Archived Posts December 2013 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Tuesday, December 31, 2013

????????????????????????????????????In a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal, Emory economics professor Paul H. Rubin makes an interesting argument about the way economists tend to over-elevate and/or misconstrue the role of competition in the flourishing of markets.

“Competition plays a supporting role,” he argues, but “cooperation makes markets thrive”:

The way we use the term competition instead of cooperation fosters anti-market bias. “Competition” carries a negative connotation because it implies winners and losers, and our minds naturally feel sympathy for the losers. But cooperation evokes a positive response: It’s a win-win situation with no losers. And in fact the word competition doesn’t depict market activity as aptly as the word cooperation. The “competitive economy” would be better described as the “cooperative economy.”

Consider the most basic economic unit, the transaction. A transaction is cooperative because both parties gain from a voluntary exchange. There is competition in markets, but it’s actually competition for the right to cooperate. Firms must compete for the privilege of selling to consumers—for the right to cooperate with consumers. Workers compete for the right to cooperate with employers. Competition matters because it ensures that the most efficient players will gain the right to cooperate on the best terms available. But competition plays a supporting role, while cooperation makes markets thrive. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Predictions for 2014At the beginning of 2013, I compiled a list that included 1,034 predictions for the coming year. I later went through and narrowed it down to the top 500 that I was absolutely certain would happen. Even after cutting the list down, though, I only managed to achieve a 67% accuracy rate. (Unfortunately, I forgot to post that list in public so it is difficult to verify. You’ll just have to take my word for it.)

This year, in an attempt to get 100% correct, I’ve cut my list of predictions to the ones that I’m absolutely sure will come true. Here are 14 can’t-miss predictions for 2014:

• Agricultural subsidies will come under increased scrutiny after the discovery that soylent green, one of the America’s most heavily subsidized crops, is people.

• The mainstream media’s fascination with Pope Francis will end after they discover that the Pope is indeed still Catholic.

• An existential crisis brought on by constant criticism will cause the fact-checking organization Polifact to change it’s name to Pilatefact and it’s slogan to “What is truth?”

• A rogue architect will use dynamite to blow up the Cortlandt Homes housing project.

• The United Nations will be the subject of another scandal after it’s discovered that no-bid contracts were offered to Halliburton for the purchase of the UN’s fleet of Black Helicopters.

• Congress fails to pass an immigration reform bill. Hungry, job-less workers, with no discernible skills or ability to speak our language will continue to pour in from Canada.

• Buoyed by the successful launch of HealthCare.gov, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announces the launch of the Affordable Email Act (aka Obamamail). Americans will be forced to choose their email provider based on ”metal plans” (Bronze – AOL, Silver – Hotmail, Gold – Compuserve).

• Iraq will officially change the country’s name back to ‘Babylon’ in a successful attempt to freak out pre-millennial dispensational Evangelicals.

• A bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republicans agree to filibuster a proposed bill only to discover that the Tea Party caucus was not introducing new legislation but merely reading the text of the U.S. Constitution.

• After selecting “Twerking” as their Word of the Year, the Oxford English Dictionary pronounces the official death of the English language

• Peter Jackson will announce he’s begun filming a 12-hour version of The Silmarillion in order to complete his lifelong ambition of ruining every book written by J. R. R. Tolkien.

• Acton research fellow Jordan Ballor will win the 2014 Wolfgang Musculus Award for being the only person alive who has heard of Wolfgang Musculus.

• After a close mid-term race, President Obama will narrowly win re-election.

• For the 61st year in a row, political activists will once again attempt to immanentize the eschaton.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pope Francis and his invitation to dialogue with Islam
Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, AsiaNews.it

Islam is at a crossroads: either religion is a way towards politics and towards a politically organized society, or religion is an inspiration to live and love more fully.

The 10 Worst Regulations of 2013
James Gattuso and Diane Katz, The Foundry

There are many things 2013 will be remembered for, not least the miles of red tape that were imposed on Americans

“The Struggle against Scarcity:” Arthur Lovejoy and Roepke
Ralph Ancil, The Imaginative Conservative

There is a double meaning to the conventional economist’s use of the phrase the “struggle against scarcity.”

Philanthropy’s Original Sin
William A. Schambra, The New Atlantis

Philanthropy has many wonderful qualities — and never tires of proclaiming them, for one quality it sorely lacks is humility.

persuasion-postAs an evangelical who is extremely sympathetic to natural law theorizing, I’ve struggled with a question that I’ve never found anyone address: Why aren’t natural law arguments more persuasive?

We evangelicals are nothing if not pragmatic. If we were able to recognize the utility and effectiveness of such arguments, we’d likely to be much more open to natural law theory. But conclusions based on natural law don’t seem to be all that useful in compelling those who are unconvinced. Indeed, not only do they not seem to change the minds of non-believers, they often fail to sway believers. For instance, nominal Catholics, a group that should (at least theoretically) give them a fair hearing, don’t seem to take such arguments all that seriously. Why is that?

We evangelicals, of course, have our own explanation for such arguments are inefficacious. As Al Mohler said after an interview with Robert George:

(more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, December 30, 2013

“Why not dictate that every employee earn several hundred thousand dollars a year?” asks Hunter Baker in this week’s Acton Commentary, “We could end every social problem with nothing more than political will.”

