Category: News and Events

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.
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Blog author: sstanley
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
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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…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
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icon_41487So the “Young Adult Leadership Taskforce” (YALT) of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and Reformed Church in America (RCA) put out a list of their top 40 under 40 (20 from each denomination), and they put me on it. I am still under 40 by a few years, but that cutoff is approaching quickly. I figure that once you turn 40 you aren’t eligible for lists like this anymore. You start to be “over 40″ and part of the “irrelevant” nation.

Angst about kids these days isn’t anything new, of course, and goes to show that teenagers don’t have a monopoly on such anxiety. As Marvin Berkowitz, professor of character education at University of Missouri at St. Louis, puts it, “There are quotes going back at least three or 4,000 years in which adults lament that today’s youth are the worst, morally, ever.”
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Integrated Justice - front cover (1)Christian’s Library Press recently released Integrated Justice and Equality: Biblical Wisdom for Those Who Do Good Works by John Addison Teevan, which seeks to challenge popular notions about “social justice” and establish a new framework around what Teevan calls “biblically integrated justice.”

Weaving together thought and action from a variety of perspectives and points throughout history, Teevan offers a refreshingly integrated economic, philosophic, and biblical framework. For young evangelicals in particular, who have grown fond of leveraging the vocabulary of “justice” and “equality” toward particular aims and ends, Teevan’s blend of careful analysis and practical application offers a needed challenge to the status quo.

To celebrate the release, CLP will be giving away three copies of the book. To enter, use the interface below. There are three ways to enter, and each will increase your odds. The contest will end Friday night (July 18) at 11:59 p.m.

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The idea of going to college is one that resonates with Americans and is the desired route by a great many parents for their child, and could be considered the embodiment of the “American dream.” The liberal arts have been pushed by many institutions, and much less emphasis placed on vocational education, now referred to as career technical education (CTE). Despite its long history in both America and among religious communities, a negative connotation has developed toward this technical or vocational path to earning a livelihood. When serving God and humanity, no path is identical “[a]s each has received a gift, [to] use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (Peter 4:10). One’s choice to attend an apprentice program should be a reflection of their gifted strengths, not due to societal pressure; education is what ought to be the encouraged standard, not exclusively college.

Historically, CTE was once a respected path to employment with firms aggressively recruiting students post-high school graduation. Until the 1950s, it was common for companies to provide extensive training as an investment in future employees, who were expected to forge a career with the firm. Over time, university enrollment became an easier feat, not only cutting interest in apprentice programs, but establishing them as a second rate alternative.

An early example is the General Motors Institute, now known as Kettering University, which became the established “anchor of a community” as they provided living wage jobs and helped build the nation’s middle class, making the prospect of a college education became more affordable, prompting more students to select this option. (more…)

Jordan J. Ballor speaks at Acton On Tap

Jordan J. Ballor speaks at Acton on Tap

Acton Research Fellow and Executive Editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality, Jordan Ballor, was recently named as one of the 40 Under 40 – A New Generation of Leaders in the CRC & RCA. More about the list:

We asked one question to leaders and agencies across the two denominations: “Who do you know under 40 that is doing something very innovative and/or is influential beyond their home church?” We received a plethora of responses and then attempted to pick the leaders with the most votes that represented the widest and most diverse spectrum of our collective movement.

See the whole list here. For some of Ballor’s writing, see his profile on the PowerBlog and his Acton Commentaries and Religion & Liberty articles. Along with his work at Acton, Ballor is the associate director of Calvin Seminary’s Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research. He’s written several books, most recently Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (& Action).

SONY DSCJapan and Australia recently signed and passed a trade agreement that abolishes or reduces some tariffs on their highest grossing trade items: beef and dairy from Australia and electronics from Japan. State officials as well as the media have branded this a “free trade agreement;” however, this is actually an example of a “Preferential Bilateral Trade Agreement.” While this is not as desirable as free trade agreements are, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Trade is almost always mutually beneficial provided that neither party is coerced ­­­­­– if it were not, then trade would never take place. Because of the international success of free trade agreements in that region, China is being forced to keep up by becoming more competitive in the international market.

Early this month, China met with South Korea to begin drafting a new bilateral trade agreement. The result is the Won-Yuan trading market in Seoul, which will be complete by the end of the year. This will enable South Korea to trade with China and not rely upon the dollar to do so, thus accelerating trade between the two countries. Up until this agreement passed, the Korean Won was not directly convertible to the Chinese Yuan, requiring the two countries to find another currency as the medium of exchange, specifically, the U.S. dollar. The agreement illustrates that China is increasing the economic freedom of the country in an attempt to boost its wealth and trade efficiency. Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg recently discussed transitions to more economic freedom and the ensuing religious freedom that comes with that. Gregg states:

Once you grant liberty in one area, it’s hard to preclude freedom from spreading to other spheres. Economic liberty, for instance, requires and encourages people to think and choose freely. Without this, entrepreneurship is impossible. It’s challenging, however, to limit this reflection and choosing to economic questions. People start asking social questions, political questions, and, yes, religious questions. And many Chinese have decided Christianity is the answer to their religious ponderings.

