Acton’s tireless director of research Samuel Gregg has a post up at NRO’s The Corner in reaction to yesterday’s bad poverty numbers (46.2 million Americans live below the poverty line now—2.6 million more than last year). Gregg is ultimately not surprised about the increase, because not only does the American welfare state produce long term dependence on governmental support, but the huge debt incurred by poverty programs tends to slow economic growth.

It is now surely clear that the trillions of dollars expended on welfare programs since the not-so-glorious days of the 1960s have not apparently made much of a dent in significantly changing the ratio of Americans in poverty.

In some instances, America’s welfare apparatus may have prevented some people (especially the elderly) from falling into abject poverty. There is, however, very little evidence that it has helped millions of people out of relative poverty. There is also plenty of data to indicate that many welfare programs have produced intergenerational dependency on the state—a point that even Bill Clinton seemed to have grasped by the mid-1990s.

Gregg then warns against the temptation to double down on government-as-the-answer, arguing that we don’t have the fiscal leeway to experiment as we did in the 1960s.

We need to keep these serious failures of America’s welfare state in mind because these new poverty numbers will almost certainly be used as an argument by some people of good will (as well as those whose motives are far less noble) to resist any reductions in welfare spending, despite America’s far-from-healthy debt and deficit situation. Yet the sheer size of government spending on entitlement programs (by far the biggest item in the federal government’s budget) makes cuts in these areas inescapable if—I repeat, if—our political masters are serious about wanting to balance the government’s books.

Indeed, such cuts are assuming an ever-increasing urgency in light of the studies which continue to appear indicating that crushing levels of public and government debt run the risk of significantly impeding growth. That’s worrying, not least because a slowdown in growth will hurt those in poverty far more than the wealthy. Strong growth rates are one of the most powerful antidotes to poverty – just ask anyone living in mainland China or India. More welfare spending is simply not the answer.

Full post here.

Mark your calendar! As announced earlier this year, Dr. Hunter Baker is the recipient of the 2011 Novak Award. Hunter will deliver the 11th annual Calihan Lecture and receive this year’s Novak Award on October 5, 2011 at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA. Hunter’s presentation will conclude a day-long conference, “Whole Life Discipleship: Integrating Faith, Economics, & Work,” which will consist of two other lectures and a panel discussion. For more information or to register to attend, please see the event page or the press release.

President Obama wants his American Jobs Act passed immediately. You know this already—he made sure he delivered that message in his speech: “Pass this jobs plan right away” was his refrain. President Obama has definitely not read the Federalist Papers in a while. If he had, he would not be encouraging Congress to pass half-a-trillion dollars of new spending at a moment’s notice.

Congress is not a quick-strike team, and the Senate especially is not designed to be a rapidly responsive body. James Madison explained in Federalist #62 that it is to be slow and deliberative, because “mutable government” is ineffective and dangerous.

What indeed are all the repealing, explaining, and amending laws, which fill and disgrace our voluminous codes [under the Articles of Confederation], but so many monuments of deficient wisdom; so many impeachments exhibited by each succeeding against each preceding session; so many admonitions to the people, of the value of those aids which may be expected from a well-constituted senate?…

To trace the mischievous effects of a mutable government would fill a volume…. It poisons the blessing of liberty.

The president’s urgency is understandable—he wants desperately to help the economy, and it could use help. It was announced today that the poverty rate is higher than it has been in 28 years, that the median household income has fallen, and that the number of people with health insurance has fallen. In his jobs speech, the president asked Congress to put political games aside, saying,

The next election is 14 months away. And the people who sent us here—the people who hired us to work for them—they don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months. Some of them are living week to week, paycheck to paycheck, even day to day. They need help, and they need it now.

The irony may be painful, but President Obama was begging assistance from a body designed to fail him. And if Congress does pass something, the rich will be much more able to take advantage of the unintended consequences of the bill—as Madison put it:

Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uniformed mass of the people.

Nobody actually expects relief for the poor from the Jobs Act, because economic growth isn’t generated by money taken out of the hands of productive businesses and entrepreneurs. (Google “cost of stimulus jobs” for a dark laugh.) It takes time to build up a business that contributes to the economy—Americans don’t really believe that 20th century progressives discovered the secret of warp speed, government-catalyzed growth.

In the mean time, who takes care of those who live “week to week” and “day to day?” Private institutions, of course (see Acton’s Principles for Budget Reform): churches and local charities and other groups that are equipped to provide assistance in less than 14 months. As Bruce Walker explained in an Acton Commentary last Christmas,

If one relies on government programs to help the poor, how can one be blamed for asserting “I gave at the office” rather than ponying up at the Salvation Army drum or the church collection basket, or buying a Christmas goose for the laid-off father of the family at the end of the block?

It’s getting too easy to pick on this administration.

