Posts tagged with: institutions

cracked-flag-fragment-america-dividedThe 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…)

Americans are growing in their distrust of the U.S. government and its leaders, with polls typically showing approval of Congress somewhere around 11%. As Senator Ben Sasse put it in his first remarks to the U.S. Senate, “The people despise us all.”

“No one in this body thinks the Senate is laser-focused on the most pressing issues facing the nation,” he said, “No one. Some of us lament this; some are angered by it; many are resigned to it; some try to dispassionately explain how they think it came to be. But no one disputes it.”

In a recent interview with Peter Robinson on Uncommon Knowledge, Sasse expounds on this further, noting that the problems in Congress have less to do with nefariousness (though that surely exists) than with efficacy. “There is a gigantic deficit of vision,” he says. “We have generational challenges, just at the level of federal policy.”

Sasse traces the decline of American government from Teddy Roosevelt onward, highlighting the 1960s as the eventual tipping point away from constrained constitutional governance. The federal government has now expanded into far too many areas, he argues, and the culture has responded in turn. (more…)

industrial-revolution-1024x665Economist Deirdre McCloskey is set to release the long-anticipated conclusion of the Bourgeois Era trilogy sometime next spring.

The book, Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World, will build on her thesis that our newfound prosperity is not primarily due to systems, tools, or materials, but the ideas and rhetoric behind them.

“The Great Enrichment, in short, came out of a novel, pro-bourgeois, and anti-statist rhetoric that enriched the world,” she writes, in a lengthy teaser for National Review. “It is, as Adam Smith said, ‘allowing every man [and woman, dear] to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty, and justice.’”

In an age where the Left continues to make age-old Marxian arguments about the destructive ju-ju of accumulated wealth, and where the Right is increasingly prone to react on those same grounds, McCloskey reminds us that the premises are entirely different. (more…)

imageIn an increasingly atomizing and alienating culture, what role does the church play in holding the fabric of civilization together?

Over at the Evangelical Pulpit, Bart Gingerich offers a hearty response, albeit by way of answering a rather different question: Why do folks abandon the church, particularly those who still believe in Jesus?

Although plenty of disaffected church-ditchers have undergone deep shifts in basic doctrine and belief, Gingerich observes that, for many, “the abandonment testimonies seem fueled more by embarrassment and bad experiences.” If this is the key driver, he continues, such departures may have just as much to do with the typical failings of human organizations in general as they do with the church in particular.

“Humans in groups can be jerks, make mistakes, have blind spots, and mishandle all sorts of cases,” he writes. “Many of the ‘I’m leaving or taking a break from church because people hurt me’ manifestos could just as easily been authored about the local Ruritans, Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary, Garden, or Women’s Club.”

But therein lies the issue: “Few under the age of 40 participate in such societies any more.” (more…)

allisgift1 - Copy (2)“All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God…God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation.” -Alexander Schmemann, from For the Life of the World

In Episode 1 of For the Life of the World, a new series from the Acton Institute, Evan Koons discovers the concept of oikonomia, or, “God’s plan for his whole household of creation,” realizing that the more specific areas and “modes of operation” that God has designed us to work within (families, businesses, governments, institutions) are meant to harmonize with each other.

To illustrate the idea, Koons compares God’s economy to music. Pointing to a xylophone, he notes that a xylophone has its own particular mode of operation — its own rules, its own economy. It works differently than, say, a ukulele or a trombone or an upright bass. Yet played together in proper harmony, each of these instruments coordinate their unique patterns and modes of operation to create something unified yet varied, rich and beautiful.

But Koons doesn’t stop here, eventually moving on to ask the even bigger question: “What is the actual song, anyway?”

The answer, we learn, is gift. We were created to be gift-givers, “crafted in God’s own image, with his own breath, crowned with glory and honor.” And “in that same abundance,” Koons continues, “he blessed us, and he said go, explore my world. Unwrap the gift of my creation. Bless the world with your own gifts.” (more…)

PowerBlog readers will be excused for missing this, as I suspect there are not many who frequent the MTV Teen Choice Awards. But don’t let your skepticism prevent you from watching this video of Ashton (really, “Christopher Ashton”) Kutcher’s acceptance speech, in which he exhorts the younger generation to get its hands dirty with hard work:

“Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.” There are many connections to be made here with this insight, not least of which is with Lester DeKoster’s view that work is “a glorious opportunity to serve God and our neighbors by participating in God’s creative work through cultivation of the creation order.” Kutcher’s basic point is that work has some important lessons to teach us. “I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than,” says Kutcher. He was, rather, grateful to have the gift of productive work, and passionately describes how each job, whether manual labor or minimum wage work, was a “stepping stone” to the next.

One of the great things about the speech, as Richard Clark writes, is the way Kutcher addressed his audience, how “he told them what he’d want to be told, and he treated them in the way he’d want to be treated.”

Kutcher concludes by invoking the example of Steve Jobs, who Kutcher plays in an upcoming biopic, and urges his audience to “build a life” through their work. Kutcher manages to include some insight about the nature of institutions and what it means to engage cultural realities as we live and work. This is something Millennials desperately need to hear, as David Brooks has written, and it’s something that Steve Jobs has to teach us about the nature of our jobs.

Bono, foreign aid, development, capitalismBono, lead singer of U2 and co-founder of charity-group ONE, recently offered some positive words about the role of markets in reducing global poverty and spurring economic development (HT):

The Irish singer and co-founder of ONE, a campaigning group that fights poverty and disease in Africa, said it had been “a humbling thing for me” to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurialism in philanthropy, particularly as someone who “got into this as a righteous anger activist with all the cliches.”

“Job creators and innovators are just the key, and aid is just a bridge,” he told an audience of 200 leading technology entrepreneurs and investors at the F.ounders tech conference in Dublin. “We see it as startup money, investment in new countries. A humbling thing was to learn the role of commerce.”

The remarks have led to relative hype in “pro-market” circles, but I’d remind folks that these are brief statements made to a small group of innovators and entrepreneurs. ONE has plenty of wrinkles in its past, and Bono’s primary legacy in this arena consists of promoting the types of ineffective, top-down social engineering that groups like PovertyCure seek to expose. When Bono continues to claim that foreign aid, as he understands it, is still a “bridge”—even if just a bridge—it’s reasonable to assume that his orientation toward “bridge-building” has been left largely unchanged by his newfound appreciation for markets.

But although I’m not overly confident that Bono’s sudden self-awareness is enough to radically shift his aid efforts away from fostering dependency, this small admission helps illuminate one of our key obstacles to doing good in the world: overzealousness paired with overconfidence.