I have argued for many years now that free markets are intrinsically good. I have tried to engage this issue with Christians but many are either not interested or do not see any importance in the pursuit. I know markets can become bad masters when people lack virtue. I also know that the alternatives to free markets have littered the twentieth century with more death than any single cause in human history. (Think socialism, fascism and Marxism.) And representative democracy, a republic of just laws, is not perfect either but it sure beats the alternatives. Shared power is always better than control by the one or the few. Social engineering and economic planning by an elite and powerful few strips us of both human dignity and true freedom.

Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University, is the author of a new book, The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Politics, that has a significant bearing on how we should think about the political side of economic concerns in America. Professor Caplan concludes, in words that are not at all comforting to me personally, that most Americans cast their votes on the basis of irrational biases about economics. This, he reasons, is why candidates who oppose free markets, free trade, profits and immigration win. Sadly, I am quite sure that he is right about this point.

Creators Syndicate writer John Stossel, in reviewing the professor’s new book, says: "People tend to acquire wrong opinions about economic policy packaged in worldviews they inherited while growing up." Since people resist, and often strongly, having their own worldview challenged or changed they will vote for those candidates who make them feel good. Stossel concludes that this means "They will vote irrationally." I have long sensed that this was true on an intuitive level but the professor’s argument tends to fortify what I had only sensed but not quite had a handle on how to argue my case well. Simply put, most voters see no compelling reason to vote otherwise since their choices in elections bear no direct consequence on their lives, at least as they understand their lives. Gloomily Stossel concludes, "When irrationality is free, people will indulge their biases." (more…)

In his review of Sanford Levinson’s Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (And How We the People Can Correct It) in the Claremont Review of Books, Randy Barnett highlights some of the same features of the US political structure as particularly unique that Lord Acton emphasized. In conclusion Barnett writes of our Constitution:

It is counter-majoritarian by design. Precisely because the founders feared majoritarian fecklessness and abuse, they inserted the veto points to which Levinson objects. Most people today—whether left, right, or libertarian—still fear majoritarian rule. They believe they have more to fear from their political opponents gaining power than they have to gain from putting their friends in office. Indeed, many Americans revere the Constitution precisely because of its counter-majoritarianism—the checks and balances adopted by the founders.

Or in the words of Lord Acton, “Americans dreaded democracy and contrived their constitution against it.”

Here are some other relevant observations from Lord Acton on democracy, federalism, and the Constitution:

For it is a most striking thing that the views of pure democracy…were almost entirely unrepresented in [the American] convention.

Democracy generally monopolizes and concentrates power.

Federalism is the best curb on democracy. [It] assigns limited powers to the central government. Thereby all power is limited. It excludes absolute power of the majority.

Federalism: The only barrier to Democracy.

Federalism: It is coordination instead of subordination; association instead of hierarchical order; independent forces curbing each other; balance, therefore, liberty.

The great novelty of the American Constitution was that it imposed checks on the representatives of the people.

The true natural check on absolute democracy is the federal system, which limits the central government by the powers reserved, and the state governments by the powers they have ceded.

Barnett notes too the resistance to advocating the American form of federalist democracy for other nations.

“While most Americans prefer the safety of our counter-majoritarian Constitution, our constitutional ‘experts’ are happy to urge others to live the truly majoritarian ideal. Now Sandy Levinson is urging Americans as well to adopt a more majoritarian constitution. But maybe the time has come instead to let the rest of the world in on our little secret,” he writes.

Today brings disturbing news of new consensus that seems to be developing:

Modern women want men who are keen on recycling rather than good at making wisecracks, a survey said.

The poll for men’s magazine Nuts said going green is now the main way to a woman’s heart, with a “good sense of humour” coming in second.

Oh great – a clean, tidy, and humorless future. Thanks, ladies. Thanks a lot.

Readings in Social Ethics: Martin Bucer, De Regno Christi (selections), in Melanchthon and Bucer, Book II, Chapter XIV, “The Sixth Law: Poor Relief,” pp. 306-15. References below are to page number.

  • Giving aid to the needy in the church is a manifestation of an attribute of the church, for “without it there can be no true communion of saints” (307).