Director of Research Samuel Gregg is among those reacting to last night’s CNN/Tea Party Debate on National Review Online. His first point is that “when CNN hosts a Tea Party–sponsored debate, you know we’re not in 2008 anymore.” Gregg’s take is that the debate was a lot more mainstream than the network wanted us to think, and that the economic questions raised and debated are going to be the central issues of the 2012 election:

Almost all of the candidates demonstrated their ability to raise sharp questions about the present administration’s specific policies but also about the basic philosophy informing those positions. The question running through my mind was how the president was going to provide convincing (let alone coherent) responses to the critiques I heard of policies ranging from Obamacare, to his administration’s not-so-subtle association with some of America’s worst examples of crony capitalism, to the ramping up of deficit spending that has produced so few tangible results in terms of employment and growth.

Gregg doesn’t see the Tea Party’s influence declining anytime soon:

It was also revealing that the economic questions asked at this forum closely mirrored many of the issues raised at the previous debates. This suggests that all the talk about the Tea Party’s running out of steam since 2010 seems less convincing than ever. Whether the Republican party likes it or not, the Tea Party is still galvanizing American conservatives and also, perhaps more importantly, independents. And that spells deep trouble for the Left in 2012.

Director of Research Samuel Gregg has written a special report for the American Spectator about Benedict XVI’s upcoming trip to Germany. The recent World Youth Day in Spain may have looked like a bigger challenge for Benedict, but Gregg says that Germany, while its economy looks good, is facing rough seas ahead.

Germany finds itself propping up a political experiment (otherwise known as the euro) that’s tottering under the weight of its internal contradictions. As the German tabloid Bild put it: “Will we finally have to pay for all of Europe?”

Looking beyond the present, however, grave challenges lie ahead for Germany—not all of which are economic.

Germanyhas, for instance, one of Western Europe’s worst birthrates. That spells trouble for Germany’s future productivity and its welfare state. A second issue is Germany’s struggle with the questions of immigration and non-assimilated Muslim minorities and the subsequently-inevitable always-awkward debates about what it means to be German in modern Europe.

And the institution whose clarity of thought and moral influence should be guiding the country as it faces those issues—the German Church—is weakened.

On the surface, the German Church’s problems are manifested in the large numbers of German Catholics who say they’ve left the church in recent years (the very liberal Protestant German churches are shedding members even faster). Then there are the sex abuse scandals which emerged when ugly stories began circulating about what had really gone on in a now not-so-prestigious Berlin-based Jesuit school in the 1970s and ’80s.

There is, however, another dimension to German Catholicism’s present problems: a story of the follies of accommodation to whatever counts as “modern” or “contemporary” at any given moment.

The German Church has become heavily bureaucratized (and staffed by many unbelievers), and its response to Vatican II has been less to engage with modernity and more to accommodate it. The Church has lowered its focus, Gregg says, to two worldly concerns:

The first is power within the structures of German Catholicism because (sotto voce) “we all know” life is really about acquiring power rather than knowing truth. The second is upon changing Catholicism to make the Church look much more like “the world” because (sotto voce) “we all know” the fullness of divine truth is “out there” rather than in the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

Gregg does not despair, however, for

Younger bishops, priests and laity are far less worried about upsetting those tenured theologians who aren’t sure if Christ is God but who are absolutely convinced no sin could possibly be mortal. The epicenter of German Catholic life is shifting away from what Benedict once called “the spent and tired” bureaucracy and is increasingly with what he describes as initiatives that “come from within, from the joy of young people.”

And that, perhaps, is what Benedict will bring to the German Church: a sense of the joy of living a full Christian life, a message that contrasts sharply with the Götterdämmerung of a fading generation of Catholics in perpetual rebellion against anything which suggests modernity doesn’t have all the answers. And in the contest of hope versus despair, we all know who ultimately wins.

Five years ago today, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a talk titled “Faith, Reason and the University” at the University of Regensburg in Germany. The lecture set off a firestorm of controversy concerning Christian-Muslim relations. On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg reflects, noting that calling it “one of this century’s pivotal speeches is probably an understatement.”

Gregg says that the reaction to the pope’s speech “underscored most Western intellectuals’ sheer ineptness when writing about religion.” More seriously:

… Regensburg shattered the inconsequential niceties that had hitherto typified most Catholic-Muslim discussions. Instead of producing more happy-talk, Benedict indicated that such conversations could no longer avoid more substantial, more difficult questions: most notably, how Christianity and Islam understand God’s nature. Regensburg reminded us that it matters whether God is essentially Logos (Divine Reason) or Voluntas (Pure Will). The first understanding facilitates civilizational development, true freedom, and a complete understanding of reason. The second sows the seeds of decline, oppression, and unreason.

But perhaps above all, Regensburg asked the West to look itself in the mirror and consider whether some of its inner demons reflected the fact that it, like the Islamic world, was undergoing an inner crisis: one which was reducing Christian faith to subjective opinion, natural reason to the merely measurable, and love to sentimental humanitarianism. The West, Benedict suggested, was in the process of a closing of its own mind.

