Archived Posts 2013 - Page 105 of 167 | Acton PowerBlog

Anyone who’s been to Detroit in recent years knows it’s a mess. Acres and acres of abandoned houses, a population decline of 25% in the past 10 years, an astronomical crime rate, and the city is literally leaking money to the tune of some $200 million in two months. Back in March, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr as the city’s emergency financial manager, and Orr has just released his report on the city’s financial state.

farrier toolsBefore we begin weeping about the death of the Motor City, there are bright spots. Fast Company did a piece in April highlighting entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of low-rent and housing prices and the need for creative work to boost Detroit’s economy. Dan Gilbert is a real estate broker working on filling office space downtown. Andy Didorosi has created a bus service that takes patrons from night-spot to night-spot in safe, fun and comfortable buses. Alicia George has opened a coffee house, and is optimistic that several new businesses have opened near-by.

Now for the bad news. The city of Detroit is paying a farrier (that’s a person who shoes horses) $56,000 in pay and benefits. Right now, in 2013. Let’s just say that he’s not really earning his pay in today’s downtown Detroit. The Detroit Water & Sewer Department is telling the cash-strapped city they need more employees – union employees. And the city’s unionized teachers? They want to cash in unused sick days for over $14 million. (more…)

Michael J. Gerson’s encomium to Jim Wallis’ book on the common good includes this curious paragraph:

Nearly every Christian tradition of social ethics encompasses two sorts of justice. The first is procedural justice: giving people what they deserve under contracts and the law. The second is distributive justice: meeting some needs just because human beings are human beings. This is not the same thing as egalitarianism; confiscation is not compassion. But distributive justice requires a decent provision for the vulnerable and destitute. And this is not just a matter of personal charity. Social justice is more than crumbs from the table; it depends on the existence of social and economic conditions that allow people to live, work and thrive.

Gerson should be applauded for grappling with such substantive doctrines as the common good and social justice. It is certainly brave to do so within the confines of a short opinion piece.

But his treatment of these in the context of this short op-ed illustrate the difficulty of doing so in a responsible fashion. For one thing, the common good is perhaps one of the most difficult concepts to get a handle on in the history of Christian moral reflection. In the end, Gerson summarizes it as “the set of social circumstances that allows everyone to flourish.” We might quibble with this description as not quite getting at the common good as a telos rather than a process, but given that he quotes John Paul II in the previous line, this isn’t that large of a quibble.

We might also note that even though it is commonly associated with modern Roman Catholic social thought, as Gerson notes, the idea of the common good is much more of a catholic legacy of Christianity shared by a variety of Christian traditions. See, for instance, Gerson’s claim that Wallis’ invocation of the common good is “further evidence of the intellectual advance of Catholic social teaching across Christian confessions.” I think this is probably true in the case of Wallis and many evangelicals, and in this Roman Catholic social thought has done a great service in preserving this inheritance and serving as a reminder and inspiration for those who have forgotten the place of the common good in their own tradition’s moral reflection.
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irsWhen I was a young Marine I learned that when the commanding officer says, “I wish” or “I desire,” these expressions have the force of a direct order and should be acted upon as if they had given a direct order. If our CO were to say, even in musing to themselves, “I wish there was something that could be done about that,” we knew we should jump into action. But what sort of action was called for? And should we get clarification before proceeding on our own? The peculiar custom always struck me as open to misunderstanding and abuse.

Sometimes a leader doesn’t even need to be so direct as to say “I wish” or “I desire” for subordinates to get them impression that their boss wants them to take action. A prime example is the latest political scandal in which the Internal Revenue Service admitted that some of their employees had singled out nonprofit applicants with the terms “Tea Party” or “patriots” in their titles. As Ross Douthat says, “the bureaucrats in question probably thought they were just doing their patriotic duty, and giving dangerous extremists the treatment they deserved.”

