Archived Posts May 2005 - Page 7 of 12 | Acton PowerBlog

Rev. Robert Sirico spoke with Frank Beckmann today on Detroit-based WJR about faith and politics, emphasizing the proper role of religion in society as providing a solid moral foundation with which to approach political, social, economic decisions. Sirico also talks with the emergence of what Pope Benedict XVI refers to as the dictatorship of relativism – an idea which views the expression of religion as an impedance on liberty – and suggests an understanding of the integration between faith and politics as an integration of ideas, not as an institutional combination of politics and the church. As an example, Sirico describes our responsibility to the poor as a cultural mandate, not as a beaurocratic process as the religious left might suggest.

Listen to the full interview now.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, May 16, 2005

A story in the Sunday New York Times highlighted the move of the undergraduate library at the University of Texas at Austin to a predominantly electronic collection. While common reference materials like dictionaries will remain in hard copy, all other stacks of books “will be dispersed to other university collections to clear space for a 24-hour electronic information commons, a fast-spreading phenomenon that is transforming research and study on campuses around the country.”

This move should not be taken as indicative of a larger trend within all libraries, but is something rather unique to undergraduate facilities. “The trend is being driven, academicians and librarians say, by the dwindling need for undergraduate libraries, many of which were built when leading research libraries were reserved for graduate students and faculty. But those distinctions have largely crumbled, with research libraries throwing open their stacks, leaving undergraduate libraries as increasingly puny adjuncts with duplicate collections and shelves of light reading.”

I can count on one hand the number of times I needed to go to the library during my undergraduate program to do research. And in the meantime, the number of digitized texts has risen dramatically, increasing the options for computer-based research (whether at a computer lab in the library or from your laptop in the dorms).

Keeping an eye on the e-text trend has been part of my task as associate editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality, and I wrote an article in the current issue of the Journal of Scholarly Publishing aobut the pressures and counter-pressures for academic journals to move toward digitization, “Scholarship at the Crossroads: The Journal of Markets & Morality Case Study.”

Part of the reason graduate and research libraries will not be moving to purely electronic media anytime soon has to do with the importance of prestige in scholarly publishing. As Geneva Henry, executive director of the digital library initiative at Rice University in Houston, says in the NYT article, “We’re teaching students how to do research. Their first reaction is to Google. But they need to validate their information and dig deeper.”

My inclination is to believe that the printed text will continue to be normative for initial publications (for a number of reasons, including prestige), but that once texts have been printed, they will be distributed and disseminated increasingly via electronic means. It will be a long time before the mainstream of authoritative academic texts are published first in electronic media.

Time for the annual spate of “gap between rich and poor increases” stories in the MSM. There are a number of problems with the judgmental assumptions implicit in these kinds of stories.

For example, there is a zero-sum view of wealth that pits individuals against each other. It’s essentially the “pie” view of money and wealth: if I take a piece, there’s that much less available for others. This is the distributivist economic model. This is a fundamentally flawed economic model that does not adequately account for the creation of wealth via free exchange.

But there’s an even more obvious phenomenon that makes such “news” stories so mundane. It’s been referred to as the “miracle of compounding interest.” Because of this, it should be no surprise that the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. In fact, assuming the laws of mathematics, we can say that it ought to continue to widen.

Let’s use an overly simple but instructive example. Say that person A has $1,000 in capital to invest while person B has $10,000. Relatively speaking, person A is poorer than person B, with a difference of $9,000.

If both persons invest their money, and get a return roughly equal to inflation, say 2% (compounded quarterly), in fifty years A will have $2,711.52, while person B will have $27,115.17. The gap between the two has exploded from a mere $9,000 to $24,403.65!

But is there anything fundamentally unfair about this? Change around the capital investments, the rate of return, and the time period, and you can quickly get into astronomical numbers. But why is this news? Just because there are big numbers with lots of zeroes?

