Category: Poverty

On Wednesday, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, Acton’s President and co-founder, offered his initial comments on “Evangelii Gaudium,” the Apostolic Exhortation released on November 26 by Pope Francis. This morning, Rev. Sirico spent some time extending his thoughts during the course of a couple of radio interviews.

In his first interview of the day, Rev. Sirico appeared on The Chris Salcedo Show on The Blaze Radio Network:

Later on, Rev. Sirico joined host Larry Kudlow on 77 WABC in New York City for a nearly 40 minute discussion of the document, which is well worth your time to listen to in full:

In this short talk, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, co-founder and president of the Acton Institute, offers some general observations about the new “Apostolic Exhortation” published Nov. 26 by Pope Francis. Specifically, Rev. Sirico addresses the economic content of the work, titled “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel) and poses some questions for further reflection. And please take a moment to watch this PovertyCure trailer also posted here.

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2716popefrancis_00000001928With the November 26 publication of Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, we have the first teaching document that is truly his own. And it very much shows, both in style and content, compared to the encyclical Lumen Fidei, which was mostly written by Pope Benedict XVI. Evangelii Gaudium is full of the home-spun expressions of faith that have made Francis the most popular public figure on the planet, and the exhortation is certain to succeed in challenging all of us to live in more sincere, compassionate, and self-giving ways. It has also provided some much-needed clarification of the Pope’s previous statements on abortion and marriage that had a few wondering, with only slight exaggeration, whether the Pope was actually Catholic.

By now it is obvious that, in his words and deeds, Pope Francis has a remarkable ability to speak to the heart of the common man, someone who may not know much about or regularly practice his faith but wants to be on good terms with God and other people. It is equally obvious that Francis has made the “new evangelization,” i.e. bringing back fallen-away or secularized Catholics, central to his pontificate. By making the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus his number one priority, the Holy Father is fulfilling his God-given mandate to feed Christ’s sheep. Like nearly everyone else who has been closely watching him in action, I have been moved and inspired to live my faith more intensely, all the while recognizing the inadequacy of my efforts if it weren’t for God’s grace and untiring mercy.

How can we account for Francis’s popularity? Some in the media sense possible changes in Church teaching on all kinds of (mostly sexual) matters, but I think there’s more to it. Pope Benedict’s intellectual approach to explaining Christianity has been followed by Pope Francis’s commonsensical one. Each undoubtedly has its strengths and weaknesses and will carry greater appeal to different sorts of people. It may not be certain how the Holy Spirit selects and inspires any particular pontiff, but one can hazard a guess and say Francis’s style and tone may be exactly what the Church needs at this moment in history.

There are instances, however, when a more considered understanding of technical matters would be preferable; the exhortation’s tirades against the market economy are one. (more…)

Blog author: abradley
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
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mission logo 2Derick Scudder, senior pastor at Bethel Chapel Church, an evangelical congregation in the northern part of Philadelphia, recently completed a 4-part series explaining why he is “done with urban ministry.” Bethel Chapel is a “Bible-teaching church focused on the Good News that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. We are a racially diverse, multi-generational group of people who want to know Jesus better.” As a pastor of a church deeply embedded in a challenging section of Philadelphia, Scudder has experienced the joys and pains of living in a neighborhood that many would simply avoid.

I’m raising my family and serving my church in the same low income neighborhood. My youth group is almost all un-churched kids. Our car has been stolen. I’ve been the victim of a violent crime, counseled drug addicts, and preached at quinceaneras. I’ve helped start and run a non-profit for our neighborhood that’s brought local businesses together and attracted some development to our area. But I’m done calling this urban ministry

What changed? Scudder explains why the label “urban ministry” may be no longer appropriate. Here’s what he says:
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While overall crime rates are falling, in major U.S. cities the untold story is that crime is now more concentrated among the underclass. For example, the New York Times ran a cover story of the concentration of crime in the city of St. Louis to show the reality of this trend. St. Louis, like many other cities, is highly divided by race and class, demonstrated in the city’s crime statistics. The highest crime areas are also the areas that are predominantly black and lower-class. The story of how this decline came to be is quite complex, but one thing the Times story gets right is that these neighborhoods declined sharply when the middle class moved out to the suburbs. The article recounts the experience of one of the residents:

Ms. Gordon has seen a diverse middle-class neighborhood of white and black families transform into one of abandoned, overgrown lots and boarded-up houses. As in many downtrodden parts of St. Louis, the middle class fled for the suburbs, leaving behind those with less economic mobility and causing property values to drop, the education system to crumble and feeding a sense of desperation that leads people to sell drugs and steal.

