Archived Posts August 2011 - Page 3 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

The New York Times ran an op-ed yesterday by Canadian legal scholar Joel Bakan, the author of a new book titled Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children. Bakan argues that the 20th century has seen an increase in legal protections for two classes of persons, children and corporations, and that one of these is good and one is terribly, terribly bad—mean, even. That furthermore, there has been a kind of inexorable, Hegelian clash between the Corporation and the Child, but that the Corporation is steamrolling the Child, and we’ve got to step in with governmental protections.

The first problem with Bakan’s analysis is his history of personhood. In his words, children were not legal persons until the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959. And as he understands it, corporations are granted certain rights of personhood simply because they have lots of money to pay lobbyists with—not because they are risk allocating mechanisms that must function semi-autonomously from the men and women who run them.

It is ridiculous to assert that “the 20th century also witnessed another momentous shift, one that would ultimately threaten the welfare of children: the rise of the for-profit corporation.” A Canadian lawyer should have some history of the common law and should know of the numerous 18th and 19th century for-profit corporations. And you can’t talk of fin de siècle child welfare reforms without corporate dark satanic mills already abusing the children.

Worse than these blunders, though, is Bakan’s view of the condition of children vis-à-vis corporations today.

Childhood obesity mounts as junk food purveyors bombard children with advertising.

We medicate increasing numbers of children with potentially harmful psychotropic drugs, a trend fueled in part by questionable and under-regulated pharmaceutical industry practices.

We also know that corporations often use [toxic] chemicals as key ingredients in children’s products, saturating their environments.

It is not even considered that children’s parents might be responsible for the food they eat, the medicines they take, or the toys they play with. Indeed, the piece begins with a reflection on Bakan’s own children’s absorption in the digital world and a sense that something is wrong with their lives, but nowhere does it occur to him to do anything about it, except to raise awareness in the pages of the New York Times. If the progressive state is to solve his own problems of parenting just as it is to solve his children’s problems, how is our brave muser any different than a child?

Bakan ends with a quotation of Nelson Mandela: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Mandela was right, and Bakan is a ward of the nanny state—it treats him as it treats his offspring, and makes children of them both. It is frightening to remember what Chesterton said—that “education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another”—if there is no difference between generations.

John Baden, chairman of the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment in Bozeman, Mont., wrote a column for the August 19 Bozeman Daily Chronicle about the Circle of Protection and Christians for a Sustainable Economy and how each has formulated a very different faith witness on the federal budget and debt debate. Baden says that the CASE letter to President Obama is “quite remarkable for it reads like one written by respected economists and policy analysts.”

I attended the FREE conference on the environment for religious leaders in July, the event referenced in Baden’s column (appended below). FREE is building a really useful conference/seminar for faith groups with outstanding lecturers and a truly diverse mix of attendees. I would recommend it to anyone seeking to deepen their understanding of environmental policy as informed by a religious worldview.

Also see Acton’s “Principles for Budget Reform” and associated resources on the budget and debt debate.

Religions’ reactions to financial realities

By John Baden

Many quite normal people, not just the paranoid, believe America will spiral downward and drown in a sea of debt. The Aug. 5 downgrade of U.S. bonds stoked their fears. Much of the debt problem is based on entitlements, commitments to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Prescription Drug Act.

As Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts said on NPR on Aug. 9: “I am not going to tell an 80-year-old woman living on $19,000 a year that she gets no cost-of-living, or that a man who has been doing physical labor all his life and is now at a 67-year-old retirement – which is where Social Security will be soon – that he has to work four or five more years.”

Sojourners is a “progressive” religious organization that supports Frank’s position. (Ironically, billionaire atheist George Soros has generously supported Sojourners.) They have recently drafted a letter to President Obama, “A Circle of Protection: Why We Need to Protect Programs for the Poor.”

Sojourners acknowledge our unsustainable deficits – but reject reforms reducing entitlements directed to the poor. “Programs focused on reducing poverty should not be cut. … The budget debate has a central moral dimension. Christians are asking how we protect ‘the least of these.’ ‘What would Jesus cut?’ ‘How do we share sacrifice?'”

