Archived Posts May 2009 - Page 2 of 3 | Acton PowerBlog

Phil Lawler over at Catholic Culture has written a brief and insightful piece that addresses a question frequently asked, “Is Catholic Social Teaching Inherently Liberal?” It is worth a read. Excerpt:

The Church clearly teaches that the moral duty of all believers to help those in need, to exercise the “preferential option for the poor.” But is it self-evident that the effort to fight poverty should be waged through impersonal government programs, supported by mandatory taxation, rather than by the freewill offerings of charitable donors? Is it self-evident that the federal government should supervise these anti-poverty programs, although the principle of subsidiarity would seem to militate in favor of local solutions to local problems and individual approaches to needy individuals? Is there a prima facie case for allowing the Church’s own charitable efforts to be subsumed into the tax-subsidized programs, so that “Catholic Charities” is for all practical purposes a government agency?

These questions are rarely raised when parish “justice and peace” committees meet. The conservative Catholics who make make these arguments are generally not members of those committees; they are already too busy with their work on the pro-life committees! So liberal Catholics eventually come to take it for granted that what seems so obvious to them must be equally obvious to their fellow Catholics. They are genuinely surprised to learn that some faithful Catholics are not enthralled by the promise of an Obama presidency, even apart from issues involving the dignity of life.

anatomyentreperneur-1 Is moral enhancement of the entrepreneur possible? That’s the question Michael Severance, operations manager for Istituto Acton (the Acton Institute’s Rome office) recently posed to Dr. Adriana Gini, a neuroradiologist at San Camillo-Forlanini Medical Centre in Rome and an expert bioethicist at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum. Dr. Gini recently led Istituto Acton’s monthly Campus Martius seminar “Moral Enhancement: Back to the Future” and offers some further insight on her topic. An audio recording of her seminar is available on the Istituto Acton home page.

Michael Severance: Dr. Gini, thank you for taking time to explain your views on the fascinating subject of moral enhancement. Most of us have heard of various forms of “physical” enhancement, as with genetic splicing for disease prevention, pre-selection of human embryos to produce “savior siblings” and mixing chemical cocktails to improve the physical endurance of our organs…In what way are the two types of enhancement – physical and moral – related, if at all? Or is this just a play on words?

Adriana Gini: The association between the word “moral” to the type of life we live, the decisions we make, our efforts and struggles to improve society and ourselves is perfectly natural. In fact, morality depends on our acts and our acts are the expression of what we are as human beings. Our behavior, as moral agents, is quite complex and, no doubt, involves our physicality. Nonetheless, a pure physical/neuronal explanation of morality -with no reference to a more comprehensive knowledge of the human person- is rather hazardous. As such, the term “moral enhancement” does not have an immediate, direct connection to some forms of genetic, pharmacological or biotechnological enhancement, unlike the ones targeted at cognitive enhancement.

MS: From an Acton perspective, it is interesting to know if there is some type of “competition” or “economic” factor driving neurological science in the direction of improving the human moral condition. What is at the bottom of all this? For example, is the real inspiration to improve human action found in creating a competitive edge in intelligence within the marketplace? Some might find it hard to believe that secular science is really interested in fostering moral excellence for its own sake in its laboratories. Much less so in its lab rats and guinea pigs!

AG: According to some authors, as with Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Centre for Practical Ethics and head of the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, contemporary research aimed at enhancing human cognition will result in an economic improvement (cf. Chap. 1.4 of Enhancing Human Capacities edited by Dr. Savulescu). In other words, better people make for better jobs, and in the end, better, more productive societies – in an economic sense. However, Savulescu’s claim is that such enhancement might also lead to a greater world of evil action. For example, we can use drugs or other biotechnological means to improve our mental abilities, but sometimes also to our detriment: smarter terrorists mean fiercer terrorist attacks with the mental enhancement to fabricate more powerful, more intelligent weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, in Savulescu’s opinion, any means to morally enhance the human species in terms of cognitive enhancement should only progress alongside research on moral enhancement. No one really knows, however, how to improve the human species morally by biotechnological means alone, since morality is not purely “biological”…, although there are certainly biological correlations to human moral behavior. (more…)

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Friday, May 15, 2009

richards-book1The belief that the essence of capitalism is greed is perhaps the biggest myth Jay W. Richards tackles in his new book, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and not the Problem. One reason for confronting this challenge is that many free market advocates subscribe to the thought that capitalism produces greed, and for them that’s not necessarily a negative. But for those with a faith perspective, greed and covetousness are of course serious moral flaws.

