Archived Posts September 2010 - Page 3 of 4 | Acton PowerBlog

September in Grand Rapids means the return of ArtPrize, which bills itself as a “radically open” art competition, juried by the general public, and awarding the largest cash prize for an art competition in the world – $250,000 for first place.

As the competition takes place in the hometown of the Acton Institute – in fact, many artists exhibited their work in our building last year, and will do so again this year – it’s hard for us to miss it. And frankly, the questions that have been raised about the impact of such a non-professional, wide-open art contest with such a large prize at stake on the art world (for example, does ArtPrize foster real art, or are artists simply pandering to the public to have a shot at the prize) are too intriguing to pass up.

This edition of Radio Free Acton tackles the question of how Christians should steward the arts. The participants, Professors Nathan Jacobs and Calvin Seerveld, previously debated this topic in the Controversy section of our Journal of Markets & Morality (Volume 12, Number 2 – you can read the first part of their debate at this link), and we thought it would be interesting to bring them together for a live exchange as well. Special thanks are due to David Michael Phelps, who agreed to sit in as the moderator of the program.

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Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Universidad Francisco Marroquín is webcasting a celebration of the life of Manuel “Muso” Ayau, its founder, live on Sunday, Sept. 12, at 1 p.m. local time. Watch the event here. The University also has published a special web page dedicated to the legacy of Ayau, with videos and other resources.

Read Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg’s PowerBlog remembrance of Ayau.

The following appreciation of the life and work of Ayau is from Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute:

When in January of 1990 I was invited to present a paper at the Mont Pelerin Society in Antigua, Guatemala, I had no idea that the visit to this small Central American country, and the people I would meet at the conference, would have such a lasting effect on me and the work I would end up doing the following two decades.

The president of the Mont Pelerin Society that year was Manual Ayau, known as Muso to his friends, among which I would be honored to be numbered.

Muso had a testy relationship with the Church. Although his daughter was a nun (in fact, the foundress of a monastery with a ministry to orphaned children), Muso found the opinions of numerous clergy on economic matters to be superficial at best and odious at worse, His special ire was directed at proponents of the attempted Christian-Marxist hybrid, Liberation Theology, which he saw as lending a moral patina to the socialist experiments his nation and much a Latin America suffer from.

So it was amusing to see Muso’s delighted reception of my speech in Antigua in which I endeavored to take apart the various fallacies of liberation theology: anthropological, theological and economic. At first his seems incredulous that priest could invoke Mises or Hayek, but he soon warmed up and invited me to join him on a speaking tour of remote parts of his country during his run at the presidency of Guatemala. Is country is worse off for not having elected him.

Muso was a man gifted with keen entrepreneurial talents which was not merely direct at building businesses: He used them to build a movement of ideas in a hostile environment.

Along with a band of brothers, Muso saw the effects of poverty in their homeland, and the ideology of the Fabian movement that would insure its continuance. This band of brothers, whom Muso described as “rebellious improvisers,” began a counter movement with the translations of solid books making the case for the free society. They formed, in 1959, one of the first think tanks in Latin America to promote the free economy, The Center for Social and Economic Studies.

Muso’s crowning achievement, and other than his family, his lasting legacy, will be the Universidad Francisco Marroquín, from which I had the honor of receiving an honorary doctorate at Muso’s hands. This university, one of the finest in Latin America, is guided by a clear philosophy of human liberty and organized in such a way to ensure that all who complete its curriculum grasp the interconnection between economic and personal liberty and the practical implementation of these principles in their respective spheres of influence.

Convinced that in order for a given society to appreciate the principles of human freedom, it was necessary for its leaders to be imbued with these ideas. The UFM today churns out young business and academic leaders who are capable of defending the free society.

Muso was as friendly as he was contentious; a man of vision and accomplishment, he could also be humble and an attentive listener.

Muso passed into eternity with his beloved wife Olga at his bedside and will be buried on the grounds of the monastery where it was his wish to watch these little, abandoned ones in the care of his daughter, Mother Inez Ayau at the orphanage she founded. A great champion for the cause of liberty has departed this world, leaving our hearts a bit dimmer. May the Author of Freedom grant him eternal repose in His presence.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, September 10, 2010

On Public Discourse, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at fiat money and how today it “represents the end of a long process of development whereby governments have used their power of legal tender to use money to pursue various policy goals.”

This brief excursion into economic history hints at some of the deeper economic—not to mention moral—problems associated with fiat money. One is, as noted, the greater ease with which it permits governments to devalue currencies, thereby reducing the wealth of those with assets denominated in that currency. This surely constitutes an injustice to those individuals and businesses that have saved and behaved in a fiscally responsible manner while simultaneously letting the fiscally imprudent off the proverbial hook.

This underscores the second problem associated with fiat money: its facilitation of systemic moral hazard throughout entire economies. Moral hazard describes those situations whereby people are encouraged to take excessive risks because of the implied assurance that someone (usually the state) will bail them out if the enterprise or investment fails. From this standpoint, fiat money’s very existence arguably encourages the development of moral hazard throughout every sector of the economy. The high level of the U.S. federal government’s public deficit, for example, is at least partly premised on the unspoken supposition that the Fed (which is, after all, a government institution that operates within legal parameters set by Congress and whose members are nominated by the President) can simply print more money in paper or electronic form if creditors become worried that the U.S. government’s borrowings cannot be covered by anticipated taxation revenues, foreign borrowings, and its existing resources. This in turn encourages more people and governments to buy U.S. government debt in the form of bonds, which permits more deficit-spending, thereby encouraging a cycle of ever-spiraling public debt.

Read “Fiat Money and Public Debt” on Public Discourse.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, September 10, 2010

From Chuck Colson’s column on Christian Post. Read the entire article here.

