Recently the Acton Institute pulled back the political camouflage of the Lifestyle Tax, a new tax under consideration by the Senate Finance Committee, and exposed it as an extension of the Sin Tax.  The Senate Finance Committee is considering levying the Lifestyle Tax to raise funds for President Obama’s health care plan.

Reverend Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, wrote an article on the Sin Tax and the proposal of expanding it to tax soft drinks.  You can read Rev. Sirico’s column in The American.

Click here to read the press release issued by the Acton Institute concerning the propsed Lifestyle Taxes.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, June 22, 2009

I had the privilege of lecturing at last week’s Acton University on the topic of Lutheran Social Ethics. In preparing for that session, I was struck again at just how “Lutheran” Dietrich Bonhoeffer sounds every time I read him.

Here’s an example. Last week I asked, “Whither justice?” and noted some of Luther’s words on the subject. Here’s Bonhoeffer, from Life Together, virtually echoing Luther:

What does it matter if I suffer injustice? Would I not have deserved even more severe punishment from God if God had not treated me with mercy? Is not justice done to me even done to me a thousand times over even in injustice? Must it not be beneficial and conducive to humility for me to learn to bear such petty ills silently and patiently?

In the midst of the release of his expected encyclical, Pope Benedict is calling for a new world economic order; a model that is “more attentive to the demands of solidarity and more respectful of human dignity.” Professor Philip Booth, editorial and program director of the Institute for Economic Affairs, and speaker at Acton University, was interviewed by The Catholic Herald, a UK paper, about the Pope’s upcoming encyclical:

…it would be dangerous to follow a path of greater socialization and greater regulation of the economy and financial sector.  This is a model that has been tried and which is failing.

But what is essential is ethical renewal in all aspects of life-including in the financial sector.  Trying to deal with problems such as the lack of ethics in economic life with more regulation is like trying to deal with promiscuity through sex education lessons – it is the wrong instrument.

Kishore Jayabalan, director of Istituto Acton in Rome and an AU lecturer, was also interviewed by The Herald.

The Pope’s challenge to all of us is that we make the best possible use of our freedom and gifts, which will require a bit more intellectual and spiritual fortitude than we’ve seen from most of our political and business leaders recently.

To read the article and more comments by Professor Booth and Jayabalan please click here.

Pope Benedict’s encyclical is expected to be released on June 29.  The Acton Institute will be commenting on the encyclical once it is released and we encourage everybody to return to the PowerBlog and our website for more commentary.

Blog author: brittany.hunter
posted by on Friday, June 19, 2009

Here are the first two audio clips I have to share with you from Acton University:

Wednesday Night Opening Speech: Rev. Robert Sirico, Thoughts on Human Dignity

Thursday Night Keynote: Dr. Robert P. George, speaking on natural law

(Files are MP3 format. Right-click to download.)

More media to come today and next week.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, June 18, 2009

Evidently, the Obama campaign’s success has attracted imitators. From the People’s Weekly World:

CHICAGO — The Communist Party USA has established a new Religion Commission to strengthen its work among religious people and organizations. In its leadership are activists representing various religious traditions from around the country. Tim Yeager, a Chicago trade unionist and a member of the Episcopal Church, serves as its chair.

“We want to reach out to religious people and communities, to find ways of improving our coalition work with them, and to welcome people of faith into the party,” Yeager said.

I hesitate to say that “reaching out to religious people” is ever a bad thing, but… if this means a renewed effort to demonstrate some kind of compatibility between Marxism and Christianity, then we’ve seen this movie before. It was called liberation theology and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pretty well settled the question back in 1984 and 1986 (at least as far as Catholics are concerned) in documents promulgated by the man who is now Pope Benedict XVI. The CDF carefully distinguished genuinely Christian forms of ‘liberation theology’ from objectionable versions, but it explained clearly that and why the categories of Marxist analysis and Christian theology are fundamentally incompatible.

The CPUSA recognizes the delicacy of the situation: “Yeager acknowledged that relations between some Marxist parties and religious institutions in other parts of the world have been marked by conflict.” Yes, such as Russia, Hungary, Albania, Lithuania, Cuba, China, Korea, and Vietnam, for starters. Although “marked by conflict” doesn’t seem quite to capture the phenomenon of churches and religious believers systematically targeted for annihilation by totalitarian states informed by an atheist ideology that views faith in Jesus Christ as delusional and a dangerous obstacle to progress.

Blog author: brittany.hunter
posted by on Thursday, June 18, 2009

Today began the second full day of classes at Acton U, and while the conference has been very busy, a few of the bloggers present have had a chance to post some reflections, reactions, and notes.