There is nothing radical or even unusual in their position. Many, probably most mainline denominations, support similar positions. Sojourners’ leader Jim Wallis wants to move the broad religious community into the policy arena. Hence he is mobilizing a diverse nonpartisan movement of Christian leaders to make them “deeply engaged in the budget debate to uphold the principle that low-income people should be protected.”

Few would question Wallis’ goal but his strategy is challenged by a new group, Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE). They too sent a letter to President Obama.

While they share identical goals of helping the most unfortunate and poor, their means are diametrically opposed. They question policy outcomes by asking the ecological and economic question “and then what?” What are the logical, practical consequences of policies allegedly designed to help the unfortunate and needy?

Their effort had an unusual origin. It arose from an economic conference involving an ecumenical, indeed disparate, group of religious leaders, mainly Christians and several Jews. They represented a wide philosophical and theological spectrum. Some are allied with the Sojourners, others opposed.

CASE’s letter soliciting signers began, “At one level CASE began with a few of us at a lovely conference in Montana with fresh air, kindred spirits, time to talk and the gift of the idea to join together. … Signatories already include us (Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox) … (and) many who work alongside the very poor, and so on.”

I find their letter to the president quite remarkable for it reads like one written by respected economists and policy analysts. “We do not need to ‘protect programs for the poor.’ We need to protect the poor themselves. Indeed, sometimes we need to protect them from the very programs that ostensibly serve the poor, but actually demean the poor, undermine their family structures and trap them in poverty, dependency and despair for generations. Such programs are unwise, uncompassionate, and unjust.”

Their text explains, “We believe the poor of this generation and generations to come are best served by policies that promote economic freedom and growth, that encourage productivity and creativity in every able person, and that wisely steward our common resources for generations to come. All Americans – especially the poor – are best served by sustainable economic policies for a free and flourishing society. When creativity and entrepreneurship are rewarded, the yield is an increase of productivity and generosity.”

A decade ago I wrote a column celebrating Nobel Prize economist Milton Friedman’s 90th birthday. Milton was an apostle of responsible prosperity and liberty. While he is gone, his influence lives. CASE’s letter to the president is a sterling example.

John Baden is the chairman of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment and Gallatin Writers, Inc., both based in Bozeman.

More than a billion dollars has already been pledged to relieve victims of the drought-turned-famine ravaging the Horn of Africa. The stricken countries—Somalia in particular—do not have the technology and the infrastructure to deal with a major drought, and so in what is becoming a regular occurrence, the West is stepping in with aid.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Texas and Oklahoma are suffering record droughts that are wiping out crops and taxing cattle businesses. Ranchers cannot rely on the forage feeding their herds are used to, and other sources of feed have become too costly; Texas A&M is advising cattlemen that this drought is so severe they will probably be better off selling their entire herds and rebuilding in a better year.

Unless you live in Al Gore’s head, these droughts have not been caused by governmental policy. But governmental policy causes much of the associated suffering. The PowerBlog has been covering the legacy that decades of colonialist humanitarian policy have left in East Africa. U.S. and European agricultural policy continue to cripple farmers in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia.

Fortune, as it turns out, has a sense of irony: the same protectionism that is inducing atrophy overseas is hurting ranchers in America. The Bush-era free trade agreements that the Obama Administration refuses to allow a vote on, and other treaties which it might pursue if it weren’t beholden to big labor, would give the beef industry breathing room—foreign markets for beef could tip the cost-benefit scales back in cattlemen’s favor.

Southwestern cattlemen do benefit from a relatively large market in the United States: there are parts of the country where cattle are economically viable this year, so the Texas plains won’t be littered with sun-bleached skulls next year, but whole herds are still headed to the auction block because the Teamsters and other organizations won’t allow otherwise.

