Category: News and Events

The most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, volume 17, no. 2, has been published. The full content is available online now to subscribers and will be in the mail in the next few weeks. This issue features another fine slate of scholarship on the morality of the marketplace and Christian social thought more broadly.

As is our custom, this issue’s editorial by executive editor Jordan Ballor is open access (here), as are the first two installments of our Controversy section (here and here). This issue’s controversy centers on the role of labor unions in a free and flourishing society.

Our Reviews section features reviews of 16 books in the categories of Christian Social Thought, Ethics and Economics, and History and Philosophy of Economics.

This issue also features a Scholia translation of a selection from the Danish Lutheran theologian Niels Hemmingsen, “On the Law of Nature in the Three States of Life,” including an important introduction by E. J. Hutchinson and Korey D. Maas on Hemmingsen’s influence on the development of the Lutheran natural law tradition.

Lastly, for those looking to peruse the past year of scholarship in the Journal of Markets & Morality, this issue also includes the volume 17 index, which is also open access (here).

For those of you interested in an individual or institutional subscription, detailed instructions explaining how to subscribe through our website can be found here.

 

After a long fight, West Michigan Manufacturer, Autocam Medical LLC has finally received “permanent protection” from the controversial HHS Mandate or “abortion pill mandate.” In 2013, the company was told it had to comply with the mandate, despite owner John Kennedy’s and his family’s beliefs regarding the use of contraceptives and abortifacients. However, Hobby Lobby’s win in the Supreme Court last year reversed Autocam’s ruling and brought the case back to court. Yesterday, the District Court for Western Michigan guaranteed that the company will not have to comply with the mandate that violates deeply held religious beliefs. The Thomas More Society, who represented Autocam, released the following:

Federal Court Rules that Michigan Firm, Autocam, Not Required to Provide Abortion Coverage

Thomas More Society Wins Lengthy Lawsuit in Defense of Religious Liberty for Christian-Owned Business

(January 6, 2015 – Kentwood, MI) The Thomas More Society has won permanent protection for Autocam Medical, LLC, protecting its religious freedom to decline to provide abortion or contraceptive group insurance coverage for employees.  Yesterday concluded a long legal battle that took Autocam all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, which sent the case back down to the lower courts.  The District Court for the Western District of Michigan declared Autocam free from having to comply with Obamacare’s so-called “abortion pill mandate,” as decreed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”).

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Friedrich Hayek once called intellectuals “professional secondhand dealers in ideas.” And the Preacher proclaimed, “There is nothing new under the sun.” So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising when ideas, memes, and other cultural phenomena pop up again and again.

There is, however, a notable correspondence between an Acton Commentary that I wrote earlier this month, “The Worst Christmas Song Ever,” and a piece that appeared weeks earlier at The Federalist. In “‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ Is The Worst Christmas Song Ever,” Leslie Loftis takes down this miserable tune in devastating fashion. Loftis points out that the song “has a little of everything to loathe. Condescension. Inane inaccuracies. Smugness. Mullets.”

Whether or not you have read my commentary, you should go check out her case against the song now.

I first noticed the song, which heretofore had been background Christmas muzak, when we screened the new documentary Poverty, Inc. earlier this year at the Acton Institute offices. That film includes a section discussing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

Matthea Brandenburg helpfully points out some further commentary by Magatte Wade and others about the song over at the PovertyCure blog.

When Christmas rolled around, I had the idea to write something about the song, and connected it with William Easterly’s analysis of the differing perspectives on development offered by Gunnar Myrdal and Hayek. But I now think that even though I hadn’t read Loftis’ piece, I had seen the title before I wrote my piece. In fact, I checked Ben Domenech’s excellent email newsletter The Transom, to which you should subscribe, and there on December 3 is the following: ‘“Do They Know It’s Christmas” is the worst Christmas song ever. http://vlt.tc/1qf7

No doubt I saw the link, and got the idea for calling it the “worst ever” into my head. Then some days later I connected it to the Poverty, Inc. clip and wrote my piece. So the idea for calling this the worst Christmas song ever must be credited to Loftis and The Federalist. I’m sorry that I didn’t realize that Loftis’ piece had already appeared, or I would have pointed to it earlier, and given credit for the idea straight away. So in the interests of disclosure, I certainly haven’t been the only one to criticize this song or even to call it the “worst Christmas song ever.” I guess I’ve got egg(nog) on my face. The variety of voices that find the song problematic, however, should be a indication that there’s something rotten in “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” It is, after all, a song that includes a toast like this: “Here’s to them underneath that burning sun.”