Given this economic reality, it would really be news if the gap between rich and poor didn’t increase.

A post by Leslie Sillars over at Signs of the Times takes ABC’s show, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” to task. His difficulty, essentially, is this:

is this charity in any reasonable sense of the word? It looks like the best kind of charity—unmerited favor for someone in need, out of the blue—yet, ABC makes buckets of money on the program, Sears and the other sponsors get loads of exposure, and Ty and the rest of them are portrayed as angels of mercy (never mind their salaries). Yet, what does it cost them? In the context of what it costs to produce a hit network series, $200,000 is chicken feed.

Are we supposed to then believe that the participants of the show are being exploited? Their situation seems roughly comparable to that of college athletes in major sports. A similar argument is put forth in that context, in that schools make millions off the players, while they get “just” a college education out of the deal.

Perhaps Sillars is right, ABC’s show shouldn’t be strictly considered “charity.” But perhaps it is an example of business “done right.” The Acton Institute has always contended that “doing business and doing good are not at all mutually exclusive.” Yet Sillars seems to suggest that it is somehow wrong for someone like Ty to make a living helping people.

There’s a mutually beneficial exchange going on with the show, and even Sillars doesn’t contend that the participants aren’t made better off. It’s just that “the benefactors themselves have, shall we say, less than charitable motives at bottom.”

This interpretation of the motives of the network, the show, and even the individuals involved is pretty darn cynical, to the point of being unfair. Of all the reality shows on television, it would seem to me that “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” while far from perfect, is one of the least worthy of critique.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, May 13, 2005

The Telegraph reports that there is growing dissent among the ranks of some scientists, whose dissenting viewpoint is unable to find a place in many major academic journals. According to the story,

Two of the world’s leading scientific journals have come under fire from researchers for refusing to publish papers which challenge fashionable wisdom over global warming.

The controversy follows the publication by Science in December of a paper which claimed to have demonstrated complete agreement among climate experts, not only that global warming is a genuine phenomenon, but also that mankind is to blame.

Dr Peiser said the stifling of dissent and preoccupation with doomsday scenarios is bringing climate research into disrepute. “There is a fear that any doubt will be used by politicians to avoid action,” he said. “But if political considerations dictate what gets published, it’s all over for science.”

HT: Arts & Letters Daily

This quote comes from Han Solo, which pretty well sums up his critique of Jedi knights in the Star Wars saga, “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.”

I also wonder whether it might be apt in describing the sometimes contemptuous relationship between scientific progress and religion (Christianity in particular), as the guiding pragamtic ethos of naturalism wars against orthodox Christian belief.

Forbes has posted a slideshow giving reviews of the various technologies present “a long time ago, in galaxy far, far away,” and some of the possibilities have contemporary relevance. After all, Forbes concludes that the creation of human clones, for example, is “more likely than lightsabers.”

HT: Slashdot

In his “Bad Economics, Bad Public Policy and Bad Theology,” columnist Raymond Keating makes the case on that the Religious Left offers “assorted biblical passages that speak of aiding the poor, the necessity for charity and justice, or other vague generalities, and then simply assert that these quotations support the particulars of their big government philosophy. Of course, this ranks as either ignorant or disingenuous from a theological standpoint.”

Keating examines resurgent activism by liberal/leftist religious leaders on environmental issues and government spending. Describing “the degradation of God’s sacred Earth” as the “moral imperative of our time,” these church leaders advance a view of the earth as an exhausted land, filled with poisonous air and water. You wonder how anyone manages to survive day to day.

Of course, this is wrong. Keating illustrates how in fact the environment is in many ways better today than it was only a few years ago, and shows how the Bush administration has been ratcheting up government spending at an alarming rate.

It will shock no one that many religious leaders are stumping for the welfare state. But it’s nothing new. Keating produces this quote from President Calvin Coolidge: “I wouldn’t for a minute be critical of the church and its work, but I think most of the clergy today are preaching socialism.”