Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A number of bloggers have begun posting their summaries, thoughts, and reactions to the first day of sessions at Acton University 2008. Below is a list, which will be updated periodically throughout the day.

If you have a post that ought to listed, please note it in the comments below and I’ll add it to our watch list.

“ … what is virtue if not the free choice of what is good?” — Alexis de Tocqueville

Acton University, the four-day exploration of the intellectual foundations of a free society, opens today in Grand Rapids. This event has grown rapidly since its inception in 2005. This year’s AU, which will integrate course instruction in philosophy, Christian theology and economics, is drawing nearly 400 attendees from 51 countries. The schedule features more than 57 courses and 20 discussion and networking sessions, ranging from small seminars to evening lectures. Check out the course schedule here.

Kresta in the Afternoon, Ave Maria Radio’s flagship national production, will be broadcasting live from AU from Wednesday, June 11 through Friday, June 13. For those of you who cannot pick up the broadcast signal, you can listen live on the Ave Maria site as host Al Kresta interviews AU speakers and attendees.

AU’s expert faculty for 2008 hails from 6 continents. A few featured lecturers and speakers include:

Lord Brian Griffiths, Vice-Chairman of Goldman Sachs International and former advisor to Margaret Thatcher. He has served as a lecturer in economics for the London School of Economics at the University of London, the director of the Bank of England and the dean of the business school at City University. He has also written numerous articles and books.

Rev. John Nunes, President of Lutheran World Relief. For over 25 years he has worked as a speaker, musician, writer, youth director, pastor and professor. A research associate for Urban Ministry to Wheat Ridge Ministries and author of Voices from the City. Lutheran World Relief works with partners in 35 countries to help people grow food, improve health, strengthen communities, end conflict and recover from disasters.

Mr. Mustafa Akyol, deputy editor and columnist for Turkish Daily News, Turkey’s foremost English-language daily. His writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, The Weekly Standard and First Things. His focus is the relation between Islam and modernity.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute regularly lectures both in the United States and around the world. His writings have appeared in various journals, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, National Review, The Financial Times, and Crisis.

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, well known economist and Acton Senior Fellow, who is heading up a course series on Marriage and the Family. She has been on the faculty of Yale University and George Mason University, and is the author of Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family doesn’t work.

Acton also welcomes its many blogger friends to AU. Over at What Does the Prayer Really Say?, Fr. Z is already blogging about AU and his visit to the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

On the Mere Orthodoxy blog, Tex is promising live blogging from AU. Yeah, Tex!

Check back for updates on the PowerBlog as AU week rolls out.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, June 10, 2008

It might seem like ancient political history to younger readers, but once upon a time there was a Republican Speaker of the House named Newt Gingrich and a Democratic President named Bill Clinton. A new book by Steven Gillon, The Pact, claims that the two ostensibly bitter enemies made a promising but ultimately abortive attempt to reform Social Security and Medicare.

As one who has contributed modestly to that quixotic quest (here, most recently), I was fascinated by this interview with Gillon as he talks about the main subject of his book.

The BBC is reporting that the Indian state of Maharashtra plans to construct a statue on an artificial island off the coast of Bombay (HT: Zondervan>To the Point).

“The statue will be of the Maratha warrior king Shivaji, considered a hero in Maharashtra for his defiance of Mughal and British forces.”

The officials apparently have in mind a rival for the American Statue of Liberty: “Vishal Dhage, a state government official, said the statue would be about the same height as the Statue of Liberty – which, with plinth included, stands at 305ft (92.69m).”

But where the Statue of Liberty was intended in part as a sign of international friendship and, later on, as a symbol of welcome to immigrants. In 1903, Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus” was posted on a bronze plaque standing inside the Statue of Liberty. The poem reads in part:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

That’s a far cry from some of the symbolism behind a modern Indian statue of Shivaji: “King Shivaji is an icon adopted by the militant right-wing Maharashtra group, Shiv Sena, which says more should be done to promote the rights of ‘local’ people in the state rather than ‘outsiders’.”

If the US hasn’t always been as welcoming to distressed and oppressed immigrants, at least since 1903 it has had an ideal to aspire to.

The Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu has some notable comments regarding compassion and consumerism in this BBC article. The Church of England leader is fearful that religious charity and compassion is being crowded out and under utilized. “Human rights without the safeguarding of a God-reference tends to set up rights which trump others’ rights when the mood music changes,” he says.

The Archbishop also criticized calls for removal of religion from the public square, saying it would usher in rampant consumerism. You can read the Archbishop’s address entirety at this blog. Surely, you may find disagreement with some of his words, but also a clear truth in a lot of his critique.

The Anglican leader has also made recent news because of a charitable parachute jump he plans to make in support of British soldiers killed and wounded in Afghanistan.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A good hump day timewaster: APM’s Budget Hero.

Try to achieve the national security, efficient government, and economic stimulus badges all at the same time. I couldn’t on my first try, although I admit I was leaning much more heavily on the “efficient government” side of the ledger. Plus there were all the built-in biases to deal with…

While we await Pope Benedict’s first social encyclical, it has been interesting to note what he has been saying on globalization and other socio-economic issues affecting the world today. None of these amounts to a magisterial statement but there are nonetheless clues to his social thought.

So that makes his address to the Centesimus Annus pro Pontifice Foundation noteworthy. The Pope spoke about the current state of globalization, reminding the audience that the aim of economic development must serve the progress of man.