Where might an enterprising, public-spirited I.R.S. agent get the idea that a Tea Party group deserved more scrutiny from the government than the typical band of activists seeking tax-exempt status? Oh, I don’t know: why, maybe from all the prominent voices who spent the first two years of the Obama era worrying that the Tea Party wasn’t just a typically messy expression of citizen activism, but something much darker — an expression of crypto-fascist, crypto-racist rage, part Timothy McVeigh and part Bull Connor, potentially carrying a wave of terrorist violence in its wings.

Some conspiratorial minded people will assume the actions of the IRS employees had to have come from direct orders from their superiors. But I think a simpler, more indirect phenomenon, like what Douthat presents, better explains such situations. Rather than attributing it to a “conspiracy theory” I’d say it is a version of what I’d call a “confederacy theory”:
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Blog author: jcarter
Monday, May 13, 2013
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Cronyism, competition, and finance: A discussion with Cliff Asness
AEI Ideas

After providing a definition of cronyism, Asness offered an explanation for the growth of cronyism today, which is rooted in the increasing size and scope of government. Only by limiting government’s growth can we limit opportunities for cronyism, Asness argued.

Sex trafficking: Christians called to be modern-day abolitionists
Grace Thornton, Baptist Press

Raleigh Sadler says he’s just a Florida boy who wears cardigans — he has no business kicking down the door of a brothel. “It’s pretty much scientifically proven that guys who wear cardigans don’t do that kind of thing,” he joked.

How Commerce Expands Culture
Andrea Castillo, The Ümlaut

Classical music flourished in the fertile commercial culture of 19th century Germany and Austria without the meddling of the National Endowment for the Arts. Today, technological developments and growing wealth makes the case for government-subsidized culture all the more scant.

The Christian Way to Land An Airplane
Elise Amyx, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

There might be a Christian way to write a play, but is there a Christian way to land a plane? In other words, is there a “Christian way” to carry out all work?

Higher education is in serious trouble. Plagued with the pressures of escalating costs and retention challenges, all sorts of perverse incentives are being introduced that are changing the quality of the education delivered. In an effort to save money, many college students make the choice to spend their first two years at a community college and then transfer to a traditional school to finish out their college degree. Instead of being driven by education quality, students are making decisions on the basis of skyrocketing costs, but at what cost to the student?

The trade-off is that community colleges of today have lower standards which may compromise the ability of academic success in the future when students transfer for their junior and senior year. For those intending on a 4-year degree, going to a community college for two years might make them worse off in the long run.

Inside Higher Ed highlights new research demonstrating that “community colleges set a low bar for students during their first year of enrollment,” especially in academic standards in literacy and mathematics, according to a new study from the National Center on Education and the Economy. Moreover, the study reveals “disturbingly low standards among community college instructors,” said Marc S. Tucker, president of the center. “It’s clear that we’re cheating our students.”
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SmotherAugustine observes that humans are constituted in large part by their sociality. As he puts it in the City of God, “For there is nothing so social by nature as this race, no matter how discordant it has become through its fault.”

I have written that a corollary of the natural law is a vision of society as one based on mutual aid. This includes economic exchange as well as the economy of gifts and the corresponding gratitude, as I have highlighted this week.

But this orientation towards others can take a negative turn. As I noted yesterday, Augustine describes a corrupted kind of “spiteful benevolence.”

C.S. Lewis explores this as well in his description of the person who must always be giving to the point of fostering dependency, foisting oneself upon others, and even creating the need for intervention if necessary. This “unselfish” giving of oneself to others can turn into the most depraved kind of selfishness.

As Wormwood relates a description of such a person in The Screwtape Letters, “She’s the sort of woman who lives for others–you can always tell the others by their hunted expression.”

This kind of need to be needed is of course a corruption of love. By contrast, the true expression of love is exemplified in no more glorious a fashion than the truly other-directed self-giving of a mother.

This is something to remember and celebrate this Mother’s Day.

church_congregationOver at The High Calling, Michael Kruse observes that many pastors and church leaders are now looking for a “programmatic strategy” for helping their congregations integrate work and discipleship.

