Archived Posts August 2014 | Acton PowerBlog

ISSchk0825_280More than 100 million Americans are getting some form of “means-tested” welfare assistance, reports Investor’s Business Daily:

The Census Bureau found 51 million on food stamps at the end of 2012 and 83 million on Medicaid, with tens of millions of households getting both. Another 4 million were on unemployment insurance.

The percentage of American households on welfare has reached 35%. If we include other forms of government assistance such as Medicare and Social Security, almost half of all households are getting a check or other form of government assistance. The tipping point is getting closer and closer.

So much is shocking and dismaying about these numbers. How is it that the number of recipients and the price tag for many of these programs kept skyrocketing though the recession officially ended in 2009? Normally, you’d expect welfare caseloads to fall in a recovery as the unemployment rate dips, but this time welfare participation keeps expanding.

Read more . . .

On Tuesday, the Acton Institute welcomed Ron Blue to the Mark Murray Auditorium to deliver an address on the topic of “Perpetual Generosity.” In his lecture, Blue draws from his nearly 50 years in the financial services world, with 35 of those working almost exclusively with Christian couples, in order to lay out some basic principles and strategies for developing and wisely distributing wealth. Over this time, he has observed that those who are consistently generous over the long term exhibit three characteristics that have nothing to do with money: contentment, confidence, and the ability to communicate with each other, their children, and advisors if they use them.

Watch Blue’s full lecture below:

Blog author: johnteevan
Friday, August 29, 2014
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In his August 24, 2014 syndicated column Scott Burns tells of a study by Dunn and Norton who give five principles for having “Happy Money.”

  1. Buy experiences not things: go to Chicago rather than buy a new stuff.
  2. Make it a treat: don’t keep ice cream in the house, make it special by anticipating going out every Tuesday night for ice cream.
  3. Buy time: we are “time poor” people so slow down and avoid expenditures that devour time.
  4. Pre-pay your vacation so you don’t worry about spending “all that money.”
  5. Invest in others: give gifts or cash or support someone on a ministry trip or hand out $20 when you feel like it.

These ideas will help remove the tendency to endless question of “Is this worth it?” Burns does not mention it, but giving money to church, mission, health, poverty, orphan care or directly to people in need is “Happy Money” as well.

get-your-hands-dirtyIn a review by Micah Watson of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) earlier this year at The Gospel Coalition, Watson described the book as “akin to a social event with heavy hors d’oevres served throughout the evening.”

There were, however, some offerings in this tapestry of tapas, so to speak, that Watson thought deserved an entree presentation. For instance, Watson wonders about distinguishing principle from prudence, a framework that runs throughout the book and broader Christian social thought. What distinguishes, for instance, the biblical view of marriage, abortion, and poverty and the various ways to respect these teachings in practice?

Thus, argues Watson,

Christians must often determine what the genuinely Christian position is in a given context, taking stands on particular issues and even legislation—as they did during the struggle to end racial segregation in the American civil rights movement or in affirming the Barmen Declaration in 1930s Germany. Exercising such discernment may or may not require identifying who is in and out of the tent, but it surely requires determining what moral stands constitute authentic Christian witness.

He goes on to observe that “a season of uncomfortable but necessary clarification will be necessary” in today’s world.

I’m happy to add a bit here to that season of clarification, or what might better be called a season of suffering for righteousness’ sake (1 Peter 3:14), a season of searing away the dross from our life and witness, which is just another name for sanctification.

How might this distinction between principle and prudence work out in particular cases?
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Blog author: jcarter
Friday, August 29, 2014
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Hobby Lobby without God
James Bruce, Library of Law and Liberty

The book is founded in a great hope: that religious believers can be persuaded that they have more in common with atheists than they may think, and vice versa.

Classical Education, Freedom, and the Ordered Soul
James V. Schall, S.J., Catholic World Report

Understanding is a spiritual thing, though rooted in really existing things, even ultimately in divine things.

Modern Bondage: Slavery is Very Much Alive Today
Mark Gordon, Aleteia

From Nigerian schoolgirls to sex trafficking in the US, the total number would fill California.

Poor Americans Need Hope, Not Stigma
Brandon Smith, The Federalist

Conservatives should fight for Americans struggling to get by, not stigmatize them.

lego-people“Can you explain that important economic concept using Legos?”

Apparently, someone must have said that to Richard Reeves, an economist at the Brookings Institution economist, because he’s made a brief video using Legos to visualize social mobility.

There are two reasons I really appreciate this video. First, I love to see important economic issues explained in an accessible and entertaining manner. Second, as I’ve repeatedly said to anyone who will listen, social mobility — specifically getting people out of poverty — is infinitely more important than focusing income inequality, a topic that gets far too much attention nowadays.

The one drawback to the video is that it’s far too pessimistic. Yes, social mobility is still a huge problem. But the video makes clear, that social mobility is possible for almost all people. That has not been true for most of human history and it is not true in most parts of the world today.

