Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg has been busy on the interview circuit over the past few days as news organizations look for intelligent analysis of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation that that was released last week. On Monday, the Wall Street Journal called upon Gregg to provide his thoughts on the economic content in the exhortation on Opinion Journal Live; we’ve embedded the video below.
Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, A Free Economy and Human Flourishing, the new book by Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg, has received a review from Fr. Dwight Longenecker at Aleteia.com. Fr. Longenecker dives right in, asking “Is Catholicism Conservative?” and looking to Gregg’s book for some answers.
Catholics have too often fallen into the easy trap of conflating their political opinions with their political views. So left-wingers latch on to the Catholic Church’s “preferential option for the poor” and think that means Marxism. Right-wingers pick out the Catholic Church’s condemnation of socialism and conclude that Catholicism backs an unrestrained free market economy.
The prevailing assumption among many American Catholics is that the Democratic Party is the Catholic party because they want to help the poor. A strong minority of American Catholics think the Republican Party should be favored because they’re for personal responsibility. Samuel Gregg encourages us to think more deeply about the relationship between Catholicism and the economic theories behind political movements.
Last week, as the country was remember MLK’s dream of children being judged on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, Attorney General Eric Holder was suing the state of Louisiana because he’s more worried, as the Wall Street Journal says, about the complexion of the schools’ student body than their manifest failure to educate.
Late last week, Justice asked a federal court to stop 34 school districts in the Pelican State from handing out private-school vouchers so kids can escape failing public schools. Mr. Holder’s lawyers claim the voucher program appears “to impede the desegregation progress” required under federal law. Justice provides little evidence to support this claim, but there couldn’t be a clearer expression of how the civil-rights establishment is locked in a 1950s time warp.
Passed in 2012, Louisiana’s state-wide program guarantees a voucher to students from families with incomes below 250% of poverty and who attend schools graded C or below. The point is to let kids escape the segregation of failed schools, and about 90% of the beneficiaries are black.
During the 2012-13 school year, about 10% of voucher recipients came from 22 districts that remain under desegregation orders from 50 or so years ago.
For example, says the complaint, in several of those 22 districts “the voucher recipients were in the racial minority at the public school they attended before receiving the voucher.” In other words, Justice is claiming that the voucher program may be illegal because minority kids made their failing public schools more white by leaving those schools to go to better private schools.
Acton University is just two months away and we’ve just confirmed our featured lecturers for the big event. Check out their bios below.
The four featured speakers are:
Rev. Robert Sirico
He is president and co-founder of the Acton Institute. Fr. Sirico serves on the staff of Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His writings on religious, political, economic, and social matters are published in a variety of journals, including: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, the London Financial Times, the Washington Times, and more.
Much has been made of income inequality in the United States this election season. Income inequality exists in the United States, more so than almost any other developed nation. Around sixty years ago, America’s Gini coefficient–the best measure of income equality, where zero represents the least inequality and one the most–was .37. Today, it is .45.
These numbers are startling, especially for a country that so proudly proclaims all men to be “created equal.” But, as Matthew Schoenfeld points out in The Wall Street Journal, income equality is a far cry from the equality the Framers preached in the Declaration of Independence.
Schoenfeld’s article, titled “Air Jordan and the 1%”, transposes the issue of income inequality from the public policy arena to the basketball court. For many people in and around public policy, a rising Gini coeffecient is enough to call for economic redistribution. Of course, this narrow reasoning doesn’t hold up in other arenas, as Schoenfeld’s basketball analogy points out:
And that brings us to Michael Jordan, who starred for the Chicago Bulls from 1984 to 1998. In 1986, the Bulls’ median player salary was $300,000. The team’s lowest-paid player made $135,000, and its highest-paid player made $806,000. The team’s Gini coefficient was 0.36. But Jordan’s superstardom increased the team’s popularity and revenues, and by 1998 salaries looked different. The median income was $2.3 million, the lowest was $500,000, and the highest (Jordan’s) was $33 million. The Gini coefficient had nearly doubled, to 0.67.
Jordan’s salary of $33 million consumed over half the payroll, but everyone was better off. The median player in 1998 made more than seven times what the median player made in 1986, while the income of the lowest-paid player in 1998 quadrupled that of his 1986 peer.
