Archived Posts July 2012 » Page 9 of 12 | Acton PowerBlog

At the most recent Acton University, American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks gave a brilliant and paradigm-shifting speech on why advocates of free enterprise need to explain why it is the most moral, most fair, and most helpful system for alleviating poverty. You can download it here. (It’ll be the best 49 cents you spend this week.)

I was thrilled to discover today that AEI has created an animated video that covers much the same material as in his lecture. Watch the whole thing. (It’ll be the best 8 minutes you spend this week.)

The issue of tax avoidance is highly complex, notes Philip Booth. Not all avoidance is illegal or immoral—some is even encouraged by the government. So how, Booth asks, do Catholics determine what is acceptable?

Evasion involves illegally not paying tax that is due. This includes not declaring £10 received for babysitting and multi-million pound schemes by professional criminals. Evasion is wrong and it is also wrong to aid and abet somebody else in evasion, for example by paying a tradesperson cash when we know that they are not declaring the income. Even if the state does some immoral things with our money, we cannot choose whether we pay tax that is legally due. If we did, the state could not provide those things that are necessary for the common good.

Avoidance involves taking action within the law to pay less tax. This can include saving in a pension fund or giving to charity. The government often deliberately provides these avoidance mechanisms as part of a conscious policy and it would be wholly unreasonable to suggest that it was immoral to use them. The difficulty comes when individuals use quirks in Britain’s 11,000 page tax code – the longest in the world – to try to reduce their tax bill dramatically. That is precisely what has happened in recent high-profile cases such as that of the comedian Jimmy Carr. Is this more aggressive avoidance immoral?

Read more . . .

Blog author: Mindy Hirst
posted by on Tuesday, July 10, 2012

This week we feature an interview with Diane Paddison, Chief Strategy Officer for Cassidy Turley in Dallas, Texas. She is the founder of non-profit 4WORD and author of the book Work, Love, Pray; Practical Wisdom for Young Professional Christian Women. For resources and to get connected into her community, follow her on Twitter @4wordwomen and Facebook.
(more…)

Comparing artists is about as helpful as comparing beer or theologians; it often simply comes down to a matter of taste. However, just as with theologians, there are new insights to be gained from artists, even if they don’t turn out to be our favorite (I suppose the same holds with beer, as well.)

Robert Royal, in an article for the Catholic Education Resource Center, poses the question of whether or not French poet Paul Claudel might be the best modern Catholic poet ever.

I believe the greatest modern Catholic poet, and the most unknown, even to Catholics, is Paul Claudel (1868-1955). His family was modest, his father a local government official. A strong creative streak was hidden somewhere because his sister Camille was a gifted sculptor and student, then mistress, of Rodin — but that’s a story for another day. Claudel studied for a diplomatic career, but was also attracted to poetry. He succeeded spectacularly in both realms.

Some of his predecessors — Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud — were poetes maudits (“cursed poets”), who more than dabbled in sin and occultism. Yet all finished as Catholics. Rimbaud in particular — who stopped writing in his teens and is today sometime a patron saint of self-indulgent rock musicians — helped bring Claudel to belief.

Partly because of the marvelous realm beyond smug modern materialism that Claudel discovered in Rimbaud, he found himself in Notre Dame of Paris on Christmas Day 1886 during Vespers: “The children in the choir were singing what I later learned was the Magnificat. In an instant, my heart was touched and I believed.”

Royal points out that Claudel was not a starving artist, but had a thriving diplomatic career, and frankly, didn’t write that much while he was still actively working. Claudel has a great sense of humor, especially about himself, and while his work is rooted in French culture, most Christians will find themes with which they can identify. His poem, ‘The Day of Gifts’, particularly showcases his self-deprecation and knowledge of his sinfulness before God:

But if by chance You should have need of a lazy and imbecilic bore,
If a prideful coward could prove useful to You, or perhaps a soiled ingrate,
Or the sort of man whose hard heart shows up in a hard face—
Well, anyway, You didn’t come to save the just but that other type that abounds,
And if, miraculously, You run out of them elsewhere . . . Lord, I’m still around.
As with beer and theologians, you may not find Claudel to your taste. But then again, you may find a new favorite.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, July 9, 2012

Where Money Meets Morality

How can one defend “just weights and measures” while advancing a policy that would have the money supply altered—distorting its true value—by majority vote?

