“Opportunity looks a lot like hard work,” says Jordan Ballor, echoing Ashton Kutcher, in this week’s Acton Commentary. “A culture of entitlement and privilege will end in failure.” The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Working Harder and Smarter: What Ashton Kutcher and Mike Rowe Have to Teach Us

by Jordan Ballor

As the American economy sputters along in the wake of the Great Recession, younger generations are increasingly questioning the wisdom about work and success inherited from their parents and grandparents. A recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education explores the sense of disappointment and despondency that many Gen X-ers and Millennials experience in the job market. As Jennifer M. Silva writes, “Unlike their parents and grandparents, who followed a well-worn path from school to the assembly line—and from courtship to marriage to childbearing—men and women today live at home longer, spend more time in school, change jobs more frequently, and start families later.”

Blog author: abradley
Wednesday, August 28, 2013

tn-Dr.-MLK,-Jr.As we mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream Speech,” we find reason for pause, for praise, and for lament. There is much to celebrate because MLK’s dream has been experienced for many blacks, albeit imperfectly, especially for the black middle-class. There have been some racial tensions along the way, but the black, middle-class, Civil-Rights generation has accomplished great things since the 1960s. The private sector has demonstrated some of the greatest gains because skill and performance do not have a color.

Black Enterprise Magazine has compiled a list of some of the most accomplished black CEOs. The magazine reports that in 1987, Dr. Clifton R. Wharton, Jr. became Chairman and CEO of TIAA-CREF, distinguishing him as the first black CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Franklin Raines became the second black person to lead a Fortune 500 company when he became CEO of Fannie Mae in 1999. Moreover, American Express, Merck, Xerox, McDonald’s, Citigroup, Alcoa and many other large companies are full of all sorts of black talent in key positions representing the best of what Dr. King envisioned 50 years ago.

The public sector, however, has been an absolute disaster. This is where we pause for much lament. Low-income blacks have experienced nothing but a sabotaged King dream at the hands of elites who not only took it upon themselves to make decisions for how blacks should live, but also used the coercive power of government to do so. For example, as predicted in 1965 by Daniel Patrick Moynihan (who was, at the time, a sociologist serving as Assistant Secretary of Labor and later as U.S. Senator) in “The Negro Family: The Case For National Action,” expanding welfare programs destroyed the black family in low-income areas. According to the most recent data, over 70% of all black children are born outside of the context of marriage compared to 17% for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. Given what we know to be the advantages of children being reared in two-parent homes, this fact alone may explain much of the achievement gap and social mobility gap between blacks and Asian-Americans.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, August 28, 2013

syria-chemical-attackWhat is going on in Syria?

In 2011, during the Middle Eastern protest movement known as the Arab Spring, protesters in Syria demanded the end of Ba’ath Party rule and the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held the presidency in the country since 1971. In April 2011, the Syrian Army was sent to quell the protest and soldiers opened fire on demonstrators. After months of military sieges, the protests evolved into an armed rebellion and has spread across the country.

Wait, what’s the “Arab Spring” and the “Ba’ath Party”?

The Arab Spring is the term the Western media has used to describe the various protests, demonstrations, riots, and civil wars that began on 18 December 2010 and spread throughout many countries with predominantly Arab populations.

The Ba’ath Party (short for the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party) is a political party that began in Syria which espouses Ba’athism, a mix of Arab nationalism, socialism, and anti-imperialist ideologies. Ba’athism calls for unification of the Arab world into a single state. The movement is split into two main factions, one in Syria and one in Iraq (Saddam Hussein was a Ba’athist).

What is the toll of the Syrian civil war?

To date, estimates range between 70,000 and 120,000 Syrians killed, 130,000 people missing or detained, 1.2 million refugees, and 2.5-3 million internally displaced.

I know the country is somewhere in the Middle East, but where exactly is it located?

Syria, which is about the size of North Dakota, is located north of the Arabian Peninsula at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. The country is bordered by Turkey on the north, Iraq on the east, Jordan on the south, and Lebanon, Israel, and the Mediterranean on the west. Its biggest cities are Aleppo (population 2,301,570) and Damascus (population 1,711,000).

Isn’t Syria one of the lands mentioned in the Bible?

