It is one thing to create wealth by using our gifts. This is a matter of knowledge. It is quite a different thing to know what to do with the wealth that has been created. That is where wisdom comes into the picture. Rev. Zandstra, a Senior Fellow with the Acton Institute, examines Warren Buffett’s recent gift of $31 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and offers words of hope that the Gates Foundation can use this wealth with wisdom, making a difference in the lives of those they seek to help.
An article in today’s New York Times, “Push for New Tactics as War on Malaria Falters,” coincides nicely with Acton’s newest ad campaign (see the back cover of the July 1 issue of World). The article attacks government mismanagement of allocated funds in the global fight against malaria. Celia Dugger, the author, writes:
Only 1 percent of the [United States Agency for International Development's] 2004 malaria budget went for medicines, 1 percent for insecticides and 6 percent for mosquito nets. The rest was spent on research, education, evaluation, administration and other costs.
The game is now changing, however. The White House has initaited new campaigns, boosting allocation for medicines, insecticides, and mosquito nets to over 40% of the agency’s total malaria budget. The new government push is also raising awareness among private donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Acton has begun a media campaign to raise awareness of available and economically sound solutions to the malaria epidemic. Among possible solutions is the indoor residual spraying of insecticides, including DDT (proven to be highly effective and safe in South Africa), distribution of treated mosquito nets, distribution of medication, and educational programs that explain where malaria comes from and how to avoid it.
GoodSearch is a Yahoo!-powered search engine that allows you to designate a recipient charity of your choice. Once you pick a charity, each time you use GoodSearch that group will receive one cent. GoodSearch was founded by a brother and sister who lost their mother to cancer and wanted to find an easy way for people to support their favorite causes.
The Acton Institute is now an option and can be designated as your GoodSearch recipient. Simply type in “Acton Institute” in the field below the search form to verify whom you are supporting.
Those looking for more direct ways to support the work of the Institute can join us in advancing freedom and virtue here.
Ecumenical News International (ENI) relates the launch last month of a new initiative in Africa, designed to “to mobilise a strong African voice in development.” The effort is called African Monitor and is led by the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, Njongonkulu Ndungane.
Anyone who spends much time at all looking at the economic development situation in Africa quickly realizes the lack of independent, nongovernmental, native voices. As African Monitor states, “This African civil society voice can thus be seen as the too often missing ‘fourth piece of the jigsaw’ alongside existing stakeholders of donor governments and institutions; their African counterparts; and donor-based NGOs and civil society.”
African Monitor’s mission is to begin to fill this need: “African Monitor is an independent body, acting as a catalyst within Africa’s civil society, to bring a strong African voice to the development debate, and to raise key questions from an African perspective.” The initiative represents a truly unique and much needed enterprise, since before the creation of African Monitor “there was no existing pan-African network that can provide such a catalyst across the sub-Saharan region, and taking a perspective across aid, trade, development and financial flows.”
In his address before the opening of the group, titled, “Let African Voices speak out for effective action on Africa’s development,” Archbishop Ndungane emphasized the need for accountability and true follow-through on the part of donors and developed nations: “We saw that Africa’s grassroots voices, currently marginalised and fragmented, could be harnessed to pursue these ends, and that faith communities, the most extensive civil society bodies on the continent, could provide the backbone of networks to bring these voices into the public arena.”
The Acton Institute has long supported the claim that African civil society needs to take a leading role in the development of the African continent. See, for example, the conversation with Rev. Bernard Njoroge, bishop of the diocese of Nairobi in the Episcopal Church of Africa, and Chanshi Chanda, chairman of the Institute of Freedom for the Study of Human Dignity in Kitwe, Zambia, about the issues of debt cancellation the moral nature of business (video clips, .wmv format, available for Rev. Njoroge and Mr. Chanda).