Schoenfeld’s analysis calls to mind a line from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. In the book, de Tocqueville claims, “Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.” Equality is certainly a necessary virtue, one that ensures that all can enjoy basic rights and freedoms. But it is not equality alone that generates human flourishing. This is what the Framers, de Tocqueville, and the 1984-1998 Chicago Bulls got right. Humans require freedom and opportunity to fully tap into their inherent creative potential. To return to basketball: Every successful offense is built around creating the best shot, and the opportunity for a slam dunk always trumps a prayer from half-court.
After asking his most pressing question, “After all, do we really want to make accommodations across the range of faith?,” he makes this amazing statement:
“The basic principle of American life is that we try to respect religious beliefs, and accommodate them where we can.”
That sentence caught the immediate attention of many. Could someone of Nicholas Kristof’s influence and stature really write and mean that?
Mohler highlights some of Kristof’s commendable work on human rights abuses (he’s the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes), but Mohler says “when it comes to human rights at home, Mr. Kristof reveals a horrifying blind spot.”
Our country is not a country that “accommodates” or “tolerates” religion. There is undoubtedly a growing disconnect of those who have no fundamental understanding of the meaning of religious liberty in the American framework. Now we are clearly seeing that the exponential growth of government is a grave threat to religious liberty. Some of the “enlightened” want to somehow “accommodate” religion, at least publicly.
Face it, many who no longer look to the Lord for their help, look to the state as their provider, caretaker, and the dispenser of whatever freedoms they are granted.
Concerning our fortress of religious liberty, look no further than a book I recently reviewed on James Madison by Richard Brookhiser. Madison objected to the “fullest toleration” of religious freedom in Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, and his language found its way into the Bill of Rights. Brookhiser spells it out perfectly in his Madison biography and points to the uniqueness of America’s first freedom:
Madison, half Mason’s age, improved his language, proposing a crucial change to the clause on religious liberty. Mason’s draft, reflecting a hundred years of liberal thought going back to John Locke, called for “the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion.” Yet this did not seem liberal enough for Madison. Toleration implies those who tolerate: superiors who grant freedom to others. But who can be trusted to pass judgments, even if the judgment is to live and let live? Judges may change their minds. The Anglican establishment of Virginia, compared with established churches in other colonies, had been fairly tolerant – except when it hadn’t, and then it made water in Baptists’ faces. So Madison prepared an amendment. “All men are equally entitled to the full and free exercise” of religion. No one could be said to allow men to worship as they wished; they worshipped as they wished because it was their right as men. Madison’s language shifted the ground of religious liberty from a tolerant society or state, to human nature, and lifted the Declaration of Rights from an event in Virginia history to a landmark of world intellectual history (23, 24).
Furthermore, take a look at “Birth Control Yes, Government Control No” in The Wall Street Journal for more on the threat to religious liberty.
Toleration or accommodation is of course flawed because it posits the notion that religious freedom or freedom of conscious is offered by the whims of the state. Many pundits rolled their eyes at the “war on religion” ad by Rick Perry during his presidential campaign. I admit, I think I rolled my eyes and thought it was quite the overreaction. I was too enlightened and nuanced for an ad like that. Given the actions of the executive branch, I don’t know if we can say it’s an overreaction anymore.
While reading the Wall Street Journal not so long ago, I came across an article and two opinion pieces that, each in their way, told a story far different than one rendered in Bruce Springsteen’s forthcoming album, Wrecking Ball.
At first listening, Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own” chugs along with some of the best of the Boss’ rock anthems. But the song’s lyrics convey a deeply cynical despair about our nation’s charitable nature. Springsteen says we in the United States simply don’t do enough to tend to the less fortunate. And, in his Albert Schweitzer meets Florence Nightingale way, he invokes our nation’s predominantly Judeo-Christian heritage.
In “We Take Care of Our Own,” Springsteen lyrically conjures God’s sacrifice of Christ for humankind’s redemption. “I’ve been knocking on the door” – a nod to Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” – “that holds the throne,” presumably the one occupied by God. “I’ve been stumblin’ on good hearts turned to stone/The road of good intentions has gone dry as bone.” Never mind that Springsteen inadvertently forgets it’s the road to hell, not heaven, which is paved with those good intentions.
