Category: Business and Society

The Real Clear Politics Blog passes along an op-ed from Bob Herbert, “Blowing the Whistle on Gangsta Culture,” a NYT Select item (subscription required). In the column, Herbert discusses the “profoundly self-destructive cultural influences that have spread like a cancer through much of the black community and beyond.”

Tom Bevan calls the piece “suprisingly candid,” and “some stiff, righteous stuff – all the more impressive coming from the source.” Herbert, of course, has been a NYT columnist since 1993, and Bevan thinks that “If Herbert is disgusted with the current state of black leadership in America then we may indeed have reached a tipping point.”

Acton research fellow Anthony Bradley has written widely on the moral status of rap culture. Be sure to check out these items: “Candy Shopping – Rap’s Dehumanizing Message” and “Ghetto Cracker: The Hip Hop ‘Sell Out’”.

A newly certified Guiness World Record, presented without further comment.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
By

Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says his research shows that “regular religious participation leads to better education, higher income and a lower chance of divorce. His results (based on data covering non-Hispanic white Americans of several Christian denominations, other faiths and none) imply that doubling church attendance raises someone’s income by almost 10%.”

The article linked above gives a good overview of Gruber’s methods, and touches on some related ideas in the history of economics, including Max Weber’s thesis. What’s new about Gruber’s work is that it purports to be “quantitative research on whether religion affects income directly and if so, by how much.”

If Gruber’s study is true, and I’m inclined to think something like it may well be given my own anecdotal experience, it immediately raises the question of how church attendance has such an effect. One of the causal possibilities Gruber offers is the idea of the church as a center of “social capital,” a burgeoning field of study in economics. Social capital is “a web of relationships that fosters trust. Economists think such ties can be valuable, because they make business dealings smoother and transactions cheaper. Churchgoing may simply be an efficient way of creating them.”

Russell D. Moore over at Mere Comments notes that Barbara Ehrenreich, pseudo-Marxist social critic, relates a tale in her latest book about attending “a Christian ministry for job-seekers in Georgia. She writes of the charismatic speaker encouraging the unemployed seekers to learn how to network. ‘And who should be our first networking target?’ the motivational speaker queries. ‘The Lord.'”

The author of The Economist article notes that “given that Jesus warned his followers against storing up treasures on earth, you might think that this wasn’t the motivation for going to church that he had in mind.” I might also note that putting Jesus at the center of your life, or viewing Christ as the “center” of theology or the Bible (as the title of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s lectures might intimate: Christ the Center), doesn’t mean that he becomes the central hub of your business networking.

The sociality that is initiated by the Gospel in the Christian Church is a multifaceted and complex phenomenon. But if the motivation to go to church in America is increasingly to raise income levels and build social capital, Avery Dulles might just have to add another and less than lauditory appendix to his Models of the Church: The Church as Country Club.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
By

In the latest issue of Touchstone, Acton senior fellow Jennifer Roback Morse examines the issues of procreation and property in contemporary society, and the seemingly growing opinion anyone can be a parent if they so choose. In “First Comes Marriage” Morse contends, “There is no right to a child, because a child is not an object to which other people have rights.”

She goes on to make a clarification about meanings of “rights” language that are often conflated:

We must distinguish between “the right to have a child” in the sense of possession and the “right to have a child” in the sense of procreation. There is one coherent way to imagine a right to procreate. Two people of the opposite sex can come together to conceive a child, without permission from the state or anyone else. People do it all the time.

To put it another way: Every individual is sterile. No one can have a baby by himself. Each human infant has two parents, one male and one female. Therefore, any right to have a child should be held by a couple, not by an individual who wishes to be a parent.

Read the whole thing and subscribe to Touchstone here.

The NYT’s John Leland has an excellent article on the engagement of culturally conservative Christians and popular movies. In “New Cultural Approach for Conservative Christians: Reviews, Not Protests,” (login required) Leland writes about the shift in attitude, from one of abstention and withdrawal to critical engagement.

Professor Robert Johnston of Fuller Theological Seminary says that “evangelicals as a group are becoming more sophisticated in their interaction with popular culture. There’s been a recognition within the evangelical community that movies have become a primary means, perhaps the primary means, of telling our culture’s stories. For this reason, evangelicals have become much more open to good stories, artfully told, but they also want stories whose values they can affirm or understand.”

The latest issue of Religion & Liberty has a number of articles dealing with movies and morality, including an interview with Ralph Winter, producer of Fantastic Four, X-Men, and a number of the Star Trek films, as well as an article by Michael Medved.

