Posts tagged with: responsibility

Thrift almost seems like a lost virtue among much of our governing class. It is also true of the general population. We don’t have to just look at our staggering public debt, but consumer credit card debt tells the story too. In a past post on the virtue of thrift, Jordan Ballor reminds us that “thrift is one of the things that separates civilized capitalism from savage consumerism.”

When I worked for U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor in Mississippi, we had a lot of second-hand office equipment. The boss was always serious about saving tax dollars. I know there are still representatives out there that take thrift seriously. However, we should also let the illustration provided by Amity Shlaes on Calvin Coolidge over at National Review sink in, especially given some of the lavish entertainment we hear about in Washington:

For Coolidge, no savings was too small to overlook. Recently William Jenney, the archivist for the state of Vermont at the Coolidge homestead, pulled out for me an old looseleaf notebook. It contained the White House housekeeper’s journal of outlays for White House entertainment. The White House, even then, received tens of thousands of visitors a year; the Coolidges hosted Col. Charles Lindbergh and Ignacy Padereweski, the pianist and politician. There were many days when Coolidge shook 2,000 hands. But he also kept an eye on the budget. For 1926, the housekeeper itemized each purchase for each event; the total was $11,667.10. For 1927 she managed to get the amount down to $9,116.39. The president reviewed this and wrote her a note: “To Miss Riley, very fine improvement.”

Shlaes, who has a forthcoming book on Calvin Coolidge coming out soon, was interviewed in Religion & Liberty’s 2009 fall issue. She discusses her book The Forgotten Man and the Great Depression in the interview.

I have also touched on Coolidge on the PowerBlog. In a post titled “Keep Cool with Coolidge,” I linked to a great recording on Coolidge talking about the cost of government spending. Have a listen:

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One of Pope Benedict XVI’s great emphases in his new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, is the idea of gift. A gift is something that we have received without earning. As the Pope wisely notes, “The human being is made for gift,” even though man is often “wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life and society.”

The truth is that we are not the authors of our own lives. We did not earn or create the conditions that make our lives what they are. We did not merit our genetic code, and we are not worthy of the parents that we had growing up. Neither do we have ourselves to thank for our societies and the opportunities that they hold. To some degree, hard work, creativity, and self-cultivation can enable us to better ourselves and our lives. That this is even the case is not because of our own efforts, though. We are not the reason that merit can lead to success.

We live lives gifted to us in a world gifted to us by God. God is not random, and He has reasons for giving each of us the gifts that He has. We do not by any means know what those reasons are much of the time, but we can use our reason to search for them. Reason shows us that we as humans are social beings, meant to live in coexistence with one another and to seek the common good and the wellbeing of everyone. The gift of our lives and our own particular gifts are meant to benefit the whole of humanity and not just ourselves. As Caritas in Veritate puts it, gift “takes first place in our souls as a sign of God’s presence in us, a sign of what he expects from us.” Gift, then, is the basis for duty. We have not earned what we have and are or the world in which we live; therefore, we do not have license or entitlement over our gifts. We have duties to use them for the common good.

What, then, is the best way to organize society such that the gifts given to each are used for the benefit of all? One possibility is to empower a central authority to identify the gifts of each person, then to have that authority determine how we are to use our gifts. This is the totalitarian tendency, the desire for an authority to have total control over the resources gifted to persons and to all people. (more…)

Only if there are new human beings will there be a new world, a renewed and better world.

When the Pope said these words at Vespers on Sunday, perhaps he had Bernie Madoff in mind.

Today, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for defrauding his investors of nearly $65 billion over the course of 20 years. His corruption and crimes ruined the livelihoods of thousands of businesspeople, charity workers, and families that trusted his sterling reputation to protect everything that they had worked to earn.

Unfortunately, Madoff is not the only man to have betrayed his financial responsibilities to others. The last few years saw financial scandals at Enron and WorldCom shake the public’s trust in corporations. Just two weeks ago, Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford was arrested by the FBI on charges that he used a bank in Antigua to mask his $8 billion fraud, stealing from his investors.

