Archived Posts May 2007 » Page 2 of 4 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Both of our major political parties have missed what seems so obvious. One says that we need more tax cuts to strengthen the economy. This is correct. The problem is that they are not willing to also make serious budget cuts. That party has spent more than any previous administration. The other political party wants to expand federal government by spending more of our money by raising taxes. The first plan helps the economy in the short run but not in the long term. The second is an even worse disaster I think.

Look, budget deficits are not a good thing, at least not in my simplistic understanding of economics. What individual would decrease their revenue, at least for the short term, and then also increase spending, for the long term? I know, cutting tax rates generates more money in the long run and thus the government benefits. I agree with that proven principle. Ronald Reagan advanced it and to the astonishment of all his enemies it worked.

What I do not think is a proven fact is that you can keep raising government spending, so as to increase deficits, and not someday have to "pay the piper." The late Milton Friedman, a hero of mine, continually noted that the burden of government is best measured by the level of our spending, not by the level of our tax rates. John Stossel pointed this out very clearly in his syndicated column that appeared in my paper today.

Here is the bad news. Your FICA and Social Security taxes currently exceed the expenditures of these programs. But by 2017 or 2018 this will all change when the baby boomers start to retire in massive numbers and begin to drain the system. Stossel gives President Bush some credit for the falling deficit because of his tax cuts. This plan has shrunk the deficit, at least to some extent. Cutting taxes and cutting deficits are not opposites. Both can and should be done. There is enough blame to go around in Washington. I want to decrease tax rates even further but I also want to seriously decrease federal spending.

John Stossel notes that the anti-Federalist writer Melancton Smith (1787) wrote: "All governments find a use for as much money as they can raise." That is the real issue and few will admit it, whether Republicans or Democrats. One party generally does a better job with this issue than the other but the difference is more one of degree than of deep and true principle, or so it seems to this amateur. I am open to seeing this differently but I think the obvious is pretty obvious. We need to grow the economy, allow people to keep their own money so they can spend it and create new jobs, and limit the role of government in solving every social ill we face. I believe there are some pressing issues that demand federal solutions. I am not a libertarian Luddite. But I also believe that at some point we had better face this deficit issue and slow spending or we will soon face financial and social chaos like we have never imagined.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Jennifer Roback Morse takes a look at The War Between the State and the Family, a book that examines some of the family unfriendly social policies of the United Kingdom. The state, she finds, is in the process of atomizing the family into a loose association of persons with easily separated relationships. “Decomposing society into nothing but a collection of unattached individuals has been destructive of individuals and society alike,” Morse writes.

Read the full commentary here.

A contingent from Austria that attended last year’s Acton University produced a video on their experiences:


Want to learn more? Register for next month’s Acton University 2007 (June 12-15, 2007) today.

Applications are also open next month for the Toward a Free and Virtuous Society conference to be held in Sonntagberg, Austria, Sept. 20-23, 2007. Applications will be accepted June 1-July 1, 2007.

There are details about how you can sponsor a child to receive an education at the new Christian Primary School in Kabala, Sierra Leone at the project’s blog. The school is an effort pursued by Fraser Valley Christian High School in Surrey, British Columbia, in conjunction with Christian Extension Services in Sierra Leone.

I have mentioned the new school in a previous Acton Commentary. The cost of sponsoring a child is $200. Some more details about the education offered by the school follows:

The school offers grade 1-4 education to start. They will have certified Christian teachers who will be teaching the Sierra Leone government core curriculum and like our Canadian Christian Schools will integrate Biblical worldview and values into all they do. The biggest advantage to these children will be the low teacher/student ratio of no more than 35:1. By African standards this is simply amazing and will make all the difference in the child’s education.

Check out the school’s blog for more information about how to sponsor a child and answers to some other frequently asked questions.

I’ve been reading a lot of Richard Baxter lately, and one of the things he emphasizes in many of his writings is the importance of a good, basic education. So, for instance, he writes in his treatise, How to Do Good to Many, that in order to “promote knowledge of necessary truth,” we need to first “set up reading schools.”

Once people are literate, we should “give them good books, especially Bibles, and good Catechisms, and small practical books which press the fundamentals on their consciences.”

He continues,

If men that in life, or at death, give a stated revenue for good works, would settle the one half on a Catechizing English School, and the other half on some suitable good books, it may prove a very, great means of publick reformation. When a good book is in the House, if some despise it, others may read it, and when one Parish is provided, every year’s rent may extend the Charity to other Parishes, and it may spread over a whole Country in a little time. Most of the good that God hath done for me, for knowledge or Conscience hath been by sound and pious books.