In South Korea for example, the market for U.S. beef could increase by as much as $1.3 billion if the 40 percent tariff now in place fell away, but that free trade agreement is sitting in the bottom of a drawer in the Resolute Desk. South American trade agreements also languish at the behest of unions, while the United States’ NAFTA games threaten existing economic activity.

I’ve not even mentioned U.S. ethanol policy, dust regulations, and the host of other laughable environmental protections that lose most of their humor value during a drought-of-the-century. The greatest statesmen counter the vicissitudes of Fortune by their leadership. Modern progressives, on the other hand, have managed to augment her swings.

Blog author: crobertson
Monday, August 22, 2011
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Do you view the work you do each day as worship, or is it something you do to pass the time or merely collect a paycheck? Remember work is not only the actions you perform to obtain a pay check, but includes any action “people do to earn a living.” Signs indicate that evangelical practice is entrapped in a dangerous snare of limitation and complacence. By placing almost sole emphasis on Bible study, worship attendance, and giving/tithing — the churchly aspects of discipleship — churches have in effect diminished the importance of everyday, temporal Christian living. Time spent in the workplace and at home with one’s family is subordinated to Sabbath Day activities. However, man is not intended for part-time discipleship, but for a devoted life of constant service to Christ and neighbor.

Lester DeKoster in his excellent book titled Work: The Meaning of Your Life says, “Work is the from in which we make ourselves useful to others.” God has created us to work and worship. Additionally, it is His will for our whole-life to be used to further His Kingdom in this world, not simply what we do in Church on Sunday morning. Whole-life discipleship is something very important to the work we are doing and we promote it through one-day conferences, outreach, church kits, and a new worldview video curriculum being developed.

Take a look at this video, which talks about how — for so many of us — our mission is in the marketplace.

In my last post, I rejected the contention by Michelle Goldberg and others that evangelical leaders such as Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry are significantly influenced by the aims of the tiny Christian Reconstructionism movement. I tried to make the point that CR has a negligible political influence on evangelicals and that it is not honest to view evangelical office holders and candidates in the light of CR’s aims. The entire thing, I think, is a tar baby sort of trap in which evangelicals are supposed to come out of their corner talking very seriously about Christian Reconstructionism and Dominionism and giving legitimacy to those who have tried to raise it as an issue.

There is a simpler way to get at this thing. I’ll go ahead and concede to Michelle Goldberg and Ryan Lizza that they are correct in their assumption that it is nervous-making to have someone with different ideas and values than one’s own running for political office. This raises the spectre of having that person gain power and perhaps make policies with which one would disagree. But the simple truth is that we are all in this position all the time.

The University of Texas law professor Douglas Laycock once noted that he had some concerns about the Christian Coalition gaining political power. He quickly added that he would be equally concerned about any group with an ideological agenda (such as certain types of feminists or environmentalists) gaining power. The simple fact is that power is a feature of politics and it is unpleasant to lose and have someone else use power to impose upon you. This is very much the situation many have been through in the past two years. A great many people feel that a nationalized health care system would have disastrous effects upon our society. Nevertheless, they have had to suffer through it because the side that wanted to enact such legislation won the election convincingly.

And here’s the thing . . . It doesn’t matter what Barack Obama’s motive was in pushing for national health care. It doesn’t matter if he had a religious conviction, a secular principle, a sentimental attachment to the idea, or a desire to be the first Democrat to ever achieve such a thing. He gained power through politics and enacted his agenda.

There is no difference in anything Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, or any other American officeholder might do. Indeed, the likelihood is great that any laws they might enact would be far less intrusive than one mandating that every American purchase health insurance.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 18, 2011
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As part of our ongoing engagement with the Protestant world, the Acton Institute has taken on the translation of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace, under the general editorship of Stephen Grabill and in partnership with Kuyper College. We’re convinced that renewed interest in the thought of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), and in fact rediscovering aspects of his thought that have been lost or misconstrued in the intervening decades, is critically important for the reconstruction of Protestant social thought.

