Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, January 19, 2017

$20 billion in farm subsidies doesn’t reach the poor, leaves them hungry
Ryan Nabil and Vincent H. Smith, AEI

New research suggests that agricultural subsidies have done little to help those below the poverty line become more food secure. Despite $20 billion spent every year on wasteful subsidies, hunger and inadequate nutrition are endemic in the United States.

The Conservative Case for Fair Scheduling
Amber and David Lapp, Family Studies

Conservatives focused on personal responsibility should consider how unfair workplace practices make that difficult.

The Gifts and Challenges of Wealth: How Wealth Reveals the Commitments of Your Heart
Scott Redd, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

Those who put their hopes in material riches suffer from short-sightedness that ultimately leaves them empty-handed in death.

Everything You Need to Know About Betsy DeVos
Israel Ortega, Opportunity Lives

Betsy DeVos, the president elect’s choice for education secretary, has spent decades fighting to increase educational opportunities for all students through her philanthropic and advocacy work. This week, the former businesswoman and philanthropist will testify before the Senate Health, Education and Labor (HELP) Committee, answering questions and providing senators with a better sense of how she intends to run one of the biggest government agencies.

“A former Communist who found spiritual solace in his adopted Quakerism,” says Bruce Edward Walker in this week’s Acton Commentary, “Chambers reduced the dilemma facing modern humanity to a simple dichotomy: God or Man?”

Consider: An avowed socialist candidate came close to clinching the presidential nomination in what was once considered the world’s greatest proponent of liberty; the same country is hobbled by an ever-encroaching, state-enforced regulatory apparatus; municipal bankruptcies and state budget crises proliferate, wrought in part by massively underfunded government-employee pension programs; and wealth and income redistribution have become commonplace mantras of such movements as Occupy Wall Street. The past decade was also marred by foreign adventurism, interminable warfare, and economic meltdowns threatening entire countries from Venezuela to Greece.

While surprising to most of us, such developments were anticipated by Whittaker Chambers, a man who predicted 65 years ago, in his frightening and magisterial Witness, that the world would submit itself continuously and increasingly to inhibiting freedoms by state diktats.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton Commentary and other publications here.

“It is the evacuation of depth, stability, and substance of culture where we witness the death of character.” –James Davison Hunter

Christians and conservatives have long despaired over the “loss of American values,” decrying the erosion of public virtue and the disintegration of morals. As researchers like Charles Murray and Robert Putnam have duly confirmed, the fabric of community life and civil society is continuing to fray across America.

In Yuval Levin’s latest book, The Fractured Republic, he finds the solution in cultivating “cohesive and attractive subcultures, rather than struggling for dominance of the increasingly weakened institutions of the mainstream culture.” By pursuing such a path, he argues, restraining power at the top and unleashing it at the bottom, we can begin to rebuild that missing middle. “These institutions—from families to churches to civic and fraternal associations and labor and business groups—can help balance dynamism with cohesion and let citizens live out their freedom in practice,” Levin writes.

Yet the content and substance of that pursuit also matters, and here, we ought to think carefully how we leverage that freedom, both where it exists and when new opportunities come. In his book, The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age of Good and Evil, sociologist James Davison Hunter addresses this as it relates to education, noting that our character crisis is rooted in our cultural shift from a focus on virtues grounded in eternal truths to a modernistic abyss of slippery and subjective “values clarification.”

Given our current approach to moral education, we have plenty of struggles even within those existing “mediating institutions.” First and foremost, there lacks a deeper commitment to the sacred. Even in Christian communities, we’ve opted for an ambivalent embrace of “values,” which, as Hunter notes, are merely “truths that have been deprived of their commanding character.” As well intended as our values-speak has been, the effect has not been a restoration of character, but rather a reduction of “truth to utility, taboo to fashion, conviction to mere preference.”

