Archived Posts 2012 - Page 2 of 160 | Acton PowerBlog

Zero-sum: It’s thinking that if you have more, I have less. One more baby in a family is one more mouth to feed, and less food for everyone else. One new business opens up on the block, and all the rest of the businesses suffer. The guy in the cubicle next to you gets a raise, and you get nothing, because there’s nothing left.

Except that it’s wrong. Lots of people know it, too. P.J. O’Rourke knows it, and he wants to make it clear to President Obama as well. O’Rourke congratulates Obama for some things here at the end of 2012, such as taking care of Osama bin Laden and for not being Jimmy Carter. However, O’Rourke also schools Obama on the fallacy of zero-sum thinking:

You sent a message to America in your re-election campaign. Therefore you sent a message to the world. The message is that we live in a zero-sum universe.

There is a fixed amount of good things. Life is a pizza. If some people have too many slices, other people have to eat the pizza box. You had no answer to Mitt Romney’s argument for more pizza parlors baking more pizzas. The solution to our problems, you said, is redistribution of the pizzas we’ve got—with low-cost, government-subsidized pepperoni somehow materializing as the result of higher taxes on pizza-parlor owners. (more…)

Every Wednesday we publish the Acton Commentary, a weekly article that covers topics related to Acton’s mission. As 2012 comes to a close I thought it would be worth highlighting the superb commentaries that have been produced by Acton Institute staffers over the past year.

The following list includes articles published in 2012 by Ray Nothstine, an associate editor at Acton and managing editor of Religion & Liberty:

Over at AEIdeas, James Pethokoukis challenges our attitudes about work and leisure by drawing a helpful contrast between economists John Maynard Keynes and Deirdre McCloskey.

First, he points to “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren,” in which Keynes frames our economic pursuits as a means to a leisurely end:

Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem-how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.

The strenuous purposeful money-makers may carry all of us along with them into the lap of economic abundance. But it will be those peoples, who can keep alive, and cultivate into a fuller perfection, the art of life itself and do not sell themselves for the means of life, who will be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.

Then, he draws the contrast, relying on Deirdre McCloskey’s The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce. In the book, McCloskey quotes Studs Terkel, who eloquently describes a job “as a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Friday, December 28, 2012

388px-The_Last_of_the_Spirits-John_Leech,_1843Matt Mitchell at Neighborhood Effects offers an interesting perspective regarding the fiscal cliff. As we hurriedly approach the edge, Mitchell’s insights ought not to be ignored, whatever the outcome of today’s last minute meeting at the White House. Evoking the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, he writes,

At the risk of mixing metaphors, we should think of the fiscal cliff as the Ghost of the Fiscal Future. It is a bleak lesson in what awaits us if we don’t get serious about changing course.

Mitchell goes on to hint at the serious issue of intergenerational justice that our government’s current fiscal behavior will affect if it continues unchanged:

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office [CBO] now projects that, absent policy change, when my two-year-old daughter reaches my age (32), revenue will be just a bit above its historical average at 19 percent of GDP while spending will be nearly twice its historical average at 39 percent of GDP. This is what economists mean when they say we have a spending problem and not a revenue problem: spending increases, not revenue decreases, account for the entirety of the projected growth in deficits and debt over the coming years. (more…)

Benjamin West - Choice of Hercules between Virtue and Pleasure

The Choice of Hercules between Virtue and Pleasure

Eli Horowitz over at Rust Belt Philosophy takes up my post from earlier this week, “The Christ Child and a Culture of Birth.” For the moment we can leave aside the accusations of racism latent in my view, as my demographic concerns are related to replacement levels and not to the question of majority/minority demographic shifts.

I do want to address one claim from Horowitz about the nature of cultural privilege, though.

His basic complaint against my view is that my “idea for the culture is distinctly not one in which people get to choose between many options, none of which is privileged above any other.”

Some clarification is in order, I think. Privilege in terms of positive law and in terms of cultural norms are two distinct things (although not unrelated, of course). That is, permitting something legally is distinct from giving that thing moral approbation.

And this is precisely where many left-libertarians, who exult in the culture of naked choice, often run aground. On this view, only must there be protection of their “choices” in law, but there must also be an egalitarian culture of choice, so that there can be no moral disapproval expressed publicly about any of the panoply of choices that might be made. Anything like this is perceived as “taking women’s choices away and forcing them into a very narrow lifestyle.”

My blog post and the related commentary function exclusively at the level of cultural critique and commentary. Nothing in them should be construed as direct advocacy for a particular policy regarding family and childbirth (although particular policies would cohere to a greater or lesser extent with the views expressed).

I do, in fact, think that it is better for a society to have children rather than not, and as such it is not a sign of a healthy culture “wherein it’s equally acceptable to have kids and not to have kids.” Here I will simply reiterate Arthur Brooks’ point: “The future of a prosperous society depends on a lot of things, but the fundamental currency of the success of any society is people, is humans. When you stop having the humans, your life is limited and your prosperity is doomed.”

This is my basic point about a “culture of birth,” and in that sense I do think it can be seen as contrary to a “culture of choice” advocated by Horowitz.

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, December 28, 2012

The Most Persecuted Religion
Abraham Cooper, John Huffman, and Yitzchock Adlerstein, Wall Street Journal

Christians are targeted—by independent groups or governments—in some 131 countries world-wide.

How the Early Church Made Peace with Prosperity
Peter Leithart, Christianity Today

As the early church grew in wealth and stature, it displaced existing Roman models of caring for the poor.

Why Guinness Has Been Good For You
Ashley May, Values & Capitalism

As proponents of free markets look for examples of morality, entrepreneurship and citizenship, “The Search for God and Guinness” may be a good place to start.

Why Aren’t We Praying From 9-5?
Taylor Barkley, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

Because our daily work falls into routine, it is extremely easy to simply forget to pray. But with God’s help and cultivated discipline we can develop spiritual habits like praying for our daily work.

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, December 27, 2012

An article in the Christmas issue of The Spectator make a surprising and bold claim:

It may not feel like it, but 2012 has been the greatest year in the history of the world. That sounds like an extravagant claim, but it is borne out by evidence. Never has there been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. The West remains in the economic doldrums, but most developing countries are charging ahead, and people are being lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. The death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also mercifully low. We are living in a golden age.

To listen to politicians is to be given the opposite impression — of a dangerous, cruel world where things are bad and getting worse. This, in a way, is the politicians’ job: to highlight problems and to try their best to offer solutions. But the great advances of mankind come about not from statesmen, but from ordinary people. Governments across the world appear stuck in what Michael Lind, on page 30, describes as an era of ‘turboparalysis’ — all motion, no progress. But outside government, progress has been nothing short of spectacular.

While it’s tempting to dismiss the article as the typical hyperbolic contrarianism magazines and websites tend to churn out to pump up pageviews, I think there may be something to the claim.