The modern state of Syria is part of the area known throughout history as Greater Syria. In the Bible the city of Damascus is mentioned 67 times. The road to Damascus was the place of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9) and Antioch was the city in which the disciples were first called Christians.  (Acts 11:26)


wmartIn light of the ongoing discussion over fast-food wages, I recently wrote that prices are not play things, urging that we reach beyond the type of minimum mindedness that orients our imaginations around artificial tweaking at the bottom instead of authentic value creation toward the top. Prices don’t equip us the whole story, but they do tell us something valuable about the needs of others and how we might maximize our service to society.

But though I have a hearty appreciation for the role that low-wage employers like McDonald’s play — due in large part to my 5-year stint working for The Ronald — I’m also grateful that other companies like Costco are able to provide higher wages to many low-skilled workers.

When we observe such differences — one prosperous company paying $7 per hour while another pays $12 — it can be easy to get worked up, pointing our fingers at greedy executives, idols of efficiency, unwise allocation of company funds, etc. Yet while any assortment of these drivers may indeed contribute to how wages are set, and though executives bear heavy moral responsibility on such matters, it’s helpful to remember that (1) we’re greatly limited in understanding the books of the companies we critique, and (2) executives aren’t the only ones influencing prices.

Over at Bloomberg, Megan McCardle does a marvelous deep-dive on this very sort of thing, starting with a comparison of Costco and Walmart wherein she ponders why the former offers higher wages than the latter.

A summary:


Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How the West is Helping to Destroy Christianity in Syria
Robin Phillips, American Orthodox Institute

Metropolitan Hilarion, the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, lamented that “in those places where the authorities are replaced by the rebel groups, Christianity is being exterminated to the last man: Christians are expelled, or physically destroyed.

Russian Orthodox spokesman rips US approach to Syria, warns Christians will suffer

A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church has blasted the United States for a “completely one-sided” approach to Syria, and warned against American intervention in that country’s civil war.

Robert Delahunty on Alexis de Tocqueville and Religion
Research on Religion Podcast

Robert notes how these personal experiences come to shape Tocqueville’s views of American relgion, most notably the more mainstream form of Protestantism typical of the northern US at the time, and also how he understands the growing Catholic presence in America during the 1830s.

IRS issues final rules on Obamacare’s ‘individual mandate’
Kim Dixon and Patrick Temple-West, Reuters

If individuals choose not to carry insurance, they are subject to a penalty, starting at $95 per person per year or 1 percent of income in 2014, whichever is greater, and eventually reaching $695 per person or 2.5 percent of income by 2016.

Over the weekend, BBC Africa did a report on the second-hand clothing industry in Africa and looked at some possible negative consequences of donating clothes to poor countries. (more…)

The Aug. 26 edition of the Wall Street Journal features a compelling opinion piece by Susan Combs, the Texas comptroller of public accounts. Ms. Combs correctly assesses the inherent responsibility of public pension funds to the businesses in which they hold shares. Namely, they should ensure company profitability rather than push agendas that may harm market share and growth.

Just so. Writes Combs: “Not long ago, people who used their few shares to push a point at shareholder meetings may have been marginalized as oddballs. Today, hedge funds and other major players are using their clout to lobby for – and get – big changes in corporate governance.”

Whatever this activism has to do with the ethical obligations of shareholders to one another is beyond the comprehension of Combs and, frankly, your writer. Such has been one theme of my repeated cavils related to the so-called religious-based shareholder activists who submit proxy resolutions year after year related to overturning Citizens United, limiting the depiction of tobacco use in film and television, curtailing hydraulic fracturing and taking expensive measures to avert global warming.

One may agree or disagree with the activists’ point-of-view on any of these given topics, but as Combs notes:

Putting public funds in the activist arena in this way strikes me as seriously bad policy. As the comptroller of public accounts for the state of Texas, I have to manage billions of dollars in taxpayer money, and I have a fiduciary obligation to achieve the very best returns possible. This is a rock-bottom, non-negotiable duty that goes with the office. Our “shareholders” are the tax-paying public.

The same holds for private investments made on behalf of clergy, nuns, and other religious. Many investment opportunities exist for companies more than willing to comply with ill-founded science, questionable public policy, and social progressivism. (more…)