Archived Posts November 2012 | Acton PowerBlog

Visiting San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district in 1968, Tom Wolfe was struck by the way hippies there “sought nothing less than to sweep aside all codes and restraints of the past and start out from zero.” In his essay “The Great Relearning,” Wolfe connects this to Ken Kesey’s pilgrimage to Stonehenge, inspired by “the idea of returning to civilization’s point zero” and trying to start all over from scratch and do it better. Wolfe predicted that history will record that Haight-Ashbury period as “one of the most extraordinary religious experiments of all time.”

The desire to sweep everything away wasn’t just limited to hippies. Wolfe writes:

In politics the twentieth century’s great start from zero was one-party socialism, also known as Communism or Marxism-Leninism. Given that system’s bad reputation in the West today (even among the French intelligentsia) it is instructive to read John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World – before turning to Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. The old strike hall poster of a Promethean worker in a blue shirt breaking his chains across his mighty chest was in truth the vision of ultimate human freedom the movement believed in at the outset.

For intellectuals in the West the painful dawn began with the publication of the Gulag Archipelago in 1973. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, November 30, 2012
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In a web exclusive preview to the latest issue of Renewing Minds, a new journal of Christian thought from Union University, Jordan Ballor considers the future of free enterprise:

That the United States has been blessed with great prosperity is beyond argument. Even critics of the American system of government and economy admit that the system of free enterprise has been unmatched in its ability to generate wealth. As Hunter Baker notes, this reality has occasioned a shift in the polemic against free enterprise. Pointing to John Kenneth Galbraith’s argument in The Affluent Society, which “implicitly conceded that earlier critics of the free economy had been wrong in their repeated assertions that competitive capitalism failed to yield broad benefits to the public,” Baker observes that “critics of the free market now argue more on the basis of inequality and relative deprivation instead of on the basis of absolute deprivation.”

Where the fairness of the unequal outcomes characteristic of market economies can no longer be assumed, the burden of proof shifts to those who would defend the merits of free enterprise.

Read more . . .

While its depressing that not being forced to violate one’s conscience is considered a victory, you take what you can get in the age of ObamaCare. So I’m thankful for the news that an appeals court imposed a temporary injunction against the Department of Health and Human Services from enforcing its contraception mandate on a privately owned business:

Missouri business owner Frank O’Brien, who employs 87 people at O’Brien Industrial Holdings, alleged in the lawsuit that led to the injunction that the mandate unconstitutionally infringes on his religious beliefs.

On its website, the company says its mission is “to make our labor a pleasing offering to the Lord while enriching our families and society.” O’Brien is a Catholic.

The order by the three-judge panel on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals prohibits HHS from forcing O’Brien to comply with the mandate, until the court issues a substantive ruling on the matter. The injunction order is not a final determination on the merits of O’Brien’s case or the constitutionality of the mandate.

Read more . . .

On Wednesday, Acton’s President Rev. Robert Sirico was interviewed by the Rome bureau of Catholic News Service regarding the work of the Acton Institute.

The Catholic News Service interview “Is Capitalism Catholic?” showcases the mission and influence which the Acton Institute has had on religious leaders’ socio-economic perspectives over its 22 years, including a clip from a meeting of U.S. Catholic bishops in which the Institute’s work on free market economics was both welcomed and criticized.

Rev. Sirico also explains some of his against-the-grain opinions on issues, such as his reasons for maintaining a system of private health care in the United States. He tells Catholic News Service, “For me the important thing is not whether you are radical or not, but whether you are right or not. I am just looking for the truth in my life.”

Watch the full interview here:

Also see, in print, “Is capitalism Catholic? A priest defends free-market economics” by Francis X. Rocca at CNS.

In a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll on methods to avoid the “fiscal cliff”, sixty percent of Americans support raising taxes on incomes more than $250,000 a year (73 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of independents, and 39 percent of Republicans).

But how much will that affect the deficit?

The federal budget deficit in 2012 was $1.1 trillion. But a number with that many zeros—$1,100,000,000,000—is difficult to grasp, so let’s put it in some perspective

This is what $100 million (0.0001 trillion) looks like.

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Blog author: jcarter
Friday, November 30, 2012
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The Pope, on Twitter
Jeff Geerling, Open Source

Apparently, on December 3, the Holy See Press Office will hold a press conference announcing the Pope’s official entry into the Twitterverse.

The High Price of Establishment
Wesley J. Smith, First Things

As an American, it was a bemusing experience. I had never seen an entire nation react so viscerally to the action—or in this case, inaction—of a church.

Three Ways to Think Differently About Your Work
Greg Ayers, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

Work often feels like a curse, something that entered the world as a consequence for sin. However, the Bible shows us otherwise.

Homeschooling: freedom’s last stand
Patrick B. Craine, LifeSiteNews

Freedom simply cannot exist where the state usurps authority over education.

Is spartan austerity driving us over the fiscal cliff?

The latest step in the budget dance between House Republicans and the White House has to do with where tax increases (or revenue increases in general, depending on what is called what) fit with a deal to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.” As Napp Nazworth reports, President Obama has apparently delivered an ultimatum: “there would be no agreement to avert the ‘fiscal cliff’ unless tax rates are increased on those making more than $250,000 per year.”

