Archived Posts 2013 » Page 2 of 167 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, December 27, 2013

keep-calm-and-christmas-on-169In this week’s commentary, I examine the link between delayed gratification and civilization. I use the image of children waking up on Christmas morning to a cornucopia of presents under the tree. But for many this year, the delivery of presents was delayed.

Ray Hennessey writes over at Entrepreneur that our consumption habits and expectations, which exemplify an ethic of instant gratification, have a lot to do with delivery failure. As he writes, there is plenty of blame to go around, but the buck stops, so to speak, with we the buyers: “consumers taking to Twitter and Facebook claiming the shipping giants are modern-day Grinches should spend a moment this Boxing Day examining what role their own habits had in stopping Christmas from coming.”

My advice if your presents didn’t arrive by Christmas morning? Keep calm and Christmas on. There are, after all, a whole eleven days after Christmas morning to continue the celebration!

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, December 27, 2013

Humiliations GaloreThis year marks the fortieth anniversary of the publication of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, and over at The University Bookman I have written up some thoughts on the modern classic, “As You Wish: True (Self-)Love and The Princess Bride.”

Those familiar with the story know that the tale develops around the conflict between Prince Humperdinck and Westley (aka The Dread Pirate Roberts) over Buttercup, the most beautiful woman in Florin. I frame my piece with the confrontation between another prince and another pirate, an encounter which Augustine famously relates in his City of God. As Augustine writes, Alexander the Great rebukes a captured pirate for his crimes, only to hear the pirate’s retort tu quoque.

In “The Use of Alexander the Great in Augustine’s City of God,” Brian Harding describes Alexander’s “restless ambition for further conquests and power,” which leads him “to search constantly for new lands to conquer; in the same way the pirate captain is always on the look-out for merchant ships which he can harass.” Similarly Humperdinck’s constant competitive drive and lust for power are exemplified in his hunting prowess and his designs to conquer Guilder. He is a prince who would be emperor.
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Friday, December 27, 2013

povertycureForbes contributor Jerry Bower recently interviewed Fr. Robert Sirico about the documentary film series PovertyCure:

Jerry: “Let’s talk a little bit about PovertyCure. Where did this idea come from? What was the original conception of PovertyCure?”

Fr. Sirico: “From the inception of the Acton Institute, which was now 24 years ago, we have always been concerned that economic education–a real understanding of how a market functions–will first and foremost help the most vulnerable, so we’ve done various things over the years to attempt to demonstrate or teach or model that for people. And a number of years ago we were talking about what really helps the poor… Obviously, what helps the poor is access to work. But as we looked into the good intentions of so many people, we see that a lot of them just think that solidarity with poor people means giving them things, and from our understanding of how markets function (and from our understanding of human beings), you really find that human beings themselves are the producers of their own wealth and of their own way out of poverty. What we try to do, and what we have now I think beautifully accomplished in this DVD series, is show–very often from the mouths of the poor and also experts–how wealth is created, and the nature of people even in the middle of their poverty to be creative and produce more than they consume. That’s what’s called wealth: When you produce more than you consume.”

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Friday, December 27, 2013

Sci-Fi Is Socialist, Like Most Art
Todd Seavey, The Federalist

Maybe there is room for more visionary science fiction?

The Aid Debate Is Over
William Easterly, Reason

The failure of Jeffrey Sachs’ Millennium Villages.

Wealth: Learning & Discovery
George Gilder, The Imaginative Conservative

We begin with the proposition that capitalism is not chiefly an incentive system but an information system.

How Then Should We Tackle Income Inequality?
Tyler O’Neil, Christian Post

While Bible scholars agreed that income inequality is not in itself wrong, they attacked the distribution of wealth in modern America as unfair and proposed solutions to it.

incomeinequalityIs unequal distribution of income inherently un-Christians or unjust? That was a question The Christian Post recently posed to several Christian scholars, including Acton research fellow Jordan Ballor. Ballor points out that income inequality is not inherently unbiblical:

“The challenge is distinguishing natural inequalities, which arise out of the variety of human gifts and talents, from unrighteous and unjust inequality,” Ballor explained.

