Archived Posts June 2012 » Page 8 of 10 | Acton PowerBlog

Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg reviews America’s Spiritual Capital by Nicholas Capaldi and T. R. Malloch (St Augustine’s Press, 2012) for The University Bookman.

… Capaldi and Malloch are—refreshingly—unabashed American exceptionalists. One of this book’s strengths is the way that it brings to light a critical element of that exceptionalism through the medium of spiritual capital. Part of the American experiment is its commitment to modernity—but a modernity several times removed from that pioneered by the likes of the French revolutionaries, Karl Marx, and modern social democratic movements in Europe. Capaldi and Malloch underscore how America’s spiritual inheritance permeated the political and economic habits and institutions associated with the emergence of its democratic and capitalist order, and in ways that avoided the challenges of theocracy as well as moral relativism. (more…)

Wis. Gov. Scott Walker

On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg demolishes the left’s knee-jerk explanation for labor union decline, which blames “the machinations of conservative intellectuals, free-market-inclined governments, and businesses who, over time, have successfully worked to diminish organized labor, thereby crushing the proverbial ‘little guy.’”

Gregg writes:

“The truth, however, is rather more complex. One factor at work is economic globalization. Businesses fed up with unions who think that their industry should be immune from competition are now in a position to move their operations elsewhere — ranging from the southern states of America, to China, India, and other developing countries — where people and governments enthusiastically welcome the influx of knowledge, capital, and jobs. In this regard, it’s always struck me as ironic that unions in developed countries regularly act in ways that essentially hamper economic and employment growth in developing nations. So much for the “international solidarity of workers.” Comradeship apparently stops at the Rio Grande. (more…)

Donald Trump's tagline: "You're fired."

Last week I raised the question of whether being a Christian businessperson means you do some things differently, and particularly whether some of these things that are done differently have to do with terminating an employee.

Here’s a snip of what Kenman Wong and Scott Rae say in their recent book, Business for the Common Good:

Although periodically companies may take on certain employees as an act of benevolence, it is not the norm. Employees are bound by mutual obligations to the company, and when they do not live up to them, leaders are not being unjust or unfair in holding them accountable and firing them if necessary. Of course, servant leaders will work with employees at risk and attempt to redeem the relationship. But if the employee must be let go, the leader will give a truthful reason for termination, provide input to the employee so that a pattern does not repeat itself with the next employer, and treat the person with dignity and respect throughout the entire process.

You may not be doing someone a favor by keeping them on in a position that is not a good fit, or which does not challenge them appropriately or help them to develop themselves and maximize their own potentialities. As Wong and Rae continue, “Remember, people need to accomplish something significant and in a way that fits their gifts. Serving them best may involve letting them go so they can find a more suitable place to develop and contribute.”

As for the propriety of prayer in these contexts, it seems obvious to me that the employer should be praying for the well-being of his employees, and vice versa, throughout this entire process and beyond. It would take the application of insight into a particular situation to determine whether a prayer with the employee at the time of termination would be appropriate or not, however, and the content of the prayer would need to reflect the dynamics of power that are apparent in the context of the termination of employment.

A recent editorial in the New York Times claims that during the 1980s leveraged buyouts “contributed significantly to the growth of the income gap, moving wealth from the middle class to the top end.” First Things editor R.R. Reno explains why the real story is more complicated, more interesting, and explains much more than income inequality:

The upper middle class world responded to the leveraged buyout revolution by upping their commitments to education and economically oriented self-discipline. The old white-collar social contract subsidized three martini lunches and all they represented. Junk bonds put an end to that culture. And the white-collar parents who suffered from that sudden and severe change in corporate culture told their kids that it’s a very tough, competitive world out there, one with no guarantees.

I’ve seen the difference this makes. As college students in the late seventies and early eighties, members of my cohort still presumed the old social contract, which unbeknownst to us was already being broken. We didn’t worry very much about majoring in something practical or lucrative. We coasted along in the decadent final years of post-sixties heedless hedonism, enjoying the youth-culture equivalents of three martini lunches.

