Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, February 2, 2009

This guy fails the ‘anthropological Rorshach’ test:

Jonathon Porritt, who chairs the government’s Sustainable Development Commission, says curbing population growth through contraception and abortion must be at the heart of policies to fight global warming. He says political leaders and green campaigners should stop dodging the issue of environmental harm caused by an expanding population.

The 2 child limit that Porritt encourages is not just an attempt to limit population growth, but is instead a policy that would put the UK well below replacement levels. Even assuming everyone maxed out their 2 child ‘limit,’ that wouldn’t meet the replacement level of 2.2 children per couple.

The misanthropy of much of the radical environmental movement is becoming increasingly blatant. No longer must the “P” word be spoken in hushed tones in darkened alleys. Folks like Porritt are making sure of that.

“I am unapologetic about asking people to connect up their own responsibility for their total environmental footprint and how they decide to procreate and how many children they think are appropriate,” Porritt said.

Couching such rhetoric in terms of “responsibility” and even “stewardship” is a powerful tool of deception. After all, who wants advocate being irresponsible?

Read more about environmental misanthropy on this side of the pond in the joint Acton Institute-IRD paper, “From Climate Control to Population Control: Troubling Background on the ‘Evangelical Climate Initiative’.”

Oh, and the “P” word? Porritt means “population,” but a better “P” word is “person.” Population is an abstraction. Personhood is a reality that can’t be so easily dispensed with. To quote a wise creature, “A person’s a person no matter how small.”

Blog author: hunter.baker
posted by on Monday, February 2, 2009

In response to the question, “What is wrong with socialism?”

Writing well over 2000 years ago, Aristotle answered Plato, whose Republic advocated socialism, thusly:

What is common to the greatest number gets the least amount of care. People pay most attention to what is their own: they care less for what is common; or, at any rate, they care for it only to the extent to which each is individually concerned. Even when there is no other cause for inattention, people are more prone to neglect their duty when they think that another attending to it . . .

The Republic advocated that women and children also be common property. What Aristotle wrote about sons applies to other things, as well:

[Under the plan of The Republic] each citizen will have a thousand sons; they will not be the sons of each citizen individually; any son whatever will be equally the son of any father whatever. The result will be that all will neglect all.

In other words, the word “son” loses its meaning when abused in this fashion. The same is true of the concept of property.

Aristotle is right. We love the particular, not the general. Good philosophies of government will recognize that and will thus operate on a human scale as much as possible. Socialism fails in that regard and thus loses all the non-coercive power of simple affection and care.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, February 2, 2009

This week we introduce a new regular feature we’re calling “PowerBlog Ramblings” (PBR). The concept is simple: we’ll post a question along with some background for why that question has been selected, and various PowerBlog contributors and guests will respond to that question.

We’ve named this feature “PowerBlog Ramblings” in part as an allusion to the publication with which the institute’s namesake Lord Acton was closely associated for a time, The Rambler, which was in part aimed “to provide a medium for the expression of independent opinion on subjects of the day” on topics including “home and foreign literature, politics, science and art.”

But “ramblings” are also more informal and occasional than other sorts of discursive expression, and in that spirit we’re looking to start conversations and dialogue on questions of the day with the mix of moral, theological, and economic insight you’re used to getting from the PowerBlog. That’s why these questions and answers will sometimes be more polished and sometimes not.

We’ll have a sidebar on the blog main page where we’ll post the main PBR along with all of the posted responses. Old questions and ramblings will be accessible via an archive. As always, we welcome and value your responses. If you’ve got suggestions for questions you’d like to see us tackle, email the PowerBlog staff.

The inspiration for this week’s question is a brief exchange on Fox News Channel, which includes Bob Beckel asking, “What is wrong with some form of socialism in certain areas?” The context of the quote is a discussion about the desirability of lowering domestic economic production out of concern for environmental impact.


Others are making the argument that we ought to “shrink our economy” not out of environmental but rather cultural concerns.

So the PBR question for this week is, “What is wrong with socialism?”

Ramble on…

Ramblings:

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, January 29, 2009

As the media bombard us with misleading language describing the role of government in the economy (e.g., that a stimulus plan will “inject money” or “create jobs”), those who know better need to keep up a steady drumbeat of common sense concerning the potential and track record of the state’s involvement in economic affairs. Long-time Acton associate Paul Cleveland’s newly published Unmasking the Sacred Lies is a valuable contribution to the effort.

