Posts tagged with: socialism

So far, 2015 has given us our busiest Acton Lecture Series ever, and we’re pleased to share more of it with you today on the PowerBlog. Back on April 16, Acton had the privilege of hosting Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, who spoke on the topic of the book they jointly authored, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution.

First, the bios: Wayne Grudem is Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary; he is the author or co-author of twenty books, including his Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical DoctrinePolitics According To The Bible, and Business for the Glory of God, which we just happen to have in the Acton Book Shop; he also served as a member of the Translation Oversight Committee for the English Standard Version of the Bible, and also as General Editor of the ESV Study Bible. Barry Asmus is a Senior Economist with the National Center for Policy Analysis, which promotes private sector, market-based solutions to problems. He has been speaking, writing and consulting on any number of political and business issues for over 25 years.

Grudem and Asmus jointly authored a book with a title that nods to Adam Smith’s classic The Wealth of Nations, which inquired into what factors led certain nations to prosper; The Poverty Of Nations looks at the flip side of that question: what causes some nations to remain mired in poverty, and what might they do to change their circumstance?

We’re pleased to share with you the video of their joint presentation today; after the jump, I’ve included the episode of Radio Free Acton that features an interview with the two gentlemen.

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Soviet-era Moscow apartments

Soviet-era Moscow apartments

When it comes to urban planning, nobody beats the Soviets. First, they wanted to plan: no mish-mosh, haphazard cities, towns and burgs sprouting up like in the decadent West. Of course, structures had to address equality. No fancy neighborhoods in one area, and low-rent housing in another. And then there was functionality. Workers needed to be close to work. This eliminated the need for unnecessary and costly transportation. Soviet academic Alexei Gutnov described the planning this way:

Ideal conditions for rest and privacy are offered by the individual house situated in the midst of nature. But this is an expensive kind of well-being. . . . The villa
is the traditional retreat of the leisured minority at the top of the bourgeois society. The attempt to make the villa available to the average consumer means
building a mass of little houses, each on a tiny piece of land …’

In their rejection of the American model of suburban sprawl, Gutnov’s team specifically notes its unfeasibility in a society premised on equality.

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venezuela queueAccording to Daniel Pardo, citizens of Venezuela have figured out the fine art of queuing (that’s “waiting in line” for Americans.) It’s a good thing, too, since things like milk, sugar, soap, toilet paper and other essentials are always in short supply in this socialist country.

The government regulates the price of these goods. It doesn’t subsidise them – it tells the producer what they can charge. That might just about make sense in a buoyant economy but with inflation running at over sixty percent and the value of the currency plummeting, it appears producers are not only failing to make a profit but are operating at a loss. Similarly companies who export food to Venezuela have given up waiting to be paid by a government that’s down on its luck and are now selling their goods elsewhere.

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che quevara tWouldn’t it be nice if we could all just get along? We could share all our stuff. You know, you could borrow my cashmere sweater that I saved up for, and I could borrow your Che Guevara t-shirt you got at in the dollar bin at the local flea market. Isn’t that what Christians are supposed to do?

John Zmirak thinks otherwise. At The Stream, Zmirak takes on those Christians who have a warm, fuzzy spot in their misguided hearts for what he calls “friendly fascism.” He reflects on Elizabeth Stoker-Bruenig’s latest piece in the New Republic, in which she scolds conservatives for “fighting” Pope Francis’ attempts to open the Church up to new economic ways of thinking.

She credits her discovery of Catholicism to the influence of a priest who called himself a “Christian socialist.” You remember socialism — the ideology that was denounced by Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI even before its most orthodox forms claimed the lives of some 94 million people. It’s the system which still governs North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela, and in more diluted versions is slowly poisoning Western Europe.

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robot 2When arguing about the merits of a free economy, its defenders often give way to a peculiar line of reasoning that goes something like this:

“Socialism would be wonderful if it actually worked, and it could actually work if only men were angels.”

Such claims are meant to frame socialists as foolish idealists obsessed with their silly utopias. But for those of us who believe there’s a certain idealism to the free society, it’s a rather appalling concession. Indeed, the fundamental problem with socialism isn’t so much that its aims are unrealistic — though they most certainly are — but rather that its basic assumptions rely on a view of humanity that is, in so many ways, unreal.

If we let the lofty levelers have their way, we shall inherit a world where humanity is robbed of its dignity and originality, discouraged from creativity and innovation, and restrained from the collaboration and relationship found in free exchange. Even if such a system were to be filled with morally superior know-it-alls and somehow achieve material prosperity, it would still be a society of serfs, submissive to their overlords’ enlightened plans for social “equity,” and thus, servile in all the areas where God intended ownership.

