Archived Posts February 2007 » Page 3 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, February 16, 2007

Today’s Detroit News ran a brief letter to the editor in response to my Jan. 23 op-ed, “Don’t prevent religion from helping to reform prisoners.” (Joe Knippenberg engaged a previous response on his blog here).

David Dery of Central Lake writes, “Jordan Ballor’s article encouraging religious groups in prisons is fine, as far as he goes…. The problem comes when the state attaches some benefit to attending these programs without providing a non-religious alternative.”

In response I’ll simply make a few observations and raise a few questions. I agree that the state “attaching some benefit” to a program like IFI is potentially problematic, although the nature of the benefit would probably need to be more clearly defined (are we talking material benefits? social?). What if this benefit is not attached by the state but inheres to the nature of the program itself (i.e. spiritual)?

I also think there is not only a question of a religious vs. non-religious/secular alternative to be considered, but Christian vs. other religions (Islam, paganism, Buddhism, et al.) That is, if the government allows a Christian program into prisons, must it also provide a non-Christian religious alternative? What if there are no groups who are doing religious reform work in prisons from these groups?

Here’s a tentative alternative proposition: if the state allows a Christian group to do reform work in the prison, it must allow (not necessarily provide itself) other groups, whether religious or secular, to do reform work under the same conditions and standards as the Christian group. But the state need not necessarily seek out or artificially create Buddhist, pagan, Islamic, or secularist groups to do the reform work.

The fact that Christian groups are perhaps the most active in this area says something about the nature of the Christian faith and its expression.

IFI’s appeal of the decision in Iowa began this week. Joe Knippenberg gives some good introductory links and IFI’s ruling page gives information on how to listen to the oral arguments.

Mr. Fred L. Smith, Jr. at the 2007 Acton Lecture Series

Mr. Fred L. Smith, Jr. of the Competitive Enterprise Institute was today’s guest speaker as part of the 2007 Acton Lecture Series here in Grand Rapids, speaking on the topic of The Irresponsibility of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Smith argues that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become the new rationale for old policies of transforming private firms into public utilities—and forcing them to perform whatever duties are politically attractive at any one time. The corporation is an extremely valuable way of organizing large numbers of people to produce goods and services efficiently—that is, to create wealth. That wealth then flows into the hands of shareholders, workers, customers, and suppliers, who are then empowered to advance their own individual goals and values. According to Smith, to “socialize” this process is to reduce the ability of individuals to advance their goals, placing the values of politicians as paramount. Nothing would do more to reduce the world’s ability to address poverty and pollution than to force CSR onto the world economy.

You can listen to his address by clicking here (7.4 mb mp3 file). We’ll be posting video of today’s event tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, February 15, 2007

One of the stories told in the Acton’s forthcoming documentary, “The Call of the Entrepreneur,” (trailer available here) is that of Brad Morgan, a Michigan dairy farmer, who bucked the odds and the naysayers and turned the problem posed by the disposal of his herd’s manure into a profitable business venture.

His innovative solution to manure disposal, turning it into high quality compost for a variety of purposes, led to the formation of Morgan Composting in 1996, and more than ten years later the business is still going strong.

Sirico: “Sometimes they’re the most common resources that we walk over, that we ignore, that we even are perhaps repulsed by…”

Reflecting on the role of the entrepreneur in the market economy, Acton president Rev. Robert A. Sirico says, “Sometimes they’re the most common resources that we walk over, that we ignore, that we even are perhaps repulsed by, that become the source of wealth, the source of jobs, the source of prosperity. I mean this is an incredible institution.”

Perhaps no “resource” illustrates this reality better than manure. Brad Morgan turned the waste from cows into a valuable commodity. And now researchers and government officials are following Morgan’s lead.

Wendy Powers, a professor of agriculture at Michigan State University, says, “We really need to think outside the box on what uses for manure are.” Brad Morgan thought outside the box and Morgan Composting now offers a full line of products.

The Associated Press report says that “fiber from processed and sterilized cow manure could take the place of sawdust in making fiberboard, which is used to make everything from furniture to flooring to store shelves.”

“Farmers are having to put more and more money into dealing with manure,” said Tim Zauche, a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. “This is a huge cost to farmers.” A dairy farm can spend $200 per cow per year to handle its manure, Zauche said.

