Posts tagged with: Human Interest

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Aunt louisaOver at the Federalist, Gracy Olmstead wonders “what happens when people bring the country to the city?” She goes on to argue that “urban farming could have conservative implications and outworkings—and we should encourage these endeavors as much as possible, in our efforts to bring traditional principles back to urban environments.”

Is there a way to bring the city mouse and the country mouse together?

I’ve argued for the need for urban farming initiatives in the context of renewal movements in places like Detroit, and Michael Miller has cogently pointed out the entrepreneurial reality at the core of farmers’ markets.

But as Olmstead points to the diverse benefits of urban farming, I’m reminded of a story that pushes us beyond merely material and utilitarian calculus. The economist Wilhelm Röpke was a devotee of allotments for gardening and farming (Schrebergärten) commonly found in Europe, particularly after World War II.
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bellow BiographyI’m slowly working my way through James Atlas’ biography of Saul Bellow, and I came to the section where Saul Bellow returns to his birthplace in Lachine, Quebec, for the dedication of the municipal library in his name. At the dedication he gave a speech, which includes this section:

I am here as a kind of testimony to the fact that it’s possible for a child from Lachine to do some things which have been called—not by me but by others—extraordinary. It also fits very well with my own resistance to that deterministic philosophy that tells you that the place that you come from makes you absolutely; it does not. The human soul has its own way to declare its own freedom and to develop itself in its own way, and it is not true to say: “Show me where you came from and I’ll tell you what you are.” That’s not the way things really are; we are people capable of freedom, and some of us are even willing to take chances for the sake of freedom: I see the thing that way. It is not necessary to be fully determined by one’s surroundings. Your mind and your spirit have their own liberty, and each individual should be loyal to that.

Stirring stuff, that.

But lest anyone misunderstand and think that Bellow was advocating merely a libertine individualism, we might consult the conclusion of his novel Mr. Sammler’s Planet, which as Myron Magnet writes, includes the connection between the freedom and the moral nature of the human soul. Thus, writes Magnet:

From page one of Mr. Sammler’s Planet, Bellow himself insists that, beyond the explanations we construct through Enlightenment reason, the soul has “its own natural knowledge.” We all have “a sense of the mystic potency of humankind” and “an inclination to believe in archetypes of goodness. A desire for virtue was no accident.” We all know that we must try “to live with a civil heart. With disinterested charity.” We must live a life “conditioned by other human beings.” We must try to meet the terms of the contract life sets us, as Sammler says in the astonishing affirmation with which Bellow ends his book. “The terms which, in his inmost heart, each man knows. . . . As all know. For that is the truth of it—that we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know, we know.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The much-touted Lego Movie drops on disc today, and before you pick up your copy, I encourage you to remember that “Everything Really Is Awesome.”

the-lego-movie-movie-poster-11Emmet’s words to Lord Business apply to us all:

You don’t have to be the bad guy. You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe. And you are capable of amazing things. Because you are the Special. And so am I. And so is everyone. The prophecy is made up, but it’s also true. It’s about all of us. Right now, it’s about you. And you… still… can change everything.

Everything really is awesome, or in other words, all is gift, so get your hands dirty.

l_20121213-school-reform-145-600-300If you really care about income inequality, notes John Goodman, you need only focus on one thing — the inequality of educational opportunity:

The topic du jour on the left these days is inequality. But why does the left care about inequality? Do they really want to lift those at the bottom of the income ladder? Or are they just looking for one more reason to increase the power of government?

If you care about those at the bottom then you are wasting your time and everyone else’s time unless you focus on one and only one phenomenon: the inequality of educational opportunity. Poor kids are almost always enrolled in bad schools. Rich kids are almost always in good schools.

So what does the left have to say about the public school system? Almost nothing. Nothing? That’s right. Nothing. I can’t remember ever seeing an editorial by Paul Krugman on how to reform the public schools. So I Googled to see if I have missed something. The only thing I found was a negative post about vouchers. And Krugman is not alone.

You almost never see anything written by left-of-center folks on reforming the public schools. And I have noticed on TV talk shows that it’s almost impossible to get liberals to agree to the most modest of all reform ideas: getting rid of bad teachers and making sure we keep the good ones.

(Via: AEI Ideas)

Matthew 25When discussing the Christian call to service, we often hear references to Matthew 25, where Jesus speaks of a King who separates “sheep” from “goats” – those who are willing from those who refuse.

To the sheep, the King offers the following:

Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

To the goats, the King says, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

It’s all very hearty, but the final line is what seems to stick in popular discourse: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”  (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Tuesday, February 25, 2014

facebook_ad_large_1On-demand ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft are on the rise, allowing smartphone users to request cab drivers with the touch of a button. But though the services are popular with consumers and drivers alike, they’re finding less favor among their taxi-company competitors and the unions and government bureaucrats who protect them.

