Category: Public Policy

The Chicago Tribune has a story about the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) launched February 8th. (See my initial response here.) Most reports of this story have been somewhat fair. But the Chicago Tribune story takes an unjustified swipe at evangelicals who disagree with the ECI statement. The reporter, Frank James, describes the disagreement among evangelical Christians this way:

But environmental issues have proved divisive within the body of believers who identify themselves as evangelicals. Some who believe the world is in the “end times,” with a return of Jesus imminent, have not seen the necessity of protecting the environment for the long term. Others, meanwhile, have taken the view espoused by the evangelicals who unveiled their campaign Wednesday, that humans were given dominion over the Earth with the responsibility to protect it.

This should be printed in journalism textbooks as an obvious case of media bias. Notice the false dilemma: If you’re an evangelical, you either you agree with the ECI or you don’t care about the environment because you’re expecting the Lord’s return any day now. I read several evangelical responses to the ECI yesterday, and this is one argument that I didn’t see. I note that James doesn’t offer any quotes from representative evangelical leaders who make this argument. Hmm. I wonder why?

If I had to guess, I would say that Frank James has the “James Watt Myth” planted in his memory. James Watt was Secretary of the Interior under President Reagan. It was reported that he once said in congressional testimony: “after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.” This calumny has been repeated countless times by figures such as Bill Moyers. There’s only one problem. The story is false. The Chicago Tribune has now made the false story a generic argument of “some evangelicals.” If Frank James can provide some current, direct quotes by representative evangelical leaders (not random loose cannons) who argue that the environment is unimportant because Jesus is about to return, I’ll be the first on record denouncing the argument. If he can’t produce such quotes, then he should retract this statement.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, February 9, 2006

Following the recent discovery of new species and a reports of a “lost world,” a primitive pristine paradise on the Indonesian island of Papua, I thought I’d pass along some thoughts of F. W. J. Schelling, the 19th century philosopher and contemporary of G. W. F. Hegel and Friedrich Schleiermacher, who was one of the last great German idealists.

German idealism in general, and Schelling’s philosophy in particular, have exercised great influence down into contemporary theology, having effected, among others, Paul Tillich, Jürgen Moltmann, and Wolfhart Pannenberg.

Early in his career, Schelling delivered a series of lectures, including a lecture “Of Human Freedom” in 1809. This lecture focused largely on the problem of evil and theodicy. World history is for Schelling, the divine self-revelation, in which the polar opposites of good and evil are finally reconciled. He writes of the primal state of the world, having a view of the Fall into sin as necessarily linked with creation:

But just as the undivided power of the primal basis is only recognized in man as the inner basis or center of an individual, so, too, in history, evil at first remains concealed int eh depths, and the age of guilt or sin is preceded by an age of innocence or unconsciousness of sin. The primal basis of nature may have operated alone long before, and, through the divien forces contained within it, it may itself have attempted a creation which, however, since the bond of love was lacking, always relapsed in the end back into chaos (as is perhaps indicated by the series of species which were destroyed before the present creation and did not return) until the word of lvoe went forth and with it enduring creation took its start.

Schelling does not have separate doctrines of creation apart from sin, or a fall from a real primal state of innocence into a state of sin. The innocence merely consists in the “unconsciousness of sin.” And so too, things like the fossil record of extinct species are seen as abortive attempts of the material world to bring forth “enduring life,” which can only truly be accomplished when the spirit of love infuses itself into the world.

Schelling also deals at the length with the implications of such a doctrine of sin for our conception of God. Biblical Christian theologians can acknowledge the reality of animal and plant death before the Fall because human sin was not the first instance of creaturely rebellion. Indeed, Satan, a “murderer from the beginning” and ” the father of lies” (John 8:44), bears that distinction.