But looking at manure as a resource to be managed rather than waste to be disposed of is the key difference in perspective. That’s what Powers calls thinking “outside the box.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, February 14, 2007

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine the most recent buzz-worthy trend in the lottery industry: privatization.

While most critics of these moves have pointed to the foolhardiness of selling off a long-term income stream for a lump sum jackpot, I argue that privatization by itself does nothing to address the underlying problems afflicting the lottery business. I conclude, “A government-run monopoly would merely be replaced by a government-enforced monopoly.”

And as I’ve claimed previously, government reliance on lotteries as a morally praiseworthy generator of income is illusory. UPDATE (HT: Mere Comments): Here’s a bit from the abstract from a recent article examining lottery trends from 1976-1996: “One of the most important policy-oriented determinants of income inequality is the lottery and a significant portion of the increase in income inequality over our two-decade time period is attributable to the increasing prevalence and popularity of state lotteries” (Elizabeth A. Freund and Irwin L. Morris, “The Lottery and Income Inequality in the States,” Social Science Quarterly 86 [December 2005 Supplement]: 996-1012).

The newest incarnation of the Michigan Lottery’s attempt to sell the industry as contributing to the common good describes the lottery as a thread running through all sectors of society, connecting everyone in a single bond of community. Is it really true that under a state-run lottery system that “we all win,” or all we all simply trapped in the same web?

Earlier this year the New York Post reported that the expansion of legalized gambling is having a deleterious effect on the ability of non-profits to raise funds through gambling fundraising events (HT: Don’t Tell the Donor).

And now there are some plans in the works to expand lotteries to a whole new level. The UK Telegraph reports that within five years a multi-million dollar worldwide lottery could be put in place.

I actually am quite (pleasantly) surprised that some enterprising young congressperson hasn’t yet been successful in putting forward the idea of a national lottery. Surely the Commerce Clause could be invoked to regulate and nationalize the regional interstate lottery games that are currently underway. The talk about something like No Child Left Behind being an unfunded mandate could be cut off in one fell swoop.

Read the entirety of this week’s commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, February 14, 2007

PARADE Magazine has published its annual list of “The World’s Worst Dictators.” Topping the list is the man overseeing the genocide in Darfur, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir.

At least three of the top twenty are important friends and allies of the United States in the war on terror: #5 King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia; #9 Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya; #15 Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan.


“See, Lois? I told you we had allies. Slobodan, you made it!”


David Wallechinsky, PARADE contributing editor and author of Tyrants: The World’s 20 Worst Living Dictators, compiled the list. PARADE has come out with an annual list since 2003.

Over the weekend the Grand Rapids Press published an article by Mary Radigan that examines one booming trend in the travel industry, “Spiritual journeys take off in travel industry.”

“The market for religious travel has grown into an $18 billion industry worldwide,” writes Radigan. “In the past decade, it has expanded into cruise lines, bus trips, escorted tours, and conventions and meetings.”

This growing interest in religiously-based travel underscores the tensions behind the recent controversy over an archaeological dig near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. As GetReligion notes, the area is both the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest site for Muslims.

Here’s a picture from my own trip to Israel in 1999 during a summer semester working at Bethsaida archaeological excavations under the direction of Dr. John Greene. You can see the Wailing Wall in the foreground with the Dome of the Rock behind it. To the lower right hand side, you can see the guarded walkway to the Temple Mount. To the right of this walkway is the area where the archaeological dig is taking place. The perspective of the picture is facing roughly southeast, and the al-Aqsa Mosque is on the west side of the mount.

Dr. Andrea Schneider, recently appointed as an advisor to the office of Germany’s Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is the winner of the 2007 Novak Award and its associated $10,000 prize.

Dr. Schneider studied economics at the Friedrich-Alexander-University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, where she taught and worked for the Chair for Economic Policy in Nuremberg, Germany. Her dissertation received both the Hermann-Gutmann-Foundation Award and the Wolfgang-Ritter-Award. She went on to work as director of the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation’s economic policy group.

At the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation, she advised on topics like labor market, health care, welfare reform, and the significance of human dignity in politics. She is currently an advisor on economic and political reform in the Federal Chancellor’s Staff for Policy Planning.

Dr. Schneider has published and taught on many topics, including the social market economy, welfare reform, and social ethics. Additionally, she is a member of the Central Committee of German Catholics (Zentralkomitee der deutschen Katholiken), the preeminent organization for lay Catholics in Germany.