Fr. Z has had an active few days and has managed to post three Acton University posts so far:

Eric Larson at RedState Electric is experiencing his first Acton University and shared some great observations about the four foundational courses that he attended yesterday.

Denis E. Ambrose Jr has two great Acton U posts on his blog “Provoking the Muse”.

If you’ve been blogging Acton University and I’ve missed you, please let me know!

People have also been active on the Acton University Twitter feed, and we’re working on some audio for later today.

Stay tuned for more from Acton University!

Today Sam Gregg’s article ‘Whither Central Banking?’ appeared in the blog of the Whitherspoon Institute, Public Discourse.  In light of Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel’s criticism of central banking Gregg takes a thoughtful analysis on improving central banking to help aid our recovery from the financial crisis we currently face.

Gregg addresses an important political question that must be addressed when determining the roles of central banks:

The bigger political question, however, is the place of central banks in democratic political orders. Insulating central banks from excessive political influence reflects recognition of the truth that even in a democracy there are many public-policy decisions that should not be made by legislative or popular votes. Most democracies, for example, embody constitutional limits on the ability of governments and legislatures to interfere with the judiciary’s operations. This is usually derived from awareness that the common good normally requires some separation of powers in order to prevent excessive centralization of power.

Another problem of central banks, argued by Gregg is:

The problem is that when it comes to the economy, governments have legitimate reasons for being concerned about and involved in the development of economic policy. This inevitably raises questions about how to maintain the autonomy of central banks and what ought to constitute the content of that autonomy. Governments committed to pursuing populist and socialist policies have no qualms about dramatically limiting or even abolishing such autonomy.

Gregg does not only address the problems, but he also suggests a solution.  Read more of Gregg’s essay at Public Discourse.

Blog author: brittany.hunter
posted by on Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Today marks the opening of the much-anticipated Acton University 2009, a four-day conference exploring the intellectual foundations of a free society, held annually in downtown Grand Rapids.

In these troubled economic times, this conference is more relevant and valuable than ever, featuring a diverse schedule of over 50 courses dealing with economics, Christian theology and social thought, philosophy, and business. Almost 400 participants from nearly 50 countries will learn from a world-class faculty, engage in rigorous discussion, and deeply reflect on these issues of liberty and morality which are so important to the future of society.

For those who are unable to attend the conference conference, the communications staff here at Acton will be doing our best to deliver the conference to you in a variety of ways. For starters, you can click here check out the ActonU Feed, live from Twitter, where many Acton University participants will be twittering about their experiences at the conference. You can also Subscribe to this feed to receive the AU updates in your RSS reader. And if you have something to twitter about AU, don’t forget to use the #actonu hashtag so that you are included in the larger discussion!

We plan to post some of the great audio from the Acton University lectures that will happen later this week, so stay tuned. In the meantime, if you’re eager for AU audio you can check out our archive from last year.

In addition, Al Kresta, host of Ave Maria Radio’s flagship national production Kresta in the Afternoon, will once again be broadcasting live from AU from Wednesday, June 17 through Friday, June 19. Listen live on the Ave Maria site from 3 – 6 PM (EST) as Al Kresta interviews AU speakers and attendees.

We also hope that it will be an active week for AU in the blogosphere, and we’ll do our best to bring you highlights with some blogger roundups. Fr. Z from What Does the Prayer Really Say? will be with us once again, as well as many other avid bloggers. (If you are liveblogging from the event, let us know in the comments!)

Check back for updates on the PowerBlog as the week continues. It’s sure to be a busy week with lots of great food for thought.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Just how zealous for justice ought Christians be? I admit that I’m always just a bit put off when folks describe the prime mission of Christians as pursuing justice in the world. Let’s not forget that the foundational Christian reality is forgiving love on the basis of the divine justice manifested on the cross.

Or as Luther puts it in his commentary on Romans (emphasis added),

This is the reason (if I may speak of myself) why even hearing the word “justice” nauseates me to the point that if someone robbed me, he would not bring me such grief. And yet the word is always sounding in the mouths of the lawyers. There is no race of men upon the earth who are more ignorant about this matter than the lawyers and the good-intentioners and the intellectuals. For I in myself and with many others have had the experience that when we were righteous, God laughed at us in our righteousness. And yet I have heard men who dared to say: “I know that I have righteousness, but God does not notice it.” That is true, but it is a righteousness only in one particular; but for this God cares nothing. Therefore the only complete righteousness is humility, which subjects everyone to everyone else and thus gives everything to everyone, as Christ says to John: “Thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15).