Professor of Economics at Birmingham-Southern College, Cleveland combines here a scholar’s appreciation of policy details with a down-to-earth style that will appeal to a wide audience. Cleveland is master of the telling anecdote, demonstrating in each of a series of policy areas—inter alia, monetary, transportation, education, and welfare—that government intervention often has pernicious consequences, whether intended or not. If, for example, you were not aware of just how contorted federal agriculture policy is, his chapter on that subject will be a disturbing revelation.

Academics will quibble with the simplified story lines of some of these analyses (e.g., this historian would dispute a few points in the treatment of Lincoln, slavery, and the Civil War), but the decision to sacrifice some complexity for the sake of readability is a trade-off any writer can appreciate.

Significantly, Cleveland concludes the book with a chapter titled, “The Lawlessness of Too Many Laws.” It is perhaps paradoxical, but in the present situation of pell-mell government expansion, I believe it is limited-government and (non-anarcho-) libertarian folks who are the defenders of the dignity and integrity of government. As Cleveland aptly observes, the generation of too many laws turns the normally law-abiding citizen into an unwitting law-breaker, with the result that the rule of law itself is severely compromised. Some would say we’re already there. At least in certain fields of economic activity, I think that’s hard to dispute.

If it is any longer possible to turn this ship around, it will be only by a massive intellectual and moral awakening. In that cause, this book can only help.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On the first half of today’s installment of The Diane Rehm Show, Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute got off a good line in the midst of a discussion concerning federal regulation of emission standards.

Concerning the performance of the American car manufacturers in comparison to that of foreign automakers, and the moral hazard involved in the various bailouts, Taylor said, “Capitalism without the threat of bankruptcy is like Christianity without the threat of hell. It doesn’t work very well.”

Other guests included Mary Nichols (Chairman of the California Air Resources Board), Phyllis Cuttino (director the Pew Environment Group’s U.S. Global Warming Campaign), and David Shepardson (Washington Bureau Chief for The Detroit News). The discussion focused in large part on the attempts by California to regulate emissions within its own borders more strictly than allowed by the federal EPA.

Arguments that California is “too large” of a state and has too big of an economy to enjoy certain rights doesn’t strike me as very convincing. That’s simply a consequentialist argument: that the nationwide effects of allowing California to do this will be bad, and therefore we shouldn’t recognize the state’s right to handle its own regulation. If it really is an issue of federalism and state’s rights, the issue shouldn’t in the first place be whether or not recognition of a right will presumably have a negative economic impact. There are a lot of assumptions wrapped up in that argument.

No state is an economic island unto itself. The mere fact that the national economy is largely integrated doesn’t by itself mean that states do not have the right to make decisions about how to regulate things within their own borders. Just what is the line between acceptable and unacceptable national economic impact? Adverse feelings to this particular action on the part of California isn’t sufficient to draw lines too hastily. How might this apply to other industries and commodities?

Indeed, we can discuss whether CO2 emissions ought to be regulated at the federal level under the commerce clause, but I don’t think the size of a state should determine what rights it does or does not have. Maybe the consequentialist line of reasoning is inherently wrapped up in the commerce clause (I’m certainly no constitutional expert). But the clause has been stretched so much (e.g. it applies to a farmer consuming what he grows on his own farm) that a little pullback seems warranted, and without the creation of a(n) (inter)national carbon market (a remarkably bad idea) the clause doesn’t seem to me to be directly relevant to emissions.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, January 26, 2009

By happy serendipity two books of related interest caught my attention today.

The first is David Cowan’s Economic Parables: The Monetary Teachings of Jesus Christ (Paternoster, 2007). Michael Kruse recommends the book in a brief review.

The other book is a newly-announced Christianity Today award winner in the “Biblical Studies” category. The judges describe Klyne R. Snodgrass’ Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus as “a superb culmination of career-long reflection on one of the most important genres in biblical literature.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, January 26, 2009

Government is most surely a divinely-ordained reality, and a blessing that we must celebrate. But governments realize their task when they recognize their own divinely-ordained limits.

Government exists as a form of common grace to preserve the world for Christ’s coming, when the government as an order of preservation will give way to a divine monarchy (“Every knee will bow.”). In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the government is here to keep “open” the orders of the world for Christ.

But when government oversteps this mandate, it tyrannizes the other orders of preservation and undermines the basis for its own existence. It then becomes a force for destruction as much as for preservation.

In addition to strident debate and firm resolution in public affairs, satire is a powerful tool in calling the government to heed its limits. It is in this spirit that the following two items are offered.

First, “The Heaviest Element Known to Science.”

Lawrence Livermore Laboratories has discovered the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause reaction that would normally take less than a second, to take from 4 days to 4 years to complete. Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2-6 years. It does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes. This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass. When catalysed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons.

