Archived Posts September 2011 » Page 4 of 5 | Acton PowerBlog

Director of Research Samuel Gregg has written a special report for the American Spectator about Benedict XVI’s upcoming trip to Germany. The recent World Youth Day in Spain may have looked like a bigger challenge for Benedict, but Gregg says that Germany, while its economy looks good, is facing rough seas ahead.

Germany finds itself propping up a political experiment (otherwise known as the euro) that’s tottering under the weight of its internal contradictions. As the German tabloid Bild put it: “Will we finally have to pay for all of Europe?”

Looking beyond the present, however, grave challenges lie ahead for Germany—not all of which are economic.

Germanyhas, for instance, one of Western Europe’s worst birthrates. That spells trouble for Germany’s future productivity and its welfare state. A second issue is Germany’s struggle with the questions of immigration and non-assimilated Muslim minorities and the subsequently-inevitable always-awkward debates about what it means to be German in modern Europe.

And the institution whose clarity of thought and moral influence should be guiding the country as it faces those issues—the German Church—is weakened.

On the surface, the German Church’s problems are manifested in the large numbers of German Catholics who say they’ve left the church in recent years (the very liberal Protestant German churches are shedding members even faster). Then there are the sex abuse scandals which emerged when ugly stories began circulating about what had really gone on in a now not-so-prestigious Berlin-based Jesuit school in the 1970s and ’80s.

There is, however, another dimension to German Catholicism’s present problems: a story of the follies of accommodation to whatever counts as “modern” or “contemporary” at any given moment.

The German Church has become heavily bureaucratized (and staffed by many unbelievers), and its response to Vatican II has been less to engage with modernity and more to accommodate it. The Church has lowered its focus, Gregg says, to two worldly concerns:

The first is power within the structures of German Catholicism because (sotto voce) “we all know” life is really about acquiring power rather than knowing truth. The second is upon changing Catholicism to make the Church look much more like “the world” because (sotto voce) “we all know” the fullness of divine truth is “out there” rather than in the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

Gregg does not despair, however, for

Younger bishops, priests and laity are far less worried about upsetting those tenured theologians who aren’t sure if Christ is God but who are absolutely convinced no sin could possibly be mortal. The epicenter of German Catholic life is shifting away from what Benedict once called “the spent and tired” bureaucracy and is increasingly with what he describes as initiatives that “come from within, from the joy of young people.”

And that, perhaps, is what Benedict will bring to the German Church: a sense of the joy of living a full Christian life, a message that contrasts sharply with the Götterdämmerung of a fading generation of Catholics in perpetual rebellion against anything which suggests modernity doesn’t have all the answers. And in the contest of hope versus despair, we all know who ultimately wins.

Five years ago today, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a talk titled “Faith, Reason and the University” at the University of Regensburg in Germany. The lecture set off a firestorm of controversy concerning Christian-Muslim relations. On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg reflects, noting that calling it “one of this century’s pivotal speeches is probably an understatement.”

Gregg says that the reaction to the pope’s speech “underscored most Western intellectuals’ sheer ineptness when writing about religion.” More seriously:

… Regensburg shattered the inconsequential niceties that had hitherto typified most Catholic-Muslim discussions. Instead of producing more happy-talk, Benedict indicated that such conversations could no longer avoid more substantial, more difficult questions: most notably, how Christianity and Islam understand God’s nature. Regensburg reminded us that it matters whether God is essentially Logos (Divine Reason) or Voluntas (Pure Will). The first understanding facilitates civilizational development, true freedom, and a complete understanding of reason. The second sows the seeds of decline, oppression, and unreason.

But perhaps above all, Regensburg asked the West to look itself in the mirror and consider whether some of its inner demons reflected the fact that it, like the Islamic world, was undergoing an inner crisis: one which was reducing Christian faith to subjective opinion, natural reason to the merely measurable, and love to sentimental humanitarianism. The West, Benedict suggested, was in the process of a closing of its own mind.

Read “Benedict at Regensburg: Why It Still Matters” on NRO.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, September 12, 2011

The folks over at Think Christian asked me to write up a response to President Obama’s jobs speech from last Thursday. That response is now up over at the TC site, “The misplaced faith of Obama’s job speech.”

