Archived Posts July 2012 » Page 8 of 12 | Acton PowerBlog

Much has been made of income inequality in the United States this election season. Income inequality exists in the United States, more so than almost any other developed nation. Around sixty years ago, America’s Gini coefficient–the best measure of income equality, where zero represents the least inequality and one the most–was .37. Today, it is .45.

These numbers are startling, especially for a country that so proudly proclaims all men to be “created equal.” But, as Matthew Schoenfeld points out in The Wall Street Journal, income equality is a far cry from the equality the Framers preached in the Declaration of Independence.

Schoenfeld’s article, titled “Air Jordan and the 1%”, transposes the issue of income inequality from the public policy arena to the basketball court. For many people in and around public policy, a rising Gini coeffecient is enough to call for economic redistribution. Of course, this narrow reasoning doesn’t hold up in other arenas, as Schoenfeld’s basketball analogy points out:

And that brings us to Michael Jordan, who starred for the Chicago Bulls from 1984 to 1998. In 1986, the Bulls’ median player salary was $300,000. The team’s lowest-paid player made $135,000, and its highest-paid player made $806,000. The team’s Gini coefficient was 0.36. But Jordan’s superstardom increased the team’s popularity and revenues, and by 1998 salaries looked different. The median income was $2.3 million, the lowest was $500,000, and the highest (Jordan’s) was $33 million. The Gini coefficient had nearly doubled, to 0.67.

Jordan’s salary of $33 million consumed over half the payroll, but everyone was better off. The median player in 1998 made more than seven times what the median player made in 1986, while the income of the lowest-paid player in 1998 quadrupled that of his 1986 peer.

Schoenfeld’s analysis calls to mind a line from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. In the book, de Tocqueville claims, “Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.” Equality is certainly a necessary virtue, one that ensures that all can enjoy basic rights and freedoms. But it is not equality alone that generates human flourishing. This is what the Framers, de Tocqueville, and the 1984-1998 Chicago Bulls got right. Humans require freedom and opportunity to fully tap into their inherent creative potential. To return to basketball:  Every successful offense is built around creating the best shot, and the opportunity for a slam dunk always trumps a prayer from half-court.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Top 5 Reasons to Repeal Obamacare
Amy Payne, Heritage Foundation

The House is scheduled to vote today on full repeal of Obamacare. Although many reports are circulating that Congress has already voted on this numerous times, this is only the second time the House will have voted to fully repeal the law.

Yes, Actually, Obamacare Is the Biggest Tax Increase in History
Ira Stoll, Reason

Just because a headline or an idea is repeated over and over again doesn’t make it true.

Beyond Bailouts: What Is Cronyism?
Matthew Mitchell, Mercatus Center

While the bailouts of hundreds of firms in 2008 are, for many, the most prominent example of cronyism in modern American history, they are only the tip of the iceberg. Bailouts are but one example in a long list of privileges that governments give to particular businesses and industries.

Bible museum planned for Washington, D.C.
Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

A large-scale Bible museum will open in Washington, D.C., within four years, say planners who have been touring the world with portions of their collection.

On June 29, both Houses of Congress passed, and President Obama signed, a law maintaining Stafford student loan interest rates at 3.4 percent for one more year – two days before they were scheduled to double. A number of human rights groups and religious communities have praised this development. The Jubilee USA Network, a coalition of over seventy-five churches, has been pushing for passage of this bill, and now celebrates it as a living-out of the Biblical practice of periodic forgiveness of debts. Even the organization’s use of the word “Jubilee” in its name is a reference to a practice God commanded for the Israelites in the Old Testament: “Thou shalt sanctify the fiftieth year, and shalt proclaim remission to all the inhabitants of thy land: for it is the year of jubilee,” (Leviticus 25:10). Similarly, the Catholic Church has a long tradition of periodically holding a Jubilee Year celebrating forgiveness. There’s no question that the concept of pardoning debts out of pure mercy is certainly a Judeo-Christian one. But intellectual honesty requires us to ask whether any particular event is an example of a given principle. Is maintaining the current Stafford student loan interest rate actually a Christian “jubilee” event?

The first Church-wide jubilee was proclaimed by Pope Boniface VIII on February 22, 1300, granting indulgences and remission of the penalty for sins to all the faithful who would make a pilgrimage to Rome and Saint Peter’s Basilica. As the concept of the Jubilee was gradually being developed, the details continued to change over the next hundred and fifty years (various lengths, such as 25, 33 and 100 years were proposed as the time span between Jubilees) but beginning in 1450, the Church has held Jubilees once every 50 years up to the present day, with only three omissions. (more…)

Last week, PowerBlogger Andrew Knot and I wrote posts about American sugar policy and farm subsidies, respectively. Now, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as the Catholic Relief Services and National Catholic Rural Life Conference, have come out with a joint letter on the 2012 farm bill that just passed the Senate. Among other things, they urge Congress to reduce agricultural subsidies, and limiting crop insurance to small and medium sized farms.

In 2010, the government gave out $96 billion in farm subsidies. As I pointed out last week, the median farmer’s income is already 25 percent higher than the median American’s. Furthermore, most of the farm money is going to a small number of the farmers. Big farms tend to get a much larger share of the handout than small and medium sized farms do. American agricultural policies represent welfare and protectionism for the already well off.

The USCCB’s letter can be read here.

