In the Wall Street Journal, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg turns to French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville to show how democratic systems can be used to strike a Faustian bargain. “Citizens use their votes to prop up the political class, in return for which the state uses its power to try and provide the citizens with perpetual economic security,” Gregg explains. This, of course, speaks to the current catastrophe that is the European welfare state. French workers, for example, “clearly expect the government to protect them from the economic consequences of their curious work habits,” he adds.

Some 180 years ago, Tocqueville predicted in his magnum opus “Democracy in America” that something similar would be one of democracy’s long-term challenges. Though Tocqueville never used the expression “welfare state,” he worried about the potentially corrosive effects of democratically elected governments that tried to use their powers to guarantee economic security for as many people as possible.

Democracy, Tocqueville argued, was capable of breeding its own form of despotism, albeit of the “soft” variety. He spoke of “an immense protective power” that took all responsibility for everyone’s happiness—just so long as this power remained “sole agent and judge of it.” This power, Tocqueville projected, would “resemble parental authority” but would try to keep people “in perpetual childhood” by relieving people “from all the trouble of thinking and all the cares of living.”

But here’s the catch. Many people today forget that Tocqueville wasn’t writing for an American audience. His book was for French readers and therefore, by extension, much of Europe’s 19th-century political elite. What would some of those elites today—such as a career-politician and confirmed statist like Arnaud Montebourg—make of his compatriot’s warnings?

Read “What Tocqueville Knew” in the Wall Street Journal.

And pick up a copy of Gregg’s new book, Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future.

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, March 25, 2013

Our First Right: Religious Liberty
Charles J. Chaput, Public Discourse

America’s founding documents assume an implicitly religious anthropology—an idea of human nature, nature’s God, and natural rights—that many of our leaders no longer share. Adapted from testimony submitted to the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

Economists Should Return to Moral Philosophy
Hans Eicholz, Liberty Law Blog

If policy analysts and economists in general would state upfront the world view that informs their particular prescriptions, it would at least go part of the way to providing a better handle on the overall regulatory picture.

The Secret to Success for Social Entrepreneurs: Innovative Obedience?
Julia Thompson, Values & Capitalism

With God in the picture, there is no room for the illusion that the purpose of our work is self-glorification.

California is In For a World of Hurt
Bill Watkins, New Geography

Demographic trends themselves are creating a crisis brought about by a population that is simultaneously losing its children and getting older, and to a frightening extent poorer.

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, March 22, 2013

logo1b.aiThe Hitachi Foundation is accepting applications for its 2013 Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneur Award, which identifies up to five young people striving to build “sustainable businesses” in the United States. Each awardee will receive $40,000 over two years, along with the tools and training designed to put a startup on the path to success. Deadline is March 28.

The Hitachi Foundation says its Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneur Program “identifies and highlights leaders who are using the power of business to fight poverty in the United States.” Those whose entrepreneurial efforts are animated by faith principles are encouraged to apply. Eligible entrepreneurs are those “intending to lift low-wealth people out of poverty in the context of their business.” These, the foundation explained, “could range from creating quality jobs, producing new products and services or devising management strategies that propel the business and low-income people forward.”

Hitachi Foundation will also host up to ten finalists in Washington for a “two-day networking event with peers and field leaders.”

Applicants must have started a business that is now between one and five years old and the entrepreneur must have launched the business before reaching age 30. In addition, the business must be generating revenue for at least the last 12 months. The business can be legally structured as a for-profit or nonprofit enterprise, but must be a revenue-generating model and not rely primarily on grants or donations.

Investors Circle, an early-stage network of “angels, venture capitalists, foundations and family offices” that has invested in 269 enterprises, is collaborating with Hitachi Foundation on the award program.

Those who thought Pope Francis was going to be a “a jolly, badly-dressed, Gaia-worshipping baby-boomer from 1972 received a severe jolt of reality today”, says Sam Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research. In today’s National Review Online, Gregg is quick to clear up any thoughts of the new pope being a relativist or pop culture phenom. While Pope Francis has made it clear from the very beginning of his pontificate that he wishes to draw attention to the poor, he’s not simply concerned with money matters:

Pope Francis underscored the point when he revealed that one of the reasons he chose his name was to draw attention to the deep spiritual poverty that he sees as characterizing the West. Poverty, Pope Francis reminded the assembled diplomats, goes beyond the material dimension. That of course is a classic Christian insight. In the sight of God, everyone — whatever their economic class, sex, or skin color — is inadequate and needy. And the spiritual poverty which Francis especially has in mind has a name: It’s called moral relativism and skepticism.

Gregg points out that the pope’s words draw on natural law, “the truth to which he refers is written into the very nature of all human beings.” On this basis, Francis calls out for renewal of dialogue between Christians, non-Christians and non-believers.

Francis’s point is that establishing better relations can’t be just about short-term accommodations that try to paper over deep differences of view with lots of diversity talk. Nor can we be content with establishing skepticism about truth claims as the only acceptable context for discussion. We need to be willing to argue about our differences, and to do so on grounds acceptable to all. And that means we must engage in the even more difficult preliminary work of establishing just what those grounds are.

Read “Pope Francis and the Return of Natural Law” at National Review Online.