Benedict stressed that commercial interests must never become so exclusive that they damage human dignity. He expressed the hope that the process of globalization which has so far affected finance, culture and politics should in the future also lead to a “globalization of solidarity” and respect for all parts of society. This would be necessary in order to make sure that economic growth is never cut off from the search for the comprehensive development of man and society. The Pope pointed out that the principle of subsidiarity is vital in guiding globalization:

“In this respect, the social doctrine of the Church stresses the importance of intermediate bodies in accordance with the principle of solidarity. It allows people to freely contribute to give meaning to cultural and social changes and direct them towards the authentic progress of man and the community.”

The conference was entitled “Social Capital and Human Development” and the foundation’s name recalls John Paul II’s 1991 social encyclical of the same name, which drew together 100 years of history of the Church’s social doctrine.

What Benedict has said on globalization is very much in line with what John Paul II said before him. This may not seem like much, but when one considers the technical nature of economics and finance today, it is a humane and necessary message that supports the positive aspects of market economics.

UPDATE:

The journalist and author Will Hutton (described in his Wikipedia entry as “Britain’s foremost critic of capitalism”) was invited by the Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Foundation to address the conference. In an article for the Observer he shared his impressions. Interpreting Benedict within the framework of his own left-leaning ideas he failed to understand what the pontiff actually said.

According to Hutton, “the Catholic church is again alarmed by the way capitalism is developing” and has attacked “sweatshop call centres, declining trade unions” and “directors paid tens of millions”.

The Pope mentioned none of this and Hutton offers no evidence of why that should be Church teaching. Nor did John Paul II in his encyclical demand “stakeholder capitalism” as Hutton claims. Besides raising the obvious question why Hutton was invited to speak on a subject that he knows little about, this is a worrying example of how a defense of an ethical grounding of economics is misinterpreted as a call for socialistic solutions.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Is this supposed to be capitalism?

Geoff Colvin writes that a motivating factor in the recent crash in corporate profits, as well as the sharp decline in home values, was the phenomenon that “people began to believe that the more they borrowed, the better off they would be. Their thinking went like this: With the cost of capital so low and asset prices rising steadily, risk was evaporating.”

The precipitating cause of the downturn was that consumers “began to live within their means, shutting down the profit-growth machine.”

Any business or industry profit model that depends on consumers driving themselves deeper and deeper in debt is morally flawed and economically unsustainable. That’s not capitalism, that’s consumerism.

Compare the latter with the former, represented by this statement of a first principle of capitalism, “Thrift the First Duty”:

…thrift is mainly at the bottom of all improvement. Without it no railroads, no canals, no ships, no telegraphs, no churches, no universities, no schools, no newspapers, nothing great or costly could we have. Man must exercise thrift and save before he can produce anything material of great value. There was nothing built, no great progress made, as long as man remained a thriftless savage. The civilized man has no clearer duty than from early life to keep steadily in view the necessity of providing for the future of himself and those dependent on upon him. There are few rules more salutary than that which has been followed by most wise and good men, namely, “that expenses should be less than income.” In other words, one should be a civilized man, saving something, and not a savage, consuming every day all that which he has earned.

You don’t need to agree with Andrew Carnegie about everything to recognize the truth of these statements. Thrift is one of the things that separates civilized capitalism from savage consumerism.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Monday, June 2, 2008

Sometime Acton publications contributor and adjunct scholar Thomas Sieger Derr posts on the First Things blog under the title, “The End of the Global Warming Scare?” Derr identifies a trend that has not been ignored on this blog: increasingly vocal and widespread skepticism toward at least the most dire predictions emanating from the climate change disaster crowd. I would add to Derr’s observations that consternation over oil prices is likely to encourage reluctance to implement any costly programs that have only debatably positive environmental results (e.g., Kyoto). Instead, folks will be more supportive of sensible moves that fuel the economy and cause little environmental harm (e.g., Arctic drilling), meanwhile making similarly sensible efforts to increase efficiency (car pooling is surging), which is always good for both economy and environment.

Still, Derr is right to punctuate his post title with a question mark. There’s a lot of hot air left in the global warming baloon.

Here’s the key assumption in Michael Gerson’s piece from last week, “The Libertarian Jesus”:

Private compassion cannot replace Medicaid or provide AIDS drugs to millions of people in Africa for the rest of their lives. In these cases, a role for government is necessary and compassionate — the expression of conservative commitments to the general welfare and the value of every human life.

Private compassion certainly could do this, and much more. Private giving generally dwarfs government programs in both real dollars and effectiveness.

Does this mean that there is no role or never a role for government? No. But that role is one of last and temporary resort. The dichotomy that Gerson draws from one side (and many libertarians draw from another) is false.

Gerson also misunderstands the import of Coburn’s claims that compassion cannot be coerced, “that true giving and compassion require sacrifice by the giver.” The divide between government programs and individual charity isn’t a public/private distinction, but rather a political/moral distinction, where the moral element may sometimes but not always necessitate political action. Poverty is simply not morally equatable with slavery or abortion.

Abraham Kuyper makes the point pretty well in his treatise on The Problem of Poverty. Read these two quotes in juxtaposition and you can see where Gerson’s errors reside.

First, from the main text, “The holy art of ‘giving for Jesus’ sake’ ought to be much more strongly developed among us Christians. Never forget that all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your Savior.”

And second, from a footnote, “It is perfectly true that if no help is forthcoming from elsewhere the state must help. We may let no one starve from hunger as long as bread lies molding in so many cupboards. And when the state intervenes, it must do so quickly and sufficiently.”

With whom does the primary responsibility for care for the poor reside? Answer that question, and you can properly relate the political and moral claims regarding poverty.