Posts tagged with: united states

Is Christianity and the Christian worldview the path to a free society? Chinese bloggers are asking that question. Many believe the fascination with American politics and democracy is at an all time high in China. Technology and internet access is surely responsible for much of the trend. From one report,

Obama’s inauguration was a top trending topic on Sina Weibo, China’s massive microblogging site, with over 25 million posts on Jan. 21. Of these, one comment by a Weibo user by the name Wugou1975 was forwarded over 2,000 times, garnering over 500 comments. The blogger posted a photo of Obama taking the presidential oath with Supreme Court Justice John Roberts:

‘Some Chinese find it unbelievable that this secular country’s democratically elected president was sworn in with his hand on a Bible, not the Constitution, and facing a court justice, not Congress. But actually, this is the secret of America’s constitutional democracy: It’s not just the Constitution or the government’s “separation of powers.” Above that is natural law, guarded by a grand justice. And below is a community of Christians, unified by their belief.’

Undeniably, there has been and continues to be a systematic attack upon the Christian roots of the West and this nation. Marcello Pera, who teaches at the Pontifical Council in Rome, sums it up well:

“With its words, liberal secularism preaches freedom, tolerance, and democracy, but with its deeds it attacks precisely that Christian religion which prevents freedom from deteriorating into license, tolerance into indifference, democracy into anarchy.”

There is a level of irony in Chinese bloggers recognizing the significance of the religious foundations of democracy, while many Western scholars have abandoned or even attacked such notions. America’s religious heritage is vibrant and was a unifying factor promoting shared values and purpose throughout its history. The American framers knew religious vibrancy was required for ordered liberty and virtue to reign and prosper throughout society. Alexis de Tocqueville praised these characteristics and noted it was the foundations of America’s freedom and strength of its people. When it comes to the basis of our rights and foundations of government, Jefferson asked,

“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?”

Matthew Feeney, assistant editor at Reason Magazine’s 24/7 blog, today reviews Samuel Gregg’s new book, Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future. In his article titled “Europe: America’s Crystal Ball?” Feeney notes the similarity between Gregg’s views and many in the tea party movement who worry that “the U.S. is adopting similar norms and institutions [to Europe's current economic culture,] thereby losing what Tocqueville called Americans’ “spirit of enterprise.”

Feeney states that:

It is frustrating to many Europeans that Americans refer to “Europeanization” or a “European culture.” Europe, after all, is a continent of many countries and hundreds of languages; any attempt to generalize its people or culture will inevitably fall short. Thankfully, Gregg doesn’t fall into this trap. While acknowledging those differences, he also explains what enables commentators to discuss a common European culture, from the presence of an established lingua franca (be it Latin, French, or English) to the centuries of trade between its different peoples to the ongoing influence of Christianity. And it surely makes sense to speak of a “European economic culture” given the existence of the European Union, whose bloated bureaucracies regulate 27 of the continent’s states.

While Americans should be reassured that their political and economic culture is broadly pro-enterprise and pro-market, Gregg’s book is a healthy reminder that the United States has indeed been moving toward a more European economic culture. At the same time, Gregg makes sure to point out that the U.S. is not there yet. It remains to be seen how much Americans will push for free markets, transparency, and property rights in the years ahead. But thanks to Gregg’s book, they cannot claim to have not been warned.

Read the full article here. Learn more about or purchase a copy of Becoming Europe here.

New York Post illustration

New York Post illustration

In the New York Post, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at “the spread throughout America of economic expectations and arrangements directly at odds with our republic’s founding” and asks what the slow walk to “Europeanization” means for the long term. Gregg:

Unfortunately there’s a great deal of evidence suggesting America is slouching down the path to Western Europe. In practical terms, that means social-democratic economic policies: the same policies that have turned many Western European nations into a byword for persistently high unemployment, rigid labor markets, low-to-zero economic growth, out-of-control debt and welfare states, absurdly high tax levels, growing numbers of well-paid government workers, a near-obsession with economic equality at any cost and, above all, a stubborn refusal to accept that things simply can’t go on like this.

It’s very hard to deny similar trends are becoming part of America’s economic landscape. States like California are already there — just ask the thousands of Californians and businesses who have fled the land of Nancy Pelosi.

