Archived Posts 2013 - Page 3 of 167 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, December 23, 2013
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christmasnumbersAs the most widely observed cultural holiday in the world, Christmas is a time of produces many things — joy, happiness, gratitude, reverence. And numbers. Lots of peculiar, often large, numbers. Here are a few to contemplate this season:

$34.87 – Average amount U.S. consumers spent on real Christmas trees.

33,000,000 – Number of real Christmas trees sold in the U.S. each year.

7 – Average growing time in years for a Christmas tree.

$70.55 – Average amount U.S. consumers spent on fake Christmas trees in 2011.

9,500,000 – Number of fake Christmas trees sold each year.

$27.21 — The energy costs of lighting a six-foot Christmas tree, lit 12 hours a day for 40 days, decorated with various light types.

$1,000,000,000 – Estimated value of U.S. imports of Christmas tree ornaments from China between January and September 2013.

$3,000,000,000,000 – Amount generated by the U.S. retail industry during the holidays in 2012. These holiday sales reflected about 19.3 percent of the retail industries total sales that year.

$720,000 – Number of new employees hired to compensate for the holiday rush in 2012.

37.5% — Estimated percentage of charitable giving that occurs between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

$712 – Average amount people in the U.S. spent in on Christmas presents in 2010. In Italy average expenditure amounted to around 325 euros ($445). The Dutch came out as the most thrifty. Spending on Christmas presents in the Netherlands in 2010 averaged at 206 euros ($282).

108,000,000 — Average number of homes Santa Claus has to visit on December 25 (assuming there is at least one “nice” child in each).

John Howard Yoder
Photo Credit: New York Times

Today at Ethika Politika, in my essay “Prefacing Yoder: On Preaching and Practice,” I look at the recent decision of MennoMedia to preface all of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s works with a disclaimer about his legacy of sexually abusive behavior:

Whatever one thinks of MennoMedia’s new policy or Yoder’s theology in particular (being Orthodox and not a pacifist I am relatively uninterested myself), this nevertheless raises an interesting concern: To what extent ought the character of a theologian matter to their readers and students?

While I am unsure whether MennoMedia has handled this rightly, I appreciate the effort on their part not to turn a blind eye to the complexity of this issue. When it comes to theologians and teachers of morality, personal character does matter, though certainly poor character does not justify dismissing off-hand all a theologian says.

Yet, as I note at Ethika Politika, “while one may be able to study all the mechanics of swimming, for example, and teach them to others from a purely technical point of view, people would naturally be skeptical about the value of this teaching if they discovered their teacher could not actually swim.” Thus, I do not find it surprising or unfounded to be skeptical of Yoder. But what caused this situation? As Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt.” (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Monday, December 23, 2013
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In my Acton Commentary today, “The Great Exchange of the Magi,” I reflect on the fact that, due to the material poverty of the holy family, the gifts of the magi can be considered alms in addition to homage:

The magi set forth an example of the heart that all of us need to have when it comes to stewardship of our material blessings. They knew their own poverty of spirit, and gladly gave the riches of this life for the blessing of eternity: worship. Their almsgiving, then, had a particular attitude attached to it. They did not see the holy family as mere victims of an unjust world, but as persons worthy of their investment, the Child whom they worshiped most of all.

As we approach the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ (Christmas), I think an additional application is worth reflecting on: whenever we give alms, we, like the magi, also pay homage to God incarnate. (more…)

Judge Andrew S. Hanen, a federal district judge in Brownsville, Texas, is accusing the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security of being complicit in human trafficking from Mexico.

Here is what appears to be happening: a parent pays a “coyote” or smuggler in Mexico to bring the parent’s child from Mexico to the United States, illegally. Typically, these coyotes are smuggling drugs as well. When DHS captures the coyotes, they will then often “deliver” the smuggled child to the parent, despite the illegality of the situation. However, many children are held held for ransom by coyotes that are not arrested by DHS, or are subjected to sex trafficking.

