In an audio commentary produced for Ave Maria Radio and Catholic Exchange, Paul Kengor says it is “incumbent among Catholics to learn more about this blessed concept of subsidiarity.” As part of this education, he recommends “The Principle of Subsidiarity” by David A. Bosnich in Acton’s Religion & Liberty quarterly.

Here’s some of what Kengor, a professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College, had to say:

I’m convinced, from study after study, and years of observing public policy, from the New Deal to the Great Society, that addressing poverty in the narrow federal, collectivist way preached by modern progressives—in the language of “social justice”—is counter-productive, fostering rather than lessening dependency.

In fact, the long experience of economies shows that those titled toward collectivism—to a single central government—become so unproductive and lacking in prosperity that they can’t produce the very wealth that progressives want to redistribute in the first place. That’s the self-defeating danger that social-justice engineers face as they shift private charity to a federal collective.

Listen to Kengor’s audio commentary, “Subsidiarity Over Social Justice,” and access the transcript, at Catholic Exchange.

The Italian online daily Ilsussidiario.net recently turned to Rev. Robert A. Sirico with a a couple of key questions about the financial crisis: “So what went wrong with our culture that turned up so badly in our markets? Or were the cause and effect reversed: something went wrong in our markets that turned up badly in our culture?”

Here’s part of the exchange:

Have moral or cultural causes contributed to the financial crisis? If so, what are they?

One could point to a wide variety of moral and cultural failures that precipitated the current financial crisis. These would be the same kind of moral failure that we could find in all of social interactions. A late friend once wisely noted something to the effect that the market would always manifest every vice and virtue that men exhibit in free inter-action, because that is in fact what the market is.

What is different in this case is that through a series of political inducements, people have been tempted to act in ways that they might not have otherwise. In the economic literature this is called “the moral hazard”. Moral hazard takes place when people are unable to see the risks associated with their actions because of some obstruction or distortion by a third party which has introduced an information asymmetry.

This is what happened in the US, which quickly metastasized internationally, in the housing market. Intervention into this market through the Federal National Mortgage Association and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae – both of which incidentally were and remain government-sponsored enterprises) essentially induced people to take out loans they could not afford and banks to offer loans to people who did not have a credit history indicating they could repay them. I might also add that a number of Congressmen and Senators saw Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae as vehicles for using taxpayers’ money to build up reliable voting constituencies.

Read “The Cultural and Moral Failures that Precipitated the Crash” on Ilsussidiario.net.

Over at MercatorNet, there is a discussion taking place on the “world’s most dangerous idea.” Entries include the idea that human beings are no more dignified than animals, that the cheap, abundant information found on the Internet is a good thing, and that the holding of dogmas is only for the narrow-minded. But the one “dangerous idea” most interesting to PowerBlog readers may that “capitalism is the most ethical form economics.”

This last contribution comes from Prof. Jeffrey Langan, chairman of the Liberal Studies Department, Holy Cross College at Notre Dame University. Langan’s argument is that the victory of capitalism over communism and fascism in the 20th century has blinded us to the serious defects and “real injustices that are part of its foundation, history, principles, and ethos.”

Langan argues that capitalism is based on a “subtly dangerous materialism,” that the greatest period of capital formation took place as a result of King Henry VIII’s theft of Church property, that self-interest is simply a euphemism for avarice, that capitalism promotes usury and the rule of the strong over the weak, and lowers the wages of the workers. Not content to stick to these very negative economic consequences, Langan then asserts that capitalism promotes “the widespread use of birth control, abortion, easy divorce, and now gay marriage. Children in proudly capitalist families are frequently beset with alcohol, drug and sex addictions.” He concludes that “[c]apitalism is not compatible with the principles of equitable human development” and that we are better off avoided the term “capitalism” as such.

These are bold accusations to make, especially in such a short commentary, and even more so when they are made without a shred of evidence. (Langan writes that footnotes are available upon request, but he has yet to reply to my request for them.) Though he does not use the term “distributist,” it seems that Langan has been strongly influenced by the critique of capitalism offered by that school of thought, the problems of which have been dissected by Thomas E. Woods Jr. in the 2008 Acton monograph Beyond Distributism, in an Acton University Lecture I gave in June, and partially taken up in a previous blog post of mine.

Without the footnotes, it is difficult to refute Langan’s core arguments about the theory and history of capitalism. Part of me wants to think that Langan is being deliberately provocative, exaggerating his case of rhetorical effect, or even arguing tongue-in-cheek. But if Langan truly believes that supporters of capitalism are blind to its defects, he is purposely ignoring what Catholic social teaching had to say about capitalism, and especially Pope John Paul II’s qualified acceptance of an ethical form of capitalism in the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus (see especially n. 42) as well as his preference for terms other than “capitalism” to describe the market/free/business economy. More recently, Pope Benedict XVI has also gone to great lengths to recall the benefits as well as the challenges of economic globalization in last year’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate (see, again, n.42).