Read more . . .

John Luther is pierced for Jenny's transgressions.

An essay of mine on the wonderful and difficult BBC series “Luther” is up over at the Comment magazine website, “Get Your Hands Dirty: The Vocational Theology of Luther.”

In this piece I reflect on DCI John Luther’s “overriding need to protect other people from injustice and harm, and even sometimes the consequences of their own sin and guilt,” and how that fits in with the Christian (and particularly Lutheran) doctrine of vocation.

Indeed, the character’s name itself is instructive in this regard. DCI John Luther (played by Idris Elba) is a kind of present-day embodiment of the ideas present in the popular book On Secular Authority, which contains works by the reformers John Calvin and Martin Luther on the restraining power of the civil magistrate.

As I write,

John Luther is a deeply troubled man. We get no real insight into his spiritual life, and he begins the second series of episodes on the verge of suicide. There is likewise little overt religiosity in Luther. But in the vicarious representative action of the natural lawman DCI John Luther on behalf of others, we see a broken and fragmentary expression of common grace, God’s preserving work in the world.

In this way, as a force for civil justice and the restraint of evil, DCI John Luther might just be on God’s side without knowing it.

Writing on The American Spectator website, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at the strange notion of European fiscal “austerity” even as more old continent economies veer toward the abyss. Is America far behind?

Needless to say, Greece is Europe’s poster child for reform-failure. Throughout 2011, the Greek parliament passed reforms that diminished regulations that applied to many professions in the economy’s service sector. But as two Wall Street Journal journalists demonstrated one year later, “despite the change in the law, the change never became reality. Many professions remain under the control of professional guilds that uphold old turf rules, fix prices and restrict opportunities for newcomers.” In the words of one frustrated advisor to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, “Even when the Greek Parliament passes laws, nothing changes.”

Politics helps explain many governments’ aversion to reform. Proposals for substantial deregulation generates opposition from groups ranging from businesses who benefit from an absence of competition, union officials who fear losing their middle-man role, to bureaucrats whose jobs would be rendered irrelevant by liberalization. The rather meek measures that Europeans call austerity have already provoked voter backlashes against most of its implementers. Not surprisingly, many governments calculate that pursuing serious economic reform will result in ever-greater electoral punishment.

In any event, America presently has little to boast about in this area. States such as Wisconsin have successfully implemented change and are starting to see the benefits. But there’s also fiscal basket-cases such as (surprise, surprise) California and Illinois that continue burying themselves under a mountain of debt and regulations.

Read “Why Austerity Isn’t Enough” by Samuel Gregg on The American Spectator.

Immediately after watching For Greater Glory, I found myself struggling to appreciate the myriad good intentions, talents and the $40 million that went into making it. Unlike the Cristeros who fought against the Mexican government, however, my efforts ultimately were unsuccessful.

The film opened on a relatively limited 757 screens this past weekend, grossing $1.8 million and earning the No. 10 position of all films currently in theatrical release. Additionally, the film reportedly has been doing boffo at the Mexican box office. Clearly, word of mouth and the temperament of the times are driving folks to see a movie wherein good overcomes evil, and, more specifically, militarily enforced secularism is defeated by religiously faithful armed-to-the-teeth underdogs.

It’s not that the subject matter of For Greater Glory isn’t historically accurate and compelling.  Nearly 10 years after the Mexican Revolution, President Plutarco Calles decides to enforce the anti-clerical laws written into the 1917 Mexican Constitution.  Calles (portrayed blandly if not refreshingly free of Snidely Whiplash mustache-twirling by the otherwise fine actor and recording artist Ruben Blades) forced not only the closure of Catholic schools, but also the expulsion of foreign clergy. His oppression hat-trick was completed by the government confiscation of Church property. When the archbishop of Mexico City expressed his concerns, Calles had his agents bomb the archbishop’s home and the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (more…)

The Washington Post’s editorial page reminds us that today is the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s address at Westminster Hall, London. The speech, famous for its “ash heap of history line,” was Reagan’s challenge to the Soviet Union’s very legitimacy and pointed to its hollow core. Reagan’s great strength was not just America’s military posture against the Soviets, but that he truly made the Cold War a battle of moral ideas. It was a decisive pivot away from America’s policy of containment.