China has the experienced benefits from economic deregulation experiments, such as in Hong Kong, and the country as a whole seems to be headed down a very similar path. Liberty in China has had a direct connection to economic improvement. The government seems to have had a proclivity to allow such freedoms in order to attain wealth. By lessening trade restrictions, they are crafting a tomb for their socialist regime.

Thanks to the trade act, China is allowing for religious freedom to take hold as Gregg points out. China is still one of the most religiously repressed countries at this time, which is continued only due to the government’s power over it.  With the wane of the Chinese government’s power, there will be a more vibrant religious and cultural exchange that comes naturally with trade.  When there are multiple faiths and ideals, ideas are challenged and thoughts are provoked. Truth is often the result, and liberty follows, whether it be economic, cultural, or religious. In this particular instance, North Korea sees the trade agreement as an attack.  One stratagem countries such as North Korea employ is isolation. The North Korean people know little more than what the government tells them, and they are only aware of the culture that the government deems appropriate.

The days of the Chinese socialist state are numbered. Chinese people are ready for change, as can be seen in their willingness to adapt to more Western methods of thinking and ideals such as the growing respect for personal liberty and free markets. If China is careful about the transformation, and realizes what is happening; it could become one of the wealthiest countries in physical capital, knowledge, culture, and liberty. It remains a country to keep a careful eye on over the next decade.

Hobby LobbyIf you have been following the recent media debates over the SCOTUS’ Hobby Lobby decision, you may have come across this “meme” of Holly Fisher next to an international terrorist (whose identity is currently disputed). Fisher has an active online presence, garnering much attention for sharing her conservative, Christian views and commenting on controversial political topics. On Twitter, Fisher writes, “Biggest complaint I’m getting about my #HobbyLobby pic is there’s no gun, bible, or flag. Tried to make up for it”. Her earlier picture (resulting in the nickname, “Holly Hobby Lobby”) showed her smiling in front of a Hobby Lobby store while wearing a Pro-Life shirt and holding a Chick-fil-A cup.

Michael Stone, blogger for Patheos, has labeled Fisher the “New Face of American Taliban” He writes, “While Holly Hobby Lobby is just a social media clown out for attention, she represents a dangerous strand of Christian fundamentalism that enjoys flirting with, if not threatening, real violence.” Other critics have followed suit comparing Fisher’s beliefs to Islamic extremism, and some have even gone as far as issuing violent threats against her.

Supporters of Fisher argue against the juxtaposition of her photo with a terrorist’s. Charles C.W. Cooke offers to “explain the difference” in the National Review: “The woman on the left is a peaceful American citizen with a husband in the military. She has never killed anybody, and nor does she have any desire to….The woman on the right, by contrast…is reaffirming her commitment to jihad.” Fisher has responded as well, chastising “tolerant liberals” for intolerance and claiming that those threatening her “are the same ones whining about the #WarOnWomen.” (more…)

Grand Rapids Aerial (Office of FIl,, Music and Special Event)Grand Rapids, Mich. has 34.6 percent canopy cover according to the Grand Rapids Urban Forest Project website, and has a goal of reaching 40 percent across the entire city. Canopy cover refers to the amount of space covered by the shade of a trees canopy as seen from overhead. If you have ever parked your car in a blacktop lot on a sunny day with no tree cover you can understand the value of shade, but is it worthy of taxpayer dollars and the sacrifice of property rights?

The 2011 Green Grand Rapids amendment to the City’s Master plan established the new goal of 40 percent canopy cover. The city and organizations pushing for the 40 percent canopy goal believe that the community can gain great economic benefit by accomplishing this goal. They claim that the urban forest protects against floods, pollution, and even reduces energy usage through increased shade and cooling.  This economic benefit has been calculated with the assistance of I-tree, a program developed by USDA to perform benefit analysis of increasing the urban canopy. Over the last couple of years there have been thousands of trees planted along streets and in public areas through the efforts of these organizations and others like Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, the City of Grand Rapids Office of Sustainability and Energy, and Alliance of Community Trees, but this has barely scratched the surface of achieving this goal. Therefore, this goal is unlikely to be achievable using only public land which may lead to some issues with property rights. (more…)