Archived Posts December 2005 - Page 4 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
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In a new Acton Commentary, Anthony Bradley examines a new report from the Fraser Institute that measures economic freedom in Arab countries, an important indicator for cultures that are in many places still struggling to lift their people out of poverty. In discussing the report, Bradley says, “As history demonstrates, individuals or families having freedom to determine their own economic destiny liberates them from government dependence and long-term dependence on charity.”

Read the full commentary here.

A newly published letter by Narnia creator C.S. Lewis shows his distaste for Disney “vulgarity” and his fear of seeing fictional animal characters transformed into cartoonish buffoons. Jordan Ballor, in a new Acton commentary, explores how Lewis might have felt about the new Disney film of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Ballor looks at Lewis’ dislike of animatronic, or costumed people acting the parts of animals, as well as his feelings towards Walt Disney’s “vulgarity.” Dispensing with Lewis’ objections to animatronics as an argument based on obsolete technology, Ballor focuses most of his thoughts on the larger picture of a gravely depraved movie industry, and how Christians should discern, practice restraint, and strive to infiltrate the industry to use it to create family friendly and edifying films.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
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In an not-so-subtle take-off of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice franchise, ExperiencePoint has come up with a fun interactive game to challenge your event-planning and management skills. The background:

Inspired by his favorite reality programs, Santa Claus invited eight elves to the North Pole for the purpose of selecting one as his new protégé. Through a series of rigorous holiday competitions, Santa has whittled down the group to the final two candidates – congratulations, you’re one of them! Now you must manage a rag-tag team of previous cast-offs in one final competition. Succeed, and you will have earned the coveted position of “Santa’s Little Helper”.

Check the game out, it’s called Santa’s Little Helper. Fun times.

I became Santa’s Little Helper on the first try!

HT: LifeHacker

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has taken another step forward with the announcement of an agreement with the State of New Mexico:

Virgin Galactic, the British company created by entrepreneur Richard Branson to send tourists into space, and New Mexico announced an agreement Tuesday for the state to build a $225 million spaceport. Virgin Galactic also revealed that up to 38,000 people from 126 countries have paid a deposit for a seat on one of its manned commercial flights, including a core group of 100 “founders” who have paid the initial $200,000 cost of a flight upfront. Virgin Galactic is planning to begin flights in late 2008 or early 2009.

It all sounds very cool, although one might quibble with New Mexico’s decision to use taxpayer funds to build a spaceport for Mr. Branson.

Nevertheless, the preliminary details of the plan sound pretty cool:

Virgin Galactic said it had chosen New Mexico as the site for its headquarters because of its steady climate, free airspace, low population density and high altitude. All those factors can significantly reduce the cost of the space flight program.

The spaceport, to be located some 25 miles south of the town of Truth or Consequences, will be constructed 90 percent underground, with just the runway and supporting structures above ground.

An underground spaceport? Near a town called Truth or Consequences? It’s like something out of James Bond…

Richard Branson, circa 2018?

Update: Come to think of it, there may be a slight resemblance there… (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
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Much attention is on the World Trade Organization summit in Hong Kong. Here are a couple of ENI briefs on the WTO:

Food, agriculture, subsidies grip faith groups as well as WTO

Hong Kong (ENI). Participants at an interfaith conference on economic justice have urged the World Trade Organization to respect people’s food sovereignty and halt the current negotiations on agriculture and the production of food. “People’s food sovereignty is being undermined by the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture,” a declaration said after a meeting held in Hong Kong.

Southern Africa faith groups urge: End barriers to farm exports

Blantyre, Malawi (ENI). Southern Africa faith-based groups and non-governmental organizations are urging developed countries at world trade talks in Hong Kong to stop subsidising agricultural products and to remove barriers to agricultural exports from poor countries. “The highly industrialised countries must immediately stop subsidies for their domestic production and exports that result in the dumping of their excess agricultural production in our countries,” the groups stated.

Regarding the first item, I take “people’s food sovereignty” to mean the right to grow whatever you want at a profit regardless of the world supply and demand. This is the same logic at the heart of the “fair” trade movement: I should be able to grow what I choose when I choose and make a living off of it. Who cares if we already have too many coffee beans? I know my rights! Respect my food sovereignty!

