Blog author: rsirico
posted by on Monday, July 6, 2009

My commentary on the forthcoming social encyclical was published on National Review Online. Here’s the complete text:

On Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI will release his first social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. The pre-release buzz from the Catholic Left on each of his two previous encyclicals has so far proven wrong each time, so the rule should be to wait and see what the pope will actually say.

Each time, with previous encyclicals, we have been told that the pope is preparing to lambaste capitalism and call for state measures to heavily regulate it with an eye to redistributing wealth, cleaning up the environment, controlling consumption, etc. Each time, the final text has demonstrated that the pope’s conversion to progressivist causes has been greatly exaggerated. Invariably, his arguments have been highly sophisticated and have defied easy political categorization.

In advance of Caritas in Veritate, Catholic “progressives” are working themselves into a frenzy of predictions, recommendations, and anathemas — and not one of them, to my knowledge, has seen even an early draft of the encyclical which has been two years in the making.

Will the document draw attention to the weaknesses of Western-style capitalist systems? One hopes so. We might expect the pope to call on market forces to be regulated by moral concerns, within a strong juridical framework, and an exogenous apparatus of standards to curb excesses.

But here is the operative question: In what sense would such a call be a blow against the idea of free economic institutions? The short answer is that it will not be.

There are few advocates of market economics who advocate a complete lack of regulation rightly understood. Every transaction in the marketplace is in fact regulated by contract law, reputation, industry standards, competition, certification and monitoring, and profit and loss systems that reward prudence and punish excess over the long term.

Do these need strengthening? Certainly, and it should be noted that a main force for weakening them is not the market as such, but partisan interventions in the market. (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, July 3, 2009

The Heartland Institute and Consumers for Health Care Choices are sponsoring Health Care Roundtables across the country. Earlier this week, Acton development associate Charles Roelofs attended a roundtable and offers this report:

The event was co-sponsored by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and Americans for Prosperity – Michigan. According to event organizers, over 100 people registered for the event. Participants included, local and national health care experts, medical and insurance representatives, current and former elected officials, and concerned citizens.

Common themes in many of the presentations included the need for reform of the current third-party payer system, the potential for consumer driven health care to reduce costs, and how much of recently proposed legislation to reform our health care system is ineffective. However, the discussions were varied and ranged from practical advice for saving money on prescription drugs to tips on communicating with elected officials regarding health care.

These policy discussions often lend themselves to moral questions regarding reform. Which types of reform most respect the dignity of the human person? Which types provide the most effective, highest quality health care for those least able to afford it? The Acton Institute has many resources available to answer such questions. The Health Care Resource web page has lectures, commentary, articles, and other media on the subject. Recently, Acton also published a new monograph by Dr. Donald P. Condit, A Prescription for Health Care Reform, which is available through our bookshoppe.

Blog author: mcavedon
posted by on Thursday, July 2, 2009

Governor Capriless house being attacked by a mob

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says that “the world needs a new moral architecture.” He also has a clear idea of what that morality ought to look like. Speaking at a conference on socialism in May of this year, he said that “every factory must… produce not only briquettes, steel, and aluminum, but also, above all, the new man and woman, the new society, the socialist society.” If Chavez manages to convince enough people that socialists are a new breed of humanity, a breed that has evolved beyond the old ideas of liberal democracy and individualism, then there is no compelling reason to acknowledge the rights of anyone else. Rights in the “new society” are not based on humanity, because the socialists are part of a new humanity. Rights are based on conformity.

Henrique Capriles is not a conformer.

Capriles is the Governor of Miranda, a state in northern Venezuela. He won election on the ticket of the only party to field a presidential candidate against Chavez in 2006. He knows firsthand what happens when democracy falls to socialist ideals: he served jail time in 2004 on trumped up charges of conspiring to overthrow Chavez, and his parents arrived in Venezuela as Jewish refugees seeking to get out from the threat of Nazi tyranny.

Unfortunately, socialism did not die with Nazi Germany. Owing to their allegiance with Iran, President Chavez and his supporters, the chavistas, have made no secret of their intense hatred for Israel. In early 2009, Chavez supporter and political columnist Emilio Silva posted a piece on Aporrea, a pro-government website, calling on his comrades to “publicly challenge every Jew that you find in the street, shopping center or park, shouting slogans in favor of Palestine and against that abortion: Israel.” To the chavistas, Venezuelan Jews are targets because Venezuelan Jews do not conform to the new society’s ideas about Israel. The men and women who dissent in the new society do not enjoy old human rights.

Governor Capriles learned that the hard way last month when mobs of angry Chavez supporters attacked his house in an orchestrated political demonstration by the Mayor of Miranda’s capital city, Alirio Mendoza. The mobs sprayed swastikas and climbed the walls of the home, terrorizing Capriles and his family (pictured above). Speaking that day, Mendoza justified his actions: “We are showing Capriles that… people are opposed to his continuous attacks against the initiatives and socialist projects of president Chávez.”

By the Venezuelan state’s morality, Capriles is outdated. He does not conform to socialism. He refuses to embrace Iran. He opposes political tyranny. In short, he is not a new man.

