Archived Posts January 2013 - Page 2 of 14 | Acton PowerBlog

Jonathan Mayhew

The American minister Jonathan Mayhew (October 8, 1720 – July 9, 1766) is credited with coining the phrase “No taxation without representation.”

My review of Nicholas Eberstadt’s A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic appears in the current issue of The City (currently available in print).

Eberstadt makes some important points about the sustainability of our society given current trends in our national polity. The most salient feature, contends Eberstadt, is that “the United States is at the verge of a symbolic threshold: the point at which more than half of all American households receive, and accept, transfer benefits from the government.” This Calvin & Hobbes cartoon captures the basic idea pretty well.

One possible response to the upside-down nature of a society with more takers than makers is to re-examine the link between taxation and representation. As I wrote in an Acton Commentary late last year,

“No taxation without representation” was a slogan taken up and popularized by this nation’s Founders, and this idea became an important animating principle of the American Revolution. But that was also an era when landowners had the primary responsibilities in civic life; theirs was the land that was taxed and so theirs too were the rights to vote and be represented. Thus went the logic. But the question that faces us now, nearly two and a half centuries later, is the flip side of the Revolutionary slogan: To what extent should there be representation without taxation?

In his review of Becoming Europe Theodore Dalrymple raises this same issue with respect to the problems that Gregg traces: “There is a simple conceptual solution to this corrupt and corrupting tendency: a constitutional change such that there should be no representation without taxation. After all, to allow people who are economically dependent on the government to vote is like allowing the CEOs of banks to fix their own remuneration.”
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I have wrapped up a brief series on the principle of subsidiarity over at the blog of the journal Political Theology with a post today, “Subsidiarity ‘From Below.'” You can check out the previous post, “Subsidiarity ‘From Above,'” as well as my introductory primer on the topic as well.

For those who might be interested in reading some more, you can also download some related papers: “State, Church, and the Reformational Roots of Subsidiarity” and “A Society of Mutual Aid: Natural Law and Subsidiarity in Early Modern Reformed Perspective.”

There’s also this recent coverage from the PowerBlog of a paper by Patrick Brennan and further responses (here, here, and here).

Ken Endo, who has done a great deal of work on the historical and legal background to the idea of subsidiarity, has a helpful summary of the two basic constructions as differing emphases of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism:

Founded on a strong sense of autonomy and self-determination that could be influenced by the Protestant tradition, the local municipalities and regions in Sweden and Finland considered subsidiarity indispensable if they are to join the European Community….

Their approach towards subsidiarity as well as that of Denmark and perhaps the Netherlands takes on a bottom-up character, and does not necessarily coincide with the conception of southern European countries, which are in general coloured by Catholicism.

Of this latter view, Endo is referring to the idea that “the Catholic Church presupposes the hierarchical view of Society in which all its components should be located in the ‘proper’ places. Moreover, the Church considers that other components of Society than the State are subordinated to the State in a harmonious way as if they were part of its body (to put it in a different way, in accordance with the common good.”

You can download the text of Endo’s lengthy essay, “The Principle of Subsidiarity: From Johannes Althusius to Jacques Delors,” in PDF form.

Acton’s Director of Research and author of Becoming Europe, Samuel Gregg, was featured yesterday on The RJ Moeller Show. Gregg talked about America’s drift towards “social democracy” and other economic themes in his new book; Moeller gives more detail at this post at Values & Capitalism. Click on the audio link below to hear the show.

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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
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Defending the Soup Kitchen
Elise Amyx, Values & Capitalism

There are a lot of irresponsible charities out there. Some create dependency, and others hurt local businesses by dumping free supplies.

The Puzzle of Religious Liberty
Benjamin Wiker, Catholic World Report

Why the affirmation of religious liberty can lead, ironically, to its extinction at the hands of the secular state.

Business As Ministry
Andre Yee, Desiring God

Anyone working in a “secular” job will be tempted to think of work as less significant or less God honoring than that of, say, a pastor. I have struggled here, and over the years I have met many others who struggle with a sense of purpose in their daily work — wondering if they need instead to give themselves to pastoral work or Christian ministry in order to truly “do God’s will.”

The Real Problem with Highly Regulated “School Choice”
Andrew J. Coulson, Cato Institute

Our reason for concern over this pattern is also grounded in empirical evidence: it is the least regulated, most market-like private schools that do the best job of serving families.

One of the most astounding economic statistics is the wealth gap between black and white Americans. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of government data from 2009, the total wealth (assets minus debts) of the typical black household was $5,677 while the typical white household had $113,149. Why is the median wealth of white households 20 times that of black households?

racial-wealth-gapPlummeting house values were the principal cause, says Pew Research. Among white homeowners, the decline was from $115,364 in 2005 to $95,000 in 2009 and among black homeowners, it was from $76,910 in 2005 to $59,000 in 2009. The fact that only 46% of black Americans own a home, compared to a homeownership rate of 76% for whites likely affect the gap too.

But in a paper published last month, Princeton graduate student Rourke O’Brien suggests another reason: the generosity of black families.
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Theodore Dalrymple, contributing editor of the City Journal and Dietrich Weissman Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, has recently reviewed Samuel Gregg’s new book, Becoming Europe at the Library of Law and Liberty.