Is Meritocracy A Sham?
Walter Russell Mead, The American Interest

[T]here are certain consequences of success in a meritocracy that put people, and especially American people, without a strong religious faith at great risk, and I think we can see today in American life some of the consequences that come when a powerful but to some degree godless social elite lacks the spiritual resources and vocabulary that would better equip it for its role.

Faith and War: How Christians Debated the Cold and Vietnam Wars
Reviewed by Jill Gill, H-Net Reviews

Christians spanning the conservative-to-liberal theological spectrum both supported and criticized the Cold and Vietnam wars, yet until recently few scholars have tried to tackle that daunting subject in a comprehensive manner.

Why is Economics so Confusing?
Economics for Everybody

First, most people only hear little bits and pieces, and so don’t see how everything fits together. This can be extremely confusing. How does employment relate to interest rates? How do interest rates relate to recessions? And what are they really talking about anyway on CNBC?

Last week’s Wall Street Journal features a column from Michael Meyerson detailing the religious perspective of the Declaration of Independence. With questions of religious liberty occupying a sizable space in the public square, the article is especially timely. According to Meyerson, the Declaration’s brilliance lies in the “theologically bilingual” language of the Framers. Phrases like “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” employ what he calls a nondenominational inclusivism, a show of rhetoric that neither endorses nor rejects any particular religious ideology. The underlying implication of this statement, which captures the broader thrust of Meyerson’s article, is that the Framers recognized religion’s intrinsic value in a democratic state. He goes on to argue that the Framers’ understood religious expression as not only permissible, but desirable, for a budding nation. This is especially evident in two oft-forgotten but explicitly religious passages of the Declaration. First, the Framers’ acknowledged their own  “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.” They also professed a “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” Such phraseology, Meyerson argues, testifies to the value that the Framers’–among them some staunch supporters of church-state separation–placed on religious freedom:

Even Jefferson and Madison, often described as believing in a total separation of religion and government, continued the practice of using inclusive religious language. Jefferson urged in his first inaugural, “May that infinite power, which rules the destinies of the universe, lead our councils to what is best,” while Madison stated that, “my confidence will under every difficulty be best placed . . . in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations.”

The Framers didn’t see such nondenominational language as divisive. They believed it was possible—in fact desirable—to have a public expression of religion that is devout, as long as it recognizes and affirms the variety of belief systems that exist in our pluralistic nation.

Similar sentiments are found in the writings of Michael Novak, an American Catholic philosopher and lecturer at 2012′s Acton University. Novak’x 2001 book, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, even addresses many of the same themes as Meyerson’s article. To listen to Novak’s Acton University Lecture’s click here. For a copy of On Two Wings, click here.

On The Foundry, Sarah Torre writes about the many faith based challenges that remain to the Obamacare law. There are many organizations that are religious in nature, but are not themselves churches. To comply with the new health laws, they will be compelled to provide conscience violating services. Towards the end of the post, Torres quotes the president of Geneva College, Dr. Ken Smith:

The issue that we have with the entire law is that the Obama Administration has tried to define religion as being that which what churches do. We believe that religion takes us into the marketplace. There is both an internal community of faith responsibility of religion, but there is also an external service to community. That is religion.

A lot has been written about how this issue will impact hospitals. Donald P. Condit noted in an Acton Commentary piece that one in six patients in the United States will receive care in a Catholic Hospital. Yet, the Obama administration’s threat to religious liberty is not limited to just the case of religious groups directly providing services. The HHS mandates (more from Acton here) threaten the conscience of all people engaged in business. And if the threat extends to health care, where will it end?

As pointed out in The Foundry, religion takes us into the marketplace. Christianity is a motivating force for people throughout the market. Yet, the Obama administration seems to think that our religious life should separated from our everyday life. How can we expect people to somehow check their faith at the door when they do business? Rev. Robert Sirico outlines in “The Entrepreneurial Vocation” how our faith relates to entrepreneurship. The idea that our religious life is or should be separate from our commercial life is absurd, yet this is precisely what compliance with anti-conscience provisions of the Obamacare law would force us to do. Donald P. Condit got it right: this is an unconscionable threat to conscience.

H/T to Kathryn Jean Lopez at NRO’s The Corner.

