By federal law, September 17 is Constitution Day. That makes it a very good day to read the U.S. Constitution, especially if you happen to be a U.S. citizen. Maybe the last time you read it was in high school, or maybe you’ve never read it (it’s okay; I won’t tell anyone.) Surely, you remember the Preamble, at least, don’t you? (more…)
Yesterday, as a nation, we spent time reflecting on the American landscape 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have A Dream” speech. In it, Dr. King decried that our nation – while abolishing slavery legally – still had a long way to go “until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”
We still have a long way to go.
According to the Polaris Project, there are hundreds of thousands of people trafficked in the United States every year. Some of them are U.S. citizens, moved state-to-state, others are brought into the country illegally and forced into either sexual or manual labor. (more…)
Obamacare – or the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – is meant to give everyone in America the best access to the best health care. But things aren’t looking so good. As we get closer to its onset, it’s becoming clear that there will be fall-out. Employers (especially small-to-medium size businesses) are looking for ways to handle the onslaught of costs Obamacare will bring; one way is to offer healthcare ONLY to employees, leaving employee families out of luck, and insurance.
In today’s Acton Commentary, “It’s Time to Privatize the Detroit Institute of Arts,” I look at the case of the DIA in the context of Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings.
One of my basic points is that it is not necessary for art to be owned by the government in order for art to serve the public. Art needn’t be publicly-funded in order to contribute to the common good.
In the piece I criticize Hrag Vartanian for this conflation, but this view is in fact pretty common and well established. In the Journal of Markets & Morality, David Michael Phelps reviews Art in Public: Politics, Economics, and a Democratic Culture by Lambert Zuidervaart (Cambridge, 2011), which as Phelps puts it, concludes that “direct subsidies are warranted both in terms of the government’s responsibilities and society’s needs.” Phelps ably dissects the numerous problems and complications with such a view.
The case of the DIA and the various responsibilities of public and private entities certainly is complex. As Graham W. J. Beal, the DIA’s director, put it in the NYT yesterday, the DIA’s situation is “singular and highly complicated.”
A study out of Harvard University focusing on tax credits and other tax expenditures has caused 24/7 Wall St. to declare that America has 10 cities where the poor just can’t get rich. Among the reasons that economic upward mobility is so minimal in these cities: horrible public education (leading to high dropout rates) and being raised in single-mother households. What these cities share is an economic segregation: two distinct classes of people, with virtually nothing in common.
However, it seems not only bold but disingenuous to say that there “are cities where the poor cannot get rich.” Is it tough? Yes. Is it impossible? Of course not. In A Field Guide to the Hero’s Journey, entrepreneur Jeff Sandefer tells how he made his first job work for him. It wasn’t glamorous. (more…)
Dr. Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who made a splash at the last Prayer Breakfast at the White House, will now be writing a weekly column at The Washington Post. Carson has retired from his position as head of pediatric surgery at John Hopkins Hospital, and is now interested in speaking out on issues affecting American life.
In an interview with The Daily Caller, Carson stated that he wanted to encourage Americans to speak up about their thoughts on the direction the country was headed.
The main thing I would do is try to help Americans…to recognize that they need to speak up for what they believe in. They should not allow themselves to be bludgeoned into silence by the secular progressive media and other people.
Dr. Carson is concerned with the bloated government, using a startling comparison to highlight his view of the situation:
Government has a natural tendency to grow and as it grows it requires more and more resources and where do those resources come from? The people. Right now government is like a morbidly obese individual who they can’t even get up and move but they need a lot of calories to maintain themselves and that comes from everybody around them. They would be much leaner and meaner and effective if they could lose some of that weight and that’s the same thing that would happen with our government.
Carson also spoke to the fact that he believed that there was a strong desire by some to drive God out of the nation, along with the moral base that religious belief brings with it.
Yet if these associations and their societal benefit are in decline, how can we prevent that “soft despotism” Tocqueville so vividly and presciently described? He writes,
I see an innumerable crowd of similar and equal men who spin around restlessly, in order to gain small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each one of them, withdrawn apart, is like a stranger to the destiny of all the others; his children and his particular friends form for him the entire human species; as for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he is next to them, but he does not see them; he touches them without feeling them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone, and if he still has a family, you can say that at least he no longer has a country.
