Archived Posts 2012 - Page 105 of 112 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, February 16, 2012

In this week’s Acton Commentary I conclude, “The American people do not need politicians to tell them what happiness is and how it should be pursued.”

I admit that I didn’t have this quote in mind (or I would have used it!), but Art Carden (follow him here and read him here) notes the following from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations:

What is the species of domestic industry which his capital can employ, and of which the produce is likely to be of the greatest value, every individual, it is evident, can, in his local situation, judge much better than any statesman or lawgiver can do for him. The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.

And following up on the folly of political-driven homeownership for all, Reuters (HT: Drudge) reports that the “New American Dream is renting to get rich.”

The payoff? “So while home ownership may sound glamorous, you need a lot of money to make it work, without much guarantee of positive returns in a post-bubble era.”

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Thursday, February 16, 2012

I’ve tried to stay on top of the federal government’s response to natural disasters here at Acton. I’ve written a number of commentaries, blog posts, and a story in Religion & Liberty covering the issue. “Spiritual Labor and the Big Spill” specifically addressed the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. For extensive background on this short clip of Bobby Jindal at CPAC 2012, see my post “Bobby Jindal on Centralized Disaster Response.”

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, February 16, 2012

At Public Discourse, Ryan T. Anderson reviews Lawrence Mead’s From Prophecy to Charity: How to Help the Poor:

(more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Corrupted Capitalism and the Housing Crisis,” I contend we need to add some categories to our thinking about political economy. In this case, the idea of “corporatism” helps understand a good deal of what we see in the American system today. Adding corporatism to our quiver helps us to make some more nuanced distinctions than simple “socialism” and “capitalism” allow.

Take, for instance, Mitt Romney’s contention this week while campaigning in Michigan that the bailouts of the auto companies was a feature of “crony capitalism.” A better way to understand the relationship between big business and big government today might instead be characterized as “crony corporatism.” You have a select group at the highest levels of an industry influencing government policy, which in turn favors those big businesses, provides various moral and fiscal incentives to consumers to patronize these industries, and then when necessary bails them out.

In this week’s commentary I use corporatism as a way of unpacking what happened in the recent housing crisis. For too long the American dream has revolved around home ownership. Owning a home is a good thing for many people; for many others it isn’t. What we have failed to recognize is the moral hazard that attends to government promotion of a particular vision of the American dream and the crises that result. As Dambisa Moyo characterized the housing crisis,

The direct consequence of the subsidized homeownership culture was the emergence of a society of leverage, one where citizen and country were mortgaged up to the hilt; promoting a way of life where people grew comfortable with the idea of living beyond one’s means.

The definition of the American dream offered by politicians should be far less precise, and presumably not include the level of specificity that says we should all own a home, drive a GM car, and have a college degree. As Nobel laureate Edmund Phelps put it in a 2009 interview,

I’m hoping that the administration and other thought leaders will succeed eventually in bringing the country back to the older idea that the American dream is having a career, getting a job, and getting involved in it, and doing well. That was the core of the good life. That’s what we have to get back to, and get away from this mystique that the most important thing in your life that could ever happen to you is to be a home owner.

The cultivation of an “ownership society” through government subsidy is only one feature of the creeping corporatism of contemporary America. As has been documented just in the last few days, the role of the government in directing and providing social goods has increased dramatically over recent decades. Following a New York Times story describing the increasing dependence of the American middle class on governmental initiatives of one form or another, Steve Hayward summarizes, “increasingly we’re taxing the middle class to pay themselves their own money, minus a large commission to Washington DC” (HT: The Transom). The government is increasingly using these subsidies and incentives to shape how people live their lives.

As I conclude in today’s piece, “The American people do not need politicians to tell them what happiness is and how it should be pursued. These are functions that our families, churches, and friendships fulfill.” One place to look instead would be the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Man’s chief end is to enjoy God and glorify him forever.” Another would be the words of Jesus: “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).

New York pundit Al Sharpton and California Senator Barbara Boxer agree: The “right” to insurance paid for by an employer trumps freedom of conscience and religion.

(more…)

Blog author: hunter.baker
posted by on Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The primary point of my first book, The End of Secularism, was to demonstrate that secularism doesn’t do what it claims to do, which is to solve the problem of religious difference.  As I look at the  administration’s attempt to mandate that religious employers pay for contraceptive products, I see that they have confirmed one of my charges in the book.

I wrote that secularists claim that they are occupying a neutral position in the public square, but in reality they are simply another group of contenders working to implement a vision of community life with which they are comfortable.  And guess what?  They are not comfortable with many of the fundamental beliefs of Christians.  Regrettably, many secularists are also statists.  Thus, their discomfort with Christian beliefs results in direct challenges to them in the form of mandatory public policy.

Collectivism is often very appealing to Christians who want to do good for their neighbors.  Unfortunately, collectivism is frequently a fellow-traveler of aggressive secularism with little respect for religious liberty.  The veil has slipped.  I hope we do not too quickly forget what was revealed in that moment.  Collectivism gives.  But it also takes.  And what it takes is very often precious and irreplaceable.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, February 15, 2012

While the recent contraceptive mandate controversy has exposed the Obama Administration’s disregard for religious freedoms, it has also reveled their natural disdain for subsidiarity. As George Weigel notes, this incident tells us “something very important, and very disturbing, about the cast of mind in the Executive Branch.”