We probably forget now that 195 of the 225 Labour MP’s boycotted his address, which simply put, was a scathing indictment of Soviet communism. Margaret Thatcher toasted the president that evening at 10 Downing thanking him “for putting freedom on the offensive where it belongs.”

PowerLine has an excellent ten minute clip which I have posted below:

In the context of commentary on protests like those in Quebec and the Occupy movement more broadly, it’s worth reflecting on the dangers of democratic tyranny.

The “people” can be tyrannical just as an individual sovereign or an oligarchy might. That’s why Aristotle considered democracy a defective form of government, because it too easily enshrines the will of the majority into an insuperable law. As Lord Acton put it, “It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority.” For this same reason Tocqueville worried about the tyrannical power of the will of the majority, once settled:

So, what is a majority taken as a collective whole, if not an individual with opinions and quite often interests, in opposition to another individual whom we call a minority? Now, if you admit that and all-powerful man can abuse his power against his opponents, why not admit the same thing for a majority? Have men, united together, changed their character? Have they become more patient of obstacles by becoming stronger?

Of course not. As Tocqueville goes on to observe, the self-righteous assurance of the majority makes their impatience even more striking. They will brook no dissent because of the assurance that they are correct and that the majority rules, as it ought to.

When the majority (99%) can simply decide to take what they decide they “deserve” from the minority (1%), you have the recipe then for deep injustice. What I don’t see, however, is any unified majority (yet). The student protesters in Quebec might have some sympathy, but whatever the political fallout will be, it is unlikely that the younger generation is going to be politically successful in their bid to protect their economic interests against the entrenched interests of the boomer generations. In part this is because as much as they might protest, or complain, or start Internet petitions, young people don’t vote and they don’t have powerful lobbying groups.

The dynamic is likely to be the same here in the US. As the share of federal spending is increasingly dominated by entitlements like Medicare and Social Security, you’ll end up having recipients of various entitlements fighting it out. And no matter how upset college students and recent graduates are, I don’t see their political interests holding more sway than say, the retired. The AARP will beat the student union six days a week and twice on Sunday.

We can see this dynamic playing out all over the world. As Bill Frezza writes (HT: The Transom) in the context of Greece and the EU crisis, “Democracy becomes a cancer if its powers are not limited. That is because a sustainable democracy requires not just votes, but also governing institutions that protect the rights of minorities against predatory majorities. The disease of voters voting themselves benefits at someone else’s expense has infected much of the world.”

He concludes, “Greece provides a stark example of what happens when a government runs out of other people’s money. If the rest of us don’t take heed while there is still time, we will all end up like you.” And if the Greek leftists have their way, it may not matter what the rest of the world does: “…if you want to send us to the bottom, we will take you to the bottom too.”

Suzy Khimm points out an interesting study from the UK’s Spatial Economics Research Centre:

Our fixed-effects estimates show that purchasing a house reduces the likelihood of starting a business by 20-25%. … This result is driven by homeowners with mortgages and persists for several years after entering homeownership. … We argue that this finding can be rationalized by the fact that homeowners typically have to overinvest in housing (Brueckner, 1997; Flavin and Yamashita, 2002) and therefore cannot adequately diversify their portfolio. As a consequence, individuals choose not to start-up their own business venture at the same time as becoming homeowners since this would imply taking on significant additional risk. Stated differently; investments in homeownership crowd out entrepreneurial engagement.

The findings aren’t all that surprising, of course. Many major life events—getting married, having a baby, etc.—are likely to lead a person to become more risk averse and thus less entrepreneurial (at least in the short term). But it’s a reminder that the inordinate emphasis Americans place on home ownership can have broad-ranging (and potentially negative) effects on the economy.