PowerBlog readers will be excused for missing this, as I suspect there are not many who frequent the MTV Teen Choice Awards. But don’t let your skepticism prevent you from watching this video of Ashton (really, “Christopher Ashton”) Kutcher’s acceptance speech, in which he exhorts the younger generation to get its hands dirty with hard work:

“Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.” There are many connections to be made here with this insight, not least of which is with Lester DeKoster’s view that work is “a glorious opportunity to serve God and our neighbors by participating in God’s creative work through cultivation of the creation order.” Kutcher’s basic point is that work has some important lessons to teach us. “I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than,” says Kutcher. He was, rather, grateful to have the gift of productive work, and passionately describes how each job, whether manual labor or minimum wage work, was a “stepping stone” to the next.

One of the great things about the speech, as Richard Clark writes, is the way Kutcher addressed his audience, how “he told them what he’d want to be told, and he treated them in the way he’d want to be treated.”

Kutcher concludes by invoking the example of Steve Jobs, who Kutcher plays in an upcoming biopic, and urges his audience to “build a life” through their work. Kutcher manages to include some insight about the nature of institutions and what it means to engage cultural realities as we live and work. This is something Millennials desperately need to hear, as David Brooks has written, and it’s something that Steve Jobs has to teach us about the nature of our jobs.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 15, 2013

There’s some evidence that the distress associated with poverty, such as worry about where your next meal is coming from, can create a negative feedback loop, leaving the poor with fewer non-material resources to leverage against poverty.

In 2011, a study by Dean Spears of Princeton University associated poverty with reduced self-control. His empirical study attempted “to isolate the direction of causality from poverty to behavior,” resulting one possible explanation “that poverty, by making economic decision-making more difficult, depletes cognitive control.” A working paper from NBER from earlier this year examined “Poverty and Self-Control,” and Bernheim, Ray, and Yeltekin found that “poverty damages the ability to exercise self-control.”

A working explanation runs along these lines: there is a finite amount of mental energy that each person has, and the more of it that is spent on things like worry and concern for acquiring basic needs each day, the less there is available for things like planning, making sound financial decisions within a limited timeframe, and other choices related to economic success over the long-term.

It can be difficult for social sciences, especially those like economics which often rely on models of rational actors, to account for the factors which lead to seemingly irrational behavior. But an anthropology informed by Christian theology, which recognizes the spiritual nature of the human person, including the anxiety that often attends to material insufficiency, goes a long way towards providing a coherent explanation and understanding of the complexities of poverty. The poor often experience a kind of despondency that can be crippling. Worry can create feedback loops which tend to reduce a person’s perspective of what is possible, a kind of poverty trap from which it can be difficult to escape.

Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson capture this dynamic well in their performance of “Worried Man,” from VH1 Storytellers (1998):

In the full recording of the Storytellers album, Johnny tells the genesis of this version of the song. He had encountered a beggar in Falmouth, Jamaica, who said, “Mr. Cash, I’m a worried man. I’m a very worried man.” Johnny thought, “Man, here’s a new approach. I’ve never had this one before.” Johnny asked what was worrying him, and the bum responded, “I got a wife and nine pikni [children] and no job. That makes me a worried man.”

As Robin Klay and Todd Steen explore in their article in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, the Christian virtue of hope is an important antidote to the devastating effects of worry, uncertainty, and depression. In “Christian Hope and God’s Providence in the Context of Economic Change and Development,” Klay writes about her experiences of the “‘stubborn hope’ of poor people, who, having very little, are nevertheless determined to use their labor, knowledge of markets and local resources, and small investments to open up a better future.”

Subscribe to the journal today to get access to the latest two issues, including Klay and Steen’s article as soon as it comes out.

And see the related piece by Todd Steen and me, “Hope and the Hunger Games,” over at First Things.

burnt-churchHundreds of supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi were killed in Cairo this week by Egyptian security forces. The protestors, mostly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, responded by destroying Coptic Christian churches throughout the country.

Here’s what you should know about what’s going on in Egypt.

What is the Muslim Brotherhood?