Thus in Dan. 3 Azariah confesses that he and his friends are at one and the same time suffering justly and yet are afflicted with evil, namely, at the hands of the wicked king. For even though he who acts does so unjustly, yet he does not do so to the person who suffers; for that person suffers justly. For by what legal right does the devil possess men? Or by what legal right does an evil hangman hang a thief? Certainly not in his own right, but by that of the judge. Thus men who glory in their own righteousness are unwilling to listen to the supreme Judge, but only to their own judgment, and because in respect to their victim they are innocent, they think that they really are innocent in every way.

Therefore since before God no one is righteous, absolutely no injustice can be done to a person by any other creature, even though he may have justice on his side. Thus all cause for contention is taken away from men. Therefore, to whomsoever an injury is done or an evil comes in return for his good actions, let him turn away his eyes from this evil and remember how great his own evil is in other respects, and then he will see how good the will of God is even in this evil which has come upon him; for this is what it means to be renewed in one’s mind and to be changed into another state of mind and to be wise in the things of God. Thus it is definite that Peter would not have glorified God if he had girded himself and gone where he wanted to go, even though he would not have walked a wicked path, but the highest road of righteousness. But after this road of his own righteousness was prohibited and he went where he did not want to go but where another wanted, then he glorified God. So also we cannot glorify God unless we do what we do not wish, even in the case of our own works of righteousness, indeed, particularly in the case of our own righteousness, our own counsels, or our own strength. And thus to hate our own life and to will against our own will, to be wise in opposition to our own wisdom, to confess sin in the face of our own righteousness, to heed foolishness spoken against our own wisdom, this is “to take our cross” (Matt. 10:38), “to be His disciples” (Luke 14:27), and “to be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

Don’t get me wrong. I acknowledge that the ethical norm in social ethics is “justice.” But out of sheer humility let’s not be too zealous for justice, at least not without consciously, intentionally, and systematically connecting it to divine love.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, June 12, 2009

A great deal of focus in the midst of the economic downturn has been on “green” jobs, that sector of industry that focuses on renewable sources of energy and that, according to some pundits and politicians, heralds the future of American economic resurgence. Here in Michigan, the long-suffering canary in the country’s economic mineshaft, the state government has particularly focused on these “green” jobs as an alternative both to fossil fuels and to fossil fuel industries, including most notably the Big Three automakers.

Apart from the dangers, moral and otherwise, endemic to government officials picking winners, there’s a need to rethink this entire framework. Even if such predictions about the future of alternative and renewable energy sources are realistic, it’s highly doubtful that the businesses that produce these kinds of technologies will ever employ enough people to begin to replace the losses to the labor force following the various bankruptcies, selloffs, buyouts, and layoffs.

The lesson state officials ought to learn is one about fostering an economic environment that promotes diversification and sustainability through creative liberty, rather than being tied to any one (however hopeful) sector of the economy.

This lesson also has something to teach us about how to truly promote sustainable business. The jobs that are most usually called “green,” like the places that manufacture wind turbines or solar cells, are a tiny part of the economic picture. Instead of “green” jobs, we ought to focus on “greening” jobs, changing the way we do jobs that already exist.

Anyone who works in business will tell you that at a certain point of production it is far more lucrative to eliminate $1 of waste than to gain $1 in sales. The eliminated waste goes straight to the bottom line, while the increased sales brings along all kinds of overhead that cuts into profits. As part of a recent feature titled “Work Reinvented,” Forbes reporter David Whelan described how many employees are taking the challenge of the economic downturn as an opportunity to “reinvent” their jobs. As Whelan writes,

Technology–computers and teleconferencing equipment, that is–makes fixed employment in a fixed place less necessary. Economics makes it less available. With chronic instability comes a shift in loyalty from the company to one’s own calling, skills and personal life.

Technological advancement, economic conditions, and environmental concerns might combine to create the perfect storm for the reformation of many kinds of jobs. For some, including a few profiled in Whelan’s report, this might mean an increase in telecommuting (although then again, perhaps not). For others it might mean job sharing, opening up their own business, or negotiating different compensation packages. An added benefit of this kind of innovative flexibility might be curbing of the transitory nature of today’s employment scene. There’s no way real way to enjoy human community when young and middle-aged professionals are moving every 2 to 3 years.

But in terms of political economy, our policies ought to be focused on the broader picture of “greening” a diverse landscape of jobs rather than subsidizing a narrow strip of “green” jobs.