It’s also the kind of myth that less articulate writers would rather not challenge, especially in this troubling economic climate. Richards does however have a skill for tightly honed logical arguments, and he not only is able to defend free markets but tear lethal holes into many of the economic ramblings of the religious left. He even takes on holy of holies like fair trade and Third World debt relief. Richards argues that the free market is moral, something that may come as a surprise to many people of faith. This book provides a crushing blow to those involved in the ministry of class warfare or those who wish to usher in the Kingdom of God through “nanny state” policies.

The book divides into eight chapters, with each chapter discussing a common held economic myth like the “piety myth” or “nirvana myth.” Richards says the piety myth pertains to “focusing on our good intentions rather than on the unintended consequences of our actions.” The nirvana myth characterizes the act of “contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its live alternatives.” Richards himself states, “The question isn’t whether capitalism measures up to the kingdom of God. The question is whether there’s a better alternative in this life.”

The influence of libertarian economist Henry Hazlitt and Wealth and Poverty author George Gilder are evident through out this book. But the overarching strength of Richards work is how he places the free market message into the context of Christian discussions and debate. Unfortunately before this response, many of the economic arguments by the Christian left weren’t properly countered in popular mediums. Furthermore, the wanton excess of prosperity gospel advocates only fueled or provided ammunition for the religious left’s rebuke of the free market. (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Much of the blame for the current financial crisis has been aimed at Wall Street and the bankers who, the story goes, created toxic debt instruments and then lined their own pockets with the proceeds. In “Verdict on the Crash: Causes and Policy Implications,” a new analysis from economists and scholars — including Acton Institute Research Director Samuel Gregg — the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs comes to the opposite conclusion: It was governments and regulators who erred. Moreover, the IEA report says, the people most often berated for their part in the crisis – the hedge fund managers and those who run tax havens – are among the least guilty. The report also spells out the need for a “radical overhaul” of the financial system to guard against a repeat of the errors that led to the crisis.

The authors of “Verdict on the Crash” assert that “a revolution in financial regulation is needed. The proposals of the G20 governments and the EU are wholly misconceived. Specific and targeted laws and regulations could restore market discipline.”

Read a letter to London’s Daily Telegraph from the economists and scholars who wrote the “Verdict on the Crash” report for IEA. Read highlights and download the full report from the IEA blog. Acton’s Samuel Gregg authored the chapter titled, “Moral Failure: Borrowing, Lending and the Financial Crisis.”

Once again, sociologists and journalists are predicting the demise of Christianity as a major influence in the public life of America. Hunter Baker pokes holes in that theory, and observes that these persistent predictions are coming from “those anxious for it to occur.”

Read the commentary at the Acton Website and comment on it here.

Economists and business schools have, in recent decades, rightfully praised entrepreneurs for their ability to create wealth and transform entire industries. But there’s more to it than that, says Sam Gregg in his commentary. “If taxes are high, property-rights unprotected, and corruption the norm, then the environment embodies major deterrents to wealth-generating entrepreneurship,” he writes. “Why would people risk being entrepreneurial when they can’t assume their ideas won’t be stolen or their profits arbitrarily confiscated?”

Read the commentary at the Acton Website and comment on it here.

Blog author: ken.larson
posted by on Wednesday, May 13, 2009

[Editor's Note: We welcome Ken Larson, a businessman and writer in southern California, to the PowerBlog. A graduate of California State University at Northridge with a major in English, his eclectic career includes editing the first reloading manual for Sierra Bullets and authoring a novel about a family's school choice decisions titled ReEnchantment, which is available on his Web site. For 10 years Ken was the only Protestant on The Consultative School Board for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange near Los Angeles and chaired the inaugural Orange County Business Ethics Conference in support of needy parish schools in the diocese. He enjoys sailing and singing in the choir at the Anglo-Catholic church at which he and his wife worship.]

