The 2014 Acton Lecture Series took a dramatic turn last week as we welcomed G.K. Chesterton – or at least a quite remarkable facsimile of Chesterton in the form of Chuck Chalberg, who travels the country performing in character as Chesterton, among other notable historic figures. In this presentation, Chalberg’s Chesterton speaks about America, which he thought was the only country with the soul of a church. He also addresses the state of the family–and not just the American family–past and present. His starting point–and end point– is this: “Without the family we are helpless before the state.” We hope you enjoy the performance as much as we did!
“Deadbeat Dads”—absent fathers who don’t provide financial support for their children—are one of the most significant factors contributing to child poverty in America. So why do some single women have children outside of marriage when they know they will receive little to no support from the child’s father?
A new study from the University of Georgia and Boston College attempts to answer that question. The authors created an economic model to simulate a scenario in which every absent father was forced to pay child support. As the researchers note, “Looking at the data through the lens of this ‘perfect enforcement’ scenario caused the picture to change.”
“If Christians cannot help prisoners find meaning behind bars,” wonders Stephen H. Webb, “how can they expect the Gospel to find an audience among those never convicted of a crime?” At First Things, Webb argues that revival of Christianity will only come when we reform America’s prisons:
Prisoners are test cases of how Christians deal with sinners in extremis. I don’t just mean that compassion for the imprisoned can serve as a corroboration of Christian charity, although that is surely true. I mean that the whole experience of imprisonment is absolutely central to the coherence and credibility of the Gospel message. How can captivity, a great biblical theme, have any meaning today if we treat incarceration as nothing more than “serving time”? How can salvation be proclaimed as the ultimate joy even in this life if we live in a society that continues punishing prisoners long after they have been released?
One of the strongest parallels between prisons and theology has to do with our conceptions of the afterlife. For example, many people treat the possibility of rehabilitation behind prison walls with the same skeptical indifference that even devout Catholics now bestow upon purgatory: We can’t even fathom how moral change happens, if at all, in either place, so we leave its remote possibility up to God. Cynicism at home breeds disbelief abroad. Nobody believes that isolation and humiliation reform criminals, just as nobody really believes that a cleansing fire burns away unconfessed sins in purgatory, yet without any plausible alternatives to humiliation or fire, the healing effect of punishment remains as mysterious for the Church as it does for the judicial system.
At the height of power, circa 1922, the British Empire was the largest empire in history, covering one-fifth of the world’s population and almost a quarter of the earth’s total land area. Yet almost one hundred years later, Great Britain is not so great, having lost much of its previous economic and political dominance. In fact, if Great Britain were to join the United States, it’d be poorer than any of the other 50 states — including our poorest state, Mississippi.
Fraser Nelson discovered that fact by using a “fairly straightforward calculation” (see the end of this article for an explanation, and what Nelson missed). The result, as Nelson explains, is that all but one income group in America is better off than the same group in Britain:
The New York Times has a new articled titled “Religious Conservatives Embrace Proposed E.P.A. Rules” that raises the question: are the Times’ editors irredeemably biased or are they just not all that bright?
Presumably, you have to be smart to work for the Times, right? So it must be another example of what my friend and former Get Religion boss Terry Mattingly calls “Kellerism.” Mattingly coined the term Kellerism in homage to former Times editor Bill Keller, who said that the basic rules of journalism no longer apply to coverage of religious, moral, and cultural issues.
Unabashed Kellerism can be the only explanation for using a headline about religious conservatives embracing EPA rules on a story in which not a single religious conservative is quoted as supporting the proposed new EPA rules.
Let’s look at who they try to pass off as “religious conservatives”:
Today at The Imaginative Conservative, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, in an excerpt from his recent book, bemoans what he sees as “The Spoiling of America.” While sympathetic to his support for self-discipline, I find his analysis of our consumer culture to be myopic. He writes,
Without even thinking about it we have gotten used to having it our way. Because excellent customer service is ubiquitous we believe it must be part of the natural order. The service in the restaurant is always friendly, efficient and courteous to a fault. The menus are perfectly written and professionally designed not only to inform, but to whet the appetite in a pleasing way. The re-fills on your drink are free, the food is tasty and reasonably priced, the decor is interesting and the ambiance carefully constructed. Is there a complaint? The footman-server will take the blame, the butler-manager will offer you a free dessert and quietly slip you a gift card to soften the price of your next visit as the porter opens the door.
