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Over at National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg recaps President Obama’s State of the Union address:

There is always something surreal about a Chicago politician talking about “fairness” and “playing by the rules.” There is something even more bizarre about a president talking about the need to expand energy production after his administration has generally undermined significant progress in facilitating energy development for three years in the middle of a recession. And who would describe Detroit as “on the way back”? A stroll down the ghost town otherwise known as downtown Detroit — which is teetering on the edge of being put into administration — would suggest the opposite. It’s not often that I agree with very much said by the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd, but this State of the Union speech illustrated that the lady was dead right in describing the Obama presidency as a bubble within a bubble.

Read it all on NRO.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
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I was asked for my initial reaction to President Obama’s State of the Union speech, and the handsomely redesigned Think Christian posted them last night, “Jobs, Steve Jobs, and the State of the Union.”

As I point out, the president’s protectionist posturing is belied by the realities experienced by companies like Apple. The president is essentially telling companies: Ask not what you can do for your company, but what your company can do for America. My contention is that “in casting global trade in terms of a simple win/lose proposition, the president missed a wonderful opportunity to show that Americans need not be made better off at the expense of other countries.”

The president also provided the latest instance of the yearly bi-partisan political ritual, in which the commander-in-chief is transformed into the cheerleader-in-chief, praising the American dream to high heaven and extolling the virtues of the American work ethic. The state of our union is always strong, it seems. “Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you – America will always win,” said the president. He also claimed the priority of “the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.”

That the government’s attempts to underwrite this promise has played a large role in putting us in the dire fiscal straits we face today was a concern absent from the president’s speech. That the biggest threat to continued flourishing in this country is a spendthrift federal government continues to be ignored, while more and more promises about what government can and must do are made.

Anyone who would put foreigners to work is unpatriotic, it seems. Anyone who would point out the very real problems facing America are equally erroneous: “Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” says the president.

Mark Twain said that patriotism is “supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” And as Christians, we know that our ultimate purpose is not to promote our own individual (or national) interests at the expense of others. A government that uses trade and tax policies as a club to bring other nation’s to heel is little deserving of support.

Perhaps the best way we can support our country in this time of trial is to call our governmental leaders to account. As the president’s speech also made clear, we are entering the prime time of election season, and there’s no better way to hold politicians accountable than at the polls.

Most readers will recognize Peter Drucker’s name as the author of many books about management.  The Austrian immigrant was revered in that field and sold millions of books.  Few realize, though, that his academic training was actually in international law and that he moved toward business out of his conviction that management is a liberal art.  I have embarked upon a research project to read and understand his social thought.  In the process of reading his first book, The End of Economic Man, I have run into many gems, including this one:

Realization of freedom and equality was first sought in the spiritual sphere.  The creed that all mean are equal in the world beyond and free to decide their fate in the other world by their actions and thoughts in this one, which, accordingly, is but a preparation for the real life, may have been only an attempt to keep the masses down, as the eighteenth century and the Marxists assert.  But to the people in the eleventh or in the thirteenth century the promise was real.  That every Last Judgment at a church door shows popes, bishops, and kings in damnation was not just the romantic fantasy of a rebellious stonemason.  It was a real and truthful expression of that epoch of our history which projected freedom and equality into the spiritual sphere.
This is not the stuff of The Effective Executive, but it is great stuff.
Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
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In a conversation this morning on the way into the office I complained of what I called the “tyranny of pragmatism” that characterizes the approach of many students towards their education. In this I meant a kind of emphasis on what works, and in fact what works right now over what might work later or better.

Then I was reminded of this little catechism that appears in the notes of Luigi Taparelli’s treatise “Critical Analysis of the First Concepts of Social Economy,” which appears in translation in the latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality.

Taparelli writes of “an odd catechism attributed to the Anglo-Americans but that we believe most appropriate for that ignoble part of any society that takes utilitarianism for its guide.”

It proceeds thus:

What is life? A time to earn money.
What is money? The goal of life.
What is man? A machine for earning money.
What is woman? A machine for spending money, and so forth

What is the purpose of an education today if not primarily to teach us what works to make money right now?

Each year my alma mater, Aquinas College  of Grand Rapids, Mich., invites students, faculty, staff, and members of the local community to take part in a wide range of activities throughout the week of January 28th to celebrate the feast of our patron saint.   Although this week officially bears the name of a celebration in honor of St. Thomas Aquinas, it is also a special time when members of the Aquinas College community celebrate the college’s heritage in the Dominican tradition.  This heritage is preserved through the college’s relationship with the Dominican sisters at the Marywood Dominican center and the Dominican charisms of prayer, study, community, and service.