The moment that rights and even humanity itself are granted only on the basis of conformity is the moment that real morality ends. Chavez’s “new moral architecture” for the world, if adopted, will only end with a socialist swastika for whoever stands in his way.

(Thanks to Tim Mak at New Majority for the article that inspired this one.)

In a blow to international relief work, the Spring Lake-based International Aid has announced that it is ceasing operation, effective immediately.

CEO Dr. Gordon Loux cited a “perfect storm” of fiscal hardship: “We have tried to turn it around and we’ve sent out a number of appeals,” he said. “But because of the West Michigan economy and because of donor fatigue of most organizations trying to raise funds, we’ve got the perfect storm.”

In May, longtime CEO and president Myles Fish resigned, citing a restructuring plan focused on handling decreased levels of giving. According to Charity Navigator, International Aid was a model of efficiency in 2007, with 95% of funds being directed to program expenses and garnering a four star rating for both organizational efficiency and organizational capacity.

Founded in 1980, International Aid, “a Christian-based organization known for helping millions around the world, particularly in developing countries hit hard by natural disasters,” received about 40% of its revenue from individual contributions, with foundation support accounting for just over a quarter of support.

Background: “Global Giving and Local Needs”

A recent NBER working paper, “Internationalization of U.S. Doctorate Education,” takes a look at trends in doctoral degrees awarded by American institutions in the physical sciences, engineering, and economics.

From the abstract, “The representation of a large number of students born outside the United States among the ranks of doctorate recipients from U.S. universities is one of the most significant transformations in U.S. graduate education and the international market for highly-trained workers in science and engineering in the last quarter century.”

That transformation wouldn’t be possible without travel and visa allowances, as well as an educational and cultural atmosphere that welcomes immigrants. The trend also speaks to the level of prestige and respect accorded to U.S. institutions and degrees, and the portability and value of those degrees abroad.

Blog author: lglinzak
posted by on Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Acton University  has been over for almost two weeks now.  A testimony to what a great experience it is can be found on a blog, A Voice in the Wilderness, by R.J. Moeller.  Moeller was a student at Acton University this year and provides great insight to the experience he had.  If you are curious about Acton University or even Acton Institute please read his blog post.  He gives a great description about both that is very well written.

Blog author: lglinzak
posted by on Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Liberty is something we have valued for years in the United States, and the recent events that have occurred in Iran and Honduras demonstrate there are many people throughout the world who wish they were blessed to live in a country that protects and values liberty.  As we get ready to celebrate the Fourth of July, Kevin  Schmiesing, research fellow at the Acton Institute, writes a very timely commentary on liberty.

Schmiesing explains the delicacy of freedom and how it can only set its roots down and bloom in a mature civilization that has a virtuous culture.  Furthermore, Schmiesing also reminds us to be wary of those who use liberty as camouflage to deceive us into supporting certain issues and policies.  Schmieising states:

Such deceptive allures permeate our policy debates. The promises of government-run social security, having undermined the duty-in-freedom to provide for ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, are perched on an increasingly unstable base of a shrinking proportion of workers. Abdicating our responsibility to provide for and direct the education of our children, a government system has raced to a lowest-common-denominator approach devoid of moral or religious content–and often enough not very effective in conveying skills or knowledge either. Faced with the daunting prospect of taking charge of the cost of medical care for ourselves and our families, many are willing to cede control over value-laden health care decisions to government agencies.

According to Schmiesing, we must not forget the link between freedom and goodness.  This Fourth of July is a great time to appreciate the freedom and liberty that we are blessed to have every day.

A version of this commentary also appeared in the Detroit News on June 30.

Pope Benedict XVI’s much anticipated economics encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, is scheduled to be released early next week, according reports. For a good sense of this pope’s thinking on economics, we offer an article the then-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger presented in 1985 at a symposium in Rome.  The Acton Institute published it under the title “Market Economy and Ethics.”  As indicated by the following quote, the pope believed in integrating morals into economics in order to have sound and successful economic policy:

This determinism, in which man is completely controlled by the binding laws of the market while believing he acts in freedom from them, includes yet another and perhaps even more astounding presupposition, namely, that the natural laws of the market are in essence good (if I may be permitted so to speak) and necessarily work for the good, whatever may be true of the morality of individuals. These two presuppositions are not entirely false, as the successes of the market economy illustrate. But neither are they universally applicable and correct, as is evident in the problems of today’s world economy.

Without developing the problem in its details here — which is not my task — let me merely underscore a sentence of Peter Koslowski’s that illustrates the point in question: “The economy is governed not only by economic laws, but is also determined by men…” Even if the market economy does rest on the ordering of the individual within a determinate network of rules, it cannot make man superfluous or exclude his moral freedom from the world of economics. It is becoming ever so clear that the development of the world economy has also to do with the development of the world community and with the universal family of man, and that the development of the spiritual powers of mankind is essential in the development of the world community. These spiritual powers are themselves a factor in the economy: the market rules function only when a moral consensus exists and sustains them.