Last week, in a reflection about American freedom and Christianity, I contended that the shift from emphasis on the pursuit of “property” to the pursuit of “happiness” illustrated the spiritual insight of the American founders. And today, Joe passed along a piece related to the economic climate in America at the end of the eighteenth century, which suggests that as “America had a thriving middle class,” the United States might have been designed especially to institutionalize, protect, and promote the materially-acquisitive ethos of the time.

That, at least, is the suggestion made by Brad Gregory in his book, The Unintended Reformation. In a chapter on “Manufacturing the Goods Life,” Gregory contends that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the broader vision of social life articulated by the founders was uniquely oriented toward merely material prosperity:

The substantive emptiness of the nation’s founding documents was possible not only because Americans were strongly shaped by Christian moral assumptions, but also because so many of them had simultaneously departed in practice from the traditional Christian condemnation of avarice.

A corollary of this is that America is uniquely anti-Christian:

If Christianity is among other things a discipline of selflessness in charitable service to others, then the United States’ legally protected ethos of self-regarding acquisitiveness, culturally reinforced at every turn, would seem to be its antithesis.

You might guess what this means for our evaluation of Europe, however, which ends up looking rather more Christ-like by comparison:

But, ironically, more than is true of federal or state institutions in the church-going United States, secularized Europeans’ welfare states since World War II have more in common with the social concerns and the moral commitments of the Christianity that made the Continent and Britain, because they at least seek to meet the most basic needs of every citizen.

It’s true, admits Gregory, that American freedom includes the ability to be spiritually responsible. But even the value of this is doubtful:

So too, it is obvious that he advent of modern capitalism and market-governed societies has facilitated the potential for human flourishing and the possibility of living meaningful human lives for hundreds of millions of people, which considered as such is also a very good thing. But those who are devoted to their families, demonstrate care for others, make charitable donations, and practice self-restraint do so within a world dominated by wall-to-Walmart capitalism and consumerism, with all that this implies.

What all this has to do with the Reformation is something that has to be explored within the larger argument of the book. I’m currently drafting a review of it, but it has already been reviewed and engaged in a number of significant places, like Books & Culture, the Wall Street Journal, and First Things. At this point I can recommend Gregory’s book if you want to see what the Reformation and global climate change have to do with one another (hint: the main link is the American “ethos of self-regarding acquisitiveness” outlined above).

National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez talks to Rev. Sirico about his new book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, the link between economic liberty and public morality, and the differences between socialism and capitalism:

LOPEZ: How can you get more greed with socialism than capitalism?

FR. SIRICO: To the extent that socialism holds back creativity and thus productivity, it increases poverty. When people become desperate, even good people can become self-centered. Few of us are at our best in crowds where everyone is trying to get out the same exit, or when trying to grab for the last remaining sale item. Socialism begins with the material world (the redistribution of pre-existing things); capitalism begins with ideas and dreams (the creation of things). Socialism increases the hoarding instinct and often places power in the hands of petty dictators (wait in line in a governmental office to see what I mean). We all know where that leads.

Of course, I am not saying that a system of free exchange will abolish greed. But even here, free markets and competition tend to temper greed, subordinating it to the service of others, which is the only way you are going to be successful in the market.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, July 9, 2012

During the Revolutionary Era, Americans had the highest per capita income in the civilized world and paid the lowest taxes, says Thomas Fleming, and they were determined to keep it that way.

By 1776, the 13 American colonies had been in existence for over 150 years—more than enough time for the talented and ambitious to acquire money and land. At the top of the South’s earners were large planters such as George Washington. In the North their incomes were more than matched by merchants such as John Hancock and Robert Morris. Next came lawyers such as John Adams, followed by tavern keepers, who often cleared 1,000 pounds a year, or about $100,000 in modern money. Doctors were paid comparatively little. Ditto for dentists, who were almost nonexistent.

In the northern colonies, according to historical research, the top 10% of the population owned about 45% of the wealth. In some parts of the South, 10% owned 75% of the wealth. But unlike most other countries, America in 1776 had a thriving middle class. Well-to-do farmers shipped tons of corn and wheat and rice to the West Indies and Europe, using the profits to send their children to private schools and buy their wives expensive gowns and carriages. Artisans—tailors, carpenters and other skilled workmen—also prospered, as did shop owners who dealt in a variety of goods. Benjamin Franklin credited his shrewd wife, Deborah, with laying the foundation of their wealth with her tradeswoman’s skills.

Read more . . .