Archived Posts June 2012 » Page 2 of 10 | Acton PowerBlog

We could learn a lot about liberty from our pioneer forebears, argues Meghan Clyne. And an exemplar of this model of freedom and self-reliance can be found on our children’s bookshelves, in the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder:

Who in America’s past, then, can show us the way to a mature, sustainable democratic life — one defined not by the rebellious seizure of liberty, but by the consistent and wise exercise of it through a dedication to self-reliance? The answer is the men and women who extended the freedoms articulated in Philadelphia and secured at Yorktown out to the Pacific Coast: the pioneers.

Their history has, sadly, been under-appreciated. This is due in part to the fact that the academy — which does most of the work of professional history — dismisses them as plunderers and marauders, despoilers of pristine environments and native civilizations. But it is also because the pioneers’ history is complicated, and does not lend itself to easy summary through the deeds of a few extraordinary figures. The history of the pioneers is, for the most part, the story of average people who pursued typical American desires: greater prosperity, breathing room, adventure, religious liberty. In fact, it is their very ordinariness that makes them such promising examples for today’s Americans seeking models of self-reliance and self-government.

Fortunately, there is one pioneer life that has been preserved in exhaustive detail — a life with which many Americans, though not enough, are already familiar. This life belongs not to someone known for authoring a governing document, achieving heroic feats on the battlefield, or amassing a staggering fortune. Rather, she is known and beloved precisely for giving Americans a sense of ordinary pioneer lives through the example of her own.

Read more . . .

Father Peter Preble, pastor of St. Michael Orthodox Church, and Stephen Kokx, adjunct professor of political science and RenewAmerica.com columnist, both recently reviewed Rev. Robert Sirico’s new book Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy.

Fr. Preble says the book changed his outlook on how to treat the poor. He refers to the third chapter and highlights the book’s emphasis on asking new questions:
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Dr. Richard Vedder, the Edwin and Ruth Kennedy Distinguished Professor of Economics at Ohio University and the director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, recently addressed the topic of federal aid and the cost of higher education, an issue that has received some attention on the PowerBlog as of late. Vedder critiques federal aid initiatives like the Pell Grant, which today helps the middle class more than the poor, but saw a twofold size increase from 2007 to 2010. Vedder’s article, titled “Federal Student Aid and the Law of Unintended Consequences,” levels a string of critiques against the current system and ultimately argues for a complete re-examination of federal student aid programs. A portion of his argument his excerpted below:

In the real world, interest rates vary with the prospects that the borrower will repay the loan. In the surreal world of student loans, the brilliant student completing an electrical engineering degree at M.I.T. pays the same interest rate as the student majoring in ethnic studies at a state university who has a GPA below 2.0. The former student will almost certainly graduate and get a job paying $50,000 a year or more, whereas the odds are high the latter student will fail to graduate and will be lucky to make $30,000 a year.

Related to this problem, colleges themselves have no “skin in the game.” They are responsible for allowing loan commitments to occur, but they face no penalties or negative consequences when defaults are extremely high, imposing costs on taxpayers.

In the conclusion of his article, published in Hillsdale College’s monthly speech digest Imprimis, Vedder notes the good intentions with which federal aid programs were established. Unfortunately, these good intentions do nothing for the effectiveness of the system, now responsible for more debt than credit cards. With the debt crisis handcuffing so many Americans, a strong sense of moral urgency–paired with sound economic thinking–is necessary in rethinking the future of student aid in America. Vedder’s article is a useful start.

I had the opportunity to speak at the Fortnight for Freedom event held by the Church of the Incarnation in Collierville, Tennessee, on June 21. The venue and the crowd were among the best I’ve ever encountered. Below, you can read my excerpted remarks:

On the Question of Religious Liberty

If I understand correctly, this is the beginning of the Fortnight for Freedom here at the Church of the Incarnation and around the nation. The need for this special fortnight arises from recent actions of the government which indicate that religious freedom may be in serious danger. Specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate requiring all employers who offer insurance to provide coverage for contraceptive and abortifacient products and services. The mandate contained no exemption for religious institutions such as universities, charities, and hospitals who might find difficulty complying for reasons of faith and conscience.
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“I was Hungry and You . . . Called your Congressman” is a good report from Kristin Rudolph over at the IRD blog. The article covers Bread for the World president David Beckmann’s comments to a group of “emergent Christians” in Washington D.C.

