Archived Posts 2012 - Page 8 of 112 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
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Poverty and Perverse Incentives
Ross Douthat, New York Times

[T]he problem of marginal tax rates does suggest at least a few lessons for policymakers focused on mobility and the working poor.

Americans Recognize Obamacare’s Religious Liberty Problem
Sarah Torre, The Foundry

Americans see the problem with the religious liberty violation at the leading edge of Obamacare implementation, according to a new poll released by Rasmussen Reports this week.

Austerity and morality
Michael Gerson, Washington Post

The politics of austerity is inherently divisive. Some are judged worthy; others are found lacking

Why I am not a Communitarian
Howard Ahmanson, Blue Kennel

[A] big part of my problem with ‘communitarianism’ is that the ‘communitarians’ are not always clear on which of these a ‘community’ is. Is it a local government? A religious community? A society with certain customs?

Conestoga Wood Specialties of Pennsylvania, with 950 employees, has filed suit against the government’s HHS mandate. The Mennonites, who trace their religious roots to the 16th century, have about one million members worldwide. Mennonites understand that life begins at conception, and the owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties do not want to be forced to comply with a mandate that conflicts with their faith.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“Because of that provision in the policy, because our clients are paying for it, because of their religious beliefs, they are very opposed to any form of killing – they don’t think they should be forced into providing coverage that has the potential for taking of a life,” said Chuck Proctor, a Chadds Ford-based lawyer representing the firm and its principals, Norman Hahn and his two sons.

There are now 41 cases, with 110 plaintiffs, against the HHS mandate, including the craft store, Hobby Lobby and Grand Rapids-based Autocam.

The Michigan legislature passed right-to-work legislation today, a landmark event that promises to accelerate the state’s rebound from the near-collapse it suffered in the deep recession of 2008. The bills are now headed to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk. The right-to-work passage was a stunning reversal for unions in a very blue state — the home of the United Auto Workers. Following setbacks for organized labor in Wisconsin last year, the unions next turned to Michigan in an attempt to enshrine prerogatives for their organizing efforts in the state constitution. A union-backed ballot proposal was handily defeated by voters in the Nov. 6 election.

rightoworkBut according to some on the Christian left, the right-to-work law is the worst thing that could happen to “workers.” Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a retired auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, argued in an opinion piece that right-to-work “devastates economic justice.” He claims to speak not just for Catholics or for Christians but quite simply for faith communities all over the world:

At the core of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and all great religions are the values of dignity and respect, values from which economic justice and the right to organize can never be separated.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s Presbyterian tradition “affirms the rights of labor organization and collective bargaining as minimum demands of justice.” Similar statements have been made by the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to name but a few. (more…)

Solidarity designed by Thibault Geoffroy, from The Noun Project

Solidarity designed by Thibault Geoffroy, from The Noun Project

When I moved to west Michigan, one of the things that struck me the most were distinct cultural differences between the different sides of the state. While I was pursuing a master’s degree at Calvin Theological Seminary, I worked for a while in the receiving department at Bissell, Inc. I remember being surprised, nay, shocked, that a manufacturer like Bissell was not a union shop. (All those jobs are somewhere else now, in any case.)

Before attending Michigan State as an undergrad, I had lived in Detroit, and although I never had a union job myself, the cultural expectations of organized labor were (and still are) deeply ingrained on the east side of the state. My dad is a longtime editor at a suburban newspaper, and one of the reasons he still has a job amid the economic downturn and the upheavals facing that industry is his membership in the guild.

But things really are different on this side of the state. That’s one reason why the protests taking place today in Lansing, the centrally-located state capital, are symbolic of two sides of the state, in many ways divided by culture, economy, and politics. As to the latter, consider some statewide candidates for public office in recent memory that haven’t done so well when trying to move beyond west Michigan, including Pete Hoekstra, Dick DeVos, Dick Posthumus. The fight over Right to Work legislation in Michigan is, in this way, a tale of two Michigans.

It is also a tale about two paths forward for Michigan, though. On the one side is the state’s historic identification with Big Labor and the Big Three. On the other side is a Michigan that embraces enterprising innovation and entrepreneurial competition.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized yesterday on this topic (HT: Ross Emmett), and captures the essence of the choice facing Michigan: “Unions loathe right to work because they know that many workers would rather not join a union.”

