larger than ever before with no subsequent reversal in the level or scope of poverty.

The “Welfare Cliff,” an economic model developed by Gary Alexander, the Secretary of Public Welfare in Pennsylvania, shows the amount of net income a person would need to receive in order to match their current net income plus welfare benefits. This is called a cliff, as there are drastic drop-offs in welfare benefits as one increases their income. In this graph, “the single mom is better off earning gross income of $29,000 with $57,327 in net income and benefits than to earn gross income of $69,000 with net income & benefits of $57,045.” In fact, if a single mother were to raise her income from $29,000 to just $30,000, she would lose nearly $10,000 in welfare benefits per year.

The incentives provided under this system replace the desire for individual development with the maintenance of the status quo.  A single mother is highly unlikely to spend the time, effort, or capital in order to gain skills that result in receiving a lower disposable income. (more…)

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Wednesday, July 23, 2014

john-blundellThe Acton Institute lost a dear friend this week. Historian John Blundell passed away on Tuesday. According to the Atlas Network (where Blundell had served as past president and board member), he will be remembered for his writing.

[Blundell] followed his own Margaret Thatcher: A Portrait of the Iron Lady (2008) with an edited collection, Remembering Margaret Thatcher: Commemorations, Tributes and Assessments (2013). He wrote Ladies For Liberty: Women Who Made a Difference in American History (2nd expanded edition 2013) to also showcase American women that contributed to individual freedom.

One of his greatest written contributions is a slender volume, Waging the War of Ideas (most recently published in 2007 in its third expanded edition), that has served as a primer for audiences around the world looking for cost-effective ways to affect social change in the direction of greater liberty.

Mr. Blundell shared his intellectual work and wit with the Acton Institute. Most recently, he spoke at a 2013 Acton Lecture Series on “Ladies For Liberty.” He is survived by his wife Christine and two sons. The Acton Institute has been asked to organize Mr. Blundell’s public memorial; details will be forthcoming.

 

Blog author: etrancik
posted by on Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Detroit WaterAs I was poring over the morning news the other day, it seemed to me that every few days there is another water crisis somewhere; whether it’s California’s drought, or more recently the controversial decision in which the Detroit water companies shut off the water supply to over 15,000 customers. But are we really looking at water regulation, appropriation, and the morality of shutting water off in the correct light?

Let’s start with some of the basics: Water is essential for survival. Water needs to be purified. But, how is this done? In most cities water companies or public utilities offer the service of collecting the water, filtering the water, and pumping it to our homes. How should a service like this be supported in a market? It should be supported by rewarding the provider of that service with a profit, so that they have an incentive to efficiently use their resources, and make it available to the widest range of people possible. To not pay, would be stealing from the water companies. (more…)

Uwe Siemon-Netto during the Battle of Huế (1968).

Uwe Siemon-Netto during the Battle of Huế (1968).

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon and the end of America’s involvement in Vietnam. Uwe Siemon-Netto, a German, and former journalist for United Press International, covered much of the conflict in Vietnam. He has a new and excellent book titled, Triumph of the Absurd: A Reporter’s Love for the Abandoned People of Vietnam. Siemon-Netto is a Lutheran theologian and his extensive background in journalism and theology gives him tremendous credibility in discussing today’s media and culture, a big part of this R&L interview. I admire him for the relative ease in which he stands for truth, and in my opinion I believe students of Luther’s teachings will see a lot of Luther’s best qualities in Siemon-Netto.

David Urban, an English professor at Calvin College, authored a piece on John Milton, liberty, and virtue for Religion & Liberty. It was of course Milton who stressed the notion that true liberty stems “from real virtue.” A longer version of this article appears in the Journal of Markets & Morality.

Mark S. Latkovic reviews The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead by Charles Murray and Matthea Brandenburg reviews The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty by Nina Munk. The book by Munk, which has received considerable attention, is a thorough examination of the problems with aid and high minded theories for ending poverty in Africa. Writing in Barron’s, William Easterly titled his review “The Arrogance of Good Intentions.”

The “In the Liberal Tradition” figure is Lebanese diplomat Charles Malik [1906-1986]. Malik drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and served as the president of the thirteenth session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Rev. Robert Sirico offers us his thoughts on the need to lighten our burdens and Kris Mauren, our executive director, gives us an update on the Acton capital campaign.

max_600_400_democracy-allianceWhen it comes to political and lobbying spending, it’s a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world, to quote the Kinks’ Ray Davies. Leftist organizations such as the Center for Political Accountability, the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, and As You Sow seemingly check the closets and under the beds each night to ensure corporations aren’t exercising their First Amendment rights to freely engage in the political process. These shareholder activist groups work together and individually to stifle corporate speech by submitting proxy resolutions to companies in which they invest. These resolutions request companies to publicly divulge spending on lobbying and political campaigns as well as corporate contributions to such nonprofit advocacy groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But when it comes to progressive billionaires contributing to liberal causes and candidates, CPA, AYS and ICCR are conspicuously silent. What’s the deal?