The problem, Kruse argues, is that such a strategy doesn’t exist:

As leaders, we need to realize that to make faith and discipleship integrated in our congregations, we cannot do it with our congregation’s existing knowledge and skills, requiring those in our congregation (including ourselves) to make a shift in our values, expectations, attitudes, and behaviors. You see, while some of us sense a need for better integration of faith with vocation, there are significant obstacles.

Most Christians do not have a theological framework that accommodates the integration of faith and vocation. Many are even hostile to the idea. They are more comfortable with a life that is not integrated, compartmentalizing work and discipleship. Any attempts at integration feel like intrusions into their private lives. Worship is viewed as an escape from “secular” concerns. And let’s face it, if we really pursue integration, we will discover uncomfortable things about our lives.

Indeed, as the Acton Institute’s Stephen Grabill points out in his foreword to Lester DeKoster’s Work: The Meaning of Your Life, despite many Christians having an “implicit sense that work is good because it carries out the cultural mandate,” we have failed to grasp that work is, further, “one of the core elements of discipleship and spiritual formation.”

To start chipping away at this convenient and comfortable disposition, Kruse offers some basic and broad ideas to help church leaders begin the integration process with their congregations. (Amy Sherman offered a similarly themed set of recommendations a few months ago.) (more…)

Barbara Hewson, a London barrister, has made the call for lowering the age of sexual consent in the United Kingdom from 16 to 13. Her reasoning (if one may call it that) is that the current age of consent leads to the harassment and “persecution of old men.” She also believes that under-age victims should have no right to anonymity, and that law based on the best interests of the child should not trump the “rights” of men who like to kiss a 13-year-old, or put one’s hand up a 16-year-old’s skirt.

It’s time to end this prurient charade, which has nothing to do with justice or the public interest. Adults and law-enforcement agencies must stop fetishising victimhood. Instead, we should focus on arming today’s youngsters with the savoir-faire and social skills to avoid drifting into compromising situations, and prosecute modern crime. As for law reform, now regrettably necessary, my recommendations are: remove complainant anonymity; introduce a strict statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil actions; and reduce the age of consent to 13.

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Blog author: jcarter
Friday, May 10, 2013
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Calvin Coolidge, civil rights pioneer?
Kurt L. Schmoke, Politico

The 30th president, Republican Calvin Coolidge, was a major supporter of Howard University and an overlooked figure in advancing the cause of racial equality in the United States.

Texas cheerleaders win in court again over Bible banners
CBS

A judge has ruled that cheerleaders at a Southeast Texas high school can display banners emblazoned with Bible verses at football games.

Apples, Oranges, and Four Stones of Common Grace
Ryan Hornbeck, Fieldnotes Magazine

In “The Right Questions” Max De Pree asks: “How are we in our organized life to find common ground in this new [rapidly changing] context? Do we share a vision?”

Big Government Isn’t Compassionate
Elliot Gaiser, AFF Doublethink Online

Conservatives lost the “cares about people like me” vote in the last election, but they can take it back. How? By taking up the cause of poor Americans through new welfare reform – especially if conservatives engage the nation in a debate on the right terms.

wilhelm-ropkeSome Christian free market enthusiasts mistakenly believe we have to make a choice between socialism and Randianism. But as Joel Miller points out, there are far better intellectual leaders than Ayn Rand. Wilhelm Röpke is a prime example:

Capitalism has had many defenders. Some, rather than being anti-religious like Rand, are self-consciously Christian. Rand’s contemporary, Wilhelm Röpke, is one such example.

Looking back at the tremendous upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century, many responded by embracing socialism, both in Europe and even America. Not Röpke. A professional economist, he lectured, wrote several books, and was partly responsible for engineering Germany’s post-WWII recovery. One of his books, published one year after Atlas Shrugged hit the market, remains essential reading today.

[. . .]

Socialism is a dead end, one that represses human freedom. But I don’t need Rand to tell me that. Rand’s critique is unnecessary and ultimately unhelpful because it is undergirded by an atheistic, anti-Christian philosophy. Our choice isn’t between socialism and Rand. We would be far better served by giving more space to people like Wilhelm Röpke.

Read more . . .