Megyn Kelly of Fox News, discusses the situation with documentary filmmaker Dennis Michael Lynch.

Read “Federal Judge: The Obama Administration Aids and Abets Human Trafficking” at National Review Online.

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, December 23, 2013
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Don’t Be a Scrooge This Christmas
R.C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries

The high degree of commerce at Christmas is driven by one thing: the buying of gifts for others. To present our friends and families with gifts is not an ugly, ignoble vice.

Restorative Justice Programs – An Alternative to State-Centered Punishment
Derek Cohen, The Federalist

The underlying problem is viewing the government as the victim of crime, instead of the individual who was actually harmed. Restorative justice programs are a better alternative that return us to the original conception in western civilization of a crime as one person harming another.

Utter Chaos: White House Exempts Millions From Obamacare’s Insurance Mandate, ‘Unaffordable’ Exchanges
Avik Roy, Forbes

The administration will grant a “hardship exemption” from the law’s individual mandate, requiring the purchase of health insurance, to anyone who has had their prior coverage canceled and who “believes that Obamacare’s offerings are unaffordable.”

How Can Economic Law Help Us Fulfill the Cultural Mandate?
Shawn Ritenour, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

A proper understanding of economics is crucial for our obeying and fulfilling the cultural mandate given to us by God in the first two chapters of Genesis.

ballotAs 2013 draws to a close, it’s time to inventory the year’s proxy resolutions introduced by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. ICCR, a group purportedly acting on religious principles and faith, is actually nothing more than a shareholder activist group engaged in the advancement of leftist causes at the expense of their fellow shareholders and the world’s poorest.

ICCR recently released its 2013 Annual Report. Its “2013 Proxy Season Recap” (pp. 16, 17) presents a snapshot of initiatives ICCR members pursued this past year. The foundations for several categories betray the left’s tenuous grasp of science and economics while, at the same time, displaying a perverse naiveté regarding the potential negative consequences of their respective crusades.

Fortunately, all the worst proposals failed. As noted previously, ICCR shareholder resolutions are drafted by Bruce Freed, president of the George Soros-funded Center for Political Accountability (CPA). Both Freed and ICCR boast huge successes for their resolutions, assertions that rely on extremely fuzzy methodology that excludes abstention votes. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, December 20, 2013
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[Note: A version of this article ran last year around Christmastime. I’m posting it again because I love talking about Frank Capra and everyone else seems to love talking about Ayn Rand.]

Frank Capra and Ayn Rand are two names not often mentioned together. Yet the cheery director of Capra-corn and the dour novelist who created Objectivism have more in common than you might imagine. Both were immigrants who made their names in Hollywood. Both were screenwriters and employees of the film studio RKO Pictures. And during the last half of the 1940s, both created works of enduring cult appeal, Capra with his film It’s a Wonderful Life and Rand with her novel The Fountainhead.

The pair also created two of the most memorable characters in modern pop culture: Howard Roark and George Bailey. To anyone familiar with both works, it would seem the two characters could not be more different. Unexpected similarities emerge, however, when one considers that Roark and Bailey are variations on a common archetype that has captured the American imagination for decades.

Howard Roark, the protagonist of Rand’s book, is an idealistic young architect who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision by conforming to the needs and demands of the community. In contrast, George Bailey, the hero of Capra’s film, is an idealistic young would-be architect who struggles in obscurity because he has chosen to conform to the needs and demands of the community rather than fulfill his artistic and personal vision. Howard Roark is essentially what George Bailey might have become had he left for college rather than stayed in his hometown of Bedford Falls.
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Blog author: jballor
Friday, December 20, 2013
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Newburgh, ME Piper Mountain Christmas tree farm1

A couple of further points in reply to Micah Mattix’s response on buying Christmas trees, based on his original post here.