When Pope Leo XIII published his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, he wrote that “A small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than slavery itself.” The global economy has come a long way since then, with the rise of laws designed to fight white-collar crime, the expansion of opportunities for Third World entrepreneurship with the removal of tariffs, and the creation of enough wealth to eliminate most of the horrific working conditions of the Victorian Era. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Monday, February 2, 2009

This guy fails the ‘anthropological Rorshach’ test:

Jonathon Porritt, who chairs the government’s Sustainable Development Commission, says curbing population growth through contraception and abortion must be at the heart of policies to fight global warming. He says political leaders and green campaigners should stop dodging the issue of environmental harm caused by an expanding population.

The 2 child limit that Porritt encourages is not just an attempt to limit population growth, but is instead a policy that would put the UK well below replacement levels. Even assuming everyone maxed out their 2 child ‘limit,’ that wouldn’t meet the replacement level of 2.2 children per couple.

The misanthropy of much of the radical environmental movement is becoming increasingly blatant. No longer must the “P” word be spoken in hushed tones in darkened alleys. Folks like Porritt are making sure of that.

“I am unapologetic about asking people to connect up their own responsibility for their total environmental footprint and how they decide to procreate and how many children they think are appropriate,” Porritt said.

Couching such rhetoric in terms of “responsibility” and even “stewardship” is a powerful tool of deception. After all, who wants advocate being irresponsible?

Read more about environmental misanthropy on this side of the pond in the joint Acton Institute-IRD paper, “From Climate Control to Population Control: Troubling Background on the ‘Evangelical Climate Initiative’.”

Oh, and the “P” word? Porritt means “population,” but a better “P” word is “person.” Population is an abstraction. Personhood is a reality that can’t be so easily dispensed with. To quote a wise creature, “A person’s a person no matter how small.”

Blog author: jballor
Monday, December 1, 2008

Yesterday’s Grand Rapids Press had an attention-grabbing feature graphic, which highlights an online interactive “game” that gives more information about each of the candidates for the “economic blame game” bracket.

Press Graphic/Milt Klingensmith

The four brackets are broken down by group, so the four major categories at fault are 1) the financial industry; 2) consumers; 3) government; and 4) inexplicable forces.

Notably absent are the media (except perhaps as personified in Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money”) and government over-regulation, including especially the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 and variations on that theme in the intervening decades. To be sure, “deregulation” is a top seed on the government side, and makes the blame game Final Four. But the summary for that option manages to lay the blame on Ronald Reagan and his dictum: “Government is not the answer to our problems. Government is the problem.”

The Press’ pick for the blame game champion is “Fear and Panic.” Writes Press copy editor Dan Hawkins, “So for your consideration, we rounded up 32 suspects and arranged them in a tournament bracket, as we did for White House scandals and the presidential race. For the first time, however, we decided to declare a winner. This crisis, this worst-of-the-worst competition, is too awful to leave without a scapegoat.”

There isn’t really a good representative for what I consider to be greatly culpable, the culture of consumptive capitalism (as opposed to democratic or entrepreneurial capitalism). Consumptive capitalism adds “spend all you can” to the more stable triumvirate of flourishing: earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.

And today comes news that confirms that the recession of the US economy began in December of 2007. The Press’ advice for the ordinary American citizen is “Don’t panic.” If that’s true for the everyday American, how much more so for the Christian.

One reality saves us from the necessity to assign blame to others and enables us to accept responsibility. As we begin the season of Advent in 2008, it is proper for us to reflect on the ultimate “scapegoat,” our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who bore the sins of the world on the cross, rose again, ascended to heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

This is not to say that we ignore the hard economic realities of our world. But the “fear and panic” created by material concerns need to be put into proper perspective, relativized and mitigated by hope in one whose kingdom will have no end.

Posted at the Center for a Just Society (notice courtesy the National Humanities Institute), Dr. Mark T. Mitchell asks a series of questions focused on the intersection between morality and economics in light of the recent financial crisis. In “Ten Questions and a Modest Proposal,” Dr. Mitchell invokes the institute’s namesake and this blog’s tagline.

