The fabric of American society is tearing at the seams. Whether witnessed through the disruptive insurgencies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders or the more mundane fissures of pop culture and daily consumerism, Americans are increasingly divided and diverse.
Yet even in our rash attempts to dismantle Establishment X and Power Center Y, we do so with a peculiar nostalgia of the golden days of yore. You know, those days when institutions mattered?
This is particularly evident in the appeal of Mr. Trump, whose calls to burn down the houses of power come pre-packaged with a simultaneous disdain for the power of bottom-up diversity and the liberty it requires. Once the tattered castle on the hill is torched to the ground, we’re told, we will receive a greater castle on a higher hill with a far more deserving king. The scepter will be yuge, and with power restored to the hands of a man shrewd enough to exploit it, surely we will “win” again. (more…)
It’s become rather predictable to hear progressives promote protectionist rhetoric on trade and globalization. What’s surprising is when it spills from the lips of the leading Republican candidate.
Donald Trump has made opposition to free trade a hallmark of his campaign, a hole that his competitors have been slow to exploit. In the most recent CNN debate, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich each echoed their own agreement in varying degrees, voicing slight critiques on tariffs but mostly affirming Trump’s ambiguous platitudes about trade that is “free but fair.”
Why so much silence?
Unfortunately, as Tim Carney details at length, voters are biting and swallowing what Trump is peddling, and conservatives are struggling to find solutions that sell. “Conservatives may scoff at this Made in America mindset as economically illiterate,” he writes. “But politically, it seems to be a winner.” (more…)
True justice begins with seeing and believing in the dignity of every human person. It begins with recognizing God’s image in each of our neighbors, and it proceeds with service that corresponds with that transcendent truth. When distortions manifest, the destruction varies. But it always begins with a failure to rightly relate to this simple reality.
Thus, transformation often begins with a basic shift in our perceptions about others; how we see transforms how we serve. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that this can begin with something as simple as a haircut.
Last Christmas, Ogden Rescue Mission offered an interesting holiday gift to the homeless community, welcoming local hair stylists from the surrounding area to donate their gifts by offering free haircuts.
It was a simple gesture, and it’s one that doesn’t fill a belly or meet what we might call an “immediate need.” A haircut is, in so many ways, “superficial.” Yet the response from these recipients demonstrates the importance of remembering our divine personhood, and how easy it can be to forget.
“It makes me feel like I’m respectable again,” says one man. “I look like, you know, an average person.” (more…)
With our newfound economic prosperity and the political liberalization of the West, we have transitioned into an era of hyper consumerism and choice. This involves all sorts of blessings, to be sure, but it brings its own distinct risks.
Whether it be materialism or a more basic idolatry of choice, such distortions will be sure to diminish or disintegrate any number of areas across society. But the deleterious effects on the family and children are particularly pronounced.
Throughout most of human history, children were most often the brightest light in an otherwise bleak existence of poverty, toil, and high mortality. For those with little freedom, few resources, and zero opportunity, children were a blessing and a bounty: a gift (and not just for the labor). Now, however, presented with a range of vocational options and the wealth and leisure to support them, our priorities have significantly shifted. We are prodded toward career or education or adventurism first, teased by a platter of technological tools to further prevent a child’s intrusion into our planned prospects. (more…)
Throughout its history, the American economy has transitioned from agrarian to industrial to information-driven.
Given our newfound status, manual labor is increasingly cast down in the popular imagination, replaced by white-collar jobs, bachelor’s degrees, and ladder-climbing. Whether due to new avenues and opportunities or a more general distaste for the slow and mundane, work with the hands is either ignored or discouraged, both as vocational prospect and consumeristic priority.
Amid this sea of new efficiencies, the art of craftsmanship is at a particular disadvantage. Whereas things used to be made with a certain individual artistry (out of necessity, no doubt), so much has become industrialized and systematized. That shift has led to unprecedented blessings, to be sure, whether in time, money, energy, and convenience, and for those fruits we should be grateful and rejoice.
But even in an economy such as this, there remains a need, a market, a knack for the slow and steady. There remains room not just for the magnificence of a well engineered microchip, but for a masterfully carved table and an artfully tailored suit. Creative service comes in all kinds, and God has a plan to both meet our immediate needs and fill our bodies, souls, and spirits with beauty and wonder. (more…)
“Defending capitalism on practical grounds is easy,” writes economist Donald Boudreaux at the Mercatus Center. “It is history’s greatest force for raising the living standards of the masses.”
What’s more difficult, it seems, is understanding its moral logic, spiritual implications, and which of each is or isn’t inherent to private ownership and economic exchange.
At what level, for instance, is freely buying a gallon of milk at a freely agreed-to price from a freely employed worker at an independent grocery store an act of sin, idolatry, and exploitation? Such basic transactions are, after all, the bread and butter of a system built on free enterprise and open exchange (i.e. capitalism). From here, it gets more complicated, of course, and even that basic starting point can surely involve corrupt actors and action.
Yet even Pope Francis, discernor of the discerning, seems to struggle in locating Point A of that basic logic, even when railing against its banner. I tend to presume that basic milk purchases are not, in fact, his actual target. But then he continues and without qualification, railing against markets at large and ripping at plenty of positives that dangle well outside the deserving injustices of cronyist corporatism.
The Pope prefers to argue not that capitalism “has its faults” or “demands a virtuous society,” but rather that it is a “new tyranny,” one that followed the ills of communism, but filled the void with something just as tragic. (more…)
With the rise of the information economy, many millennials have steered clear from blue-collar jobs and manual labor, often prodded by their parents to pursue a “real education” and “a better life.
As folks like Mike Rowe have only begun to highlight, such attitudes have led to a serious skills gap in the trades, one that appears to hold steady even in the face of record unemployment. Yet despite these cultural shifts, such work does indeed provide significant value to the economy while affirming the dignity and creative potential of the worker.
Thus, while some prefer to hold their noses at the trades, others are seizing it as an opportunity to create and share value. Such is the case at Walker State Prison in Georgia, where a unique welding program offers to train prisoners in the high-demand trade of welding.
According to the American Welding Society, we will be short by nearly 300,000 welding-related positions by 2020 (HT), giving participating prisoners a good shot at meaningful careers upon their release.
And the prisoners aren’t complaining. They are eager to offer their skills, learn a craft, and contribute to society. Watch some highlights here:
One can’t help but be inspired by Christopher Peeples, for example, who at 26 years old is about to finish a 10-year prison sentence. Thanks to the program, he looks forward to wonderful job prospects, and his Dad (a craftsman himself) has been quick to share in the excitement. According to NPR, one recent alumnus of the program had three job offers upon his release, one of which offered $50,000 per year with a company truck.
Ultimately, though, this isn’t about money or even stability. It’s about authentic, whole-life rehabilitation.
By pursuing work in a needed skill — by orienting hearts and hands toward service to others and thus to God — these men are entering into a transformative, collaborative exchange that will shape their very souls and spirits. Material provision is just the byproduct.
Of course, it would require no small amount of these programs to fill the skills gap we’re facing, and so the question remains: what are others waiting for?
As we continue to expand our economic imaginations and pursue vocational clarity, these prisoners offer a powerful example on how we ought to view and approach such work.