Europeanization is also reflected in the refusal of so many Americans to take our nation’s debt crisis seriously. Likewise, virtually every index of economic freedom and competitiveness shows that, like most Western European nations, America’s position vis-à-vis other countries is in decline.

Is there a way out, even as the “fiscal cliff” negotiations vividly illustrate the inability of Washington’s political elites to take spending and tax problems seriously? Gregg holds out hope: (more…)

Solidarity designed by Thibault Geoffroy, from The Noun Project

Solidarity designed by Thibault Geoffroy, from The Noun Project

When I moved to west Michigan, one of the things that struck me the most were distinct cultural differences between the different sides of the state. While I was pursuing a master’s degree at Calvin Theological Seminary, I worked for a while in the receiving department at Bissell, Inc. I remember being surprised, nay, shocked, that a manufacturer like Bissell was not a union shop. (All those jobs are somewhere else now, in any case.)

Before attending Michigan State as an undergrad, I had lived in Detroit, and although I never had a union job myself, the cultural expectations of organized labor were (and still are) deeply ingrained on the east side of the state. My dad is a longtime editor at a suburban newspaper, and one of the reasons he still has a job amid the economic downturn and the upheavals facing that industry is his membership in the guild.

But things really are different on this side of the state. That’s one reason why the protests taking place today in Lansing, the centrally-located state capital, are symbolic of two sides of the state, in many ways divided by culture, economy, and politics. As to the latter, consider some statewide candidates for public office in recent memory that haven’t done so well when trying to move beyond west Michigan, including Pete Hoekstra, Dick DeVos, Dick Posthumus. The fight over Right to Work legislation in Michigan is, in this way, a tale of two Michigans.

It is also a tale about two paths forward for Michigan, though. On the one side is the state’s historic identification with Big Labor and the Big Three. On the other side is a Michigan that embraces enterprising innovation and entrepreneurial competition.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized yesterday on this topic (HT: Ross Emmett), and captures the essence of the choice facing Michigan: “Unions loathe right to work because they know that many workers would rather not join a union.”

I think that the right to organize and therefore unions are fundamental to flourishing societies. But what concerns me is that the argument against Right to Work is not about this fundamental right to organize, but rather about protecting the entrenched and embedded political interests of a particular kind of union.

There is a world of difference between voluntary union membership and mandatory, government-enforced, union membership. If the former is akin to something like the freedom of religion, then the latter is more like the government establishment of a particular religion or church. What we need is the separation of Union and State in the way that we have historically had free churches. We need to disestablish labor in the same way that we have disestablished religion in America, while simultaneously protecting the right to organize and join a union as well as the right to worship and express our religious convictions.
(more…)

On Nov. 28, the Canada-based Fraser Institute released the eighth edition of its annual report, Economic Freedom of North America 2012, in which the respective economic situation and government regulatory factors present in the states and provinces of North America were gauged.

Global studies of economic freedom, such as the Heritage Foundation’s 2012 Index of Economic Freedom and the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World 2012, rank the United States and Canada as two of the most economically free countries in the world. But, as data from the North America report shows, not all sections of the countries are experiencing an equal level of economic freedom and it is important to look at areas in which this falters.

States and provinces were evaluated and ranked within three categories: 1) Size of Government; 2) Takings and Discriminatory Taxation; and 3) Labor Market Freedom. The Canadian province, Alberta, claimed the top spot as most economically free, followed closely by Delaware. New Mexico placed 59th, making it the least economically free state, followed by Prince Edward Island of Canada, notching the rank of least economically free area in North America (between the United States and Canada).

The Economic Freedom of North America 2012 report draws a clear link between prosperity and economic freedom, through a comparison of states and provinces. “In the United States, the relatively free Georgia does much better than the relatively unfree West Virginia. In Canada, British Columbia, where economic freedom has been increasing in recent years, has been experiencing considerably greater growth on a per-capita basis than Ontario, where economic freedom has been decreasing in recent years.” (more…)

IMGP2668The estimable Mollie Hemingway has a post up at Ricochet that examines the curious spillover of Black Friday into Thanksgiving Thursday. She writes, “Do Target executives have the right to make employees leave their families to open stores on days when they’ll be home with their families? Of course they do. Should they? Of course not!” Her concern is “that some people are so addicted to shopping that they can’t even take three days off a year.” I think she’s right to conclude that “if you are in any way inclined to shop on Thanksgiving instead of waiting a day for your fix, consider seeking help.”

