Category: Public Policy

Admiral James B. Stockdale

Admiral James B. Stockdale

Earlier this week I reviewed Defiant, the riveting new book by Alvin Townley. Admiral James B. Stockdale (1923-2005) is a principal figure in Townley’s account about POWs in North Vietnam. Stockdale’s famous to many for being Ross Perot’s vice-presidential running mate in 1992. He was widely ridiculed for his rather clumsy and cluttered performance in the debate. Republican political consultant Ed Rollins offered this marked observation of the debate in his book Bare Knuckles and Backrooms:

Of all of the political injustices in my lifetime, what happened to Jim Stockdale was the greatest. Congress should pass a law requiring every person who laughed at him during the vice-presidential debate to read the citation that explains why Stockdale received the Medal of Honor for his conduct as a senior prisoner of war in Hanoi for more than eight years. This man is a great academic scholar, a true war hero, and a wonderful human being – the best the military and this country has to offer. He deserved better.

While the citation testifies alone to his impeccable leadership, Townley’s book made me dig out my copy of Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot by Stockdale. I shared these poignant comments by Stockdale on public virtue and our federal debt on the Powerblog in 2009. The book is a gem, and it’s worth sharing a few of his thoughts on morality and leadership, especially since the trait is clearly lacking by so many of our leaders today.
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Blog author: abradley
posted by on Friday, February 14, 2014

download (1)According to a recent study in the journal Crime & Delinquency nearly half of black males and almost 40 percent of white males in the U.S. are arrested by age 23. As the study indicates, these arrests can “hurt their ability to find work, go to school and participate fully in their communities.” “The study is an analysis of national survey data from 1997 to 2008 of teenagers and young adults, ages 18-23, and their arrest histories, which run the gamut from truancy and underage drinking to more serious and violent offenses,” according to the press release. These results signal a possible dark future for our country.

Will there be national outrage at these arrest numbers? Doubtful. Some might argue that these numbers are simply a part of the ongoing narrative of the war on drugs and the criminalization of masculinity. Arguably, if the same percentages held for women, regardless of race, feminists would likely charge America with being “obviously” misogynistic. Do these numbers tell us anything about the country’s disposition toward men? Does it show us that misandry is truly legalized and flourishing as some have argued?
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SharkBloodHOCOver at The American Culture, I have some thoughts about the first season of House of Cards ahead of the premiere of the second season today.

As many have noted, the drop of the Netflix exclusive today coincides with Valentine’s Day, and there have been some serious considerations about how to plan for the contingency that only one of the partners in a couple enjoys the show.

But the question of love is also a helpful analytic device for understanding the show’s protagonist, Frank Underwood. Early on in the show we see that Frank and Claire are well-matched. Frank professes his affection for her in one of his Shakespearean asides to the audience: “I love that woman. I love her more than a shark loves blood.” Frank has a rather curious love for Claire, however. He loves her for what she can do for him, for her shared disposition toward power. When their interests clash, we see what Frank’s priorities really consist in.

In the TAC piece, I draw heavily on Augustine to explore the depth of Frank’s pathological pursuit of power. It’s clear that despite his profession of love for Claire that what Frank really loves is himself and what he lusts for most is consolidating and collecting power. Augustine wonders at this all-too-human tendency: “There are many different kinds of lust, of which not a few have names peculiar to themselves, while others have not. Who, for example, could easily give a name to the lust for mastery, though the evidence of civil wars shows how great a sway it has over the minds of tyrants?”

The tradition does in fact name this desire, the lust for power, the libido dominandi.

At one point Frank makes clear what he seeks in another of his fourth-wall addresses. In speaking of one of his former proteges, Frank bemoans “such a waste of talent. He chose money over power – in this town, a mistake nearly everyone makes. Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries.”