So it’s a big encouragement to us when we see figures in the broader evangelical world echoing similar sentiments. In a recent interview with a Dutch newspaper, the PCA pastor Tim Keller spoke about how Kuyper and Herman Bavinck have served as inspirations. The translator for our Common Grace project, Nelson Kloosterman, provides a translation of the interview in English on his blog.

Keller says that the task of the Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer in New York City would be “unthinkable without Kuyper.” He adds, “Kuyper said many helpful things. Especially his idea of sphere sovereignty has helped me. That idea assumes that various social relationships—among persons, families, volunteers, associations, and churches—each has its own responsibility.” So here in the ministry of Redeemer in NYC we have a renewal of interest in Dutch neo-Calvinism. Maybe we can call some small part of New York by its original name of New Amsterdam again!

It’s only fair to note, too, that Keller is not uncritical of the all the developments of neo-Calvinism since Kuyper’s own day. He contends “that many churches in this tradition place heavy emphasis on living according to a Christian worldview while neglecting spiritual piety and evangelism.”

Here’s a video from a few years back where Keller makes some similar points.

Be sure to follow along as the Common Grace translation project proceeds. We’ve got some developments to announce in the coming weeks and months. You can also “like” the Common Grace page on Facebook to keep up-to-date, and sign up to receive email updates on the Common Grace project page.

On his flight to World Youth Day in Madrid this morning, Pope Benedict XVI responded to a question about the current economic crisis. Not sure what the question was, but the well-respected Italian Vatican analyst Andrea Tornielli captured the reply. Here’s my quick translation of the Pope’s answer:

The current crisis confirms what happened in the previous grave crisis: the ethical dimension is not something external to economic problems but an internal and fundamental dimension. The economy does not function solely on mercantile regulations, but needs an ethical reason to work for man. This is what John Paul II affirmed in his first social encyclical: man must be at the center of the economy and the economy must not be measured by profit maximization but by the good of all, which includes responsibility towards the other. The economy works truly well only if it works in a human way, in respect for the other according to different dimensions. The first dimension is responsibility for one’s nation, and not only for oneself. The second is responsibility towards the world: nations are not isolated, as Europe is not closed in on itself, but responsible for all humanity, and must confront economic problems with this “key” of responsibility also for other parts of the world, for those countries that experience hunger and thirst. The third dimension concerns the future, we have to protect our planet, but we must also protect the working of the labor system for all, to think of tomorrow as well as today. If today’s youth do not find prospects for their lives, our today is mistaken and wrong.

It’s pretty clear that the Pope is referring to the economic problems particular to Spain, where youth unemployment is over 40 percent, and also where protesters known as los indignados are blocking the reform attempts of the Spanish government. The same indignados who’ve attempted to start riots in Madrid with World Youth Day pilgrims. The Holy Father is clearly a gentle and patient man.

The Pope also addresses ethics, the central role of the person, our responsibility to others and to the future of our planet. Nothing he said was at all different from what he or his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, has indicated as a morally correct understanding of the market economy. And as he has previously said, dealing with our failings and weaknesses is the price of human freedom and responsibility. The more freedom we have, the greater the risk of our misusing it. But this is not a reason to restrict that freedom; doing so would actually replace the person from the center of the economy with cold, impersonal regulations.

Perhaps the Pope was referring to the record profits of some banks and other companies while unemployment remains high. Much of this is of course due to government policies to “stimulate” the economy in times of uncertainty, regardless of how that money is spent. Was the Pope questioning the results of Keynesian stimulus spending?

The real challenge for economists and policy makers is how do we move from the good intentions of providing ever-increasing, ethically-sound prosperity for all to actual results. Part of that challenge is the fact that our prosperity is the result of constant competition and rapid change, which can also endanger our current standard of living. It is unlikely we’ll ever be able to “guarantee” a stable, prosperous future for everyone because no one actually “controls” the global economy. The cost of putting someone in charge would effectively cut off the competition and innovation needed to create wealth, and would most likely be a force for evil rather than good. The most we can do is to expand opportunities for all, which is difficult enough for today’s local and national leaders, let alone for any global authority.