About this time last year I wrote a piece on this phenomenon, in which I argued that consumers ought to realize the implications of their spending choices: “A variety of polls have shown that the public generally thinks that stores should be closed on Thanksgiving, but they may not always recognize what their shopping habits require of retailers. Shoppers need to realize that they cannot have it both ways. Our decisions have real consequences for the lives of those who work in retail and a host of other industries.”
(more…)

A schoolhouse in New England from the 1830s.

According to a recent Pew Center report, “Record levels of bachelor’s degree attainment in 2012 are apparent for most basic demographic groups.” 33% of 25- to 29- year-olds are completing both high school and college. According to the report, this number is up from five years ago and at record levels for the United States in general. But what does it mean? Statistics like these are constantly being produced, but they are no good to us if we do not know how to interpret them. After attending the joint Acton/Liberty Fund conference this past weekend on Acton and Tocqueville, I have Tocqueville on the brain and wonder if, perhaps, he might have some insights that are still relevant today. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I remember when I was a kid and would ask why we celebrate Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. What about Children’s Day? To which I would receive the inevitable response, “Every day is Children’s Day.” I use the same response now when some smart-alecky kid pipes up with this kind of question.

That may be true, in a sense, but today (Nov. 20) is also “Universal Children’s Day.” This event is a vehicle in part for UN advocacy on behalf of the ratification and implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the last issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, Johan van der Vyver examined the convention, with an eye particularly toward the complications of ratification and implementation in the United States in comparison with that of South Africa, in his piece, “Children’s Rights, Family Values, and Federal Constraints.”

Van der Vyver argues, “There is strong opposition against ratification of the convention from within the ranks of evangelical Christians, based essentially on a perception that the convention undermines family values. However, this article argues that the main obstacle confronting the United States in this regard derives from the constitutional dispensation of federalism.” The basic point, says van der Vyver, is that the autonomy of the family unit is not essentially undermined by the convention, but that the particular polity of the U.S. government and the nature of the process of treaty ratification is what stands in the way of American participation.

As to a classical expression of the place of children within the family and the significance of the family as a social institution, it’s worth noting the recent translation of the Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck’s treatise, The Christian Family. This is a wonderful book, full of insights into the nature of social relationships, the divine institution of the family, and the importance of the family to a free and virtuous society.
(more…)

This morning at Ethika Politika, I argue that “acting primarily for the sake of national interest in international affairs runs contrary to a nation’s highest ideals.” In particular, I draw on the thought of Vladimir Solovyov, who argued that, morally speaking, national interest alone cannot be the supreme standard of international action since the highest aspirations of each nation (e.g. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”) are claimed to be universal goods. I would here like to explore his critique with reference to the subject of international trade. (more…)

I recently finished the advanced copy of Os Guinness’s A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future. I posted a previous excerpt on the topic of virtue in a free republic a couple of weeks ago.

In recent writing and speaking about President Calvin Coolidge, it is encouraging to study a leader who saw himself as a civic educator rather than an imperial president. We need a cultural change before we can ever expect reasonable change in the direction of our government. And let’s be honest, we need American people ready to think deeply about the direction of this country.

Guinness makes the case in his forthcoming book that the stakes are very high and self-government and sustainable freedom are at a precipice. Below is an excerpt from a A Free People’s Suicide on separation of powers and spheres of influence:

In short, the founders’ commitment to a separation of powers is more vital than ever today, and its current applications must go beyond a worn-out litany of clichés such as “limited government” and “get the government off our backs.” The rampant imperialism of the spheres must be reined in, and the citizens’ responsibility for the wider common good must be reinforced. Each sphere—business, law, education, entertainment and so on—must be reordered to serve the wider public good, and principles such as individual self-reliance, local self-government and state government must once again be given their proper roles. Not only must the latter be able to balance the dominance of federal government and provide a bulwark against the encroachments of bureaucratic overregulation, they must must also carry the robust human and ethical values that can prevent humanity being turned into a global supermarket where even souls are up for sale and profit is the measure of all things.

Unless America succeeds in such a reordering of the spheres, the present imperial hubris of the spheres will continue their runaway inflation, the tutelary state will expand its paternalistic smothering of individual freedom and and a politically and economically bloated America will resemble in its star-spangled obesity the enemies of freedom it has resisted so long and so heroically.