What is even more damning of Langan’s critique of capitalism is that it provides cover for those who wish to deny the connection of human freedom and responsibility that is the result of our God-given dignity. If human beings are simply driven by their desire for even-increasing amounts of material goods and do not posses the ability to say “no” or even “enough,” then there really is no responsible use of freedom and we would be nothing other than clever animals. It can and should be admitted that an unethical form of capitalism can treat people as nothing more than consumers. But if this is the anthropology at the root of capitalism, if human beings are not capable of living freely and responsibly, why shouldn’t we opt just as easily for those 20th-century ideologies of communism or fascism? Do we favor capitalism just because it gives us more stuff and makes fewer demands of us? Far from being a dangerous idea, ethical capitalism is what we need now more than ever.

Thomson Reuters has issued a new report that shows church-run hospitals provide better quality care more efficiently than other secular hospitals.

Jean Chenoweth, senior vice president for performance improvement and 100 Top Hospitals programs at Thomson Reuters, says, “Our data suggest that the leadership of health systems owned by churches may be the most active in aligning quality goals and monitoring achievement of mission across the system.”

It is certainly true that Christian engagement of issues surrounding health care are essential for renewing our system of care. Dr. Donald P. Condit makes this case in his book, A Prescription for Health Care Reform.

If the report accurately reflects the superiority of religious hospitals as opposed to “secular” counterparts, we might speculate a bit at the reasons behind this. It may well be due, in part at least, to the comprehensive view of the human person informed by a religious, and specifically Christian, anthropology.

That is, we are not simply physical beings, but exist with both material and spiritual aspects, body and soul.

Here’s a link to the study in PDF.

Below the break is the story from ENI/RNS.
(more…)

When it comes to the sophistication of its coverage of religious affairs, the Economist is better than most other British publications (admittedly not a high standard) which generally insist on trying to read religion through an ideologically-secularist lens. Normally the Economist tries to present religion as a slightly more complex matter than “stick-in-the-mud-conservatives”-versus-“open-minded-enlightened-progressivists”, though it usually slips in one of the usual secularist bromides, as if to reassure its audiences that it’s keeping a critical distance.
(more…)

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I discuss whether the Environmental Protection Agency’s planned regulation of carbon emissions can be justified from a Christian perspective.  The EPA has found that carbon emissions endanger “public health and welfare,” and it is on track to begin regulating vehicle and power plant emissions.

Environmentalists claim that policies targeting carbon emissions, such as EPA regulation or a cap-and-trade program, will stimulate the economy by creating green jobs.  Unfortunately, this is not the case – the government does not have the ability to create jobs.

Rather than stimulating the American economy, full regulation of carbon emissions will damage it severely.  Essentially, a cap or a regulatory burden on carbon emissions would create energy scarcity, making it just as expensive to purchase energy from fossil fuels as it is to purchase energy from “renewable” sources.  The supply of efficient energy would drop in order to encourage production and consumption of inefficient energy, and prices would skyrocket as a result.

Barack Obama himself admitted, as a presidential candidate, that rising energy prices form a crucial component of emissions regulation.

It’s not just energy prices that will rise.  Prices for virtually all other goods and services will rise as well, because it takes energy to produce them.  It takes energy to get a vegetable from a farmer’s field to your kitchen table.  It takes energy to plant the vegetable, cultivate it, harvest it, transport it, keep it fresh, sell it in a lighted grocery store, drive it from the grocery store to the house, and cook it.

If energy expenses increase at every stage of the vegetable’s journey, what will happen to the price of the vegetable?  It will rise.  And rising prices will have the worst impact on the poor.  Before Christians jump on the bandwagon of carbon politics, they would do well to think through not just the good intentions of climate policy, but the real-world consequences.

Read “In the ‘Green’ Economy, the Poor Pay More” on the Acton website.

On the National Catholic Register, Andrew Abela confesses to a “nagging suspicion that teaching business ethics in a university is not delivering on what is expected of it.” The question is both concrete and academic: Abela is the chairman of the Department of Business and Economics at The Catholic University of America and an associate professor of marketing. He was awarded the Acton Institute’s Novak Award in 2009. Here, he explains the problem with “amoral” business attitudes:

… we often face the problem that in our business ethics course, we teach students to respect human dignity, but then in marketing, they are taught to sell as much stuff as possible regardless of the good of the consumer; in finance, to maximize profits above all else; in economics, that human beings are nothing more than utility maximizers who find their happiness by consuming more and more stuff. Not explicitly, perhaps. But implicitly, that is the message they get from these courses.