I think that the right to organize and therefore unions are fundamental to flourishing societies. But what concerns me is that the argument against Right to Work is not about this fundamental right to organize, but rather about protecting the entrenched and embedded political interests of a particular kind of union.

There is a world of difference between voluntary union membership and mandatory, government-enforced, union membership. If the former is akin to something like the freedom of religion, then the latter is more like the government establishment of a particular religion or church. What we need is the separation of Union and State in the way that we have historically had free churches. We need to disestablish labor in the same way that we have disestablished religion in America, while simultaneously protecting the right to organize and join a union as well as the right to worship and express our religious convictions.
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The Michigan legislature’s historic vote today on the right-to-work issue raises the important question: Do labor unions offer the best protection for the worker? Liberating Labor: A Christian Economist’s Case for Voluntary Unionism by Charles W. Baird answers that question and explains the Catholic social teaching on the issue.

In theory, unions foster good relations between employers and workers and prevent mistreatment or exploitation in the workplace. Pope Leo XIII sanctioned trade unions in Rerum Novarum during the Industrial Revolution; however, his support was very specific and is often misinterpreted. There is a common misunderstanding that Catholic social teaching supports any type of unionism or labor association.

Baird argues that Catholic social teaching supports voluntary unionism and condemns obligatory association—which is exactly what this Michigan legislation addresses. Liberating Labor observes and explains the basic principle of freedom of association and gives a clear and simple economic analysis of labor markets as well as the economic principle of voluntary exchange. It goes on to explain why these economic concepts are consistent with Catholic social teaching. Baird closely scrutinizes the common misconceptions about the process of the labor market that have caused the widespread support of compulsory trade unions. He concludes the essay by offering his own model of unionism that is consistent with papal teaching and sound economics.

Charles Baird is professor of Economics, Emeritus, at California State University, Hayward as well as founder and former director of the Smith Center for Private Enterprise Studies in Hayward, Calif. Liberating Labor is the fifth book in the Christian Social Thought series from the Acton Institute. You can learn more about and purchase the monograph in hard copy or ebook here.

Alexandre Havard leading a recent “Virtuous Leadership” seminar with CEOs and entrepreneurs in Latvia, one of the most industrialized and wealthy republics of the former Soviet Union

The Acton Institute’s Rome office led its recent Campus Martius Seminar with Alexandre Havard, the Russian-French author of Virtuous Leadership (2007),  Created for Greatness: The Power of Magnanimity (2011) and founder of the Moscow- and Washington, D.C.-based Harvard Virtuous Leadership Institute.

Havard, speaking with Zenit’s Ed Pentin in an article following the seminar, said that during today’s economic crisis aspiring and veteran entrepreneurs alike are suffering from an improper understanding of the intimate union between humility and magnanimity, even the most religious and virtuous of them:

It’s much easier to say to God: ‘Do the work in me and I just do nothing. But God very often tells us: ‘I will not do it because I have already given you talents through nature; you have to discover those things and do it …Humility is to say: ‘I have gifts, I have talents, and they come from God.’ You recognize that you have not produced those talents, that they are a gift from him to you. Then magnanimity is to say: ‘I have them but I have to make them fructify, I must develop them and multiply them, and put them at the service of the community and the common good.  So you see these two things come together. [Talents] are not mine. I have been given them and this is my humility; my magnanimity tells me to multiply them and use them.

Havard agreed to sit down with me recently and talk about the moral and character pitfalls in both the East and the West as well as the inspiration for his virtuous leadership training program. (more…)

Prof. Giovanni Patriarca, recipient of the Acton Institute’s 2012 Novak Award given recently in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, was interviewed by RomeReports Television News Agency in a video released Friday.

Articulating the main points of his lecture “Against Apathy: Reconstruction of a Cultural Identity,” Patriarca told RomeReports that Western democratic society is abandoning its traditional values and, therefore, its very culture of responsible freedom and creativity. He placed part of the blame of the West’s moral decline and widespread apathy on an ever-increasing “fast-paced, digitalized and materialistic lifestyle.”