  • What the church and its representatives are and are not responsible for: “First, they [deacons] should investigate how many really indigent persons live in each church and for whom it is equitable for the church to provide the necessities of life. For the churches of Christ must exclude from their communion those who, when they can sustain themselves by their own powers, neglect this and live inordinately, accepting borrowed food (II Thess. 3:6); it is certainly not the duty of the church to foster such people in their godless idleness” (307).
  • The responsibility of subsidiarity: “Thus if any needy persons belong to anyone’s circle, either by blood or marriage or by any other special relationship or particular custom, it is certainly their duty, if they have the means of the Lord, to provide for their own the necessities of life and spare the churches in order that they may have more to nourish and assist those who have no home or family who would want to or could help them” (307).
  • The wealthy nobility has a responsibility to the society. Citing past examples of such praiseworthy behavior: “Pious princes and men of wealth established homes and hospitals, some to nourish and care for the needy who were in good health, some for infants, others for orphans, still others for the aged infirm, others for those laboring under various forms of sickness, and some for pilgrims and displaced persons” (310).
  • The drive to bypass the church and provide alms personally and individually is a result of sin: “Finally, since from our nature, depraved and always rebellious against God, we continually compromise the instructions and precepts of God, and according to our desires and misdirected judgments, are always eager to follow paths and ways other than what God has prescribed, however holy the care of the poor is, there will be some who will refuse to put their alms for the poor into a common fund, and say that they prefer to provide for the poor by their personal generosity if it seems good to them to do so. Their arrogance will have to be countered both by Your Majesty’s law and through the discipline of the Church; by a law which imposes a double offering to the Lord’s fund, if anyone is caught giving anything privately to the needy; by the discipline of the Church, so / that if anyone puts nothing into the Lord’s fund, he should be admonished of his duty from the Word of God by the ministers of the churches, and if he should resolutely despise this admonition, he should be held a heathen and a publican” (311-12).
  • By this Bucer means that the Church must be the primary instrument of charity and must be the recipient of all due offerings. But this does not mean that charity cannot be done individually above and beyond the giving to the Church. It simply means that offerings to the Church may not be neglected in favor of individual giving: “No man’s hand is closed by this law, to interfere with his opening it to whatever poor persons he can and will provide for” (312).
  • The mere necessities of life are not enough. The Church must give so that those in poverty can be educated, married, and flourish as productive and respected contributors to society: “Nor is it sufficient for the kindness of Christians to give food, shelter, and clothing to those in extreme need…. For it hardly suffices for the churches of Christ that their people should merely be alive but it must also be provided for them that they live to the Lord for a certain and mutual usefulness among each other and within the State and Church” (315).

Next week: Richard Baxter, How to Do Good to Many (London, 1682; repr. 1830).

The boy crisis is not a myth. David Von Drehle’s article, “The Myth About Boys,” in this week’s Time Magazine argues that the boy crisis of the 1990s has leveled off and is now improving. Not exactly. This assessment, however, is completely dependent on one’s moral framework. Boys are still in crisis, regardless of what feminists and other women, like some published in the Washington Post, are saying. It’s a crisis of morality. The ongoing crisis will have dire consequences because the market produces whatever men want, good or bad. Immoral men, immoral market. It’s that simple. The real issue is “what kind of men are we forming,” not “what bad things aren’t men doing.” Tragically, 90 percent of boys raised in the church will abandon it by the time they turn 20-years-old, so there is much work to be done.

“Statistics collected over two decades,” says Von Drehle, “show an alarming decline in the performance of America’s boys–in some respects, a virtual free fall. Boys were doing poorly in school, abusing drugs, committing violent crimes and engaging in promiscuous sex.”

Von Drehle offers the following as good news against previous reports:

The juvenile crime rate in 2005 (the most recent year cited in the report) was down by two-thirds from its peak in 1993. The number of high school senior boys using illegal drugs has fallen by almost half compared with the number in 1980. Fewer than half of all high school boys and girls in 2005 were sexually active. For the boys, that’s a decrease of 10 percentage points from the early 1990s.

Boys who are having sex report that they are more responsible about it: 7 in 10 are using condoms, compared with about half in 1993. Women now outnumber men in college by a ratio of 4 to 3, and admissions officers at liberal-arts colleges are struggling to find enough males to keep their classes close to gender parities. Today, 1 in 5 boys is obese. The percentage of young men between 16 and 19 who neither work nor attend school has fallen by about a quarter since 1984.