Time and again, however, Schelling refuses to acknowledge or find relevancy in this reality. He writes, for example, “The first cause of all can never be evil in itself, as there is no duality of hte principles in it. But neither can we presuppose a created spirit, itself fallen, which solicited man to fall: for the very question, at this point, is how evil arose in a created being.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, February 9, 2006

In this season of taxation, it is refreshing to consider strategies for lowering taxes and making governments more efficient. London’s Institute of Economic Affairs recently published a fascinating monograph by Richard Teather, The Benefits of Tax Competition. It’s available for download here.

Teather examines from various angles the issue of tax competition among nations—that is, the practice of national governments’ lowering taxes for the purpose of attracting foreign companies and fostering and retaining domestic ones. He reviews the relevant existing research, analyzes the evidence, and concludes that the objections don’t hold water and that tax competition is, all in all, a good thing.

It is worth noting that the same principle applies intranationally. I recently heard a speech by a candidate for governor of Ohio who has made the state’s oppressive tax structure the centerpiece of his campaign. He tells of a humorous conversation with an Indiana state official who posits as the main cause of that state’s economic vibrancy, “Ohio’s dumb policies.” In other words, talented young people, entrepreneurs, and existing businesses are all fleeing Ohio for environments more conducive to prosperity–like Indiana.

If you’d like to see how your state’s taxes compare with others around the country, check out this informative map provided by the Tax Foundation.

One aspect of the evangelical involvement in debates over global warming and climate change that has intriqued me has been what I deem to be a rather large blind spot about the relation of religious conservatives to science.

By this I mean that if there is any group of people who ought to understand the rigidity of scientific dogma, it should be evangelical Christians. Given the treatment of their views in debates about evolution and more recently “intelligent design,” it shoud be clear just how biased and close-minded scientific orthodoxy can be. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to get anything published in scientific journals that takes ID seriously.

There’s a similar dynamic at work in the debate about global warming. Sure, most prominent scientists that you hear about in the news believe that global warming is real, humans are causing it, and something like the Kyoto protocol is the answer. But why can’t evangelicals see that the minority opinion among scientists in the global warming debates is receiving similar treatment to that which IDers receive?

For more background to the evangelical approach to global warming, and today’s announcement of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, you can see my dialogue with CT’s Andy Crouch. Interestingly enough, he argues that part of the fallout from the evolution controversy was that evangelicals distrust science, but that this distrust is misplaced when it comes to global warming.

See Crouch’s original piece, “Environmental Wager,” my response, “Pascal’s Blunder,” Crouch’s rejoinder to my response, my further reply, “Comet-Busting Lasers,” with Andy getting the last word here.

Following Michael Miller’s recent Acton Commentary, “Why Johnny Can’t Compete with Sanjay”, and the resulting comments, two of America’s best political commentators have also weighed in on the subject.

First there’s Charles Krauthammer’s Time article, arguing that America is doing fine, partly as a result of less dependence on government-funded research.

Then Michael Barone comments on Krauthammer’s argument, along with a request for more information on the role of the private sector in research.

Any takers?

Blog author: jrichards
Wednesday, February 8, 2006

After much whispering and pre-publicity, a group of 86 evangelical leaders has announced their support for what The New York Times calls “a major initiative to fight global warming.” As part of the “Evangelical Climate Initiative,” they are calling for “federal legislation that would require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through ‘cost-effective, market-based mechanisms.'” (For a response from another group of evangelical leaders, go to the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance.)

I have great respect for the supporters of this initiative, and I don’t doubt their sincerity. And I’m glad to see a call for “market-based” solutions to a problem. Unfortunately, this looks to me like another example (alongside the fuzzy advocacy of the ONE Campaign) of Christians, evangelicals in this case, endorsing a hip cause without thinking through its economic logic.

I doubt any of these evangelical leaders has relevant expertise when it comes to global warming, especially since the scientific issues involved are exquisitely complex and change from day to day. So presumably they are simply trusting the advertised “scientific consensus” on this issue and using that perceived consensus as a filter for interpreting mundane events, like ice melting in Antarctica. That’s a problem, not only because the consensus is more manufactured than real (that is, objectively decided), but also because a scientific consensus that the planet is warming still wouldn’t tell us what to do about it. That’s a prudential question that can only be answered by taking account not only of the intended consequences of a policy, but also its unintended consequences.