(more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When we launched the PowerBlog in 2005, we had little idea that it would grow into one of the Acton Institute’s most popular and powerful communications channels. Nearly 4,000 posts, and 8,000 comments later, the PowerBlog is still going strong. And for that, we heartily thank our many readers, contributors and commenters.

Now we have for the first time a dedicated editor to help sustain and grow the blog for the advancement of the “free and virtuous society.” Veteran journalist Joe Carter is joining Acton as Senior Editor beginning today.

Joe Carter

Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, online editor for First Things, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College.  A 15-year Marine Corps veteran, he previously worked as the managing editor for The East Texas Tribune and the online magazine Culture11. He has also served as the Director of Research and Rapid Response for the Mike Huckabee for President campaign, as a director of communications for the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, and as director of online communications for Family Research Council. He is the co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

Please join me in welcoming Joe to the PowerBlog.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Al Mohler absolutely dismantles Nicholas Kristof in this new piece. The cause of this skewering? Kristof’s “Beyond Pelvic Politics” column in The New York Times.

Mohler notes,

After asking his most pressing question, “After all, do we really want to make accommodations across the range of faith?,” he makes this amazing statement:

“The basic principle of American life is that we try to respect religious beliefs, and accommodate them where we can.”

That sentence caught the immediate attention of many. Could someone of Nicholas Kristof’s influence and stature really write and mean that?

Mohler highlights some of Kristof’s commendable work on human rights abuses (he’s the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes), but Mohler says “when it comes to human rights at home, Mr. Kristof reveals a horrifying blind spot.”

Our country is not a country that “accommodates” or “tolerates” religion. There is undoubtedly a growing disconnect of those who have no fundamental understanding of the meaning of religious liberty in the American framework. Now we are clearly seeing that the exponential growth of government is a grave threat to religious liberty. Some of the “enlightened” want to somehow “accommodate” religion, at least publicly.

Face it, many who no longer look to the Lord for their help, look to the state as their provider, caretaker, and the dispenser of whatever freedoms they are granted.

Concerning our fortress of religious liberty, look no further than a book I recently reviewed on James Madison by Richard Brookhiser. Madison objected to the “fullest toleration” of religious freedom in Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, and his language found its way into the Bill of Rights. Brookhiser spells it out perfectly in his Madison biography and points to the uniqueness of America’s first freedom:

Madison, half Mason’s age, improved his language, proposing a crucial change to the clause on religious liberty. Mason’s draft, reflecting a hundred years of liberal thought going back to John Locke, called for “the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion.” Yet this did not seem liberal enough for Madison. Toleration implies those who tolerate: superiors who grant freedom to others. But who can be trusted to pass judgments, even if the judgment is to live and let live? Judges may change their minds. The Anglican establishment of Virginia, compared with established churches in other colonies, had been fairly tolerant – except when it hadn’t, and then it made water in Baptists’ faces. So Madison prepared an amendment. “All men are equally entitled to the full and free exercise” of religion. No one could be said to allow men to worship as they wished; they worshipped as they wished because it was their right as men. Madison’s language shifted the ground of religious liberty from a tolerant society or state, to human nature, and lifted the Declaration of Rights from an event in Virginia history to a landmark of world intellectual history (23, 24).

Furthermore, take a look at “Birth Control Yes, Government Control No” in The Wall Street Journal for more on the threat to religious liberty.

Toleration or accommodation is of course flawed because it posits the notion that religious freedom or freedom of conscious is offered by the whims of the state. Many pundits rolled their eyes at the “war on religion” ad by Rick Perry during his presidential campaign. I admit, I think I rolled my eyes and thought it was quite the overreaction. I was too enlightened and nuanced for an ad like that. Given the actions of the executive branch, I don’t know if we can say it’s an overreaction anymore.

The Grand Rapids Press has a story today about the Acton Institute’s plans to move into new office space in the heart of the city. Stay tuned to the PowerBlog for exciting updates in the days and weeks ahead about the move.

GRAND RAPIDS – The Acton Institute, a conservative think tank dedicated to blending Christian doctrine and free market economics, may be better known on the international stage than in its home town. That may change soon. The 22-year-old institute is purchasing an old department store and office building in the heart of downtown. “We’re the only public policy think tank in Grand Rapids, but we’re probably better known internationally than in Grand Rapids,” said Acton spokesman John Couretas.

The institute’s new home at 98 E. Fulton Street was built as a Jacobson’s Department store and was known as the White & White Medical Arts Building during the 1980s and 1990s. Last year, the building’s east wall was the 2nd Place winner in ArtPrize as artist Tracy Van Duinen’s Metaphorest Project. The building currently is occupied by the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT), a nonprofit organization that helps students stay in school through exposure to the arts and aid under- or unemployed adults through technical skills training. WMCAT will continue as a tenant.

The Acton Institute, which has more than 40 staffers, is currently headquartered in leased space at the Waters Building, a downtown landmark at 161 Ottawa Ave. NW.

Read more on “Acton Institute will raise its profile in Grand Rapids with purchase of downtown landmark building” by reporter Jim Harger in The Grand Rapids Press.