Archived Posts September 2008 | Acton PowerBlog

In this week’s new Birth of Freedom short video, expert Robert P. George explains why it is impossible for secularism to function as a neutral ground for debate.

Acton Media’s video shorts from The Birth of Freedom are designed to provide additional insight into key issues and ideas in the film. A new short is released each Monday. Check out the rest of the series, learn about premieres in your area, and discover more background information at

Blog author: jballor
Monday, September 29, 2008

Last week an email newsletter from Sojourners featured a quote from U2 rock star and activist Bono (courtesy the American Prospect blog):

It’s extraordinary to me that the United States can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can’t find $25 billion dollars to saved 25,000 children who die every day from preventable diseases.

The quote is pretty striking given the current shape of the debate over the Wall Street bailout. Bono’s insight is instructive: Once the government takes upon itself tasks that fall outside its regular purview, how do we rightly adjudicate between all the different needy causes? It simply becomes a game of which special interest can hire the most lobbyists.

Indeed, the $25 billion that Bono points out would be necessary to save 25,000 children a day is the same amount that the US government just paid to bailout the domestic auto industry over the weekend.

If the feds are willing to dole out $600-700 billion in corporate welfare for Wall Street, it only seems right that poor families and individuals get their own relative share of government redistribution.

The size of the government bailout relative to the critical debate about the execution of these policies is positively shameful compared to the fiscal cost of the war in Iraq (roughly $560 billion on the upper end) and the critical attention that the war has and continues to receive. Of course dollars aren’t the only costs we’ve incurred in the Iraq war, but they are one salient measure.

On the one hand conservatives often point out that government involvement in provision of welfare should be sharply curtailed or eliminated because it isn’t primarily the government’s task to directly offer assistance to the poor. Rather, that’s the job of institutions of civil society, like church ministries, non-profit charities, and groups promoting individual giving. So it seems inconsistent to claim this and at the same time assert that it is the government’s responsibility to bailout overextended (and therefore irresponsible) corporations with taxpayer money.

UPDATE: A HuffPost blogger takes this logic to its political terminus (emphasis original):

The Democrats, if they truly constituted an opposition party, which they prove every day they do not, could demand that if monies are going to go to bail out Wall Street, at least an equal amount would go to bail out average Americans in the way of health care, full funding for social security and medicare, mortgage and rent protection, infrastructure repair, decent public transportation, investment in green jobs and technology, etc.

One great virtue of the market is that over time it tends to punish bad players. Those who engage in unsustainable business practices will eventually get what’s coming to them. Debt catches up with you and you go bankrupt (unless in an election year cowardly politicians aren’t willing to let companies pay the due penalty for their error).

There’s been some talk about the moral hazards associated with the bailout. One moral hazard is that bad business practices aren’t going to be appropriately punished, and so such short-sighted and unsustainable behavior will be incentivized by reduction or elimination of risk. There’s now going to be an implicit government guarantee of corporations that are “too big” or too important to fail. The cost of this bailout may be $700 billion, but it sets a precedent for future bailouts whose costs are inestimable.

But enough hasn’t been said on another moral hazard that has to do with the good players, people who didn’t take out gimmicky mortgages to finance half-million dollar homes or rush into home ownership when they should have been renting. That’s the flip-side of bailing out bad players…good players get punished and are less likely to continue responsible behavior. And in the face of a government and businesses that are telling us to spend all we can, why should we be financially responsible?

There is an old expression, “Talk is cheap.” Coupled with another old expression, “Actions speak louder than words,” we are introduced to a profound philosophical insight brought by Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) in his The Acting Person. That insight is that people are understood through their actions, not their words. Metaphysically, that is, in the nature of every man, we say that man is a rational animal; he is an animal that can think, know and know that he knows. But in a sense, this truth is much too vague. Even though we all share this nature, each of us is very different in many respects. Wojtyla’s book is a phenomenological reflection on the actual lived experience of real human beings.

In human life we experience not only sense impressions (the British empiricists would agree) but also things and people (so many philosophers from Descartes onward would actually quibble with this.) The things and people make up two different aspects of the world. The very fact that we developed language demonstrates that we are meant to disclose or share our experiences, thoughts and feelings with others. We, i. e., the human person, is the subject of action. We reflect on our own experiences and what we actually do, but also we act as an objective monitor of our own actions, which means that man is the object of his own cognition. This means that we have the ability to judge the rightness, wrongness and even the prudence of our actions, given the amount of understanding we have accumulated during our lives. The implications of this is earth-shaking: we and no one else is responsible for our own actions.

