Whenever Acton Director of Research Samuel Gregg and Al Kresta of Kresta in the Afternoon get together, you’re bound to be in for a great discussion. They got together this afternoon, and ended up providing a great overview of Sam’s new book, Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing. You can listen to the interview using the audio player below:
On June 27, 2013, Samuel Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research, discussed his book Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future as part of the 2013 Acton Lecture Series. If you weren’t able to join us here at the Acton Building for the lecture, you can watch below:
There is little doubt that America is moving further away from the kind of broad and liberal religious freedom that was championed during the founding period. In terms of intellectual thought, that period was certainly the high water mark for religious liberty around the globe. As Americans celebrate their freedoms and Independence next week, I seek to answer the question in this week’s commentary about America’s ability to remain the land of religious liberty.
Sadly, the outlook is rather bleak, and America will need a fundamental shift in thinking to secure protection for the rights of conscience and houses of worship. It’s evident the significance of spiritual freedom is waning and can’t really be articulated by the wider culture. Spiritual freedom is essential to self-government and self-control. In fact, I make the point in my commentary that the most dangerous detriment to religious liberty is the popular notion that religion and faith constricts liberty. Obviously, just winning mere court cases is not enough. That ship has sailed.
I suspect today’s Supreme Court ruling regarding the Defense of Marriage Act will only complicate matters of religious conscience for churches and dissent from culture and society becomes more dangerous. Secularization of society and the rise of centralized federal power is creating a government that seeks to operate above fundamental truths and the rights of conscience. It seeks to crowd it out and diminish its influence and limiting power upon the state. During his closing address at Acton University, Samuel Gregg explained so well how moral relativism now operates in a dictatorial fashion.
Just before the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776, John Adams wrote a letter to his cousin Zabdiel that I think points to our inevitable path as a nation without a rejuvenated appreciation and understanding of religious liberty. Adams declared,
The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our people in a greater measure than they have it now, They may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty. They will only exchange tyrants and tyrannies.
Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg took to the podium on the final night of Acton University 2013 to deliver the closing plenary address for the conference. Below, Gregg closes the conference with a reflection on modern threats to religious liberty, and how the faithful can respond.
Tim Burrack, vice chairman and board member of Truth About Trade & Technology, recently wrote a commentary for the Washington Times about the agriculture industry in the U.S. and how it is becoming more and more European. He says there is fear of a “growing bureaucracy that is smothering freedom and innovation.” Burrack goes on to explain that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken
an unfortunate step toward Europeanization when it delayed the approval of two crops that will help farmers control weeds and produce more food. The decision didn’t receive much immediate attention outside the agricultural press, but it sent a troubling signal about the future of farm technology that should concern all Americans.
Scientists have developed crops that can resist two common herbicides, dicamba and 2,4-D. These herbicides have been in use in American farms since the 1950s. This advancement means weeds will be killed, but the desired plants will survive. Despite the fact that innovations like this are making food cheaper and more abundant, some argue “that the introduction of these crops will lead to the overuse of the two herbicides.” Burrack goes on:
Farmers lose either way. The Agriculture Department’s bad decision means that these new crops won’t go on the market and be available to me and other farmers next year as planned. We will have to wait until 2015 at the earliest. This postponement may not sound like much, but it contributes to a disturbing trend. In the United States, it’s becoming harder and harder to introduce agricultural technologies.
America has led the world in boosting crop yields. Food is safer, more abundant and more affordable than ever before. Rather than cheering on our ingenuity, however, bureaucrats increasingly want to hold it back.
We need sensible, science-based regulations — not shifting sands and unpredictable decrees from bureaucrats who seem unmoved by the needs of farmers and consumers.Europe already has traveled far down this fateful path. Its embrace of the “precautionary principle” has made it all but impossible to approve agricultural innovations, stifling the Continent’s biotech industry. European farmers envy Americans, who can plant genetically modified crops. The Agriculture Department’s decision on herbicide-resistant plants suggests that they may not be so envious in the future.
