Category: Poverty

A recent speech by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio laid out what his press office terms “Conservative Reforms for Combating Poverty.” It began well and had a nice line or two emphasizing the role family breakdown plays in perpetuating generational poverty, but then it went all technocratic and wobbly.

So, for instance, at one point he argued that a lack of education is one reason for the decline of marriage among the poor, noting that “64% of adults with college degrees are married, while only 47% of those with a high-school education or less are.” How does he know that being married doesn’t make one more likely to pursue higher education, or that both tendencies aren’t caused by something else? (more…)

On Monday afternoon, Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico was a guest on “Faith, Culture, Politics: In That Order” on the Guadalupe Radio Network, which broadcasts primarily in Texas. Rev. Sirico engaged in an extended discussion of Catholic Social Teaching, with a great deal of time dedicated to Pope Francis’ particular style and emphasis in dealing with some of the more controversial matters of our time. You can listen to the interview via the audio player below.

Update: The embedded audio appears to be having problems; you can go to the Soundcloud page for the interview by clicking this link.

I’ve just returned from Bangalore, where I attended a conference on “Bounds of Ethics in a Globalized World” at Christ University, which is run by the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, the first Catholic religious order started in India. The headline attraction on the opening day was the appearance of the Dalai Lama and his remarks promoting “secular ethics.” This may seem surprising coming from one of the world’s most famous religious leaders (and a monk, at that), but like his counterpart in Rome, the Dalai Lama has a talent for speaking to the irreligious in a way that challenges and flatters democratic prejudices at the same time.

Being completely ignorant in Buddhism, I will refrain from evaluating the orthodoxy of his adoption of secular rather than religious ethics. The Dalai Lama knows how to poke fun at seemingly pious people by highlighting their hypocrisy. He preaches using liberal concepts like compassion and equality that are pleasing to the ears of the audience; in fact, he makes living with compassion by renouncing oneself the key to happiness. He goes even further by stressing that the world would be better off with perfect equality and no leaders to pose as authorities. And he does it all so easily, with a smile and joking asides that make him seem like your not-completely-all-there grandfather, which is all this one would be if he wasn’t the 14th incarnation of a great Tibetian leader, feared and exiled as a boy by communist China.  The Chinese would prefer to see him renounce his leadership as well.

In spite of his treatment by the Chinese government, the Dalai Lama called himself a “social and economic Marxist” during his talk, saying that capitalism is only about “money, money, money.” He said this while also speaking well of George W. Bush, the United States, and even suggested that NATO headquarters should be moved to Moscow in order to spiritually disarm the Russians. Listening to him makes you think that human pride could simply be shamed out of existence. It would be too easy to call his ideas contradictory and utopian. (more…)

“Today’s welfare state is largely the construction of decades of liberal political activism,” writes James C. Capretta. “If it is failing, and there is strong evidence that it is in many ways, then that is a stinging indictment of the liberal governing philosophy more than anything else.” He argues for more conservative activism on the poverty problem, particularly in education.

An effective conservative critique of existing policies starts with the acknowledgement that a strong social safety net is a must in a modern, market-based economy, and that the safety net built here in the United States, though flawed, has contributed substantially to improving the conditions for the poor. The official measure of the poverty rate is completely misleading in this regard because it does not include transfer programs or the taxes people pay in the measure of income. So, in a very real sense, no matter how much the government spends, the official poverty rate remains unchanged.

But when tax and transfer programs are factored into the assessment, and when the consumption patterns of the poor are examined and not just their cash incomes, the picture changes quite dramatically. The panoply of governmental support programs—Medicaid, Food Stamps, the earned income tax credit, housing vouchers, school lunch programs, and many more—substantially raise the living standards of those who otherwise have very low incomes. (more…)

poverty-in-america-300x300In addition to reading Joe Carter’s striking by-the-numbers piece on the War on Poverty, and in keeping with Sam Gregg’s reflections on the deeper social and cultural forces at work, I heartily recommend taking in Josh Good’s excellent retrospective in AEI’s The American.