The issue is not whether we should see ourselves as stewards over creation. That’s a non-negotiable Christian principle. The issue is whether these evangelicals have done the obligatory serious thinking before advocating a specific public policy.

When it comes to global warming, there are at least four separate issues to keep in mind. You don’t need to be a climate expert to do this.

(1) Is the planet warming?

(2) If the planet is warming, is human activity (like CO2 emissions) causing it?

(3) If the planet is warming, and we’re causing it, is it bad overall?

(4) If the planet is warming, we’re causing it, and it’s bad, would the policies commonly advocated (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol, restrictions on CO2 emissions) make any difference? (more…)

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, February 8, 2006

With the publication of Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI is warning that an all-encompassing government would be unable to provide the one thing that people really need — loving, personal concern. Sam Gregg sees parallels between Benedict’s new encyclical and Tocqueville’s 19th century understanding of the autonomous, social associations that gave America its dynamic character and limited government power.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Here’s a convincing op-ed piece by William Romanowski, who teaches film studies at Calvin College, “Missing the big picture.” He writes in USAToday about the ambivalent impact of the upswing of religiously-oriented movies coming from Hollywood. “Were more evangelicals to think about movies in terms of their faith beliefs, they would actually have an opportunity to not only buy tickets, but also to begin to shape the entertainment industry,” he writes.

But how evangelicals (broadly defined) attempt to shape the industry is important as well: “The best motion pictures transform the real world into an imaginary one with ideals, values, attitudes and assumptions woven into characterizations and storylines.”

“Evangelicals can influence Hollywood when they think of the cinema as an arena for cultural discourse but not a place for converting members of that culture to a specific Christian orientation. In other words, evangelicals’ goal for the movie industry should be to encourage discourse, not merely evangelizing,” he concludes. He cites Million Dollar Baby, Syriana, and A History of Violence as examples of films with moral complexity and texture that can precipitate important discussions about issues like social violence, politics, and euthanasia.

These aren’t normally the kinds of films that are considered “family friendly,” but Romanowski makes the case that they can be considered as important touchstones for salient religious conversation.

HT: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Religion News

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, February 7, 2006

What might a big city Wal-Mart look like? Until now, such a question was only answerable through some imaginative speculation.

Wal-Mart has announced plans to open the first store within Chicago’s city limits in the Austin neighborhood this summer. The 145,000-square-foot facility will also be the first to have what is called a “green roof,” 67,000 square foot “covered like a rug with flowering, cactus-like plants that live in cold weather.”

The roof is designed by Roof-scapes, Inc. of Philadelphia and will “have only 3 inches of soil, no irrigation system and will be designed to reduce rainfall runoff and, in conjunction with other green roofs, lower the city’s air temperature,” according to Charlie Miller, a Roof-scapes spokesman.

But perhaps even more interesting than what the store will look like on the outside is what will be missing from the inside. According to the Sun-Times,

will have no full-line grocery store, a concession Wal-Mart made to the City Council, which feared Wal-Mart would undersell smaller grocery stores and put them out of business. Wal-Mart will sell a limited amount of non-perishable, frozen and refrigerated food in addition to clothing, electronics, jewelry and household goods, but will sell no fresh fruit or produce. Those restrictions were necessary to win City Council approval of a zoning change to clear the way for Chicago’s first Wal-Mart.

According to a 2003 project by the Center for Cultural Understanding and Change, the Austin community had a median income of $33,633 in 2000, but “because it is so large, it has pockets of growing wealth, as well as signs of continuing poverty. ‘It’s interesting,’ described an Austin resident, “you’ve got the rich people and the poor people around here.'”

The City Council, in its wisdom, decided that there is a certain price level that groceries shouldn’t go under (in the interests of the community, of course).

