Archived Posts May 2006 » Page 4 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, May 12, 2006

For some reason, I get the impression that both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the editorial board of the NYT need a lesson in the birds and the bees.

The NYT criticizes Putin’s plan to address falling population levels in Russia “with a wide range of subsidies and financial incentives, along with improved health care, a crackdown on illicit alcohol, improved road safety and the like.”

Thankfully for the future of humanity, the NYT has a different suggestion: “Perhaps another approach would be to see whether the population could be increased through improved democratic institutions.”

I hate to have to point this out, but populations don’t increase through government programs, policies, or “improved democratic institutions.” They increase as the aggregate result of the successful procreative acts of human beings as blessed by God.

The Times suggests that if Russian citizens were to “share in the country’s governance, riches, debates and dreams, maybe the drinking and poverty would give way to larger families.” The NYT doesn’t seem to realize that countries with “democratic institutions” that function perfectly well, at least according to the Times’ definition (such as in the rest of Europe), also face demographic declines.

What we have here is a spiritual problem that requires a spiritual solution. Yes, material factors can contribute to the aggravation or the relief of the issue, but alone they cannot be the solution.

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” (Genesis 1:28 NIV)

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, May 12, 2006

It’s been in the news for a few days already, but the charges and countercharges continue to fly. Anyone familiar with Catholicism in China knows that the Vatican and the Chinese Communist government have been more or less at loggerheads ever since Mao Zedong drove Catholicism underground. At the heart of the dispute is the Vatican’s insistence on its right to appoint bishops; the Chinese government sees this as “foreign interference” in domestic affairs. The government’s Patriotic Association (PA) is the bureau in charge of Catholicism in China. Complicating the matter is the fact that many (nearly all?) the bishops appointed by the PA have subsequently and clandestinely sought ex post facto approval from the Vatican, thereby normalizing their status as leaders of the local churches.

Of late, there had appeared some indications that relations were thawing. The Vatican expressed its willingness to establish full diplomatic relations with China—it’s one of a few countries that officially recognizes only Taiwan—if only the government would decisively concede the point about episcopal appointments. But earlier this week the PA ordained two bishops without the pope’s approval—indeed, in the face of warnings from Rome. That blew another chill wind across Vatican-China relations.

We at Acton have generally taken an optimistic stance on China, hoping that economic and political engagement would eventually bring about prosperity, openness, and political and religious freedom. Chinese authorities seem determined to call into question that optimism.

Yet glimmers of hope remain. AsiaNews has an extraordinarily thorough and informative roster of stories on the latest dispute here. Reading them provides a sense of the complexity of the Chinese religious situation. One senses that there may be a conflict between the PA and the broader Chinese government over this issue of Catholic bishops. That is, the PA, fearful of the loss of power, is trying to reassert its traditional prerogatives. But the rest of the government is more interested in fostering international goodwill by improving relations with the Vatican—especially ahead of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. One hopes that the PA loses that fight, and that religious freedom, which is a vital correlate of political and economic freedom, takes a big step forward in China.

My presentation a few weeks ago at the Drexel University Libraries Scholarly Communications Symposium went extremely well, all things considered. My talk was titled, “The Digital Ad Fontes!: Scholarly Research Trends in the Humanities,” and I was representing the liberal arts, particularly history and theology.

Dr. Blaise Cronin, who was going to give the first lecture, took ill and was unable to attend. The attendees were quite interested in my presentation, and questions had to be cut off to maintain the schedule, even though I was given more time than I originally anticipated because of Dr. Cronin’s absence.

I want to pass on a bit of the introduction of my piece, in which I set up the question and engage various views of what scholarly publishing in the digital age looks like: (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, May 11, 2006

Quick quiz: What’s the most obvious difference between the Ansari X Prize and the newly announced “H-Prize”?

HT: Slashdot

Many are alarmed as Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia veer toward leftist class-struggle politics and socialist economic policies. But, as Sam Gregg points out, the potent combination of state-authoritarianism, populism, nationalism and xenophobia — or “corporatism” — seen today in Latin America was also present in European fascist governments in the 1930s, and later during the regime of Argentina’s Juan Peron. One encouraging sign: Catholic leaders are now speaking out against this corporatist agenda.