Under the policies and leadership of the Obama administration, the economic lives of struggling blacks are now worse, not better, than they were three years ago. ”If the president were to give an account of his administration’s advancement of African Americans he would be hard pressed to describe anything significant beyond funneling redistributed wealth into government bureaucracies, a traditional path to the middle class for blacks,” says Anthony B. Bradley in this week’s Acton Commentary (published July 11). The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

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In the current issue of Books & Culture, artist, writer, speaker, and cultural influencer Makoto Fujimura has written a review of Wisdom & Wonder: a fresh translation of the last 10 chapters of Volume 3 in the Common Grace set. Volume 1 is slated to be released in early 2013.

Fujimura begins the review expressing his indebtedness to Kuyper whose experiences cover a variety of areas reminiscent of Fujimura’s upbringing and are still very much relevant today though they were written more than a century ago:

As an artist of Christian faith with a father as a research scientist, brother as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, mother as an educator, grandfather as a governmental official in the education department of postwar Japan (he was asked to document the aftereffects of the atomic destruction in Hiroshima two weeks after the bombing), and wife as a psychotherapist, I am indebted to Abraham Kuyper. Who else could cover the range of disciplines, as in a vast sweep of historical reflections, to integrate them and begin to make sense of the way they cohere?

One of Kuyper’s distinctives was addressing the modern day “secular vs. Christian” debate. He did not advocate for any division in areas of life in terms of their ownership. In fact, one of Kuyper’s most famous quotes is, (more…)

EcclesiastesThe Preacher says that God “has set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV). This is within the broader context of his discussion of the paradox of exploring the wonder of God’s creation and the vanity of human striving in a fallen world.

But the more immediate context is a discussion of work. In verse 9 he asks, “What do workers gain from their toil?” A bit earlier he discusses the meaningless of work, but concludes that “a person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil.”

The entire book of Ecclesiastes is an excellent primer on relating human happiness to material and spiritual goods. These sections on work and satisfaction are some of the most significant along these lines. For as the Preacher continues, such “satisfaction” in work “is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?”

So work is both significant for our satisfaction but no substitute for eternal things. This resonates quite well with the picture of work we get in Lester DeKoster’s book on the subject. It also brings to mind some of Arthur Brooks’ work on the social science of happiness and “earned success.” One caveat, or at least necessary frame of reference for the discussion of earned success, it seems to me, is this idea that our enjoyment of things on this earth is to be properly oriented to and subjoined under the higher things of God.

If, as Augustine put it, “our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord,” then whatever happiness we derive from work, earned success, and everything else “under the sun” must be appreciated as the gifts of God that they are and properly valued as such. Such a perspective helps keep us from confusing heaven and earth, so to speak, and turning work, happiness, or anything else in the created order into an idol.

Andreas Widmer joins Rev. Robert Sirico on WORLD Magazine’s best business books of 2011-2012 list with The Pope & the CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard named as a top five book in business. Widmer is an Acton Research Fellow in Entrepreneurship and a 2012 Acton University lecturer. Here’s what David Bahnsen, senior vice president at a leading financial firm, had to say about Widmer’s book:

Many evangelicals are writing and reading about character in the corner office, integrity in the marketplace, and leadership in the boardroom—so it’s ironic that one of the best new books out is The Pope & the CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard, Andreas Widmer’s delightful summary of all he learned from the late Pope John Paul II. Widmer, who was a Swiss army guard before becoming a successful entrepreneur, shares key principles that any student of faith and business must not ignore.

The book’s official website is linked above and a direct link to Amazon can be found here. A link to Widmer’s 2012 Acton University lecture, along with all the available lectures, is here.

Rev. Robert Sirico, Acton Institute president and co-founder, released Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, in late May and the book has been no stranger to critical acclaim ever since. The latest? Defending the Free Market cracks WORLD Magazine’s top five business books of the past year. Sirico’s book is critically necessary for 2012 says David Bahnsen, senior vice president at a leading financial firm:

Attacks on Mitt Romney’s time at private equity firm Bain Capital are political, of course, but they also illuminate a key debate: wealth creation vs. job creation. Some theorize that the pursuit of wealth by a few does not create jobs—but in practice, as Robert Sirico shows in Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, job creation is a byproduct of the profit motive. Although Sirico did not set out in this book to spotlight 2012 politics or Bain Capital, he has produced a much-needed 200-page apologetic for free market morality.

Click here to visit the book’s official site to download a free chapter and here to go straight to Amazon.

“The most dangerous enemies of capitalism today are capitalists,” says Timothy P. Carney. “This is becoming clearer every day to people committed to free markets.”

The conservative and libertarian grassroots came to deeply distrust big business after the Wall Street bailouts and Obama’s stimulus and health care bills, both of which had big-business backing. Tea Party ire focused on subsidy-suckling businesses as much as at big-spending politicians.

Beltway conservatives have also joined in the fight against corporatism. Last spring, the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation all lined up against the Chamber of Commerce and pressed GOP congressmen to vote to kill the Export-Import Bank, which nonetheless was reauthorized by an overwhelming margin.

Republican politicians, despite being lobbied hard by their big-business donors and K Street advisers, are nevertheless moving slowly away from corporate welfare and toward free-market populism. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan wrote an op-ed in Forbes in 2009 titled “Down with Big Business” (a headline he borrowed from a 1979 Wall Street Journal op-ed).

And now academia’s free-market players are getting in on the game, beginning to rebuild the intellectual infrastructure to argue against corporatism. George Mason University’s Mercatus Center this week is kicking off a series of papers on cronyism and business-government collusion.

Read more . . .