Under the policies and leadership of the Obama administration, the economic lives of struggling blacks are now worse, not better, than they were three years ago. “If the president were to give an account of his administration’s advancement of African Americans he would be hard pressed to describe anything significant beyond funneling redistributed wealth into government bureaucracies, a traditional path to the middle class for blacks,” says Anthony B. Bradley in this week’s Acton Commentary (published July 11). The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
In the current issue of Books & Culture, artist, writer, speaker, and cultural influencer Makoto Fujimura has written a review of Wisdom & Wonder: a fresh translation of the last 10 chapters of Volume 3 in the Common Grace set. Volume 1 is slated to be released in early 2013.
Fujimura begins the review expressing his indebtedness to Kuyper whose experiences cover a variety of areas reminiscent of Fujimura’s upbringing and are still very much relevant today though they were written more than a century ago:
As an artist of Christian faith with a father as a research scientist, brother as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, mother as an educator, grandfather as a governmental official in the education department of postwar Japan (he was asked to document the aftereffects of the atomic destruction in Hiroshima two weeks after the bombing), and wife as a psychotherapist, I am indebted to Abraham Kuyper. Who else could cover the range of disciplines, as in a vast sweep of historical reflections, to integrate them and begin to make sense of the way they cohere?
One of Kuyper’s distinctives was addressing the modern day “secular vs. Christian” debate. He did not advocate for any division in areas of life in terms of their ownership. In fact, one of Kuyper’s most famous quotes is, (more…)
The Preacher says that God “has set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV). This is within the broader context of his discussion of the paradox of exploring the wonder of God’s creation and the vanity of human striving in a fallen world.
But the more immediate context is a discussion of work. In verse 9 he asks, “What do workers gain from their toil?” A bit earlier he discusses the meaningless of work, but concludes that “a person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil.”
The entire book of Ecclesiastes is an excellent primer on relating human happiness to material and spiritual goods. These sections on work and satisfaction are some of the most significant along these lines. For as the Preacher continues, such “satisfaction” in work “is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?”
So work is both significant for our satisfaction but no substitute for eternal things. This resonates quite well with the picture of work we get in Lester DeKoster’s book on the subject. It also brings to mind some of Arthur Brooks’ work on the social science of happiness and “earned success.” One caveat, or at least necessary frame of reference for the discussion of earned success, it seems to me, is this idea that our enjoyment of things on this earth is to be properly oriented to and subjoined under the higher things of God.
If, as Augustine put it, “our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord,” then whatever happiness we derive from work, earned success, and everything else “under the sun” must be appreciated as the gifts of God that they are and properly valued as such. Such a perspective helps keep us from confusing heaven and earth, so to speak, and turning work, happiness, or anything else in the created order into an idol.
Andreas Widmer joins Rev. Robert Sirico on WORLD Magazine’s best business books of 2011-2012 list with The Pope & the CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard named as a top five book in business. Widmer is an Acton Research Fellow in Entrepreneurship and a 2012 Acton University lecturer. Here’s what David Bahnsen, senior vice president at a leading financial firm, had to say about Widmer’s book:
Many evangelicals are writing and reading about character in the corner office, integrity in the marketplace, and leadership in the boardroom—so it’s ironic that one of the best new books out is The Pope & the CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard, Andreas Widmer’s delightful summary of all he learned from the late Pope John Paul II. Widmer, who was a Swiss army guard before becoming a successful entrepreneur, shares key principles that any student of faith and business must not ignore.
Rev. Robert Sirico, Acton Institute president and co-founder, released Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, in late May and the book has been no stranger to critical acclaim ever since. The latest? Defending the Free Market cracks WORLD Magazine’s top five business books of the past year. Sirico’s book is critically necessary for 2012 says David Bahnsen, senior vice president at a leading financial firm:
Attacks on Mitt Romney’s time at private equity firm Bain Capital are political, of course, but they also illuminate a key debate: wealth creation vs. job creation. Some theorize that the pursuit of wealth by a few does not create jobs—but in practice, as Robert Sirico shows in Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, job creation is a byproduct of the profit motive. Although Sirico did not set out in this book to spotlight 2012 politics or Bain Capital, he has produced a much-needed 200-page apologetic for free market morality.
“The most dangerous enemies of capitalism today are capitalists,” says Timothy P. Carney. “This is becoming clearer every day to people committed to free markets.”
The conservative and libertarian grassroots came to deeply distrust big business after the Wall Street bailouts and Obama’s stimulus and health care bills, both of which had big-business backing. Tea Party ire focused on subsidy-suckling businesses as much as at big-spending politicians.