Calling for increased regulation, entrance fees, and insurance requirements, competitors are grappling to retain their privileged, insulated status. In Miami-Dade County, an area with particularly onerous restrictions and regulations, Diego Feliciano, president of the South Florida Taxicab Association, argues that the change is bound to “ruin the very thing it’s trying to improve,” all because it threatens the fat cats who pay his salary, and who can afford to jump through the regulatory hoops. “When looking at new technologies,” he writes, “we must also be sure people’s basic civil rights and the safety of the riding public are protected.”

Bringing these petty municipal battles into the limelight, actor Ashton Kutcher, an early investor in Uber, recently appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, decrying “antiquated legislation,” “old-school monopolies,” and “old-school governments” who continue to stand in the way of innovation and consumer demand. In areas like Miami, Kutcher says, there is a “Mafioso mentality” against letting the “new guys” in.

Indeed, as Miami’s Feliciano aptly demonstrates, the protectionist mindset only sees what is, viewing economic activity in static and self-centered terms, and failing to recognize or value the type of opportunity and possibility that comes with increased freedom and ownership. Feliciano claims that he’s interested in “safety” and “basic civil rights,” but the only folks being protected are those with power and pocketbooks. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Friday, February 14, 2014

heart mosaic1In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I offer this wonderful bit from Jennifer Roback Morse’s transformational book, Love and Economics, in which she observes a particular vacancy in modern discourse and policymaking:

Economics has been a successful social science because it focuses on things that are true: human beings are self-interested and have the capacity for reason. But it is equally true that we have the capacity to love. This capacity is no less human, and no less defining of who we are. Too much of our public discourse has proceeded as if these two great realities of the human condition, reason and love, were in conflict with each other. The Right favors the cold, calculating, tough-minded approach of the intellect: man is essentially a Knower. The Left favors the warm, fuzzy, emotional approach of the heart: man is essentially a Lover. Yet the Left at its most extreme has given us the cold, impersonal state and its bureaucracy as the answer to social problems. At the same time, the Right at its most extreme has given us the irrationality of trying to reduce man to the sum of his bodily needs…

…It is time to cross this divide in the sphere of public discourse as well. The consequences of going off the deep end into either the direction of Love or Reason and ignoring the other can be grim indeed.

Noting the French Revolution’s bloody altar to the “Goddess of Reason,” and, somewhat inversely, the Russian Revolution’s chaotic attempt to unite humanity under “one giant family,” Morse argues that the American Revolution was distinct because it preserved the “underlying social and cultural order.” It unleashed the powerful forces of freedom and individualism, but did so in a way that kept love for the other in focus. (more…)

In his new book, Knowledge and Power, the imitable George Gilder aims at reframing our economic paradigm, focusing heavily on the tension between the power of the State and the knowledge of entrepreneurs — or, as William Easterly has put it, the planners and the searchers.

“Wealth is essentially knowledge,” Gilder writes, and “the war between the centrifuge of knowledge and the centripetal pull of power remains the prime conflict in all economies.”

In a recent interview with Peter Robinson, he fleshes out his thesis:

Quoting Albert Hirschman, Gilder notes that, “Creativity always comes as a surprise to us,” continuing (in his own words), “if it didn’t, we wouldn’t need it and planning would work….Entrepreneurial creativity is almost defined by its surprisal —  by its unexpected character.”

Making room for such surprise requires a dose of Hayekian humility, but as for the shapes, contours, and origins of the surprise itself, Christianity has plenty to say. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, January 29, 2014

All Saints church - C19 stained glass - geograph.org.uk - 1638069Kierkegaard once wrote, “The majority of men are subjective toward themselves and objective toward all others, terribly objective sometimes–but the real task is in fact to be objective toward one’s self and subjective toward all others.”

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Discounting the Unseen,” I explore our responsibility to presume the best of others, particularly with regards to what remains unknown or assumed about them. This is a significant task given our natural propensity to excuse ourselves and to condemn others. We might consider this to be a salutary if mundane exercise in moral imagination, described by Russell Kirk as “the power of ethical perception which strides beyond the barriers of private experience and events of the moment.”

To put it in economic terms, there should be a negative discount rate for the unseen actions and experiences of others. To put it in moral terms, we should have compassion on others, and moreover we should realize that the Christian is called “to defend and promote my neighbour’s honour and reputation.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, January 15, 2014
"It's possible. I kill a lot of people."

“It’s possible. I kill a lot of people.”

H.L. Mencken once said, “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”

Over at Political Theology Today, I take a look at what a confrontation between a pirate and Alexander the Great has to teach us about politics and proximate justice, taking some cues from Augustine and Cicero, and in conversation with John Mueller and Peter Leeson.

For a bit more fanciful look at a conflict between a pirate and a prince, you can also read my reflections on “The Princess Bride” over at the University Bookman.