While Tocqueville goes on to describe the “immense and tutelary power [i.e. the state] that alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyment and of looking after their fate,” it is worth noting that the atomization of society he describes is firstly a deterioration of culture by a common passion for “small and vulgar pleasures.”
The society he imagines, though it may know nothing of extreme want, also knows nothing of fasting and, by consequence, of true freedom in the sense described by Acton. It reflects the heart of a people that actually wants a government to “remove entirely from them the trouble to think and the difficulty of living.” And as Burke has said, external restraints of the state must multiply when inner restraints of the soul diminish. To the extent that we are on our way to Tocqueville’s dystopian democracy and civil society in the United States is in decline … we can assume, at least, an accompanying decline in the way of life that values self-restraint and virtue over “small and vulgar pleasures.”
The basic conviction is one I have expressed here before. Asceticism, understood as the self-limitation of oneself for the sake of self-discipline and virtue, is essential to self-government and therefore to a free society. In this article in particular, however, I focus especially on the possibility of a link between ascetic living and the rich associational life that Alexis de Tocqueville noted was so important a check upon the power of the state and the passions of a democratic people.
Read the full article, “Self-Limitation, Liberty, and Civil Society,” here.
Alejandro Chafuen, president and chief executive officer of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and board member of the Acton Institute, recently wrote a piece for Forbes.com discussing youth unemployment in the United States. According to the latest report, U.S. youth unemployment is at 16.2 percent which is more than double the adult unemployment rate. The unemployment rate for youth in Europe is currently at 24 percent. Chafuen asks, “Can we learn from the European experience?”
Using data compiled by the economic freedom indices of the Fraser Institute in Canada, and the Heritage Foundation, in the United States, we recently looked at how economic freedom, labor regulations, social spending, and regulatory climate, correlated with youth unemployment. Against our preconceptions, at least as shown with our simple static analysis, there were no convincing results. I will spare the reader the statistical jargon and graphs and focus on apparent contradictions. (more…)
One of the greatest benefits of living in the United States is our access to plentiful, affordable domestic energy. These benefits extend to the nation’s poor who enjoy an unprecedented wealth of heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, plentiful light in the evening hours and electronic devices that power up at the press of a button.
Driving up costs for energy forces a concomitant rise in costs to consumers in every strata of society. Such has been the case of renewable mandates enacted throughout the country. One of the reasons behind such cost increases is that current renewable technologies such as solar and wind simply can’t provide enough energy to satisfy rising demand.
But for Rev. William Somplatsky-Jarman, a Presbyterian minister affiliated with the Interfaith Council of Corporate Responsibility, the increasingly dubious threat of catastrophic climate change trumps cheap energy for our nation’s poor. Somplastky-Jarman, you see, is one of those religious leaders who submits proxy shareholder resolutions to reduce greenhouse emissions.
In the Reverend’s case, his resolution was aimed at Dominion Resources Inc., “Virginia’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases,” according to Bloomberg Business Week. Somplastky-Jarman was joined by 20 likeminded activists who proposed at last month’s shareholder meeting that Dominion issue a report on anticipated financial fallout from climate change. The resolution failed, but not before 25 percent of shareholders voted for it. (more…)
Ray Pennings recently wrote a thoughtful reflection at The Cardus Daily on the recent surge in (exposed) political scandals, Canadian and American. He bemoans that “the current version of democracy isn’t looking all that attractive right now,” writing,
It is discouraging to read stories regarding blatant ethical questions involving the President of the United States, Prime Minister of Canada, the Canadian Leader of the Opposition and the Mayor of Canada’s largest city on the same day. Although the natures of these purported scandals are quite different from each other, the bottom line reduces to the same — can we count on our leaders to carry out their office with the basics of integrity and transparency? Whatever the facts are regarding the specific cases, at a minimum it must be said that those involved in each of these cases have been less than forthcoming in explaining themselves. If the events themselves don’t merit the scandal label, the lack of explanation almost certainly does.
To summarize, even apart from the scandals themselves, the proclivity of politicians not to be forthright about the details is itself a scandal. (more…)