Archived Posts March 2006 - Page 5 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

“It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense, either by sumptuary laws, or by prohibiting the importation of foreign luxuries. They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in society. Let them look well after their own expense, and they may safely trust private people with theirs.” –Adam Smith

It’s nice to know our leaders are no longer like that.

In the Acton Commentary this week, Dr. Samuel Gregg examines the “Historic Catholic Statement of Principles” released by House Democrats last week. Following is a brief statement of purpose from the official press release:

…Signed by 55 House Democrats, the statement documents how their faith influences them as lawmakers, making clear their commitment to the basic principles at the heart of Catholic social teaching and their bearing on policy – whether it is increasing access to education for all or pressing for real health care reform, taking seriously the decision to go to war, or reducing poverty. Above all, the document expresses the signers’ commitment to the dignity of life and their belief that government has moral purpose.

Dr. Gregg looks at the statement and questions the legitimacy of claiming to promote the dignity of life while condoning abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. John Paul II wrote, “[i]t is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop” (Evangelium Vitae no.101). How can you commit to furthering the dignity of life, embracing the social guidance of the Church, and then blatantly disregard this fundamental truth?

Read Dr. Gregg’s commentary here.

Bono and the One Campaign want us to sign a petition encouraging the government to spend 1 percent of the U.S. budget for aid to developing countries. The One Campaign states that this would “transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation of the poorest countries.”

Now I admire the intentions of Bono to fight against poverty and he puts his money where is mouth is. But how do we know that increased aid will make a difference? How will the money be spent? Billions of dollars of aid have poured into developing nations, often with minimal if any positive results. Why does increasing something that really hasn’t worked going to make it better. I would understand and support it if we saw results that aid really makes a difference in providing a foundation for sustainable growth that would enable developing nations to lift themselves out of poverty, but this has not been the case. Aid often goes to the hands of corrupt leaders or gets squandered away. Further it is too often connected to ideology that has little or nothing to do with development or poverty, e.g., population control. How many millions of dollars a year go into population control programs despite little or no evidence of a causal relationship between increased population and poverty? In fact, population can often be a positive element for economic growth. See Jacqueline Kasun’s book The War Against Population or Julian Simon’s the Ultimate Resource.

But what if the problem is not insufficient aid, but something else?
According to Hernando de Soto the problem is the Mystery of Capital. There are billions of dollars of “dead” assets in the developing world. Assets that cannot be turned into capital and thus can’t be an engine for economic growth. There is also a lot of saving in the developing world. De Soto writes:

Even in the poorest countries the poor save. The value of savings among the poor is, in fact, immense—forty times all the foreign aid received throughout the world since 1945. In Egypt, for instance, the wealth that the poor have accumulated is worth fifty-five times as much as the sum of all direct foreign investment ever recorded there including the Suez Canal and the Aswan Dam. In Haiti, the poorest nation in Latin America, the total assets of the poor are more than one hundred and fifty times greater than all the foreign investment received since Haiti’s independence from France in 1804.

He then writes:

If the United States were to hike its foreign aid budget level to the level recommended by the United Nations—0.7% of national income—it would take the richest country on earth more than 150 years to transfer to the world’s poor resources equal to what they already possess.

Because these assets are not properly documented with legal title etc, they cannot be turned into capital to start businesses and create wealth like they are in the developed world where we do this every time an entrepreneur mortgages his house to start a business. Now DeSoto’s work is not a panacea, but it addresses some serious problems that need to be addressed. It also recognizes that rule of law, private property, and economic and entrepreneurial opportunity are needed for development.

The One Campaign is exciting, and it is supported by host of cool people. But although it feels good it doesn’t mean that it is the answer. The problem is a lot more complex than the One people make it out to be, but their way has been tried and tried to little avail. Maybe government aid isn’t the answer after all.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
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If you think the justice system lacks a sense of humor, you better reappraise that thinking. Exhibit A: the 2-page opinion in a recent bankruptcy court motion in San Antonio (PDF). Be sure to read the footnote on page 2. “Deciphering motions like the one presented here wastes valuable chamber staff time, and invites this sort of footnote.” Classic.

A past commentary of mine was featured in a recent book, Democracy: Opposing Viewpoints, published earlier this year by Greenhaven Press, an imprint of Thomson Gale.

My contribution appears as part of Chapter 2: What Should Be the Relationship Between Religion and Democracy? Following a pair of items by Clark Moeller and Bill O’Reilly arguing that democracy is based on secular and religious foundations respectively, I take the affirmative side of my issue in a section titled, “Politicians Should Voice Their Religious Convictions.” The text is based on an earlier Acton Commentary, “Private Faith and Public Politics.”

I argue that “moral considerations of some sort come into play in every policy decision,” and politicians should be up front about their religious views which validate and underlie their moral reasoning.

Taking the negative side, “Politicians Should Not Voice Their Religious Convictions,” Cathy Young, a columnist for the Boston Globe, writes in part, “The idea that politicians should keep their religious faith private may seem outrageously intolerant. But is it not equally outrageous that, on today’s political scene, a secularist figure cannot express his views honestly without committing career suicide?” Her contribution is from an article in Reason magazine.

The democracy and religion chapter concludes with items arguing whether Islam and democracy are compatible, by Fawaz A. Gerges and Amir Taheri respectively. In the periodical bibliography for further reading on this chapter, the book also highlights a piece by George Cardinal Pell, “Is There Only Secular Democracy?” The text of the commentary is extracted from Pell’s 2004 Acton Annual Dinner address, and a longer form with footnotes is published in the Journal of Markets & Morality.

The Opposing Viewpoints series has “more than 90 volumes covering nearly every controversial contemporary topic,” and “is the leading source for libraries and classrooms in need of current-issue materials.”