It’s within our ability to put not only books in the hands of those who need them, but to provide children in Sierra Leone with the education to make proper use of such books. It would be hard to find a better way to spend $200.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Monday, May 21, 2007

There are two new items that should be noted in the Acton Bookshoppe. The first is The Call of the Entrepreneur DVD which is now available for pre-order. The DVD is not expected to ship until the fall but you can start lining up for one of the first copies right now.

The second item is The Call of the Entrepreneur Study Guide by Rev. Robert Sirico. The study guide touches on many of the same themes as the DVD, including the zero-sum-game fallacy, the importance of entrepreneurs in driving the economy and creating new wealth, and the necessity of limited government, rule of law, and property rights in a free-market society. The study guide also expands to topics including the significance of Judeo-Christian tradition in relation to capitalism.

Stop by the Acton Bookshoppe today and see whats new!

Commentators call it “The Religion Test.” What does it mean when the Constitution says there should be no religious test for holding office in the United States? Historically it has plainly meant that no candidate, be they a Quaker, a Baptist, a Pentecostal or a Mormon can be barred from office because of their religion. The question is once again on the table with the serious candidacy of Mitt Romney for the presidency. And many who are concerned about Romney’s faith are evangelicals. There is a strange joining of prejudice here as the secular left seems to agree, to some extent at least, with some in the religious right.

It is fair to ask a candidate where they stand on school vouchers and abortion questions but what about their interpretations of the Bible? Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate, recently challenged some of Joseph Smith’s more outrageous doctrinal beliefs by suggesting that he was obviously a “con man.” Since Mitt Romney is a Mormon Weisberg wants to know if he really believes what Smith taught since if he does then Weisberg does not want him to run the country. Christian commentator and talk-show host, Hugh Hewitt, calls this kind of response “unashamed bigotry.” Is it?

Romney himself speaks of people using “caricatures that pick some obscure aspect of [one’s] faith . . . and assume it was the central element.” Make no mistake about it, many evangelicals are uncomfortable with voting for a Mormon. The issue intrigues me since the last time we had this kind of discussion was in 1960 when evangelicals were not yet ready to vote for a Roman Catholic. My own pastor told us that a vote for Jack Kennedy was “a vote for the papacy.” That was enough to scare many of the faithful into a vote for Nixon even though they were Southern Democrats.

Mormonism is viewed as a cult by many Christians. I am not thrilled with the common use of the term cult but I am firmly persuaded that Mormonism is not orthodox, confessional, apostolic Christianity. In 2001 the Vatican even ruled that Mormon baptism was not Christian baptism, an interpretation I also share. But should this matter in our choice of a president?

Very simply put, I think it all depends on the particular person. In Romney’s case he is the only one of the front-runners who is still married to his first wife and who has a role-model family. But what a person is, his actions and views, matter deeply with regard to his capacity to lead and serve, or at least they should. Does a Mormon have the intellectual seriousness to lead the country? Some in the secular left think Romney cannot pass such a test simply because he is a Mormon. Hugh Hewitt warns evangelicals that this kind of bias is double-edged and points at them just as much as at Mormons. Theology, Hewitt insists, must not become a “test” for the oval office.

The interesting thing here is that Romney’s role models for going forward have to be Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy, who both argued for a deeply felt religious faith that did not need to be tightly defined. Romney, following Ike’s approach, has said, “I think the American people want a person of faith to lead the country. I don’t think Americans care what brand of faith someone has.” Ike once said, “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

We call this kind of faith civil religion. It has absolutely nothing to do with real Christian faith or the proper role of the church and its missional relationship to the kingdom of Christ. But it seems to have a limited role in our particular society, so long as it doesn’t turn faith into sheer mush and nonsense, which it can and sometimes has done. In our present context, where a growing percentage of folks want no mention of faith in public at all, there is a place for such civil religion to counterbalance the secularist assault on the freedom of faith expression. But in the end civil religion will never profoundly shape or change the nation. It is a kind of cultural expression of general religion that makes it possible for all faith, including real faith, to be expressed in charitable and civil ways. It is nothing more and nothing less as I see it.

