Archived Posts February 2013 » Page 3 of 15 | Acton PowerBlog

The historic resignation of Pope Benedict XVI continues to hold the world’s attention. The pope used yesterday’s Angelus address to say good-bye to throngs of well-wishers, while the Vatican announced today that the conclave to choose Benedict’s successor can begin as soon as March 15.

Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, says the work left behind for Benedict’s successor (and indeed for the whole Church) is “sobering”:

A bishop friend of mine said recently that what we need now more than anything as a church, both locally and globally, is a “re-formation” – the kind of fundamental, root-and-branch conversion that goes vastly deeper than the pet issues of American media and political culture to a transformation of hearts, and thereby behavior.

In that regard, sometimes the best lessons for the future can be learned from the experience of the past.

Five centuries ago, just a few years before Luther’s “95 theses,” the Catholic reformer the Rev. John Colet delivered a blisteringly frank homily to a cathedral full of English bishops and senior clergy. To an unamused audience, he argued that “never was there more necessity and never did the state of the church more need” a profound effort at purification – not away from Catholic belief, but back toward living it more zealously, more honestly, more faithfully, as though this world and the next depended on it, because they do.

Read “The Church After Pope Benedict” in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Since Benedict’s resignation we’ve been treated to almost two weeks of conspiracy mongering about the “real” reasons behind Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to step down. It’s been everything from Piers Morgan’s ceaseless yammering about his “doubts” to theories about the pope hiding out in the Vatican in fear of an arrest warrant issued by “unknown European” entities concerning clergy sexual misconduct, and still lingering hope among some that this time it really was the butler who did it.

Yet, if scandal were the reason, Benedict could have resigned well before this. He was asked about the matter point blank in 2010 by Peter Seewald in Light of the World. Here was his response:

When the danger is great one must not run away. For that reason, now is certainly not the time to resign. Precisely at a time like this one must stand fast and endure the difficult situation. That is my view. One can resign at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on. But one must not run away from the danger and say that someone else should do it.

Perhaps I am naïve but I think the reasons he resigned are actually the reasons he gave us. We live in a world where leaders, Christian or otherwise, are resistant to giving up the reins, where people tend to hold on to power much too long, and where everyone is jockeying for influence. Pope Benedict’s willingness to let go is a refreshing contrast to all this.

And as for the claim that Benedict may try to influence the conclave and the next pope, there is no more influential person in the Catholic Church than Benedict XVI. If maximizing his influence were his goal he wouldn’t have resigned.

I think his resignation can be boiled down to three things: magnanimity, humility, and prudence. I’d like to take a moment to consider each of these qualities in turn. (more…)

PovertyCure was featured in Forbes Magazine last week. Alex Chafuen, one of Acton’s founding board members, featured PovertyCure in his article on champions of innovation. He writes:

A new multifaceted initiative, called PovertyCure, provides abundant materials and resources for those who want to create lasting solutions to poverty. The program is founded on the conviction that each human person can be a source of great creativity. It highlights the incentives needed to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit that fills the developing world.

Chafuen also calls attention to PovertyCure’s focus on the big picture:

Many intellectual entrepreneurs and some of their donors and “angel investors” tend to be single-product champions. They focus on only one element in the road to reduce poverty, e.g., women rights, property titles, vaccines. This could lead to neglect of the fundamental problems that impede successful outcomes in their area of work… A fruitful dialogue among participants in PovertyCure can increase the chances that poverty or “human flourishing” programs will be structured with the proper incentives.

Instead of focusing on what we can do to solve poverty, the real question is how do people in the developing world create prosperity for their families and communities.

Learn more about PovertyCure, their network of over 180 organizations, and order the new PovertyCure DVD-Series, a 152-minute documentary-style series that challenges conventional thinking and explores the economic and theological foundations of human flourishing.

Empty marketplaceIn his latest column, Ross Douthat contemplates what a world without work might look like:

Imagine, as 19th-century utopians often did, a society rich enough that fewer and fewer people need to work — a society where leisure becomes universally accessible, where part-time jobs replace the regimented workweek, and where living standards keep rising even though more people have left the work force altogether.

If such a utopia were possible, one might expect that it would be achieved first among the upper classes, and then gradually spread down the social ladder. First the wealthy would work shorter hours, then the middle class, and finally even high school dropouts would be able to sleep late and take four-day weekends and choose their own adventures.” — “to hunt in the morning,” as Karl Marx once prophesied, “fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner …”

Yet a widespread decline in work is not just an imaginative possibility. As Douthat goes on to argue, such decline has become “a basic reality of 21st-century American life,“ but without following the typical Marxist trajectory. “Instead of spreading from the top down,” Douthat notes, “leisure time – wanted or unwanted – is expanding from the bottom up. Long hours are increasingly the province of the rich.” Despite our persistent longing for rest and relaxation, however, this trend is not viewed as a positive development for society, even for the folks at Mother Jones.

Further, as Charles Murray explains in his latest book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, our attitudes about work have also begun shifting, again, disproportionally among the lower classes. Pointing to a General Social Survey study that asked participants what they prefer in a job, Murray points out that the leading preference across all income groups during the 1970s was a job that “gives a feeling of accomplishment.” Soon thereafter, beginning in the 1990s, this preference began to shift significantly among the lower classes, who began to put higher preference on jobs with “no danger of being fired” or where “working hours are short.” (more…)

Samuel Gregg’s book Becoming Europe details the faltering economies of many European nations, and offers a prescription of how and why America can avoid the same fate. Encounter Books has produced the following whiteboard to illustrate the book’s main points.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, February 25, 2013

Another week, another Congress-created budget crisis. First it was the sovereign debt crisis, then the fiscal cliff crisis, and now the sequester crisis. Here’s what you need to know about the sequester.