Read the complete commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, May 11, 2006

You can read my piece today responding to an article in the New York Times over at National Review Online, “Free Workers & Free Trade.”

The NYT piece passes on the allegations of numerous immigrant workers at garment factories in Jordan that they have been lured into the country, had their passports taken, and then forced to work long hours for illegally low wages. There’s an implicit critique of the free market system, and large retailers like Wal-Mart and Target, in the article, blaming them for the de facto conditions of slavery.

I, in turn, examine the culpability at various levels, including the responsibility of the factory owners, the duties of the Jordanian government, as well as the “unique ability for American companies to use their economic leverage to push for an end to foreign labor exploitation.”

ABC columnist and Temple professor John Allen Paulos has an interesting piece this week on a new paper outlining an economic theory of prostitution. Basically, the authors outline the incentives and patterns involved in the “world’s oldest profession” (a moniker I think is misleading, for the title truly belongs to gardening). I will let you read both the paper and the article yourself, because it is only Mr. Paulos’s conclusion I would like to discuss here:

Like any statistical model, this one ignores the diversity of real people and the complexities of love and pleasure, changing social mores, et cetera. Still, once all its equations have been solved, a simple fact remains: Most women enter prostitution for the money.

This being so, legalizing it, regulating it (strictly enforcing laws against pimping, child prostitution, public nuisance and so forth) and improving the economic prospects for women seem to me a greatly preferable approach to it than moralistic denunciation.

But like any purely economic assessment, Mr. Paulos’s statements above ignore the essence of man, ignores the question “what is a human person truly?” Without an understanding of the inherent dignity of the human person–in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!–it is easy to reduce all human interaction to economics, to simple exchange.

All such reduction goes out the window if you posit the following: “the human person is designed to be a gift.” If the core of human essense is to love, that is, to make a gift of one’s self, all reduction of a human person to her market commodity is not only ultimately counterproductive to a healthy market, but destructive of the human person herself.

If the human person, at her core, is designed for love, for self-giving, to reduce her to a economic commodity is to deny her true nature. Why should this matter? To try to tease use out of something not designed for that use not only destroys the use, but the used as well.

Some closing thoughts from Karol Wojtyla’s Love and Responsibility:

“The principle of ‘utility’ itself, of treating a person as a means to an end, and an end moreover which in this case is pleasure, the maximization of pleasure, will always stand in the way of love…”

“The person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love…”

“…love for a person must consist in affirmation that the person has a value higher than that of an object for consumption or use.”

This is precisely what Mr. Paulos neglects to understand. His concern about ‘moralistic denunciation’ betrays an inexcusable ignorance about the end of economics, which is man, and the end of man, which is Love.

Before Mr. Paulos advocates regulation as opposed to moralism, perhaps he ought to spend some time asking himself morality’s question: “What is man?”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Daniel Son gives a nice summary of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA) over at Townhall.com. Check it out.

Christianity Today’s email update from today has a link for this piece, “A Climate of Change,” which reviews the current situation among evangelicals regarding environmental stewardship. And here’s a useful link to the CT Library archive of articles on the environment.

You may have seen an op-ed in the NYT last week by Tom Friedman, who noted that when oil and gas prices go up, bad things happen in oil producing nations abroad. The tendency is for the oppressive regimes in oil producing nations to consolidate their power and be less responsive to the demands of their citizens when they have the added buffer of huge profits from the sale of oil.

And domestically many have made the claim that rising oil and gas prices are a bad thing. Many people’s pocketbooks have been hit hard, when they stop to fill up at the pump and over the course of the long winter. So many people are against high gas prices that politicians at almost every level have felt the need to respond and make some sort of gesture, token or substantive, to address the issue.

There’s no doubt that the poor, as in most cases, are disproportionately affected by high energy prices. People on fixed incomes often have trouble paying their utility bills when prices spike. Others who must commute to their jobs have trouble filling up the gas tank. Attention needs to be fixed on the people in these sorts of situations, and help should be there when they need it. It must be noted, too, that increased taxes have the same drawback as increased prices from market-pressures: they are regressive.