Samuel Gregg this year published Becoming Europe, a book on economic and cultural trends in the United States. He urged Americans to reject Europeanization and embrace their freedom-loving heritage. He also quotes Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th-century Frenchman who studied our country: ‘The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.’
So here is a message for the Agriculture Department’s bureaucrats: Waste no time in repairing your crop-protection fault.
Read Tim Burrack’s commentary, Sowing the Seeds of Farm Failure.
Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, recently joined Al Kresta of Ave Maria Radio to discuss Gregg’s new book, Becoming Europe.
Amity Shlaes, author of The Forgotten Man and Coolidge, said this about the book: “Gregg spotlights the perils of American progressive arrogance so clearly they can no longer be denied or ignored. His logic is incontrovertible. Every economist, historian, and politician should read Becoming Europe.”
Click on the button below to listen to the Kresta interview:
Becoming Europe is now available. You can purchase the hardcover or Kindle version here.
Global poverty and its alleviation are often subjects of heated debate. Join us for an AU Online lecture series that explores the theme of human flourishing as it relates to poverty, globalization, and the Church in the developed world. The Globalization, Poverty, and Development series is scheduled for December 6 through December 13, 2012. Online sessions will be held at 6:30 p.m. EST on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Visit auonline.acton.org for more information and to register.
Yesterday Senator Harry Reid finally proposed a budget plan – one week before the United States is set to default. It is about time that Senate Democrats joined President Obama and House Republicans in offering a concrete budget proposal; however, their budget plan passes the buck onto future generations.
The government cannot continue to leave budget woes to future generations, and this is exactly what Senator Reid is trying to do. In fact, after viewing a video found on his website, he seems rather proud of the fact that his budget proposal doesn’t touch the three largest entitlements—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—which alone consist of 40 percent of federal spending in 2010 (entitlement spending makes up 57 percent of federal spending). Instead of making the tough call, proposing reforms and cuts to spare future generations from the large financial burden these programs bring, the Senate Democrats are deciding to continue with things as they are. Judging by the current financial state of the U.S. this is rather problematic.
The Senate Democrats’ budget proposal disregards the principles of stewardship. By not cutting or reforming entitlements they are not looking long term to ensure the creation of a strong and stable economy for our children and grandchildren. Jordan Ballor in his commentary “Do Less with Less: What the History of Federal Debt and Tax Leverages Teaches” offers a pretty common sense solution for Senator Reid:
Raising taxes without such assurances, even for such a critical cause as the public debt crisis, is pure folly. To really address the structural deficits at the heart of the federal budget, particularly with respect to entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (which together accounted for 40 percent of federal spending in 2010), the government simply needs to find ways to do less with less.
Entitlements have greatly contributed to our deficit problem, and a sound budget solution will recognize their contribution to the deficit and look to rectify the situation.
As Samuel Gregg articulates in “Deficit Denial, American-Style” the U.S. must pay off its debt if it hopes to economically grow and flourish:
After examining data on 44 countries over approximately 200 years, two economists recently found evidence suggesting that developed nations with gross public debt levels exceeding 90 percent of GDP (i.e., America) find that their medium-growth rates fall by one percent, while average growth declines by an even greater proportion.
The United States can begin down the path of prosperity by shrinking government and doing less with less and fostering an economic climate that is strong and vibrant for future generations.
In a new article on Public Discourse, Samuel Gregg explores social contract theory and how that may apply to the current budget battles:
In very broad terms, social contract theory is a way of understanding the relationship between governments and the people. It holds that, having agreed upon the need for a government, individuals create a state on the basis of mutual promises. This permits the state to claim that its authority is based on a delegation of people’s rights to pursue their particular interests in their own way.
Our present economic disputes are, at a deeper level, about the precise content of those mutual promises. One influential interpretation may be found in John Rawls’ Theory of Justice.
On the basis of what reasonable people in an imaginary “original position” and blinded by a “veil of ignorance” about their future abilities, social status, etc., would want, Rawls argued that each person had “an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties with a similar system of liberty for all.”
As part of this calculation, Rawls maintained that no one in the original position would risk being abandoned at the bottom of the social heap. Rawlsian social contract theory has thus, economically speaking, usually been interpreted as translating into extensive entitlement programs and large welfare states.
