Archived Posts December 2012 - Page 8 of 17 | Acton PowerBlog

In one of the most memorable mid-1990s episodes of The Simpsons, the curmudgeonly misanthrope Charles Montgomery Burns achieves a lifelong dream:


Since the beginning of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun. I shall do the next best thing: block it out.

While Mr. Burns had no use for our nearest star, the other residents Springfield were dismayed by the citywide sun-block. They understood, as Steve Martin once said, that “A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.”

Only a cartoon villain would propose an idea as absurd as blocking out the sunshine. But in the real world we find its economic equivalent: opposing economic growth.

A prime example is Eugene McCarraher, an associate professor of humanities at Villanova University, who recently wrote in The Hedgehog Review:

The beatific vision of the capitalist moral imagination is the Gross Domestic Product: the yearly growth in the volume of goods and services whose increase is never questioned.

Similarly, the British economic historian Robert Skidelsky says that in his new book he “rejects indefinite economic growth for reasons which are substantially, though by no means exclusively, conservative.”

Too much growth, like too much sunshine, can indeed by be harmful to human flourishing. But why would anyone oppose long-term economic growth?

Consider the consequences if there were to be a long period in the U.S. with no economic growth. The result would be almost as cataclysmic as blocking out the sun:

King Solomon, the original 1%

King Solomon, the original “1%”

Last Thursday, NPR ran an interesting piece by Alan Greenblat that featured the perspective of several of the nation’s rich (read: annual household income over $250,000) in relation to President Obama’s determination that the Bush era tax increases end for the nation’s rich as part of any deal related to the looming “fiscal cliff.” The article features a variety of perspectives, but I would like to reflect upon one particular section of that article here. Greenblat writes,

[Mark] Anderson recognizes that the kind of tax increases Obama proposes aren’t going to impinge on his life materially, and he supports them philosophically. But he adds that he thinks Obama and other Democrats make being rich “sound like a bad thing,” which he says is a mistake.

The top 2 percent of earners already pay 35 percent of all federal taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center. In terms of personal income taxes, the top 1 percent alone pay 37.4 percent of total receipts, according to the Tax Foundation — double the share they paid back in 1979. [Edward] Kfoury, who is president of a land trust in Maine, points out that there are years when his personal tax bill has run into seven figures.

“What would make me feel a lot better is if I heard the president say, ‘I want to thank the rich people who, because of our progressive tax system, pay the most — but we don’t have enough money, so we’re asking the wealthy people to help the country out by paying more than their fair share,’ ” says Martin Krall, a 71-year-old “semi-retired” attorney and media executive who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

“Instead, you’re made to feel like you’re a bad guy,” Krall says. “People resent the notion that somehow they’ve done something wrong by becoming successful.”

Joe Carter recently examined why soaking the rich won’t fix the deficit, so I will not explore that question here. Instead, I would like to focus on the issue of human dignity, political rhetoric, and an ancient Christian perspective on wealth. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, December 17, 2012

On Friday I linked to MLive’s presentation of two Christian views on right to work. In that article, Rev. Sirico argued in favor of the legislation since it advances the freedom of workers. On the opposing side was Peter Vander Meulen of the Christian Reformed Church. Meulen didn’t argue against the morality of the law, but only complained that it led to further political polarization and harmed the potential for bipartisan support on issues that “make life better for the large majority of people.”

A similar article in the National Catholic Register pits Fr. Sirico against another religious leader, Father Sinclair Oubre, the spiritual moderator of the Texas-based Catholic Labor Network. Fr. Oubre claims that in Right to Work states workers have had “a much harder time exercising their right to associate into unions.” Such a claim is rather dubious. Since federal laws protects the right of workers to associate into unions in every state, it’s unclear how or why right to work laws would affect such decisions.

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, December 17, 2012

Gehenna in Connecticut
John Podhoretz, Commentary

Gehenna, a synonym for Hell, is a real place, or so the Bible tells us. You can see it today.