What happened to consumer freedom? No one is forced to patronize Wal-Mart…the residents could willingly pay more at the smaller grocery stores if that’s what they wanted. They might well value cheaper produce more than they do intimate neighborhood stores.

Indeed, I suspect that the poorer residents of the neighborhood might rather spend their hard-earned money getting more for less at Wal-Mart. But that choice won’t be available in Chicago, at least not yet, thanks to the special interests of the Chicago City Council. (Thanks to John Powers for the tip.)

Blog author: jspalink
Monday, February 6, 2006

“Stop sending us your used clothes”
“Why 30 grams of fat is good for the poor”
“Look closely and you’ll see the Virgin Mary in this tortilla”

Acton is wrapping up a three-month project that had print advertisements running in several publications: WORLD, Crisis and the Michigan Catholic. The idea is to get people thinking about the economic consequences of trade policies and the power of entrepreneurial creativity. We’ve received a lot of feedback on this project, most of which was highly positive — with a few critical zingers. (Thanks to those of you who allowed us to use your names in the comments.) If you haven’t had a chance to see the ads, please visit the special Web page we built around this campaign for more information. We’d like to get your insights. Please email us at home [at]

I fully agree with your underlying point/message. I liked the “used clothes” ad very much. But… As a non-Catholic, I am uncomfortable with the tone of your “Virgin Mary” ad (though it might play well in media markets with a large proportion of Catholics). The “30g of fat” ad also sends mixed messages — while I agree that the appearance of McDonalds is a sign of a degree of stability, protection of private property & investment, and openness to foreign direct investment and other commerce (all very good), I don’t think that American fast food is much of a blessing to the world, least of all the underdeveloped world. Freer markets and protecting the lives/property of agriculturalists would certainly help feed and enrich these people better than new McDonalds branches in major cities would (these countries are far too heavily urbanized as a result of welfarism and statism).
~ Steve Daskal

I think your ads are tremendous. As you know, I’m sure, the provision of food aid to Africa also is detrimental to the local food production market, in the same way as the sending of used clothing. Thank you for these!
~ Philip Sawyer

Great ads. They communicate a difficult concept in a respectful manner. It makes me want to know more about Acton. Keep up the good work.
~ Name withheld

Thank you for the ads. I especially identified the one titled “Stop Sending Your Used Clothes.” As a Kenyan I witnessed how the used clothes market wiped out all the three textile industries that were located in my city, Thika. Even though the used clothes were cheaper and allowed poor people to afford more clothing, it increased poverty in the area because as each industry closed down, unemployment went up impacting many families. Many of these textile industries had hired a lot of women workers. This meant that when these women lost their jobs they could no longer support their families. Many of these women were forced to either depend on men or turn to prostitution. The city began to witness an increase in the AIDS epidemic. There is a high correlation between AIDS and poverty. Poverty does not only strip off people of their dignity but it also makes it difficult for people to make good moral choices. AIDS will only be fully! eradicated when poverty, particularly among the most vulnerable,(women and children) is eradicated.
~ Name withheld

You are doing good work. You are exactly correct with the ad message. I hope they are well heard.
~ Larry Spears

As a student of both moral philosophy and economics, I have been greatly encouraged to see your ads. They are professional, research based, and just the type of thing to make a liberal’s jaw drop. They challenge some fundamental assumptions made by liberals that are completely false. After years studying under a very liberal faculty, I rejoice every time I see a relevant, timely message encouraging free market ideals. The beautifully designed posters are much more effective than some of the lame and unprofessional “research” I have seen from other organizations. Thank you!
~ Name withheld

Quite honestly, I think they are disgraceful, sinful, anti-Catholic and an abomination if one knows anything about charity and economics at all. But I suspect you really don’t care what people think.
~ Name withheld

I think this is a long overdue and an excellent way to start educating Catholics about vital essentials of economics! Keep up the good work!
~ Name withheld