Archived Posts June 2007 » Page 2 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Charitable giving in America has risen for the third consecutive year. The picture behind this recent report is rather interesting. Due to the absence of natural disasters, both nationally and internationally, large giving to major relief projects declined. Giving to human services also fell. The giving of corporate America rose only 1.5%. But in a shift from previous years giving to the arts and to cultural and humanities organizations grew rather significantly. The lion’s share of giving is still done by individuals, not by foundations, bequests and corporations. In fact, individual giving was about four times the amount given by all of these other sources combined, demonstrating once again that when individuals have the freedom to gain wealth they are enabled to share. But, as always, the largest percentage of giving was not among the rich. (This comment is not one meant to oppose affluence since there are several reasons why this remains true, and not all of these reasons suggest that the rich are universally uncharitable in the least. There is not a simple pattern here to explain this fact.)

(Continue reading the rest of the article at the John H. Armstrong blog…)

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."

What causes poverty? The question presently plagues many serious Christian thinkers and leaders. The answers vary but the proposed solutions are the stuff of our political campaigns every four years. We can already hear the discussion from the various candidates for the presidency in 2008, both Republican and Democrat. One candidate, John Edwards, actually wants to make poverty a major issue in the next election, maybe as important as the Iraq War. He openly presents his version of a solution and thus makes it a major part of his stump speech these days.

Many Christians, who think about these kinds of questions, will argue that poverty can not be solved in a free-market context. They believe the problem is economic since capitalism is fundamentally rooted in greed. The idea here is quite simple. The rich have all the wealth, they are the ones who create the products, make the money and drive the markets. The poor suffer all the more when this happens. Because capitalism has this perceived inherent flaw it will always, or at least ultimately, foster huge inequities in income and create greater poverty. These inequities will actually increase grinding poverty for millions of people, making things even worse for more poor people as the wealthy class grows. Since the percentage of monetary growth in the present economy shows the rich are getting richer and the poor and middleclass are gaining ground by a much smaller percentage this seems to favor these kinds of arguments against capitalism. (I will not get into this issue in this article, but there are different answers to this question that are both appropriate and sound.)

In 1981 author and political advisor, George Gilder, wrote a huge best-seller, Wealth & Poverty. This popular book influenced a new generation. It did so by challenging the “greed thesis” at its core. I have always admired George Gilder. I realized back in the 1980s that it was his thinking that powerfully influenced the Reagan administration to adopt what became known as Reaganomics, a much maligned and oft-debated theory of wealth, poverty and economics.

(Continue reading the rest of the article at the ACT 3 website…)

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."

Here’s more from David Schmidtz’s Elements of Justice, in which he is engaging Rawls’ thought experiment on original position that presumes a closed society as the basis for his social thought. In a closed society we only enter by birth and leave by dying. Schmidtz observes that

as a matter of historical record the least advantaged have always been better off in open societies, societies where people are free to move in search of better opportunities. if we are theorizing about what kind of society is best for the least advantaged – if that is the desired conclusion – then is anything more fundamental than the freedom of movement? Indeed, why not deem freedom of movement the core of the first principle: Everyone has a right to live in a maximally open society, a society where they have no obligation to stay if they would rather be elsewhere? (222)

My guess is that Rawls is concerned with describing a grand (perhaps utopian) global vision for human society, which ultimately is closed and in which migration wouldn’t be of consequence. But Schmidtz is right to point out that practically that vision is not within our grasp, and is of little use when comparing the various actual different human societies.

This year’s hot vacation bible school package is called The Great Bible Reef – Dive Deep Into God’s Word. The folks at BretherenPress are advertising The Great Bible Reef this way:

Dive into the ‘Great Bible Reef’ for an incredible VBS! Kids experience Bible stories through an interactive combination of music, art, science, games, worship, and drama in an underwater adventure. The ‘Great Bible Reef’ will have your kids swimming with delight as they explore all of God’s creation under the sea. Everything you need to dive right into the ‘Great Bible Reef’ is contained in this fun, aquatic pack!

Is an ecumenical, eco-awareness-driven summer bible school going to make a difference in your kids lives? That’s the question parents should be asking before they drop Bobby or Susie off at the church. (more…)

Albert Mohler weighs in on the chimera phenomenon, “The Chimeras Are Coming.” He links to a WaPo article from yesterday, “Making Manimals,” by William Saletan.

Saletan, a writer for Slate.com, concludes with this advice: “If you want permanent restrictions, your best bet is the senator who tried to impose them two years ago. He’s the same presidential candidate now leading the charge against evolution: Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican. He thinks we’re separate from other animals, ‘unique in the created order.’ Too bad this wasn’t true in the past — and won’t be true in the future.”

Mohler, for his part, also passes on comments from Dr. Nancy L. Jones of The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, including her words on “how Christians should think about the development of transgenic animals (chimeras).” She points especially to the first chapter of Genesis as a basis for created “species integrity.”

I won’t repeat a lot of what I’ve said about this issues in this and other forums over the past few years, but I will pass along some relevant links for interested parties. Of particular interest is the last item, which is a series devoted to articulating a biblical-theological framework for evaluating chimeras:

There’s lots to digest and consider in a new Barna report on poverty:

A new national survey by The Barna Group regarding people’s perspectives on poverty shows that Americans are quite concerned about what they perceive to be a significant and growing challenge facing the nation. The survey also showed that most people are actively involved in trying to alleviate poverty, although they typically believe it is primarily the government’s job to do so. The religious faith of adults appears to have a limited influence on how people perceive and respond to poverty.

