The Summer issue of City Journal features a piece worth reading by Guy Sorman titled “Economics Does Not Lie.” The paper includes weighty arguments favoring a free market economic system and the author does a good job explaining the rationale of those who criticize a free economy. Sorman says:

If economics is finally a science, what, exactly, does it teach? With the help of Columbia University economist Pierre-André Chiappori, I have synthesized its findings into ten propositions. Almost all top economists—those who are recognized as such by their peers and who publish in the leading scientific journals—would endorse them (the exceptions are those like Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs, whose public pronouncements are more political than scientific). The more the public understands and embraces these propositions, the more prosperous the world will become.

These are the ten propositions put forward by Sorman:

1. The market economy is the most efficient of all economic systems.

2. Free trade helps economic development.

3. Good institutions help development. (governments & rule of law)

4. The best measure of a good economy is its growth.

5. Creative destruction is the engine of economic growth.

6. Monetary stability, too, is necessary for growth; inflation is always harmful.

7. Unemployment among unskilled workers is largely determined by how much labor costs.

8. While the welfare state is necessary in some form, it isn’t always effective.

9. The creation of complex financial markets has brought about economic progress.

10. Competition is usually desirable.

Sorman adds:

These ten propositions should guide all economic policymaking, and to an increasing degree they do, worldwide. Does this mean that we’ve reached an “end of history” in economics, to borrow a phrase made famous by Francis Fukuyama, by way of Hegel and Alexandre Kojève? In one sense, perhaps: economic science will never rediscover the virtues of hyperinflation or industrial nationalization. Some critics charge that economics is not a science in the way that, say, physics is—after all, economists can’t make precise predictions, as an exact science can. But this isn’t quite true: economists can predict that certain bad policies will lead necessarily to catastrophe. If economics, a human science, lacks the precision of physics, a natural one, it advances the same way—evolving from one theory to the next, each approximating a reality that eludes our complete grasp.

On a somewhat related note about economic policy, here is a review I wrote about the book Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity. The review appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of Religion and Liberty.

In the July 24 edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano , a couple of articles related how Italians are reading less than their European counterparts, with 62 percent of the population failing to read even a single book during the year. “Above all, reading increases innovative capabilities, the ability to understand phenomena and in the ultimate analysis, worker productivity,” said Federico Motta, president of the Italian association of publishers.

According to Motta’s article, only 31 percent of Italian 20-29 year-olds have a university degree, compared to 34 percent in Spain and 56 percent in the United Kingdom. This pattern mirrors the levels of unemployment among the young: 20.3 percent in Italy, 18 percent in Spain and 14 percent in the UK. By affecting educational levels and worker productivity, this lack of reading also results in less social mobility and opportunities for growth.

In human capital terms alone, the cost is evident, but there are even greater cultural ones. With the growth of television, cell phones, video games, the Internet, and iPods, it is no surprise that young Italians are not developing a taste for books, i.e., the ability to read, understand, and learn from greats such as Dante, Leopardi, and Manzoni.

And we can’t forget about the Book of Books. Can there be any hope for regaining the Christian roots of Europe without understanding the Bible? Here, at least, there is some reason for hope. The Italian Bishops Conference and in particular its National Catechism Office have promoted various initiatives that have successfully brought the Word of God to young people. Many Bible-study groups are also promoted by lay movements and parishes. This coming October, Pope Benedict XVI will launch a six-day reading of the entire Bible on Italian television, as the Vatican journalist John Allen has reported.

It will be interesting to see how the country reacts to such a public reminder of this lost treasure. Taking books seriously again will benefit Italy not only in terms of its economic productivity, but may also help rekindle its faith.

The fourth week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The fourth leg of the journey took the bikers from Salt Lake City to Denver, a total distance of 478 miles.

The “Shifting Gears” devotional at the beginning of this week focuses especially on the relationship of the church to culture. On day 22, the devotion notes that the “crucial pillars of civilization–education, family, government, and science–are in a state of decline and disrepair.” This may seem like a strange claim given all that humans have been able to accomplish over the last century or so. But if you look at the moral center of all these pursuits (for no human endeavor is “value” free), then the claim begins to make some sense.

