Archived Posts February 2006 » Page 2 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Jesuit journal In All Things devoted its Winter 2005-06 issue to the question of poverty in the United States. The issue brings together a number of perspectives from Jesuits, both liberal and conservative. The Rev. James V. Schall, S. J., contributed an article titled “On Weath and Poverty,” one which the journal editors have described thematically as “choosing not to be poor.”

Here is Schall’s article in its entirety:

The most famous book in economics is The “Wealth” of Nations, not The “Poverty” of Nations. Yet, Christ says, the “poor” will always be with us. Not a few still are. No one needs to learn to be poor. It is easy. Do not make, develop, invent, or concoct anything productive. Someone had to invent the wheel, plumbing, tooth brushes, hybrid corn, and computers The question of poverty implies “how not to be poor.” Unless we talk about the latter question, it is useless to talk about the former one. If we do not know how to produce wealth or if we choose not to learn or effect those things that actually work to produce it, we will be poor. We will likewise make or keep others poor. Not all “good” ideas work for the good. (more…)

This Sunday I went to Mass at a parish I’d never attended before. I was quite pleasantly surprised—the music wasn’t bad, the rubrics were followed, the homily focused on the gospel, they chanted the Agnus Dei, and prayed the prayer to St. Michael afterward; not apparently liberal and better than many typical “suburban rite” parishes. But, during the petitions, one of the prayers was for leaders of nations, that they would eradicate poverty. Here is a classic example of the right desire, poverty eradication, and the wrong way to go about it, government. It also betrays the common misunderstanding that governments solve poverty. Now, leaders of nations and governments do have a role in poverty reduction. They need to create rule of law and enforce contracts. They can help reduce regulation and tariffs and open their borders to free trade. But leaders of nations do not eradicate poverty, nor does aid from the developing world. What eradicates poverty is business. Entrepreneurs and businessmen who create jobs and opportunity and wealth. Michael Novak called small business “the strategic vocation for helping the poor.”

The desire for poverty alleviation through government involvement is a prime example of good intentions combined with unsound economics. Many people have good intentions, but they don’t understand basic economics so they often support solutions without “thinking beyond stage one” as Thomas Sowell says. A prime example of this is the enormously popular One Campaign. Thousands of people are signing on to a good intention without knowing whether the proposed solution will bring about their desired outcome. Good intentions are a start, but they’re not enough and Bob Geldof is wrong when he says do something even if it doesn’t work.

If it doesn’t work—stop doing it. Activism shouldn’t be done for the sake of being active. This is the problem with too many Hollywood stars and other “professional” activists. Activism should have an end that is beyond itself, so if it doesn’t work, we should use our minds to apply reason to the situation and come up with a plan that might. C.S Lewis said that “progress isn’t going forward if you’re going in the wrong direction.” You’ve got to stop and turn around. Acton Senior Fellow, Jay Richards argues that the Bob Geldof idea is reflective of many who believe that their actions or policies will be either good or neutral, but never harmful. But despite what they may believe that is not the case. Often things that don’t work exacerbate the problem. Hence the Acton Message, Don’t Just Care, Think.

We need to have good intentions, but this is only a beginning. If we are going to care about poverty and economic policies then we should begin by taking economics seriously. Some books I recommend include Basic Economics and Applied Economics both by Thomas Sowell, and of course Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. Bono is a force for good intentions, can you imagine all the good he could do if he connected his intentions to sound economics?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, February 20, 2006

A few items of interest from friends on our blogroll:

This story in the UK’s Education Guardian is remarkable for its links to a number of issues.

In contrast to the American system, Britain’s permits “faith” schools that are part of the government system. Thus, this Scottish “Catholic” school is, in the American usage, a “public” school. Now that 75% of its students are Muslim, some Muslims are demanding that the school switch its faith allegiance.

One of the obvious issues is the Islamicization of Europe. Here is a Catholic school in the middle of Scotland’s countryside that is three-quarters Muslim—and another 13% Sikh. France, with its headscarves-at-school controversy, is not the only nation struggling with this new reality.

Another issue is the Catholic identity in educational institutions. (The problem applies more broadly to other kinds of Christian schools as well.) The school is evidently making efforts to preserve it (given the priest’s reference to Mass), but it seems to me that it is possible to reach a tipping point in terms of numbers of non-Catholic students and/or faculty, when Catholic identity becomes impossible to maintain adequately. Serving non-Catholic populations is generally laudable and can even be evangelizational, but Catholic educators need to be realistic about how fidelity to an institution’s original mission can be threatened by a lack of Catholic majorities among students and staff.

Finally, there is the issue of government interaction with religious schools. This Scottish Catholic school benefits financially from depending on the government. But it also thereby depends on the government for its existence. If the state determines that it’s better off Muslim—or anything else, including secular—Catholics (who have made it, apparently, the most attractive school in the area) must stand aside and see it transformed.