Beltway conservatives have also joined in the fight against corporatism. Last spring, the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation all lined up against the Chamber of Commerce and pressed GOP congressmen to vote to kill the Export-Import Bank, which nonetheless was reauthorized by an overwhelming margin.
Republican politicians, despite being lobbied hard by their big-business donors and K Street advisers, are nevertheless moving slowly away from corporate welfare and toward free-market populism. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan wrote an op-ed in Forbes in 2009 titled “Down with Big Business” (a headline he borrowed from a 1979 Wall Street Journal op-ed).
And now academia’s free-market players are getting in on the game, beginning to rebuild the intellectual infrastructure to argue against corporatism. George Mason University’s Mercatus Center this week is kicking off a series of papers on cronyism and business-government collusion.
At the most recent Acton University, American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks gave a brilliant and paradigm-shifting speech on why advocates of free enterprise need to explain why it is the most moral, most fair, and most helpful system for alleviating poverty. You can download it here. (It’ll be the best 49 cents you spend this week.)
I was thrilled to discover today that AEI has created an animated video that covers much the same material as in his lecture. Watch the whole thing. (It’ll be the best 8 minutes you spend this week.)
The issue of tax avoidance is highly complex, notes Philip Booth. Not all avoidance is illegal or immoral—some is even encouraged by the government. So how, Booth asks, do Catholics determine what is acceptable?
Evasion involves illegally not paying tax that is due. This includes not declaring £10 received for babysitting and multi-million pound schemes by professional criminals. Evasion is wrong and it is also wrong to aid and abet somebody else in evasion, for example by paying a tradesperson cash when we know that they are not declaring the income. Even if the state does some immoral things with our money, we cannot choose whether we pay tax that is legally due. If we did, the state could not provide those things that are necessary for the common good.
Avoidance involves taking action within the law to pay less tax. This can include saving in a pension fund or giving to charity. The government often deliberately provides these avoidance mechanisms as part of a conscious policy and it would be wholly unreasonable to suggest that it was immoral to use them. The difficulty comes when individuals use quirks in Britain’s 11,000 page tax code – the longest in the world – to try to reduce their tax bill dramatically. That is precisely what has happened in recent high-profile cases such as that of the comedian Jimmy Carr. Is this more aggressive avoidance immoral?
This week we feature an interview with Diane Paddison, Chief Strategy Officer for Cassidy Turley in Dallas, Texas. She is the founder of non-profit 4WORD and author of the book Work, Love, Pray; Practical Wisdom for Young Professional Christian Women. For resources and to get connected into her community, follow her on Twitter @4wordwomen and Facebook.
Comparing artists is about as helpful as comparing beer or theologians; it often simply comes down to a matter of taste. However, just as with theologians, there are new insights to be gained from artists, even if they don’t turn out to be our favorite (I suppose the same holds with beer, as well.)
Robert Royal, in an article for the Catholic Education Resource Center, poses the question of whether or not French poet Paul Claudel might be the best modern Catholic poet ever.
I believe the greatest modern Catholic poet, and the most unknown, even to Catholics, is Paul Claudel (1868-1955). His family was modest, his father a local government official. A strong creative streak was hidden somewhere because his sister Camille was a gifted sculptor and student, then mistress, of Rodin — but that’s a story for another day. Claudel studied for a diplomatic career, but was also attracted to poetry. He succeeded spectacularly in both realms.
Some of his predecessors — Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud — were poetes maudits (“cursed poets”), who more than dabbled in sin and occultism. Yet all finished as Catholics. Rimbaud in particular — who stopped writing in his teens and is today sometime a patron saint of self-indulgent rock musicians — helped bring Claudel to belief.
Partly because of the marvelous realm beyond smug modern materialism that Claudel discovered in Rimbaud, he found himself in Notre Dame of Paris on Christmas Day 1886 during Vespers: “The children in the choir were singing what I later learned was the Magnificat. In an instant, my heart was touched and I believed.”
Royal points out that Claudel was not a starving artist, but had a thriving diplomatic career, and frankly, didn’t write that much while he was still actively working. Claudel has a great sense of humor, especially about himself, and while his work is rooted in French culture, most Christians will find themes with which they can identify. His poem, ‘The Day of Gifts’, particularly showcases his self-deprecation and knowledge of his sinfulness before God:
But if by chance You should have need of a lazy and imbecilic bore,If a prideful coward could prove useful to You, or perhaps a soiled ingrate,Or the sort of man whose hard heart shows up in a hard face—Well, anyway, You didn’t come to save the just but that other type that abounds,And if, miraculously, You run out of them elsewhere . . . Lord, I’m still around.