During St. Thomas Aquinas week, the college community highlights each of the charisms in a special way through one or many of the various events that are organized. Fittingly enough, this year’s 21st Anniversary St. Thomas Aquinas Lecture will be given by Dr. Eleonore Stump of Saint Louis University called “The Problem of Suffering: A Thomistic Approach” on Friday, January 27 at 12:15 pm in the Wege Ballroom.  Dr. Stump is the Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University  and author or editor of several books on Medieval philosophy, including Aquinas (2003), Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering (2010) and the Oxford Handbook of Thomas Aquinas (2012).  The lecture is free, open to the public, and is sponsored by Catholic Studies – which is directed by Acton University lecturer Dr. John Pinheiro.

The next lecture in the works for the Catholic Studies program will be the Fourth Annual lecture in the Catholic Studies Speaker Series at Aquinas College.  This will be a special lecture on the Catholic intellectual tradition given by George Weigel on April 11, 2012.  Visit www.aquinas.edu for more information about these and other lectures that will be hosted byAquinasCollege throughout the rest of the academic year.

Where is God already at work? Who is making an impact in their sphere of influence? What can you do to make a difference?

The “mountains” in my title here describes the ways some have divided culture, erroneously setting apart the areas in which we would need to impact (business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family and religion) in order to realize real, sustainable change in the Christian world.

Transformation 2012 is a one-day virtual conference designed to equip and engage Christians for workplace, city and nationwide transformation. Through keynote sessions, organizational showcases, panel discussions, and real-life stories, attendees will learn what God is doing to realize transformation and how He wants to use us in that endeavor.

Acton Institute will be an exhibitor at this conference on February 18th. This will give us an opportunity to showcase resources such as Call Of the Entrepreneur, Birth Of Freedom, Business As A Calling, and Work: The Meaning Of Your Life. Attendees will enter our virtual booth online from their computer, browse the resources we have placed there and will be able to interact with the Acton representative by online chat. Click here for more information on the conference and please share this with friends and co-workers whom you feel would benefit from such an event.

[Thanks to RealClearWorld, ThePulp.it, NewsBusters and PewSitter.com for linking to this commentary.] Over at the American Spectator, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg points to Europe’s “perceptible inability” to acknowledge some of the deeper dynamics driving its financial crisis. And these are primarily a “slow-motion population implosion” complicated by the exodus of young European Union citizens and the return of hundreds of thousands of immigrants to their homes in developing nations. That is an ominous development for a region where the dependency rate — the ratio of retirees per member of the labor force — has ratcheted up as the welfare state has ballooned over several decades.

Gregg:

These facts have made some Europeans willing to ponder the necessity of labor-market and welfare reform, not least because those countries that have weathered the crisis better than others (e.g., Germany and Sweden) actually implemented such changes in the 2000s. Getting Europeans to talk publicly about the continent’s population-trends and their economic consequences, however, is a different matter.

Why? One reason is that many Europeans have long been in thrall to the over-population gospel. Long before Paul Erhlich’s The Population Bomb (1968) — whose doomsday future-scenarios of a world devastated by famines, mass disease, and social unrest unleashed by overpopulation never materialized — numerous European economists had bought into this thesis.

In 1798, the Anglican vicar and one of the first modern economists, Thomas Malthus, published his Essay on the Principle of Population. This argued that growing populations would produce an increasing labor-supply. The result, Malthus insisted, would be lower wages and therefore mass poverty. “The power of population,” he claimed, “is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.” Another English philosopher-economist, John Stuart Mill, was so convinced by Malthusian arguments that he actually spent time in London parks distributing birth-control pamphlets to bemused onlookers.

Read Samuel Gregg’s “Europe in Demographic Denial” on the American Spectator.

Beginning in 1908 as the “Octave of Christian Unity,” the eight days from January 18 to January 25 are designated as the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” and observed by many major Christian traditions and denominations.

All around the world, Christians who sometimes do not always get along so well (to put it lightly) put aside their discord to pray for renewed harmony and reconciliation. For example, in Bucharest, Romania, ecumenical prayer services are being held on nearly every day of this week rotating between Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Evangelical (Lutheran), Anglican, Armenian, and Romanian Orthodox churches.

In his recent book The Unity Factor, published by Christian’s Library Press, John Armstrong outlines his vision for a deeper unity between Christians of various traditions. “Christians are called to unity in love and to unity in truth,” writes Armstrong, emphasizing the need for Christians to once again share one faith, one church, and one mission.