This looks like it will be one of the growing buzzwords for the anti-global market crew. Here’s a group, People’s Food Sovereignty, formed in 2001, “a loose global coalition of peasant-farmer organizations and NGO’s working on food and agriculture issues.”

Food sovereignty is defined here as “the RIGHT of peoples, communities, and countries to define their own agricultural, labor, fishing, food and land policies which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances. It includes the true right to food and to produce food, which means that all people have the right to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food and to food-producing resources and the ability to sustain themselves and their societies.” (Apparently, if you put the word “right” in all caps and bold, it makes whatever you say after it true.)

There’s a kernel of truth in this, insofar as it manifests some respect for the principle of subsidiarity. But here the RIGHT of the grower here is opposed to the rights and freedoms of the buyer…the world is compelled to pay a set price, rather than letting a system of free exchange, respecting both the rights and responsibilities of buyer and seller alike, do the job.

Roger Cohen’s column in today’s International Herald Tribune slams the French economic system by telling the story of Rachid Ech Chetouani, a young French Muslim.

(Unfortunately, the column is behind the New York Times Select firewall and available only to subscribers. Isn’t it ironic that the Times can write such moving pieces about social exclusion while practicing it at the very same time?)

Chetouani has been to China and North America, so he has some alternative economic systems for comparison purposes.

Speaking of China: “It’s seething, it never stops, it’s full of pitiless people emerging from hard times,” he said. “There are no cafés! They don’t have time for that. Everyone’s out to make it.”

“The difference in North America is that it’s competence that counts,” he said. “Nobody’s interested in where you came from as long as you can bring them money. Here [in France], the system is based more on knowing the right people.”

France’s problems apply to the European social model as a whole, with its high level of taxes and regulations to ensure high levels of supposedly more humane social protection. But where does that leave young people like Chetouani who are intelligent and willing to work hard, yet somehow trapped outside the system?

He remarks with not a little bitterness, “I’m for a society of winners. France doesn’t like winners. When you make it, you hide it. One question nobody seems able to answer is: If the French economic model is so great, how come nobody copies it?”

A very good question in search of an answer throughout large parts of Europe.

Journal of Markets & Morality Volume 8 • Number 2

The latest issue of Journal of Markets & Morality features a new controversy between Michael T. Dempsey and Robin Klay and John Lunn: What Bearing, If Any, Does the Christian Doctrine of Providence Have Upon the Operation of the Market Economy?

Are you a subscriber but don’t have online access? Send us an email here or call us at 1-800-345-2286.

Blog author: kjayabalan
Monday, December 12, 2005
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New Perspectives Quarterly has a great interview with Milton Friedman, who at 93 years of age still exhibits more economic clarity than whole academic faculties and episcopal justice and peace commissions.

Milton Friedman,
Senior Research Fellow,
Hoover Institution

Some of Friedman’s gems:

– On how European economies can get back on track: “They all ought to imitate Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan; free markets in short.”

– On the European social model as a third way between capitalism and socialism: “I don’t think there is a third way. But it is true that a competitive market is not the whole of society. A great deal depends on the qualities of the population and the nation in how they organize the non-market aspects of society.”

– On the Chinese market-Leninist approach: “Political freedom will ultimately break out of its shackles. Tiananmen Square was only the first episode. It is headed for a series of Tiananmen Squares. It cannot continue to develop privately and at the same time maintain their authoritarian character politically. They are headed for a clash. Sooner or later, one or the other will give. If they don’t free up the political side, their economic growth will come to an end — while they are still at a very low level.”

– On the prospects of freedom in the 21st century: “The world as a whole has more or less embraced freedom. Socialism, in the traditional sense, meant government ownership and operation of the means of production. Outside of North Korea and a couple of other spots, no one in the world today would define socialism that way. That will never come back. The fall of the Berlin Wall did more for the progress of freedom than all of the books written by myself or Hayek or others. […] This free-market base will likely expand from there by example to others not so free. Everyone, everywhere, now understands that the road to success for underdeveloped countries is freer markets and globalization.”

Read the whole thing.

(HT: Political Theory Daily Review)

Is secularism gutting holiday season? Five answers in Saturday’s roundup of Faith and Policy columnists in the Detroit News, including Acton’s Rev. Robert A. Sirico.

Notably, Rev. Edgar Vann, pastor of Second Ebenezer Church in Detroit, cites the decision of a some churches to “succumb to the secularization of the sacred by deciding to close their doors on Christmas Sunday.” I happen to agree with Rev. Vann that such a move is particularly ill-conceived.