There are two Buddhists and a Muslim in the U. S. House of Representatives now. Americans are clearly more diverse than ever before. I personally think it is time to retire the “religion test” as a litmus standard for the presidency. It is not time, however, to retire the character test. These two questions are not necessarily related. How will a man act when faced with broadly moral questions that determine his leadership? I hope that question always remains on the table but increasingly I think it is also being lost. Maybe this debate will put it back on the table in a positive way.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

The John Ryan Institute at the University of St. Thomas announces its 2008 symposium in the series Catholic Social Thought and Management, to be on the topic of “Business Education at Catholic Universities.” These biennial conferences are large affairs encompassing a refreshingly diverse array of viewpoints. The conferences page is here, though the link to the 2008 event seems not to be operational yet.

New postal rates went into effect yesterday, but the biggest impact of the new rates and policies hasn’t yet been felt.

A new set of policies governing the delivery of magazines through the mail has been postponed until July. That’s a bit of needed good news for small magazines that will face rather hefty price increases.

The increases have even got The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel complaining that “the Postal Service is a monopoly.”

Maybe it’s time for magazines that can’t afford to meet the new rates without untenable price hikes or layoffs (or both) to consider alternative delivery methods.

One option would be to go to a completely digital format, like Salon or Slate.

Another might be to partner with groups other than the Postal Service that already deliver to customer’s doors. The latter might be local delivery people who contract for daily or weekly newspapers.

It might be in the interests of both parties to partner up or combine their delivery efforts, in the same way that papers like The Wall Street Journal or the New York Times are delivered nationally.

Perhaps the local newspapers could get a boost to their profits by charging a small fee to deliver the magazines along with their daily routes.

Update: Much more on the postage increase at the Logos blog.

This week’s ACT 3 weekly essay, “Why Christians Ought to Make a Difference in the Marketplace,” by David L. Bahnsen:

I have heard it said in my life on more than one occasion that God sent his Son to save souls. Indeed, for evangelicals, that is certainly true. However, for the professing believer who talks of a deep concern for individual souls my question and answer will either be a gigantic disappointment or it may be a true experience of edification. While all Christian men and women ought to be interested in the salvation of individual souls—God is truly in the redemption business—I contend that, as Leslie Newbigin masterfully argues in his gem of a book, Foolishness to the Greeks, the souls of individuals have been spiritually ravaged as a result of our complete surrender of the key institutions and spheres within our society. Newbigin wrote this a generation ago in reference to the inexplicable surrender of modern science and advanced analytical philosophy to secular humanists. His argument actually simple—in a short-term effort to prioritize souls over spheres and people over institutions, we actually lost both. My belief is that where Newbigin was astutely right decades ago, today’s sphere of surrender from the covenant community of God has actually taken place in the marketplace of our day.

Read the whole article at the ACT 3 website here.

There once was a time when it was, in practice at least, more difficult and costly to copy videocassette tapes than it was music tapes, compact discs, or computer programs. That, in part, is the justification for how the US Copyright code treats music and computer software differently than, say, movies.

It’s also why you see rental companies, like Blockbuster and Netflix, that specialize in delivering rental videos for limited home usage. Other companies, like Gamefly, specialize in the rental of video games for consoles like the PlayStation 3 and XBox 360. Gamefly can do this because games for consoles, whether cartridge-based or disc-based, don’t qualify as “computer software,” and are thus not under special protection.

And in some states, there are increasing restrictions on how you can sell your used music CDs, for instance.

But as is so often the case in the world of technology, things change rapidly. The advent of the PC and powerful CD and DVD burning technology has made copying DVD movies as easy as copying tracks from a music CD.

Moreover, the PS3 in particular describes itself as a “computer entertainment system,” and comes with a hard drive, to which files can be copied, theoretically easing game load times and storing player profiles and statistics. This raises the question of what truly differentiates a game for the PS3 “computer entertainment system” and a game for a PC. Because of the particularities of copyright law, the former can be rented commercially, while the latter cannot (at least not without direct permission from the copyright holders).

The reason that you can rent games for such console systems is that such a game system is understood to be “a limited purpose computer.” But many PC gaming systems aren’t actually used for anything besides gaming (even though they theoretically could be).

Some commentators are in agreement with the view of Apple’s Steve Jobs: “There’s no mainstream demand for music subscriptions. The music business isn’t built on long-term rentals; it’s built on one hit after another. It’s confectionary. Tunes are addictive for a while and then discarded. It’s like the drug business: Users are always looking for the next hit.”

To the extent that this is even true, it may simply be the result of the different copyright treatment of music, movies, computer software, and video games.