If the Great Recession of 2008 has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t detach economic prosperity from moral issues. Greed, imprudent spending by individuals and by government, debt, all of these things brought our economy to where we are today. As I’ve said many times on BreakPoint, our economic collapse is the result of our moral and ethical collapse.

We don’t teach our kids that there are such things as right or wrong, and we wonder why they grow up to cheat and steal.

And the social costs of disintegrating traditional families in terms of crime, divorce, juvenile delinquency, are truly staggering.

You don’t think supporting traditional families — and marriage — matters? Well, then you’ve never been inside a prison, like I have. You haven’t met the thousands of young men and women I have who have told you about their missing fathers or their drugged-out moms.

No society that rejects the moral good can possibly stay solvent. The price tag for moral corruption, as we have learned, is simply too high.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, September 10, 2010

From On Living Simply, Sermon XLIII. (HT: American Orthodox Institute Observer, et al.):

Should we look to kings and princes to put right the inequalities between rich and poor? Should we require soldiers to come and seize the rich person’s gold and distribute it among his destitute neighbors? Should we beg the emperor to impose a tax on the rich so great that it reduces them to the level of the poor and then to share the proceeds of that tax among everyone? Equality imposed by force would achieve nothing, and do much harm.

Those who combined both cruel hearts and sharp minds would soon find ways of making themselves rich again. Worse still, the rich whose gold was taken away would feel bitter and resentful; while the poor who received the gold form the hands of soldiers would feel no gratitude, because no generosity would have prompted the gift. Far from bringing moral benefit to society, it would actually do moral harm. Material justice cannot be accomplished by compulsion, a change of heart will not follow. The only way to achieve true justice is to change people’s hearts first — and then they will joyfully share their wealth.

Lest anyone think I post this to cast St. John Chrysostom as some sort of proto-free marketer, that is not the point. He was equally severe with those who had accumulated wealth. Their responsibilities to the poor and to the neighbor were non-negotiable. But those responsibilities were to be exercised freely, in accord with our nature, and without compulsion.

If you cannot remember everything, instead of everything, I beg you, remember this without fail, that not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs. If we have this attitude, we will certainly offer our money; and by nourishing Christ in poverty here and laying up great profit hereafter, we will be able to attain the good things which are to come, by the grace and kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom (be glory, honor, and might,) to the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen (On Wealth and Poverty).

More on St. John Chrysostom.

On Sept. 8, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg appeared live on the EWTN network to discuss “St. Thomas More: Saint, Scholar, Statesman, Martyr.” The show was hosted by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, September 9, 2010

On his website, David Bahnsen reviews The Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future by Arthur C. Brooks:

The strongest points of the book, and the reason Brooks has done such critically important work here (World magazine has already recognized the book as its Book of 2010, by the way) are found in these two areas:

(1) The moral nature of the battle that exists

(2) The fundamental materialism that underpins the left’s approach towards creating income equality.

I heard Dr. Brooks speak about the latter at the annual Acton Institute dinner in 2009 and wrote about it here. Brooks concept of “earned success” is indisputably true and of fundamental importance in how we approach the problems in today’s world. Understanding the idea that true happiness comes from “earned success”, and not simply receiving a bigger slice of society’s overall wealth pie via government-coerced redistribution, is not mere economics. This latter point makes his former point all the more compelling. For what could be more immoral than advocating a policy worldview that dooms millions of people to unhappiness by robbing them of their human dignity? The arguments against the coercive and progressive and inefficient portions of our tax code are important (and all valid), but they miss the most important point of all: They fail to do what they set out to do, and make life worse for those they set out to help.

Read “The Battle for our Hearts and Souls” by David Bahnsen.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, September 9, 2010

On the The American Spectator website, Theodore Roosevelt Malloch reviews Wilhelm Ropke’s Political Economy, a “brilliant, analytical intellectual history” from Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg.

We are extremely grateful then to the brilliant researcher and scholar, Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute, for a concise, penetrating, and thorough analysis of Röpke’s contribution to intellectual life. It breaks new ground, is highly readable, and adds considerably to the economic literature. It should become mandatory reading for every student of political economy.

As the intellectual author of Germany’s post-World War II economic resurrection, Röpke is an under-appreciated thinker who informed policymaking. Gregg rightly calls him a Smithian, as he was against the unlimited power of the state. Put positively, he was much more. Röpke was an “economic humanist” of the first order. He historically showed how the Great Depression came to limit economics as a science and how collectivism is incompatible with authentic human freedom.

The purpose of Gregg’s masterful book is to provide a descriptive and critical introduction to Röpke’s understanding of political economy. This is unquestioningly an exercise in historical recovery. The focus is on four subjects that concerned Röpke up until his early death in 1966. They are: the challenge of business cycles, the unending growth of the welfare state, full employment and inflation, and international economic relations.

Read Malloch’s “The Great Wilhelm Röpke” on the American Spectator website.

We’ll be posting excerpts from Sam’s new book in the days ahead.

On Aug. 28, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, Acton president and co-founder, was interviewed by Freedom Watch host Judge Andrew Napolitano in a wide ranging discussion of natural rights, the moral law and politics. They were joined by Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Until recently, many thought that Europe had escaped the worst of the 2008 financial crisis. Some even argued that the crisis has demonstrated the European social model’s superiority over “Anglo-Saxon capitalism”. In 2010, however, we have seen an entire country bailed out, riots in Athens, governments slashing budgets, and several European nations staring sovereign debt default in the face. Some are even claiming that the euro is finished. So what went wrong for Europe? How adequate have been the responses of European governments? And what are the consequences for America? The video is from the Aug. 2 Acton Lecture Series in Grand Rapids, Mich.