I had the privilege of giving the opening lecture last night for the “Limited Government and the Rule of Law” conference taking place here in Grand Rapids this weekend. The talk was on “Christian Origins of Limited Government,” and was followed by an excellent Q&A session.

One of the questions had to do with economic consequences or effects of the Fall into sin, particularly with respect to the curse. There are of course myriad implications for economics from the curse, starting first with the recognition of the toilsome nature of labor in the fallen world:

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

Presumably this means that human work isn’t as productive as it would be otherwise. One practical effect of this is scarcity. Fallen work doesn’t produce as many goods and services as non-fallen work; and it would seem there are in fact both qualitative and quantitative consequences for the fruits of human labor. The noetic effects of sin would have some implications here, as well, as it may be that Adam’s insights into the nature of the world were adversely effected. Where he had previously known the nature of things by immediate perception, this insight may well have been clouded. Certainly, as Abraham Kuyper notes, we no longer possess that direct insight that Adam had before the Fall.

So if we understand economics to be, at least from one perspective, reflection on the dynamic between limited resources and unlimited needs, wants, or desires (as Victor Claar described it in his talk on envy earlier this week), then we have clear implications for economics on the scarcity side stemming from the curse.

But I would also argue that the curse has impacted the other half of the dynamic as well. Our desires have become disordered, inordinate, and confused. We want the things we shouldn’t, and we want the things we should want more than we should want them. The acquisitive, grasping, desiring side of human nature is unmoored from and detached from its natural human limits and orientation. We see evidence of this disorder in the aspect of the curse that is applied to the wife: “Your desire will be for your husband, / and he will rule over you.”

So if the curse was the introduction of scarcity into human life, it also was the introduction of desires no longer appropriately limited by obedience to God’s will. Economics in this fallen world deals directly with these (and other) consequences of the curse.

Dismal science, indeed!

Herman Selderhuis

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. For the Winter 2012 Religion & Liberty issue, now available online, we interviewed Reformation scholar Herman Selderhuis. Refo500, under the direction of Selderhuis, wants to help people understand the meaning and lasting significance of the Reformation. Selderhuis and Refo500 are already playing an essential role in promoting the anniversary and Acton is honored to be a part of that endeavor as well.

For myself, Reformation study was critical to my own spiritual formation. Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand is just one book that has had a lasting impact in my life.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of Witness by Whittaker Chambers. We have a superb article by Richard Reinsch on the deep influence of Witness and its relevance today. Reinsch authored the exceptional Whittaker Chambers: The Spirit of a Counterrevolutionary in 2010. I reviewed the book in a past issue of R&L.

James Franko contributed an essay from a classically liberal perspective on “A Case for Limiting Caesar.” I’ve contributed a review of Mark Tooley’s new book Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century.

The “In the Liberal Tradition” figure is Francis Hutcheson. Hutcheson, of course, would do much to shape the notion of rights in the American colonies.

Let me also say something about the expansion of Rev. Robert Sirico’s column for this issue. We have excerpted a passage from his new book Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy. It will be available from Regnery in May of this year. Anybody who is an admirer or feels they can learn something from Rev. Sirico will cherish this publication. It really serves to remind us all just how much the Acton Institute and its mission makes sense.

There is more in this issue. Check out the editor’s notes for all the details.

Steven Garber, principal and founder of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture, believes that what kind of school our children attend is far less important than what kind of people they are shaped into:
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Blog author: mvandermaas
Thursday, April 12, 2012
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Victor Claar

Victor Claar at Acton On Tap

If you weren’t able to join us at Derby Station in East Grand Rapids last night for Acton On Tap, you missed a great discussion on the topic of Envy: Socialism’s Deadly Sin with Dr. Victor Claar of Henderson State University. Acton’s own Dr. Jordan Ballor opened the evening’s conversation with some theological reflections on the nature of envy, with Claar following up with his discussion of envy from an economic perspective.

Again, if you weren’t able to make it, you missed out. Plan on joining us for the next Acton On Tap on May 10th, featuring Ray Nothstine; rumor has it that the topic may be President Calvin Coolidge. You can listen to last night’s presentation using the audio player below:

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Michael Miller, a Research Fellow and Director of Media at the Acton Institute, will be participating in an economy panel discussion held on April 17th at 7pm in the Wege Ballroom of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich. The focus of the discussion will be economic freedom and the proper role of the state and the individual in creating and preserving conditions necessary for human flourishing and prosperity.

As Lord Acton stated, “liberty is the delicate fruit of a mature civilization.” A deep analysis of liberty within the economic context, among others, can aid in creating an understanding of how liberty can best be preserved and how various actors can work towards this goal.

Miller will be joined on the panel by Dr. Molly Patterson, a Professor of Political Science at Aquinas College, Jarrett Skorup, Research Associate for Online Engagement at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and Dr. Daniel Giedeman, a Professor of Economics at Grand Valley State University.

The event is free and open to the public. Following the discussion, audience members will have the opportunity to ask questions of the panel.  We welcome you to come witness intellectual dialogue on this very important topic, and have the opportunity to take part in the conversation as well.

