Archived Posts July 2011 - Page 6 of 8 | Acton PowerBlog

My editorial, “Intergenerational Ethics and Economics,” appears in the latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (more details about that issue here). In this short piece I explore some of the implications and intergenerational consequences of public debt. For this I take my point of departure with the much-discussed “A Call for Intergenerational Justice,” but I also point out the importance of considering opportunity cost and how that concept has been applied in an analogous conversation about climate change. Focusing particularly on the current generations of workers, however, I observe:

Younger workers have not had as much time in the workplace to earn wages, collect benefits, and save, as those who have been working for decades and are nearing or have already entered retirement. As we learn from what has been called the “miracle of compounding interest,” small deductions of available capital at earlier points in time have major consequences for long-term growth.

In a recent piece for City Journal, Nicole Gelinas reflects on the federal government’s move to take on troubled securities from private firms. She writes,

The politicians we elect have three choices—the same choices they had four years ago. They can admit that this debt isn’t worth much and allow the financial sector to bear the consequences. They can hope that the Fed tries to use inflation to raise the price of everything else, making the debt seem a lighter burden in comparison. Or they can maintain their silence, letting the financial sector take another half-decade or more to make enough money on new ventures so that it can finally admit what it should have admitted back in the fall of 2007: bad debt is never good. At least the Fed acknowledges this strategy: it says that it’s using “time” to manage toxic securities and “minimize disruption to the financial markets.” But prolonging government control of financial markets just prolongs investors’ uncertainty.

Her conclusion underscores what I contend in the editorial about the importance of opportunity cost and the intergenerational effects of (in)action: “As the Fed notes, the cost of this policy isn’t measured in dollars but in something more precious: time. Washington’s refusal to confront the debt problem is costing millions the most productive years of their lives.”

Also in the current issue of the journal, James Alvey explores “James M. Buchanan on the Ethics of Public Debt and Default.” Buchanan has a good deal of interest to say on these questions, and Alvey concludes that “Buchanan’s favorite policy agenda, constitutional/legal limitations on public spending, deficits, and debt, needs to be revisited.”

The Blauwpoort in Leiden in the winter.The newest edition of the Journal of Markets & Morality is now available online to subscribers.

This issue of the journal features a Scholia translation of selections from On the Observation of the Mosaic Polity by Franciscus Junius (1545-1602), the Huguenot, Reformed, scholastic theologian (a Latin version of Junius’ original treatise is available for download at Google Books, along with a host of his other works). Best known as a professor of theology at Leiden University from 1592–1602, Junius authored this treatise in order to address rising challenges in the young Dutch Republic. In his translator’s introduction, Todd Rester summarizes the Republic’s concern, “[I]f Scripture alone is the authority in the Church for faith and morals… how does it apply in the realm of the Christian State?” Junius’ careful and sober analysis of the various kinds of law and each law’s proper sphere of application transcends his time and context, standing as a significant reference for anyone who may seek to address the question, “What relation is there between the Law of Moses and the Law of the State?” Furthermore, the interdisciplinary character and depth of the work serve as an example of the fluidity and overlap of often-perceived contradictory disciplines and methods of the time, such as humanism and scholasticism, theology and law. Thus, for the student of political philosophy and historical theology alike, On the Observation of the Mosaic Polity stands as an excellent resource for the study of the engagement between historic, Christian faith and the rule of law.

In addition to our standard fare of articles and book reviews, this issue marks the introduction of the Journal of Markets & Morality’s first publication of the symposium of the Theology of Work Consultation of the Evangelical Theological Society, which will appear serially in the spring issue. It is our conviction that this will serve as a helpful forum for an integrated perspective on stewardship, work, and economics for both business and ministry leaders.

Given the journal’s ongoing policy of distinguishing between current issues (the two latest issues) and archived issues (which are freely available), this means that issue 13.1 is now fully and freely available to the public.

For access to the two current issues, including the newly-released 14.1, I encourage you to consider subscribing as an individual as well as recommend that your institution subscribe to the Journal of Markets & Morality.