With Memorial Day and July 4th fast approaching I found myself thinking over the weekend about the recent past.

Several years ago we moved to a tony neighborhood in Orange County, California. At the time it was easily eligible for the term “Reagan Country” but in the last election Obama out polled McCain in our Congressional District. A neighbor had a Hillary fundraiser at her home a few years ago. There’s a lot of soccer on Sunday but our family always opted for church.

Around 1996 I was asked to chair the neighborhood’s July 4th parade. It was one of those tasks that occur in small communities where many folks pitch in to help from time to time and I was flattered at the invitation. But as is the case with lots of things we have the opportunity to participate in, I noticed this parade and the accompanying festivities — a barbecue and day at the beach with food and drinks available — were missing what I knew they needed. They were missing an invocation.

I ran the idea of having a local pastor from the church at the edge of the community where our family worshiped deliver that invocation and the denizen who had tabbed me as chairmen thought it a splendid contribution. Plans went forward with the same old “same old stuff” and I extended an invitation to the cleric. He was available. (more…)

In today’s Detroit News, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg talks about the sort of “moral, legal and political environment” that must exist if entrepreneurs are to flourish. He applies these precepts to the very serious economic problems in Michigan, where Acton is located:

… in the midst of this enthusiasm about entrepreneurship, we risk forgetting that entrepreneurship’s capacity to create wealth is heavily determined by the environments in which we live. In many business schools, it’s possible to study entrepreneurship without any reference being made to the role played by factors such as rule of law, property rights and low taxes in stimulating wealth-creating entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs gravitate to places where conditions for starting a business are optimal and the infrastructure — financial, legal, and technical — supports new businesses. Here, Michigan has a double-barreled problem: the out-migration of Michigan job seekers — much of it compelled by the steep decline of the auto sector in recent years — and the college graduate “brain drain” from state universities. How many of these people saying goodbye to Michigan are taking their entrepreneurial dreams, and maybe the next Big Thing in the economy, with them?

Read “Entrepreneurs Require More Room to Survive.” An extended version of this essay is slated to run in tomorrow’s Acton News & Commentary. Sign up online for this free email newsletter here.

Blog author: jwitt
posted by on Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Update: The Michael Medved Show streams here.

Former Acton research fellow Jay W. Richards will be on the Michael Medved Show today talking about his new book, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem. He will be on during the show’s third hour. If your station carries it live, that’s 2-3 p.m. Pacific, 4-5 p.m. Central, and 5-6 p.m. Eastern.

Go here to see if a station in your area carries the show.

Jay is also scheduled to appear on The Dennis Prager Show Wednesday morning.

I had the chance to read an early copy of the book. Richards distills the core arguments for a free and virtuous society superbly. Money, Greed, and God is highly readable and yet more incisive than many academic books on the subject. Disciples of the nanny state and a naked public square beware.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, May 8, 2009

What’s wrong with populism? Nothing, necessarily. But, to hazard a tautology, populism is only as good as the people. I think this territory was covered pretty well by Alexis de Tocqueville, whose view was in turn covered pretty well by Sam Gregg in his commentary of a couple weeks ago:

“The American Republic,” Tocqueville wrote, “will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

As Sam notes, Tocqueville cited the importance of religion as a bulwark against the drift to despotism. I don’t think it’s any accident that there is a public policy lean toward socialism at the same time as a perceptible weakening of religious adherence. The relationship is complicated (plenty of liberty-loving agnostics; plenty of Christian socialists), but at the level of generalization, religion (Christianity in particular) fosters centers of authority and action that are independent of the state and resistant to tyranny. It encourages virtue and concern for the common good. In short, it promotes those traits that might drive populist sentiment and action in helpful rather than harmful directions.