Archived Posts January 2006 | Acton PowerBlog

From the Washington Post, a snippet from Hugo Chavez, discussing Bolivia’s recently elected president, Evo Morales:

“We have to create, one, two, three Bolivias in Latin America, in the Caribbean,” [Chavez] said echoing a quotation from Argentine hero Ernesto Che Guevara. “Only aiming for power can we transform the world.”

Why do I get the idea Chavez didn’t do so well in his history classes?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Winners of the 2005 Acton Essay Competition have been announced. The topic for the 15th annual competition:
The human person, by virtue of being created imago Dei, is an independent being, individually unique, rational, the subject of moral agency, a co-creator, and inherently social. Accordingly, human persons possess intrinsic value and dignity, implying certain rights and duties with respect to the recognition and protection of the dignity of themselves and other persons. These truths about the human person’s dignity are known through divine revelation, but are also discernible through reason.

Kony Kim, Master of Arts student in Theological Studies at Westminster Seminary California, took first place with the essay titled, “Imago Dei: The Transcendent Basis of True Liberty and Just Authority.” Read Kim’s essay and all of the other finalists at the competition homepage.

One of the articles provided to be used in the formation of these essays was a chapter from Alberto Piedra’s Natural Law: The Foundation of an Orderly Economic System (Lexington, 2004). Piedra’s book was recently reviewed by Matthew Lee at Mere Orthodoxy, who writes, “Piedra is well-read and the book is well-researched and thorough. I would highly recommend it to any interested reader, and suggest that readers interested in having a robust Christian worldview carefully consider his arguments.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, January 30, 2006

PBS stations across the country will be airing Bonhoeffer, “an acclaimed dramatic documentary about theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The documentary “tells the story of the young German pastor who offered one of the first clear voices of resistance to Adolf Hitler and the rise of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

The shows will air on Monday, February 6, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Bonhoeffer’s birth on February 4, 1906. You can check your local listings here for dates and times when the documentary will be showing. Unfortunately, my area station WGVU doesn’t look like it will be airing the documentary (at least in the next two weeks).

One of the first episodes which raised Bonhoeffer’s anti-Nazi profile publicly was his talk, “The Leader and the Individual in the Younger Generation,” (the German for “the leader” is der Führer) given first as a radio broadcast in 1933, two days after Hitler came to power. The talk was interrupted in the middle of the broadcast, but he used the text publicly again in lectures in days following.

Here are a few items from the text:

The Leader must lead his followers towards a responsibility to the orders of life, a responsibility to father, teacher, judge, state. He must radically refuse to become the appeal, the idol, i.e. the ultimate authority of those whom he leads…

the Leader must know that he is most deeply committed to his followers, most heavily laden with responsibility towards the orders of life, in fact quite simply a servant…

Leaders or offices which set themselves up as gods mock God and the individual who stands alone before him, and must perish. Only the Leader who himself serves the penultimate and the ultimate authority can find faithfulness…

(Quotes taken from No Rusty Swords, pp. 202-204).

Jay Richards’ previous post on Richard Rahn’s article “Not Rocket Science” illustrates Huxley’s famous statement about a fact destroying a theory.

Jay quotes Rahn’s lists of the politicians and development experts who support increased foreign aid.

It’s no longer just politicians and economists. Bono’s One Campaign is designed to get the developed nations to contribute 1 percent of their GDP to foreign aid for the poorest countries. No doubt Bono and many other supporters have good intentions. But good intentions don’t fight poverty. Economic opportunity, entrepreneurship, and free trade do.

Using the Heritage Foundation/WSJ “Index of Economic Freedom” Rahn lists example after example of the success of countries who liberalized their economies, and failures of those that haven’t.

The economically freest societies are the most prosperous, and the most economically repressive societies are the poorest.

Ireland 30 years ago was among the poorest countries in Europe. It then made a major shift toward freeing up its economy — e.g., its maximum corporate tax rate is only 12 1/2 percent (it ranks No. 3 out of 157 countries in the index). As a result, it now has the second-highest per capita income in Europe and is far ahead of the old leaders like Germany (No. 19) and France (No. 44). (Note, when I refer to per capita income, I do so using the Purchasing Power Parity measure which accounts for local price differences.)