How does this debunk the crisis? If your moral compass is the lowest common denominator and the basis of comparison is “not-as-bad-as-the-past” (or “animals”) the Von Drehle story might be convincing. However, boys are still falling behind in school, having sex outside of marriage, obese, abusing drugs, committing suicide, overcrowding the criminal justice system, fatherless, and receiving little to no moral formation during critical decision-making years.

To make matters worse, Christianity has become a religion primarily for women, as reported by David Murrow author of Why Men Hate Going To Church and who also started “Church for Men” to address the crisis:

• As many as 90 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it by their 20th birthday. Many of these boys will never return.
• The typical U.S. Congregation draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female, 39% male.
• On any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than men in America’s churches.
• This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands.
• Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants.
• The majority of church employees are women (except for ordained clergy, who are overwhelmingly male).

All these stats about the boy crisis and Christianity are far worse in the black community as a focus developing strong black men has been abandoned to produce “women of power.” You’ll be hard pressed to find a black church in America full of black men. Black America is experiencing the fruit of intense focus on black girls in the 70s, 80s, and 90s: black women are in college and many black men are in jail and/or fathering children outside of marriage.

If our nation continues to fail to form boys into men who live in absolute pursuit of the good and fight against evil–that is, men of dignity, honor, valor, courage, conviction, passion, and men with the highest morals–the future of our nation is questionable. Here are two huge consequences:

(1) Men with low morals create an immoral marketplace and culture: strip clubs, college athletes hiring strippers for their drunken parties, porn, misogynistic hip hop, politicians hiring “madams,” corrupt business practice, athletes who run dog fighting outfits out of their homes, athletes willing to cheat with “performance enhancers”, drug abuse, contexts for drunkenness, sexualized and crassly violent video games, and so on, exists because men create the demand and want to consume low-hanging, immoral fruit.

(2) Cycles of fatherlessness, divorce, and broken families will never cease if men are not formed and shaped by those institutions that have traditionally and successfully created some of the most amazing husbands, fathers, attackers of evil, and champions of justice in world history. Boys raised without strong fathers are generally clueless about what it means to be a man and wreak havoc on society trying to figure out often leaving behind a trail of destruction, pain, and perpetual brokenness. Masculinity is bestowed from one man to another in a larger community of men. Without strong communities of morally grounded men, boys will not be formed for the good.

Boys are still in crisis. They are not as bad as past jacked-up men, or as bad as animals, but surely we all have higher moral standards than that to hold men to, don’t we?

Here’s the text of a letter sent this morning to the editor at Woman’s Day magazine (don’t ask why I was reading Woman’s Day. I read whatever happens to be sitting in the rack next to our commode):

Paula Spencer’s commentary on the Pledge of Allegiance (“Pledging Allegiance,” September 1, 2007) sounds incredibly McCarthy-esque. Are we to now believe that having qualms about mandatory recitation of the Pledge constitutes an un-American activity?

Spencer dismisses the many reasons that one might object to the Pledge in the context of public schools. These schools are, after all, institutional arms of the government itself, and attendance is mandatory (unless one can afford private or parochial options). A cynic might suggest that when combined with an obligatory recitation of allegiance to the nation, such education runs the risk of becoming indoctrination for the purposes of social control. As to whether nationalism can be such “a bad thing,” consider Germany in the 1930s.

There are also religious reasons why a person might feel compelled to abstain from pledging to a physical object (the flag). For Christians, whose citizenship is finally in heaven and whose ultimate loyalty is due to God alone, concerns about idolatry might compel a person to conscientiously refrain from making such a pledge. Indeed, those two little words “under God” which have occasioned such controversy in recent days are perhaps the only elements of the Pledge that make it even permissible for Christians to profess allegiance to any particular nation.

Patriotism too often can morph into xenophobia and nationalism. Whatever your views of the Pledge, I would think that the educational potential contained in having a “conversation with your child about your family’s approach to the Pledge” would be the sort of engaged parenting that your publication ought to praise and endorse rather than disdain.

The free exercise of religion, not to mention the freedom of speech and independent thought, are thoroughly American. A coerced, perfunctory, and unreflective patriotism is no true patriotism at all.

Jordan J. Ballor
Associate Editor
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty

As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “The nation will always claim a portion of man’s loyalties. Since it usually claims too large a portion, it is necessary that other communities compete with it.”