Blog author: ehilton
Friday, March 22, 2013

(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

The lives and deaths of cities in America is certainly topical. Drive through Detroit if you don’t think so. On one hand, block after block of decimated homes create a landscape of, let’s be honest, death. On the other, people in the city forge ahead, turning empty city blocks into burgeoning urban gardens, seeking out entrepreneurial options in cheap real-estate and office leases. Do the lives and deaths of cities “just happen” or is there planning involved?

courtesy of

courtesy of

Jane Jacobs, wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in 1961, speaking out against what constituted much of urban planning. She said, in one interview, that urban planners were rather “hopeless”:

The chief planner of Philadelphia was showing me around. First we walked down a street that was just crammed with people, mostly black people, walking on the sidewalks and sitting on the stoops and leaning out of the windows. I think he was taking me on this street to show me what he regarded as a bad part of the city, to contrast it with what he was going to show me next. I liked this street—people were using it and enjoying it and enjoying each other. Then we went over to the parallel street that had just undergone urban renewal. It was filled with very sterile housing projects. The planner was very proud of it, and he urged me to stand at a certain spot to see what a great vista it had. I thought the whole thing was extremely boring—there was nobody on the street. All the time we were there, which was too long for me, I saw only one little boy. He was kicking a tire in the gutter. The planner told me that they were progressing to the next street over, where we had come from, which he obviously regarded as disgraceful. I said that all the people were over there, that there were no people here, and what did he think of that? What he obviously would have liked was groups of people standing and admiring the vistas that he had created. You could see that nothing else mattered to him. So I realized that not only did he and the people he directed not know how to make an interesting or a humane street, but they didn’t even notice such things and didn’t care.


irsIf a worker owes their employer thousands of dollars and refuses to pay the debt, should they be fired or have their wages garnished? What if the employer is the federal government?

Astoundingly, more than 100,000 federal employees owe more than $1 billion in federal taxes. To provide an incentive for them to pay up, a House committee approved legislation that would require the firing of government workers who are “seriously tax delinquent.”

Blog author: jsunde
Friday, March 22, 2013

Tyler Cowen has an interesting column in last Sunday’s New York Times, arguing that despite run-of-the-mill objections to “cold” and “heartless” economic analysis, economics is, as a science, “egalitarian at its core”:

Economic analysis is itself value-free, but in practice it encourages a cosmopolitan interest in natural equality. Many economic models, of course, assume that all individuals are motivated by rational self-interest or some variant thereof; even the so-called behavioral theories tweak only the fringes of a basically common, rational understanding of people. The crucial implication is this: If you treat all individuals as fundamentally the same in your theoretical constructs, it would be odd to insist that the law should suddenly start treating them differently.

James Poulos offers an healthy response, reminding us that “no matter how solid the economic foundation for moral egalitarianism, there’s a thing or two of great moral significance that’s missing.”

Indeed, in attempting to avoid the cliché of cold-heartedness, Cowen risks perpetuating a different one: that economists ignore the mystery and spiritual significance of humanity and human behavior. The instilling of egalitarian sensibilities when it comes to seeing people as people is one thing, but part of this reorientation needs to include a recognition of the features that make each us different. Leveling things is helpful when the earth is rocky, but the bigger problem for the modern economist seems to be his propensity to create craters in the pretty green grass. (more…)

According to a new study by the Urban Institute, “when it comes to saving, owning a home, paring down debt, and growing a retirement nest egg, those under age 40 have stagnated as their parents’ generation accumulated.” Average household net worth, even after the ripples of “the Great Recession,” nearly doubled from 1983 to 2010, but not for those born after GenXers or Millennials (those born after 1970). In fact, the average inflation-adjusted wealth in 2010 for young adults was 7 percent below similarly aged individuals in 1983.

The report, titled “Lost Generations? Wealth Building among Young Americans,” tells this story:

Over at the Hang Together blog, Greg Forster takes a long look at the images of the gospel as “pearl” and “leaven” and the implications for Christian engagement and creation of culture, particularly within the context of the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate:

The main difficulty we seem to have in discussing Christian cultural activity is the strain between two anxieties. These anxieties create unnecessary divisions between brothers, because those who are more worried about making sure the gospel is leaven view those who are more worried about making sure the gospel is pearl as people who are leading the church astray, and vice versa. We treat people as opponents when we could be treating them as allies, if we could just get over our fears.

The question of what it means to be a Christian line worker on a factory floor gets precisely at many of the thorny issues that have led to so many debates, disputes, and controversies over cultural engagement (or transformation), the “two kingdoms,” natural law, and faith and work.

Teachings of Jesus 11 of 40. parable of the pearl of great price. Jan Luyken etching. Bowyer Bible (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, March 22, 2013

What Principles Are Important for Human Flourishing?
Jay W. Richards, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

Restoring the culture to the glory of God: it’s the reason we at IFWE are working to inspire Christians to live out a theology that integrates faith, work, and economics. If Christians do this, together we can bring about human flourishing.

The Material and Moral: What Marxism Misconstrues
Nicholas Freiling, Values & Capitalism

In short, Marx believed material deprivation is the source of social, political and intellectual conflict. Instead of viewing a strong moral consciousness as the source of economic prosperity, he blamed the lack of prosperity for moral decline.

Property from the Inside
Adam J. MacLeod, Public Disourse

While the state has a role to play in promoting the common good, left unchecked by constitutional strictures the regulatory state will crowd private property out of public life. Without private property, our nation would be impoverished not only materially but also morally.

Homeschooling and the Attack on Religious Freedom
Nathan Oppman, FRC Blog

This is not merely a question of the freedom to homeschool but a question of who determines what children are taught. In other words it is a question of religious freedom.