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

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, June 21, 2007

Do you consider gasoline to be a gift from God? You should.

Andy Crouch, editorial director of the Christian Vision Project at Christianity Today, writes in a recent Books & Culture piece, “As our family sits together, eyes closed, we say grace. Today it’s Timothy’s turn. ‘God, thank you so much for all we have,’ he begins in what turns into a typically prolix nine-year-old’s prayer. Eventually he is done—’in Jesus’ name, Amen’—and I turn the key. We have just filled up our car with gasoline.”

The Crouch family has introduced a tradition of praying at the pump, to recognize the gift that is the ability to fill up with gas and drive around. I think that’s a great thing to do.

But even still, Crouch seems to have a hard time fully admitting that petroleum products ought to be seen as manifestations of divine grace.

“Unlike a well-prepared meal, gasoline does not prompt gratitude unbidden. The stuff is smelly, dangerous, and not at all self-evidently good in itself. It is a means to my ends, juice for a momentary sense of power and control. It is surprisingly hard to remember to stop and say thanks before I pull out, a little too quickly, into traffic,” he writes.

I have to say that I’ve had some meals of my own that were pretty smelly and/or dangerous, and the parallels between food fuel for the human body and gas fuel for the car could perhaps be expanded further. But seriously, it seems to me that, despite the new family tradition, Crouch is having a hard time admitting that something like gasoline is just as much a gift from God as our daily bread.

I’m not quite sure what this means: “I can reasonably expect that the food I eat today will be replaced by a fresh crop next season. But the gallon of gas I burn today is gone for good (though it does leave behind 19 pounds of carbon dioxide for the biosphere to absorb). In this fleeting historical moment that will be remembered as the petroleum era, saying grace seems like the least we can do.”

Maybe we all should think about thanking God for gasoline, not only when we are at the pump, but also when we’re sitting down to our “well-prepared meal,” which was made possible by the foodstuffs delivered from all over the world by petroleum-powered vehicles.

In today’s NYT: “Oxfam Suggests Benefit in Africa if U.S. Cuts Cotton Subsidies.”

“Eliminating billions of dollars in federal subsidies to American cotton growers each year would reduce American cotton production and exports, raise world prices by about 10 percent and modestly improve the incomes of millions of poor cotton farmers in Africa, according to a new study by Oxfam, the aid group.”

About how many other industries could a similar thing be said? It’s also good to see that some of these multinational aid groups sometimes focus on liberalizing trade, rather than simply on direct government-to-government compensatory aid packages. Apparently Oxfam “has long campaigned for reductions in rich country agricultural subsides as a means to fight rural poverty in the developing world.”

One reason Oxfam is critical of bilateral free trade agreements is that they “do not address the adverse impacts of rich-country subsidies on poor countries through dumping, or the plethora of non-tariff barriers that continue to impede access to rich-country markets.” Their claim is that the bargaining power of individual developing nations is reduced under such agreements, so that the developing nation ends up giving up concessions to the wealthier nation, while the latter does no such thing. Reducing tariffs without addressing subsidies and other “non-tariff barriers” works to undermine the interests of developing nations.

The NYT piece ends on a bit of a pessimistic note, and no doubt the elimination of subsidies alone will not be enough to combat the grinding poverty that is so prevalent in the developing world. But it would do a lot to level the playing field and give resources and products from the developing world a fighting chance in the global market.

“Subsidy reform alone will not resolve all the challenges facing the cotton sector,” Oxfam said. “But it could significantly ease the burden on poor cotton farmers struggling to support their families.”

On today’s Diane Rehm Show, a panel of experts discussed the pending energy policy legislation in the US Congress. Karen Wayland, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Counsel talked about the need to join the concepts of national security and climate change when discussing energy policy (RealAudio).

From her perspective, these two concerns are tied up together and shouldn’t be separated, in part because if you take energy independence and national security alone, you might think that reliance on coal would be the best option.

“If you go down the path of energy independence separate from considering global warming what you get is the possibility that some of the solutions to energy independence, like coal-to-liquids, actually leads you to higher global warming emissions,” says Wayland.

Wayland and the NRDC don’t want to see “is this jumpstarting of a whole new industry for coal, which is the greatest emitter of carbon dioxide.”

The linkage of concerns about climate change to international security policy is a critical part of an emerging narrative of international relations. For instance, new UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said of the genocide in Sudan, “The Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.” This is the latest in a long series of attributions of blame for global crises coming from leading international figures. Following the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004, ecumenical faith leaders blamed the extent of the damage on man-made global warming.

Then, as now, I think that using tragedies and conflicts like the tsunami or the Darfur genocide to advance an ideological agenda, like the fight against global warming, is irresponsible. Ban Ki-moon may indeed be right to point out the ecological roots of the Darfur situation. When necessary commodities are scarce, it is not surprising that conflict often arises.