Jefferson’s Robust Views of Religious Freedom
Brian Walsh, T.J. Whittle, and Garrett Bauman Public Discourse

Notwithstanding his unorthodox views of Christianity, Thomas Jefferson staunchly adhered to the rights of all religious believers, Christian and non-Christian alike, to free religious exercise.

A Win for Religious Freedom in Illinois
Dominique Ludvigson, The Foundry

On Tuesday, the state of Illinois declined to appeal a recent loss in the Illinois Court of Appeals, which ruled in late September that the state cannot force pharmacists and pharmacies to stock and dispense abortion-inducing drugs in violation of their religious beliefs.

A Brief History of American Prosperity
Guy Sorman, City Journal

An entrepreneurial culture and the rule of law have nourished the nation’s economic dynamism.

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, December 14, 2012

MLive asked Rev. Robert Sirico and Peter Vander Meulen, a coordinator of the Christian Reformed Church in North America’s Office of Social Justice, to comment on Michigan’s new Right to Work law.

Meulen says that the change won’t have much impact on the state’s economy but will adversely affect relations between Republicans and Democrats on “just budget priorities” such as Medicaid and energy:

In one fell swoop, with a policy that doesn’t have much effect, we have just trashed an entire future set of possibilities to move forward and have really serious discussions to make life better for the large majority of people. It will be a divided, riven state. The real losers are the moderate progressives like myself and many other people in the CRC (Christian Reformed Church).

In contrast Rev. Sirico believes that authentic social justice is not as a left-wing prerogative, but has to do with liberty that Michigan’s new law promotes:

“The problem is when people hear the term ‘social justice’ they think of it as a set of policy prescriptions, and it’s odd. I think morally sensible, Christian people are going to appeal to principles of social justice. This particular legislation conforms with that because it’s going to advance the freedom of workers to have more opportunities and that, in turn, brings a certain amount of intelligence with it. People are going to make choices based on what their subjective situation is. That promotes a society in which people are going to be better off.

Read more . . .

IkariaThe New York Times has a fascinating profile on Ikaria, a Greek island located about 30 miles off the western coast of Turkey. With roughly 8,000 inhabitants, the island is known for its slow and relaxed lifestyle, thriving communities, and healthy citizenry.

As Ikarian physician Dr. Ilias Leriadis says in the article: “Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? …We simply don’t care about the clock here.”

Brendan Case offers a good summary of the article at Call and Response (HT), pointing to some significant themes:

“For people to adopt a healthful lifestyle,” reports Dan Buettner in a recent issue of the “New York Times Magazine,” “they need to live in an ecosystem, so to speak, that makes it possible.” Buettner’s exploration of the Aegean island of Ikaria, where people are 2.5 times as likely as Americans to live past the age of 90, showcases the inseparability of individual and communal flourishing.

On Ikaria, a constellation of factors yields long lives: a great diet, and few chances to deviate from it; lots of physical activity (little of which could be classed as “exercise”); even regular napping.

But the likely keys to Ikarian longevity are harder to map. Buettner suggests that social structures — the marriages, families and friendships that knit Ikarians into a densely woven fabric of village life — are what sustain these communities in healthy practices.

At a superficial level, it can be easy for us to overly romanticize such places, especially for those of us who are routinely exhausted by fast-paced Western culture (though I still prefer a widespread concern for clocks). Buettner, for example, often seems over-sold on the notion of Ikaria as Utopia–likely, no doubt, because of his research interests in longevity (understandable). (more…)

Earlier this week Dylan Pahman reflected on the question, “Which capitalism?” He helpfully explores the nature of capitalism and the importance of definitions.

This conversation reminded me of a point made by Michael Novak during his conversation with Rev. Sirico earlier this year at Acton University. In the Q&A session, he argues that it is essential to understand the nature of what distinguishes capitalism from other economic systems:

Novak says that “markets don’t make capitalism,” but rather that “enterprise, invention, and discovery” are its characteristic features.