And second,


As Bonhoeffer wrote in his 1933 essay, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” a basic task of the church is to “continually ask the state whether its action can be justified as legitimate action of the state, i.e. as action which leads to law and order, and not to lawlessness and disorder.” In so doing, the church shows itself to be the state’s “most faithful servant.”

After all, pointing out the excesses, sins, and errors of another can be the most sublime act of love.

An awesome piece from Mary Eberstadt in First Things

She starts with a description of the intellectual elite’s thoughts about communism before the fall of the Berlin Wall– despite the evidences. She then cites Jeane Kirkpatrick’s contemporary analysis in her essay of the title echoed by Eberstadt: “The Will to Disbelieve”. From there, Ebestadt draws an analogy to “the sexual revolution”– “the powerful will to disbelieve in the harmful effects of another world-changing social and moral force governed by bad ideas”.

As Eberstadt notes about “the benefits of marriage and monogamy” and the impact of single-parent homes on children:

…the empirical record by now weighs overwhelmingly against the liberationists…an empirical record has been assembled that is beyond refutation and that testifies to the unhappy economic, social, and moral consequences….Yet in both cases, the minority of scholars who have amassed the empirical record and drawn attention to it have been rewarded, for the most part, with a spectrum of reaction ranging from indifference to ridicule to wrath.

…[their] words and formulations like them have been fighting words among sociologists, with the majority lining up, sometimes ferociously…It’s not that they are unaware of the evidence. It’s just that they feel forced to explain it away. Such is the deep desire to disbelieve that shapes—and misshapes—so much of what we read about sex today….

Eberstadt continues by noting a few ironies and making suggestions on language and tactics (creatively borrowing from a provocative source)– before concluding with an appropriately hopeful note.

For more on this, click through to my blog &/or to Eberstadt’s piece.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My commentary today looks at President Obama’s deft use of narrative — the art of story telling — to inspire and motivate. By his own admission, Obama has taken a page from the playbook of the Great Communicator himself, Ronald Reagan.

Reagan biographer Lou Cannon told the Chicago Tribune last year that Obama has “a narrative reach” and a talent for story telling that reminds him of the late president. Reagan “made other people a part of his own narrative, and that’s what Obama is doing,” Cannon said. “By doing it, it expands his reach because he isn’t necessarily just another partisan Democrat.”

Indeed, in January 2008, Obama noted how Reagan “changed the trajectory” of America, put the country on a “fundamentally different path,” when the nation was ready for it. “He just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing,” Obama said.

Obama has placed his own story into the great narrative stream of American history. For many, like the million or so people who jammed the National Mall yesterday, this story has them convinced that Obama is the one to, as he promised to do yesterday, “begin the work of remaking America.” I point out that “if religious conservatives and free market advocates are to oppose Obama on those issues where there is fundamental disagreement, they will have to craft their own counter-narrative” to Obama’s.

Human actions are made intelligible as they are communicated through narrative. The ethicist Alisdair MacIntyre has observed that man is essentially a story telling animal, one that uses narrative to find truth, both through his own history and through connections to the stories of others. We enter human society, MacIntyre said, with an “imputed” character and then we learn what our role is and how others view us through that role. “I can only answer the question, ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’” MacIntyre wrote.

Those who wish to move nations, or start a social movement, understand how stories have been used since the dawn of time to create national or ethnic identities (beginning in the West with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and Virgil’s Aeneid), to communicate religious truth (The Greatest Story Ever Told), and motivate social change (Uncle Tom’s Cabin). As G. K. Chesterton observed, “All life is an allegory and can be understood only in parable.”

Read “Obama and the Moral Imagination” on the Acton site.

More on this subject:

The Moral Imagination. By Russell Kirk. The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal

Moral Imagination, Humane Letters, and the Renewal of Society. By Vigen Guroian. The Heritage Foundation

The Leaky Bucket: Why Conservatives Need to Learn the Art of Story. By David M. Phelps. Religion & Liberty

Why Should Businessmen Read Great Literature? By Vigen Guroian. Religion & Liberty

The Morality of Narrative Imagination. By Jordan Ballor. Acton PowerBlog

Bavinck on the Moral Imagination. By Jordan Ballor. Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: brittany.hunter
posted by on Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dire predictions about the “death of capitalism” reveal a deep ignorance about the nature of the current economic crisis — technical and moral. “Markets are the combined activities of millions of individuals and families,” Michael Miller writes in this week’s Acton Commentary. “They are not composed merely of some guys on Wall Street; they are made up by us.”

Read the commentary over at Acton’s website, and share your thoughts and comments here.