Is a land wherein humans are guided by mere robotic efficiency really something that’s all that wonderful, even if it actually “works”? In whose mind and through what sort of contorted imagination is this considered an “ideal” or “utopia”? (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, January 26, 2015
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It gets really interesting now in the wake of Syriza’s stunning victory in yesterday’s Greek elections, widely interpreted as a populist rejection of austerity programs that could spread to other indebted European Union basket cases. All eyes on are Alexis Tsipras, the newly-sworn in prime minister (in a highly unusual secular ceremony), with a lot of unanswered questions about how his party will govern. (Syriza is the transliterated Greek acronym for Coalition of the Radical Left). I’ve been following this story – indeed the long gut-wrenching meltdown of the Greek economy – in recent years with more than casual interest. I grew up in a Greek immigrant household and have retraced my grandparents’ steps back to the family villages (I’m what real Greeks refer to as a “two week Greek”).

On the Forbes site, Charles Calomiris paints a picture of what is in store for Greeks if Tsipras follows through on his promises to magically wish away debt (176 percent of GDP), go after “the rich” (Greek shipowners) and give away more free stuff (electrical power, health care, higher minimum wage, etc.) paid for with other people’s money:

… the likely consequences for Greece of Sunday’s election are a chaotic future of bank runs, devaluation, capital flight, and even more worrying, new radical leftist policies to respond to the economic collapse produced by the crisis (e.g., huge expansions of government spending, and nationalizations). Nothing can be ruled out when someone like Mr. Tsipras is in charge – a European version of Hugo Chavez.

Calomiris concludes by observing that “although it is likely that Mr. Tsipras’s victory will soon be regarded as a major electoral error by Greeks, it could be a helpful wake up call for the rest of Europe.” (more…)

Cuba-food-vendorRemember when you bought that first thing – a car, maybe – with your own first income? Remember the feeling of pride it gave you? You’d scrubbed pots and pans in the diner kitchen all summer. Or maybe you were the “go-to” babysitter for everyone in your church. You earned that money, and  you bought yourself something.

Now imagine living in a world where that could never happen. You are told by the government that they will care for your every need, no need to pay for anything. Everyone will get the same things, and all will be well. We call this place “Cuba,” and that system has not worked. (See also, Soviet Russia, Bay-area communes and Shakers.)

With the U.S. sanctions against the island nations now lifted, Cuba is beginning to see economic life again. The Communist government also recently changed laws about self-employment.

Joan Perez-Garcia has always had a job – the government guaranteed him one – but he’s never made much money. That is changing. (more…)

20140305-cuba-exteriors-sl-1538_53ee39d1154ce422fc2278062244c068What just happened with Cuba?

Yesterday, President Obama announced that, “the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.” He instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since 1961. High-ranking officials will visit Cuba and the U.S. will reestablish an embassy in Havana. He also instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.

The President also says the U.S. will take steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba. Americans who travel to Cuba will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island. U.S. financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions and exporters will be able to sell goods to the country.

Can the President do all that?

Sort of. The president controls the State Department, but the Congress controls the money. Senator Rubio (R-FL) has said that he’ll do everything he can to block funding for a Cuban embassy and prevent an ambassador from being selected.

The trade embargo between the U.S. and Cuba also cannot be lifted without congressional approval. The executive branch has the authority under current law merely to issue licenses that permit US citizens and corporations to do business with Cuba, travel there, and send money to family members there.

Why the change now, after 50 years?
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Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, December 11, 2014
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Summer-JobsGiving disadvantaged youth a summer job reduces violent crime, according to a new study published to the journal Science.

In a randomized controlled trial among 1,634 high school youth in Chicago, assignment to a summer jobs program decreases violence by 43 percent over 16 months (3.95 fewer violent-crime arrests per 100 youth). The decline occurs largely after the 8-week intervention ends.
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searching-blindfolded-manIn the latest edition of First Things, Acton’s Director of Research Sam Gregg discusses how adherence to Catholic social teaching does not require a limited economic viewpoint. In fact, such a limited vision, or blindness as Gregg states in the article’s title, is what holds back development in many parts of the world. (Please note that the full article is available by subscription only, but is excerpted here.)

Gregg recounts how the aggressive or “Tiger” economies of East Asia have resulted in positive changes, despite problems such as endemic corruption.

To be sure, not everything is sweetness and light in East Asia. Memories of the region’s severe financial meltdown in 1997 linger. More ominously, China’s mammoth banking system is a hopelessly run extension of its government. The same banks are heavily and rather incestuously invested in propping up thousands of underperforming Chinese state-owned enterprises. That’s a recipe for trouble. Corruption remains an endemic problem, most notably in China and India, which rank an unimpressive 96 and 134, respectively, in the World Bank’s 2014 Ease ofDoing BusinessIndex, while Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand are ranked in the top twenty.

Nonetheless, the overall benefits of greater economic liberty in East Asia can’t be denied. In 2010, the Asian Development Bank reported that per capita GDP increased 6 percent each year in developing Asian countries between 1990 and 2008. Christians should especially consider how this growth has contributed to the reduction of poverty. The ADB estimated that between 1990 and 2005 approximately 850 million people escaped absolute poverty. That is an astonishing figure.

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