In a recent post on the evangelical outpost, Joe Carter makes the case for discarding, or at least severely restricting, the use of the descriptive term supernatural by Christians. He notes that in using the term to refer, for example, to angels and demons, “we are implying that they belong on the same plane or realm of existence as God.”

One source of this implication is due to the fact that “we buy into the modernist notion that all of creation is physical and that angelic beings must necessarily exists on a ‘supernatural’ (i.e., nonphysical) plane separate and distinct from the material cosmos. Essentially, this leads us to concede a point to the physicalist worldview.”

Instead, Carter argues for a biblical worldview that separates all created reality on the one hand as contingent and God as the only metaphysically necessary being on the other. The natural-supernatural divide would then be between God and everything else. He visually describes the difference this way:

God
__________
Angels
Satan/demons
Man
Nature (i.e., plants, animals, minerals)

Such a view has the benefit of being biblical and supported by a long stream of orthodoxy. The radical Creator/creature distinction is at the heart, for example, of Athanasius’ opposition to the so-called Arian heresy.

Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck makes a somewhat similar point regarding the term supernatural in his discussion of the traditional distinction between natural and supernatural revelation. In a section of his Reformed Dogmatics (vol. 1, Prolegomena, pp. 301-12), he writes, “Actually, according to Scripture, all revelation, also that in nature, is supernatural.”

By this he means that it is supernatural in its source. That is, revelation is always from God. Thus, “the distinction between a natural and a supernatural revelation has not been derived from the action of God, who expresses himself both in the one and in the other revelation, but from the manner in which the revelation occurs, viz. ‘through’ or ‘from beyond’ this natural order. In its origin all revelation is supernatural.”

For this reason, referring to revelation as supernatural tends either to be a tautology or to lead to confusion. Bavinck prefers the distinction between general and special revelation, which refers to the distinction between God as he is generally revealed to all humanity and as he specially appears to the Church. The categories of special and general revelation therefore refer to the content of revelation rather than simply to the means of communication.

He writes, “Hence the distinction between natural and supernatural revelation is not identical with the distinction between general and special revelation. To describe the twofold revelation that underlies pagan religions and the religion of Scripture, the latter distinction is preferable to the former.”

Blog author: jballor
Monday, March 6, 2006
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In her Townhall.com column this week, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, Acton senior fellow in economics, takes Linda Hirshman, a retired professor at Brandeis University, to task.

Hirshman has been making the news circuit touting her claims about negative trends among working women. She says that educated women who become stay at home moms will create the future result that “expensively educated, upper-class moms will be leading lesser lives.”

According to an ABC News article, Hirshman views this as “a tragedy not only for the mothers, but ultimately their children and women as a whole.”

Morse’s piece is a pretty direct point by point rebuttal of Hirshman’s claims, and it is worth reading in its entirety. She writes, “I learned from experience that the kinds of claims Hirshman makes are simply untrue.” Read the rest here: “A duel in the mommy wars.”

. . . Or so claims Robert Newman in this article in The Guardian from February 2. It makes a great subject for a game of “Find-the-Fallacy.” Newman’s breezy inferences are reminiscent of The Communist Manifesto, edited to conform to trendy deep ecology. Here’s my favorite line: “Capitalism is not sustainable by its very nature. It is predicated on infinitely expanding markets, faster consumption and bigger production in a finite planet.” Well, I guess somebody has to shoot fish in a barrel: He’s obviously ignoring the very possibility that wealth is created, and apparently forgetting that the Earth isn’t an isolated planet in the void of space.

It might be tempting to dismiss articles like this. But Marxism mixed with deep ecology, unfortunately, leads to some strange and ominous claims, like this one: “To get from here to there we must talk about climate chaos in terms of what needs to be done for the survival of the species rather than where the debate is at now or what people are likely to countenance tomorrow morning.” What needs to be done for the survival of the species regardless of what people are willing to accept? This looks to me like a thinly veiled justification for all sorts of atrocities. Let’s hope Mr. Newman never finds himself in the position to impose his misanthropic vision on the rest of us.

Here’s a brief note about a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, “Service Offshoring and Productivity: Evidence from the United States.”

According to the NBER digest, “service outsourcing is doing more than fueling an economic boom in the tech-savvy provinces of India. It is also playing a major role in one of the big economic stories of the last decade: the surging productivity of American manufacturing firms.”

For more on this, check out Anthony Bradley’s commentary, “Productivity and the Ice Man: Understanding Outsourcing.”

Richard Longworth

An interesting news story on local Grand Rapids television last night concerning the long awaited closing of an Electrolux plant. While the story was fair and optimistic, I got a bit of a kick out of soundbite from Chicago writer Richard Longworth who said: “A wonderfully decent way of life is now just being undermined by productivity, by the global economy.” Now, losing a job can be a terrible thing (its worth noting, though, that one of the workers in the story seemed glad to have the chance to “do something new” with his life–so sometimes change can be good as well). But regarding the idea of lives being undermined by globalization, I couldn’t help but thinking of the insight of former President of El Salvador Francisco Flores, who will be featured in our next issue of Religion & Liberty:

Francisco Flores

[S]ome people say that they’re against trade because they will be losing jobs. What these critics don’t realize is that the choice is not between giving a job to a Salvadorian or giving it to an American citizen. That’s not the choice. The choice is whether you will allow your enterprises to survive or not. If you allow your enterprises to create a more efficient division of labor and become more competitive by creating alliances throughout the world, then your corporations will survive. If you keep them closed in, then what will happen is that other corporations throughout the world will construct these alliances, you will lose the competitive edge you have, and you will not only lose jobs, you will lose the companies.

Stay tuned for more from Flores and others in this quarter’s R&L.