A recent NYT article outlines some recent research showing that many people who give to charity “often tolerate high administrative costs, fail to monitor charities and do not insist on measurable results — the opposite of how they act when they invest in the stock market.” Tyler Cowen writes in “Investing in Good Deeds Without Checking the Prospectus,” about the research of John A. List, a professor at the University of Chicago, which “implies that most donors do not respond when they have opportunities to be more effective in their giving.”
Cowen, who is a professor of economics at George Mason and blogs here, concludes, “If donors do not abandon failing causes, those efforts will continue. Perhaps the content of donor pride needs to change. Rather than taking pride only in their generosity, donors should also take pride in their willingness to confront unpleasant news.”
The bottom line is that when you give to charity, you have a responsibility to give to charities that are good stewards of the money, thereby rewarding good charities and punishing bad ones. Doing this gives the proper incentives for charities to work well.
Part of the problem is that people may not really know how to measure the effectiveness and stewardship of a given charity. The Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide is a tool designed to assist donors in meeting this responsibility.
Indeed, Acton’s effective compassion initiatives, based on Marvin Olasky’s seven principles for effective compassion, are largely based on providing the education that donors need to find out the sort of issues and questions that they should be asking.
Joe Knippenberg, who blogs at No Left Turns, provides a thoughtful and engaging analysis of the particulars of the recent Iowa court decision finding against InnerChange Freedom Initiative, an outreach of Prison Fellowship Ministries. In “Penitents in the Penitentiary?,” at The American Enterprise Online, Knippenberg writes, “Despite my general support for the faith-based initiative, and for religious efforts to put the penitence back in penitentiaries, I’m inclined for the most part to agree with Judge Pratt. In this particular case, where the state and Prison Fellowship self-consciously tested the outer bounds of current church-state jurisprudence, they went too far.”
Reaction from PFM’s president Mark Earley is available here and at the special IFI verdict page. I have written before in support of work of PFM, and this decision does nothing to change my mind on that score.
It does expose the real complexities involved with taking for Christian ministries, even those that have a strong social service component. As Knippenberg writes, InnerChange staff ran up against the difficulties of abiding by what I consider to be the increasingly rigid and invalid separation of secular and sacred elements: “Where so much of the program is devoted to inculcating a Christian worldview, it is difficult, if not impossible, to precisely delineate what portion of a staffer’s time, or what fraction of a piece of equipment’s value is devoted to secular, as opposed to religious, purposes.”
I’ve written more about the entanglements and effects of the faith-based initiative in the case of the Silver Ring Thing, and there’s conversation between myself and Knippenberg on this linked here, here and here.
Abner Ramos, an alumnus of Acton’s September 2005 Toward a Free and Virtuous Society conference, experienced a change of heart not so long ago. In his work at the the East Los Angeles College Intervarsity Fellowship, he was seeing how some people displayed a sense of entitlement on matters of charity and financial assistance (like the students who were using financial aid checks to buy fancy wheels for their cars). And Abner, as he tells it on the El Acceso blog, came to the conclusion that some were simply taking advantage of his good will.
I’ve had to learn the hard way that in the ghetto, saying “no” is sometimes the best thing that you can do for people. I’ve had to learn the hard way that sometimes the poor aren’t as poor as they seem, and that they will sometimes take advantage of you once they figure out that you’re weak and have no discipline. I’ve had to learn that sometimes the poor that we work with are, well . . . lazy. Not only that, they’ve learned how to play the system to their advantage. I’ve learned that in my Christian desire to help people, I’ve actually enabled them to stay in poverty.
Abner credits his Acton education for helping him understand the problem and formulate a more effective response. Read his entire post here.
John Stossel has made an excellent and noteworthy journalistic career by going where the evidence takes him. He possesses an intellectual honesty and curiosity that is refreshing, especially when compared to the banal talking head syndrome which dominates most main stream media.
As co-anchor of ABC’s 20/20, Stossel has negotiated a deal which allows him to do special reports on whatever interesting and controversial topics he chooses. His latest was a special aimed at debunking popularly accepted myths, tied to the release of his new book, Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity.
