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.
Current events in India have left the country wrestling with an important question: What is civil society and what does it consist of? These are not easy questions to answer as definitions of civil society can greatly vary.
According to a story on the Wall Street Journal’s India Real Time section, “…political demonstrators have demanded greater civil society involvement in the governing country…” While many throughout India are trying to define a civil society and who represents it, the Journal cited a definition by Samuel Gregg, research director at the Acton Institute:
Samuel Gregg, … notes that up to around the 18th century, the term “civil society” was used to distinguish the realm of the secular from the realm of the church, but then underwent a shift. India Real Time made a stab at defining the term “civil society” from his work as comprising those “intermediate associations” of society – academic, cultural, religious or charitable – that are separate from the family, and from the institutions of the state and the market. Mr. Gregg calls such associations “little platoons” that draw “people out of their immediate family without subsuming them into the state” and that have “the capacity to assist people to look towards those higher ends of truth, beauty, and the good.”
This definition effectively covers charities, non-governmental organizations or NGOs, civic associations like local Residents’ Welfare Associations, social movements, traders’ associations, social service initiatives, faith-based groups and so on.
Click here to read to full article.
Recently, progressive Catholics met in Detroit and issued calls for a married clergy and the ordination of women priests. In a very timely article Samuel Gregg, research director at the Acton Institute, addresses the progressive Catholics who “sit rather loosely with Catholic teaching on questions like life and marriage” and how they are continuing “to press what is often a hyper-politicized understanding of the gospel.” Gregg’s article appearing in Crisis Magazine.
The roots of the progressive Catholic’s problems may lie in the view of hell:
Perhaps it has something to do with the eternal quest for “relevance” that’s often fuelled by living in hothouses like Washington, D.C. In some cases, it might be ambitions of a political appointment. While such factors shouldn’t be discounted, deeper theological influences may be at work. Though it’s impolitic to say so, one such pressure may be the effective denial of the reality of hell that has become part of much contemporary Christian life.
Hell is not a comfortable subject. The idea that we can, by virtue of one or more of our free choices, potentially separate ourselves eternally from God’s love is frightening.
But the reality of hell and that it will be populated by those who fail to choose to repent of such choices (we don’t know the identity or number of such people, and pray and hope we won’t be among them) is firmly attested to by Scripture and Tradition. St. Augustine’s City of God devotes several chapters to affirming these truths. The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers specifically to those who die in a state of mortal sin enduring “eternal separation from God.”
Moreover, from the standpoint of reason, hell is a logical side effect of God’s willingness to let us choose whether or not to live in His Truth.
God doesn’t will that anyone goes to hell. Hell is, as the philosopher John Finnis writes, “a self-made judgment, the inherent outcome of a sin by which one refuses to remain and grow in friendship with God.”
As a reality, however, hell has disappeared from some Christians’ horizons. This partly owes something to those biblical scholars who have reduced the gospels to “symbols” and “stories,” the “real” meaning of which — so they tell us — actually contradicts what the Church has always understood them to mean.
Gregg explains that we have a choice to live in God’s truth or not. We commits ourselves, actually, to an afterlife in heaven or hell. As a result, as Gregg articulates, we shouldn’t avoid the topic. Instead we should imagine and embrace what salvation really means:
More generally, most Catholics aren’t called to a life of activism (left or right). As part of God’s design, we all have different vocations, the faithful fulfilling of which mysteriously helps, as Vatican II taught, “to prepare the material [materiam] of the kingdom of heaven.”
In other words, eternal life does in fact somehow begin now. Our good works today — what Vatican II called “all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise [industriae],” most notably “human dignity [humanae dignitatis], brotherhood [communionis fraternae] and freedom [libertatis]” — will be taken up, cleansed of sin, and perfected when Christ returns.
None of this makes sense, however, without accepting Catholic teaching about the hope of heaven and hence the alternative of effectively choosing hell. Herein lies the gospel’s ultimate relevance. Embracing it is the path to true freedom, not to mention eternal life.
Click here to read the full article.
It is very easy to forget what is happening in other parts of the world especially when we are in the midst of our own financial crisis in the United States. Considering the economic challenges we are faced with, this may be a mistake as we can learn from other’s problems. Europe is experiencing economic woes that continue to worsen. In the American Spectator, Samuel Gregg explains:
As Europe’s financial crisis worsens, it’s increasingly apparent that the economic woes of countries like Portugal, Spain, and Greece have resulted from more than just bad policy. With each passing day, evidence mounts that one dynamic driving the crisis is that of untruth: a disturbing European pattern of fabrication about levels of public spending and debt.
The latest proof for this thesis is the discovery by newly-elected Spanish regional and local governments of concealed debts run up by their predecessors. This contradicts claims by Spain’s Socialist Finance Minister, Elena Salgado, that Spain’s regions had no “hidden deficits” on their accounts. Spain’s business community, however, has long complained about local governments pressuring private companies to do business with them “off the books.”
One reason for such behavior is that Spain’s government knows that the greater Spain’s real overall-public debt, the higher will be the interest-rates demanded by financial markets and the more stringent will be the conditions attached to any “financial assistance package” (i.e., bailout) that Spain might, like Portugal and Greece, eventually need.
As Gregg says, the financial problems in Europe are not just current but have been festering since the beginning of the Eurozone when strict standards were to be implemented:
In the 1990s, European governments agreed the single currency’s success would depend upon countries entering the eurozone on a solid financial basis and then remaining on a firm footing. To that end, both the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and the 1997 Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) established strict criteria concerning public spending for countries admitted to the single currency.
One such standard concerned the ratio of an applicant country’ gross government debt to GDP. It was not to exceed 60 percent at the end of the preceding fiscal year. Maastricht’s convergence criteria also specified that the ratio of the annual government deficit to GDP should not exceed 3 percent of the same fiscal period.
Such standards were supposed to prevent a “free rider” program from occurring so countries with an irresponsible fiscal reputation, such as Greece, didn’t use their membership to over-indulge and rely on the rest of the members to bail them out. However, this policy wasn’t strictly adhered too. Gregg states that “…many euro applicants were allowed to get away with ‘creative accounting’ to meet the conditions of Maastricht.”
Europe continued to financially falter and wasn’t showing signs of recovery. This could be seen from many actions such as the encouragement of “fudging” numbers through new rules that “added many exceptions for types of spending that would not be included when determining debt and deficit figures.”
Is there a solution to Europe’s financial crisis? Gregg responds with a resounding yes:
Few “core values” would have a more bracing effect upon Europe’s current economic problems than their governments embracing honesty, transparency, and accountability. No doubt many a European political-career would be terminated as a result. The alternative, however, is for Europe’s governments to continue the charade about the real state of their finances.
Morally and financially, that’s not an option at all.
Click here to read the full article in the American Spectator.