Take, for example, the prayer from day 22, which focuses on gambling and the state of Utah’s position, which “forbids gambling and casinos.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer once reflected on a symptom of the lifelessness of modern society when he wrote,

One gambles with the future. Lotteries and gambling, which consume an inconceivable amount of money and often the daily bread of the worker, seek the improbable chance of luck in the future. The loss of past and future leaves life vacillating between the most brutish enjoyment of the moment and adventurous risk taking.

Similarly, the day 22 devotion observes “that today’s culture, including the church, has sunk into a passionless routine.”

And in the same way, the day 23 devotion examines the ambivalent relationship between church and culture, although it ends on a rather optimistic note: “A hundred years ago biking was a Sabbath sin. Now our whole troupe bikes to church Sunday mornings. We, like the land, are being redeemed.” Even so, a consistent theme of critique towards destructive aspects of modern life is present throughout these devotions. As the day 13 devotion concludes, “Constant busyness is not godliness.”

The overall focus of the bike tour is poverty. To get involved in charities that effectively integrate faith and compassion, visit the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide. Be sure to check out the charities working in Colorado. Denver, the destination at the end of week 4, is home to two previous Samaritan Award honorees, “Providence Homes” (2004) and “Joshua Station” (2007).

In his weekly column, the National Catholic Reporter‘s John Allen notes Pope Benedict XVI’s references to the environment during the recent World Youth Day events in Australia.

Allen writes:

Although the point didn’t get much traction amid the pageantry of World Youth Day, it’s a striking fact that the most frequent social or cultural concern cited by Pope Benedict XVI in Australia was the environment. The pope talked about ecological themes seven times.

[snip]

If there was a distinctive twist to what the pope said in Australia, it was the need for reconfiguration of lifestyles, beyond and beneath policy questions. Repeatedly, Benedict warned against what he called the “folly of the consumerist mindset.”

One sign that somebody was paying attention: the Acton Institute, a Grand Rapids-based think tank with a pro-free market message, put out a press release rejecting impressions that the pope has “gone green” in the secular sense. Benedict wasn’t warning against a climate crisis, the Acton release stated, but a moral crisis.

Allen, the most reliable English-speaking journalist covering the Vatican during my time there, appears to have gotten this one wrong by misunderstanding the point of the Acton press release, which did in fact mention the Pope’s criticism of consumerism, but as a moral problem rather than an environmental one.

More seriously, Allen seems to misunderstand the Pope’s use of environmental issues. The Pope is not interested in the particular issues in themselves; rather he is more concerned with what our use or abuse of the rest of creation says about our relationship with God.

Whatever Benedict’s concerns for the environment may be, it is absolutely clear that he follows traditional Catholic doctrine by placing man at the center of all creation. Here is the key passage that follows the quotation cited by Allen from the World Youth Day welcoming address:

And there is more. What of man, the apex of God’s creation? Every day we encounter the genius of human achievement. From advances in medical sciences and the wise application of technology, to the creativity reflected in the arts, the quality and enjoyment of people’s lives in many ways are steadily rising. Among yourselves there is a readiness to take up the plentiful opportunities offered to you. Some of you excel in studies, sport, music, or dance and drama, others of you have a keen sense of social justice and ethics, and many of you take up service and voluntary work. All of us, young and old, have those moments when the innate goodness of the human person – perhaps glimpsed in the gesture of a little child or an adult’s readiness to forgive – fills us with profound joy and gratitude.

(more…)

It must be tough to be Al Gore sometimes. We all know that the weather has a habit of not cooperating with his “major addresses” on global warming; how many times have his big pronouncements been accompanied by major snowstorms?

Presumably, it would be better to try doing one of these speeches in the middle of summer, when you’re less likely to be iced out by the weather. But wouldn’t you know it – just when Gore gets his sweltering summertime platform to trumpet the need to act on the basis of the Global Warming Consensus, a big fight breaks out in a scientific organization that makes said Consensus look more like a sham than ever.

First things first: In Washington last Thursday, Al “a modern Jeremiah” Gore delivered a “major address” on global warming where he asserted that “The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk… And even more — if more should be required — the future of human civilization is at stake.”

Al Gore as the Human Torch - Gore Torch
Flame on!