But to connect that particular situation, directly or indirectly, to man-made climate change (driven in large part by Western economies, most especially America) smacks more of opportunism than legitimate and responsible commentary. And if this kind of narrative becomes the dominant one politically, you can expect there to be talk of environmental economic reparations from the industrialized world to the developing world.

Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a statement about global warming that acknowledges the intimate linkages between global concerns about the environment, peace, and prosperity. According to MSNBC, “The SBC statement frames the global warming debate as a moral issue with profound implications for the poor — but does so through a different lens.”

“Our concern is for the vulnerable communities as well,” said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research with the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “But we think if the data is being misinterpreted, and policies are being implemented to reduce the human contributions, those policies are bound to drive up the costs of goods and services for poor and underdeveloped parts of the world.”

Increased and growing poverty and environmental devastation do indeed have profound implications for geo-political relations, and particularly so when the blame flows only one way. But against the narratives of Western oppression and victimization of the developing world, we need to better understand and articulate the positive aspects of a globalized, interdependent, and interconnected political and social economy.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, June 20, 2007

As developing countries turn increasingly to private capital markets, the World Bank is facing not only a steep decline in demand for its loans but a crisis of relevancy. Sam Gregg looks at the changing market and how the rules of private lending might also provide a better check on corruption in the developing world. Adieu, World Bank?

Read the complete commentary here.

Today’s Dilbert is a good one: “green” consulting, Dogbert-style.

Lawrence Lessig, a legal scholar and high-profile advocate of copyright reform, has decided to “shift my academic work, and soon, my activism, away from the issues that have consumed me for the last 10 years, towards a new set of issues.”

His new task? “‘Corruption’ as I’ve defined it elsewhere will be the focus of my work. For at least the next 10 years, it is the problem I will try to help solve.”

Just how does Lessig define “corruption”? In an extended Disclosure Statement and Statement of Principle, Lessig writes about his non-corruption principle, which is “about money.” Corruption is further defined as “the subtle pressure to take views or positions because of the financial reward they will bring you.”

Here is Lessig’s non-corruption principle, in its precise form: “I never promote as policy a position that I have been paid to advise about, consult upon, or write about. If payment is made to an institution that might reasonably be said to benefit me indirectly, then I will either follow the same rule, or disclose the payment.”

Lessig discloses the motivation for his decision, saying, “I am someone who believes that a free society — free of the ‘corruption’ that defines our current society — is necessary for free culture, and much more. For that reason, I turn my energy elsewhere for now.”

Blog author: blevitske
posted by on Monday, June 18, 2007

At last year’s Acton University, a few Austrian attendees made an interesting youtube video celebrating their rediscovery of the huge and obvious contributions Austria has made to free-market economics. But what about the countries that don’t have an entire school of economic thought named after them? My conversations with international participants at this year’s conference underscored two themes over and over again. First, that even the unlikeliest countries have some philosophical heritage undergirding capitalist thought. Second, that AU attracts the kind of people who want to recapture — not necessarily import — foundational principles to apply them within their own cultural context.

From Poland, a place where communism was much more than a nebulous ideology not so long ago, Jakob Baltroszewicz learned at AU how to frame capitalism in a more positive light for those in his country who are still “infected” with traces of the old regime’s tendencies. Despite Pope John Paul’s profound contributions to the capitalist legacy, “People still think in Poland that being a good Catholic and being a good capitalist are incompatible,” said Baltroszewicz. “We have a word for it — homo sovieticus. It means someone who is still sick with the Soviet way of thinking about the market and his role in it.” Baltroszewicz is currently studying Michael Novak’s moral theology at the Pontifical Academy in Krakow. He plans to stay connected to Acton as he works to revive Poland’s interest in the principles of its own free-market philosophers, especially as expressed in John Paul’s Centesimus Annus. (more…)

Here is an index of posts from last week’s Acton University:

Acton University 2007 came to a close this evening with another stirring address by Rev. Robert Sirico which capped a great week in Grand Rapids for all involved. It’s getting late and I can’t hope to top what Father Robert had to say this evening, so I’ll refer all of you to the audio link below.

It’s always a relief when we come to the end of what is without a doubt the busiest week of the year for Acton’s Grand Rapids staff, but there’s a hint of sadness as well as we have to say good bye to so many people who have come to our hometown to engage in this remarkable conference. Over the next 24 hours or so, many of our new (and old) friends will be heading back to their various corners of the world via automobile and airplane, and we send along our prayers for traveling mercies for each and every one of them. I think I can speak for everyone at Acton in wishing all of our alumni the best in their various endeavors, and in hoping that we’ll see them again in the future.

Today’s lectures from Acton University 2007 (updated as more audio becomes available):

Random AU Pic of the Day

I just made Kara Eagle’s Supergirl socks famous.