Dalrymple observes:

In this well-written book, Samuel Gregg explains what can only be called the dialectical relationship between the interests of the European political class and the economic beliefs and wishes of the population as a whole. The population is essentially fearful; it wants to be protected from the future rather than adapt to its inevitable changes, while at the same time maintaining prosperity. It wants security more than freedom; it wants to preserve what the French call les acquis such as long holidays, unlimited unemployment benefits, disability pensions for non-existent illnesses, early retirement, short hours, and so forth, even if they render their economies uncompetitive in the long term and require unsustainable levels of borrowing to fund them, borrowing that will eventually impoverish everyone. Many companies, including the largest, lobby the political class to be shielded from the cold winds of international competition and become, in effect, licensed traders. Having succumbed to the temptation to grant all these wishes, the politicians now dare not admit that they have repeatedly as a consequence to promise three impossible things before breakfast. We all know what to do, said the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, but not how to get re-elected afterwards; and so Pompadourism has become the ruling political philosophy of the day. Madame de Pompadour’s cynical but prophetic witticism, après nous le déluge has become the economic mission statement of almost the entire European political class.

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Over at Ricochet, Peter Robinson broaches the oft asked question about intellectuals and their disdain and rage against capitalism. Robinson unearthed Robert Nozick’s, “Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?” Nozick declared,

The schools, too, exhibited and thereby taught the principle of reward in accordance with (intellectual) merit. To the intellectually meritorious went the praise, the teacher’s smiles, and the highest grades. In the currency the schools had to offer, the smartest constituted the upper class. Though not part of the official curricula, in the schools the intellectuals learned the lessons of their own greater value in comparison with the others, and of how this greater value entitled them to greater rewards.

The wider market society, however, taught a different lesson. There the greatest rewards did not go to the verbally brightest. There the intellectual skills were not most highly valued. Schooled in the lesson that they were most valuable, the most deserving of reward, the most entitled to reward, how could the intellectuals, by and large, fail to resent the capitalist society which deprived them of the just deserts to which their superiority “entitled” them? Is it surprising that what the schooled intellectuals felt for capitalist society was a deep and sullen animus that, although clothed with various publicly appropriate reasons, continued even when those particular reasons were shown to be inadequate?

The entire essay is thoughtful and worth the read and it reminded me of some of my own observations of life at Ole Miss, my own Alma Mater. Much of what Nozick explains in the essay may be magnified at a school that has a similar cultural makeup as that one. The University of Mississippi or Ole Miss, at least from my own experience, is a very solid public university. There are some excellent professors in residence, especially within the college of liberal arts. For a public university, especially when it comes to capitalism and cultural norms, the student body is relatively conservative. I would say though from my own experience, however, it isn’t a place of grand academic probing or curiosity for most students. How many colleges genuinely can claim that characteristic today, though? That is not to say students are less intelligent or thoughtful than elsewhere.

A deep intellectual curiosity among the student body, in most cases, would not ingratiate you towards your peers and it certainly did you little favor in the social scene. I immediately noticed a tension between some of the academics and a large portion of the student body. Social development, popularity, networking, and the general social scene was all the rage for many students. Whether it was through popular fraternities and sororities and social gatherings, those activities and influences took precedence over the academy and academic pursuits.

A lot students came from financially successful families and many of those families were popular in Mississippi. They had little interest in repudiating their background, upbringing, and many of the cultural norms that surrounded them. While some academics on campus wanted the students to at least in part, to repudiate some of those values and norms. And many of those same students – who might be described as not “academic” or “intellectual” – were masters of the social scene, where often financial success comes in life, especially in the field of business and entrepreneurial enterprise. The resentment of some in academic circles was palpable. They felt betrayed by the wider culture – no beautiful woman at their side, no expensive sport utility vehicle, and little popularity. Thus there was a feeling that the system is rigged and unfair. I suspect in many of the the more traditional campus settings, feelings like this are especially common.

There has been a lot written on the topic of the academy’s rants and raging against the free market. Certainly much of it has to do with the deep perception that some professors aren’t rewarded to a greater degree than those that are less academic but maybe more socially astute in life and business.

Perhaps the best examples today are the professors in SEC schools who carry impressive academic degrees and credentials but are dwarfed in salary by football coaches with motorcades bigger than the state governor, and a support staff greater than entire academic departments on campus. They are a visible reminder of the popular jock who got the girl, while simultaneously, being the most admired figure on campus. Is capitalism or the free market really to blame though?

Samuel Gregg was recently on WORD-FM: Pittsburgh’s “The Ride Home with John and Kathy” to talk about Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future. They discuss many of the main themes of the book, including:  Americans’ changing attitude toward liberty and economic freedom, entitlements, and the welfare state.

Listen to their discussion here:

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Becoming Europe is available as a hardcover or an eBook. If you want to learn more, read a free sample, or purchase the book, click here.

Last week, Barrett Clark summarized some key insights shared at the recent Common Good RVA event in Richmond, Virginia. The event was part of Christianity Today’s This Is Our City project, which seeks to highlight how Christians are “using their gifts and energies in all sectors of public life—commerce, government, technology, the arts, media, and education—to bring systemic renewal to the cultural ‘upstream’ and to bless their neighbors in the process.”

This week, the project moves its focus to Detroit, one of its target cities, where local artist Yvette Rock shares how God is actively using the work of his people to rebuild what has become a broken city. In a moving video interview, Rock discusses the ways in which she integrates faith, work, and community.

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Rock’s recent project, “The Ten Plagues of Detroit,” focuses on some of the main issues currently tugging at Detroit—“issues of justice, oppression, violence, and homelessness.” Given that these are issues that “also concern God,” Rock explains, she sees no need to separate “art life” from “faith life” in her daily work. “It’s together,” she says. “It’s combined.” (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
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“Judaism loves the market economy,” says Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi for the British Orthodox synagogues. Rabbi Sacks explains how the “beautiful idea” of comparative advantage promotes peace, cooperation and tolerance among all people.

(Via: Chris Robertson)