Acton’s Research Director in the American Spectator:
Europe’s Broken Economies
By Samuel Gregg
During September this year, much of Europe descended into mild chaos. Millions of Spaniards and French went on strike (following, of course, their return from six weeks vacation) against austerity measures introduced by their governments. Across the continent, there are deepening concerns about possible sovereign-debt defaults, stubbornly-high unemployment, Ireland’s renewed banking woes, and the resurgence of right-wing populist parties (often peddling left-wing economic ideas). Indeed, the palpable sense of crisis left many wondering if some European economies have entered a period of chronic decline — one which might eventually reduce Europe to being a bit-player on the world stage.
Obviously we should avoid over-simplification. In Germany and Sweden, for instance, unemployment is declining while economic growth and exports are rising. Not coincidentally, both countries have implemented significant economic reforms over the past ten years. To the audible disappointment of the world’s left-wingers, Sweden is no longer Social Democracy’s poster-child.
Nor can Europe’s present woes be explained in mono-causal terms. Like America, property-bubbles and over-leveraged financial industries played a role in some countries’ meltdowns. But not every European nation presently enduring economic hardship experienced banking crises on the scale experienced by Ireland and Britain.
It will be decades before economists and historians completely diagnose what’s happened to Europe’s economies since 2008. Many, however, will likely conclude that many European countries’ economic culture helped them lurch into seemingly unending crisis.
“Culture” is one of those heavily over-used words. But in sociological and historical terms, “culture” is a way of describing, among other things, the approach to life, the values emphasized, attitudes toward work, the understanding of law, and ultimately the view of science, the arts and religion prevailing in a given society. Over time, these form a type of inheritance that can remain relatively stable in particular historical settings over several generations. (more…)
I’ll admit – it’s been a long time since I’ve posted a Global Warming Consensus Alert because, frankly, any “consensus” that existed was blown apart by the release of the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit e-mails, which revealed a whole bunch of underhanded activity on the part of scientists promoting the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis. What’s the point anymore? The unshakeable climate “consensus” has been shown to be the fraud that it always was, and the catastrophic climate change scare is receding as a political issue. It seemed like the time was right to retire the Consensus Watch series.
And then the 10:10 Campaign decided to release what has to be the most amazingly awful public relations campaign in the history of public relations campaigns.
To be honest, I’d never heard of the 10:10 campaign before last night, so in that sense, their PR ploy has been successful. It appears to be another one of the seemingly countless organizations that spring up to encourage people to make reductions in their carbon output. Their schtick is that we all need to commit to reducing our carbon output by 10% a year starting this year. (An aside to the businesses that have signed up for this campaign: just what do you anticipate that you’ll be doing in 10 years when you wind your carbon emissions down to zero?) And with October 10 coming up (10.10.10 – clever), they released a promo film on YouTube to, I suppose, raise awareness for their cause.
The video stars Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame, features music by Radiohead, and may just be the worst attempt at public relations in history. CONTENT WARNING: if you think you might be the kind of person who gets offended at graphic footage of people being blown up for not adhering to a scientific theory, you might not want to watch.
Fantastic PR idea, isn’t it? It’s nice to know that there are people who are willing to finance a high-quality film production depicting the casual extermination of individuals like me who haven’t bought into the idea that human activity is the sole cause of a coming climate Armageddon. And honestly, I can’t decide what’s creepier: the portrayal of people so casually murdering others for the crime of not buying into a panic based on a scientific orthodoxy that began to unravel a year ago, or the murderers’ completely nonchalant response to the horrified reactions of the children and office workers who had just been doused in the blood and entrails of the exploded global warming skeptics. It would seem to me that if you’re going to create a film where the heroes commit gruesome crimes, it would be best to have any witnesses to said crimes not react with revulsion and horror in order to establish that your heroes are actually good people, and not, you know, brutal, inhuman beasts.Part of me feels guilty for blogging about this because it is a transparent ploy for attention on the part of people who deserve nothing but contempt, but on the other hand, this film is such a compact and powerful demonstration of the contempt for human life that undergirds much of the modern environmental movement that I can’t resist sharing it. After all, the prerequisite for being comfortable with producing a film that depicts the casual, gruesome murder of one’s ideological opponents (for the greater good, of course) is the belief that human life has no inherent value, and that humans, far from being the crown of creation, are in fact not part of creation at all, but instead a destructive parasite that leeches off of and destroys the pristine beauty of Mother Earth. One may protest that the good folks at 10:10 are just “playing around” or “being funny” or “trying to make a point.” Nonsense. The issue at hand is a disagreement within the scientific community over the interpretation of data. The world is not in imminent danger of destruction. The 10:10 Campaign has no business casually dehumanizing people who simply disagree with them.
