The core economic challenge facing the American experiment is not income inequality per se, but rather stratification and stagnation — weak mobility from the bottom of the income ladder and wage stagnation for the middle class. These challenges are bound up in a growing social crisis — a retreat from marriage, a weakening of religious and communal ties, a decline in workforce participation — that cannot be solved in Washington D.C. But economic and social policy can make a difference nonetheless, making family life more affordable, upward mobility more likely, and employment easier to find.

Ross Douthat, op-ed columnist at The New York Times and author of Bad Religion, will be joining the faculty of Acton University 2014 and featured as a plenary speaker. His writing has been called “prophetic;” Douthat has a keen eye for culture, religion, economy, politics – the milieu of American life. In Bad Religion, Douthat examines how America is becoming a nation of heretics, and the harm that is causing. David Wilezol of The Washington Times had this to say about Douthat’s book:

“Bad Religion” is a superb documentation of America’s crisis of faith, and a persuasive apology for the restoration of Christian orthodoxy in America. Mr. Douthat theorizes that the cause of America’s economic, political and moral slump has been a societal departure from our Christian roots, but the cause hasn’t been the fashionable atheism of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
By

All Saints church - C19 stained glass - geograph.org.uk - 1638069Kierkegaard once wrote, “The majority of men are subjective toward themselves and objective toward all others, terribly objective sometimes–but the real task is in fact to be objective toward one’s self and subjective toward all others.”

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Discounting the Unseen,” I explore our responsibility to presume the best of others, particularly with regards to what remains unknown or assumed about them. This is a significant task given our natural propensity to excuse ourselves and to condemn others. We might consider this to be a salutary if mundane exercise in moral imagination, described by Russell Kirk as “the power of ethical perception which strides beyond the barriers of private experience and events of the moment.”

To put it in economic terms, there should be a negative discount rate for the unseen actions and experiences of others. To put it in moral terms, we should have compassion on others, and moreover we should realize that the Christian is called “to defend and promote my neighbour’s honour and reputation.”

Work-Life-BalanceUpon the recent birth of our third child, I took a brief “vacation” from “work” (quotes intended). The time spent with family was special, joyous, and fulfilling, yet given the extreme lack of sleep, the sudden rush of behavioral backlash from Toddler Siblings 1 and 2, and a host of new scarcities and constraints, it was also a whole heap of work.

Needless to say, when I arrived back at the office just a week later, I felt like I was visiting a spa of sorts. Tasks and demands beckoned, but when lunchtime rolled around, I could at least eat my sandwich in peace. When I returned home later that evening, “play time” was ready and waiting, pre-packaged with a peculiar blend of laughter and stress, imagination and fatigue.

Point being: Sometimes “work” is a lot less work than “life.”

We’re all familiar with the cultural calls for “work-life balance,” prodding us to level out our “day jobs” with the deeper and broader things of “life.” But though such a notion may intend to cut through legitimate ills — idols of busyness, productivity, money, power — it’s not all that suited to the ultimate solution. (more…)

Blog author: ehilton
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
By

Madonna of Bruges

Madonna of Bruges

Robert M. Edsel’s The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History is a terrific book regarding a part of World War II history that few are aware of. One of Hitler’s goals was to amass great art for his personal collection, and to built a museum and a cathedral in Linz, Austria. What Edsel calls a “backwater of factories and smoke” would become, in Hitler’s vision, a cultural center to rival anything Europe had ever seen, and in no small part, to vindicate Hitler’s rejection from the Academy of Fine Art Vienna.

In addition, Herman Göring, Nazi Reichsmarschall, also wanted to create a personal collection of fine art, silver, and household items.

And thus, they plundered Europe.

While destroying “degenerate” art (such as Picasso’s and that of Jewish artists), the Nazis took hold of whatever they wished…and they wished for a lot. Göring literally stole train loads of art and furnishings. Michaelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges, the only sculpture of his to reside outside of Italy at the time, was unceremoniously dumped onto mattresses to be secreted away. The Bayeux Tapestry, a 224-foot long medieval work, dating from the 1070s, not only an art piece but a historical document, was hunted by Göring. After being moved to the Louvre for safe-keeping by the French, it was (as were thousands of other art pieces) crated up and hidden by the Nazis. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
By

Pope drafting encyclical on man and environment
Associated Press

Pope Francis has begun drafting an encyclical on ecology. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the document was still very much in its early stages and that no publication date has been set. He said it would be about ecology and more specifically the “ecology of man.”

Why should we care about school choice?
Michael McShane, AEI Ideas

School choice fundamentally challenges the organizational structure of schools by allowing parents to choose where their child goes to school, supported by public dollars.

Crony Capitalism vs. Market Morality
Timothy P. Carney, Reason

Finding an ethical lobbying line in a fallen age of corporatism.

The U.S. Puts ‘Moderate’ Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Emma Green, The Atlantic

A new Pew study reveals complex questions about First Amendment rights.

On January 14, as Brad Chacos so perfectly put it for PC World, “a Washington appeals court ruled that the FCC’s net neutrality rules are invalid in an 81-page document that included talk about cat videos on YouTube.” Reactions have been varied. Joe Carter recently surveyed various arguments in his latest explainer. For my part, I recommend the German, ordoliberal economist Walter Eucken as a guide for evaluating net neutrality, which as Joe Carter put it, “[a]t its simplest … is the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally and that every website … should all be treated the same when it comes to giving users the bandwidth to reach the internet-connected services they prefer.” (more…)

In the latest EconTalk podcast, Nina Munk, journalist and author of The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty, talks about how she spent six years following Jeffrey Sachs and the evolution of the Millennium Villages Project — an attempt to jumpstart a set of African villages in hopes of discovering a new template for development.

Munk details the great optimism at the beginning of the project and the discouraging results after six years of high levels of aid. As Munk notes, Sach’s story is one of the great lessons in unintended consequences and the complexity of the development process.

Click here to listen to the podcast.