In Eastern Europe, Estonia is economically the freest (No. 7), and Romania the least free (No. 92), though the latter is now making progress. Both countries started out at roughly the same level 16 years ago, but now Estonia has almost twice the per capita income of Romania. Much of the credit for Estonia being the most successful transition country goes to its brilliant and able free-market former prime minister, Mart Laar.

On the other hand, the biggest recipients of development aid over the last quarter-century, for the most part, have gone nowhere economically. Egypt (No. 129), the biggest recipient of development aid in the last quarter-century, is a prime example, with a per capita income about 5 percent of Ireland’s.

Despite the evidence you will continue to hear Kofi Annan and the others clamoring for more aid and more generosity. Instead of aid, they should start asking to reduce tariffs and subsidies and encourage and assist developing countries to set up market economies guided by the rule of law.

Hernando de Soto’s book The Mystery of Capital illustrates that what is needed is not more aid, but the ability to turn assets into capital and less government regulation and interference in the economy.

The One Campaign is right to care about the poor in Africa and elswhere. Perhaps if we could get Bono’s good intentions and passion behind sound economics we might see some real change.

The abstract arguments for economic freedom are great for those of us who, well, like abstract arguments. But sometimes, there’s no substitute for some good, solid empirical data. That’s just what economist Richard Rahn delivers in this article in the Washington Times. If you don’t have time to read the 2006 Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal “Index of Economic Freedom,” at least read Rahn’s summary of it.

He starts:

Suppose you were appointed global economic czar, and your task was to bring the world’s per capita income up to the level of Ireland’s (almost that of the U.S.). Would you:

(A) Insist the world’s rich nations transfer substantial wealth though massive foreign aid to the poor nations?

(B) Insist all nations adopt policies that would make them as economically free as the top 10 freest economies today?

If you answered “B,” go to the head of the class. This shows you have a good understanding of both history and economic reality about what works and what doesn’t.

If you answered “A,” welcome to the Kofi Annan, Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder school of willful economic ignorance.

Strong assertions. Fortunately, the statistics that follow not only illustrate the connection between economic freedom and prosperity, but also the lack of connection between receiving foreign aid and prosperity. This is one of those statistics-packed articles that I would love to memorize, if I was any good at memorizing statistics.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, January 27, 2006

A number of bloggers have expressed grave concerns over Google’s decision to accomodate the demands of the communist government in its web search offerings in China.

David Mills at Mere Comments writes that Google is “serving a brutal government and helping it oppress its people, even if its service will prove only partially effective.” He complains that Google’s motives are purely pecuniary, and that the company is only acceding to the government’s wishes because “If it didn’t help the Chinese government oppress its people, it wouldn’t make much money in China.” Mills notes that Google is following Microsoft and Yahoo search engines in making these concessions

It seems a pretty easy judgment to make: Google is selling out. My first instinct is to agree and throw my lot in with those condemning Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Google executives have described it as a “difficult decision.” But Mills writes, “There is no ethical dilemma, because they do not have to do business in China at all.”

But this is the point at which such judgments themselves are rather simplistic and superficial. First of all, Google does have a responsibility to its shareholders to seek out new areas of profitability, and the most populous nation on the planet can hardly be overlooked.

The fact is that the people of mainland China are living under a repressive regime. The lack of such fundamental rights as free expression and speech are completely alien to us in the West, and so we react strongly when we hear about censorship and denial of human rights abroad.

But the question then becomes, “What is the best way to move China toward economic, political, and religious freedom?” It has long been assumed by proponents of liberal democracies that these three aspects of freedom are inextricably linked. If you truly have one, then you truly have all three. That position is being put to the test in China and other countries, which are seeking to liberalize elements of the economic and business sectors without substantially altering their hold on religious and political freedoms.
(more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 26, 2006

If you’re like most Americans, the answer is probably “No.” Faced with loss of market share and declining revenues, Ford announced a restructuring plan that would cut nearly a quarter of its workforce and close 14 plants over the next six years. The moves are intended to bring the auto giant back to profitability by 2008.

What has caused the competitiveness of Ford to plummet? It’s part of the larger trend among American automakers. Ford’s “Way Forward” plan was preceded by GM’s flirtation with a “cloud of bankruptcy” and was followed by DaimlerChrysler’s announcement of layoffs (many of which would be in Germany).

NBC Nightly News featured a story on the U.S. auto industry’s woes on Tuesday night (Netcast available here). Patriotism is being replaced by pragmatism, says NBC’s Anne Thompson.

