Archived Posts April 2013 - Page 8 of 19 | Acton PowerBlog

Over at the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters makes some comments about my book Becoming Europe based on a review he had read by Fr. C.J. McCloskey. Here are the most pertinent of his observations:

I know that American exceptionalism lives on both the left and the right, but when did the right become so Europhobic? And why? National Catholic Register has a review of a new book by the Acton Institute’s Samuel Gregg entitled Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, & How America Can Avoid a European Future. I confess, come August, when Europeans sensibly take the month off and head to the beach or the mountains for time with their families, I am envious of them, not scornful. When I look at Europe’s lower rates of income inequality, I am envious, not scornful. When I look at the creative ways Germany minimized unemployment during the recent economic downturn, I was deeply envious.

Of course, given the fact that Gregg works for the libertarian Acton Institute, where the false god of the market is worshipped day in and day out, it should not surprise that he misses the Catholic and Christian roots of the modern social welfare state as it exists in Europe.  And the fact that Rev. C. John McCloskey misunderstands the Christian roots of the modern social welfare state shows the degree to which some members of the Catholic clergy have bought into what can best be described as the Glenn Beck narrative of the relationship of faith and culture.

Alas, Mr. Winters apparently hasn’t actually read the book. Because if he had, he would know that Becoming Europe (1) notes several good economic things happening in Europe (such as in Germany and Sweden) and (2) addresses at considerable length the various Catholic and Christian contributions to the development of European welfare states and the European social model more generally. In the case of the latter, I’d direct his attention to Chapters 2 and 3 of Becoming Europe where these matters are discussed extensively. The point is that it is always prudent to perhaps read a book before venturing criticisms of its arguments.

Then there is the label of “libertarian.” Again, if Mr. Winters took a moment to read a few of my writings, he’d know that, in books such as On Ordered Liberty, I‘ve articulated critiques of libertarian thought, especially with regard to the way that libertarian thinkers approach, for instance, moral questions. Figures such as Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman have many interesting economic insights. But I have always viewed their philosophical positions (which include, among others, commitments to nominalism, epicurism, utilitarianism, social-evolutionism, and social contractarianism) to be less-than-adequate. In many ways, their conceptions of the human person are virtually indistinguishable from modern liberals such as John Rawls. (more…)

New York City’s hipster and elitist class seem to believe that they should have some role in determining what business owners do with their property. Like hipsters and elitists around the country, New York’s cohort are banding together to protest companies that do not present the utopian vision for the neighbors where these elites dwell (most of whom are renters, by the way). There is much buzz in New York City right now because more and more national chains are setting up shop causing great consternation. In a recent AM New York newspaper story, readers get a sense of the angst:

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, April 17, 2013

sale-sign1J.C. Penney recently gave up on last year’s strategy to abandon sales and coupons in favor of “everyday low pricing.” As an article in the New York Times points out, “simplifying pricing, it turns out, is not that simple”:

“It may be a decent deal to buy that item for $5,” said Ms. Fobes, who runs Penny Pinchin’ Mom, a blog about couponing strategies. “But for someone like me, who’s always looking for a sale or a coupon — seeing that something is marked down 20 percent off, then being able to hand over the coupon to save, it just entices me,” she said. “It’s a rush.”

Devoted coupon users like Ms. Fobes may be more frugal than the typical consumer. But most shoppers, coupon collectors or not, want the thrill of getting a great deal, even if it’s an illusion.

The article goes on to indicate  that this type of illusion-seeking and the corresponding “rush” are sometimes due to certain levels of conditioning:

Even Walmart, which actually does pull off the trick of “everyday low prices” in its domestic stores, is finding it hard to convert consumers to a single-price model in countries like Brazil and China, where retailers give deep discounts on a few main products, then mark up the rest, said Mark Wiltamuth, an analyst at Morgan Stanley.

The problem, economists and marketing experts say, is that consumers are conditioned to wait for deals and sales, partly because they do not have a good sense of how much an item should be worth to them and need cues to figure that out.

Just having a generically fair or low price, as Penney did, said Alexander Chernev, a marketing professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, assumes that consumers have some context for how much items should cost. But they don’t.

