Archived Posts July 2012 | Acton PowerBlog

In addition to my post yesterday and other education related posts on the Powerblog (here, here, here, here, and here), I highly recommend this analysis of the higher ed bubble from educationviews.org if anyone is interested in learning more.

I would emphasize that this is not simply an economic problem but a moral one. We cannot in good conscience continue to promote higher education to our youth while its quality continues to diminish and its price continues to rise. To do so is to fail to fulfill our moral duty to leave an inheritance to the next generation from the good that previous generations have passed on to us. The bar needs to be raised as a matter of human dignity. On the whole, people will rise (or fall) to the level of the expectations that we have for them. The level of expectations placed upon a person sends a message about their perceived ability and value. In addition, needless spending needs to be cut, and our government and banks need to stop handing out loans like candy to pursue degrees that will not realistically secure the income needed to pay them back. This is a present moral failing that is leading us to a future economic collapse.

From the article:

As George Will describes it, the bubble is what happens “when parents and the children they send to college are paying rapidly rising prices for something of declining quality.” The point at which parents cease to be willing to pay those rising prices is when the bubble bursts. When that happens, the financial assumptions on which American higher education has been based for many decades will come crashing down.

There are, however, two highly unpredictable elements in the current situation. One is the willingness of the Obama administration to sustain the bubble by encouraging more and more students to attend college and by using student loans to support this expansion. The other is the bubble-deflating power of online education.

Read more . . .

Mayor Mike Bloomberg is beginning to take his self-appointed role as Nanny-in-Chief of New York a bit too literally:

Mayor Bloomberg is pushing hospitals to hide their baby formula behind locked doors so more new mothers will breast-feed.

Starting Sept. 3, the city will keep tabs on the number of bottles that participating hospitals stock and use — the most restrictive pro-breast-milk program in the nation.

Under the city Health Department’s voluntary Latch On NYC initiative, 27 of the city’s 40 hospitals have also agreed to give up swag bags sporting formula-company logos, toss out formula-branded tchotchkes like lanyards and mugs, and document a medical reason for every bottle that a newborn receives.

[...]

Under Latch On NYC, new mothers who want formula won’t be denied it, but hospitals will keep infant formula in out-of-the-way secure storerooms or in locked boxes like those used to dispense and track medications. With each bottle a mother requests and receives, she’ll also get a talking-to. Staffers will explain why she should offer the breast instead.

How many mothers decide to breastfeed their children because someone hid the baby formula? I suspect it’s around the same number as husbands who stop eating sweets because their wife hides the Oreos. Someone should tell Mayor Bloomberg (and my wife) that those sorts of change-the-behavior tactics aren’t all that effective.

Blog author: Mindy Hirst
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
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“The darkening of sin obstructs the acquisition not of the knowledge of the details but knowledge in its more exalted and nobler sense.” (Abraham Kuyper, Wisdom & Wonder Pg. 56)

Each of us is detail-oriented in our own way. Some remember dates and numbers with amazing accuracy. Others remember relational information from conversations they had two weeks ago. Still others have a knack for remembering trivia of all sorts.

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The folks over at the Comment magazine site have generously run an essay by me, “Business and the Development of Christian Social Thought.” This piece is a web-friendly version of my editorial from the current issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, which highlights the call for papers for next spring’s issue on the theme “Integral Human Development.” If you have an interest in this theme as it appears particularly in the Roman Catholic social encyclical tradition, or analogous ideas from other religious traditions, including notably the idea of “integral mission” as appears in the evangelical ecumenical movement, be sure to check out and share the CFP.

One of the points I highlight in this essay is what biblical scholar Craig Blomberg, in his paper in the issue’s “Theology of Work and Economics” Symposium, identifies as the “theory of limited good.” He describes this perspective as that of the biblical world, when

most people were convinced that there was a finite and fairly fixed amount of wealth in the world, and a comparatively small amount of that to which they would ever have access in their part of the world so that if a member of their society became noticeably richer, they would naturally assume that it was at someone else’s expense.

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The lowering of education quality has been noted in the recent past on the PowerBlog (here and here). Last Saturday, Casey Harper noted at educationviews.org that even students are complaining about the declining rigor of American education.

Harper notes that, according to a recent survey,

More than half of eighth-grade history and civics students say their work is “often or always too easy,” according to the report. Twelfth-grade students sang the same tune, with 56 and 55 percent, respectively, saying their civics and history work is “often” or “always” too easy. (more…)

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat tackles the topic of religious liberty with his most recent column, “Defining Religious Liberty Down.” In it, Douthat highlights the public nature of the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of the “free exercise of religion”:

It’s a significant choice of words, because it suggests a recognition that religious faith cannot be reduced to a purely private or individual affair. Most religious communities conceive of themselves as peoples or families, and the requirements of most faiths extend well beyond attendance at a sabbath service — encompassing charity and activism, education and missionary efforts, and other “exercises” that any guarantee of religious freedom must protect.

Many would say that the religious liberty squabbles of today–the HHS mandate debate and last week’s Chick-fil-A fracas, for example–reflect a contemporary confusion about what is actually protected by the Bill of Rights’ “free exercise of religion.” Instead, Douthat posits that the conflict is a result of a present tension between religious values and the modern idea of freedom. This, Douthat argues, is really at the heart of the religious liberty debate.

