Category: News and Events

Coolidgepic Next week at Acton University I am giving a lecture titled, “Calvin Coolidge and his Foundational Views on Government.” One of the great things about studying Coolidge is that he is extremely accessible. Coolidge noted during his political career that practicing law was valuable for honing communication skills that promote brevity and clarity in speech. The Coolidge lecture at Acton University will attempt to do likewise. He’s a president that probably would have little trouble with the 140 character limit on Twitter. If you aren’t able to attend Acton University, I’m told the lecture will be recorded, and at some point will be available for a very small fee.

One of the most relevant things about Coolidge today is that in his era he was battling the progressive scheme to perfect man in an attempt to move beyond the spirit of America’s founding principles. In one masterful broadside against the progressive scheme delivered on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, he declared:
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davebratLast night, economics professor David Brat surprised everyone in defeating House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) in a primary challenge for Virginia’s 7th congressional district. Predictably, the media is now a-buzz about Brat, rapidly catching up on his beliefs, his plans, and so on.

Time will tell as for whether Brat is successful as a politician, and whether he is, in fact, a strong conservative alternative to his predecessor. But one item that sticks out in Brat’s academic CV is his unique interest in the intersection of economics and theology.

Currently an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., Brat holds a B.A. in Business Administration from Hope College in Michigan, a Master’s degree in Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D in economics from American University. I’m sure there are plenty of places to explore his thoughts on these matters, but one place of particular interest is an essay he wrote titled, “God and Advanced Mammon: Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?”

Although the essay aims specifically at the issue of usury, in his analysis of the topic, we begin to see the deeper theology and philosophy that steers Brat’s political and economic thought.

Given the length of the essay, the following excerpts are offered simply as a taste of where he’s coming from. Emphasis is added wherever text is bolded.

Regardless of how and whether Brat actually succeeds in governing, his profound interest in the intersection of economics and theology is a feature we should hope to see more of in the political arena.

Brat on capitalism:

Capitalism is the major organizing force in modern life, whether we like it or not. It is here to stay. If the sociologists ever grasp this basic fact, their enterprise will be much more fruitful…Capitalist markets and their expansion in China and India have provided more for the common good, more “social welfare,” than any other policy in the past ten years. In fact, you can add up all of the welfare gains from public policy in the United States and abroad, and they will not approach the level of human gains just described. Incomes in China and India have risen from $500 a year per person to over $5,000 a year per person over the past twenty years or so. This is due to market capitalism. Over two billion people now have food to eat and some minimal goods to go along. (more…)

After Elliot Rodger decided to take out his rage on innocent people in California, the web went crazy with vitriol. Rodger had mentioned in his homemade video and his writings that he was angry at women, couldn’t get a date, etc. Despite the fact that the majority of his victims were male, the #YesAllWomen tag went viral. It was meant to denote that all women suffer from abuse and violence.

But is this really the case? Thankfully, Christina Hoff Sommers from the American Enterprise Institute does a great job on setting the record straight. She reminds us that this is too important an issue to get the facts wrong.

edmund burke 1In his new book, The Great Debate, Yuval Levin explores the birth of America’s Left and Right by contrasting the views of Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke. I’ve written previously on his chapter on choice vs. obligation, and in a recent appearance on EconTalk, Levin joins economist Russell Roberts to discuss these tensions further, addressing the implications for libertarians and conservatives a bit more directly.

It should first be noted that Roberts and Levin offer a dream pairing when it comes to such discussions. Roberts, a self-professed libertarian and classical liberal, offers each guest a unique level of intellectual empathy, meeting even the most vigorous intellectual opponents at their best and brightest arguments (see his discussions with Jeffrey Sachs). Likewise, Levin, while a true-and-through conservative, is not prone to the variety of anti-libertarian caricatures that predominate the Right. If we hope to uncover the actual distinctions between the two, these men are up to the task, and the historical context makes it all the more meaty. Listen to the whole thing here.

About halfway through (36:39), Roberts asks Levin directly how a libertarian might discern between Burke and Paine, admitting sympathies for both sides. Levin answers with a lengthy response, noting, first, how libertarians typically take a more Burkean approach to centralized knowledge and power:

There is a strong and important strand of libertarianism that is very Burkean, because it emphasizes especially the limits of our knowledge and the kind of skepticism about the uses of power. And so ultimately believes that power needs to be restrained because there are permanent limits on what we can do…And it inclines many libertarians to market economics and to restraints on the role of government and the power of government. And in that sense aligns them with a lot of Conservatives who think more like Burke. (more…)

Did ‘Social Business’ Sink the Cardboard Bike?

Did ‘Social Business’ Sink the Cardboard Bike?

Jonathan Witt, research fellow at Acton, recently wrote a piece at The Federalist about “social business.” He argues that it might do more good to own and operate an ethical business that follows through on its contracts and “respects the dignity of employees and customers,” rather than trying to have a “social business.” Witt begins by talking about a cardboard bike. In 2012, Izhar Gafni became relatively famous by creating a sturdy cardboard bike that could be sold to the poorest around the world for $20. After two years and unsuccessful Indiegogo campaign, this potentially revolutionary project has failed to go anywhere. Witt argues that “social business” is to blame:

After talking up the virtues of a “social business model,” the start-up behind the bike, Cardboard Technologies, expended considerable energy trying to raising capital from Indiegogo donors uninterested in profit. The lack of a profit motive may have played a role. It also didn’t help that the price of the bike kept shifting—from $20 to $290 to $95 plus $40 shipping. Would-be investors had to wonder: Was the bike going to have a revolutionary everyman price, or wasn’t it?