In question number 9, Dr. Mitchell says,

Lord Acton’s hoary saying is pertinent: “power tends to corrupt.” If so, then we should make efforts to decentralize power. Such a sensibility is behind the separation of powers written into the fabric of the U.S. Constitution. We should be concerned, then, when big corporations get into bed with big government. The off-spring will be ugly and, we can rest assured, it will be big. This bailout represents a stunning consolidation of corporate and government power. Of course, we are promised that the government will regulate the corporations, but the conflict of interest is glaring. Could it be that the problem is not de-regulation but regulations that favor big corporations over small businesses?

Recent reports have placed the economic impact of a shutdown of one of the Big 3 automakers could cost 3 million jobs and $60 billion in 2009. Now Detroit automakers are apparently “too big to fail.” (Update: Ford has announced significant 3Q losses this year, and plans to cut 10% of its salaried workforce in North America.)

The other questions are prescient, as well, and Dr. Mitchell’s “modest” proposal is well worth considering: “The American way of life is sustainable only if we acknowledge that publicly and privately we are called to lives of responsibility. Hubris is only countered when we recognize limits.”

Blog author: jballor
Monday, September 29, 2008

Last week an email newsletter from Sojourners featured a quote from U2 rock star and activist Bono (courtesy the American Prospect blog):

It’s extraordinary to me that the United States can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can’t find $25 billion dollars to saved 25,000 children who die every day from preventable diseases.

The quote is pretty striking given the current shape of the debate over the Wall Street bailout. Bono’s insight is instructive: Once the government takes upon itself tasks that fall outside its regular purview, how do we rightly adjudicate between all the different needy causes? It simply becomes a game of which special interest can hire the most lobbyists.

Indeed, the $25 billion that Bono points out would be necessary to save 25,000 children a day is the same amount that the US government just paid to bailout the domestic auto industry over the weekend.

If the feds are willing to dole out $600-700 billion in corporate welfare for Wall Street, it only seems right that poor families and individuals get their own relative share of government redistribution.

The size of the government bailout relative to the critical debate about the execution of these policies is positively shameful compared to the fiscal cost of the war in Iraq (roughly $560 billion on the upper end) and the critical attention that the war has and continues to receive. Of course dollars aren’t the only costs we’ve incurred in the Iraq war, but they are one salient measure.

On the one hand conservatives often point out that government involvement in provision of welfare should be sharply curtailed or eliminated because it isn’t primarily the government’s task to directly offer assistance to the poor. Rather, that’s the job of institutions of civil society, like church ministries, non-profit charities, and groups promoting individual giving. So it seems inconsistent to claim this and at the same time assert that it is the government’s responsibility to bailout overextended (and therefore irresponsible) corporations with taxpayer money.

UPDATE: A HuffPost blogger takes this logic to its political terminus (emphasis original):

The Democrats, if they truly constituted an opposition party, which they prove every day they do not, could demand that if monies are going to go to bail out Wall Street, at least an equal amount would go to bail out average Americans in the way of health care, full funding for social security and medicare, mortgage and rent protection, infrastructure repair, decent public transportation, investment in green jobs and technology, etc.

One great virtue of the market is that over time it tends to punish bad players. Those who engage in unsustainable business practices will eventually get what’s coming to them. Debt catches up with you and you go bankrupt (unless in an election year cowardly politicians aren’t willing to let companies pay the due penalty for their error).

There’s been some talk about the moral hazards associated with the bailout. One moral hazard is that bad business practices aren’t going to be appropriately punished, and so such short-sighted and unsustainable behavior will be incentivized by reduction or elimination of risk. There’s now going to be an implicit government guarantee of corporations that are “too big” or too important to fail. The cost of this bailout may be $700 billion, but it sets a precedent for future bailouts whose costs are inestimable.

But enough hasn’t been said on another moral hazard that has to do with the good players, people who didn’t take out gimmicky mortgages to finance half-million dollar homes or rush into home ownership when they should have been renting. That’s the flip-side of bailing out bad players…good players get punished and are less likely to continue responsible behavior. And in the face of a government and businesses that are telling us to spend all we can, why should we be financially responsible?