As noted by CPA’s Bruce Freed on the AYS website:

‘Dark money’ spending by third-party political organizations poses an even more serious risk to companies as they face growing pressures to contribute. To address the threat, the Center for Political Accountability (CPA) and its shareholder partners will be filing resolutions at more than 50 companies in the 11th year of CPA’s advocacy and engagement effort. (more…)

pied piperIn a scathing report in The Washington Post, reporters David Nakamura, Jerry Markon and Manuel Roig-Franzia detail how the current border crisis involving a surge of children from Mexico and Central America was predicted by several human rights organizations and that the Obama administration failed to act, thus creating not only the increase in children illegally crossing the border, but also the desperate conditions the children have had to endure.

In 2013, the University of Texas at El Paso issued a 41-page report that “raised alarms about the federal government’s capacity to manage a situation that was expected to grow worse.” The Post article goes on to say,

The researchers’ observations were among the warning signs conveyed to the Obama administration over the past two years as a surge of Central American minors has crossed into south Texas illegally. More than 57,000 have entered the United States this year, swamping federal resources and catching the government unprepared.

The administration did too little to heed those warnings, according to interviews with former government officials, outside experts and immigrant advocates, leading to an inadequate response that contributed to this summer’s escalating crisis.

(more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, July 18, 2014

The Transom links today to a piece about how Proctor & Gamble is ramping up product lines aimed at older adults. “The flip side of the low birthrate is we’re all living longer,” said corporate exec Tom Falk.

In fact, the global trend over the last two hundred years has been toward longer lives and fewer babies. This trend really gathered momentum in just the last half-century or so. Consider this short video I put together for a talk at last month’s Acton University.

The two axes correspond to fertility (horizontal) and life expectancy (vertical). So in the bottom right we are having more children and shorter lives, while in the upper left we are having fewer children and living longer. Each of the countries in the world is represented by a circle, whose size is determined by size of population. Each region is also color coded.

What you’ll see as we move forward through the last two centuries is a gradual shift toward the upper left, which turns into a rush after about 1950. There are a few lagging countries in Africa, which still are moving toward the upper left, just a bit more slowly. Watch it again, and note the brief drops in life expectancy corresponding to each of the twentieth-century world wars.

Where we start in 1800 was just about where humans have been for recorded history: short lives and lots of kids. Now within the last 50 years we’ve seen a monumental shift that really is unprecedented on a global scale. Think for a few minutes about the complex causes of this shift and the massive changes in social, political, and economic dynamics that undergird it and also flow out of it.

We really have never seen its like before.

Blog author: jderks
posted by on Friday, July 18, 2014

I recently detailed the relationship between stewardship and the use of one’s God given gifts through vocational jobs as a path toward human flourishing. Much like vocational work’s hands on occupations, are artisanal jobs, which are on the rise in America. These positions are developed by the individual as a creative outlet to provide a good or a service not in the market. They do not require formal training, but education is important as a foundation for inspired enrichment. The artisan economy exemplifies how a private enterprise embodying God given gifts can serve the desires and needs of others.

Father Robert Sirico discusses the role of creative entrepreneurship as an individual’s means toward becoming a faithful servant:

In the process, he employs the labor of others, giving them a meaningful means to support their families. And in the end he has created wealth and prosperity that had not existed before. All this comes to be through his faithful service. If the entrepreneur profits thought[sic] the application of his gifts and the assumption of great risks, they are profits well-deserved.

PBS NewsHour recently profiled artisans who have utilized their education to creatively develop solutions to public problems, such as health care. Today, America faces an aging population, and according to Lawrence Katz, health care work has developed into a “minimum wage job where people are effectively babysitting and not really learning, and the elderly are pretty much checked out and sedated in some cases.” (more…)

Recently, the World Bank agreed to partner with Nicaragua to give the country 69 million U.S. dollars in aid. This poses the immediate question of whether or not this aid will be effective in producing its stated goal of decreasing poverty and increasing economic productivity. Should the World Bank continue to give money to the government of Nicaragua, which – especially of late – has been showing a decrease in political stability and democratic processes? History shows that international loans provide little help when countries suffer from decreases in stability and equality within their system.

The World Bank justifies the money that Nicaragua receives: “Nicaragua has achieved a real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 5 percent in 2012 and 4.6 percent in 2013, returning to pre-crisis growth levels.” GDP, however, does not paint a complete picture of the country’s performance. Most of the wealth within Nicaragua is located among the upper class, making the GDP less accurate for the country as a whole. Gross Domestic Product in purchasing power parity (PPP) in 2012 was estimated at $20.04 billion USD, and GDP per capita in PPP at $3,300 USD, making Nicaragua the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
(more…)

Blog author: sstanley
posted by on Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A few months ago, the Fairtrade movement came under fire after a British study stated that fairtrade certified farmers were actually making less  and were working in worse conditions than non-certified farmers. Of course, this was not the first time the fairtrade movement was accused of failing to fulfill its goals. However, Vega, a new company based in León, Nicaragua has decided to employ a new method of business that focuses much more on the coffee farmers.  They see the problem with fairtrade products in a bloated  supply chain; this is the normal supply chain for a cup of fairtrade coffee:

Supply Chain

Forbes contributor, Anne field, shows the disparity between the amount Americans pay for a cup of coffee and what the farmers receive:

Each small scale farmer produces about 500 pounds of Fair Trade organic coffee  a year and gets around $1.30 a pound, or $700 a year.  The upshot: Farmers of specialty grade coffee beans earn $1 a pound for a product costing U .S. consumers maybe $20. (more…)