Archived Posts April 2014 | Acton PowerBlog

VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCE“Inequality is the root of social evil,” tweeted Pope Francis earlier this week, raising eyebrows across the globe. Like many conservative Christians I expressed my disagreement on social media. “Um, no it’s not. Hate and apathy are the roots of social evil,” I said on Twitter. I also wondered whether Francis had “traded the writings of Peter and Paul for Piketty”—the French Marxist economist whose latest book on the evils of inequality has become a worldwide bestseller.

Some Catholics, such as Grant Gallicho at Commonweal pointed out that Pope Francis used that exact phrase in his first major document, Evangelii Gaudium. To be honest, while I had read that document, I didn’t make the connection. Perhaps @Pontifex should have thrown in a #EvangeliiGaudium hashtag to make that point clear.

Noting that the quote is from Evangelii Gaudium is helpful, though the context still doesn’t change the fact the claim about inequality being the root of social evil is simply not true. I’m generally a fan of Catholic social teaching (as enthusiastic as a Protestant can be), but Pope Francis’s claims in Evangelii Gaudium show a misunderstanding of economic reality. Take this claim, for instance:
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Blog author: jwitt
posted by on Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Over at Christianity Today Art Lindsley has a good piece on how C.S. Lewis’s support for true progress led him to oppose Progressivism:

Some of Lewis’s most pointed criticisms of “progress” came when he wrote on economics and politics, even though he did not often comment on these topics. When he was invited by the Observer in the late 1950′s to write an article on whether progress was even possible, he titled his contribution “Willing Slaves of the Welfare State.”

In this essay Lewis makes it clear he is for progress, in the sense of “increasing the goodness and happiness of individual lives.” But he expresses deep concern about the tendencies in the United Kingdom during World Wars I and II to give up liberty for security. He says Britons had grown, “though apparently grudgingly, accustomed to our chains.” He warns that once government encroaches on our freedom, every concession makes it more difficult for us to “retrace our steps.” Perhaps the most striking moment in this essay is the one on the nature of the happiness that he would like to see. Lewis says: “I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he has ‘the freeborn mind.’ But I doubt whether he can have this without economic independence, which the new society is abolishing. For independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs and asks nothing of Government who can criticize its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology. Read Montaigne; that’s the voice of a man with his legs under his own table, eating the mutton and turnips raised on his own land. Who will talk like that when the State is everyone’s schoolmaster and employer?”

The full article is here.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, April 30, 2014

When does inequality become unjust? In this week’s Acton Commentary, Jordan Ballor considers that question in the context of Pope Francis’s teachings and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy:

Earlier this week, Pope Francis logged onto his @Pontifex Twitter account to declare that “inequality is the root of social evil.” This was of a piece with his November apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium,” in which he asserted that “inequality is the root of social ills.” Within the deeper context of his exhortation, it is evident that Francis is not advocating for equality in an absolute sense. He is, rather, discussing the kind of unjust inequality that results from structural evil. In this way, observes Francis, injustice carries within it the seeds of social unrest. This is as true for unjust inequality as it is for unjust equality. For as the formal principle of justice teaches, there is no greater injustice than to treat unequal things equally and equal things unequally. Or as Aristotle put it following Plato, we must “treat like cases as like.”

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

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, April 30, 2014

babiesToday you’ll be hearing a lot about this latest bit of bad —really, really bad —economic news:

Real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States — increased at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the first quarter (that is, from the fourth quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2014), according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

There are a lot of reasons why slow or negative economic growth is terrible, and I plan to write more about that soon. But many people don’t really understand why economic growth matters. While the issue is complex and requires some nuance to fully explain, the simplistic answer is that economic growth matters because of babies. If you love babies — and want more of them around — you should love economic growth.

I’ve written about this topic before, but today seems an ideal time to revisit the issue. Before we explain the baby-GDP connection, though,  let’s consider the consequences if there were to be a long period in the U.S. with no economic growth:
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Today on the PowerBlog, we’re continuing our Radio Free Acton series featuring people who have attended Acton University and their experiences. As we close in on the deadline for registration for AU 2014, we hope that as you hear from people who have been impacted by the experience of Acton University, you’ll consider registering for AU 2014 and making the experience your own this year.

Today’s podcast features Father Hans Jacobse, an Orthodox priest and the founder of the American Orthodox Institute, who describes how he discovered Acton and came to be a participant at Acton University over the course of the last few years. He describes how the experience of Acton University gives him an opportunity to interact with people who are creatively engaged with culture all over the world – a “creative explosion,” as he calls it – and explains why those four days are so inspiring for him.

Have a listen via the audio player below, and be sure to check out this year’s course lineup for Acton University. Hope to see you there!

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What Orthodox Christians Can Learn from Pope Francis
Andrew Estocin, The Sounding

Pope Francis … models a form of leadership that is greatly needed in Orthodox Christianity today.