Here’s Stossel’s #1 myth: More foreign aid will end global poverty. (You can view video of the segment here.) Stossel points to Bono and Jeffrey Sachs as examples of people who perpetuate this myth, with their advocacy of the ONE campaign and emphasis on increased foreign aid.
Stossel relies in part on June Arunga and James Shikwati of the Inter Region Economic Network to explode this myth: “Arunga grew up in Kenya, and she wonders why Americans waste money on foreign aid to Africa … when many politicians just steal it.”
“What’s holding down Africans is actually the bad governments, the bad policies that make it difficult for Africans to make use of their own property,” Shikwati said. “What the aid money is doing to Africa is to subsidize the bad policies that are making Africans poor.”
The Acton Institute has worked on exposing the false assumptions of this myth a long time, and with the help of Arunga and Shikwati as well. Arunga wrote a letter from a WTO meeting in Cancun in 2003, first published by the Acton Institute (PDF) and subsequently carried in the Philadelphia Inquirer (October 6, 2003). James Shikwati authored an Acton Commentary that same year, “The WTO and the Voice of the Poor.”
For more information about Acton’s work in these areas, check out our special Aid to Africa section, which brings together a number of important and related resources, including conversations on debt relief and the moral nature of business with the Rt. Rev. Bernard Njoroge, bishop of the diocese of Nairobi in the Episcopal Church of Africa, and Chanshi Chanda, chairman of the Institute of Freedom for the Study of Human Dignity in Kitwe, Zambia.
You can also visit Acton’s award-winning IMPACT ad campaign, aimed at raising awareness about the complexity of global poverty and the Solutions video, which addresses failures of governments first, governments only proposals.
And for more of John Stossel, check out the 2 CD set of his address at the Lord Acton Lecture Series on October 20, 1997, in which he deals with the pervasiveness of government and the nature of self-interest in the free economy.
In January, I wrote about the Central Plains wildfires as a very personal crisis in my Oklahoma hometown.
I underscored the importance of subsidiarity, which is the idea that a central authority should perform only those tasks which cannot be handled effectively at a more immediate or local level. I’ve now had opportunity to practice subsidiarity in Oklahoma. And I can tell you, it’s harder to do than to talk or write about in the abstract.
The preceding months of drought had created a tinderbox that fueled fires that burned out thousands of Oklahoma and Texas families, including hundreds in my home town and surrounding counties. As the wildfires burned, an upscale West Michigan children’s clothing resale shop was seeking a donation location for 2,000 pieces of clothing. The need was obvious. The Effective Compassion staff at Acton now had opportunity to support local helpers in the wildfire areas, to literally equip an exercise in subsidiarity.
In politics and in society, the principle of subsidiarity represents one of the bulwarks of limited government and personal freedom. My humble, small-town Oklahoma mother can understand that. But in the wake of unprecedented national disasters, such obvious common sense can be overrun with the lure of government relief money. The bureaucratic morass of FEMA hurricane response should warn us off such temptations.
The “let the government do it” attitude springs eternal with this culture, despite obvious and continued failure. However, the “let the locals do it” approach requires more of the locals — and in this case of clothing to needy Oklahoma neighbors, that meant me. (more…)
This section from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics strikes me as quite true:
The coercive factors, in distinction to the more purely moral and rational factors, in political relations can never be sharply differentiated and defined. It is not possible to estimate exactly how much a party to a social conflict is influenced by a rational argument or by the threat of force. It is impossible, for instance, to know what proportion of a privileged class accepts higher inheritance taxes because it believes that such taxes are good social policy and what proportion submits merely because the power of the state supports the taxation policy. Since political conflict, at least in times when controversies have not reached the point of crisis, is carried on by the threat, rather than the actual use, of force, it is always easy for the casual or superficial observer to overestimate the moral and rational factors, and to remain oblivious to the covert types of coercion and force which are used in the conflict.
This obfuscation of motives is part of what differentiates charity from taxation. True charity cannot be coerced.
See also: Reinhold Niebuhr Today, ed. Richard John Neuhaus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989).