Paul Krugman made the mistake of over-sharing this past weekend when he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria he thinks that the United States economy would benefit from a military build-up to fight made-up space aliens. He’s been defended as being fed up with Republican obstructionism, being desperate to make a point, or even being wholly and completely correct. He’s entirely wrong though, and his thinking (what there is of it) is an example of the kind of depersonalized economics that has cost this country so much.

You’ve probably seen the video by now. If not, your sides will ache through the rest of this post:

Economics is more than just the manipulation of balance sheets, which is how the hyperinflation trillions-in-stimulus crowd see it. Professor Krugman does not accept that essentially, economic activity is the production of something valuable, and he does not believe that human labor has intrinsic worth, besides its taxability. Therefore what people do does not matter; in fact, if lying to them makes the economy function more smoothly, that’s fine.

This is a vision in which Man has no dignity—in which Man is not made in the image of God or anything else. The study of human interaction, then, is nothing more than moving numbers around on a page, and people are no different than plastic cars to be shifted across a traffic jam board game. (It’s telling that Krugman turns to space aliens to save our economy.) Contrast this view with what the Pope said this morning at World Youth Day.

What does have value? The state, which for progressives like Krugman is the engine of historical progress. Enter Keynsian economics, and this weekend’s gibberish.

Blog author: hunter.baker
Thursday, August 18, 2011
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Michelle Goldberg has a column up at the aptly named Daily Beast letting us all know that we really need to worry about something called “Dominionism” which supposedly prevails among Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, and folks who support their campaigns. Reinhold Niebuhr once warned of the dangers of religious illiteracy. Here we have exhibit A.

Goldberg claims Bachmann and Perry are “deeply associated” with this “theocratic strain” of Christian fundamentalism. Yes, they are probably so deeply associated with it that neither one of them has ever heard of R.J. Rushdoony (whom Goldberg tags as the father of this theocratic movement).

I have been part of organizations of Christian conservatives for many years and can assure Ms. Goldberg that Rushdoony and Christian Reconstructionism (making Hebraic law obligatory upon the broader society) exert very little influence. In fact, I think I can probably argue empirically that Rushdoony has captured the attention of many more liberal reporters with an axe to grind than it has evangelicals. For those of us who spend so much time thinking about political theology as to even have heard of CR, it is primarily a novelty. To view standard issue evangelicals in the same light as Christian Reconstructionists would be like taking rank and file Democrats and comparing them to the most extreme and exotic atheistic socialists.

The overwhelming majority position of Christians around the world is that forced religion is a stench in the nostrils of a holy God. Instead, Christians give their money to sustain people called missionaries. We support their efforts to persuade those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ that he is the son of God and that they should enter into a relationship with him. If those people subsequently refuse to believe in Jesus, missionaries pray for them and move on to other people. Those engaged by missionaries join churches or just keep on doing what they were doing before. It’s actually a pretty non-threatening business. This is the Christian idea Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann would endorse, not some fever dream of journalists hoping to bring down candidates for office.

Now, is it true that Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann would like to get elected and attempt to pass some of their aspirations for the good society into law? Certainly. This is a process called politics. It is a feature of democracies. And I suspect what Perry and Bachmann would like to do is reduce the size of government, which, incidentally, is not all that great a danger to individual freedom.

Of course, both are pro-life and would like to protect unborn children from being killed in the womb. If that position is so extreme as to warrant exclusion from the political process and raving condemnations in print . . . well, in that case I’m afraid I can’t do much to help.

My contribution to this week’s Acton News & Commentary:

TV Bias Book Not Ready for Primetime

By Bruce Edward Walker

Reading Ben Shapiro’s Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV is similar to time traveling through the pages of a TV Guide. Dozens of television series from the past 50 years are dissected through Shapiro’s conservative lens – or, at least, what passes for Shapiro’s brand of conservatism – to reveal his perception that the television industry is – gasp! – overrun by social liberalism.