[. . .]

“You don’t see envy talked about very much in this discussion — you hear greed,” the Acton scholar explained. “The Bible warns about greed, but it also warns about envy — when you grieve at something someone else has been blessed with.”

Envy can have two results, Ballor argued. It can drive someone to take the good away from the person they envy, making everyone worse off, or it can drive them to work harder to become more productive and achieve the same thing as the person they envy. Envy drives the idea that wealth is a fixed pie, where if the rich get more, it is because they stole it from the poor. But that is not how the economy works, Ballor said.

“We need to get out of that envying, fixed-pie mindset and get into a serving, other-directed mindset that improves the quality of life for everyone,” the Acton scholar argued. In a free market economy, he explained, people become rich by serving others, by producing something they would willingly buy. Jesus’ commandment that we love one another will make us more productive, and therefore richer.

Ballor has a paper on inequality in a forthcoming issue of Philosophia Reformata. From the abstract of his paper, The Moral Challenges of Economic Equality and Diversity:
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Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico joined guest host Eric Bolling on Your World with Neil Cavuto on the Fox News Channel on Christmas Eve to discuss the latest Hollywood blockbuster, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” as well as the recent phenomenon of “Tips for Jesus.”

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, December 26, 2013

utopiaShannon Love reminds us that what great-great-grandparents would consider utopia is what we consider modern life:

Star Trek is often used as a starting point for musing about this or that utopia because everything in Star Trek seems so wonderful. Star Trek is Gene Roddenberry‘s vision of New Frontier democratic socialism evolved to a utopia so perfect that individuals have to head out into the wilds of deep space just to find some adventure. Watching Star Trek, one naturally begins to wonder what it would be like to live in a world so advanced that all of the problems we deal with today have been resolved or minimized to insignificance.

Well, we don’t actually have to imagine what it would be like to live in a Star Trek-like, radically egalitarian, technologically advanced, “post-scarcity” society because we live in a Star Trek-like utopia right now, right here, in contemporary America.

How can I say that? Simple, Star Trek the Next Generation takes place 353 years in the future from 2364 to 2370. If we were to think of ourselves as living in a futuristic science-fiction society we would likewise look back 353 years in the past to 1658.

Image what modern America would look like to the people of any of the world’s major cultures back in 1658! Any novel, movie, TV or comic book set in day-to-day middle-class America would read like astounding science fiction to anyone from 1658. Our society looks even more utopian in comparison to 1658 than Star Trek world 2370 looks to us today.

I’m not just talking about all the amazing and frightening technology like nuclear power/weapons, spacecraft, cars, cell phones, computers, the Internet, etc. I’m also talking about issues of want, individual dignity and social/political equality.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, December 26, 2013

Do you even want to win the culture war?
James Chastek, Just Thomism

Perhaps the church had its run of control over the world, but it’s better off now that its lines of evangelization are characterized by freedom, reason, and legitimate parental authority.

Why All Americans Should Support Hobby Lobby’s Case Against Obamacare
Evan Bernick, The Foundry

The plight of Hobby Lobby, the arts-and-crafts business whose owners are being forced to compromise their faith, instantly draws the sympathy of religious conservatives. But why should anyone else care?

Can a Church Refuse to Sell Property Because of a Buyer’s Religion?
Mark Movsesian, First Things

Is it legal for a church to refuse to sell church property solely because of the buyer’s religion? You’d think there would be an easy answer, but I haven’t been able to find one.

What are some of the biggest problems with a guaranteed annual income?
Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

Whether on grounds of justice, practicality, or just public choice considerations (“you can keep your current welfare payments if you like them”), we should not expect everyone to be paid the same under a guaranteed annual income.

Blog author: rjmoeller
posted by on Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A hard, howling, tossing water scene.
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
“How cold!” Weather stings as in anger.
O Silent night shows war ace danger!

The cold waters swashing on in rage.
Redcoats warn slow his hint engage.
When star general’s action wish’d “Go!”
He saw his ragged continentals row.