The most stabilizing group of residents in inner-city communities has always been the black middle class. During the era of racial segregation, it was the black middle class that stabilized many of these communities as blacks migrated from the South to the northern cities after World War II. Many of these neighborhoods have had low-income residents for decades but they did not have the same social pathologies and economic degradation that we find in the northern sections of St. Louis. Without a resurgence of the black middle class, their virtues, and their values, it is unlikely that these neighborhoods will stabilize in the near future. (more…)

A recent piece in The Washington Post by Lori Montgomery reports that conservative U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan has been working on solutions to poverty with Robert Woodson, solutions rooted in face-to-face compassion, spiritual transformation and neighborhood enterprise. The Post seems to want to praise Ryan (R. Wis.) for his interest in the poor, but to do so it first has to frame that interest as something foreign to conservatism:

Paul Ryan is ready to move beyond last year’s failed presidential campaign and the budget committee chairmanship that has defined him to embark on an ambitious new project: Steering Republicans away from the angry, nativist inclinations of the tea party movement and toward the more inclusive vision of his mentor, the late Jack Kemp.

The Post’s tendentious description of the tea party movement is contradicted by data laid out in Arthur Brooks’ Gross National Happiness, which shows that conservatives, on average, give a significantly higher percentage of their income to charitable causes than liberals do.

In its defense, the article does have a poster child for its misleading stereotype of conservatism — Paul Ryan’s 2012 presidential election running mate Mitt Romney, the multimillionaire caught on film writing off the bottom 47% of American earners as unreachable freeloaders who don’t pay any taxes. But what Romney has to do with your rank and file tea party conservative is never made clear in the article.
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Blog author: abradley
Friday, November 8, 2013
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franceSince the French Revolution, Americans have glanced over to our friends across the Atlantic Ocean as a model of what a country should not do. That tradition continues. France’s centralized planning of the economy, health care, education, the family, religion, and so on is not working. The New York Times reports:

The pervasive presence of government in French life, from workplace rules to health and education benefits, is now the subject of a great debate as the nation grapples with whether it can sustain the post-World War II model of social democracy.

Well, those who champion economic, moral, and political liberty predicted this ages ago. As expected, government control of French society has crippled France’s “capability to innovate and compete globally.”

What is more, “investors are shying away from the layers of government regulation and high taxes.” Again, not surprising.

The French government continues to raise taxes and create reasons to redistribute workers’ earnings. According to the article, in France “most child care and higher education are paid for by the government, and are universally available, as is health care.” The cost of health care is “embedded in the taxes imposed on workers and employers; workers make mandatory contributions worth about 10 percent of their paycheck to cover health insurance and a total of about 22 percent to pay for all their benefits.” This is unsustainable.
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snapMichael Tanner of the Cato Institute released a recent policy analysis that raises important questions about whether or not we should completely re-conceptualize how to provide food for the truly disadvantaged. In “SNAP Failure: The Food Stamp Program Needs Reform” Tanner argues The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is currently crippled by high administrative costs, significant fraud and abuse, and weakening of standards. Tanner notes that SNAP breeds greater dependence on government, and, even worse, seems to have negligible long-term effectiveness in eliminating food deficiencies for the truly disadvantaged.

The statistics are overwhelming. Using primarily government data, Tanner observes that the poverty is politicized in Congress through the framing of food stamps as fulfilling two separate goals—“improved levels of nutrition” and “strengthening the agricultural economy.” This created the “bipartisan” support that has exploded funding and served the interests of both political parties. Everybody wins, except for the poor. According to Tanner, “Since 2000, spending on SNAP increased from just $17 billion per year to more than $78 billion in 2012, a greater than fourfold increase.” The increase in spending cannot even be blamed on the recession. According to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates, 35 percent of the program’s growth from 2007 to 2011 was not a result of economic factors in the country.

The factors that have created the expansion include:
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Sid Meir's CivilizationMy wife despises Sid Meier. She’s never met him, nor would she even recognize his name. But she knows someone is responsible for creating the source of my addiction.

For over twenty years I’ve spent (or wasted, as my wife would say) countless hours playing Civilization, Meier’s award-winning strategy game. Every time I play the game I enter an almost trance-like state of complete immersion. According to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, what I’m experiencing in that moment is known as “flow.” Csíkszentmihályi describes the mental state of flow as,

being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, there are ten factors that accompany the experience of flow:
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help poor honor godDoes promoting limited government require abandoning a commitment to the poor? Ryan Messmore, whose answer is a firm “no”, argues that non-government institutions can provide personalized assistance to help individuals fix relational problems, overcome poverty and lead healthy lives:

Calls for limited government are often mistakenly equated with a disregard for people in need. This flawed line of reasoning assumes that poverty is primarily a material problem and that government bears the primary responsibility for solving it by increasing welfare and entitlement spending.

Yet at its root, poverty is usually more complex than a simple lack of material resources. In America, poverty is often the result of a relational problem, such as fatherlessness or community breakdown. Such relational breakdowns are addressed most effectively through various civil society institutions.

People have many needs that extend beyond simple material possessions—needs that cannot be met by any single institution. Families, churches, businesses, and other forms of association play crucial roles in sustaining liberty and meeting people’s needs. Public policy in general and welfare policy in particular should respect and protect these institutions of civil society.

Thus, limited government is an important piece of a framework that benefits people in need. When government is limited to the tasks it is best-equipped and authorized to perform, it allows more effective poverty-fighting institutions to thrive. Far from being incompatible with a concern for poverty, an appropriately limited government is crucial to maintaining a social order that enables people to escape poverty.

Read more . . .