One of the sentences in that introductory paragraph that jumps out at me, of course, is the sense that most people “typically believe it is primarily the government’s job” to combat poverty.

But then I ran across this paragraph, which is rather more inspiring:

Worthy of note is the divergent perspective of evangelicals. They were among the groups least likely to see poverty as a job for the government (55%) and were the group most likely to see it as a matter for churches to address (14%). The only other group that was similar was Christian Revolutionaries – the people who indicate that their highest priority in life is living for God and who possess a worldview that is based on biblical principles. Barely half of the Revolutionaries (52%) assigned poverty primarily to government agencies, while 11% said it was predominantly a church responsibility.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say when I’ve given this report a closer read. Feel free to weigh in as well.

The idealism and the goals of the United Nations are laudable. The results, at least in recent years, have often been nothing short of a disaster. One example will suffice—the recently created U.N.’s Human Rights Council, begun a year ago this past week. This council is sadly typical of the modern collapse of the U.N. The Human Rights Council consists of 47 members, almost half of which are "unfree" or "partly free" nations, at least as ranked by Freedom House. Trying to get China, Russia, Cuba and Saudi Arabia to reach an agreement on violations of freedom in various countries is like trying to get the mafia to give up crime.

Presently there are only nine countries on the human rights "watch list." These are Burundi, North Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Cambodia, Burma, Somalia and Sudan. But if Cuba is watching "the watched" then that is somewhat like the the fox watching the hen house. And at China’s request the council now insists on the "broadest possible support" of at least fifteen nations on the council to act. This means, in effect, that probes on freedom of speech and political rights are likely to amount to nothing. There has been a deafening silence from the other 190 U.N. members about these developments along with strong hints that most investigations of violators will soon end.

The council recently adopted a resolution entitled "Combating Defamation of Religions." This sounded promising. The document says that speech must "be exercised with responsibility" and limited to protect "public order, public health or morals and respect for religions and beliefs." Well and good. But there is a small problem. The only religion mentioned is Islam.

Critics of the U.S. tell us quite routinely that we who are not huge fans of the U.N. don’t really care what goes on in the world yet the U.S. is quite often one of the few nations that will actually intervene to protect human rights, though all too slowly many times. The European Union will not protect human rights so long as it has to defend Israel thus the real enemies of human rights have no real opposition politically in most of Europe. The U.S. taxpayers cover 22% of the bill for all this mess. This is why The Wall Street Journal piece was correct last week when it suggested we have only one real option: Stop funding the U.N. Human Rights Council. I have believed in the U.N., at least in theory, for a lifetime but the reality of the real world situation is fast making me doubt its real value for the future.

I’m reading David Schmidtz’s Elements of Justice, which is very ably reviewed (although not by me) in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (10.1). I just read a striking passage, which discusses the merits of a principle of property rights that respects first possession rather than equal shares.

An overlooked virtue of first possession: It lets us live together without having to view newcomers as a threat. If we were to regard newcomers as having a claim to an equal share of our holdings, the arrival of newcomers would be inherently threatening. Imagine a town with one hundred people. Each has a one hundred foot wide lot. If someone new shows up, we redraw property lines. Each lot shrinks by one foot, to make room for the new person’s equal share (and so on as more people arrive). Question: How friendly will that town be? Even now, in our world, people who see the world in zero-sum terms tend to despise immigrants. They see immigrants as taking jobs rather than as making products, as bidding up rents rather than as stimulating new construction, and so on. The point is not that xenophobia has moral weight, but that xenophobia is real, a variable we want to minimize if we can. Rules of first possession help. What would not help is telling people that newly arriving immigrants have a right to an equal share (155).

It seems that the latter is exactly what many political liberals in America are doing by guaranteeing various kinds of entitlements to immigrants, whether legal or illegal. In that sense, a statist ideology that emphasizes government provision of various social entitlements seems to promote and foment rather than minimize xenophobia. And so ironically, the liberals who champion a freer and more lenient immigration policy are effectively undermining their own efforts.

This also shows just how dominant a statist (or zero-sum) mentality is in today’s United States when political conservatives are the ones who are most vociferiusly depicting immigrants as economic and social drains rather than positive producers.

The reality is that immigration generally tends to be a net economic benefit. While there are some localized pockets of negative economic effects, the national economic trend is positive. This has been articulated in one of Acton’s policy publications, “The Stranger who Sojourns with You: Toward a Moral Immigration Policy,” and was recently underscored by a White House report.

These realities bear serious reflection. Last Wednesday was World Refugee Day. We should be asking whether our society’s decisions about the government provision of social welfare entitlements has concurrently made our nation more attractive as a destination as well as more unfriendly to newcomers.

Could an elimination or reduction of entitlements make our country even more attractive while at the same time removing some of the economic incentives for xenophobia? Perhaps so.

I thought this was an interesting bit at the intersection of morality and economics. An insurance brokerage firm, K&B Underwriters, is sponsoring a physicians’ survey designed to determine whether doctors who work within a “culture of life” framework (e.g., eschewing abortion) are less prone to malpractice suits than those who don’t. The company’s hypothesis is that pro-life physicians are indeed “safer” in this way, with the implication that pro-life medical practices could be one criterion taken into account when calculating malpractice insurance. It’s a controversial claim, to be sure, but an intriguing approach—and the results so far seem to be supporting the hypothesis.

You can read more about the initiative—and complete the survey, if applicable—here.

HT: Deal Hudson’s “The Window” column.

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