“From the shotgun shack to the Superdome/We yelled ‘help’ but the cavalry stayed home/There ain’t no-one hearing the bugle blown.” In this verse, Springsteen conveniently ignores the churches, faith-based relief agencies, private companies and millions of individuals who opened their hearts and wallets to help those impacted by Hurricane Katrina. Listening deeper into the song, the audience may discern biblical allusions – the cavalry representing the location where God sacrificed his only Son, and the bugle no one hears belonging to Gabriel. In other words, for all of our religious talk in the United States, according to Springsteen, we simply don’t put our money where our mouths are.
Springsteen’s manager told Rolling Stone that his new LP has “social overtones” and a “very pronounced spiritual dimension.” The magazine cited another source who confided that the rocker “gets into economic justice quite a bit.”
But is Springsteen’s “economic justice” based on sound “spiritual” footings?
In the issue of the January 30 issue of the Wall Street Journal, Rabbi Aryeh Spero writes: “[T]he Bible’s prescription of equality means equality under the law, as in Deuteronomy’s saying that ‘Judges and officers … shall judge the people with a just judgment: Do not … favor one over the other.’ Nowhere does the Bible refer to a utopian equality that is contrary to human nature and has never been achieved.”
If Springsteen missed the Rabbi’s essay, he might’ve read Warren Kozak’s opinion piece in the Journal, which appeared on the same page. Kozak writes that the “U.S. government spends close to $1 trillion a year providing cash, food, housing, medical care and services to poor and near-poor people. Of that figure, about $111 billion is spent on food in federal and state programs.” Kozak quotes 2009 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, which reveal that nearly 50 million U.S. citizens are classified as poor. However, the Census Bureau also finds that 96 percent of poor parents assert that “their children were never hungry” and 83 percent “of poor families reported having enough food to eat, and 82 percent of poor adults said they were never hungry at any time in 2009 due to a lack of food or money.”
One hopes these statistics, in part, answer Springsteen’s closing questions in “We Take Care of Our Own”: “Where the eyes, the eyes with the will to see/Where’re the hearts that run over with mercy/Where’s the love that has not forsaken me/Where’s the work that set my hands, my soul free/Where’s the spirit that’ll reign, reign over me/Where’s the promise, from sea to shining sea?”
If not, perhaps the following facts may reacquaint Springsteen with the spirit of American giving. Left unmentioned in Kozak’s essay are the results of the 2010 Charities Aid Foundation global survey, which, like many other suveys, singles out the United States as one of the most generous nations in private giving and volunteer activity. Of the 150,000 citizens from 153 countries surveyed by the Gallup organization, 65 percent of Americans donated money; 43 percent of Americans volunteered their time; and 73 percent of Americans helped a stranger.
Maybe Springsteen doesn’t read the Wall Street Journal, or avoids newspaper opinion pieces altogether. Had he read a straight news story in the same issue of the Journal, however, he may have learned something new in an article titled “Charities Ended 2011 on High Note.” Journalist Melanie Grayce West reports that The Salvation Army raised $147.6 million in its Red Kettle campaign – up nearly 4 percent from 2010 and 6 percent from 2009.
Alas, this amount is still $100 million less than Springsteen’s estimated net worth. While the rocker is recognized often for his generous charitable giving – I did that too in an Acton Institute article in 2004 – it’s more than a little strange to be lectured about our “fair share” by an extremely wealthy American celebrity.
Springsteen is entitled to his opinions and all that, and, further, he is guaranteed the freedom to publish whatever agitprop he wishes — especially if it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it. But “We Take Care of Our Own” just doesn’t pass muster with the information readily available on any given day in any reputable news source.
At some point in the past few decades, Springsteen began patterning his songwriting on the supposed social consciousness of folksingers Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs. Ochs once recorded an album titled All the News That’s Fit to Sing. Springsteen would perform a tremendous favor to the better-informed members of his enormous fan base – this writer included – by actually reading a newspaper.
Bruce Edward Walker writes on the arts from Midland, Michigan.
Andreas Widmer, co-founder of the SEVEN Fund and Acton’s research fellow in entrepreneurship, explains the lessons in entrepreneurship he learnt while serving Pope John Paul II as a Swiss Guard in this interview from the Wall Street Journal. He then describes the mission of the Seven Fund. He makes a number of thought-provoking points in the eight minute video:
The Wall Street Journal published today a timely, and much needed, reflection by Leon Kass on Calvin Coolidge’s address delivered at the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1926. Kass asks: What is the source of America’s founding ideas, and their “singular combination” in the Declaration?