Yet as AEI’s Mark Perry notes, from a producer and seller’s perspective, such schemes come in response to the ever-evolving and unpredictable demands of the consumer—in this case, particular shopping preferences. This is “not an enviable position to be in,” Perry writes, “to be at the mercy of fickle and unpredictable consumers.” (more…)

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has been studying the steady rise of hostility towards religious expression and religious liberty worldwide. In fact, they found that restrictions on religion rose in every major area of the world, including the United States, since the study began in 2009.

Citing what the Pew Forum calls “social hostilities” (as opposed to government hostilities), the study found that Pakistan, India and Iraq were the most hostile countries to religious freedom.

The Social Hostilities Index (SHI) measures acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations and social groups. This includes mob or sectarian violence, harassment over attire for religious reasons and other religion-related intimidation or abuse.


A-Win-Win-Solution--The-Empirical-Evidence-on-School-ChoiceA new report by Greg Forster of the Friedman Foundation finds that of all the “gold standard” research on children who utilize school vouchers, 11 of 12 studies conclude all or some of those students achieve better educational outcomes. No study found choice participants were worse off than those remaining in traditional public schools:

The evidence points clearly in one direction. Opponents frequently claim school choice does not benefit participants, hurts public schools, costs taxpayers, facilitates segregation, and even undermines democracy. However, the empirical evidence consistently shows that choice improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools, saves taxpayer money, moves students into more integrated classrooms, and strengthens the shared civic values and practices essential to American democracy.

These results are not difficult to explain. School choice improves academic outcomes by allowing students to find the schools that best match their needs, and by introducing healthy competition that keeps schools mission-focused. It saves money by eliminating administrative bloat and rewarding good stewardship of resources. It breaks down the barriers of residential segregation, drawing students together from diverse communities. And it strengthens democracy by accommodating diversity, de-politicizing the curriculum, and allowing schools the freedom to sustain the strong institutional cultures that are necessary to cultivate democratic virtues such as honesty, diligence, achievement, responsibility, service to others, civic participation, and respect for the rights of others.

Read more . . .

Joe has done us all a real service in putting together his three part (1, 2, 3) primer on Bitcoin (full PDF here).

I am curious, though, what the justification is for referring to Bitcoin as a “commodity” currency. Consider this from Izabella Kaminska at the FT Alphaville blog:

For those who insist that the term “fiat” refers exclusively to government-issued fiat currency, it’s perhaps better to interpret our use in the evolutionary sense.

Meaning that Bitcoin (and other virtual currencies) represent not commodity money, not managed money, nor even old fashioned government-issued fiat money, but a whole new type of super fiat that is rendered valuable by the issuing crowd (made up of independent entities) rather than the state.

The idea is that Bitcoin isn’t “declared” to be valuable by the state, but that it is “declared” to be valuable by common consent of the community of Bitcoin users. Consider this a kind of communal rather than governmental fiat.

This is why I wondered earlier about Bitcoin as “merely fiat money without the pretensions.”

But then again, isn’t this kind of communal agreement or declaration of value what money has always really been? Isn’t that, as Joe relates, what we learn from the example of the rai of Yap? (Their real innovation seems to be that they anticipated something like the “virtualization” of money exchange.)

Here again I’ll invoke the insight of Richard Whately: “It is not that pearls fetch a high price because men have dived for them; but on the contrary, men dive for them because they fetch a high price.” People are mining Bitcoins because they fetch a high price…at least for now.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why Study the Didache?
Tom O’Loughlin, Nottingham University

The earliest Christian community at work and in prayer. The first how-to manual for the Church.

Once Supporters, Baptists Now Shirk Earth Day
Aaron Weave, Ethics Daily

When Earth Day began in 1970, Baptists actively supported the need for greater regulations to protect the planet. Today, too many Baptists shirk that responsibility.

Easter on way for the Orthodox
Andrew Estocin, Albuquerque Journal

Most Americans identify Orthodox Christianity with an ethnic group such as Greeks or Russians. However, in New Mexico, Orthodox Christians are a diverse group that prays and worships in English.

Religious Freedom and the Modern Antidiscrimination Regime
Rick Plasterer, Juicy Ecumenism

Robust protections for religious freedom are needed in contemporary society, both from legislatures and from courts, to prevent religious freedom from being subordinated to other interests offended by religious belief and practice.