From the piece:

Beckmann lamented that “very little progress has been made against poverty and hunger” in the US over the past few decades. This, he explained, is because ”we haven’t had a president who’s made the effort” to address hunger since President Lyndon Johnson launched the “war on poverty” in the 1960s. Unfortunately, he said, every administration since Johnson has prioritized other issues ahead of solving poverty and hunger. Beckmann admitted: “The federal government can’t solve all the problems,” but it can “provide a framework” for others to follow. Further, he said “the states cannot do it [address poverty] without the federal government. The federal government has real power and authority and we have to use that.”

Rudolph ably addresses many of the problems in Beckmann’s argument. The religious left and its insatiable appetite for more government continues to neglect the underlying issues of poverty.

Bread for the World has been highlighted on the PowerBlog specifically by Jordan Ballor in “The Politics of Hunger.” The appetite to solve hunger will be unfulfilled for any organization where its primary mission is to look towards the federal government. Beckmann, perhaps unknowingly, has made one good point though, government is now such a bloated bureaucracy, it can no longer prioritize or achieve goals.

I saw Joe Carter’s post on Entrepreneurship and Poverty earlier today, and it got me thinking back to a subject that has been nagging at me for quite a while. It seems to me that starting a business is simply too hard these days, and for rather artificial reasons. But perhaps I’m just biased, and it’s not as hard as I thought? Seeking the truth, I did what any millennial would do and consulted google.

What I found was a fascinating article from John Stossel. In it, he details all the regulatory hoops he would have to jump through in order to engage in the most basic from of entrepreneurship in Americana: the lemonade stand. (more…)

Brian Brenberg, a teacher of business and economics at The King’s College, explains why the work of “table servers” has eternal significance:

Who is the “public” for your work—who is it for, and how does it affect the lives of those who engage with it?

In Acts 6:2, the Apostles realize they are missing opportunities to preach the Gospel because they are spending too much time serving tables. They should be focused on “full-time ministry,” as we commonly use that phrase, because that’s what Apostles are good at.

When I speak to an audience, usually students, I assume most won’t be called to “full-time ministry.” Most will be “table servers”—designers, builders, financers, and deliverers of everyday stuff. And most won’t recognize their work as a calling, because few of us behind the lectern or in the pulpit ever talk about this way. In Acts 6, verse two gets all of the attention.

I encourage my audience to read verse three. What kind of man is fit for the work of serving tables? A man who can’t hack it when it comes to “real” ministry? A man of low calling? Here’s what the Apostles say: “Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” Men like Stephen, “full of grace and power.” In fact, the rest of chapter 6 and all of chapter 7 are devoted to recounting the work of this incredible verse-three man.

Table servers advance God’s Kingdom from nine to five. If they don’t know this, they won’t be very good at it. They’re my audience, and my work is to show them that their work has eternal significance.

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In what was dubbed the “Bailout Game” of the 2012 European Championships, the German national team defeated their Greek counterparts, the 4-2 score only slightly representative of the match’s one-sidedness. The adroit, disciplined Deutscher Fuβball-Bund owned 64% of the ball, prompting at least one economic retainment joke and the asking of the question: What does this game mean for Europe?

Not much, according toIra Broudway of Bloomberg Businessweek, who last week issued a preemptive “calm down” to the throngs of journalists, broadcasters and politically-aware fans itching to work their witticisms into the soccer-as-political-grudge-match conversation. Chill out, he says; thinking soccer could have any say in the realm of global affairs is “mass lunacy.” He’s right, the German’s systematic defeat of the Greece’s beloved Blue-White’s won’t spur any continental economic legislation or seal Greek’s fiscal fate. But maybe Broudway’s treatment of the match’s relevance is a tad too dismissive.

To deny the social influence of sports, especially in soccer-crazed Europe, is to forget about a history of cultural milestones. Less than two weeks before Germany and Greece met on the pitch, international tensions between Poland and Russia, together with a poorly-scheduled game-time resulted in violent riots on the streets of Warsaw. For a brighter recollection, think only of the Miracle on Ice, the 1995 Rugby World Cup or you name that sporting-event-turned-movie. For better and for worse, athletics have an undeniable ability to inspire and incite.