This assertion is based, of course, on the unshakable scientific consensus that human activities – specifically our carbon emissions – are causing potentially catastrophic climate change to occur. On the basis of that solid foundation of science, Gore went on to explain that we must:

…do away with all carbon-emitting forms of electricity production in the United States within 10 years, replacing them with alternatives like solar, wind and geothermal power, conservation and so-called clean-coal technology in which all carbon emissions from the burning of coal are captured and stored.

It’s entirely possible that Al Gore doesn’t believe what he’s saying here. Goodness knows that he’s not shy at all about taking liberties with the truth in order to advance his agenda. But really, the ridiculousness of this particular bit of puffery is breathtaking. Columnist Vincent Carroll took Gore to task in the Rocky Mountain News thusly:

Gore would subject 300 million people to an experiment in which baseload power that is needed 24 hours a day to keep the economy – and our livelihoods – humming is replaced willy nilly by power sources still susceptible to natural disruption (such as lack of wind or lingering cloud cover), that cost more (at least in the case of solar) and are far less plentiful in some regions than others (Colorado is lucky at least in that regard).

He’d inflict monumental utility price hikes on consumers who’d pay for both the shutdown of old plants and construction of the new – with who knows what economic fallout.

With such a short timetable, we’d have to shred this nation’s federal system of utility regulation in favor of national directives, presumably from Congress or a muscle-flexing Environmental Protection Agency charged with regulating greenhouse gases. Not since World War II have we seen anything remotely comparable in terms of central planning.

[Cue Superfriends announcer voice] Meanwhile, back in the real world… (more…)

Last week I attended a lecture on the campus of Calvin College given by Richard Swinburne, Emeritus Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion, University of Oxford. His lecture was titled, “God and Morality,” and was the fourth in a series of lectures for a summer seminar, “Science, Philosophy, and Belief.” The seminar was focused on the development of Chinese professors and posgraduate students, and included lectures by Sir John Polkinghorne, Alvin Plantinga, and Owen Gingerich.

Swinburne, who is a convert from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy, has recently turned his attention to questions of morality, having previously dealt with most every aspect of the philosophy of religion. I will not attempt a summary of his presentation here. The lecture has been digitally archived on the seminar site (downloadable MP3 here), and the comments and critiques I offer below will best be understood after having listened to the presentation yourself.

Swinburne’s list of publications includes a forthcoming article, “What Difference Does God Make to Morality?” in Is Goodness without God Good Enough?: A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics, ed. R.K. Garcia and N.L. King (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), scheduled for release in October of this year later this month. This article will presumably present a similar case as appeared in Swinburne’s lecture. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, July 24, 2008

In the July/August issue of Touchstone, which features a cover story by Acton research director Sam Gregg, “The European Disunion,” a bit of wisdom is passed along to us by senior editor Anthony Esolen in the magazine’s section, Quodlibet:

If you have a virtuous people, you don’t need quite so many laws, and the laws you do pass will have a lot less to do with restraint than with man’s creative participation in God’s governance of the world.

This statement captures well the sentiments I expressed regarding the relation of Christianity to political freedom, which appear in Kevin Schmiesing’s post, “Freedom and Christianity,” at American Creation.

The Winter issue of Religion & Liberty is now available online. The interview with David W. Miller is titled, “Theology at Work: Faithful Living in the Marketplace.” Miller is the executive director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School, and co-founder and president of the Avodah Institute. Miller brings an unusual “bilingual” perspective to the academic world, having also spent sixteen years in senior executive positions in international business and finance. Miller’s book, God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement was published in 2007.

Joseph K. Knippenberg, professor of politics at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, offers his own analysis of the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life Religious Landscape Survey with a piece titled “Brand Loyalty in the American Religious Marketplace.” Knippenberg notes:

My preliminary bottom line is this: in terms at least of nominal adherents, American Protestantism is doing well, better than any other faith tradition except Hinduism, which has the “advantage” of being a culturally distinctive religion closely identified with a particular community of relatively new immigrants. What’s more, Protestants who leave their childhood denominations are much more likely to move to another Protestant denomination than they are to leave religion behind altogether. Indeed, they are for the most part more likely to move to an evangelical denomination or church than they are to leave religion behind. For our hitherto dominant American religious tradition, the flow toward evangelicalism is stronger than the flow out of religion altogether. I haven’t seen that headline yet.