Named after distinguished American theologian and social philosopher Michael Novak, the Novak Award rewards new outstanding research by scholars early in their academic careers who demonstrate outstanding intellectual merit in advancing the understanding of theology’s connection to human dignity, the importance of limited government, religious liberty, and economic freedom. Recipients of the Novak Award make a formal presentation on such questions at an annual public forum known as the Calihan Lecture. This year’s lecture will be held in Rome this spring.

The Novak award forms part of a range of scholarships, travel grants, and awards available from the Acton Institute that support future religious and intellectual leaders who wish to study the essential relationship between theology, the free market, economic liberty, and the importance of the rule of law. Details of these scholarships may be found at www.acton.org/programs/students.

I’VE BEEN BLESSED over the past 18 months to review three very different books on Christian ecology by three guys I would recommend without hesitation as examples for our generation.

- Dr. J. Matthew Sleeth’s "Serve God, Save the Planet" starts with Matt’s trading in his family’s king-size house for the King’s priorities. As he puts it, their new house was "about the same size as their former garage." It’s a great read on how individual Christians and their families can respond to God’s call for environmental stewardship.

- Pastor Tri Robinson’s "Saving God’s Green Earth" is a book every pastor, youth minister and lay leader needs on his or her bookshelf. Better, on the corner of the desk or dresser for ready reference and review. It is what every pastor needs to kickoff and sustain an ecology effort with tons of information on where to turn for help.

- Ed Brown’s new book "Our Father’s World – Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation" [Cheaper here than at Amazon. ed] is the third.

It’s been said that before the Church was given the Great Commission to reach the lost, we received the First Commission to tend the garden (i.e. the earth). I am convinced our efforts to achieve the First will become a gong show (OK, that dates me) if we do not completely affix it to the Great. Fortunately for us, my fellow eco-blogger brother in Christ gets this: He brings us creation care from the heart of a missionary. (more…)

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Monday, February 12, 2007

Well, it’s happened. Ellen Goodman, writing last week in the Boston Globe, effectively ended the debate over climate change by invoking the most dreaded comparison of all:

I would like to say we’re at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future.

This time, the sky really IS falling! Sincerely, Chicken Little

All-righty, then. One reasonable question: do those of us who are skeptical of the climate-change consensus now have the ability to claim ultimate victory in the debate by invoking Godwin’s Law? I leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide.

Meanwhile, David Warren has written a series of good columns in recent weeks on the latest fashionable doomsday scenario:

We have, I confidently predict, a repeat of the “ozone layer” imposture. The ozone layer is like a cloud in the upper atmosphere, that thickens and thins, disappears and reappears, constantly. But by selective readings of it, a scare was put about that, “The ozone layer is shrinking!” That controversy has itself blown over, because there was nothing to it. Likewise, the extrapolation of long-term trends from short-term temperature variations will blow over. The studies only misstate a truism: that the earth’s climates are in constant flux. (It was warmer in Europe in the 13th century, than the IPCC now predicts it will become by the 22nd. Was that caused by uncontrolled CO2 emissions from rampant industrialization in the earlier Middle Ages?)

The good news is, that it should not take long for the latest environmental scare to join the “ozone layer”, “global winter”, the Club of Rome forecasts, and many other crocks on the shard-heap of history. The bad is, it will be succeeded by more Chicken-Little expostulations, with the same propagandist theme: “Unless the planet is delivered immediately into the iron embrace of the environmental bureaucracies, we’re all going to die!”

Read the whole thing, and when you’re done, just keep clicking down the sidebar for a rollicking good series of commentaries.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, February 12, 2007

Travis Sinquefield at Disorganizational Behavior examines this Washington Post article on new parts of an annual survey given to government workers.

Among the new statements the employees were asked to evaluate was this: “Pay raises depend on how well employees perform their jobs.” Only 22 percent of the respondents agreed with this statement, while 45 percent disagreed (25 percent were neutral).

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said that a performance-based system of rewards would not work in the federal system, in part because “most federal workers don’t trust a system by which they would be compensated or receive raises based on how they are judged on their performance by their managers.”

As Travis observes, it says something bad about “a workplace and its management if the employees don’t trust their managers to give honest, objective performance reviews.”

Your tax dollars are at work to ensure, to use the words of Clay Johnson III, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, that “every employee, from unsatisfactory to outstanding, gets the same annual raise.”