During a recent visit to Twitter, I happened across a post from a noted Christian academic. He had composed the kind of pithy remark which is tailor-made to launch a hundred admiring retweets. Paraphrasing slightly, it was something like this: “Conservatives, don’t talk to me about family values if you doesn’t endorse a minimum wage increase.” I am sure that he thought it was a pretty high-powered zinger.

The problem is that there is no necessary connection between family values and increasing the minimum wage. First off, there is a vigorous, unsettled debate over the effectiveness of the minimum wage. Economists differ substantially over whether it helps poor people, hurts them by reducing entry level job opportunities, or exerts little effect. It would be entirely possible for a proponent of family values to rationally conclude that the minimum wage is counterproductive and to therefore take the position the aforementioned prominent Christian academic presented as completely at odds with a “family values” perspective. This academic failed to take account of the fact that arguments about the minimum wage are not like arguments about something like gravity. There are respectable and even compassionate arguments on both sides.

The full text of his essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

haiyanManila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, the convenor of the Philippines’ Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking, is expressing increased concern about human trafficking due to the “chaotic environment” brought about by typhoon Haiyan.

Internal trafficking has long been a concern in the Philippines, for men, women and children. According to HumanTrafficking.org,

People are trafficked from rural areas to urban centers including Manila, Cebu, the city of Angeles, and increasingly to cities in Mindanao, as well as within urban areas. (more…)

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Monday, December 30, 2013

2popes2013 certainly had its fair share of religion in the news. Despite the fact that most major news sources know little-to-nothing about religion, they still report on it with gusto. Jeremy Lott, editor-in-chief at RealClearPolitics has put together a list of the top 14 religion news stories of the past year. (You can read them all here.)

Here are some highlights:

    • The Tale of Two Popes. Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world by abdicating, and the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name Pope Francis, was a huge story. The fact that Pope Francis seems to have a knack for saying and doing provocative things keeps him in the headlines.
    • The Final Sermon of Billy Graham. America’s preacher, now 95, gave his last sermon this year. “He warned, ‘our country’s in great need of spiritual awakening.’”

    (more…)

    Blog author: jballor
    posted by on Monday, December 30, 2013

    Related to some recent discussions about the market for Christmas trees, an irreducibly commercial aspect of the holiday, I ran across this delightful post about a little-known poem by T.S. Eliot, “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees.”

    In this piece, Eliot introduces the Christmas tree as a source of wonder for children, a source which can be cultivated into maturity so that at the end of times the fullness of the Christmas message might be harvested. As Maria Popova introduces the verses, they “speak to a very secular concern: our struggle to hold on to our inborn capacity for wonder, that same essential faculty that fuels both science and spirituality.”

    20131227-213430.jpg
    Thus, for Eliot, as the poem opens,

    There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
    Some of which we may disregard:
    The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
    The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
    And the childish — which is not that of the child
    For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
    Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
    Is not only a decoration, but an angel.

    The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
    Let him continue in the spirit of wonder…

    Read the rest at “T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Cultivation of Christmas Trees.’”

    Blog author: jcarter
    posted by on Monday, December 30, 2013

    Americans turning to ancient music, practices to experience their faith
    Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post

    “It’s the recognition that Christianity didn’t start when someone got an electric guitar,” said Ed Stetzer who runs Lifeway Research

    Conservatives and Poverty
    Peter Wehner, Commentary

    According to Myers, while those in ancient Rome did participate in alms giving, in Roman and Greek culture there wasn’t the compassion for the poor that was present in Jewish and Christian understanding because “there was nothing like Yahweh’s love for the oppressed in their moral imagination.”

    What Francis can do on anti-Christian persecution
    John L. Allen, Jr., National Catholic Reporter

    Maybe Francis can be to the early 21st century what John Paul was to the late 20th, meaning a pope who genuinely changes history.

    Westminster and Economic Justice
    Steven Wedgeworth, The Calvinist International

    The Westminster Larger Catechism has a comprehensive treatment of the moral law, and its treatment of the eighth commandment is particularly interesting. With certain small modifications, these statements are representative of the older universal Christian tradition.

    a-cold-morning-on-the-range-frederic-remingtonSeveral years ago, the Catholic intellectual Joseph Bottom observed that American literature has entailed a substitution of geography for heroes in our moral vocabulary.”

    In other words, we don’t have many heroic types in American literature. What we have instead is heroic geography. The Virginian, the Down Easterner, the Texas Ranger, the cowboy, the Hoosier, the hillbilly, the Okie. These are tropes that serve the moral function filled in other cultures and other literatures primarily by heroes. And these geographical tropes survive well into our own era of indistinguishable shopping malls from Maine to California.

    Why did the collective literary imagination take this turn? I suspect it may have something to do with our country’s democratization of civic virtues.

    Prior to the modern age most literary heroes exemplified the martial virtues of the warrior (courage, honor, duty) or the theological virtues of the saints (kindness, generosity, faithfulness). They were the virtues of the elite, whether militarily, politically, or spiritually. But in the post-Civil War era, America needed to reconnect with the virtues of the citizen. Not surprisingly, American literature appears to have revived (albeit unconsciously) the citizen virtues of ancient Rome.
    (more…)