Archived Posts 2007 » Page 63 of 65 | Acton PowerBlog

Dr. Michel Casey – Clicking this link will open a new window with a video player.

Dr. Michael Casey was in Grand Rapids today to deliver the first address of the 2007 Acton Lecture Series, which was entitled The Religion of Politics. Dr. Casey is a Permanent Fellow at the John Paul II Institute, Melbourne, Australia, and Private Secretary to Cardinal George Pell, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney. He is currently serving as a Visiting Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and was also awarded the 2002 Novak Award by the Acton Institute for his contributions to thinking that concerns the relationship between religion and economic liberty.

In his address, Dr. Casey examines the marginalization of traditional religious believers in political debates in the west as well as the ascent of secularist thinking that, far from ending the influence of religion on society, has almost become a religious system in its own right.

You can listen to today’s lecture by clicking here (12 mb mp3 file).

[Update: Video of Dr. Casey's lecture is now available through the link above.]

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, January 10, 2007

On last week’s Huffington Post blog, Dr. Julianne Malveaux decries the practices of milk “charlatans,” who she claims, “combine the concern about pesticides and additives with their own desire to grab hold of the profits available to those who can distinguish the food they produce from ‘ordinary’ food.”

Malveaux argues that milk producers who identify their products as “hormone-free” are being dishonest and misrepresenting the truth. She says, “Animals produce hormones. Whether milk production is enhanced by rBST, a synthetic version of the bovine hormone cows naturally produced, or not, it is not ‘hormone free’.” Because the “organic” label meets certain Dept. of Agriculture requirements, for Malveaux it means something, while claims of “hormone-free” milk don’t.

The concern for Malveaux is that consumers are being exploited: “The difference comes when a consumer, concerned that her newborn is ingesting too many chemicals, decides to go with the ‘hormone free’ milk at an extra dollar a carton, and gets nothing different than if she’d chosen a carton that does not say ‘hormone free.’ The consumer’s fears are being exploited. She’s reading a label, but not seeing the fine print. Hormone free milk is presented as being ‘better’ or ‘safer’ than milk produced using rBST. But it isn’t!”

Here’s what the cap on a gallon of milk I bought yesterday says:

Is this misleading? I don’t think so. I don’t see claims of “hormone free” milk. The label simply says there aren’t any synthetic hormones added and even points out that “no significant difference” has been shown between the two kinds of milk.

Are consumers not responsible for educating themselves? Shouldn’t they take some more time before deciding to spend $1 more per gallon, and if they want to spend more for peace of mind, shouldn’t they be allowed that freedom?

Malveaux’s piece follows the work of a group called the National Organization for African Americans in Housing (NOAAH), a non-profit advocate for low-income citizens, which last December “called on the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to stop dairy processors from deceptively marketing ‘no rBST’ milk.”

Malveaux and the NOAAH want to protect people from themselves by expanding the role of a nanny government: “Low-income consumers, especially, wanting the best for their kids are pushed into spending money they can ill afford for a product that is exactly the same as a cheaper product. It’s time for the FDA to step in to require dairy processors to do the right thing.”

What exactly is the right thing? Should the FDA require labels like the one above? Or should they ban advertising that states a true fact: there are no hormones added to the cows that made this milk. As it stands, the relevance and importance of that fact is up for the individual consumer to decide. And that’s as it should be.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I mentioned South Korea in a commentary on population a few months ago. New data show that the erstwhile East Asian tiger is now the world’s leader in population contraction. Its fertility rate is 1.08, less than half the replacement rate of 2.1. In other words, if that rate persists, South Korea will halve its population with each generation.

As is usual, aggressive government action played a role in the problem. The nation established its population control policy in 1961. Among other things, it favored government employees with two or fewer children and gave housing preferences to small families. Reacting lethargically to a trend already long in evidence, it ended its advocacy of fertility decline in 1996. Now, in an equally tardy move, the government has decided to promote population increase. In what must be an unprecedented occurrence—one that may be among the more startling signs of the times—the Planned Parenthood affiliate in South Korea is cooperating with the government in its effort to raise the birthrate.

HT: Joseph D’Agostino of PRI.

Cross-posted on Friends of CE.

Where have I seen that salute before?

A new possible episode for my proposed sitcom: Chavez continues his power grasp in Latin America.

My favorite quote:

“We are in an existential moment of Venezuelan life … We’re heading toward socialism, and nothing and no-one can prevent it.”

Stay tuned, gang.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 9, 2007

On the same theme as a couple of recent posts (on the inanity of warning labels and signature file disclosure messages), Fast Company links to what they are calling the “Egregiously Legalistic Sig File of the Month.”

It’s pretty egregious. Just think of all the wasted electrons.

Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch, M-LAW, started a contest to find the wackiest warning labels on consumer products ten years ago, and they’ve just released this year’s list of winners (HT: Slashdot).

Topping the charts is the warning attached to a front-loading washing machine: “Do not put any person in this washer.” Other hits include:

  • “Never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level.”

  • “Don’t try to dry your phone in a microwave oven.”

The contest is part of the group’s efforts to “give us a chance to tell the inside story of how our nation’s legal system has become so erratic that these types of labels are necessary,” said Bob Dorigo Jones, president of M-LAW.

In his book Give Me a Break, journalist John Stossel includes a chapter titled, “The Trouble with Lawyers,” and writes that these wacky labels are a form of “verbal pollution.” He says, “Lawsuits also disrupt the information flow that helps us protect ourselves. We ought to read labels.” But when we are overrun with inane labels of this kind, “people respond to it by ignoring labels we should read.”