At the other end of the social contract spectrum is an older concept. This was given prominent expression in John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government.
In Locke’s view, what he called “the Law of Nature” meant that individuals were morally bound not to damage other people’s lives or property. The only way to ensure that this was given effect was through a government that defended everyone against anyone else’s attempts to damage their lives or property. The citizens thus agreed to set up a state that would protect the life, liberty, and property of everyone living under its sovereignty.
In economic terms, this position broadly equates to a state that focuses upon protection of property rights and adjudication of contractual disputes. Issues of distribution according to criteria such as need are deemed beyond the state’s competence.
The significance of these understandings of the social contract is difficult to overstate. The Lockean conception profoundly shaped the Declaration of Independence and much of today’s movement for limited government. By contrast, the Rawlsian interpretation represents the most contemporary philosophical underpinnings of modern American progressivism.
Not only does Gregg explain the problems with different ideas of social contracts, but he articulates what is needed for people to flourish in a society. Gregg states that many times it is the principle of subsidiarity that allows people to be successful:
Subsidiarity’s genius is the manner in which it uses this attention to free choice, human flourishing, and the need for support to provide guidance concerning how we apply subsidiarity’s two axioms of non-interference and assistance. It helps us determine (1) what economic roles can only be performed by the state (such as the provision of courts to adjudicate contractual disputes); (2) when the state should allow other communities to provide assistance (private banks should normally be the first place of call for loans); (3) when the state should intervene outside its normal economic responsibilities (when those communities that would normally assist are clearly unable to do so); and (4) when such interventions should cease (when they start impeding human flourishing or when the communities that normally provide assistance are now able to do so).
Click here to read the full article.
The European Union’s finances are in a dismal state, and are requiring governments to revaluate the “welfare state.” Samuel Gregg articulates in his article appearing in The American Spectator, “Europe’s Not-So-Revolutionary Youth,” that a youth movement called les indignés or los indignados, depending on where you are, is resisting the reforms being proposed:
This time, however, things are different. With barely-disguised reluctance, governments across Western Europe are proceeding with relatively minor reforms aimed at reducing the European welfare state’s costs. But les indignés are protesting not only the pain of change — they also clearly resent the changes themselves.
Of course there’s an anarchist fringe to these youth protests — the ski-masked individuals who routinely join any demonstration to exult in the joy of physical violence against police and random destruction of private property. But by and large, the indignant ones want exactly what their parents and grandparents regard as their birthright: not-too-exacting jobs-for-life, free health-care, state-guaranteed minimal-incomes, six weeks paid annual vacation, early-retirement, and generous state-provided pensions.
In other words, they want Social Europe. Los indignados don’t, however, apparently comprehend just how much this economic system has contributed to their present plight.
Gregg further explains that while the youth are fighting for a return to the status-quo in Europe, demographic trends undermine their case:
Many young Europeans are also remarkably unaware that Europe’s demographic trends are further tilting the scales against them. The below-replacement birth-rates prevailing in almost every European nation will result in the proportion of active workers to retirees across the EU shifting over the next twenty-five years from a 2:1 ratio to a 1:1 ratio.
This makes it unlikely that even present reforms, such as raising retirement ages, can forestall an eventual implosion of Europe’s welfare states — a process that, at present rates, will be underway long before les indignés come even close to receiving their first state-pension check.
Nor do los indignados appear to realize that any chance they might have to force through liberalizing economic reforms via democratic means is weakening by the day.
The same demographic developments that will severely compromise their financial prospects are also reducing young Europeans to the status of a minority in the world’s most rapidly aging continent. This progressively diminishes their ability to out-vote Europe’s millions-strong (and growing) gerontocracy who, AARP-like, appear quietly content to live off their children’s future.
Los Indignados should be angry about the present situation they are faced with. However, a return to the status-quo fails to acknowledge that it is the status-quo that put Europe in its current financial hardship. Instead, los indignados should be fighting for more dramatic change moving Europe away from the welfare state.
Click here to read the full article.