Ah, he stands – sailor crew went going.
And so this general watches rowing.
He hastens – winter again grows cold.
A wet crew gain Hessian stronghold.

George can’t lose war with’s hands in;
He’s astern – so go alight, crew, and win!

-David Shulman, “Washington Crossing the Delaware”

Some 237 years ago today, the Continental Army was stationed along the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border preparing for a secret attack upon British and Hessian troops. Beleaguered and under-supplied, the brave men under General George Washington’s command knew they needed a miracle. The plan was to send three raiding parties across the Delaware River at different points to surprise the enemy at Trenton.

Weather and the elements had other ideas.

The crossing of the River using the Durham boats, ferry boats and other craft took longer than expected as a nor’easter effected the area causing sleet and freezing rain to pelt the weary troops. Large ice flows and flood-like conditions hindered the nighttime maneuvers.

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From an archived column by National Review‘s Rich Lowry:

Arriving at Trenton at 8 a.m. the following morning, his spirited troops seemed “to vie with the other in pressing forward,” he wrote afterward. They surprised the Hessians, not because they were sleeping off a Christmas bender. Harried in hostile New Jersey, the Hessians had exhausted themselves on constant alert. They didn’t expect an attack in such weather, though. The battle ended quickly — 22 Hessians killed, 83 seriously wounded, and 900 captured, to two American combat deaths.

“It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world,” British historian George Trevelyan wrote.

Washington followed up soon enough with another victory at Princeton. In the space of a few weeks, the Americans killed or captured as many as 3,000 of the enemy and irreversibly changed the dynamic of the war.

David Hackett Fischer (author of Washington’s Crossing) sees in that resurgence after our fortunes were at their lowest a reassuring aspect of our national character in this season of discontent: We respond when pressed. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a great supporter of the American cause, wrote: “Our republics cannot exist long in prosperity. We require adversity and appear to possess most of the republican spirit when most depressed.” 

May it still be so. 

A great reminder of an important story from our nation’s unique past. The freedoms we enjoy were won with a price. Violence on this holiday was the result of something a tad more important than the newest Air Jordan sneakers. 

 

2013-12-20 15.27.57In my Christmas commentary this week, “Gratification and Civilization,” I examine the connection between making your kids wait until Christmas morning to open their presents and the development of civilization.

Self-denial and self-sacrifice form the basis of human life together. As Matthew Cochran puts it in a piece last week at The Federalist, “Civilization depends on the tendency of men to produce more than they consume for themselves.”

A key factor of driving forward the development of civilization, then, is the family unit. For Cochran rightly warns that civilization “depends on masculine ambition.” The ambition to grow a business for someone “could mean feeding himself & his workers, along with any family they might have. His ambition could be a huge boon to society. Take that away, and you have a bunch of men doing what they need to do to stay comfortable, but nothing more—nothing for any women or any increasingly hypothetical children.”

The Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck explores the link between family and civilization in his study of The Christian Family. Bavinck describes the triad of father-mother-child:

The two-in-oneness of husband and wife expands with a child into a three-in-oneness. Father, mother, and child are one soul and one flesh, expanding and unfolding the one image of God, united within threefold diversity and diverse within harmonic unity.

These relationships are of civilizational significance:

This three-in-oneness of relationships and functions, of qualities and gifts, constitutes the foundation of all of civilized society. The authority of the father, the love of the mother, and the obedience of the child form in their unity the threefold cord that binds together and sustains all relationships within human society. Within the psychological life of every integrated personality this triple cord forms the motif and melody. No man is complete without some feminine qualities, no woman is complete without some masculine qualities, and to both man and woman, the child is held up as an example (Matt. 18:3). These three characteristics and gifts are always needed in every society and in every civilization, in the church and in the state. Authority, love, and obedience are the pillars of all human society.

One can hardly discuss the family during this season of the year without also reflecting on the holy family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Bavinck describes them as “the divine counterpart” to Adam, Eve, and their children. “The holy family is the example of the Christian home,” writes Bavinck.

And on this Christmas let us remember and be thankful for the greatest gift of all, the birth of Jesus Christ!