For those who don’t know, a number of megachurches in the US have decided not to have Christmas Day services. Since Christmas falls on a Sunday, churches like Grandville’s Mars Hill and Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek in Chicago will hold a number of Christmas Eve services on Saturday and forego any Sunday services.

“It’s more than being family friendly. It’s being lifestyle-friendly for people who are just very, very busy,” said Willow Creek spokeswoman Cally Parkinson.

I’m certainly not willing to charge the leaders of these churches with intentional malfeasance, but such a move at best illustrates a serious lapse in judgment.

For more unsympathetic reaction to this decision, see Bunnie Diehl’s blog at WorldMagBlog here and here.

And here’s a reaction from Rev. John Weese, whose church will be closed on Sunday, Dec. 25, “I was deeply saddened by the knee-jerk response of the Christian community as a whole to give the benefit of the doubt to the media and not a church or a Christian brother. I’m still troubled that more Christians did not stand up for us,” said Weece. “Can you see or begin to see that the devil is stirring the pot on this?”

Here’s a far-ranging essay that has a central thesis which is quite possibly fatally flawed but still touches on some very important points: “A series of developments, in which reason won the day, gave unique shape to Western culture and institutions. And the most important of those victories occurred within Christianity. While the other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guides to religious truth.”

In “How Christianity (and Capitalism) Led to Science,” Baylor University Professor Rodney Stark examines the role that Christianity, especially rational Christianity, played in the flowering of Western civilization. Stark points out the flaw in Max Weber’s thesis that capitalism was founded on the Protestant work ethic (“the rise of capitalism in Europe preceded the Reformation by centuries”).

Stated elsewhere, Stark’s modified thesis is this: “But, if one digs deeper, it becomes clear that the truly fundamental basis not only for capitalism, but for the rise of the West, was an extraordinary faith in reason.” This “faith in reason” was most importantly manifest in Christianity, which, according to Stark, held a consistent dominant view from the church fathers, through the Middle Ages, and up through the Reformation and the Enlightenment. Quotes from Augustine and Tertullian are used to shore up his claim that “from early days, the church fathers taught that reason was the supreme gift from God and the means to progressively increase understanding of Scripture and revelation.”

Stark does debunk many pervasive myths in addition to the Weber thesis, such as that the supremacy of the West was based on the secularization and “overcoming” of religious barriers to progress. “Nonsense,” he writes. “The success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians.” Stark also exposes “the incredible fiction that, from the fall of Rome until about the 15th century, Europe was submerged in the Dark Ages — centuries of ignorance, superstition, and misery — from which it was suddenly, almost miraculously, rescued; first by the Renaissance and then by the Enlightenment.”

Still, Stark’s depiction of the role of reason in the great history of Christian theology is rather markedly simplistic. There are a great many strands of different approaches to the relationship between faith and reason, and not all of them can be disposed of simply by juxtaposing “mystery” and “reason.” Augustine’s view of reason seems particularly distorted by Stark.

Stark makes no distinction between the rational Christianity of the Enlightenment, for example, and the view of reason in Christianity in the dominant Augustinian traditions in the Middle Ages and Reformation. One key aspect that is overlooked is the Christian regard not just for reason in general, but with the reason of regenerate Christians, as opposed to the fallen reason exercised by the unregenerate.

It may well be, in fact, that “the truly fundamental basis not only for capitalism, but for the rise of the West, was an extraordinary faith in reason,” but from this it does not follow that there is a unanimous Christian approach to reason throughout church history, or that the modern scientific age was not ushered in by an increasing emphasis on reason and rationality as external norms for Christian theology (something quite foreign to most premodern approaches to theology).

All in all, Stark’s piece is a valuable one, but should be approached with some critical caution. He is at his strongest when debunking myths about the rise of capitalism and doing good economic history and analysis: “Tyranny makes a few people richer; capitalism can make everyone richer.” He does a good job of tracing interest in science and technology to a general Christian regard for human reason. He stumbles, however, in his depiction of reason in relation to the enterprise of Christian theology. Stark’s contention that a univocal “faith in reason” existed throughout the last 2,000 years of Christian theology falls flat.

Update: A discussion of this piece is developing over at Mere Comments.