As Michael Novak has observed, this kind of lust is far more pervasive and dangerous than more mundane grubbing after money: “Lust for power–superbia–is deeper, more pervasive, and more widespread than lust for wealth–cupiditas.” Here Novak connects pride (superbia) with the lust for power, and it is Underwood’s exceeding self-love that leads to his particular brand of politics without romance.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, February 13, 2014
"I don't build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build!"

“I don’t build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build!”

At Slate Miya Tokumitsu writes that the motto “Do What You Love” really functions as a kind of capitalism-supporting opiate: “In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, DWYL is, in fact, the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism.” While Tokumitsu singles out Steve Jobs, perhaps Howard Roark might agree.

If that’s true (and it is more than debatable), then this Think Progress piece which touts the Affordable Care Act as a liberation of workers to do what they love ends up being a funny kind of justification for the capitalistic status quo: “People need to work, sure, but that doesn’t justify forcing people to do a particular kind of work — one they wouldn’t choose to do otherwise — at the pain of bad health.”

The problem with these perspectives, and they both represent ends of a continuum, is that work isn’t either all about you or all about someone else (society, your boss, lords of capital, our elected royalty, and so on). Work is something that concerns both us and others; it has a subjective and an objective aspect that must be balanced.

The reality is that a flourishing society needs people working at occupations all across the spectrum, from more subjectively and inwardly focused artistic, creative, entrepreneurial, and inventive types to those who are working primarily with the service of others in mind, whether to provide for their families or to do the dirty work necessary for others to thrive. But all occupations need to have some element of both the subjective and the objective element, even if the ratio is somewhat different in each individual case.

Even so, the best way to balance these horizontal concerns, I argue today at Think Christian, is by triangulating them vertically, to add attention about God’s divine call into the mix. That gets us beyond, I think, “the conflict that inevitably follows the calculation of labor against capital, dog against dog, me against you.”

catholic-environment-coverActon’s newest monograph, Catholicism, Ecology, and the Environment: A Bishop’s Reflection, is now available as a free ebook download until Monday, February 17. The book, with a foreword from Acton’s Director of Research, Sam Gregg, is authored by Bishop Dominique Rey. Bishop Rey graduated with a degree in economics at Lyon and obtained a PhD in fiscal policy at Clermont–Ferrand. He served France as a financial inspector in the Ministry of Finance between 1976 and 1979. Bishop Rey earned a degree in theology and a degree in canon law at the Institute Catholique de Paris while studying for the priesthood.

The monograph critically examines the question: Is modern environmentalism compatible with Christianity? Bishop Rey provides answers to this question in this theological reflection on the relationships among God, man, and nature. The ebook can be downloaded here.

shovel_and_dirt_No2Why do liberal and conservative evangelicals tend to disagree so often about economic issues? This is the fourth in a series of posts that addresses that question by examining 12 principles that generally drive the thinking of conservative evangelicals when it comes to economics. The first in the series can be found here; Part 2 can be found here; and Part 3 can be found hereA PDF/text version of the entire series can be found here.

9. Social mobility — specifically getting people out of poverty — is infinitely more important than income inequality.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama signaled that income inequality will be his domestic focus during the remainder of his term in office. The fact that the president considers income inequality, rather than employment or economic growth, to be the most important economic issue is peculiar, though not really surprising. For the past few years the political and cultural elites have become obsessed with the issue.

That was not always the case. In 1990, a Nobel-winning economist wrote:

One reason that action to limit growing income inequality in the United States is difficult is that the growth in inequality is not a simple picture. Old-line leftists, if there are any left, would like to make it a single story–the rich becoming richer by exploiting the poor. But that’s just not a reasonable picture of America in the 1980s. For one thing, most of our very poor don’t work, which makes it hard to exploit them. For another, the poor had so little to start with that the dollar value of the gains of the rich dwarfs that of the losses of the poor.

The economist who wrote that was none other than Paul Krugman, who more recently said, “the president was right. Inequality is, indeed, the defining challenge of our time.”