I took special note of President Obama’s invocation of a couple lines from JFK: “Our problems are man-made – therefore they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants.” I found this quote, used in this context, to be particularly illuminating. It illustrates perfectly, I think, an idolatrous view of human ability, particularly of human politics.

So when you add the formula, “Man can be as big as he wants,” to the president’s derision of “some rigid idea about what government could or could not do,” and you’ve got an equation that results in government as big as we want.

In some ways then the question really does come down to this: How big of a government do we really want? We’ve been electing politicians for decades that have been promising us things that could only be accomplished by massive expansions in government. If we want truth-tellers in politics, as Thomas Friedman rightly urges, then citizens have to demand them, and hold ourselves to the maxim, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Rev. Robert A. Sirico has lent his voice to Dave Ramsey’s new project The Great Recovery. The sound finance guru is leading a grassroots movement based on the principle that economic recovery cannot be a top-down, Washington-directed endeavor. Rather, our economy “will be restored one family at a time, as each of us takes a stand to return to God and grandma’s way of handling money.”

Rev. Sirico has recorded a video for the “Top Leaders” section of the website and he calls for Americans to return to the idea of vocation—to treat their work as an offering to God.

It’s discouraging to see so often how believers will separate their worship of God on Sunday from what they do from Monday to the following Saturday. It’s almost as though in the minds of some believers, there is no connection between our faith and our work.

Here’s the video in its entirety:

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Friday, September 9, 2011

Justin Constantine has written an excellent piece on the high cost of war in the Atlantic titled “Wounded in Iraq: A Marine’s Story.”

Constantine, who was shot in the head in Iraq, notes in his essay,

Blood and treasure are the costs of war. However, many news articles today only address the treasure — the ballooning defense budget and high-priced weapons systems. The blood is simply an afterthought. Forgotten is the price paid by our wounded warriors. Forgotten are the families torn apart by lengthy and multiple deployments. Forgotten are the relatives of those who make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. As we look back on 9/11, we should also remember all those who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Fewer than 1 percent of Americans have fought in these wars, and it is important for the public to understand their effects on our fighters and those close to them.

Constantine also touches on his own frustration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in the piece. I wrote a commentary in 2009 on the need for the federal government to fulfill its obligations to our veterans before expanding its scope and reach on health care. The fact that Congress rushed through a comprehensive health care law in 2010 without major reform of care for veterans speaks to the failure of the political leadership in this nation.

We should remember the high cost of war this weekend and every day. Constantine evokes the 44,000 wounded warriors from Afghanistan and Iraq and the more than 6,000 families who have had to bury a loved one. Last Memorial Day, I wrote a post on a few of the men whose names adorn the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. One of the names is Roy Mitchell Wheat, a Medal of Honor recepient from Moselle, Miss. Trying to hold back tears, his brother recently offered these haunting but wise words about the cost of war,

When you see a man there that’s 19 years old, and you can look in the casket and his shoes are at the end of it. And his pants legs is neatly rolled up. It’s, that’s when you realize what war is.

Over at National Review Online, a panel of experts reacts to last night’s jobs speech by President Obama. Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg, was not encouraged by what he heard: a jumble of disproven Keynesian theories and strong-man rhetoric. Gregg’s commentary in full:

Tonight’s speech was more of the same. President Obama’s hectoring lecture reflected the usual fare of Keynesianism mixed with mild nods to the private sector that we’re come to expect. It also embodied an abiding faith in government that would be touching if it weren’t so detached from economic reality. Granted, Paul Krugman will surely bewail that the president didn’t go far enough with this third stimulus plan. But that’s what it is.

There was much talk about fixing infrastructure. Public works is something even Adam Smith thought the state should do. But haven’t we been here before? Didn’t we hear something about “shovel-ready” jobs a while ago? Why should this time be different?

Likewise, on the president’s reference to mortgage relief: When will he understand that policies that slow down the market-clearing process merely prolong the pain?