Read “Benedict at Regensburg: Why It Still Matters” on NRO.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, September 12, 2011
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The folks over at Think Christian asked me to write up a response to President Obama’s jobs speech from last Thursday. That response is now up over at the TC site, “The misplaced faith of Obama’s job speech.”

I took special note of President Obama’s invocation of a couple lines from JFK: “Our problems are man-made – therefore they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants.” I found this quote, used in this context, to be particularly illuminating. It illustrates perfectly, I think, an idolatrous view of human ability, particularly of human politics.

So when you add the formula, “Man can be as big as he wants,” to the president’s derision of “some rigid idea about what government could or could not do,” and you’ve got an equation that results in government as big as we want.

In some ways then the question really does come down to this: How big of a government do we really want? We’ve been electing politicians for decades that have been promising us things that could only be accomplished by massive expansions in government. If we want truth-tellers in politics, as Thomas Friedman rightly urges, then citizens have to demand them, and hold ourselves to the maxim, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Rev. Robert A. Sirico has lent his voice to Dave Ramsey’s new project The Great Recovery. The sound finance guru is leading a grassroots movement based on the principle that economic recovery cannot be a top-down, Washington-directed endeavor. Rather, our economy “will be restored one family at a time, as each of us takes a stand to return to God and grandma’s way of handling money.”

Rev. Sirico has recorded a video for the “Top Leaders” section of the website and he calls for Americans to return to the idea of vocation—to treat their work as an offering to God.

It’s discouraging to see so often how believers will separate their worship of God on Sunday from what they do from Monday to the following Saturday. It’s almost as though in the minds of some believers, there is no connection between our faith and our work.

Here’s the video in its entirety:

Blog author: rnothstine
Friday, September 9, 2011
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Justin Constantine has written an excellent piece on the high cost of war in the Atlantic titled “Wounded in Iraq: A Marine’s Story.”

Constantine, who was shot in the head in Iraq, notes in his essay,

Blood and treasure are the costs of war. However, many news articles today only address the treasure — the ballooning defense budget and high-priced weapons systems. The blood is simply an afterthought. Forgotten is the price paid by our wounded warriors. Forgotten are the families torn apart by lengthy and multiple deployments. Forgotten are the relatives of those who make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. As we look back on 9/11, we should also remember all those who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Fewer than 1 percent of Americans have fought in these wars, and it is important for the public to understand their effects on our fighters and those close to them.

Constantine also touches on his own frustration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in the piece. I wrote a commentary in 2009 on the need for the federal government to fulfill its obligations to our veterans before expanding its scope and reach on health care. The fact that Congress rushed through a comprehensive health care law in 2010 without major reform of care for veterans speaks to the failure of the political leadership in this nation.

We should remember the high cost of war this weekend and every day. Constantine evokes the 44,000 wounded warriors from Afghanistan and Iraq and the more than 6,000 families who have had to bury a loved one. Last Memorial Day, I wrote a post on a few of the men whose names adorn the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. One of the names is Roy Mitchell Wheat, a Medal of Honor recepient from Moselle, Miss. Trying to hold back tears, his brother recently offered these haunting but wise words about the cost of war,

When you see a man there that’s 19 years old, and you can look in the casket and his shoes are at the end of it. And his pants legs is neatly rolled up. It’s, that’s when you realize what war is.

Over at National Review Online, a panel of experts reacts to last night’s jobs speech by President Obama. Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg, was not encouraged by what he heard: a jumble of disproven Keynesian theories and strong-man rhetoric. Gregg’s commentary in full:

Tonight’s speech was more of the same. President Obama’s hectoring lecture reflected the usual fare of Keynesianism mixed with mild nods to the private sector that we’re come to expect. It also embodied an abiding faith in government that would be touching if it weren’t so detached from economic reality. Granted, Paul Krugman will surely bewail that the president didn’t go far enough with this third stimulus plan. But that’s what it is.

There was much talk about fixing infrastructure. Public works is something even Adam Smith thought the state should do. But haven’t we been here before? Didn’t we hear something about “shovel-ready” jobs a while ago? Why should this time be different?

Likewise, on the president’s reference to mortgage relief: When will he understand that policies that slow down the market-clearing process merely prolong the pain?

Naturally, there was the now-monotonous call to increase taxes on those who, well, already pay most of the taxes. These are the same individuals and businesses whose capital fuels the creation of jobs—not the personifications ofAmerica’s economic problems who were sitting with the first lady: GE’s Jeff Immelt, the face of American corporate welfare, and the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka, the symbol of union obstructionism.

Over and over again, the president insisted: “You should pass this jobs plan—right away.” I thought the legislature’s job was to carefully assess legislation, not just roll over because the boss wants something. Such rhetoric—and the speech’s substance—suggests the president has never really left the mental horizons of Chicago politics. America is the poorer for it.