Also, I am far less concerned with whether a person can go from the bottom quintile to the top as I am with going from the bottom quintile to the middle. Like many Americans, I was born in the bottom quintile and worked my way to the middle quintiles. The fact that I’m unlikely to ever join the top quintile is of absolutely no importance to may life. None at all. What we should care about is whether people can get out of poverty and flourish economically, not whether they can join Beyonce and Jay-Z in the billionaire’s club.

But those quibbles aside, I’m grateful this video is helping to spread the message about the importance of social mobility.

Accra Confession 2004The Accra Confession, a document arising out of the Reformed ecumenical movement, was promulgated ten years ago. At the time, Rev. Jerry Zandstra and I wrote with some rather harsh criticisms of the document.

In the meanwhile, the original group that organized the Accra Confession, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, merged with a smaller ecumenical group, the Reformed Ecumenical Council, to create the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). At the Uniting General Council held at Calvin College in 2010, where the status of the Accra Confession for the new movement was to be determined, the Acton Institute distributed a packet of material, including a book-length engagement with the Accra Confession and the larger mainline ecumenical movement’s economic witness.

In Ecumenical Babel I devote a full chapter to the Accra Confession as perhaps the most imbalanced and skewed of all the mainline ecumenical documents on economic justice. For other critical engagements of the Accra Confession, I recommend Stan du Plessis, “How Can You Be a Christian and an Economist? The Meaning of the Accra Declaration for Today,” and Roland Hoksbergen, “The Global Economy, Injustice, and the Church: On Being Reformed in Today’s World.”

There are a number of celebratory posts recognizing the anniversary of the confession at places like Ecclesio, and for a critical engagement of Ecumenical Babel you can read an essay by Christopher Dorn in Perspectives. (Ecumenical Babel was also reviewed for CommentCalvin Theological Journal, Journal of Markets & MoralityJournal of Interdisciplinary Studies, and Journal of Ecumenical Studies. I respond at some length to Dorn’s essay in my latest book, Get Your Hands Dirty.)

The World Communion of Reformed Churches purports to represent 80 million Christians of 229 member denominations in 108 countries. An ecumenical group of this significance and diversity can do better than the Accra Confession in its social witness, and after ten years, it must do better.

This summer during Acton University, I had the opportunity to be part of a recording for Moody Radio’s Up for Debate program, which has just recently been posted online. The subject for discussion was “Can Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical Christians Learn from Each Other?”

The participants were Jay Richards (Roman Catholic), Distinguished Fellow of the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics and a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, John Stonestreet (Evangelical), Fellow of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and me (Orthodox), an Acton research associate and assistant editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality.

In answer to the question of the show, the short answer that we all seemed to come to was, yes, we do have a lot to learn from one another. Our talk ranged from issues of Scripture and the Tradition of the Church to the current discussion in the public square over same-sex marriage.

Head over to Moody Radio to listen to the program here.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
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Zero Tolerance? Zero Common Sense
Susan E. Wills, Aleteia

You know the public school system is in trouble when a kindergartener is suspended for talking about her Hello Kitty bubble blower gun.

In Thailand’s Surrogacy Industry, Profit and a Moral Quagmire
Thomas Fuller, New York Times

The baby boomlet here was just one of several bizarre and often ethically charged iterations of Thailand’s freewheeling venture into what detractors call the womb rental business, an unguided experiment that the country’s military government now says it is planning to end.

Why Your City or Town Could Be the Next Step for Right-to-Work
James Sherk & Andrew Kloster, The Corner

Should workers have to pay union dues to keep their job? Unions think so — their contracts require companies to fire workers who do not pay up. Fortunately, many states have passed “right-to-work” (RTW) laws that prohibit this coercion.

How Faith, Work, and Economics Transformed Milwaukee
Lauren Carl, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

As Woodson demonstrated in Milwaukee, CNE goes into an area like a “Geiger counter” and identifies grassroots leaders, people with strengths who are already present in these areas.

girl bitting appleThe opening paragraphs of latest issue of Stanford University’s Pathways magazine contains an eye-opening claim: in any given month of 2011, 1.65 million U.S. households with children were living on less than $2 per person, per day.

That sounds horrific, and it is: horrifically misleading.

Once you dig deeper you find that what they mean is “households living on $2 or less in cash income per person per day.” The reason it is misleading is because, as a savvy economist might say, you don’t eat income.

What we mean (or should mean) when we say “living on” is consumption. In economics, consumption is the use of goods and services by households.

For at least the first few years of our lives (i.e., when we’re children), most of us have no incomes at all. So how do we keep from starving? Because what we “live on” (our share of consumption) is paid for by someone else’s income, usually our parents. Americans in extreme poverty are also able to consume using someone else’s income: their fellow taxpayers. This is why the poor can have near zero income and still have access to many of the goods and services, such as housing and food, required for survival.

As Jordan Weissmann notes, the Stanford article “ignored all non-cash safety net benefits.”
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