MSNBC’s Roland Jones writes, “Like its U.S. rival GM, Ford has struggled in recent years with a loss in U.S. market share to Asian rivals, a decline in sales of its large SUVs because of higher gasoline prices and a crippling healthcare bill and pension costs for its U.S. workforce and retirees.”
(more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Check out this challenging essay on Spiked by Frank Furedi, “The curious rise of anti-religious hysteria.” His main point is that while religious belief is misplaced, it shouldn’t be replaced with another sort of secular fundamentalism.

It turns out Furedi himself is just a believer in rationalism: “Superstition and prejudice should continually be countered by rational argument. But the vitriolic invective hurled at Christian believers today is symptomatic of the passions normally associated with a fanatical Inquisitor.” Of course “superstition” happens to be anything that is believed not on the basis of some sort of rational foundationalism.

On secular reactions to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Passion of the Christ: “As a secular humanist who is instinctively uncomfortable with zealot-like moralism, I am suspicious of the motives behind these doctrinaire denunciations of films with a religious message.”

On expressions of faith: “Until recently, cultural expressions of religious faith were simply considered old-fashioned and gauche. But over the past decade, scorn has turned into bigotry and hatred.”

On Intelligent Design: “Many see only the danger of superstition in Intelligent Design, describing it as a new form of Creationism on the march. They overlook the remarkable concession that Intelligent Design makes to the authority of science.”

On Jim Wallis: “When it comes to banality, Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It beats his competitors to the post.”

Perhaps the right reaction toward religious belief, according to Furedi, is not hatred but rather self-assured patronizing.

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Well said, Benedict.

If I may, I’d like to highlight one more section from the Holy Father’s new encyclical that has particular relevence to the work here at Acton (although, I agree wholeheartedly with Kishore below: one really must read the whole thing–it’s fantastic):

Love of neighbour is thus shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern. This I can offer them not only through the organizations intended for such purposes, accepting it perhaps as a political necessity. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.

If there is a more poetic call for what we here at Acton call “effective compassion,” I do not know what it is.

Pope Benedict’s long-awaited first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, was published this morning in Rome. The English translation of it can be found on the Vatican website by clicking here.

There’s obviously much to reflect on in this fairly short letter on Christian love, but a few aspects may be of particular interest to readers of this blog.

The pope cites a number of political philosophers, such as Nietzsche, Descartes, Aristotle, Plato, St. Augustine (several times), and Marx. Besides revealing what we already know about the former Cardinal Ratzinger’s formidable education, the encyclical reminds us that human and divine love is a theme the greatest minds have grappled with throughout the ages, and often through the lens of politics and religion.

The passage cited from Plato’s Symposium in n. 11 happens to be one of the most beautiful allegories of love ever penned; Pope Benedict compares it to the language of the Book of Genesis. Like any great teacher, he makes the reader return to the originals for their poetry and insights.

From the more prosaic perspective of social doctrine, the section on justice and charity (nos.26-29) contains an illuminating discussion of the distinct yet complementary functions of Church and State. The pope begins his treatment by taking on the Marxist critique of the Church’s charitable activity, i.e. what the poor need is justice, not charity, and even admits some truth to it:

It is true that the pursuit of justice must be a fundamental norm of the State and that the aim of a just social order is to guarantee to each person, according to the principle of subsidiarity, his share of the community’s goods.

But then comes this:

Marxism had seen world revolution and its preliminaries as the panacea for the social problem: revolution and the subsequent collectivization of the means of production, so it was claimed, would immediately change things for the better. This illusion has vanished.

After tracing the history of Catholic social doctrine from Bishop Kettler of Mainz to Popes Leo XIII and John Paul II, Benedict distinguishes “the necessary commitment to justice and the ministry of charity.”

The entire section deserves to be read with care and attention, but the general point is that the realms of justice and charity are interrelated yet distinct. Justice is the proper aim of the State, not the Church, but justice, and hence the State, is not enough.

Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbour is indispensable. The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need.

This is the Catholic case for limited government par excellence. Justice and politics are necessary and good objectives to pursue, but they are not what human life is ultimately about. Divine love transcends politics. This is the language of a political philosophy that points beyond itself to theology, and it’s perfectly fitting as Benedict’s first encyclical.

I don’t need to tell you to read the whole thing.