The question is not whether “the free exercise of religion” allows the government to mandate contraception purchase or regulate businesses according to their values. The question is whether certain religious beliefs of today run so contradictory to the public zeitgeist that, like 15th century Aztec sacrifice rituals, they violate the common good and cannot merit public protection. Those who answer the latter question with a “yes” should quit the emaciated definitions of religious liberty and move on with the debate:

It may seem strange that anyone could look around the pornography-saturated, fertility-challenged, family-breakdown-plagued West and see a society menaced by a repressive puritanism. But it’s clear that this perspective is widely and sincerely held.

It would be refreshing, though, if it were expressed honestly, without the “of course we respect religious freedom” facade.

If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms. Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.

There, didn’t that feel better? Now we can get on with the fight.

In his new book, Defending the Free Market: the Moral Case for a Free Economy, the Rev. Robert Sirico points out that capitalism has been given a bad name that it truly doesn’t deserve:

Rightly understood, capitalism is the economic component of the natural order of liberty. Capitalism offers wide ownership of property, fair and equal rules for all, strict adherence to the rules of ownership, opportunities for charity, and the wise use of resources. Everywhere it has really been tried, it has meant creativity, growth, abundance and, most of all, the economic application of the principle that every human being has dignity and should have that dignity respected.

So why all the distrust, distaste and dislike for capitalism? Charles Murray at The Wall Street Journal suggests that capitalism has been segregated from that which conforms us to the good: virtue.

Historically, the merits of free enterprise and the obligations of success were intertwined in the national catechism. McGuffey’s Readers, the books on which generations of American children were raised, have plenty of stories treating initiative, hard work and entrepreneurialism as virtues, but just as many stories praising the virtues of self-restraint, personal integrity and concern for those who depend on you. The freedom to act and a stern moral obligation to act in certain ways were seen as two sides of the same American coin. Little of that has survived. To accept the concept of virtue requires that you believe some ways of behaving are right and others are wrong always and everywhere. That openly judgmental stand is no longer acceptable in America’s schools nor in many American homes.

Murray goes on to say that the principled stewardship that has been a hallmark of middle class America needs to be restored in order for capitalism to once again be seen as not only good, but great.

Read the entire article here.

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, July 30, 2012
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Building a Culture of Religious Freedom
Charles J. Chaput, Public Discourse

If we want a culture of religious freedom, we need to begin it here, today, now. We live it by giving ourselves wholeheartedly to God with passion and joy, confidence and courage; and by holding nothing back. God will take care of the rest.

A Different Kind of Aid in Africa
Austin Doctor, Values & Capitalism

Responding to allegations that Africa is submitting to a new era of colonialism, economist and bestselling author Dambisa Moyo describes a different scene. In a recent article in the New York Times, Moyo enthusiastically observes that the African economy is reaching for new horizons—and China is helping it get there.

American Decline and the Virtue of Industriousness
Joseph Sunde, Remnant Culture

Murray sees industriousness as one of America’s “founding virtues,” the others of which include honesty, marriage and religiosity. Yet while these others are important, Murray argues that industriousness was the most defining.

The Parable of the Ox
John Kay, Financial Times

In 1906, the great statistician Francis Galton observed a competition to guess the weight of an ox at a country fair. Eight hundred people entered. Galton, being the kind of man he was, ran statistical tests on the numbers. He discovered that the average guess (1,197lb) was extremely close to the actual weight (1,198lb) of the ox. This story was told by James Surowiecki, in his entertaining book The Wisdom of Crowds. Not many people know the events that followed.

That seems to be the story, based on what Veronique de Rugy has written at National Review Online. Calling for tax increases in an economic downturn doesn’t make any sense, even under Keynesian theories. So why do so many Keynesians seem to be supporting the idea of allowing tax increases for those earning more than $250,000 a year?

Reason Magazine expanded on this question on their blog. They argue that this trend reveals more about neo-Keynesians like Paul Krugman than it does about the actual accomplishments or shortcomings of John Maynard Keynes. (more…)

Over on the Library of Law and Liberty’s website, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg reviews political philosopher John Tomasi’s new book Free Market Fairness:

Rather than attempting a synthesis of competing schools of liberal thought, Tomasi outlines what he is very careful to specify as a “hybrid” (87) political theory that draws upon classical liberalism and libertarianism on the one hand, and what he calls high or left liberalism on the other. Tomasi does not seek to somehow ground classical liberal institutions on the basis of left liberal moral imperatives, or vice-versa. Instead he argues for what he calls market democracy as a “justificatory hybrid . . . which combines insights from the classical and liberal traditions at the level of moral foundations” (95). Market democracy, as Tomasi describes it, reflects what he describes as his “simultaneous attraction” (xiv) to left-liberal and libertarian ideas. Free Market Fairness, however, also relies upon the insight that classical, libertarian, and left liberals may have more in common than they often realize or are willing to admit. This may explain why much of Tomasi’s book explicates in considerable and revealing detail the present “state-of-play” inside the sandpit of liberal political theory.

Read more . . .