HT: Mirror of Justice

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, February 17, 2006

One of the religion beat’s favorite canards is to implicitly equate what it calls American Christian “fundamentalism” with what it calls Muslim or Islamic “fundamentalism.” After all, both are simply species of the genus. For more on this, check out GetReligion (here and here) and the reference to a piece by Philip Jenkins, which notes,

Also, media coverage of any topic, religious or secular, is shaped by the necessity to summarize complex movements and ideologies in a few selected code-words, labels that acquire significance far beyond their precise meaning. Though designed as guideposts for the perplexed, all too often, such words rather tend to stop intellectual processes. One such demon word is fundamentalism, originally a description of a particular approach to reading Christian Scriptures, but now a catch-all description for supernaturally based anti-modernism, repression, and misogyny. Within the past few years, evangelical has been similarly debased, gaining its popular connotations of white conservative politics.

Indeed, evangelical and fundamentalist are often used interchangeably in media parlance.

One way to get at the radical difference, so to speak, between the two groups would be to guage the respective reaction when something sacred is mocked and blasphemed. We have seen what the Islamist reaction to the infamous Mohammed cartoons has been: violent protesting resulting in death. The Danish cartoonists have had to flee into hiding out of fear for their lives, a la Salman Rushdie circa 1989, and certainly with Theo Van Gogh circa November, 2004 in mind. (Update: It looks like they indeed have good reason to fear. A Pakistani cleric has put a $1 million bounty on the head of one of the cartoonists.)

By contrast, Charles Krauthammer has profiled some of the things that are offensive to many Christians, including the publication of pictures of the Virgin Mary covered with dung and the so-called “Piss Christ,” (a crucifix sitting in a jar of urine). The most you are likely to see from Christian “fundamentalists” in reaction to issues like these are public expressions of outrage and disgust, maybe a letter-writing campaign with some vitriolic prose, perhaps some picketing and protesting, and even some threats to pull public funding thrown in for good measure. The upcoming movie The Da Vinci Code, based on a Dan Brown novel, which depicts much of the Bible and church tradition as fictitious, has not resulted in either Tom Hanks or the author fearing for their lives.

The trouble comes, of course, from the connotation of the word fundamentalist. For even liberals have fundamental beliefs.

Perhaps no one gets at the popular connotation of the word fundamentalist better than Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. In discussing his epistemological model in Warranted Christian Belief, Plantinga writes,

I fully realize that the dreaded f-word will be trotted out to stigmatize any model of this kind. Before responding, however, we must first look into the use of this term ‘fundamentalist’. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like ‘son of a bitch’, more exactly ‘sonovabitch’, or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) ‘sumbitch’. When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you feel obliged to first define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of ‘fundamentalist’ (in this widely current use): it isn’t simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relative conservative theological views. That makes it more like ‘stupid sumbitch’ (or maybe ‘fascist sumbitch’?) than ‘sumbitch’ simpliciter. It isn’t exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation is that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase ‘considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.’ The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like ‘stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine’ (pp. 244-45).

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, February 16, 2006
Rev. Edmund Opitz

The Rev. Edmund Opitz, a longtime champion of liberty, passed away on Feb. 11. Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, looks back on Ed’s remarkable life in an article today on National Review Online (also available on the Acton site as a PDF).

Never to be mistaken for an “economic fundamentalist,” much less a theocrat of any variety, Ed was always careful to note that Christianity qua Christianity offered no specific economic model any more than economics qua economics has any specific moral model to proffer — which is precisely why they both need each other.

In 2003, Rev. Opitz was interviewed for Acton’s Religion & Liberty. In “Religion, Morality and the Private Property Order,” he talked about scarcity and stewardship in opposition to the practices of planned economies.

What has happened is that modern man, freed from the “superstitions” of the past and energized by “Science,” believes he has become as God who can create the world anew and establish a heaven on earth. The teachings of the economists, however, stand directly athwart this mood. Wilhelm Roepke, a ranking economist and social philosopher of our time, reminds us that “Economics is an anti-utopian, anti-ideological, disillusioning science.” The great social drift during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is based on the delusion of a few thinkers involved in the French Revolution that “Mankind has now come of age and can take charge of its own affairs.” Translated into practice, this means that inordinate power comes into the hands of a self-chosen elite to operate a society as if it were an army, that is to say, by command and drill.

Rev. Opitz had an early and important relationship with Acton. He was a founding member of the institute’s advisory board, wrote and spoke widely for Acton, and donated a personal collection of books now housed in the Opitz Library here. Acton carries two of Opitz’s works in its Book Shoppe: Religion and Capitalism: Allies, not Enemies and Religion: Foundation of the Free Society.

The Foundation for Economic Education has also published “In Defense of the Individual,” a column that Rev. Opitz authored for the organization in 1955.

Dr. Jan Klos

Dr. Jan Kłos of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin in Poland is the winner of the 2006 Novak Award and its associated $10,000 prize. An assistant professor with the department of Philosophy’s Chair of Social and Political Ethics, Dr. Kłos began teaching in Lublin in 1999. He has a specific interest in the history of economic freedom, nineteenth century liberalism, and dialogue between modernity and Christian thought. In 2001, he wrote a prize winning essay for the Bastiat competition at the University of Aix-Marseilles. Dr. Kłos has published in journals such as Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines and the Journal of Markets & Morality. Dr. Kłos is currently completing a book on the relationship between nineteenth century liberalism and Christianity. Later this year Dr. Kłos will deliver the Calihan Lecture, an annual public forum that highlights the Novak Award recipient’s scholarly work.