John Couretas reviews Thomas C. Oden’s Deeds not Words: The Good Works Reader, while I penned a review of Ronald J. Sider’s book The Scandal of Evangelical Politics.

Rev. Robert Sirico’s column offers an analysis of “Ethics and the Job Market.”

Also, Religion & Liberty paid tribute to William F. Buckley who passed away in February of this year. In his autobiography of faith titled Nearer, My God, Buckley declared:

It is of course obvious that it is mostly features of this world from which we take our satisfactions. The love of our family, the company of our friends, the feel of wind on the face, the excitement of the printed page, the delights of color and form and sound; food, wine, sex. But there is that other life that only human beings can experience, and in that life, and from that life, other pulsations are felt. They press upon us, in the Christian vision, one thing again and again, which is that God loves us. The best way to put it is that God would give His life for us and, in Christ, did.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Skyrocketing energy costs have, among other effects, led to interesting political maneuvering. Specifically, the question of expanding of domestic energy resources (e.g., offshore drilling) has become live for this first time in decades. For that to happen in the current Congress, of course, requires that there be at least a certain measure of bipartisan consensus. As Michael Franc explains on NRO today, there have indeed been a few Democratic defections to the pro-drilling side. These Democrats are caught between the popularity of expanded oil and gas exploration on one side and, on the other, both the traditional Democratic allegiance to the enviornmental lobby as well as the unyielding stance of the Party’s leadership.

Lifting restrictions on drilling will assist the market in creating additional supply, even as demand has already been affected by rising prices. It is important that environmental concerns not be tossed to the wind in a rush to relieve the strain on American pocketbooks, but that seems unlikely in the current political environment. In fact, the negative environmental impact of drilling in places like ANWR has always appeared questionable. It seems more likely that opposition to offshore and other drilling was fueled by NIMBY sentiment rather than demonstrably significant environmental damage.

There is the argument that offshore drilling will have little impact on prices, at least or especially in the near future. It is important that the potential for such sources be assessed realistically and not exaggerated, but the “10 years from now” objection is not compelling. If it’s a good thing to do, then we should start. Not doing so simply pushes the horizon ten years further down the road.

By no means can I claim the ability to weigh accurately the costs and benefits of expanding domestic energy exploration. That’s why it’s important to let the price mechanism operate freely and let the market respond in turn. If lifting drilling restrictions moves us in that direction, then I favor it.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I explore the differing mainstream cultural views of gun rights and abortion in the United States and Europe. The point of departure is last month’s Supreme Court decision in DC v. Heller (07-290) striking down the District’s handgun ban (SCOTUSblog round-up on the decision here).

In “Guns, Foreign Courts, and the Moral Consensus of the International Community,” I write that the “tendency to invoke foreign jurisprudence is becoming more troubling as it becomes clearer that the moral consensus that once united Western nations has almost entirely broken down.”

As Paul J. Cella commented on a number of related stories at home and abroad, “We are only a tendentious opinion from one of the Liberal Usurpers on the Court, or their creature Kennedy, under the spell of the New York-DC elite adulation — one tendentious opinion citing foreign law, or sweet mystery of life, or mystical evolving standards, away from the same tyranny that would send the homeowner who defends his wife against thugs to jail, while showering the thugs with sympathy.”

At the same time the Court was deciding Heller, it ruled “that imposing the death penalty for child rape violates the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.” La Shawn Barber has details on the difficulties surrounding that decision, but in relation to the topic of my commentary I want to point out that the EU Constitution in its original form as circulated for ratification in 2004, under Article II-62, titled “Right to life,” held in part, “No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed.” At the same time this article made no explicit or special mention of abortion.

For more insight into the disconnect between the UN/EU on the one side and the US on the other over gun rights, see Kenneth Anderson’s illuminating post, “International Gun Control Efforts?” (HT: The Volokh Conspiracy).

As Mike Huckabee was wont to say, we wouldn’t have the First Amendment without the Second. And if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have knives (that explode?!).