Naturally, there was the now-monotonous call to increase taxes on those who, well, already pay most of the taxes. These are the same individuals and businesses whose capital fuels the creation of jobs—not the personifications ofAmerica’s economic problems who were sitting with the first lady: GE’s Jeff Immelt, the face of American corporate welfare, and the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka, the symbol of union obstructionism.

Over and over again, the president insisted: “You should pass this jobs plan—right away.” I thought the legislature’s job was to carefully assess legislation, not just roll over because the boss wants something. Such rhetoric—and the speech’s substance—suggests the president has never really left the mental horizons of Chicago politics. America is the poorer for it.

The Price of Everything: A Parable of Possibility and Prosperity
Russell Roberts
Princeton University Press (2008); 224 pages; $9.69

Reviewed by Stephen Schmalhofer

I hated freshman economics at Yale. It was the only C I ever received. Taught in a massive lecture hall, the professor posted endless equations and formulas. I found it sterile and artificial. My father was the CEO of a poultry company in rural Pennsylvania. I wandered the production facility as a child and saw chickens hatched in Pennsylvania out of eggs from Ohio, fed soybeans from Brazil in German-designed storage tanks, transported by trucks assembled in Detroit and Kentucky, processed by special machinery built in the Netherlands and operated by workers from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and finally shipped around the world. They even sold the feet to China!

This is economics and it is anything but boring! It is gorgeous, like the spontaneously coordinating steps of a couple on the dance floor, a flock of birds or a school of fish. It is the delightfully humanizing marketplace, that virtual site of exchange where a man from Chile trades with a woman from France as though they are neighbors.

I have often annoyed friends by repeating my view that “Prices are beautiful.” We have a tendency to view prices as deception, a trick played on consumers to defraud us into paying more than we prefer. Prices are information. Like ants tracing pheromones, prices provide signals for the billions of buyers and sellers that we call “the market.” These prices guide our savings, our production and our consumption. Isn’t it marvelous how we can use a price to evaluate all three of those functions? Prices are like a universal language. (But far superior to Esperanto.)

Russell Roberts opens The Price of Everything: A Parable of Possibility and Prosperity in the aftermath of a California earthquake. A collegiate tennis hero rallies a spontaneous protest against the large retailer accused of price gouging. As radical activists exploit his celebrity, the young star seeks advice from the university president. He has only a few months left on campus but she helps him see to a new path to peace and prosperity.

Our preferences conflict, as multiple people want the same item. How do we reach a resolution? You could take it by force, smashing and grabbing what you want. You could plead your case before a judge. You could lobby a Senator for a favor. You could stand in line and submit a request to a bureaucrat. You could capture and enslave someone. Or you could express your desire for the good or service directly to the person selling that which you desire. The seller can then compare the intensity of your desire to that of other interested buyers. We express the intensity of our desires (and our willingness to sell) with little tags of information called prices.

The reader never quite forgets that The Price of Everything is a pedagogical novel, but Roberts possesses a light and fluid writing style known to readers of his blog, Café Hayek, co-authored with colleague Don Boudreaux. A classroom scene discussing “I, Pencil” is a predictable but welcome introduction to Leonard E. Read’s classic essay for younger generations. Roberts leaves marginal costs and demand curves behind in the final chapter, pouring out the silent hope of teachers everywhere who are destined to have their labors bear unseen fruit.

Stephen Schmalhofer (Yale University, 2008) is Assistant Vice President at Swiss Re Capital Markets. He resides in New York City.

Blog author: kspence
posted by on Thursday, September 8, 2011

Union leaders have been jockeying for position ahead of President Obama’s “jobs speech,” since the proposals he makes will be big opportunities for organized labor. AFL-CIO head Dick Trumka has asked the president to spend with abandon, and has reminded him rather ominously, “This is going to be a moment in history when our members are going to judge him.” Teamsters boss James Hoffa has called for the President to force companies with cash in the bank to spend that money on new hires.

It’s a good time to ask what exactly is the purpose of a labor union (or what is it supposed to be), and whether Trumka and Hoffa haven’t ventured beyond a union’s proper domain. Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum is most often invoked by defenders of big labor, because it provided an early explication the relationship between “labor” and “management,” and an endorsement of the right of the working class to form labor unions.