Leveraging a lengthy quote from Herman Bavinck’s The Christian Family, one I’ve put to use myself, Good notes the “inverse impact of changing family structure on productive work and a flourishing economy”:

The fact is, poverty is not merely a material problem. A half-century after the dawn of the War on Poverty, we would be well-served if President Obama addressed the American public on the cultural aspects of poverty…Americans truly interested in serving the poor more effectively will do well to recall this insight, from the late theologian Herman Bavinck:

“For children are the glory of marriage, the treasure of parents, the wealth of family life. They develop within their parents an entire cluster of virtues, such as … devotion and self-denial, care for the future, involvement in society, the art of nurturing. With their parents, children place restraints upon ambition [and] as with living mirrors they show their parents their own virtues and faults, force them to reform themselves, mitigating their criticisms and teaching them how hard it is to govern a person. The family exerts a reforming power upon the parents … [transforming] ambition into service, miserliness into munificence, the weak into strong, cowards into heroes, coarse fathers into mild lambs, tenderhearted mothers into ferocious lionesses.” (more…)

According to a report released this week by the Pew Research Center, the so-called “digital divide” between whites and blacks is slowly being closed by smart phones. Here are the key findings of the report:

(1) African Americans trail whites by seven percentage points when it comes to overall internet use (87% of whites and 80% of blacks are internet users). At the same time, blacks and whites are on more equal footing when it comes to other types of access, especially on mobile platforms.
(2) Overall, 73% of African American internet users—and 96% of those ages 18-29—use a social networking site of some kind. African Americans have exhibited relatively high levels of Twitter use since we began tracking the service as a stand-alone platform.
(3) 92% of African Americans own a cell phone, and 56% own a smartphone.

While this may appear to be helpful information, the way the study is being reported tells us nothing about race. This type of data continues to feed the myth that the digital divide in this country is determined by a “racial wealth gap.” I am not convinced that there ever was a digital divide by race to begin with because the real digital divide in America is determined by class, not race.

If one reads the Pew report closely it becomes apparent that studying the “digital divide” along the axis of race is useless because there is essentially no statistical difference between access to the internet between blacks and whites when controlling the data according to income.
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Writing in The Detroit News, Rev. Robert A. Sirico looks at Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation, the “much talked about, but little-read” document titled “The Joy of the Gospel” with a special emphasis on how the pontiff understands the problem of poverty. The president and co-founder of the Acton Institute notes how Francis “speaks boldly through effective and moving gestures.” Excerpt:

It is no surprise that the man who took as his model and name the model of il poverello of Assisi would place the poor as a central concern of his pontificate: their dignity, their rights and their sustenance. Yet, the spontaneous gestures and the impromptu manner in which they are displayed ought not to beguile us into thinking this pope is offering a superficial dichotomy between left and right; between capitalism and socialism. To think that any pope, but especially this pope, is animated in his concern for the poor and vulnerable by a particular political ideology is to miss him completely.

While renouncing the notion that the market alone is sufficient to meet all human needs, Francis is also prepared to denounce a “welfare mentality” that creates a dependency on the part of the poor and reduces the Church to the role of being just another bureaucratic NGO. The complexity of his thought surprises some, on both the Right (some of whom worry, needlessly, that he is a liberation theologian) and the Left (who are already using his words to foment a political “Francis Revolution” in his name). Such tendencies reveal a rather anemic understanding of this man but also of Catholicism, which has historically been comfortable balancing the tensions of apparent paradoxes (Divine/human; Virgin/Mother; etc.). It is too facile a temptation to collapse 2,000 years of tradition, commentary and lived experience into four or five politically-correct hot button sound bites that are the priority, not of the Church, but of propagandists with an agenda.

Read “Pope Francis, without the politics” by Rev. Robert A. Sirico in The Detroit News.

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Monday, December 23, 2013

In my Acton Commentary today, “The Great Exchange of the Magi,” I reflect on the fact that, due to the material poverty of the holy family, the gifts of the magi can be considered alms in addition to homage:

The magi set forth an example of the heart that all of us need to have when it comes to stewardship of our material blessings. They knew their own poverty of spirit, and gladly gave the riches of this life for the blessing of eternity: worship. Their almsgiving, then, had a particular attitude attached to it. They did not see the holy family as mere victims of an unjust world, but as persons worthy of their investment, the Child whom they worshiped most of all.

As we approach the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ (Christmas), I think an additional application is worth reflecting on: whenever we give alms, we, like the magi, also pay homage to God incarnate. (more…)

Acton’s busy week of media appearances continued last night with Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico joining guest host Arthur C. Brooks – president of the American Enterprise Institute – on The Hugh Hewitt Show to discuss Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, and the compatibility of Catholic social teaching with free market capitalism. We’ve embedded the interview for you below, and added the video of Arthur Brooks’ 2012 Acton University plenary address after the jump.

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Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico stopped by the studios of TheStreet.com today and spoke with host Joe Deaux about how Pope Francis differs from his predecessors in his approach to economic issues.

The pope is emphasizing “human solidarity,” Sirico said. “He quoted Benedict by saying that globalization has brought us to be close, to be neighbors, but not to be brothers.” Achieving a sense of fraternity is the goal.

We’ve embedded the video for you below.