CEO Nimrod Elmish tried to explain, saying the bicycle’s price will fluctuate depending on where you live, costing more for buyers in wealthy countries and nothing for those in developing countries. “We want to bring a social business model that will make [it] available to all,” Fortune quoted him as saying. “We don’t have a price tag, we have a value tag.”

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Bible-and-NewspaperDo you know the name of the author and publisher of the Book of Ephesians? Do all Mormons practice polygamy? What about the two major branches of Islam?

Apparently, many journalists don’t know the answers to these questions either. (That first one was a real question asked by a journalist to Michael Cromartie, of the D.C.-based Ethics and Public Policy Center.) Given how much religion informs the lives of most people on the planet, and our news, it is a bit astounding to realize that most journalists are only vaguely familiar with religions and religious topics, unless that is their “beat.” The Ethics and Public Policy Center is trying to help close the gap in knowledge for reporters by hosting a series of conferences (entitled the Faith Angle Forum) on faith and media.

Largely the brain-child of Cromartie, the conferences aim to bring together journalists and religious experts, creating what he calls “robust dialogue.” (more…)

Evan Koons just posted the first video blog, or “vlog,” in support of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, a new educational video series from the Acton Institute.

The series, which follows Koons on a creative journey to discover “God’s Economy of All Things,” begins by laying the framework that Koons alludes to here.

As he wrote in a recent article for Q Ideas:

We are being called by God to spend the remainder of our days serving our captors, working with them (not fighting them or conforming to them or fleeing from them—but serving them) and compromising nothing. It’s rooted in the belief that all of our vocations (family, work, public service, education, art, and more) matter.

For new vlogs and other resources from Koons & Company, check out the FLOW blog (add it via RSS), subscribe to the YouTube page, and follow FLOW on Facebook and Twitter.

View the trailer and pre-order your own copy here, discounted at 50% off for a limited time, until June 15.

Visit the Acton Book Shop to find related books and media

Public policy wonks and economists frequently warn us to consider the unintended consequences of any given initiative. That would be good exercise when considering campaigns to raise the minimum wage and also calls to roll back “right-to-work” (RTW) legislation. The former presumably helps those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, while the latter is castigated as an attack on unions’ right to collective bargaining and, therefore, harmful to middle-class workers. It follows then, that if one prioritizes economic opportunity and egalitarianism, raising the minimum wage should be championed while right-to-work should be buried in a government warehouse the way the Ark of the Covenant was entombed in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

On their respective surfaces both approaches would appear slam dunks for the common good and the fundamental dignity of workers. Counterintuitive, however, is the notion that unintended consequences may undermine, negate or detrimentally impact those they were designed to benefit. In the case of raising the minimum wage, Acton’s Samuel Gregg addressed the topic adroitly on May 22 – yet both parties in the state and national legislatures continue to fall over themselves to pass such initiatives. For example, Michigan Republicans voted late last month to increase the state’s minimum wage less than two years after becoming the 24th RTW state in the Union.

Rejecting RTW in states where it’s considered currently or overturning it in states where it’s been enacted is another rallying call for social justice advocates. If one is to consider these advocates’ arguments at face value it’s also fair play to consider whether they’re cutting off the noses of those they’re claiming to help in order to spite the companies for which they might work. (more…)

NPG D681,Richard Baxter,by; after Jonathan Spilsbury; John Riley Richard Baxter, profiled in the latest issue of Religion & Liberty, penned The Saints Everlasting Rest in 1647. In the book’s dedication, Baxter wrote that he had no intention of serving God other than preaching. But he recalled, “sentenced to death by the physicians, I began to contemplate more seriously on the everlasting rest which I apprehended myself to be just on the border of.”

Baxter noted that because he was so near death that it quickened his “sluggish heart to speak to sinners with some compassion, as a dying man to dying men.” Baxter survived the ordeal, not dying until 1691, but he continually faced debilitating sickness and suffering. He was even imprisoned for refusing to cease preaching. Baxter is perhaps the most prolific author of theology in English history. He wrote 140 books, many of them while serving as a pastor. Baxter was a monumental influence on C.S. Lewis, who borrowed the title ‘Mere Christianity’ directly from his work.

The Saints Everlasting Rest
focuses on heavenly and holy pursuits, pushing us away from the fleeting priorities and agendas of our lives on earth. In an age of entertainment, with gadgets like smart phones, while great technology, cause many people to focus their gaze downward and not upward. With the myriad of distractions and moral chaos we face, Baxter’s writings easily retain their relevance. Below is an excerpt from The Saints Everlasting Rest on private meditation that is included in the book, From the Library of C.S. Lewis: Selections from Writers Who Influenced His Spiritual Journey: (more…)

Because jobs can serve the needs of our neighbors and lead to human flourishing both for the individual and communities, they are the most important part of a morally functioning economy. Workers dropping out of the labor force because they’ve grown discouraged is therefore one of the most pressing moral and economic issues in America today. Sadly, it is also one of the most overlooked.

Today, the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee released some stats showing the shocking decline in the male participation in the labor force, particularly men between the ages of 25-54:

Record 1 In 8 American Men In Their Prime Working Years Are Not In The Labor Force_0.preview

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According to the committee members:

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