(I suppose it might be worthwhile to note the irony of climate alarmists creating a fictional world where they are allowed to exterminate their political opponents after spending years demonizing skeptics even to the point of comparing them to Nazi sympathizers who deny the reality of the Holocaust. Oh, and here’s a link to a nice, breezy article about the film at an environmentally themed website. “It would be so much easier to tackle global climate change if these naysayers were blown up like BP’s oil well.” Yeah, killing all the people who disagree with you would make it easier for you to get your longed-for public consensus.)
David Burge, who those of us in the blogosphere know better as Iowahawk, left a comment on the original YouTube video (that has since been made “private,” ideally out of shame but more likely because it had accomplished its intended purpose of creating “buzz”) that provides a good bit of perspective on this film, and nicely sums up my thoughts on the matter:
In order for your “No Pressure” advert to have been made, I am assuming several writers pitched a professionally-prepared storyboard to a committee, detailing shot-by-shot each second of the film. The committee approved it, along with a minimum $250,000 budget to hire actors, director, & crew. Each scene probably took 3-10 takes, and weeks of post production by special effects wizards.
At no time did a single person involved in this cluster**** say, “hey, maybe it isn’t the best PR to air our fantasies about detonating the people who don’t agree with us into a mist of blood meat and bone fragments.”
This has got to be the biggest FAIL in the entire history of the internet. Anyone remotely associated with the production of this film should forever be banished from any public institution in the English speaking world, and immediately referred for psychiatric evaluation.
Amen. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get a bunch of plastic, douse it in oil and set it aflame in honor of the 10:10 Campaign.
In this week’s Acton Commentary, I remember German reunification and reflect on its relevance for the present.
Twenty years ago this Sunday, East and West Germany reunited, capping one of the most extraordinary transformations in modern history. Communism in the Soviet Union and its eastern European satellites had collapsed; the oppressed nations of Europe rejoined the “free world.”
My generation was the last to straddle the two worlds, pre- and post-Soviet Union. When I was in elementary and high school, fear of atomic annihilation was real. The USSR was the great, looming adversary on the world stage. Debate over the strategy of “mutually assured destruction” was the ominous focus of international policy discussions.
Whittaker Chambers began Witness, the classic account of his time in the American Communist underground, with the declaration: “In 1937, I began, like Lazarus, the impossible return.” The line was most of all a deep recognition of the power of God to redeem what was once dead. Witness was a landmark account of the evils of Communism but most importantly a description of the bankruptcy of freedom outside of the sacred. “For Chambers, God was always the prime mover in the war between Communism and freedom. If God exists then Communism cannot,” says Richard Reinsch II. And it is Reinsch who reintroduces us to Chambers, the brilliant intellectual, anti-communist, and man of faith in Whittaker Chambers: The Spirit of a Counterrevolutionary.
After his exodus from the Soviet Communist spy network in Washington, Chambers then outed U.S. State Department official Alger Hiss as a communist, setting up a dramatic espionage trial played out before the nation. Chambers became a household name thanks to a trial that was wrapped in intrigue, treachery, and Cold War drama. Chambers would become a hero for many in the conservative movement. William F. Buckley, Jr. called him the greatest figure who defected out of communism. But Chambers’ pessimism about the future of the West led him to be dismissed by many others, conservatives too.
This pessimist view of the survival of the West against Marxism stems from Chambers’ understanding that the West was abandoning its sacred heritage of Christian thought, and within it, the proper understanding of man. A supposedly free but rampant secular and materialistic society still leads to the same ending as Marxism, outside of God, and unable to explain its reason and purpose for life.
One of the chief takeaways from this book is that there must be more to conservatism than free-markets and limited government. For liberty to be prosperous it must be oriented toward greater truths. Reinsch points out that Chambers understood that the “West must reject Communism in the name of something other than modern liberalism and its foundation in the principles of Enlightenment rationalism.”
Reinsch delves into Chambers prediction of the eventual collapse of the West and his belief that there was a lack of moral fortitude to combat the communist surge. The apparent unwillingness of the free world to sacrifice and suffer for freedom troubled Chambers. He also surmised that the intellectual class possessed a waning ability to articulate a meaningful defense of the ideas and value of the free society.
The United States did indeed emerge as the leader of the free world after the Second World War, rebuilding its former enemies with the Marshall Plan and other programs. Early on, the United States and Western Europe showed a stoic and moral resistance throughout the Berlin Airlift of 1948 and 1949. Future presidential administrations would pledge support for free people who toiled anywhere across the globe. President Ronald Reagan emerged in the latter half of the 20th Century, unveiling his own crusade against communism, making many of the deeper spiritual contrasts with the Soviet system first articulated by Chambers.