Furthermore, Armstrong urges that

comprehensive biblical love is the defining identity and hallmark of all true followers of Jesus. I believe this is the central truth we must recover if we want the world to take notice of our witness. Today, the world mocks much of what we say and do. A great deal of this is deserved. This, however, was not the case in the earliest centuries of the church. Christians’ deep sense of shared, familial love led them to love even more deeply. As our present world polarizes politically and socially, the church must refuse to follow the ways of the world, returning instead to this unity factor.

I hope that all Christians will take some time this week to join millions of others who pray for that “comprehensive biblical love” and “unity in truth” that characterized Christians of the ancient, united Church.

The Unity Factor can be purchased through our bookstore.

The Keynesians will have little to cheer about in this story. Yesterday I saw this report from CNN Money that said U.S. consumer credit card debt fell by 11 percent in 2011. Mississippians led the Union by reducing their card balance by 23 percent. While total household debt fell by only 1 percent last year, it is still a towering accomplishment when compared to the U.S. federal debt increase.

This is exactly the point Jordan Ballor and I made in our 2008 commentary “The Fiscal Responsibility of Mall Rats and Bureaucrats.” In that piece, we pointed out that the federal government is a significantly poorer steward of our resources when put up against the supposedly “materialistic” and “selfish” consumer.

The inability of the federal government to curtail spending should be considered a form of insanity when one simply looks at the numbers. Instead, as I pointed out before, government spending is now so sacred for some in the religious community, it is a shrine that must be encircled.

The Think Tanks and Civil Society Program at the University of Pennsylvania this morning released its “2011 Global Go To Think Tanks Rankings” and associated trends analysis. The full report will be posted here soon.

The Acton Institute was ranked No. 12 globally on the “Top Thirty Social Policy Think Tanks” (the same ranking as in the 2010 survey) and No. 39 on the “Top Fifty Think Tanks in the United States” ranking (up eight places).

James McGann, the director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, said the genesis of the rankings project “developed from a series of requests from donors and journalists to produce national, regional, and international lists of the preeminent think tanks. Our ongoing efforts with respect to the rankings are now defined by our drive to understand the role of think tanks in governments and civil societies globally, so that we can help to improve their capacity and performance.”

McGann said that the rankings process “relies on a shared definition of public policy research, analysis, and engagement organizations, a detailed set of selection criteria, and an increasingly open and transparent nomination and selection process. Particularly with this year’s improvements, we believe this process to have tremendous utility for think tanks, policymakers, donors, and the public. We are especially pleased with the increased participation from developing and BRICS countries, which allows us to bring special attention to the important work they are doing, often under a set of circumstances with a set of obstacles all their own.”

The BRIC countries include Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The number of think tanks operating out of these five countries increased by more than 100 percent between 2008 and 2011, from 419 to 985 think tanks, according to the report. China and India have the second and third most think tanks, respectively. In total, 425 think tanks are listed as based in China. The United States leads with 1,815.

Congratulations to the Washington-based Brookings Institution for earning the distinction of “Top Think Tank in the World” for 2011.

From Penn:

Launched in 2006, Penn’s “Global ‘Go-To Think Tank’ Rankings” annual report has become an authoritative source for the top public policy research institutes in the world. James G. McGann, assistant director of Penn’s International Relations Program, directs the Think Tanks and Civil Society Program at Penn. This year the report focuses on the rise of the G20 countries and the role of think tanks in the Arab Spring and other global trends.

This year’s ranking report is based on a 2011 worldwide survey of more than 1,500 policy makers, scholars, journalists, current and former think-tank executives, public and private donors, intergovernmental agencies and academic institutions. Approximately 5,300 think tanks were nominated for inclusion in 30 category rankings.

About the Think Tanks and Civil Society Program:

As part of the International Relations Program at the University of Pennsylvania, the TTCSP conducts research on the role policy institutes play in governments and civil societies around the world. TTCSP was established in 1989. TTCSP maintains a database and network of over 6500 think tanks in 213 countries. Often referred to as the “think tank’s think tank,” TTCSP examines the evolving role and character of public policy research organizations. Over the last 25 years, the Program has developed and led a series of global initiatives that have helped bridge the gap between knowledge and policy in critical policy areas such as international peace and security, globalization and governance, international economics, environment, information and society, poverty alleviation, and health. These international collaborative efforts are designed to establish regional and international networks of policy institutes and communities that improve policy making as well as strengthen democratic institutions and civil societies around the world. TTCSP works with leading scholars and practitioners from think tanks and universities in a variety of collaborative efforts and programs and maintains the world’s leading research database and directory of think tanks. TTCSP produces the annual Global Go-To Think Tank Index that ranks world’s leading think tanks with the help of a panel of over 1500 peer institutions and experts from the print and electronic media, academia, public and private donor institutions and policymakers.