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is like a bad earworm that won’t go away. And now I really, really hate that song!

Members of Band Aid in 1984

Members of Band Aid in 1984

In last week’s Acton commentary, “The Worst Christmas Song Ever,” Jordan Ballor touched on the well-intentioned yet harmful message shared by “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” the 1984 song produced by the music group, Band Aid, in response to the famine that struck Ethiopia.

Ballor describes the context and some of the song’s lyrics:

The song describes Africa largely as a barren wasteland, ‘Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.’ It continues in this vein. Africa, the onetime breadbasket of the Roman Empire and home of the Nile River is a land ‘where nothing ever grows, no rain nor rivers flow.’ The title question likewise plays into the supposed desperation of the continent. The only ‘Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.’ The response to this call is supposed to be charity from the affluent West, to ‘feed the world’ and thereby ‘let them know it’s Christmastime again.’

The song perpetuates an image of Africans as helpless and dependent on outside assistance to support their well-being. It is true that dire situations exist and increased awareness and emergency aid is needed to prevent loss of life, outbreak of disease, and other severe conditions. But overall, do negative depictions serve to accurately portray people in the “developing world,” and their capacity for producing innovation and change in the areas in which they live?

This is the question I pose in the PovertyCure blog article, “The Hopeless Results of Graphic Poverty Imagery,” which highlights the 1984 Christmas Song and similar versions that have been produced since.

I argue that depicting Africans as incapable and destitute ultimately neglects their true nature as human beings. Though it is true that poverty exists in some corners of Africa (and this should not be ignored), a vibrant, energized environment can be witnessed in many others. There are thousands of entrepreneurs like Senegalese entrepreneur, Magatte Wade, who are establishing creative solutions and finding new markets for business and trade.

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Koehler Urges Higher Gas PricesU.S. households are projected to save an estimated average $550 on gasoline in 2015. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Short Term Energy Outlook, “The average household will spend about $1,962 on gasoline in 2015, the first time that average will have fallen below $2,000 in five years.” Readers as well may assume the likelihood that falling fuel prices will exert some type of downward pressure on food and other commodity prices, which will be cheaper to bring to market.

By any realistic measure, this is great news for the United States in general and for the struggling lower middle class and poverty-stricken specifically. To those for whom reality is somewhat more elusive, however, it’s a travesty. Unfortunately, some of these individuals are advocating against the use of fossil fuels at cross purposes with their religious vocations. For example, nine bishops representing The Latin American Bishops Conference, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences and the French and Brazilian bishop’s conferences called for ceasing the use of fossil fuels: “We express an answer to what is considered God’s appeal to take action on the urgent and damaging situation of global climate warming.” (more…)

The eyes of many in the world have turned to Cuba over the last day or so. A great deal has been made of the historic changes in the relationship between the US and Cuba and whether such changes fundamentally alter the situation of the political leaders and the elites in the island nation.

More interesting to me, however, are the personal stories of suffering and loss during the years of the Castro regime and the hope that dawns,  however slight it may be, with the normalization of relations. Perhaps the changes will simply serve to prop up a tyrannical regime, but there is real possibility that the day-to-day existence for millions of people will improve with greater travel, access to markets, and communication.

One of the great tragedies of the Castro regime was its suppression of non-approved cultural artifacts and forms, including traditional Cuban music. The Buena Vista Social Club’s closure was representative of a larger tradition of cultural pluralism and civil society in Cuba that had no place in the communist regime.