For more information, please visit the Novak Award webpage and the press release on Dr. Kłos.

In yesterday’s Acton Commentary, I argued that the biblical foundation for the concepts of stewardship and economics should lead us to see them as united. In this sense I wrote, “Economics can be understood as the theoretical side of stewardship, and stewardship can be understood as the practical side of economics.” I also defined economics as “the thoughtful ordering of the material resources of a household or social unit toward the self-identified good end” and said that the discipline “helps us rightly order our stewardship.”

Within the context of environmental stewardship in particular, I concluded that economics should play a key role in defining public policy. This is becoming a more pressing issue as a number of evangelical and religious leaders around the world are endorsing specific policy initiatives to combat global warming.

Following the formation of the Evangelical Climate Initiative by a number of prominent evangelical leaders in the United States, general secretary of the World Council of Churches Rev. Samuel Kobia said yesterday, “Just as atomic weapons changed the very way we thought about life, so too the potential of major climatic changes put life as we know it in danger” He said this while emphasizing that all religious people should “speak with one voice” about climate change.

My brief commentary outlined some reasons why Christians may have differing opinions on this point. And Chuck Colson’s BreakPoint feature, “Evangelical Activism,” details some of the other aspects of the debate.

“Now, we all have a stewardship responsibility for God’s creation, but we also have responsibility for God’s creatures. Balancing those interests requires prudence,” he writes. On issues of prudential wisdom, Christians on both sides of a debate may well have good reasons to disagree. Check out his commentary for links to a number of pertinent resources.

Blog author: kwoods
posted by on Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The February 11 issue of WORLD Magazine includes a culture feature, “Giving their names back.” Profiled in the article is Citizens for Community Values (CCV), a nonprofit in Memphis that does a victim assistance program called “A Way Out.” It’s a reclamation program of sorts, literally reclaiming women ensnarled in the sex trade industry, and giving them back their lives, reclamation evidenced by names.

The very nature of the sex industry, be it topless dancing, stripping or prostitution, requires anonymity–no names. And having no name reflects the ultimate devaluation of the human person. One of the women in this program said, “I felt like I was just a joke that God had accidentally made.”

Imago Dei may seem an odd term in this context, but in fact, it is the very core value of “A Way Out”: The reality of the imago Dei, being created in the image of God, having inherent worth, value and dignity. And the excellent way in which just two staff people, George Kuykendall and Carol Wiley empower women with so many problems and issues, oftentimes beaten, drug addicted, dumped naked on a busy street is the reason that the program was selected as a 2005 Acton Institute Samaritan Award Winnner.

While well-meaning Christian leaders protest public funding cuts for poverty and social programs, getting themselves arrested for blocking the entrance to the House office building, other effective compassion workers like George and Carol aren’t focused on whether the ultimate issue is fraud in government programs or tax cuts. Since “A Way Out” doesn’t depend on public funds, George and Carol just keep patiently returning again and again to help the hookers and strippers near the Memphis airport. They just keep connecting them to mentors who help them leave the sex trade, find good work, save money, learn how to live.

Each person has dignity, has value expressed in a name, and effective compassion programs, even very tiny ones in Memphis, are reclaiming those names, one woman at a time. This is the translation of imago Dei that matters.

To find nonprofits that embody the principles of effective compassion near you, visit the Samaritan Guide.

Wired News passes along this article by Chris Kohler, “U.N. Game Wins Hearts and Minds.” The story gives a brief overview and history of the video game created by the United Nations World Food Programme, Food Force.

Kohler writes, “The United Nations created the game after witnessing the success of the U.S. Army’s recruitment game, America’s Army.” The game takes players through six stages of work to get desperately needed food and supplies to vulnerable and malnourished populations.

Justin Roche, the game’s project manager, points out that Food Force is a non-violent game that competes with first-person shooters like America’s Army. “We really are the antithesis of the plethora of violent games that dominate the market,” he said. “Not one shot is fired, yet we are competing for kids’ time often devoted to shoot’em-ups.”

The Washington Post published an article yesterday highlighting the usage of virtual combat games to train a generation of new soldiers (HT: Slashdot). “The technology in games has facilitated a revolution in the art of warfare,” says David Bartlett, the former chief of operations at the Defense Modeling and Simulation Office, a high-level office within the Defense Department and the focal point for computer-generated training at the Pentagon.

Roche also said of Food Force,”We have many e-mails from children, saying that they would like to come and work for us when they are older. It’s wonderful to think that our little game is having this kind of impact.”

Check out my review of Food Force here. I conclude that the game is good as far as it goes: “Larger structural issues about the WFP and the UN remain outside the scope of the game, but nevertheless are reflected in the game’s guiding ethos and makeup. We can only hope that the WFP’s stated commitment to the independence of those it helps is manifested by policies that actually give those in need economic freedom and the hope of development. Addressing the root causes of poverty can be the only real long-term solution to poverty, hunger, and the devastation brought about by natural disasters.”

Got bureaucrat?