Conservative Sentencing Reform: Politically Savvy, Morally Right
Casey Given, The American Conservative

Mandatory minimums’ attempt to rein in judges’ discretion only shifted the discretion to prosecutors, resulting in no significant decrease of sentencing inequality.

The Left’s Line On School Choice Is A Joke From The 1800s
Andrew Quinn, The Federalist

Handicapping your own kids to provide an unproven benefit to a few other children is neither honorable nor brave. Prioritizing your kin is not a sin to atone for. It is a marker of moral humanity.

Ukraine: Even the Animals Are Suffering from Corruption
Iryna Fedets, The Foundry

Animals at the abandoned presidential residence in Ukraine find themselves in the midst of a corruption scandal.

tusAt the bottom of this storm and tornado roundup from The Weather Channel, there is a powerful slideshow on the devastation in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. The death count in the region stands at 31. Mississippi’s Governor Phil Bryant described yesterday as “The most active tornado day in Mississippi history.”

Some people forget that it is denominational church agencies that often are the first to meet the material needs and bring comfort to the afflicted. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is well known for their rapid response. I covered that agency more in depth in the “The Church and Disaster Relief: Shelter from the Stormy Blast” in the Spring 2011 issue of Religion & Liberty. The article is a good introduction into how church agencies are more efficient and effective than governmental agencies when it comes to disaster response. This is in part due to the fact that they already have built in relationships and organizations on the ground.

The Southern Baptist Church has almost 90,000 trained volunteers—including chaplains—and 1,550 mobile units for feeding. They have chainsaw teams, power generators, shower and laundry facilities, water purification devices, and offer child-care, to name just a few of their services. I saw firsthand how Hurricane Katrina really multiplied the power and commitment of religious agencies to provide lasting hope through a long-term commitment to rebuilding. It might surprise some readers that Christian churches are still sending volunteers and money to the Gulf Coast which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

People who face devastation need to feel like they are not alone. A human touch that has the power to reflect the incarnated Christ who was sent to lift up and resurrect a disordered world is invaluable. The great promise of Christianity is that the Lord is a God of recovery and restoration. While government can offer services and help, it can’t offer the kind of hope that has overcome the things of this world.

Blog author: bwalker
posted by on Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Satellite imagery of the Eagle Ford Shale drilling boom, with lights from hundreds of oil and gas rigs carving a crescent-shaped glow across South Texas.

Satellite imagery of the Eagle Ford Shale drilling boom, with lights from hundreds of oil and gas rigs carving a crescent-shaped glow across South Texas.

The religious crusade against fossil fuels and various methods of extracting it to heat and light our homes, offices, and factories continues apace. The 2014 proxy shareholder season is a veritable spider web of networked religious-affiliated activist groups decrying coal, natural gas, oil, hydraulic fracturing and mining. Ceres, for example, reports “35 institutional investors have filed 142 resolutions in a coordinated effort to spur action by 118 companies” on what it calls climate-related measures.

Based in Boston, Mass., the nonprofit group coordinates investment funds and other groups to support “sustainability.” This past March, Ceres boasted a who’s who of environmental organizations intent on eliminating greenhouse gases once and for all, including Walden Asset Management, Mercy Investments, Green Century Capital Management and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. Companies targeted for shareholder resolutions include, “Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Kinder Morgan, Lowes and several electric utilities.”

Among the utilities selected is Dominion Resources, Inc., a Richmond, Va., company that supplies portions of Virginia and North Carolina with electricity. Ceres submitted the following resolution on behalf of its cadre of investor activists:

RESOLVED: Shareholders request that the Board of Directors publish a report for investors within 6 months of the 2014 annual meeting, at reasonable cost and omitting proprietary information, on how Dominion Resources is measuring, mitigating, setting reduction targets, and disclosing methane emissions. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, April 29, 2014

tenth-200In our modern era, the ancient sin of covetousness primarily manifests itself in three forms: greed, theft, and arguments about inequality. The greedy selfishly desire to acquire what others have, thieves illicitly acquire what others have, and equality advocates want the government to redistribute what others have.

It would be unfair, of course, to assume that all critics of inequality are driven by covetousness. But if you stripped away that sin as a motivation, the number of people who care about inequality could be fit into an Occupy Wall Street drum circle.

Imagine if we all took a vow to shun covetousness, especially when advocating public policies. Garett Jones suggest we do just that, with his proposal for the creation of the Tenth Commandment Club:
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VillageGreenChelseaVTIs there any societal reason to protect religion? That is, do we get anything out of religion, as a society, even if we’re not religious, and is that “anything” worth protecting? Mark Movsesian thinks so.

In First Things, Movsesian says religion does do good for a society – a good that is worthy of protection.

Religion, especially communal religion, provides important benefits for everyone in the liberal state—even the non-religious. Religion encourages people to associate with and feel responsible for others, to engage with them in common endeavors. Religion promotes altruism and neighborliness, and mitigates social isolation. Religion counteracts the tendencies to apathy and self-centeredness that liberalism seems inevitably to create.

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