For more reading on Christian engagement of the culture of Hollywood, check out “Would C.S. Lewis Have Risked a Disney ‘Nightmare’?” and “The Culture’s Animating Values.”

And here are a few sources for Christian reviews of current and past films: Christianity Today Movies, Decent Films Guide, and World Magazine’s Cinema Veritas.

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
By

“Christians obtain grace from reflecting on the miracle of the Incarnation but they have given the event called Christmas as a glorious gift to the world,” Rev. Sirico writes. “This is why this holiday can be so secular and yet remain so sacred. There is a distinction between the two but not always a battle between the two.”

Read the full commentary here.

Remember: when you recieve a “free” service from the government, it’s not actually free. You’re paying for that service through your taxes. And when the government sets up a monopoly in an area like health care, it’s probably going to end up being more expensive and cheaper at the same time – more expensive because people are less likely to use a “free” service prudently, and cheaper because the overuse of the service will force officials to impose major restraints on the program in order to aviod complete financial disaster, thereby reducing the amount and quality of services available to consumers. Anthony Dick provides an overview of Canada’s situation today on National Review Online:

Canada’s universal-health-care system has long been a darling of the nanny-state Left. Its stated purpose, jealously touted by swooning cohorts of compassion from coast to coast, is to provide free and equal health care for all, regardless of ability to pay.

In practice, sadly, this high-minded endeavor has hit a few snags. The pesky fetters of reality have imposed stingy budget constraints on the enterprise, while the promise of free service for all has increased the demand for treatment. The Canadian government has thus struggled to treat more patients while spending as sparingly as possible on each of them, causing waiting lists to swell and the quality of care to sag. Not helping matters have been some medical professionals, who have fled the public system in search of better compensation. With shaking heads and sullen spirits, everyone involved agrees: It’s just not fair.

There is hope, however, thanks to the legal efforts of Jacques Chaoulli, a 53-year-old French Canadian physician. As they say, read the whole thing.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, December 19, 2005
By

Fast Company Now is reporting that “for the first time, customer satisfaction with federal agency Websites has surpassed offline government services,” according to an American Customer Satisfaction Index report.

What is especially noteworthy, however, is that online private sector services consistently rank higher in satisfaction than their governmental counterparts. “Where the gap between offline public and private services has narrowed, the report said, e-government is trailing far behind the private sector online. That, said ACSI chief Claes Fornell, shows room for improvement: ‘They still have ground to close,’ he said.”

Update: In case you were wondering, FEMA’s ratings were dragging down the aggregate federal number a bit. The two divisions of FEMA’s that were rated by the ACSI were its “Flood Map Store” and the “Mitigation Division website”, which scored 70 and 65 respectively (out of 100). The overall governmental average was 71.3.

The Acton debate on the relationship has featured blog posts on Rodney Stark and David Brooks’s column on Starks.

Amy Welborn’s site has more in these two posts (here and here), with a somewhat lively debate in the comments sections.

Several of the comments regard Max Weber’s thesis on the Protestant work ethic and capitalism, and reveal a misunderstanding of what makes for economic growth in Ireland and the lack of it in Latin America.

It’s pretty obvious there are few Actonites or economists taking place in the debate over at Amy Welborn’s. If they had been reading the Journal of Markets and Morality, they could have saved themselves a lot of time.

Jordan Ballor’s recent post on “Christian Reason and the Spirit of Capitalism” hit onto something big.

In today’s New York Times, op-ed columnist David Brooks weighs in with a piece entitled “The Holy Capitalists”. (Once again, the Times has blocked access to non-subscribers. If you aren’t a subscriber, buy today’s Times just to read this column – it’s worth it.)

Brooks calls the debate over the foundations of success the most important in the social sciences today and praises Rodney Stark’s book “The Victory of Reason” for its unconventional take on Western progress.

“Religion didn’t stifle economic and scientific ideas – it nurtured them. [...] Catholic theology had taught [European scientists and economists] that God had created the universe according to universal laws that reason could discover.”

He concludes, “Ideas and culture drive civilizations. The Catholic Church nutured one of the most impressive economic takeoffs in human history. Today, as Catholicism spreads in Africa and China, it’s important to understand the beliefs that encourage people to work hard and grow rich.”

Some of these themes can be found in Pope Benedict XVI’s recent World Day of Peace Message (albeit in less provocative language). And they are also of great interest to the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, headed by Prof. Mary Ann Glendon.

Maybe this discussion will be joined on the letters page of the “newpaper of record”. And maybe the Times will even allow non-subscribers to take part.