Reinsch also notes that while Chambers perhaps underestimated some of the spiritual will and capital to resist and overcome the Marxist onslaught, most of Chambers’s identification of the sickness of the West remained true. Reinsch declares of an America in the 1960s and 1970s:
Racked by mindless violence, strikes, rampant inflation, economic torpidity, and the rapid unfolding of sexual liberation, liberal democracy seemed to display, in acute form, the crisis of a material progress that had been severed from faith and freedom. Thus, the spirit of Chambers’s brooding over the fate of the West retained relevance.
This is evidenced in part by the immense suffering of Hanoi Hilton POWs like Admiral Jeremiah Denton, who in his captivity memoir When Hell Was in Session, described the disconnect of a man who sacrificed so much for freedom and who came out of the dark night with a deep sense of spiritual renewal only to come home to unearth an increasingly secular nation that was also retreating in its ability to defend and define its greatness.
Reinsch even points to further evidence that Chambers was right about the dangerous trajectory of the West when he cites the victory of the Cold War and how that surge of freedom did not posit any great change or realization of a higher transcendent understanding and purpose. While the superiority of markets was temporarily buoyed by the events, socialism has shown a staying power in the West.
Reisnch has crafted an important and essential book for anybody fatigued with the daily grind of hyper-partisan politics. By reintroducing conservatives to a deep thinker like Chambers, he reminds us of the limits of politics as well as the frustrating shallowness it can embody.
Just as markets and small government offer little ability in offering peace and happiness, though they certainly create greater space for a working towards that end, this account is a reminder that the best of conservatism is at its core within the ancient truths that tower above the vain materialism and individualism of secular Western democracy.
Believers can see this clearly when they look at the vanity of a society that prods, primps, and chases after meaning outside of God. Thus, as Reinsch adds, Chambers so wholly understood that “man’s problem was the problem of understanding himself in light of his fundamental incompleteness.” And that problem exists under communism just as it does in democratic capitalism, with its temptations to consumerism and selfishness.
The Marxist Utopian dream was man’s attempt at trying to fulfill its incompleteness with all the wonders and technology of modernity and materialism. The free world still is unable to relocate itself in the proper order. And, as Reinsch declares, this is a great warning to us all. Chambers so thoroughly understood and knew that “man was never more beastly than in his attempts to organize his life, individually and collectively, without God.”
Robert Joustra, writing on the website of the Canadian think tank Cardus, has published a thoughtful review of Jordan Ballor’s Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness. The reviewer understands that when,
… controversial social science infiltrates ecclesial confessions, twin dangers emerge: compromising the integrity of the Gospel, and splitting the church on political and economic issues. Ecumenical superstructures claiming to speak with ecclesial authority on technical matters worry me, even when technical experts are enlisted. The point is not just that expertise can be limited in these cases—it’s that different institutions have differing spheres of authority and competency.
How, then, should the church speak? Ballor provides good signposts by talking about churches preaching justice, rather than prescribing policy. The environment, for example, must be stewarded and protected, certainly. But does that specifically mean cap and trade or renewable energy investment? Should the church as denomination really have an opinion on these particular issues? Wouldn’t such an opinion violate its own sphere of authority and uncomfortably blur lines with the task of government and public policy? Accountability on principles is one thing; policy advocacy is quite another.
Joustra weighs in none too soon. Over the past few days, Christian ecumenical organizations have been busy issuing press releases and official statements in and around and following the UN summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which took place in New York on Sept. 20-22.
Typical of the language employed by the ecumenical-industrial complex (Jordan’s apt phrase) are these lines from a letter sent by World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:
In pursuit of just trade, churches have specifically called for international regulations to end agricultural import dumping which has displaced and impoverished millions of small farmers. Just trade also means addressing declining terms of trade faced by developing countries by establishing international commodity agreements setting stable base prices for products.
[ … ]
Insofar as nation-states have the responsibility for upholding peoples’ economic, social and cultural rights, the MDG Review Summit must put in place binding mechanisms and accountability frameworks to ensure that commitments are met and the maximum of resources are made available for the MDGs.
You would think from reading this that ending global poverty was simply a matter of the UN master minds “regulating” the global economy and dumping more money into the MDG programs. Fortunately, no such power is vested in the UN.
Read the Joustra review. He warns that “a tyrannizing ecumenical agenda fashioned from all-too-controversial political and economic assumptions stands to do more harm than good.” Is it too much to hope that Ecumenical Babel gets a reading at the UN or WCC?