Blog author: ken.larson
posted by on Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Last week I took Friday afternoon off and did the yard work. I’d been listening to radio broadcasts about the vote in Congress on HR 2454 – what some of us call the “cap and tax” climate bill. You know, the one none of the members had read before the vote? Yes, I know, there’s more than one bill that they haven’t read prior to voting.

Yard work is good for my psyche. In two hours I can make a measurable and meaningful contribution to my property’s appearance. Few things in life are so neatly determinate; and the activity allows me to ponder other issues at the same time that I’m tilling and trimming.

My plan was to relax over the weekend in the run up to my birthday; and moving the yard work to Friday seemed appropriate. My modest Saturday agenda included helping to reduce the ironing pile by doing my half. My wife welcomed the help and suggested that I do the ironing first so I could also enjoy a Saturday morning ritual in doors — listening to “The Opera Show” on local FM station KUSC — and not having to use the pocket radio and earphones required when I’m outdoors.

During its season, KUSC hosts The Metropolitan broadcasts from New York, but the presentation last Saturday was a replay of the Los Angeles Opera Company’s April performance of Walter Braunfels’ The Birds, part of a series titled “Recovered Voices.” These are works by Jewish composers and musicians that were banned by the elected German Chancellor Adolph Hitler before and during the WWII era’s Holocaust and have been nearly forgotten.

Aristophanes’ play The Birds is a “comedy” written around 430 B.C. that pokes at the antics of Greek politics, specifically Athens’ leader Cleon, and at what was termed “the noble lie” at the time. The plot — VERY briefly described — follows the trek of two disgruntled humans who are lead by a raven and a crow toward a life among the birds which they are assured will be free from strife. You can imagine that there’s a bit of Plato’s philosopher-king tossed in for good measure. And with characters named “a sycophant” you can imagine how in the Germany of the 1930s a man with Braunfels’ talent might see some sardonic fun in using this plot to frame a libretto for his very solid musical creation.

Only minutes into my ironing the iron gave out: not enough heat and not enough steam. On the drive to the local Target — my wife went along — I continued to listen to Braunfels’ haunting music. Our beeline to the shelf and through the checkout line took only minutes, but on the way my eye caught an item in that area where picture frames are marketed. It was a 24″ x 36″ framed poster of Barack Obama and the text “Yes, We Can…” at the top. There was more text — the entire ‘yes we can’ speech. No, Really!

I asked my wife, “Did Dayton Hudson get TARP money?”

As we walked out to the car a guy with arms and legs full of tattoos was escorting a scantly dressed woman equally decorated and pierced into the store. I made a remark to my wife. She responded, “You don’t get out enough.”

At home I unpacked the new iron and began the process of dismantling the protections made mandatory by the same kind of folks who hadn’t bothered to read HR 2454. First the plastic tie that loops through the holes in the plug tips. You have to cut it away. As I untwisted the wire that bound the cord I noticed and took time to read the attached white label.

Warning: The power cord on this product contains lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, and birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling.

I learned to iron when I was in sixth grade after my mom went to work to earn the extra money that paid for my brother and I to have orthodontic braces: a gift for which I will be eternally grateful. Her lessons and my vast experience in ironing has paid off in unnamed ways. It was the era when what today we’d call Chinos or Khaki trousers replaced Levi’s for a time. It was also the era before clothes dryers; and one of the devices to make pressing your pants easier were metal stretchers that gave the air dried pants a rough crease to perfect. Ironing can refine one’s eye for detail.

As I listened to Braunfels’ melodies and maneuvered the iron around the yoke of each shirt in a process developed over time but yielding to modification for the short sleeved “polo” shirts on the pile I allowed myself to be drawn to those days in the early 60′s when the Ivy League style predominated and the button at the back of the collar just above that centered pleat prevailed. There was also a buckle on the back of the trousers, above the pockets and just below the belt loops. I also thought about things like why women’s blouses button the opposite way from men’s shirts. I wondered if a “Kingston Trio” CD wouldn’t be more appropriate than Braunfels’ opera on the radio.

It just may be for me that ironing is right in there with yard work. A time for reflection that also allows bona fide, measurable results relatively quickly and without malice toward another. I’m not sure that people reflect so much on things these days. That vote on HR 2454 last week seems to confirm my hunch.

Simple, mundane tasks can direct us. And while I haven’t done any extensive research on the subject I have a sneaking suspicion that something was lost and ordered liberty may have began to unravel with the introduction of the inherent lie of “permanent press.” That wrinkled look of wash and wear may excuse ironing, but what’s replaced that saved time? Certainly not paying more attention to who’s being elected or what Target is hawking in their stores.

Walter Braunfels might have had some advice for us about what posters of a political leader for sale in a store can portend but he died in 1954. But there are clues as in stories like The Birds.

Blog author: lglinzak
posted by on Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Over at World Magazine, Lee Wishing cites a speech by Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, on the subject of putting our faith in God and our own abilities instead of the government to manage economies. He quotes Rev. Sirico: “Many thinkers throughout the ages have noted that we face a choice between holding a robust faith in God or putting faith in man and institutions such as the state.”  In such tough economic times, we are reminded that we need to put our faith and trust in God first.