Patriarca told RomeReports the problem of apathy in Western culture is really centered on the “fundamental role religion plays” in restoring man’s civic responsibilities and altruistic desire to freely choose creative magnanimous action in the service of God and society—the Judeo-Christian moral and vocational platform on which a free and enterprising Western culture is founded. Therefore Patriarca also warned that the Western culture’s “openness of religion,” its so-called  “spiritualism a la carte” which has led to a relativistic, hashed religious culture that is fundamentally unmotivated and too radically self-centered to sacrifice altruistically to overcome the immense challenges of the world’s current economic crisis.

In religion, he says, “we regain lost hope and rebuild from [it] a sense of charity, respect, reconciliation, and forgiveness … to find solutions to problems that will be difficult, but will be positive and creative … to stimulate our growth together.”

On Nov. 28, the Canada-based Fraser Institute released the eighth edition of its annual report, Economic Freedom of North America 2012, in which the respective economic situation and government regulatory factors present in the states and provinces of North America were gauged.

Global studies of economic freedom, such as the Heritage Foundation’s 2012 Index of Economic Freedom and the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World 2012, rank the United States and Canada as two of the most economically free countries in the world. But, as data from the North America report shows, not all sections of the countries are experiencing an equal level of economic freedom and it is important to look at areas in which this falters.

States and provinces were evaluated and ranked within three categories: 1) Size of Government; 2) Takings and Discriminatory Taxation; and 3) Labor Market Freedom. The Canadian province, Alberta, claimed the top spot as most economically free, followed closely by Delaware. New Mexico placed 59th, making it the least economically free state, followed by Prince Edward Island of Canada, notching the rank of least economically free area in North America (between the United States and Canada).

The Economic Freedom of North America 2012 report draws a clear link between prosperity and economic freedom, through a comparison of states and provinces. “In the United States, the relatively free Georgia does much better than the relatively unfree West Virginia. In Canada, British Columbia, where economic freedom has been increasing in recent years, has been experiencing considerably greater growth on a per-capita basis than Ontario, where economic freedom has been decreasing in recent years.” (more…)

Given all the reassessment going on today about conservatism and its popularity and viability for governing, I recommend picking up a copy of The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election by Garland Tucker, III.

The author is Chief Executive Officer of Triangle Capital Corporation in Raleigh, N.C. Over the years, I’ve highlighted how Coolidge’s ideas relate to Acton’s thought and mission. And while I’ve read and written a lot about Coolidge, I knew next to nothing about John W. Davis. Davis was a lawyer, ambassador, and Solicitor General of the United States who hailed from West Virginia. He argued 140 cases before the Supreme Court. As the Democratic presidential nominee in 1924, he was also Coolidge’s election opponent.

Davis believed strongly in limited government and economic freedom. He criticized the policies of the New Deal saying, “Whether business is better today than it was yesterday, or will be better or worse tomorrow than it is today, is a poor guide for people who are called upon to decide what sort of government they want to live under both today and tomorrow and for the long days after.”

I reached out to the author to ask him some questions about his book and about the ideas and significance of Coolidge and Davis. Below is the interview:
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Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary believes that Jesus had an economic plan. She’s written a book, #Occupy the Bible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power, and claims that Jesus came to reverse economic inequality.

When Jesus announced his ministry as “good news to the poor” and to “proclaim the Year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4: 18-19), he meant that he wanted his society to have a year when economic inequality was reversed. That’s the “Year of the Lord’s favor” or the biblical “Jubilee” as I write in the Chapter 6: “The Jubilee, or, Jesus Had an Economic Plan” in #OccupytheBible.

Her recent article in the Huffington Post has some merit. She points out that Americans need to do a much better job at lifting people out of poverty, and that children in our country should not be hungry. However, the idea that Jesus came, not as a Savior for our sins, but as some sort of economic guru who started an Occupy the Roman Empire movement is not only absurd, it’s theological contortion.

Jesus’ economic plan was pretty simple: “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mt. 22:21) Putting that Scripture in context, one notes that Jesus was replying to the Pharisees who were trying to trap him into speaking out against the Romans. He quietly turned the tables on them.

Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus condemn wealth in and of itself. He demands the same from both the poor and the wealthy: to store up treasure in Heaven, to love God and others, and to take up our crosses and follow Him. It’s not much of an economic plan, but then Jesus wasn’t an economist. He had bigger things on His mind.