The Muslim Brotherhood, begun in 1928, is Egypt’s oldest and largest Islamist organization.

Founded by Hassan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood – or al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun in Arabic – has influenced Islamist movements around the world with its model of political activism combined with Islamic charity work. The movement initially aimed simply to spread Islamic morals and good works, but soon became involved in politics, particularly the fight to rid Egypt of British colonial control and cleanse it of all Western influence. While the Brotherhood say they support democratic principles, one of the group’s stated aims is to create a state ruled by Islamic law, or Sharia. Its most famous slogan, used worldwide, is: “Islam is the solution.”

Ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, the Freedom and Justice Party.


Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Employment Law
Paul McHugh and Gerard V. Bradley, Public Discourse

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would equate sexual orientation and gender identity, ambiguous and malleable concepts, with immutable features like race, color, and ethnicity as classes worthy of special legal protection.

Why Big Brother Is A Big Problem
Wesley Gant, Values & Capitalism

Politics is fundamentally about decision-making. While we still sing that America is “the land of the free,” more and more decisions about the way we live and work are being centralized to a 10 square-mile district on the Potomac River.

“Subdue the Earth” and “Till It and Keep It”: Responding to God’s Cultural Commands
R. Jared Staudt, Crisis Magazine

There are many ways to respond to this primal call. I will describe one way it is relevant to me by providing a short theology of gardening. I will then broaden the discussion to show the relevancy of God’s cultural commands more generally.

Common Core: A Threat to Catholic Education
Phyllis Schlafly, Crisis Magazine

Although Common Core was designed specifically to address public school failings, the standards are impacting Catholic schools as well.

One of the unintended consequences of the church growth movement was the narrowing of an understanding of how Christianity contributes to the common good by reducing what Christians contribute to the local church. While the church remains vital for the moral formation of society, there are other aspects of human flourishing that require the development of other institutions as Andy Crouch recently explained at Christianity Today.

This reduction has been adopted in some platforms that currently promote church planting. This church planting emphasis, in some cases, has led to an atrophied historical understanding of the Christian tradition’s emphasis on seeking the peace of the city through multiple institutions like schools, hospitals, professional societies, etc. While many churches are being planted in America’s most “strategic” cities, there seems to be little interest in coupling church planting with the creating of Christian schools to provide alternative education opportunities for children trapped in substandard public schools.

Let’s take New York City as an example:


Which came first, the collapse of the family or of traditional Christianity? “It’s a chicken-or-the-egg riddle, whether the disintegration of the family came first or the collapse of traditional Christian faith did,” write Elise Hilton, in this week’s Acton Commentary. “Too closely intertwined to make a call, Mary Eberstadt does pin a date on the collapse of this double helix: 1960. Why 1960? Why did God stop mattering at that point? Why did the family falter?” The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.


I’ve been a Craigslist fan for years, using it for everything from snagging free goods to securing new jobs to buying baby strollers to selling baby strollers—you name it. Yet even as I’ve become somewhat of a Craigslist veteran, swapping this for that and that for this, each experience brings with it a new set of surprises and takeaways, particularly when it comes to the way I view trade and exchange.

craigslist screen

Alas, in today’s giant global economy, it can be all too easy to feel like robotic worker bees or petty consumer fleas in a big, blurry economic order. We shouldn’t need reminders that daily tools like pencils and smartphones don’t just appear out of thin air, but based on the protectionist ethos that dominates our discussions on trade, it appears that we do.

In a way it’s understandable, what with all the conglomerates conglomerating and such. The bulk of Western society is no longer confined to bartering at the village market, nor are we bound to spend our days planting seeds and reaping harvests in a badda-bing badda-boom sort of way. Value creation, even at its largest margins, is increasingly difficult to spot.

And it is precisely here, I would argue, that bottom-up trading tools like Craigslist serve a bigger purpose than ridding our attics of stinky old mattresses. There’s something special about hum-drum personal exchange that reacquaints our economic imaginations with basic beauty of it all, cutting through and tearing down whatever pessimistic zero-sum mythologies we may be constructing. (more…)