…a judge has tossed out the wiretapping claims pointing out that there was no expectation of privacy out in public.
“Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public,” the judge wrote. “When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation.”
Recalling his job at a factory as a young man in the 1980s, Trueman writes concerning those who were still at their positions on the line when he had moved on:
Their work possessed no intrinsic dignity: it was unskilled, repetitive, poorly paid, and provided no sense of achievement. Yes, it gave them a wage; but not a wage that provided for anything more then the bare necessities of life plus a few packs of cigarettes and some cheap booze on a Friday or Saturday night. And it raised questions in my mind to which, more than twenty years on, I have still not found answers.
First, how does the church enable those in such jobs to find God-given satisfaction? It is oh-so-easy for those of us who have jobs which we enjoy doing to talk about `the dignity of labour’ when the labour we have has, in a sense, its own intrinsic dignity. But what of the labour that does not have such dignity in and of itself? Which is monotonous, unskilled, boring, poorly paid, and which slowly but surely bleeds any last vestige of creativity and spontaneity out from the veins? The obvious answer is, of course, to find such dignity in extrinsic factors, supremely in doing everything to the glory of God. But, let’s face it, it is a whole lot easier to do an enjoyable job to the glory of God than to sweep the factory floor day after day to the same.
Read the whole thing. There are more pressing observations and questions throughout.
But to at least point to the beginning of an answer, I’d refer to what Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef write regarding work as the basic form of stewardship:
While the object of work is destined to perish, the soul formed by daily decision to do work carries over into eternity…. This perspective on work, as a maturing of the soul, liberates the believer from undue concern over the monotony of the assembly line, the threat of technology, or the reduction of the worker to but an easily replaceable cog in the industrial machine. One’s job may be done by another. But each doer is himself unique, and what carries over beyond life and time is not the work but the worker. What doing the job does for each of us is not repeated in anyone else. What the exercise of will, of tenacity, of courage, of foresight, of triumph over temptations to get by, does for you is uniquely your own. One worker may replace another on the assembly line, but what each worker carries away from meeting the challenge of doing the day’s shift will ever be his own. The lasting and creative consequence of daily work happens to be the worker. God so arranges that civilization grows out of the same effort that develops the soul.
I think this insight is accurate regardless of the nature of the work itself, whether our job is inherently repetitive and mundane, or exhilarating and stimulating. If you want a look at how workers have infused their seemingly undignified work with dignity, check out the episode of Undercover Boss that focuses on Waste Management.
The Colson Center for Christian Worldview is preparing to release a new study DVD this fall titled, Doing the Right Thing: A Six-Part Exploration of Ethics. The DVD is designed as a resource for small-group studies and features leading thinkers who explore the need for ethical behavior in the marketplace, public square, political life and other areas. Hosts Brit Hume, Chuck Colson, Dr. Robert George and a distinguished panel — including Acton’s Rev. Robert Sirico and Michael Miller — undertake a six-part exploration of ethics before a live student audience in Princeton, N.J.
The panel, students and interviewed guests will examine and discuss the following questions over six 30-minute sessions:
– How did we get into this mess?
— Is there truth, a moral law we can all know?
— If we know what is right, can we do it?
— What does it mean to be human?
— Ethics in the Market Place
— Ethics in Public Life
Panelists and guests include:
— Donovan Campbell, Chuck Colson, Doug DeVos, Joni Eareckson Tada, Dr. Robert George, Jim Grant, Dr. Chris Hook, Brit Hume, Alveda King, Dr. David Miller, Michael Miller, Eric Pillmore, Dr. Neil Plantinga, Dr. Scott Rae, Bob Rowling, Dr. Stan Samenow, Fr. Robert Sirico, Ben Stein, Glenn Sunshine, Dr. Ken Swan.
Doing the Right Thing is a joint project between the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Lansdowne, Va., and The Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J., and was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
If you couldn’t make it to Derby Station in East Grand Rapids last night, there are a couple of things you should know. First of all, you missed a great event and some good conversation. Secondly, you need not worry: we recorded it, and you can listen to David Michael Phelps’ presentation on Art, Patrimony, and Cultural Investment via the audio player below.
The bad news is that I was planning to post a little video clip for your enjoyment, but for some reason beyond my ability to understand after too much time spent struggling with computers and such, it’s not working. Which is a bummer, considering that it was a video of Dave inciting the audience to sing a bluegrass tune. The best I can do for you at this point is a quick little screengrab with the promise that I’m going to troubleshoot this thing into submission at the earliest possible opportunity.
Regardless, the audio is below; enjoy, and make plans to join us at Derby Station next time!