But for the vast majority of Americans, if addressed honestly, the rising cost of oil is more of an inconvenience than anything else. If people can afford to buy expensive new SUVs and large trucks, they can afford the pinch on their disposable income that higher gas prices mean.

Even so, the inconvenience does have the ability to change people’s behavior, and this is why I’m making the argument that high gas prices have the potential to be a good, albeit a costly one (so to speak). People might drive less, carpool more, walk to the corner store instead of driving, and so on.

But an even bigger point is this: as gas prices rise the cost relative to other forms of energy is bound to decrease. This is why so many environmental advocates have long been arguing in favor of some sort of hefty additional petroleum products tax, which would make other sources of energy more competitive.

But what so many fail to see is that the market can accomplish by itself what such artificial and authoritarian measures are intended to do. Clearly the price we pay at the gas pump includes a huge amount by way of taxes to the various levels of government. But when gas prices rise without an increase in the amount of government taxation, the market itself is making other cleaner and renewable sources of energy more competitive.

As the Cornwall Declaration observes, “A clean environment is a costly good.” This has never been more true than in the case of rising gas prices. The wealth created by market economies allows the creation of new, better, and more efficient technologies. And the market itself gives strong economic incentive to the pursuit of such endeavors, especially when oil prices are on the rise.

It’s high time that environmentalists stopped being so wishy-washy about the market. As Paul Jacobs points out, they like the market when the prices are high but hate it when they are low. On this inconsistency, Jacobs is right. But where he’s wrong, I think, is that arguing for the positive effects of the market in this case automatically means that you must otherwise be for increased taxation to accomplish the same goals.

Related Items:

“Bodies for Barrels,” The McLaughlin Group, May 5, 2006 (archived text of issue available here; search for ” Issue Two: Bodies for Barrels.”) Key quote from Tony Blankley: “I’m in favor of free markets. The people will go to smaller cars if they want them. And trying to force people to buy cars they don’t want is foolish. And anybody who wants to protect their family, particularly if you have children, you want them in a lot of steel around them. And that to me is the better call to protect your children – driving around in Suburbans and large vehicles.”

Tom Daschle and Vinod Khosla, “Miles Per Cob,” The New York Times, May 8, 2006. Another installment of the “governments create markets” fallacy.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Humanity’s creativity helps environment,” Detroit News, April 22, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Cashing in on Carbon Credits,” Acton Commentary, April 19, 2006.

Next stop…

Last week, it was reported that NASA’s budget is so thin that it puts “America’s leadership in scientific research is at risk.” (Last year’s NASA budget was around $16 billion, give or take a few hundred million.)

The National Research Council says the space agency is “being asked to accomplish too much with too little.” The group points to the competing demands of building the international space station and returning astronauts to the moon.

So what should a large government agency do when budgets run high and credibility runs low?

NASA is calling on private industry to build next-generation spacecraft that can land on the moon, and it’s got $2 million to back up the bid.

The PowerBlog has often covered the X-Prize folk (here and here) as good examples of the power of private entrepreneurship. Now, these folks’ good old fashioned DIY attitude may provide the answer to returning to the moon.

NASA’s exploration vision calls for putting humans back on the moon in the next decade. The vehicles to land on the moon no longer exist,” X Prize Chairman Peter Diamandis said in a statement. “We believe that entrepreneurial companies can build these lunar spaceships, and a Lunar Lander Challenge can stimulate the required technology in an efficient and rapid fashion.”

For NASA, the $2 million prize money is a small price to pay for the promise of technical innovation from private industry or untapped genius. The contest does not grant NASA intellectual property rights to winners’ inventions, but the space agency asks contestants to be willing to negotiate licensing rights in good faith if it shows interest in a particular technology or design.

I look forward to seeing how well this works (and I suspect it will work quite well). And when it does, I hope someone (perhaps the PowerBlog) will create a pretty cost/result chart comparing the private company that gets us back to the moon and the government agency whose budget is “too thin.”