1) I think Mattix’s characterization of the buyer as “selfish” goes a bit too far, and is not an accurate characterization of a good deal of market activity. “Self-interested” would be more accurate, and would allow for selfish actors, but would also allow more generally for benevolent actors. For instance, a nun who runs an orphanage has decided that her wards need spiritual as well as material sustenance, and has allotted a portion of the budget to purchase a live Christmas tree. But for every dollar she spends on the tree, one less bowl of gruel will be served. Is she acting selfishly if she gets the best deal on a tree that she can get? She may not be regarding the interests of the seller on the same level as her own (which include the interests of her wards), but it seems to bias the discussion too much to simply describe all the players involved as necessarily selfish. The same would apply mutatis mutandis to the father providing a tree for his family. In fact, buying a Christmas tree is usually a pretty unselfish activity.

2) Related to the above point, and developing it a bit further, certainly the buyer ought view the seller as someone to whom he or she has moral obligations. But to expect the seller to haggle up seems wrong. Perhaps the seller is perpetuating injustice by simply trying to sell trees even at a loss. Perhaps like the poet in Frost’s work they would be better off doing something else with them besides dumping. But they key here is that the buyer and the seller are in the best position to judge for themselves. It should also be noted that the tree seller isn’t just selling a single tree. Earlier sales of higher priced trees may subsidize and offset the costs of selling later trees at a discount. Mattix largely seems to want to argue for conscientious consumption, and I am all in favor of that. Let your conscience be your guide, and let your conscience be informed. But all too often things move beyond this to legislation of some kind of baseline. I realize that Mattix is not arguing for this, but the dangers of a mandated price floor for Christmas trees should be apparent.

3) We do agree “that a market economy is a good system that takes into consideration certain truths about human nature” and we also agree, as Mattix concludes, “that as a buyer price should always be the only determining factor.” I am certainly not defending an ideal of perfect prices. Prices are not perfect, and they are not sacrosanct. But they are often the best device we have for sorting out all of the complex realities that lie behind market transactions. The dynamic of this issue shares similarities with the disputes over fast food as well as, more broadly, the debates over fair trade. Here’s how Victor Claar sums things up, and I’ll close with this thought: “If you purchase ‘fair trade,’ buy it because you like the good or the service. Do not do it out of mere charity. Instead, give generously to charities that you know are effectively working for human rights, development of human and physical capital, and opportunities for the poor to discover increasingly valuable ways to serve others in the global marketplace.” Otherwise you might just be helping perpetuate the poverty-trap of Christmas tree sales.

Concepts you should know about explained in five minutes (or less).

Leo Linbeck III, President and CEO of Aquinas Companies, provides an explanation of competitive federalism and how competition and governance relate in society.

See also:

5 Minute Explainer: Subsidiarity

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The Ballors went with a live tree this year. We bought it at Flowerland and I do not know the name of the farm whence it came.

Over at the American Conservative, Micah Mattix reflects on the Christmas tree market, which in his neck of the woods is “notoriously unstable.” In Ashe County, North Carolina, says Mattix, a dilemma faces the small tree farmer: “It is not sell or starve, but it is sell or go without a new septic tank, a repaired roof, a mended this or that.” Although not specifically about Christmas trees, the difficult choice faced by the poet in the Robert Frost poem Mattix engages at length is also reminiscent of the dynamic of poverty in Winter’s Bone.

Mattix explores some valid concerns about the human cost of low prices: “When we look for ‘deals’ at Christmas, I doubt many of us think about the labor another human being expended to make a certain object and whether the price we pay for it is a fair one. We think, rather, of big corporations and highly paid CEOs who can afford a dollar to two less and who have probably already calculated the discount into the cost of production.”

In the context of a market transaction, particularly in a globalized marketplace where we cannot possibly know all the people that have been involved in bringing a commodity to market, there is a kind of anonymity that is inherent in the system. Thus, writes Mattix, “But an anonymous market economy can obscure the relational aspect of trade—it can obscure the fact that transactions are always, ultimately, between people. And when we look to buy objects for as little as possible without any consideration of the labor of others, we are acting no differently than CEOs who look to maximize profit, whatever the human expense.” Perhaps. Perhaps.
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