There has been a lot of buzz throughout the Roman Catholic Church as it prepares to implement a new missal on November 27. As the Church begins a new chapter in its history, Tony Oleck writes an article for Crisis Magazine titled “The True Beauty of Liturgy.” Oleck is a Roman Catholic seminarian for the Congregation of Holy Cross and a summer intern at the Acton Institute.

In his article Oleck explains the reasoning behind Pope Benedict’s new missal while also keeping a keen eye towards the beauty of the liturgy:

That is why Benedict’s reforms of the Roman Catholic liturgy could have an impact that reaches far beyond the Catholic Church. The Church is described in Light of the World as “giving expression to God’s message, which raises man to his highest dignity, goodness, and beauty.” This is and always has been the mission of the Church — to transform and to elevate man by creating a culture that fosters human flourishing. With his attention to liturgy, Benedict reminds us of the truth of our existence: that we are pilgrims on this earth, and we were created to live for more than the temporal.

The true beauty of liturgy is that it raises our eyes and our hearts toward Heaven, reminding us of the eschaton, the day when we pass from the temporal into the eternal. The Church exists to transform the world, to prepare it for the coming of Christ’s kingdom. Because liturgy is the primary place where this transformation occurs, Benedict is right to put it at the top of his agenda. If what we pray is what we believe, then the way we pray will determine the way we will live.

Click here to read the full article.

Space shuttle Atlantis lifts off the launch pad for the final space shuttle mission. Image credit: NASA TV

Imagine you’re eight and you’re given a dog. The first thing your parents say is that you need to take care of him: feed him, play with him in the backyard, and train him so that he doesn’t do bad things in the house. You and the new dog quickly become “the dog and his master.” That well-worn phrase can tell us something about our human instincts. Once something is put under our care, often our kneejerk reaction to “taking care of it” is to rule it or conquer it.

It’s no different with space. And the event of the final shuttle launch of Atlantis is yet another example of our human enthusiasm for conquering what’s before us. This launch, bittersweet as it was, marks the end of one program of curiosity and adventure, as well as the beginning of a new era of space exploration. This new era could include the privatization of programs to continue doing what shuttles like Atlantis have been doing, like replenishing supplies on the International Space Station, as well as take on other new space ventures. There will be debate about the next steps, I’m sure, just as there has always been debate about the space programs themselves.

But between the arguments concerning the pros and cons of space exploration, I believe it’s safe to say that there is general agreement that space has always given us that sense of grandeur and awe which inspires us to explore and conquer. I think it’s also fair to say that our zeal for exploration of creation is an impulse given by God, and one that’s directly in line with being created in the image of the Divine. Joan Vernikos, a member of the Space Studies Board of the National Academy and former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division, comes close to this truth in her answer to Stephen J. Dubner, author, journalist and blogger, about the worth of space exploration:

Why explore? Asked why he kept trying to climb Everest, English mountaineer George Mallory reputedly replied, “Because it was there.” Exploration is intrinsic to our nature. It is the contest between man and nature mixed with the primal desire to conquer. It fuels curiosity, inspiration and creativity.

This desire to conquer, like all of our tendencies, is tainted with sin, but it has its origins in the characteristics of God. We know historically that the urge to conquer has been coupled with other horrors which we hope we will not repeat as we venture into space. And we also know that God commanded his people to conquer other peoples and also to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen.1:28, NIV), which can perhaps be translated into “conquer it.”

Which side of this “primal desire” will lead us into space? We’ve made great strides in our ability to conquer; case in point, the space shuttle Atlantis. But like any great power, it comes with great responsibility, and for Christians, our responsibility is wrapped up in God’s creation, which extends all the way out to the infinity of the cosmos. What’s to be done with it? The coverage of Atlantis has brought lots of ideas concerning this back into the news. We already hear about space property law and space tourism offering “unbeatable views.” There may be interesting and important implications here for the possibility of entrepreneurial growth and encouragement through private companies picking up from where NASA is leaving its retired space shuttles, things that might be explored in another blog post.