By my way of thinking, for Christians the Church ought to be that community of primary loyalty (for Niebuhr, it’s the class: “There is no reason why a class which is fated by its condition of life to aspire after an equalitarian society should not have a high moral claim upon the loyalty of its members”).

It seems to me that American churches have a particularly hard time separating out what elements of their worship and piety are merely the trappings of civil religion and which are the indispensable elements of catholicity.

At the recreation center where my wife plays softball, and which is explicitly supported by the denomination, players, coaches, and umpires only pause to pray after the national anthem has been played. In itself its a small thing, perhaps even unimportant, but when combined with all the other similar elements (American flags near the pulpit, for example), it raises in my mind the perennial questions about ultimate loyalties and the proclivity for Christian denominations, particularly Protestants, to align themselves along national boundaries.

See also: “Which of These is More Offensive?”

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Just when you thought America’s Rogerian culture of prostrated self-worship couldn’t get anymore nauseating….

‘I boldly ask for what I want!’

….Enter, the Affirmation Blanket.

I am almost reluctant to give these people more publicity, but this is way too funny to pass up. Some of my favorite lines are, “I am perfect just the way I am,” (found on the “Serenity” blanket), “Success and prosperity follow me everywhere I go” (from the “Joy” blanket — because we all know success and prosperity constitute the deepest joy a human being can experience), “I am a magnet for ease and grace” (from the “Peace” selection), and “My courage makes me brave” (on the “Courage” fleece).

In all seriousness, though, what is wrong with a society of individuals who require constant reassurance of their own adequacy…and from a piece of cloth, of all things? I can anticipate how someone might compare an affirmation blanket to the harmlessly cliche, folksy pieces of Christianese “inspiration art” that decorate religious homes — things like, “Life is fragile, handle with prayer” or the ubiquitous, “I’m not perfect, just forgiven.”

Tacky as these can be, at least they point to something outside the self. A dependence on Providence and an awareness of personal inadequacy used to characterize a healthy spiritual life, and a proper outlook on life in general. But with the rise of Oprah, Dr. Phil, and the Western self-esteem industry, it is now far more culturally acceptable to indulge in public self-admiration — however undeserved — than it is to acknowledge God in times of both weakness and success. (This reminds me of Jeremy Jerschina’s story, posted a week or two ago…)

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Tuesday, July 31, 2007

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? – James 2:1-4

In today’s society it may seem a little odd that a politician might actually be averse to showing favoritism, as James discusses at the beginning of this chapter. At one time I worked for a U.S. Congressman from Mississippi named Gene Taylor. One day I was dispatched with the duty of locating him in the Rayburn House office building. The reason was simple; the Secretary of the Navy was waiting for him in his office. Some of the staff was panic stricken and mildly embarrassed because they could not ascertain his whereabouts. Congressman Taylor was not frequently attached at the hip with his cellular phone or pager. I remember looking in all the places you would look for a House member in the Rayburn building and not being able to locate him. After I had given up, I preceded to walk up the stairs and found him talking with a maintenance worker in the stairwell.

I told him that the Secretary of the Navy was in his office and he nodded his head and introduced me to his friend, whom he treated like a celebrity, bragging up the individual’s fishing skills. While I did not always agree with the positions or votes he recorded on issues, Gene Taylor always reinforced the significance of treating people the same. He also taught me a valuable life lesson when he told me: “You know why I’m friends with the capital police, the maintenance workers, and the common fisherman down at the harbor? It’s because they will continue to be my friends when I am no longer a congressman.”

The words of James specifically refer to the behavior of the Church and its members. One of the reasons the Free Methodist Church was born in America was over the issue of the Methodist Episcopal Church and their practice of selling and renting pews. The poor were therefore relegated to the back of the congregation, and there was a call for free seats for all. Favoritism can be one of the hardest sins to overcome because it’s so entrenched in the Church just like it is in society. Matthew Henry, an English clergyman who was active in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, appropriately notes, “In matters of religion, rich and poor stand upon a level; no man’s riches set him in the least nearer to God, nor does any man’s poverty set him at a distance from God.”

It’s hard to be an authentic Christian in an unauthentic world, and that is why we look and lean on the power of Christ. One of the most beautiful characteristics of the incarnate Christ is that he was humbled so that we were made high. In the words of Isaiah, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Charles Spurgeon, the famed British Reformed preacher, himself noted, “He became poor from his riches, that our poverty might become rich out of his poverty.”