Which leads to Hunter’s grim diagnosis. “A restoration of character as a common feature within American society and a common trait of its people will not likely occur any time soon,” he laments. “The social and cultural conditions that make character possible are no longer present and no amount of political rhetoric, legal maneuvering, educational policy-making, or money can change that reality. Its time has passed.” (more…)

Note: This is the first in a weekly series of explanatory posts on the officials and agencies included in the President’s Cabinet.

When Obamacare was signed into law in 2010, the Catholic nuns didn’t expect it would affect their religious liberty. Nor did they suspect that in a few years the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would restrict their freedom of conscience. Yet it was that Cabinet-level government agency that issued a mandate requiring the women to disregard their deeply held convictions by providing health care coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients. Even though it would have caused no harm to give the nuns an exemption to the mandate, the federal agency refused to back down until forced to do so by the Supreme Court.

The attempted coercion of the Little Sisters of the Poor was a wake-up call for many Christians. The expansive power of government agencies was being used in an unprecedented manner to control and restrict liberties many Americans had taken for granted. And the case raised even greater concerns: If HHS could threaten religious freedom, what could even more powerful federal agencies do?

Unfortunately, many Americans have only a basic understanding of what the President’s Cabinet even is, much less how it can affect our lives. To increase awareness, this weekly series will explain the functions of Cabinet-level departments, consider how they can expand or restrict liberties, and look at the men and women President-elect Trump has nominated to lead these agencies.

But first, here are answers to some basic questions you might have about the Cabinet.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The incoherence of Bishop Robert McElroy’s position on Catholic Social Thought and Public Unions
Steve Bainbridge, Professor Bainbridge

Public sector unionism in fact poses a direct and inescapable threat to the common good of society in a way that private unions simply do not.

Helping Work Reduce Poverty
Ron Haskins, National Affairs

The problem of poverty in America has been an intractable one, despite nearly a century of public programs attempting to alleviate it. The government spends $1 trillion a year at the federal, state, and local levels, and yet 21% of children under the age of 18 live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold. Our anti-poverty programs clearly aren’t working as well as they should. To find better solutions, we need to find the source of the problem.

A bipartisan victory against child sex trafficking
Marc A. Thiessen, AEI Ideas

On Tuesday, Republican subcommittee chairman Sen. Rob Portman (full disclosure: my wife is his deputy chief of staff) and ranking Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill held a hearing to release their bipartisan report.

The Origin and Function of Government Under God
R.C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries

If you don’t like the president of the United States, remember that the One who cast the deciding ballot in his election was almighty God.

Benjamin-FranklinToday is the 311th birthday of the Founding Father and polymath, Ben Franklin. As a leading statesman and scientist of his day, Franklin made innumerable contributions—many of which made him a wealthy man. At his death, Franklin is estimated to have been worth about $67 million.

Here are six quotes by Franklin on money, wealth, and virtue:

On increasing wealth: The way to wealth is as plain as the way to market. It depends chiefly on two words—industry and frugality.

On the prejudices of politicians: We assemble parliaments and councils to have the benefit of their collected wisdom; but we necessarily have, at the same time, the inconveniences of their collected passions, prejudices, and private interests. By the help of these, artful men overpower their wisdom, and dupe its possessors; and if we may judge by the acts, arrêts, and edicts, all the world over, for regulating commerce, an assembly of great men are the greatest fools upon earth.

On credit and debt: Creditors have better memories than debtors; and creditors are a superstitious sect, great observers of set days and times.

On December 1st, Acton welcomed Cato Institute Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies Ilya Shapiro to the Mark Murray Auditorium to speak on the role of the federal judiciary in the growth of government. The lecture, delivered as part of the 2015 Acton Lecture Series, emphasized the importance of judges’ both having the right constitutional theories as well as the willingness to enforce them. Shapiro argues that too much judicial “restraint” — like that of Chief Justice John Roberts in the Obamacare cases — has led not only to the unchecked growth of government, but also toxic judicial confirmation battles in the Senate and even our nation’s current populist moment.

We’re pleased to share Shapiro’s full presentation below.