The encyclical gives as the aim of a labor union, “helping each individual member to better his condition to the utmost in body, soul, and property.” (¶57) Before that definition, which comes at the end of the encyclical, there is the explanation of what brings a men to join such associations—“because the hours of labor are too long, or the work too hard, or because they consider their wages insufficient.” (¶39) That is to say, men join labor unions because their employers have got the better of them individually, and they hope by common action to tilt the scales of power.

While that is still a main concern of unions—witness the Verizon strike last month—their leaders are more often found hammering politicians than upper management. Big Labor’s forceful methods were more palatable to Americans when workers were fighting forceful opposition from their employers. What the public found so distasteful about Hoffa’s pep talk earlier this week was that he brought that same swaggering Teamsters demeanor to politics, which despite the colloquial, has generally been a cleaner business.

What Hoffa and Trumka want, and what union-backed politicians are willing to give them, is a State that creates jobs for them, by taxing companies and the rich and redistributing money to companies that will hire union workers. The feasibility of such a scheme notwithstanding, lobbying for it does not fall within the purview of a “Catholic” labor union.

“Quintessential labor priests” may have existed in the 1920s and ’30s, but even Msgr. John A. Ryan, known as “The Right Reverend New Dealer,” noted that “no increase in beneficial legislation can adequately supply for the lack of organization among the workers themselves.” Arguments that today’s unions are somehow divinely favored—like this recent nonsense from Sojourners—are at best anachronistic.

Thanks to The Pulpit for the link!

Awhile back someone questioned the scholarly credibility of the Acton Institute on the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN) Facebook page in connection with one of our student award programs, specifically contending the institute is “not scholarly.” To be sure, not everything the institute does is academic or scholarly.

The Blauwpoort in Leiden in the winter.But we do some scholarship, which as an academic and a scholar I like to think is worthwhile. In fact, our commitment to quality research is one of the things that is most remarkable about the institute.

So as an evangelical scholar at the Acton Institute, I was excited to have a chance to discuss the work we do, particularly with respect to the academic research the institute supports and publishes, with the Emerging Scholars Network, an outreach of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship “called to identify, encourage, and equip the next generation of Christian scholars who seek to be a redeeming influence within higher education.”

Given the ESN’s significant task, I was also glad to be able to extend an offer to the ESN community to become more familiar with the scholarly work of the institute by offering a complimentary two-year digital subscription to the Journal of Markets & Morality, our peer-reviewed publication indexed by the leading databases of both religion and economics. The latest issue includes our first installment of papers presented in connection with the Theology of Work Consultation of the Evangelical Theological Society.

For the whole interview with ESN’s Micheal Hickerson and details about the offer, visit the ESN blog.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 7, 2011

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Work and Prayer: Of Coins, Sheep, and Men,” I explore what the parable of the Prodigal Son (when read in conjunction with the parables of the Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep) has to teach us about stewardship:

Reading these three stories together teaches us many things about the nature of God’s love for us, such that when we were lost, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV). But the stories also provide models for how we should relate to the different aspects of God’s created order, from the material, to the animal, to the human. In each kind of relationship, humans have a definite role to play. In some cases we are called to work actively to achieve God’s purposes in the world. In other cases, out of respect for human freedom and individual sovereignty, we have to engage in active searching for the lost things of this world by less direct means.

Jan van Hemessen - The Prodigal Son - WGA11358

Does this guy have anything to teach us about stewardship?


The Parable of the Lost Son has been the subject of popularization and cultural expression throughout the centuries (see, for instance, Tissot’s set of paintings on “The Prodigal Son in Modern Life”). In recent decades, films like Legends of the Fall (1994) have drawn at least partial inspiration from the story. In this week’s commentary, I don’t have space to treat the case of the elder brother adequately, but Andrée Seu draws parallels between the elder brother in the 1994 film and the tale of the Prodigal Son.

I also draw on C. S. Lewis’ essay, “Work and Prayer,” which appears in the collection of essays, God in the Dock.