First Maxine Waters suggested that she might just want to nationalize the US oil industry; now Maurice Hinchey of New York is jumping on that bandwagon. And why wouldn’t they? It’s all the rage these days. Just look at Venezuela, which is rapidly emerging as a South American hellhole paradise after Hugo Chavez started nationalizing everything. Why should we be left behind?

It turns out that there are a number of very good reasons to avoid that particular bandwagon. Dr. Jay Richards discussed them last night on KKLA in Los Angeles on the Frank Pastore Show. Listen in and decide for yourself whether the US should nationalize the oil industry.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, June 19, 2008

A short time ago I posted a bit about the amount of land owned by the US government.

My blog colleague, Jordan Ballor, located a lovely map displaying graphically the amount of land owned by the government in each state. For your edification, below (see here for more details and a larger image).

Who Own's the West - Map

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Acton Institute is branching out into the technology sector with its new Acton branded flash drives.

We initially offered these drives to attendees of Acton University where they were received with cheers from bloggers and others who still remember—with a shudder—the horrors of the old 3½ floppies (remember the good old “tape hack” you could use to trick your computer into thinking that it was a DD and not an HD disk?) and even the ginormous 5¼ floppies.

These USB2.0 flash drives hold a handy 1Gb of your favorite portable files, be they MP3s, photos from your recent vacation, or documents for school or work. Just plug one into a USB port (2.0 preferred) on your computer and you’re good to go!

Acton USB Flash Drive

Buy the Acton USB Flash Drive ($20.00 USD) today at the Acton BookShoppe, and support the pursuit of a free and virtuous society.

Don’t forget to check out the other hot sellers including The Call of the Entrepreneur, Slitting the Sycamore, and A Biblical Case for Natural Law.

Shankar Vedantam on the problems of “social” governmental intervention, including increased moral hazard (HT: Arts and Letters Daily):

While it seems like common sense to pump money into an economy that is pulling the bedcovers over its head, the problem with most social interventions is that they target not robots and machines but human beings — who regularly respond to interventions in contrarian, paradoxical and unpredictable ways.

Too true. So much for homo economicus. I might also add that the unpredictability, or should I say spontaneity, of human reactions in all kinds of situations is pretty strong evidence for the reality of free choice and against mechanical determinism.

Update – Tuesday, 5:00 PM: The full menu of lecture recordings is now available. We’ll likely post some video of the evening speakers as well sometime this week. Enjoy!

It’s hard to believe, but AU 2008 has come to a close. From a staff perspective, it’s a strange feeling after a week of nonstop running (and in my case, sweating) to realize that, by golly, I don’t have any lectures to record tomorrow!

A hearty thanks goes out to all of this year’s participants from around the world, as does a fond farewell. A big part of what makes AU great is the quality of the people who come to Grand Rapids for a week in order to engage the big ideas that are presented in the lectures below. We hope to see many of you back in 2009.

And I’d be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the amazing work of Kara Eagle and her army of staff and interns, without whom the impossible task of planning, organizing, and actually putting on AU would remain impossible.

Tuesday, June 10

Wednesday, June 11

Thursday, June 12

Friday, June 13

The problem is not unique to Canada, nor entirely absent from the US, but our neighbors to the north seem to be doing their best at the moment to lead the so-called free world in denying what Americans call the First Amendment rights (speech, religion, etc.). In fact, the Canadian government’s quashing of the expression of opinion—executed through its “human rights commission”—is downright frightening. It is trite to describe this kind of thing as Orwellian, but that’s what it is.

In Canada and elsewhere, the unpopular opinions most in danger of being declared verboten tend to revolve around two issues: Islam and homosexuality.

The case of Mark Steyn, in hot water for criticizing Islam, has gotten some press, because he’s a well-known writer attached to powerful friends. See here and here.

This recent piece by David Warren in the Ottawa Citizen recounts some other cases, equally disturbing, which have gone less remarked.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, June 16, 2008

We had a very active week on the blogosphere during this year’s Acton University. The daily round-ups are linked below, as well as updated links to summary and reflective posts written after the conference’s completion. Many of our bloggers have been inspired to produce a series of reactions in the days and weeks following this year’s events.