If, after you graduate, real life presents any tension between the lessons you learned in your business ethics course and the lessons from your finance (or marketing or management) course, guess which is more likely to win? “I’ve got to do my job,” our graduates think, “and my job is finance”; therefore, I do what my finance class taught me.

The difficulty here is that when business runs this way, according to supposedly amoral theory, we invariably end up with the greed-induced global malaise we are facing now. Why? Because “amoral” business leads to immoral business: Without a strong notion of the good built into our concept of business, without a strong ethical foundation within the theory, business theory cannot provide sufficient protection from temptation. If businesses were run by machines, we might have such a thing as an ethically neutral business theory. But businesses are run by human beings who suffer from original sin and are therefore susceptible to temptation.

Read “Will Teaching Business Ethics Make Business More Ethical?” on the website of the National Catholic Register (reprinted from Legatus Magazine).

Last month, in “Europe’s Choice: Populate or Perish,” Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg observed:

At a deeper level … Europe’s declining birth-rate may also reflect a change in intellectual horizons. A cultural outlook focused upon the present and disinterested in the future is more likely to view children as a burden rather than a gift to be cared for in quite un-self-interested ways. Individuals and societies that have lost a sense of connection to their past and have no particular interest in their long-term destiny aren’t likely to be worried about a dearth of children. Here Europe’s generation of 1968—which promoted a radical rupture with the past and is intensely suspicious of anything that might broaden people’s outlooks beyond the usual politically-correct causes—has much to answer for.

In “America’s Parent Trap,” Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson picks up the same theme noting that, “Our society does not — despite rhetoric to the contrary — put much value on raising children.” He takes a closer look at tax policy, among other factors, and the way it financially punishes parents.

While having a child is a deeply personal decision, it’s also shaped by culture, religion, economics and government policy. “No one has a good answer” as to why fertility varies among countries, says sociologist Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University. Eroding religious belief in Europe may partly explain lowered birth rates. In Japan, young women may be rebelling against their mothers’ isolated lives of child-rearing. General optimism and pessimism count. Hopefulness fueled America’s baby boom. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, says Cherlin, “anxiety for the future” depressed birth rates in Russia and Eastern Europe.

In poor societies, people have children to improve their economic well-being by increasing the number of family workers and providing support for parents in their old age. In wealthy societies, the logic often reverses. Government now supports the elderly, diminishing the need for children. By some studies, the safety nets for retirees have reduced fertility rates by 0.5 children in the United States and almost 1.0 in Western Europe, reports economist Robert Stein in the journal National Affairs. Similarly, some couples don’t have children because they don’t want to sacrifice their lifestyles to the time and expense of a family.

We need to avoid Western Europe’s mix of high taxes, low birth rates and feeble economic growth. Young Americans already face a bleak labor market that cannot instill confidence about having children. Piling on higher taxes won’t help. “If higher taxes make it more expensive to raise children,” says demographer Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, “people will think more about having another child.” That seems common sense, despite the multiple influences on becoming parents.

Read Samuelson’s column on the Washington Post website.

On the new Reclaiming the Culture radio show, host Dolores Meehan recently interviewed Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico on the subject of “The Principle of Subsidiarity and the Service to the Poor.” Here’s how Meehan describes the show’s mission:

Bay Area Catholics are some of the strongest Catholics in the country. Reclaiming the Culture grew out of the desire to show that the Catholic Church in the Bay Area has the resources to confront the prevailing secular culture. Our purpose is to introduce great thinkers to listeners who may not have the opportunity to pursue an authentic, classical, Catholic education at, say, the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley. We see this as a chance to share the wisdom of the Catholic Church, which is far greater than many people realize, and is easily up to the task of engaging the prevailing secular culture. We want to move beyond catechesis and apologetics, important as they are, and enter into the arena where faith meets reason.

Click on the audio player below and listen to the interview.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Join us on Thursday, August 12, at Derby Station in Grand Rapids as we continue our Acton on Tap series, a casual and fun night out to discuss important and timely ideas with friends. The event is scheduled for 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm and discussion starts at 6:30.

American Exceptionalism is a newsworthy topic as some on both the political left and right lament that America’s greatness is slipping away. But what does American Exceptionalism mean and how did the idea take root? What are some of the thoughts of those who say American Exceptionalism is a dangerous myth? What are the religious connections to the idea? Ray Nothstine will offer some remarks on the topic related to American history, theology, the presidency, military history, morality, and economics. But this is really a topic that call for a lot of friendly discussion from the attendees so he promises to keep his thoughts short. We want to hear from you.

Find the Facebook Event Page.