Category: Public Policy

In today’s Detroit News, Rev. Robert A. Sirico discusses free trade and the conditions it creates for peaceful and flourishing societies.

Every few years, a new round of trade negotiations hits the news, and the same debate takes place on the merits of free trade. But this time around, as we discuss a new round of trade relaxations between the U.S. and Latin America, there is an added element.

The religious left has entered to argue against free trade on grounds that it is incompatible with humanitarian concerns. Somehow, they argue, free trade rewards large corporations at the expense of all workers in all countries. They say that free trade amounts to a kind of American imperialism.

For example, a number of Catholic clerics in Costa Rica have weighed in against a free trade agreement with the U.S. on grounds that the agreement as it stands does not have a “human face.”

I admit that I can’t follow their logic. The case for free trade between nations is no different than between you and your local grocery store. All parties to the exchange benefit. What is to be gained by preventing exchanges that people want to make from taking place? Who could possibly benefit from that?

Read more on the Detroit News editorial page.

Blog author: rnothstine
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
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Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Genuine giving can be a very hard thing to do, especially when talking about money and finances. The Gospels make this abundantly clear with the story of the rich young ruler. I remember attending a church where the tithes were brought forward to the altar and being tempted to come carrying an empty envelope on several occasions.

Getting ready for my move to Grand Rapids, I had the opportunity to give away some things which were valuable but I no longer really needed. Upon arriving of course I realized I could have and should have given more.

John Armstrong in a blog a couple of weeks ago pointed out, “65% of individual giving comes from homes with less than $100,000 in annual income… That’s an important nuance. Importance nuance for sure!”

In fact for a long time I lived in Mississippi, a state which is rather well known for being poor. But Mississippians have consecutively ranked among the most generous givers on several occasions (figured by amount given as a share of income).

The apostle Paul in 2nd Corinthians is saying something important in that giving should be done with considerable design and reflection. A well informed and thoughtful giver can help develop a cheerful giver. Seeing your money and capital empowering people can be powerful, and seeing it mismanaged can be disheartening.

As Christians we know we are created and made in the Image of God. God is of course by nature love and compassion, and his revelation and grace is made evident by his Triune character. In trying to be like the image of God we should be cheerful and faithful in loving other humans. God certainly models perfect love and relationship and we are called to model the imago Dei. When Christ fed the multitudes and healed the sick he was not only meeting physical and spiritual needs but was filled with compassion.

Likewise we should be giving in like manner, cheerful and filled with compassion. I remember working in D.C. and experiencing anguish with some of the nastiness and loneliness on Capitol Hill. I was doubting a lot of things in general and, while walking through the famed Statuary Hall, I saw the statue of Father Damien of Molokai who literally gave his life for the lepers on the island of Molokai. My eyes welled with tears and I was once again reminded there are servants who greatly contrast other servants.

In the words of Isaiah, “And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

Here’s a great story by Jennifer Brea touching on a lot of favorite Acton topics. Brea observes that many Africans are getting wise to the fact that Western direct aid may be hurting more than helping their continent. We’ve long decried government-to-government aid and advocated expanded trade instead. More pointed is the article’s indictment of private charitable aid as well. Brea concedes the positive dimensions of such charity, but argues convincingly that Africans’ welfare really lies in the hands of Africans themselves—and in the creativity and entrepreneurship that can only be fully realized when full responsibility is also theirs.

Another interesting piece of the story: Treating Africans as “partners” in the global economy rather than as beneficiaries of global charity is what has helped China take a leading role in the region. That’s a theme that Anthony Bradley broached in his commentary last month.

Readings in Social Ethics: Cyprian of Carthage, On Works and Alms.

  • Perseverance a work of divine providence: “But, moreover, what is that providence, and how great the clemency, that by a plan of salvation it is provided for us, that more abundant care should be taken for preserving man after he is already redeemed! (1).”

  • The order or law of life for the believer: “For when the Lord at His advent had cured those wounds which Adam had borne, and had healed the old poisons of the serpent, He gave a law to the sound man and bade him sin no more, lest a worse thing should befall the sinner (1).”
  • Do works of themselves purge the stains of sin? How do works committed by the regenerate relate to baptism? “And because in baptism remission of sins is granted once for all, constant and ceaseless labour, following the likeness of baptism, once again bestows the mercy of God (2).”
  • What does Cyprian promise will happen to the wealth of the giver? (9-12)
  • Do the poor have a lesser responsibility to give than the rich?
  • A summary of the blessedness of charity: “An illustrious and divine thing, dearest brethren, is the saving labour of charity; a great comfort of believers, a wholesome guard of our security, a protection of hope, a safeguard of faith, a remedy for sin, a thing placed in the power of the doer, a thing both great and easy, a crown of peace without the risk of persecution; the true and greatest gift of God, needful for the weak, glorious for the strong, assisted by which the Christian accomplishes spiritual grace, deserves well of Christ the Judge, accounts God his debtor (26).”
  • Is there occasion given here in Cyprian’s work for a doctrinal deviation in the form of works righteousness or a prosperity gospel? Might these not be deviations but rather what Cyprian intended? Why or why not?
Blog author: jballor
Monday, July 9, 2007
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In yesterday’s WaPo, George F. Will assesses FDR’s domestic legacy, “Declaration of Dependence.”

It’s not a pretty tale: “The war, not the New Deal, defeated the Depression. Franklin Roosevelt’s success was in altering the practice of American politics.

This transformation was actually assisted by the misguided policies — including government-created uncertainties that paralyzed investors — that prolonged the Depression. This seemed to validate the notion that the crisis was permanent, so government must be forever hyperactive.”

In a previous issue of Religion & Liberty, Prof. Steven Gillen writes that FDR helped to

redefine freedom and liberalism in America. In speeches throughout the 1930s the president declared, ‘I am not for a return of that definition of liberty under which for many years a free people were being gradually regimented into the service of a privileged few’ and called for a ‘second bill of rights’ that included governmentally-guaranteed rights to remunerative jobs, decent homes, and adequate health care. Not surprisingly, FDR’s neo-liberal justification of his ‘New Deal’ expansion of the economic role of the federal government enormously appealed to the heavily poor Catholic base of his Democratic Party during the Great Depression and still dominates much of the ‘liberal’ thinking with respect to liberty, rights, and the role of government in America today.

Acton research fellow Kevin Schmiesing also discusses the history and legacy of the New Deal in his book, Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II.

A review of Schmiesing’s book by Thomas E. Woods notes of Schmiesing’s reappraisal of Catholics and the New Deal, “Schmiesing has made an important contribution because he reminds us that a great many considerations, including the dangers posed by political centralization and broad construction of the Constitution, may inform the Catholic conscience on economic matters.”

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From Luther’s exposition of the fourth commandment in his Treatise on Good Works (1520), alluding to King Manasseh’s actions in II Kings 21:

What else is it but to sacrifice one’s own child to an idol and burn it when parents train their children more in the love of the world than in the love of God, and let their children go their own way and get burned up in worldly pleasure, love, enjoyment, lust, goods, and honor, but let God’s love and honor and the love of eternal blessings be extinguished in them? (LW 44:83)