A NYT editorial informs us today that retail prices for coffee products are rising (HT: Icarus Fallen). We are assured, however, that the price rise has been “relatively modest” and that an important factor is “changes in supply and demand in a global economy.”

No kidding.

The bad news in the editorial, at least for the fair trade crowd, is that these same forces of suppy and demand are raising the price for the commodity itself.

According to the International Coffee Organization, the composite price of coffee rose over 36 percent from the beginning of 2005 to the end of 2006. The organization predicts a down year for the Brazilian coffee crop, which could lead to a supply shortfall and even higher prices this year. While world demand has grown at annual rates of 1.5 to 1.8 percent over the last five years, it has been rising at a much faster clip of roughly 15 percent for smaller players like Russia and China. As more people enter the global middle class, the demand for coffee rises, putting upward pressure on the price.

I have argued previously that the very low price of coffee internationally was a pointer to the fact that we had a global glut in the bean supply.

That trend seems to be reversing and the rising commodity price for coffee is thus undermining the long-term viability, relevance, and credibility of fair trade coffee.

For an opposing perspective, check out Black Gold, a new movie on the fair trade coffee movement, which I have not yet seen (HT: The Advocate).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, January 5, 2007

Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in California, has a new blog, Mouw’s Musings, and has taken notice of Sam Gregg’s recent Acton Commentary, “Self Interest, Rightly Understood.”

Giving Gregg credit for making “an important point” with which he largely agrees, Mouw goes on to say: “At the same time this also seems to me to be true. People who are not motivated by an intentional desire to promote the common good often do not in fact promote the common good. And people who do aim to promote the common good often do succeed in doing so.”

Thus, because of this second reality, Mouw concludes that there is “a need for discernment on the part of Christians in evaluating various hard-line economic philosophies.” With that point, I heartily agree.

It seems to me, however, that in some ways the point that Mouw engages, that “as individuals pursue profit” there are all sorts of unintended positive consequences, is a rather small claim that does not itself deny Mouw’s second observation. Gregg himself, in fact, writes in the immediately following line, “None of this means that commercial society does not afford opportunities for people to act altruistically.”

It is a valid point for both Mouw and Gregg to make that there is a higher good than pursuit of mere self-interest and one that is consonant with the Christian tradition. That being said, Gregg is concerned making both a more limited and more pointed claim: the good resulting from the secondary virtue of self-interest is still good, and it is even good that is essential for common flourishing.

There shouldn’t be anything controversial about such a claim, especially since it has been held by so many Christian theologians, not least of which is Jonathan Edwards, who distinguished between primary and secondary virtue.

In his treatise on True Virtue, Edwards writes that self-love “is far from being useless in the world” and “exceeding necessary to society, besides its directly and greatly seeking the good of one.” He even says that self-love can be manifest as a sort of “‘negative’ moral goodness,” or “the negation or absence of true moral evil.”

Being that Edwards is concerned to explore the nature of true virtue, rather than this “negative moral goodness,” he doesn’t spend a lot of time examining the implications and social effects of self-love, and that is entirely understandable.

On that score, Edwards’ concern is more like Mouw’s in that he is seeking to describe the highest good. By comparison with Christian benevolence, the virtuous character of secondary or civil good doesn’t match up. Thus, concludes Edwards, “no affection limited to any private system, not dependent on, nor subordinate to Being in general can be of the nature of true virtue.”

But Gregg’s task is different and more limited than either Mouw’s or Edwards’ concern. Gregg is looking primarily at the civic good that self-interest promotes. And its important to realize that neither claim is necessarily inconsistent with the other.

It has been said that when Jonathan Edwards would roam about the countryside on his horse, he would record his observations and thoughts on little scraps of paper and pin them to his coat. When he returned home, his wife would help him unpin the notes and he would arrange them on his desk and use them as a basis for recording his thoughts in more permanent form.

This story has been viewed by some scholars as apocryphal, although Paul Elmer More repeats the image:

It must have been one of the memorable sights of the world to have seen him returning on horseback from a solitary ride into the forest, while there fluttered about him, pinned to his coat, the strips of paper on which he had scribbled the results of his meditations.

But whatever the source of his recorded observations, it can’t be doubted that his meditations found their way into his Miscellanies, a set of writings on various topics worked on throughout his lifetime.

In the writing of these Miscellanies, we can view Edwards as a proto-blogger of sorts, and if we can stretch the image a bit more, we can see the Miscellanies as an early form of hypertext. At least, the topical and occasional nature of the Miscellanies render them well-suited for the tools of a digital age, where tags and hyperlinks can quickly and easily connect writings previously separated by time and page.

The hypertextualization of Edwards’ Miscellanies is, in fact, what The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University has accomplished. As part of the project to digitize Edwards’ entire corpus, the beta phase of the first installment of texts has been made public and is free to access during a trial period.

All 1373 Miscellanies are now text searchable and linked by topic. Now, for instance, you can scan through all eight of the Miscellanies (and another sermon), written over the course of a decade, that treat of the subject of “self love” with a few clicks of a mouse button.

And so, with the work of the Jonathan Edwards Center, we now have access to the works of Jonathan Edwards, the O.B. (Original Blogger). Hey, if Jonathan Edwards can be my “homeboy,” then we can certainly indulge one or two other anachronisms.

With the publication this month of The Commercial Society – Foundations and Challenges in a Global Age, Samuel Gregg embarks on an exploration of the key foundational elements that must exist within a society for commercial order to take root and flourish. Guided by the thoughts of Alexis de Tocqueville, Gregg studies the challenges that have consistently impeded and occasionally undermined commercial order. This commentary, excerpted from the new book, explains why people who begin to exceed their “immediate needs and acquired responsibilities … begin to develop opportunities to be generous to others.”

Read the full commentary here.