On one level it seems reasonable to talk about addressing a deficit from both directions: cutting spending and raising revenue. But as Ray Nothstine put it so well earlier this week, without some structural (and cultural) changes to the way Congress works, it would be insane to think that giving politicians more money is going to change how they spend it. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Historically “politicians spend the money as fast as it comes in – and a little bit more.” Without some kind of balanced budget agreement, something with real teeth, why should we think things will be any different this time around? (I’ve talked about a more promising “both/and” budget solution before.) As Ray and I have concluded elsewhere, “In the case of the federal spending, the government has proved to be untrustworthy with very much. It’s time to see if the politicians in Washington can learn to be trustworthy with less.”
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Below is an excerpt from a 1925 Washington Post editorial on President Calvin Coolidge’s Inaugural Address. The comments speak directly to the moral arguments Coolidge was making for a free economy. It is the kind of moral thinking about markets and taxes we desperately need today from our national leaders.

The excerpt comes from an excellent book, The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election by Garland S. Tucker, III.

Few persons, probably, have considered economy and taxation moral issues. But Mr. Coolidge so considers them, and his observations give a fresh impression of the intensity of his feeling on this subject. He holds that economy, in connection with tax reduction and tax reform, involves the principle of conservation of national resources. A nation that dissipates its resources falls into moral decay. Extravagance lengthens the hours and diminishes the rewards of labor. “I favor the policy of economy,” says Mr. Coolidge, “not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people” [emphasis added]. He would protect those who toil by preventing the waste of the fruits of their labor. The burden of taxation is excessive. It makes life more meager, and falls hardest upon the poor. The United States is fortunate above other nations in the opportunity to economize. It is at peace and business activity has been restored. “The collection of any taxes which are not absolutely required, which do not beyond reasonable doubt contribute to the public welfare is only a species of legalized larceny,” is Mr. Coolidge’s vigorously expressed conclusion on the subject of economy.

It’s a logical, simple, and a deeply moral message. Some might call it common sense. Our times and the economic peril we face clearly calls for a commitment to reducing government spending and our tax burden. It has fallen on deaf ears in Washington and much of America. Coolidge’s words resonate today because it is the cure for our fiscal cliff and the ailing economy. And as Coolidge understood so well, it is the moral thing to do.

Blog author: dpahman
Thursday, November 29, 2012
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According to AEI author Mark Perry, there is another education-related “bubble” to worry about: the textbook bubble. He writes that this textbook bubble “continues to inflate at rates that make the U.S. housing bubble seem relatively inconsequential by comparison.” He continues, “The cost of college textbooks has been rising at almost twice the rate of general CPI inflation for at least the last thirty years.” Given that many students use loan money to purchase books as well as pay for classes, we might think of this as one of the many sources pumping air into the student debt bubble. But what choice do students (or professors, for that matter) have than to surrender to the textbook “cartel,” as Perry characterizes it? This bubble popping, while a bad thing for the textbook bubble-boys committed to the old, cartel-style model, could be a small relief and contribute to slowing the growth rate of the student debt bubble. (more…)

Ann Schneible, who interviewed Rev. Robert A. Sirico for Vatican Radio today (see PowerBlog post for audio) also published an interview with the Acton Institute president and co-founder on the Catholic news site, Zenit. Excerpt:

ZENIT: In response to those Christians and Catholics who are hesitant about buying into the idea of a free market economy, how can one demonstrate that there are elements to a free market – or Capitalist – economy which are compatible to Catholic social teaching?

Father Sirico: There are a number of elements that can make the connection. I keep going back to this anthropological question because that’s the beautiful way to do it. I think it was Chesterton who said that Catholicism is the religion of stuff, by which he was really addressing the Incarnational nature of the Church. We have incense, and bells, and candles, and vestments, and all these things. In other words – in a non-liturgical context – the material world is good. We see that in the book of genesis. And God places us in the material world and asks us to pursue sanctity there.

The moment he places us in the material world, he places us in the context of limitations and scarcity. This gives rise to economics – which means that we have to find a way that is in accord with our nature, that is ethical, that is appropriate, that is effective – to make use of nature for the glory of God. It is in the same way an architect who studies geometry uses that geometrical precision and technique to build the façade of a cathedral, and thereby rendering praise to God. So too in a different way, the entrepreneur, who discovers the use of something or the combination of other things and represents and organizes them and creates a network and a marketing campaign to build a business, that that architectural construct ends up sustaining many families who participate in that, and sustain many consumers in the sense that they buy a good or a service at a higher quality and for a lower price than they would have otherwise, thereby giving their family a little more money to use at their discretion; all of these things, too, can be considered rendering nature for the glory of God. And that’s enterprise; that’s business. I don’t like the word “capitalism” because I think it’s too narrow a word. I like “free economy,” or “free market.”

Read “A Moral Case for a Free Economy — Acton Institute’s Co-founder Explores Free Market Economy in New Book,” an interview by Ann Schneible on Zenit.