Category: Public Policy

Ahhhh, the Left! So often passionate, so obstinately assured of the rightness of their secular crusades mounted under the variety of flags and anthems espousing “social justice” and “environmental sustainability.” And, unfortunately, so often just plain wrong.

Such is the case with As You Sow, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and other shareholder activist groups that each year apply their supposed religious authority to the proxy resolutions they submit to major companies. Certainly, AYS and ICCR investors believe from the sanctuary of their respective progressive bubbles that they’re working for the benefit of humankind when it comes to such topics as climate-change mitigation and genetically modified organisms. Yet, nothing could be further from reality viewed through the lenses of science, religion, economics and common sense.

For the purpose of this post, let’s take a look at the work AYS and ICCR apply against GMOs. Both shareholder activist groups are affiliated with Inside GMO coalition – AYS as an acknowledged member and ICCR listing Inside GMO as a featured resource. The Inside GMO website portentously lists the organization’s purpose:

Large agribusiness and chemical companies oppose our right to know when foods have GMOs. These are the same companies that put GMOs out on the market without adequate testing – turning us all into lab rats in a giant science experiment.

GMO Inside is a campaign dedicated to helping all Americans know which foods have GMOs inside, and the non-GMO verified and organic certified alternatives to genetically engineered foods. We believe that everyone has a right to know what’s in their food and to choose foods that are proven safe for themselves, their families, and the environment.

GMO Inside gives people information and tools, and provides a place for a growing community of people from all walks of life, to share information and actions around genetically engineered foods.

Sigh. It gets worse. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, October 15, 2015
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664975_084I saw The Martian this week and was struck by the number of resonant themes on a variety of is issues, including creation, creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, exploration, work, suffering, risk, and civilization.

I won’t be exploring all of these in the brief reflections below, but will simply be highlighting some salient features. The film communicates something seriously important about the threefold relations of human beings: to God, to one another, and to the creation.

There will be some potential spoilers in the discussion below the jump after this line.
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Blog author: bwalker
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
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While it has been pointed out repeatedly by your writer and others in this space that Pope Francis’ Laudato Si contains much to recommend it for the beauty, compassion and depth of spirituality contained within, there remains much that is problematic. For example, there’s this:

At the same time we can note the rise of a false or superficial ecology which bolsters complacency and a cheerful recklessness. As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear. Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a license to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.

All this is consistent with Pope Francis’ warning that fossil fuels are contributing to climate change, but what he should be advocating for is energy abundance rather than this:

There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gasses can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.

Yet, how does the Pope reconcile his call for reduction of fossil-fuel use with his call for cleaner water and increased green space in the following quotes?

Here’s Pope Francis on water:
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Cash RegistersThere’s an intriguing piece in the NYT from last month by Hiroko Tabuchi that explores some of the challenges facing traditional retailers (HT: Sarah Pulliam Bailey), “Stores Suffer From a Shift of Behavior in Buyers.”

Department stores like Macy’s and Kohl’s seem to be losing out on the rebound in consumer spending. “Department stores made up one of just two categories tracked by the Commerce Department where spending declined, the latest in a choppy performance from them this year. Spending at electronics and appliance stores also fell 1.2 percent in July,” writes Tabuchi.

One major explanation offered by Tabuchi’s sources is that this part of a larger paradigm shift in American consumer attitude. “The religion of consumption has proven to be unfulfilling,” says Richard E. Jaffe, a retailing analyst, “The ‘pile it high and watch it fly’ mentality at department stores no longer works.”
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Blog author: dpahman
Thursday, September 24, 2015
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Today at the Library of Law and Liberty, I take a cue from probablist Nassim Nicholas Taleb and call for the commemoration of a National Entrepreneurs Day:

One has been proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives, and probabilist Nassim Taleb has given us a fully developed argument as to why we should have one. I second the motion. In Antifragile, his 2012 book, Taleb confesses that he is “an ingrate toward the man whose overconfidence caused him to open a restaurant and fail, enjoying my nice meal while he is probably eating canned tuna.”

This lack of gratitude is a moral failing of all of us in modern society, says Taleb. Hence his idea:

In order to progress, modern society should be treating ruined entrepreneurs in the same way we honor dead soldiers, perhaps not with as much honor, but using the exact same logic. . . . For there is no such thing as a failed soldier, dead or alive (unless he acted in a cowardly manner)—likewise, there is no such thing as a failed entrepreneur or failed scientific researcher.

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RS cover from 2014

RS cover from 2014

On Sept. 10, Rolling Stone magazine published a long article titled “Pope Francis’ American Crusade — The pope takes on climate change, poverty and conservative U.S. clerics.” From the title alone you could tell where this was headed. Predictably, the magazine asserted that “deeply alarmed by the power of Francis’ message, an entire network of -right-wing Catholic organizations has been increasingly willing to push back against the Vatican.” In ticking off members of this “network” it said this about the Acton Institute and yours truly:

Then there’s the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, which is run by a Catholic priest named Robert Sirico — he’s the brother of actor Tony Sirico, best known for his portrayal of Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos — and hosts forums with titles like “Government: Less Is More.” Sirico recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal attacking “Laudato Si'” for its “decided bias against the free market and suggestions that poverty is the result of a globalized economy,” though he failed to disclose the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations Acton has received from extraction-industry giants such as Exxon Mobil and the Koch family.

I wrote a response to this article and sent it to Rolling Stone editors but they, not surprisingly, declined to publish it. Here it is in full:

To the Editor:

News Flash! Admitted pro-market think tank accepts donations from pro-market supporters. (“Pope Francis’ American Crusade — The pope takes on climate change, poverty and conservative U.S. clerics,” Sept. 10).

Of course this revelation is presented in Mr. Mark Benelli’s – what was it, op-ed, news analysis, hit piece? – as something far more sinister, implying, but not saying, that somehow The Acton Institute is controlled by the dark financial interests of evil capitalists, instead of the reality that (1) we hold to a position and (2) we invite others who hold to the same or similar positions to support us.

The deeper journalistic problem with this piece is its sheer superficiality in understanding Catholicism or what the Acton Institute (which, incidentally, is an ecumenical organization that works with people ranging from like-minded Evangelicals to observant Jews) does. This is understandable given that Mr. Benelli relies to a great extent for his research on the hyperbole from the fainting couch of one M.S. Winters who writes a breathless blog for the Rolling Stone of Catholic journalism, the National Catholic Reporter. (more…)

I have some brief thoughts up at Think Christian today about Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the United States. Instead of worrying about policy proposals that many are hoping Francis will address directly, or will at least provide an excuse for them to bring up, I focus on the power of the image of the Roman pontiff ascending the steps of Capitol Hill.

United States Capitol west front edit2“When the pope speaks in Congress, religion has undeniably entered the public square,” I write.

Now I have had my disputes with how churches and religious leaders have often brought to bear their faith in the public square, particularly in political lobbying efforts (see here most recently and here for a book-length treatment). Even where I disagree with Catholic Social Teaching, however, I think the world is a better place for having such a robust and vibrant tradition.

So if the alternative is a naked public square, to use Richard John Neuhaus’ phrase, then we have to recognize that the sometimes imprudent, problematic, or otherwise troubling politicization of the Christian faith is a risk preferable to a public square devoid of the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. I expect Francis to be just that kind of prophetic witness on his trip here and I look forward to hearing what he has to say.