In a piece a few years ago, Jordan Ballor mentioned the emerging ideas about property ownership in space and how private companies would like to offer space as a tourist attraction, and what the real purpose of space might be. Speaking of the views of the sixteenth-century reformer Philip Melanchthon, Ballor writes:

Even if Melanchthon’s views were founded on assumptions that subsequent advances in astronomy have disproved, his theological vision is a salient reminder that every part of the created cosmos fills a specific purpose within God’s created order. While we may be uncomfortable with Melanchthon’s belief that “the stars were created by God to tell men what God intended,” we should acknowledge that there are created purposes for the heavenly bodies and seek to understand them.

When we discuss “stewardship of the cosmos,” as Jordan Ballor called it, we must ask whether conquering and stewardship compatible. Valid questions like this arise when we are faced with questions concerning the private ownership of space and the possibility of colonizing other planets. I have no hard and fast answers, except that for Christians, perhaps “conquering” isn’t the best characterization of what we’re doing in space. Our God-given tendencies towards adventure and understanding are compatible with his love of beauty, creativity, and complexity. But where does conquest fit?

Another writer recently posted that maybe the best way to think about it to think of space exploration as worship. Josh Larson discusses how that sense of awe we share when we see shuttles launch into space and see photos from the International Space station of galaxies and stars can be akin to worship. Maybe we can think about coupling them all together: conquering, being a steward, and worshiping, in order to think about how best to approach the discovery and development of the final frontier.

I cannot permit the death of His Imperial and Royal Highness Otto von Habsburg at age 98 on July 4th to pass unnoticed. To look into his face was to gaze into the map of the 20th Century, and to hear him recount his ideas, insights and encounters was worth more than an entire course in European history in most universities.

Only slightly acquainted with the man (his father Emperor Karl was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004), I was struck not merely by his exhaustive knowledge of history, economics, culture, and languages (with whom else does one begin the conversation by being asked, “And in what language shall we converse?”); what is now most memorable about the man was his modesty and clear Christian faith, so apparent to anyone who views the video clip here.

The occasion for the speech was a Rome conference sponsored by Acton Institute and Istituto Acton on the topic of “Centesimus Annus and Deus Caritas Est” held at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Joining the Archduke and myself on the panel were papal biographer George Weigel and the French economist Jean Yves Naudet.

Otto von Habsburg’s lively presentation represents the best of Catholic “liberal’ thinking, integrating a sound economic sensibility with a clear moral commitment.

When von Habsburg’s mother Zita died in 1989 her body was brought in state to the Imperial crypt of the Habsburg dynasty at the Capuchin Church in Vienna. The scene was striking: As the bier waited at the entrance to the church, an attendant with staff in hand knocked at the door. From inside a friar, holding a large candle, asked who was seeking entrance. The attendant replied that it was Her Imperial Highness Zita Maria. The simple friar replied, “We do not know her.” The attendant knocked once again, and was again asked who seeks entrance. This time he replied, “Zita, a poor sinner,” at which reply the friar welcomed her into the church.

For all that Otto von Habsburg saw in his long and fruitful life the one and only thing that he, and we, can bring with us into eternity, is the plea for mercy at the feet of a merciful God.

Anima eius et animae omnium fidelium defunctorum per Dei misericordiam requiescant in pace.

Blog author: lglinzak
Thursday, July 7, 2011

Political news changes quickly, and now reports are coming out of Washington DC that Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has been leading the way in killing the ethanol subsidy and tariff, has struck a deal with Senators Amy Klobuchar and John Thune, two stalwarts for protecting ethanol. While the rumored deal does not indicate the repeal of the blending mandate it is a step in the right direction.

However, while we wait on Congress and the President for action, the Brazilian ethanol industry is eying the U.S. ethanol market. Repealing the tariff will allow Brazil to expand its ethanol industry. Many questions need to be answered before ethanol is imported into the U.S. from Brazil.

In a previous post I posed concerns about whether ethanol can meet both U.S. and Brazilian demands. Furthermore, what are the environmental consequences of ethanol? Reports are showing deforestation in the rainforest. Finally, what will happen to food prices?

It is unfortunate that there are even more questions that need to be answered.

Like the corn based ethanol in the U.S., Brazil’s sugar based ethanol is a false market created by the government. Brazil doesn’t subsidize ethanol; instead it resorts to high taxes. Brazilian gasoline taxes are at 53 percent while the tax placed on ethanol is much lower making ethanol cheaper than gasoline. The question is how long can an industry last and actually be sustainable when it is propped up by the government and is a false market?