If you’ve posted your thoughts on Acton University 2008 and we haven’t noted it above, kindly drop us a line in the comment boxes below.

The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) hosted 183 governments at a three day summit in Rome, from June 3-5. World leaders tried to find possible solutions in order to tackle the recent food crisis which has already caused hunger and civil unrest in several developing countries. Jacques Diouf Director General of FAO asked for $30 billion a year in extra financing to the United Nations needed to address world hunger threatening 862 million people.

Despite international efforts and estimates, the situation appears to be far more complex and certainly requires more than just a call for greater funding and a return to discredited subsistence economies. There is an alarming “silence” on what has contributed to this crisis and on what possible solutions already exist and can be found in Catholic social teaching.

The market economy, for instance, should not be looked upon with suspicion of greed and pure self-interest. Instead, the market economy has defeated poverty and paved the way for democracy, the promotion of human dignity, all important values of Christian social thought. It should, therefore, be considered as a resource used to fight corruption and misgovernment part of many developing countries affected by this crisis.

New solutions are, likewise, urgently required. Archbishop Silvano Tommasi, head of the Holy See’s office to the U.N. in Geneva, clearly pointed this out in an interview with the Vatican Radio. He also stressed the need to support local entrepreneurs and small farmers, encouraging them not to abandon the agricultural market.

Pope Benedict XVI in his address to the FAO summit also called for new solutions, defining this crisis as “unacceptable.” Highlighted by Zenit, the Pope underlined the need for “political action which, inspired by those principles of natural law written in man’s heart, protects the dignity of the individual.” He also underlined the need to “increase the availability of food by rewarding small farmers’ hard work and guarantee them market access; too often in fact, small farmers are penalized domestically by industrial farming and internationally by protectionist policies and practices,” as recalled by Asia News.

Diverse solutions have also been proposed by humanitarian NGOs who are following the FAO Summit, such as Oxfam, Medecins Sans Frontiers, and Care, who are condemning traditional financial aid, specifying the need to, once again, eliminate bio-fuels, protectionists regimes, VAT on food and the need to cultivate nutrient-rich food.

Unfortunately, Catholic NGOs such as Caritas Europa, FOCSIV, and Sant’egidio still do not seem to have an opinion on the matter. It is a great loss to the creativity needed for solving this crisis. These Catholic NGOs have field projects in several developing countries and surely with their longstanding experience could develop new perspectives to this situation in the light of Catholic social teaching.

Picking up on themes we’ve touched on here, here, and here, last week NYT columnist David Brooks weighed in on the culture of debt in the United States.

“The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined,” he writes. “The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened.”

Brooks has his own proposed solutions for this cultural shift. Elsewhere Richard Posner and Gary Becker debate whether there has been a paradigm change and if so what it means.

I submit that a good place to start to look would be religious institutions. Max Weber had a profound insight when he pointed out the specifically theological backgrounds (even if he didn’t get the particular backgrounds quite right) and their impact on morally-informed behavior make all the difference between someone like Richard Baxter and John Wesley on the one hand and Benjamin Franklin on the other (the easy cloak vs. iron cage comparison). A divine mandate inspires and motivates in ways other things simply aren’t able.

Brooks wants us to return to Franklin-esque “bourgeois virtues.” But it may just be that those secular virtues don’t have cultural staying power on their own, and when divorced from religious undergirding become a waystation on the way to rampant consumerism.

But hey, at least this guy has figured out a way to make the economic stimulus package permanent (unlike the Bush tax cuts).

Here’s some insight into J. K. Rowling’s perspective on tyranny, in the words of Albus Dumbledore, speaking of the arch-villain of the series:

Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many vicitms, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back! Voldemort is no different! Always he was on the lookout for the one who would challenge him. He heard the prophecy and he leapt into action… (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, p. 510).

My most immediate thought upon reading this passage was the account of King Herod in the book of Matthew.

Rowling’s work is worth paying attention to, if not for its insight and its own merits (which there certainly are), then at least for its importance as an influence on popular views of life, liberty, and love.

Also, if you want a truly strange take on the popularity of the Harry Potter series, be sure to check out this article, “Harry Potter: The Archetype of an Abortion Survivor” (HT?: The Point).