This responsibility comes from that fact that God has given us three qualities that flow from our participation in His likeness:

a) Self-possession—the person’s actions flow from the point of authority over himself;

b) Self-governance—the quality that allow a person to order his actions to fulfill his “existential ends,” that is, to fulfill what he was created to be;

c) Self-determination—the outcome of self-possession and self-governance is that we determine how our personhood develops in the real world, and not in some theoretical construct. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 26, 2008

Next Tuesday Calvin College will be hosting two lectures by Dr. John Baden, president of the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment (FREE).

The first lecture from Dr. Baden is titled, “Revelations and Institutions: The Theology and Political Economy of Hutterite and Mormon Experiments with Intentional Communities,” Tuesday, September 30, 3:30 pm, Calvin College North Hall B78.

Later that day Dr. Baden will lecture on, “The Political Economy of Endangered Species,” Tuesday, September 30, 7:30 pm, Calvin College Commons Lecture Hall.

These lectures are sponsored by the Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Christian Perspectives on Political, Social and Economic Thought at Calvin College.

The last couple years I’ve received invitations to FREE’s seminars on environmental stewardship for religious leaders. I’ve been unable to attend, but the schedules have always looked quite promising.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I don’t think government ownership is what President Bush had in mind when he talked about his vision for an “ownership society,” which had ostensibly included a plank focused on “expanding homeownership.” But it looks like that’s where we’re headed in an era of government takeovers and bailouts.

For some background on how we go to this place, check out this 1999 piece from the New York Times (HT): “In a move that could help increase home ownership rates among minorities and low-income consumers, the Fannie Mae Corporation is easing the credit requirements on loans that it will purchase from banks and other lenders.”

All this seems like case of good intentions (increasing private ownership, extending capital access to the poor and oppressed) executed by means of bad policy (lowering credit standards for loans, bailing out failed corporations) resulting in negative (albeit unintended) consequences (foreclosures and bankruptcies).

Oh, and are you one of the people who didn’t borrow beyond your means? Guess what? You got pwned. As one blogger wonders, “Am I just a sucker or something to play by the rules? Are all of us who paid taxes suckers?” Think of that as the “pwnership” society.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Opening this weekend in many markets is an enjoyable movie with a meaningful message, Fireproof.

My wife and I had the opportunity to screen it a few weeks ago, and came away impressed. The story behind the story is itself interesting: A Georgia church decided several years ago to try to influence the culture in a positive way, and determined that making movies was the way to do it. They enlisted a handful of professionals, but in large part the effort was amateur. Their second attempt, Facing the Giants, enjoyed some success—great success, considering the film’s resources and provenance. (They made an earlier picture, too, Flywheel, which I have not seen.)

I watched Facing the Giants only after I saw Fireproof. The latter is a much superior product, both in message and production quality. The Giants storyline reflected a facile “health and wealth” gospel: if you give your life to Jesus, all good things will come to you (even a new truck!).

Echoes of Giants’ screenplay, acting, and theme problems are still present in the third movie, but Fireproof improves enough in every area to make it a compelling drama. Kirk Cameron, as leading man, Caleb Holt, is very good. In an odd way, the acting novices, though obviously not as polished as professionals, bring emotional credibility to the story. The film’s frequent and effective episodes of comic relief provide just enough respite from the strong moral theme: the search for genuine love in the context of the institution of marriage.

In light of the mounting evidence that healthy marriages are vital to the maintenance of a free and virtuous society, it’s a theme that PowerBlog readers ought to find relevant.

If it’s available in your area and you’re looking for a couple hours of edifying entertainment, you might want to check it out.

Three items have crossed my email inbox over recent weeks that may be of interest to PowerBlog readers. The first two are from the Program in Early American Economy & Society (PEAES).

The Seventh Annual Conference of the Program in Early American Economy & Society conference is titled, “Markets & Morality: Intersections of Economy, Ethics, and Religion in Early North America.” The conference will be held on November 7, 2008, at the Library Company in Philadelphia, PA. There are a number of sessions that look promising, including papers like “The Moral Economy of Competition in Early National New England,” from Jason Opal of Colby College and “A Wealth of Notions: Interpreting Economy and Morality in Early America,” by Christopher Clark, University of Connecticut.

PEAES has also announced its fellowships for 2009-2010, including a resident post-doctoral research fellowship with a stipend of $40,000, a research dissertation fellowship with a stipend of $20,000, and four to six short-term fellowships to scholars at any level of scholarly or professional achievement with stipends of $2,000 each.

Finally, Harvard University will also be hosting a graduate student conference from November 6-8, 2008, titled, “The History of Capitalism in the United States.” The conference is “intended as a forum in which to encourage dialogue, debate and more inclusive approaches to the writing of the history of capitalism in the United States.”