But what’s behind this potential? Social scientist Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, has written and spoken widely on the topic of “earned happiness.” It’s difficult to think of a realm that encourages earned happiness more than athletics. Sports pit conflicting dreams of teams, cities, nations against each other and promise fulfillment to the winner. Done fairly, competition even maximizes potential for all involved parties.

Imagine the consequence of a Greek victory. No, a victory wouldn’t have paid back billions of euros of debt, but it might have reaffirmed the possibility of achievement for a people decimated by a burdensome fiscal situation. It may have at least modeled the idea of earned happiness for a society that today knows more about learned dependency.

Who knows, maybe that dream still exists for one of Europe’s debt-ridden nations. Germany’s next opponent? Italy. Squaring off on the other side of the bracket? Portugal and Spain. Soccer fans and the globally-concerned can at least speculate about the cultural implications of the coming week of soccer, and what it has to say to Europe’s present economic context. Vamos!

Joe Gorra of the Evangelical Philosophical Society concludes his excellent series of interviews with Acton University speakers by discussing entrepreneurship, poverty, and Abraham Kuyper with Peter Heslam:

Gorra: The role of faith in building social capital is fascinating.
Social scientists increasingly agree that social capital is fundamental to business success, economic development and wellbeing and that Christianity is one of its key contributors.

Heslam: Through innovative research and instruction we aim to channel the rising concern about global poverty in fresh directions that will deliver tangible improvement and genuine opportunities for people in poverty, based on biblical, holistic approach to what it means to be human.

We use robust, creative and multidisciplinary thinking, along with practical models and case studies, to discover and disseminate the most effective means by which Christians integrate faith with enterprise to provide sustainable routes out of poverty.

All of the Gorra’s interviews in the series can be found here. Both of Heslam’s lectures are available in the digital download store – Common Grace in Business and Abraham Kuyper, Entrepreneurship and Poverty.

Need a logical defense of religious freedom? Look no further than First Things‘ “On the Square” web exclusive, where future University of St. Thomas assistant philosophy professor Tomas Bogardus tackles a proposed restriction of an idea long taken for granted in free countries. Peter Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, recently published an article, “The Use and Abuse of Religious Freedom,” which proposes to limit “the legitimate defense of religious freedom to rejecting proposals that stop people from practicing their religion.”

Singer’s article addresses some global examples. Recently, the Dutch parliament began reviewing legislation that would mandate the stunning of livestock before slaughter. This of course violates the customs of Judaism and Islam, both of which require practitioners to eat meat only from animals that were conscious when killed. To dissenting Jews and Muslims, Singer’s solution is simple:  Don’t eat meat. He says, “When people are prohibited from practicing their religion—for example, by laws that bar worshiping in certain ways—there can be no doubt that their freedom of religion has been violated. But prohibiting the ritual slaughter of animals does not stop Jews or Muslims from practicing their religion.” Singer then transposes this approach to the HHS mandate: Because no Catholic teaching requires Catholics to establish and run hospitals, the state can order Catholics to provide employees with health care packages that cover birth control medications. If Catholics don’t like that, they can close the doors to their hospitals without damage to their doctrinal standards.

Bogardus’ response is well-reasoned and relevant:

One catches a glimpse of Singer’s utopia, full of vegetarian Muslims and Jews and Christians who employ no one. And all under compulsion of the state. His argument for this utopia has three steps. One: if a policy does not compel religionists to violate a teaching of their religion, then the policy is not an improper infringement on the practice of their religion. Two: if a policy does not unduly infringe upon the practice of a religion, it is not a violation of religious freedom. Three: since e.g. the Obama Administration’s mandate does not require Catholics to violate any Catholic dogma, Singer concludes that the mandate doesn’t violate Catholics’ religious freedom. Q.E.D., as philosophers are said to say.

So much for the argument. What shall we say in response? At least this: Singer’s argument succeeds only if every step is true. Yet the first two steps of Singer’s argument cannot both be true, since together they lead to absurd conclusions. Isn’t it possible, after all, for a policy to violate someone’s religious freedom even without compelling her to transgress any teaching of her religion?

He goes on to address both hypothetical and actual situations that, under the lens of Singer’s microscope, prove problematic. The full column is relevant, insightful and absolutely worth a read as issues of religious freedom become more pressing in our present context.