Scientific American has announced that rich people aren’t nice.  In fact, they are less compassionate, more unfair and greedier than poor people. These allegations are based on the findings of two Berkeley psychologists, Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner.

There were a number of studies involved, and some significant problems are evident. For instance, Scientific American reports that factors “we know affect compassionate feelings, such as gender [and] ethnicity” were controlled. However, there is no explanation as to how gender or ethnicity affects compassion. Is there one ethnic group that is most compassionate? Is one gender always less compassionate than another?

Another study reportedly manipulated ‘class feeling’:

The researchers asked participants to spend a few minutes comparing themselves either to people better off or worse off than themselves financially. Afterwards, participants were shown a jar of candy and told that they could take home as much as they wanted. They were also told that the leftover candy would be given to children in a nearby laboratory. Those participants who had spent time thinking about how much better off they were compared to others ended up taking significantly more candy for themselves–leaving less behind for the children.

It is unclear as to how participants’ thoughts were measured, or whether or not participants were given some sort of indication of the neediness of the children involved. (Were the kids hungry? Malnourished? Did the kids “need” candy?)

The point of the Scientific American article is this:  ‘…the most powerful among us may be the least likely to make decisions that help the needy and the poor.’ And the assumption is that money made them this way. Even worse is the assumption that the needy and poor are in no way capable of helping themselves; they have to wait until someone comes along and gives them something – anything – to get them out of poverty. Those in need are just the poor kids down the hall without any candy, hoping someone will pass along the leftovers.

Money is not the teacher of morality, compassion, fairness or empathy. Money doesn’t supply a person with cultural or moral formation. We do that – as participants in our own culture, society, religious institutions and  government. Americans value compassion, but we also value hard work, creativity, initiative and personal responsibility. Do we want a culture of compassionate but needy folks awaiting leftover candy, or do want a culture that highlights empathy and self-reliance, partnership with the poor rather than paternalism? A free and virtuous society will be built on the latter.

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, April 12, 2012
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The Hunger Games may lack a single reference to religion or God, but as Jordan J. Ballor and Todd Steen point out in an article for First Things, the books and film presents a secularized alternative to the Christian virtue of hope:
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Eric Metaxas, author of the recently published biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, sat down with the Alliance Defense Fund to speak on the role of the church in public policy and how Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s example is especially relevant today. Metaxas, also the author of a biography on William Wilberforce,  is slated to deliver a lecture at Acton University on June 14 and the keynote address at the Acton Institute’s Annual Dinner on October 24th. Click on the links to register online.

The Obama administration has placed a high priority on making higher education affordable. In January, President Obama spoke to students at the University of Michigan about steering American colleges and universities towards more “responsible” tuition costs.

It’s an admirable goal. According to the College Board, from the 2001-2012 school years, college tuition and costs at public universities increased at 5.6 percent a year more than the cost of inflation. For the 15 percent of consumers responsible for it, college debt totaled $900 billion in the third quarter of 2011, according to a recent Federal Reserve Bank of New York report. Such staggering figures invite questions not only about debt, but ones of morality.

The Bible does not shy away from the issue of debt. Psalm 37:21 demands that debtors pay back what was borrowed. In both the Old and New Testaments, the system of debt is likened to slavery. The issue carries moral implications for both borrower and lender. With as many outstanding college debtors as there are graduates (also from the NY Fed study), the financing of American higher education is not sustainable on its current path.

But Obama’s proposed plan, which includes a $10 billion addition to three federal grant programs, complicates itself through size and scope. Obama’s plan is performance based. It will apply sweeping categorical evaluations to public colleges and universities in varying fiscal circumstances. Schools that constrain net tuition increases will be rewarded. Those that don’t risk losing federal assistance.

The proposal forces the White House into the contentious and ongoing debate about the funding of state universities. Many states, California, for instance, have already imposed massive tuition increases as a result of equally enormous cuts to state aid.

Instead, look to Texas, another state that has faced significant education-related budget struggles in recent years. At last month’s SXSWedu conference, Texas A&M-San Antonio introduced an affiliation with Alamo Colleges, a group of local community colleges, and local high schools to give a number of accepted high school juniors a college degree at the age of 20, all for under $10,000.

The partnership, which was detailed by Thomas K. Lindsay at National Review Online, offers a bachelor’s degree of applied arts and sciences in information technology. The A&M system of schools has also announced plans to offer two additional degrees under the same program. With continued success, the model could potentially be expanded to suit a range of degrees.

The Texas A&M model, unlike the Obama administration’s, is locally-based and promises an efficient, cost-driven approach to higher education. It presents a model of loaning and spending that may be closer to Scripture’s ethical call for fair and honest fiscal relationships.

If more public colleges and universities follow suit by establishing programs similar to A&M-San Antonio’s, the nation could take a large step towards a more educated population with a strong sense of fiscal and moral responsibility.

Did you know Che Guevara was at heart an Irish freedom fighter? In this week’s Acton Commentary (published April 11), Samuel Gregg looks at how the left “has been remarkably successful in distorting people’s knowledge of Communism’s track-record.” The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
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