Trouble is, Shapiro finds signs of liberalism in nearly everything he’s viewed on the boob tube, and wields this bias indiscriminately against programming that may or may not possess a “liberal agenda.” His book may or may not be retaliation for a rejection the young author received for having his Hollywood aspirations dashed after producers vetting his background discovered Shapiro has authored a syndicated conservative column since his Harvard Law School days. This anecdote prefaces his lengthy jeremiad against the liberal establishment in the television industry.

When reading Primetime Propaganda, one is reminded of Harvard University professor Irving Babbitt who railed so much against Jean Jacques Rousseau that his students speculated he checked under his bed each evening to ensure the French philosopher wasn’t hiding there.

Like Kevin McCarthy warning against the Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Charlton Heston discovering the little crackers in Soylent Green are made from people, Shapiro casts himself as a lone voice crying in the wilderness about the prevalence of liberalism in television, portentously outlining the thesis for his work:

After reading Primetime Propaganda, you’ll be awakened to what’s really going on behind the small screen, and you’ll be stunned to learn that you’ve been targeted by a generations of television creators and programmers for political conversion. You’ll find out that the box in your living room has been invading your mind, subtly shaping your opinions, pushing you to certain sociopolitical conclusions for years.

That Hollywood is predominantly liberal is no surprise to anyone and there are plenty of examples to support this. But that doesn’t prevent Shapiro from hammering as hard as he can to fit pegs of all shapes into an ill-defined liberal hole. Such an approach amounts to nothing more than buckshot as he fails from the outset of his enterprise to define adequately the terms “liberal” and “conservative.” Read without this crucial critical perspective, I suppose anything that offends the author’s sensibilities is deemed the former and anything he enjoys must fall into the latter realm. However, Shapiro confesses to enjoying such programs as Friends and The Simpsons, which he also classifies as promoting social liberalism. Apparently, he reconciles this inconsistency by possessing immunity to the sociopolitical mind control to which the rest of us without Harvard Law degrees are susceptible.

Further, Shapiro takes the too easy path in many instances to declare programs such as All in the Family as liberal indoctrination. On this in particular, I beg to differ. The 1970s program was indeed created by liberal producer Norman Lear and featured the outspoken activist actor Rob Reiner in a featured role, but to malign the program for this and its admittedly intermittent liberal subject matter is to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Lear’s All in the Family might have accomplished more for the civil rights movement than any number of protests, documentaries, and marches simply by creating a lovable, bigoted curmudgeon whom viewers loved despite his innumerable prejudices. Shapiro writes that the program made fun of blue-collar conservatives through its depiction of a racist dockworker. If an unreformed Archie Bunker represents the type of conservatism Shapiro advocates, I’ll take a pass. The under-30 Shapiro may not recall the rampant racism of the early 1970s, but this writer certainly does.

By listening to Archie Bunker’s stridently offensive and indefensible rants, millions of 1970s television viewers – some possessing similar if not identical views – witnessed the absurdity of his intolerance, and warmed to the black Lionel Jefferson and Italian house-husband Frank Lorenzo far more quickly than did Archie. This may not adhere to Shapiro’s version of conservatism, but it certainly tracks with conservative Judeo-Christian principles of loving one’s neighbor regardless of race, creed, or color.

Additionally, viewers also witnessed the hypocrisy of Rob Reiner’s avowedly counterculture character, Michael “Meathead” Stivic, who mooches off his in-laws and behaves chauvinistically toward his wife. In at least one episode, Stivic was revealed to be as intolerant in his countercultural views as Archie was in his bigotry. I hardly perceive of this as an affront to conservative values.

It’s undeniable that television programming is antithetical to many true conservative values, as it repeatedly attacks Judeo-Christian traditions, attacks religious beliefs at seemingly every opportunity, and promotes statist policies and alternative lifestyles. But what’s called for isn’t Shapiro’s broad-brushed approach but a far more incisive analysis of the television industry’s promotion of secular liberalism.