Category: News and Events

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…)

TipsMillions of Americans who work for tips have now been dragged into the political battle over the federal minimum wage and whether it should be raised to $10.10 per hour. Since 1991, the federal minimum wage has been adjusted 5 times, increasing three dollars to its current $7.25. These changes have been made while the minimum wage for America’s largest workforce, tipped workers, has remained unchanged at $2.13 for 23 years.

Although tips are meant to be a gratuity that shows appreciation for good service, they have become the difference between poverty and a living wage for nearly 20 million Americans. Saru Jayaraman, founder of the labor advocacy group Restaurant Opportunity Centers United, says that abolishing the tipped minimum wage in favor of one fair wage will help reduce poverty, especially in families.

But the National Restaurant Association has a different view. In response to a study on tipped wages by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, the NRA states:

Ninety percent of restaurants are independent or franchisee owned and operate on razor thin profit margins. Drastic increases to the minimum wage will only hurt restaurants ability to continue to create jobs and provide real opportunity to young people looking to step into the workforce and those who are finding their economic footing.

(more…)

eximbank1

With its authorization charter expiring at the end of September, the U.S. Export-Import Bank has come under increased scrutiny from rabble-rousers and the hum-drum alike. An otherwise obscure fixture in the grand scheme of federal-government corporatism, Ex-Im finances and insures (i.e. subsidizes) foreign purchases of U.S. goods for those who wouldn’t otherwise accept the risk.

So far, we’ve seen a variety of good arguments made against the bank. It privileges certain companies over others. It doesn’t meaningfully improve national exports, despite many claims to the contrary. It will surely yield losses for taxpayers. And so on.

But there’s a bigger and broader reason to reject such schemes that has less to do with line-item analyses of exports vs. imports or how much Boeing will benefit vs. General Electric, and more to do with how they distort, inhibit, or prevent the efforts of those aren’t on the radar in the first place, but perhaps should or could be — the “unseen,” as Bastiat would call them.

Over at Economic Intelligence, Veronique de Rugy does us a service in highlighting this aspect, noting that Ex-Im and other corporatist schemes tend to cramp the economy at large by distorting signals and inhibiting innovation and possibility outside of the privileged few:

However, the real problem with Ex-Im pertains to the many groups who are affected by Ex-Im activities but have been ignored so far. These people don’t have connections in Washington, and they don’t have access to press offices and lobbyists. But they matter, too.

It is difficult, but extremely important, that we consider the unseen costs of political privilege, whether they take the form of market distortions, resource misallocation, job losses, destroyed potential or higher prices… (more…)

For years, the international community has pressured Iran to throw out its alleged nuclear weapons development program and has imposed crippling economic sanctions as a tool for compliance. Two week-long talks have just resumed with the Islamic Republic, yet little is expected to come out of them. Sanctions have only continued to mount in recent years, blocking both individuals and firms from engaging in many commercial interactions with Iran, further solidifying its ongoing economic disaster. If Iran elects to agree to a settlement on the nuclear proliferation issue, lifted sanctions would mean more access to the global free market, culminating in prosperity for the Islamic Republic and its citizens and furthering capitalist ideals into a new state. Yet a faith based argument poses the greatest challenge to Iran adopting a more free market philosophy.

This poses the question: Why are the ruling theocrats so disinterested from partnering with free market states? Such is best addressed by the Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, who wrote in his last will and testament:

Islam does not approve of an oppressive and unbridled capitalism that deprives the oppressed masses who suffer under tyranny. On the contrary, it firmly rejects it both in the Qur’an…it considers it against social justice.

But is capitalism tyrannous and against the tenets of faith? Simply put, no. Too often, capitalism is misinterpreted as a policy of corruption and injustice – as has also been illustrated though Pope Francis’s belief that society has developed “a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” (more…)

media-spoonfeeding-cartoonLet me start by saying you can fill entire football stadiums with things I don’t know. I don’t anything about fly-fishing. I have never figured out how to score tennis. I cannot identify (although my dad tried his hardest to teach me) birds by their songs. I could go on, but you get the idea.

With that said, I’m often called upon by my job to write about things I don’t know much about. I have to do a lot of reading and research, figure out what sources are credible and which are shaky (hello, Wikipedia!) Sometimes, I make mistakes, and readers point them out. I happily make corrections; who wants to be wrong?

Apparently, a lot of folks don’t mind being wrong. And many of those folks occupy the media. And they feed you stuff that isn’t quite right, is misinformed or is downright wrong. In the Wild West that is today’s media, we have to be smart about who we choose as our guides. (more…)

davebratIn a piece today for the NYT Magazine, economics reporter Binyamin Appelbaum examines David Brat’s fusion of faith and free-market economics. Appelbaum finds that mixture problematic, to say the least, but it’s hard to sort out whether it is the religious faith or the free-market sympathies that Appelbaum finds more troubling.

In the opening paragraph, Appelbaum asserts that before Brat’s rise to prominence “there was plenty of skepticism about whether he merited the label of academic economist.” Who these skeptics are, who knew so much about Brat “even before” his “out-of-nowhere” victory, we are simply left to ponder. It seems some of his colleagues at Randolph-Macon College now harbor such skepticism. (Brat is running against a Randolph-Macon sociologist, Jack Trammell. Brat once wrote that “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.”)

Brat’s academic record is a wortwhile question to take up, and one that there has been a great deal of interest in following his primary victory. I, like many others, wanted to find out more, and went in search of Brat’s publications (with the help of one of our interns). I’ve had a chance to look at a few, and even turned up the paper on Ayn Rand that had gained such notice. The Rand paper turned out to be a co-authored piece with a student, and something which barely qualified as a poorly-edited introduction to a conference presentation. It is certainly not a smoking gun for tracking down Randian sympathies.

The problem with Appelbaum’s piece isn’t that he is asking questions about Brat’s academic record. These questions should be asked. The problem is the tone of Appelbaum’s inquisition and his presumption against the coherence of Brat’s position. The sarcasm oozes from Appelbaum’s prose: Brat “is certainly not in danger of winning a Nobel Prize.” Likewise Brat has written “discursive papers devoid of math,” “cited Wikipedia as a source,” and “never been published in a significant journal.”
(more…)