It is also important to note that the Brazilian ethanol industry needs a large sum of new investment, about $80 billion worth in the next ten years, to meet global demand. In an industry that is heavily dependent on the government one must wonder, who will pay for these new investments?

Another potential hazard of relying on ethanol is crop shortages. Such crop shortages may occur for a variety of reasons, one of which is out of our control: the weather. What happens when fuel relies on crops, and there is actually a shortage in the harvest? How much of the crop goes to fuel and how much goes to the food supply? Both are important. Food nourishes, however, fuel gets people to their jobs where they earn a salary which they use to purchase food. Brazil may be forced to answer these questions this year as sugarcane production is currently down 25 percent as compared to last year. The lack of production is due to bad weather and aging plants.

However, because of the lack of production sugar prices are on the rise as they saw a 14 percent surge in June. While some are sounding the alarm, other analysts are remaining calm, such as Eli Mamoun Amrouk of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization:

El Mamoun Amrouk, sugar analyst at the Rome-based FAO, said: “It’s difficult to predict exactly what’s going to happen to the sugar price because the market’s so volatile and so any new information can have a big effect on price. The speculation is still there, exacerbating the trend and changes in the dollar also play a part.

“But the signs are that production is growing significantly and, especially in India and Thailand, the prospects are very positive, so we should see the price start coming down in the summer,” he said.

Whether sugar prices do come down or not, we still face a critical question. If we continue to pursue an energy plan based on biofuels, what happens when we do face a shortage in crop production? The world will be faced with not just rising food prices but also with rising fuel prices. How do people in developed countries, who already have a difficult time affording food, feed themselves when the food supply is actually going into the fuel supply?

I wrote a piece on the Church’s response to disaster relief in the Spring issue of Religion & Liberty. The article for R&L is in part an extension of my commentary “Out of the Whirlwind: God’s Love and Christian Charity” after a tornado hit Joplin, Mo. in May.

Being a Katrina evacuee myself, I returned to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for a time after seminary and the devastation of so many things I was familiar with and had known was simply surreal. I even went along for some in home visits and I can tell you that listening to people and empathizing with their plight is just as important as any material and financial assistance. Perhaps more so, because when the shock wears away a malaise can set in if people believe that their circumstances will not change even if the financial help is there. This is how some Katrina survivors fell into a long term cycle of dependency because they saw no hope for a brighter day.

The wake of devastation tends to push many churches and volunteers towards an even more authentic ministry. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) video below says it all: “Speak from your heart. People don’t need platitudes or everything is going to be alright. They need honesty.”

Methodism’s founder was John Wesley and the denomination exploded out of the 18th century English revival and primarily in this country through circut riders who went anywhere and everywhere where souls were present. After his evangelical conversion in 1738, Wesley was banned from preaching in many English churches and many of the country’s religious leaders tried to stop him from preaching outside as well, charging him with trespassing on their parishes. His famous retort: “I look upon the whole world as my parish.” It is said that John Wesley traveled over 250,000 miles in his life to preach the gospel. Most of that was on horseback. The circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,901 miles.

Methodism’s credibility shined because it was a church that rolled up its sleeves and reached out to the middle and lower classes. The marginalized and ‘least of these’ were reminded that their worth was infinite in Christ. George Whitefield, another 18th century Methodist revivalist, recorded just one illustration in his journal as an example when he preached to the rough and materially poor miners in Kingswood, England. Whitefield wrote in his journal : “Miners, just up from the mines, listened and the tears flowed making white gutters down their coal-black faces.” One coal miner told Whitefield, “We never knew anybody loved us.”

One thing I tried to highlight a little in my piece is that even now church agencies and ministries are still involved in the rebuilding and restoration after Hurricane Katrina. Next month will be the sixth anniversary of the hurricane. Long after cameras and the media sensation rolled in and out work is being done to transform lives and hearts. The Mennonite Disaster Service has been especially faithful when it comes to meeting the long term needs of disaster victims. They are living out these words by David Livingstone, the 19th century Scottish missionary to Africa, who asked, “If a commission by an earthly king is considered a honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?”