The same delightful experience awaits you at the big box hardware store, the supermarket, the appliances store and every other major chain. Indeed, even the doctors, nurses and dentists have been trained in customer care. Communications with the customer are superb. You will receive thank you emails and polite enquiries about your experience. If you fill in a questionnaire you might win a free vacation or a hamper of other goodies. Pampering you further is not a nuisance. It becomes an exciting little game in which you might win a prize, for remember the customer is king and Everyman in America must be coddled and cuddled in one big Fantasyland where everything is wonderful all the time and everybody is always happy.
Longenecker reasons that we become addicted to fleeting pleasures and that this consumerist mentality has even corrupted religion. He continues, (more…)
“Despite the mounting cost and swelling debt,” notes Laura Prejean in this week’s Acton Commentary, “America’s demand for education, particularly higher education, has not decreased, defying typical market expectations.”
This is what economists call inelastic demand, when people continue to buy a good or service regardless of an increase in prices. Though the post-recession job market is still difficult, growing student debt ought not to lead us to forget the dignity — and responsibility — of each individual student. When prices for goods and services rise, consumers often make sacrifices and adjust their spending. For example, as gas prices rise, families use carpooling or more efficient routes to and from the grocery store. But what are students sacrificing when they join the immovable market for education? Are they considering less costly options with lower tuition, or do they unthinkingly take out student loans, falling into serious debt as they enter their twenties?
From an economic perspective (from Pulitzer Prize economist Liaquat Ahamed) the European nations paid for WWI not with taxes, but with massive debts financed largely by America. The warring nations could not pay their way out of debt so many resorted to the easier route: inflation. But that inflation destroyed the savings of the middle class and that did not make European nations more stable.
Germany finally defaulted on its war debts after the 1929 crash. The international financial system also collapsed. Of course, German people listened to Hitler’s ideas about blame and solutions, while France, half destroyed by the war, looked at Germany (where few battles were fought) and wanted the Germans to pay for that destruction. The Depression made each nation more economically isolated which added to the misery as trade shrank. Europe was ripe for WWII.
WWI could be taken as a lesson on the perils of excessive debt. Governments have discovered three nasty advantages:
- They can borrow beyond emergencies (war) to pay for anything.
- Government pensions (more debt) are excellent ways to buy votes with the vague idea that ‘future growth’ or ‘future generations’ will easily cover the massive pension obligations.
- Governments have more recently seen that they can lower interest rates and ‘print money’ without being held accountable as they will be bailed out by other countries through central banks which will do, as Mario Draghi famously said, “whatever it takes.” These financial gimmicks look like serious plans because the men wear suits and because their ideas work, at least until the office holders retire.
However, as with WWI debt and the Crash of 1929, a severe crisis will come and prove that these leaders (while possibly not as incompetent or corrupt as the political leaders of Detroit) were wrong.
We Americans have a peculiar relationship to the term “patriot.” To question someone’s patriotism is considered an insult, while to praise their patriotism is a compliment. Yet strangely, the only people who refer to themselves, completely without irony or qualification, as patriots are old veterans, old conservatives, and certain pro athletes in New England .
Of course, people who do not fit into those three categories sometimes self-identify with that label. But when they do it’s almost always accompanied by an asterisk, denoting—whether expressed or implied—that the use of the word comes with a qualifier:
*Sure, I love my country but I that doesn’t mean I support ________. (the President, the war, etc.)
*I am, but that doesn’t mean I think America is better than other countries.
*Of course I would never, ever serve (nor let my child enlist) in the military.
*But I’m nothing like those Bible-thumping, flag-fetishizing, NASCAR-loving, types of patriots.
However, some people are more straightforward their mixed feelings. A Japanese reporter once inquired of filmmaker Michael Moore, “You do not seem to like the U.S., do you?” Moore’s response sums up the sentiment behind the patriot’s asterisk: “I like America to some extent.”
For those on the left side of the political spectrum, single-payer health care — a system in which the government, rather than private insurers, pays for all health care costs — is one of the most popular policy proposals in America. But the recent Hobby Lobby decision is reminding some liberal technocrats that giving the government full control over health care funding also gives the government control over what medical services will be funded.