My local library is apparently having a problem with youth gangs who are using the public computers to access social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook. The hooligans are defacing each others sites, sending threatening messages, and causing other kinds of trouble.

From the Wyoming Advance, “A place that should be safe for children has seen graffiti, assaults, loud and vulgar language, patron intimidation, public sexual encounters, carving gang symbols in furniture, and more.”

What is the library to do? “As a solution, KDL has employed a part-time security guard who interacts with youths and is on-duty during key teen use times. They are also poised to install filters that limit access to social networking sites on all but six of the 40 library computers in an effort to quell the problems.”

That raises some first amendment questions, of course. The GR Press reports that the ban on some social networking sites will go through a six-month trial period.

“It is only a trial,” Martha Smart, KDL director, said. “It’s very important to provide freedom of access to information for the public. We want to protect people’s First Amendment rights.”

Here’s an idea: why not simply play some classical music instead of banning social networking sites? (HT)

“Transit workers are installing speakers this week to pump classical music from Seattle’s KING-FM into the Tacoma Mall Transit Center. The tactic is designed to disperse young criminals who make drug deals at the bus stop or use public transportation to circulate between the mall and other trouble-prone places.” Let’s just hope they don’t add any Wagner to the playlist.

Update: Still on the case, Tim Disselkoen summarizes the reactions of a KDL spokesperson: “Garrison said the library has acceptable use policies in place regarding the Internet, and Mish said they work to educate youth about cyber-bullying, online predators, and other potential areas of concern. While KDL has declined to block all access to the social networking sites, parents can restrict their children’s access to such sites through their library cards.”

The theme of the role of the libraries not acting in loco parentis has come up in a couple different quotes from library officials. “If parents are concerned about the use at the library, we can block children’s Internet use,” Garrison said. “We can block the total Internet, we cannot block certain access.” The story concludes, “But KDL officials have said acting in the role of parents is not a duty libraries perform.”

Readings in Social Ethics: Martin Bucer, De Regno Christi (selections), in Melanchthon and Bucer, Book I, Chapter XIV, “Care for the Needy,” pp. 256-59. References below are to page number.

  • Bucer praises the deacon as an office of the institutional church and an artifact of the early church, commending it to reestablishment in the evangelical churches: “it was their principal duty to keep a list of all of Christ’s needy in the churches, to be acquainted with the life and character of each, and to give to individuals from the common offerings of the faithful whatever would suffice for them to live properly and devoutly. For those who, when they are able to do so, refuse to seek the necessities of life by their own industry and labors should be excluded from the churches” (256-57).

  • Since deacons are to be the primary means by which the church cares for the poor, individual almsgiving is discouraged. Bucer provides a fourfold justification for this judgment: “For when each person wishes to distribute his own alms for himself, there is violated, first of all, the institution of the Holy Spirit and the legitimate communion of the saints. Secondly, alms due to the least of Christ’s brethren, and therefore to Christ himself, are more often given to the unworthy than to the worthy. Nor can every single individual know and investigate each of the poor who happen to encounter him; for those who are least worthy are much better instructed at begging, indeed, extorting, the alms which should be dispensed to the poor alone. Furthermore, when everyone gives alms by his own hand, it is with great difficulty that he will exclude from his heart a desire for the appreciation and praise of men; and when he receives this empty reward from men, a real and sure one is not to be expected from God. Finally, since it is obvious that those who voluntarily give themselves over to beggary are men prone to every crime, what else do those people who foster them do but sustain and support very harmful pests of society” (257-58). There is a sense of the need for specialization and professionalization of the work of charity here. Precisely because individuals could not do all the work needed to make charitable giving effective and appropriate, deacons are appointed to take up the task, as representatives of the institutional church.
  • The church needs to be an example to the world and should not be put to shame by greater love and charity being shown outside of rather than inside the church: “And indeed we must be ashamed and grieve when the right care of the poor has already been restored in very may regions which still serve Antichrist, whereas the very ones who glory in the reception of the gospel and the Kingdom of Christ, although they are not unaware how necessary this practice is, and how much it is a part of the salutary religion of Christ, still fail to reestablish it” (258).