What exactly is the sequester?

In August 2011 Congress passed the Budget Control Act (BCA) to prevent the sovereign default that could have resulted from the 2011debt ceiling crisis. The BCA not only created the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (aka the “supercommittee”) but stipulated that if the committee didn’t agree to a $1.5 trillion over ten years deficit-reduction package by Nov. 23, 2011, then sequestration of $1.2 trillion would begin on January 1, 2013 and be spread over the next ten years. (The term sequester refers to a general cut in government spending.)

Why didn’t the cuts go into effect on January 1?

Congress agreed during the fiscal cliff crisis—in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012—to push the deadline for the sequester to March 1.

What automatic cuts go into affect during the sequester?
(more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, February 25, 2013

How pastors can inadvertently fuel the sacred/secular divide
Jeff Haanen

Is a desire to run a business well antithetical to being fully committed to God and His Word?

Rick Warren advocates religious liberty for all
Tonika Reed, Baptist Press

American Christians should repent for not supporting the religious freedom of people of other faiths, mega-church pastor Rick Warren said at a recent forum in Washington, D.C.

Is Free Enterprise Based on Greed?
Jay W. Richards, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

Greed, according to the Christian tradition, is one of the seven deadly sins. If free enterprise is based on that, then Christians can’t be capitalists or entrepreneurs.

Student (Religious) Organizations and University Anti-Discrimination Rules
Joseph Knippenberg, First Things

Virginia State Senator Mark Obenshain is sponsoring a bill that would protect the integrity of student religious and political organizations in his state’s public universities.

George Washington knew a thing or two about leadership during a crisis. Arguably one of the greatest military leaders in modern history, he was chosen as president of a new nation, one with a idealistic notion of liberty. He was also acutely aware that a cohesive nation was a calm one, and that governing required order and unity:

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

(more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Friday, February 22, 2013

Innovation is an ethical matter through and through, says Chris MacDonald, because ethics is fundamentally concerned with anything that can promote or hinder human wellbeing.

Innovation is generally a good thing, ethically, because it is aimed at allowing us to do new and desirable things. Most typically, that gets expressed in the painfully vague ambition to ‘raise productivity.’ Accelerating our rate of innovation is a worthy policy objective because we want to be more productive as a society, to increase our social ‘wealth’ in the broadest sense. The 20th Century has seen a phenomenal burst of innovation and increases in wellbeing, exemplified not least by the fact that life expectancies in North American have risen by more than half over the last hundred years. The extension and enriching of human lives are good goals, which in turn makes innovation generally a good thing.

Indeed, when looked at that way, innovation isn’t just a ‘good,’ but a downright moral obligation. Yes, lives for (most) people in developed countries are pretty good. But many still don’t have happy and fulfilling lives; many children, even here, still go to bed hungry. Boosting productivity through innovation is a key ingredient for making progress in that regard. And if less developed nations are going to be raised up to even a minimally tolerable standard of living, we need innovations that will help them, and we need innovations that will make us wealthy enough that we can afford to be substantially more generous toward them than we currently are.

Read more . . .

Trade and Mutual AidIn the forthcoming issue of Comment magazine, I examine how free trade orients us towards the good of others. In doing so, I argue against the value of pious banalities and cheap slogans. I include examples like, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” or, “When goods do not cross borders, armies will.” The latter is often attributed to Bastiat, and while it captures the spirit, if not the letter of Bastiat’s views, the closest analogue is actually found in Otto Tod Mallery: “If soldiers are not to cross international boundaries on missions of war,” wrote Mallery in 1943, then “goods must cross them on missions of peace.”

I was struck by the disconnect between ideology and reality, or between idealism and realism, in an anecdote from a recent foreign policy speech from Sen. Rand Paul. As Paul notes,

In George Kennan’s biography, John Gaddis describes President Clinton asking Strobe Talbot “why don’t we have a concept as succinct as ‘containment.’” Talbot’s response [was] “that ‘containment’ had been a misleading oversimplification; strategy could not be made to fit a bumper sticker. The president laughed… “that’s why Kennan’s a great diplomat and scholar and not a politician.”

I guess that’s also the reason that I’ll never be a politician, either. As Lord Acton observed, “Every doctrine to become popular, must be made superficial, exaggerated, untrue. We must always distinguish the real essence from the conveyance, especially in political economy.” The key for responsible governance is not to lose sight of the complexity that lies behind popular exaggerations and conveyances.

As I argue in “Trade and Mutual Aid,” the temptation to rest easy with simple formulas to complex problems is common, but must be resisted: “Divorced
from a more comprehensive conception of the human person and social flourishing, an uncritical reliance on free trade to solve the world’s problems can well become destructive.” Even so, I conclude, “Free trade is a system that imperfectly, and yet with some measure of success—as Bono and countless others are beginning to recognize anew—orients us toward the good of others.” In the course of this piece, I draw on a variety of sources, including Frédéric Bastiat, Adam Smith, John Calvin, Johannes Althusius, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Pope Paul VI, and Friedrich Hayek.

To get your copy of the Comment issue on the topic of persuasion, including my piece on the fundamental persuasive nature of exchange, “Trade and Mutual Aid,” subscribe by March 1. You’ll also find content from new editor James K.A. Smith, Anne Snyder, Jim Belcher, Ashley Berner, Jonathan Chaplin, Marilyn McEntyre, Janet Epp Buckingham, D. Bruce Lockerbie, Calvin Seerveld, Natalie Race Whitaker, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.