The reason for Krugman’s change of opinion has less to do with economics than with political partisanship. In the apparent absence of other real economic problems, some progressives have decided to allow covetousness to drive their political agenda.
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Georges LemaîtreIn Acton’s newly published monograph, Catholicism, Ecology, and the Environment, Bishop Dominique Rey explores the relationship between man and the created world. In the book’s foreword, written by Acton’s Director of Research Sam Gregg, Gregg summarizes the Catholic view of man’s relationship to created matter:

Man is understood as intrinsically superior to the natural world. He is charged with dominion over it in order that it may be used to promote integral human development.  However, man’s dominion is not absolute. We cannot literally do whatever we wish with animals and nature. Absolute dominion belongs to God alone. Moreover, he desires that we use the natural world responsibly and therefore in ways that facilitate human flourishing.

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will-work-for-food“There is no material poverty in the U.S.,” says the always-provocative Walter E. Williams. “What we have in our nation are dependency and poverty of the spirit, with people making unwise choices and leading pathological lives aided and abetted by the welfare state.”

The Census Bureau pegs the poverty rate among blacks at 35 percent and among whites at 13 percent. The illegitimacy rate among blacks is 72 percent, and among whites it’s 30 percent. A statistic that one doesn’t hear much about is that the poverty rate among black married families has been in the single digits for more than two decades, currently at 8 percent. For married white families, it’s 5 percent. Now the politically incorrect questions: Whose fault is it to have children without the benefit of marriage and risk a life of dependency? Do people have free will, or are they governed by instincts?

There may be some pinhead sociologists who blame the weak black family structure on racial discrimination. But why was the black illegitimacy rate only 14 percent in 1940, and why, as Dr. Thomas Sowell reports, do we find that census data “going back a hundred years, when blacks were just one generation out of slavery … showed that a slightly higher percentage of black adults had married than white adults. This fact remained true in every census from 1890 to 1940″? Is anyone willing to advance the argument that the reason the illegitimacy rate among blacks was lower and marriage rates higher in earlier periods was there was less racial discrimination and greater opportunity?

No one can blame a person if he starts out in life poor, because how one starts out is not his fault. If he stays poor, he is to blame because it is his fault. Avoiding long-term poverty is not rocket science. First, graduate from high school. Second, get married before you have children, and stay married. Third, work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. And finally, avoid engaging in criminal behavior. It turns out that a married couple, each earning the minimum wage, would earn an annual combined income of $30,000. The Census Bureau poverty line for a family of two is $15,500, and for a family of four, it’s $23,000. By the way, no adult who starts out earning the minimum wage does so for very long.

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Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Wednesday, February 5, 2014

tillingHelping people get out of poverty is hard, dirty work. It isn’t glamorous. Most of those involved do not get to wander around the developing world wearing cool blue shades and giving sound bites. In fact, the Campaign for Boring Development is so insistent on this, they’ve written a manifesto to drive home the point: development work can be…boring.

    • Development Does Not Photograph Well. Watching a family till their land does not make for riveting video. It’s just plain ole hard work.
    • “Making the Lives of the Poor Better” is not the same thing as ”Fighting Poverty.”

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    Blog author: jcarter
    posted by on Tuesday, February 4, 2014

    povertycureCan the current model of humanitarian aid generated by networks of large philanthropic foundations, NGOs, and Western governments actually alleviate global poverty? The latest Liberty Law Talk podcast asks Acton’s Michael Miller, director of the new Poverty Cure Initiative, to address that question and to explain what conditions can lead to prosperity:

    As Miller discusses, the prevalent humanitarian aid model frequently uproots the very beginnings of the circles of exchange that must exist for wealth to be created in these societies. Frequently missing as well in the current approach is understanding how crucial the rule of law, property rights, and markets are in the uplift from poverty, and that frequently, these economic and legal orderings are absent in regions of hardship. Consequently, the conditions for human flourishing don’t exist and cannot be created by large philanthropic interventions, which everywhere substitute parental relationships between the donor and recipient in the place of real human flourishing in these communities.

    Click here to listen to the podcast.