The guitarist Ry Cooder visited Cuba in the 1990s, and was able to reunite many of the original members of the club. Cooder put together an international tour for these wonderful musicians, including a trip to Carnegie Hall in New York City. That created an album and later a documentary. Here’s a scene from the documentary where a couple of Cuban musicians are visiting New York City for the first time:

The audio cuts out a couple minutes in, but you can see the wonder and appreciation that is apparent in their reactions. They see immediately and instinctively that the vitality and vigor of the city, with its commerce, exchange, culture, and liberty, are a marked contrast to their experiences in Cuba. “Activity! Activity! Activity!” one of them celebrates.

“This is the life!” concludes the other. Let’s hope that increased liberalization of engagement between the US and Cuba can help unleash more of this kind of vibrant dynamism among a people that stand in so desperate need of it.

Do yourself a favor and check out The Buena Vista Social Club.

Barack_Obama_signature_and_pen (1)Rather than just responding to the advances of modern liberalism, conservatives should consider how they would transform the United States. Over at Public Discourse, Samuel Gregg discusses President Obama’s final years in office and how conservatives should react.

A major challenge facing conservatives after Obama will be the breadth and depth of modern liberalism’s impact since 2008. This includes the relentless promotion of lifestyle liberalism at the level of social policy; the easy-money, top-down approach to the economy; and a foreign policy that’s alienating firm allies ranging from Israel to Australia, and which even many liberals have given up defending. This list doesn’t even include the cavalier approach to the rule of law that’s characterized the past six years.

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Blog author: sstanley
Thursday, December 11, 2014
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govt_workersprotest100413Americans obsession with positive “rights” has a significant influence on the country’s economy. Over at the American Spectator, Samuel Gregg argues that despite the portrayal of the United States as a “dog-eat-dog” society where the most vulnerable are left to fend for themselves, the country actually spends an enormous amount on various forms of welfare. In fact, the U.S. is the second biggest “social spender,” following only France. Gregg explains how the country reached this:

On the one hand, there is what the [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] calls “public social spending.” This includes things like old-age assistance, unemployment insurance, disability payments, government-provided healthcare, etc. What, however, needs to be added to this, the OECD states, is what’s called “private social expenditure.” This is defined as “social benefits delivered through the private sector… which involve an element of compulsion and/or inter-personal redistribution.” One example would be government subsidies to employer-provided healthcare.

By these measures, almost 30 percent of America’s annual GDP is devoted to welfare-spending of one form or another. Let me say that number again: 30 percent. How much more, we might ask, could possibly be spent, especially given the sub-optimal results? One suspects that, for most liberals and the left more generally, the sky’s the limit. But they should at least concede that America is hardly tight-fisted in such matters. Alas, I, for one, am not holding my breath.

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cavemen_2aReligious proxy shareholder activists are at it again. This past week, As You Sow in tandem with Arjuna Capital submitted a proxy resolution to ExxonMobil, demanding the company increase investor payouts. The reasoning behind the resolution is to starve the company’s research and development of future projects. Because … climate change:

In a first of its kind proposal, Shareholders Arjuna Capital/Baldwin Brothers Inc. and As You Sow seek increased dividends or share buybacks from Exxon Mobil given structural challenges facing the industry — historically high capital expenditures, decreasing profitability, and global climate change. This represents the first shareholder proposal asking a company to return capital to shareholders in light of climate change risk.

The new shareholder resolution calls on Exxon Mobil (XOM) to protect investor value by “increasing the amount authorized for capital distributions to shareholders through dividends or share buy backs,” rather than invest in high-cost, high-carbon oil projects.

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“Mockingjay, Part 1,” the first film installment of the finale to Suzanne Collins’ massively popular young adult trilogy, The Hunger Games, has dominated the box office in its opening week and over the Thanksgiving weekend. As Brooks Barnes reported for the New York Times, “The No. 1 movie in North America was again ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1,’ which took in an estimated $56.9 million from Friday to Sunday, according to Rentrak, a box-office tracking firm. Domestic ticket sales for ‘Mockingjay’ now total a hefty $225.7 million….”

While some would criticize the series for lack of depth, “Mockingjay, Part 1,” offers more than just a shallow cast of good guys vs. bad guys, acting as a window into the messy realities of tyranny, class, and freedom. (more…)