Archived Posts April 2013 - Page 12 of 19 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bitcoin-coinsWe’ve had some intriguing discussion about Bitcoin at the Acton Institute offices today. It is certainly a phenomenon worth greater attention, and something of significant cultural, social and economic import. But I’m not buying Bitcoin, at least not yet.

My initial skepticism is in part due to my lack of familiarity with the details of the currency and its formation. I certainly need to learn more.

But also in large part my skepticism is due to my doubt about the productiveness of the effort that generates the currency. Is it merely fiat money without the pretensions? Is it the logic of subjective value-theory brought to the final conclusion? I worry that the computing power expended to mine BitCoins is vacuous and parasitic at its core. It does not represent a good or service that has been provided for or contributed to anyone.

A Bitcoin has value simply because people have decided it has value. People “mine” Bitcoins because, as Whately would note, “they fetch a high price.”

But what does a Bitcoin block represent in terms of actual human utility? I worry too that this is a system that relies parasitically on real-world resources, e.g. coal which provides a large part of the electricity, which is used to run computers so that they can then in turn “mine” something entirely virtual.

What is Bitcoin teaching us, really?

If you’ve had experience with Bitcoin or thoughts about the phenomenon, please share them in the comments below.

What is the President’s budget?

Technically, it’s only a budget request—a proposal telling Congress how much money the President believes should be spent on the various Cabinet-level federal functions, like agriculture, defense, education, etc.

federal-budgetWhy does the President submit a budget to Congress?

The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 requires that the President of the United States submit to Congress, on or before the first Monday in February of each year, a detailed budget request for the coming federal fiscal year, which begins on October 1.

If it’s due the first Monday in February, why are we just now hearing about it?

President Obama turned in his budget late—again. This will be Obama’s fourth late budget submission in five years, making him the first President to present three consecutive late budgets. According to the House Budget Committee, “All presidents from Harding to Reagan’s first term met the statutory budget submission deadline in every year.” Reagan and Clinton both missed their deadlines once in eight years.

What is the function of the President’s budget request?

The President’s annual budget request serves three functions:

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, April 11, 2013

Is Self-Sacrifice Ultimately Selfish?
Hugh Whelchel and Elise Amyx, The Gospel Coalition

If joy is a fruit of the spirit, why would God want us to feel bad for doing something good?

Prosperity requires more than rule of law
John Kay, Financial Times

The idea that “institutions matter” is a relatively recent amendment to the standard corpus of economic thinking. Only in the past two decades has it become a mantra of development economists.

The U.S. and the Murders at the Cathedral
Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary

While attacks on Christians were hardly unknown during the long reign of deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak, it isn’t possible to separate the heightened tension from the expectations of Islamists that they have the Christian minority on the run.

Want an 82% Graduation Rate for Low Income Students? Go Voucher
Daniel Greenfield, FrontPage Mag

According to a new study, private religious schools perform better than both public schools and public charter schools. William Jeynes, professor of education at California State University at Long Beach and senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton, told the Christian Post that he found religious, mostly Christian, school students were a full year ahead of students who attend public and charter schools.

Could the results be due to religious school parents being move involved in their child’s lives? Jeynes controlled for this “selection effect” and still found that religious schools perform better. He controlled for other variables too, such as socioeconomic status, gender and race, and found that students at religious schools still have a seven to eight month advantage over students at public and charter schools. According to the Christian Post:

Update: Acton now has a PDF of this article available. You can download a color or black and white copy of it here:

Gregg on Social Justice

Gregg on Social Justice (black & white)

There seems to be a great deal of confusion about “social justice” and what that term actually means. In order to provide some clarity, and precision, to better understand the concept, Acton Director of Research Samuel Gregg, wrote an essay for Library of Law and Liberty , published today.

He begins by looking at justice generally:

Natural law ethics has identified justice as one of the cardinal virtues ever since Aristotle commenced his treatment of justice with the general notion of “legal justice” (the terms “legal” and “general” being more-or-less interchangeable). By this, he meant comprehensive virtue with regard to relationships with other persons. Justice-as-a-virtue was henceforth understood in this tradition as having a uniquely social dimension in the sense that one of its key elements is other-directedness.

As a virtue, general justice properly understood involves one’s general willingness to promote the common good of the communities to which one belongs. Here the common good should be understood as the conditions that promote the all-round integral flourishing of individuals and communities. Another element of justice which presents itself very early in the tradition is that of duty in the sense of what we owe to others. This is closely associated with a third element: equality. This should not be understood in the sense of everyone somehow being entitled to precisely the same, regardless of factors such as need or merit. Instead it means fairness as expressed in the Golden Rule. Injustice can after all involve doing things to people that entail no violation of any prior undertaking. Robbing someone, for instance, involves no breaking of any freely-entered-into agreement with the person from whom I steal. But does anyone doubt that an injustice has been done?

These three elements—other-directedness, duty (or what might be called rights today), and the Golden Rule—are closely linked and substantially overlap with each other. But attention to all three elements underscores that the same common good which is the end of general justice requires more than simply a broad inclination on the part of individuals and groups to promote the flourishing of others and themselves. On one level, as Aquinas specifies, it is a special concern of the rulers since they have a certain responsibility to promote the common good. But Aquinas also notes that it is a concern of every citizen: that is, those who participate in some way with the ruling of the community.


David Innes at World Magazine wrote a fascinating post about the nature of virtuous leaders. In discussions of what is necessary for employees to flourish at work, it is important to remember that the character of those in decision-making positions is vital for organizational productivity. Innes reminds us that the key feature of virtuous leaders is one of love. They love their employees properly and, by extension, create a life-giving work environment:

Emotionally intelligent leaders understand the relationship between emotional well-being and the capacity and motivation of people to labor for even the worthiest goals, whether individually or co-operatively. . . Transparency builds trust. No one suspects a hidden agenda because there isn’t one. Empathy is essential. A good leader senses the emotional tone of the workplace and can address discord before it deepens and spreads. Workers will be more effectively on task if they know the boss cares about them and believes their work to be valuable. He gives helpful performance reviews on his employees’ contributions. He’s a true team builder. He helps people understand and develop their strengths, and directs them to the work most suited to them. This helps him sympathize with the people he is managing. He will also foster a friendlier workplace among the employees. He’s a peacemaker. He knows he is not the sole repository of wisdom, vision, and insight. No one is. So he listens, consults, and collaborates.

Leaders who lack love create work environments that destroy trust in the long run. Once trust is lost, a manager’s ability to lead is irreparably compromised. When this happens, disaster ensues.

What, then, is the catalyst, for leadership disasters? It often comes as a consequence of teams and organizations being lead by narcissists. Researchers at Ohio State University have found that people who score high in narcissism tend to find themselves in leadership positions, especially when there are leadership voids in organizations. Narcissists are self-centered and hold exaggerated views about their talents and abilities while lacking empathy for others. Narcissists have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. They believe they are superior to others and, therefore, have little regard for other people’s feelings. When narcissists become leaders, in politics, business, schools, and the like; morale, employee productivity, and efficiency suffer.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, April 10, 2013

“Crime has been in decline,” says Acton Research Fellow Jonathan Witt, in an article for The American Spectator, “but current government policies are bound to reverse this trend.”

Against the backdrop of sluggish growth and high unemployment, one bright spot has been declining crime rates, with levels in the United States now about half what they were 20 years ago. This gradual decline holds true even in the perennially high-risk demographic of young men, suggesting it isn’t merely a knock-on effect of an aging population. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that current government policies may reverse this downward trend.

Witt’s article will also be featured in today’s Acton Commentary.  Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.