Many have credited European thinkers, both British and French. Coolidge, citing 17th- and 18th-century sermons and writings of colonial clergy, provides ample evidence that the principles of the Declaration, and especially equality, are of American cultural and religious provenance: “They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit.” From this teaching flowed the emerging American rejection of monarchy and our bold embrace of democratic self-government.
Coolidge draws conclusions from his search into the sources. First, the Declaration is a great spiritual document. “Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man . . . are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. . . . Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish.”
In his speech, Coolidge noted that the idea that a people have a right to choose their own rulers was “not new” in political history. Here’s part of the passage that Kass referenced:
… if these truths to which the Declaration refers have not before been adopted in their combined entirely by national authority, it is a fact that they had been long pondered and often expressed in political speculation. It is generally assumed that French thought had some effect upon our public mind during Revolutionary days. This may have been true. But the principles of our Declaration had been under discussion in the Colonies for nearly two generations before the advent of the French political philosophy that characterized the middle of the eighteenth century. In fact, they come from an earlier date. A very positive echo of what the Dutch had done in 1581, and what the English were preparing to do, appears in the assertion of the Rev. Thomas Hooker, of Connecticut, as early as 1638, when he said in a sermon before the General Court that –
The foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people.
The choice of public magistrates belongs to the people by God’s own allowance.
This doctrine found wide acceptance among the nonconformist clergy who later made up the Congregational Church. The great apostle of this movement was the Rev. John Wise, of Massachusetts. He was one of the leaders of the revolt against the royal governor Andross in 1687, for which he suffered imprisonment. He was a liberal in ecclesiastical controversies. He appears to have been familiar with the writings of the political scientist, Samuel Pufendorf, who was born in Saxony in 1632. Wise published a treatise entitled “The Church’s Quarrel Espoused” in 1710, which was amplified in another publication in 1717. In it he dealt with the principles of civil government. His works were reprinted in 1772 and have been declared to have been nothing less than a textbook of liberty for our Revolutionary fathers.
While the written word was the foundation, it is apparent that the spoken word was the vehicle for convincing the people. This came with great force and wide range from the successors of Hooker and Wise. It was carried on with a missionary spirit which did not fail to reach the Scotch-Irish of North Carolina, showing its influence by significantly making that Colony the first to give instructions to its delegates looking to independence. This preaching reached the neighborhood of Thomas Jefferson, who acknowledged that his “best ideas of democracy” had been secured at church meetings.
Read “What Silent Cal Said About the Fourth of July” by Leon Kass in the Wall Street Journal.
Read Coolidge’s Address at the Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, Pa. (July 5, 1926).
Writing in the Wall Street Journal today, William McGurn looks at some of the root causes of the catastrophic decline of the city of Detroit. Census information released last week showed the city — once the fifth largest in America and a place which had such awe-inspiring industrial might that President Roosevelt labeled it the Arsenal of Democracy — had lost more than 25 percent of its population in the last decade. Detroit’s population fell to 713,777 in 2010, the lowest since 1910 (two years after Henry Ford’s Model T was introduced). The city, vasts stretches of which are depopulated, is now smaller than Austin, Tex., Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla.
As McGurn points out, much of Detroit’s problems are of its own making. There was no tsunami or hurricane to blame. He quotes Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, on the cultural factors that have contributed to the city’s demise:
Most Americans did not need to be told that Detroit is in a bad way, and has been for some time. Americans know all about white flight, greedy unions and arrogant auto executives. The recent census numbers, however, put an exclamation mark on a cold fact: A once-great American city today repels people of talent and ambition.
“Detroit is a classic example of how a culture that was legendary for enterprise and innovation was slowly eroded by toxic politicization from the 1960s on,” says the Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Michigan-based Acton Institute. “It’s been class warfare on steroids, and the inevitable result is that so many Detroiters who had the means—black and white—have fled the city.”
Another way of putting it is this: Unlike New Orleans and Japan, the ruin we see in Detroit is entirely man-made.
Read “A Requiem for Detroit” in the Wall Street Journal.