One of my biggest disappointments in seminary was learning that there were some members of the faculty and student body who saw little redeeming value in the American experience. Patriotism was seen as somehow anti-Christian or fervent nationalism by some, and love of country was supposed to be understood as idolatry. I address a few of the issues at seminary in a blog post of mine “Combat and Conversion.” Often people who articulated this view would explain how patriots are not evil people necessarily, just misguided and lacking proper theological enlightenment.

Andrew Klavan has a thoughtful and engaging piece in City Journal titled, The Lost Art of War: Hollywood’s anti-American war films don’t measure up to the glories of its patriotic era. Klavan’s piece is powerful because it draws out much of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the left. A grave error is still being committed by foisting a moral relativism on American conflicts and defense, as if these conflicts are somehow no different than conquests by anti-democratic nations and despots. Klavan makes a case that contemporary liberals are actually anti-liberty, standing against the principles of the founding of our nation.

Perhaps what is most bizarre is the new moral relativism we see in places like Berkeley, where elected officials seem to be siding with the enemy rather than our own country. Hollywood is of course no exception, and the author dutifully traces their ideological transformation through the years and with various conflicts. Klavan states:

When warlike racial nationalism resurged in the thirties, only an answering “atavistic emotion of patriotism,” as Orwell wrote, could embolden people to stand against it.

Though European intellectuals and their left-wing American acolytes are loath to admit it, the U.S. had already provided an excellent new rationale for that emotion. Our Founding redefined nationhood along social-contract lines that Europeans can still only theorize about. Our love of nation at its best was ethical, not ethnic. Our patriotism was loyalty not to race, or even to tradition, but to ideals of individual liberty and republican self-governance.

Klavan also has much to say about contemporary Hollywood films:

In Redacted, Rendition, In the Valley of Elah, and Lions for Lambs—as in more successful thrillers like Shooter and The Bourne Ultimatum—virtually every act of the American administration is corrupt or sinister, and every patriot is a cynically misused fool. Every warrior, therefore, is either evil himself or, more often, a victim of evil, destined for meaningless destruction or soul-death and insanity. These movies’ anti-American attitudes strike me not as the products of original vision and reflection but rather as the tired expressions of inherited prejudices. The films work the way that prejudice works, anyway: by taking extraordinary incidents and individuals and extrapolating general principles from them.

When I lived on a former Strategic Air Command Air Force Base in New Hampshire, I remember going out to the flight line with my dad, who was a KC-135 pilot, to watch all the different military planes land. Some people of course would see the planes as weapons of destruction funded by self-serving imperial interests. I guess I always saw it as an amazing and heroic response to those who threatened liberty and a magnificent freedom birthed out of the “the shot heard round the world,” words which are inscribed on the Minute Man statue in Concord, Massachusetts. Klavan sums up the sentiment well:

Liberty, tolerance, the harmony of conflicting voices—these things didn’t materialize suddenly out of the glowing heart of human decency. People thought of them, fought and died to establish them, not in the ether, but on solid ground. That ground has to be defended or the values themselves will die. The warriors willing to do this difficult work deserve to have their heroism acknowledged in our living thoughts and through our living arts.

William Easterly, author of The White Man’s Burden has an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal today where he responds to Bill Gates’ call for “creative capitalism” Gates argues that the way capitalism is practiced it doesn’t help the poor and argues for increased philanthropy on the part of businesses.

Easterly points out that :

Profit-motivated capitalism, on the other hand, has done wonders for poor workers. Self-interested capitalist factory owners buy machines that increase production, and thus profits. Capitalists search for technological breakthroughs that make it possible to get more output for the same amount of input. Working with more machinery and better technology, workers produce more output per hour. In a competitive labor market, the demand for these more productive workers increases, driving up their wages. The steady increase in wages for unskilled labor lifts the workers out of poverty.

The number of poor people who can’t afford food for their children is a lot smaller than it used to be — thanks to capitalism. Capitalism didn’t create malnutrition, it reduced it. The globalization of capitalism from 1950 to the present has increased annual average income in the world to $7,000 from $2,000. Contrary to popular legend, poor countries grew at about the same rate as the rich ones. This growth gave us the greatest mass exit from poverty in world history.

The parts of the world that are still poor are suffering from too little capitalism…

Easterly points out that governments and philanthropists just don’t have enough information and knowledge to make the right decisions. This is why they have failed and why markets have worked. It is the age-old problem that Friedrich Hayek called The Fatal Conceit.

Easterly notes:

Moreover, how do philanthropists choose just which product is going to be the growth engine of a country? Much research suggests that “picking winners” through government industrial policy hasn’t worked. Winners are too unpredictable to be discovered by government bureaucrats, much less by outside philanthropists.

There are many people with good intentions who want to help the poor live according to their dignity, but good intentions often don’t mean good policy.

We know what has helped the West create prosperity. It was not foreign aid or philanthropy–it was the key institutions of private property, rule of law and free exchange that created a framework for markets and for entrepreneurs to use their energy and insights to meet the needs and wants of millions. What the developing world needs is less aid and more of the institutions of freedom.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, February 7, 2008

In any period of economic transition there are upheavals at various levels, and winners and losers (at least in the short term). We live in just such an age today in North America, as we move from an industrial to a post-industrial information and service economy, from isolationism to increased globalization. There’s no doubt that there have been some industries and regions that have been more directly affected than others (both positively and negatively).

Michigan, for example, has been one of the most manufacturing-rich states in the nation for the last century, and has been running record unemployment numbers for the last decade or so, as manufacturers move to more friendly economic environments, both within the US and without. Not least of these factors contributing to Michigan’s competitive disadvantage is the high labor costs associated with a labor union-laden state.

The perception that manufacturing workers are simply being left behind in the new economy is pervasive, such that popular opinion is shifting away from free trade. As Fortune magazine reports, “A large majority – 68% – of those surveyed in a new Fortune poll says America’s trading partners are benefiting the most from free trade, not the U.S. That sense of victimhood is changing America’s attitude about doing business with the world.”

As an aside, this is a perception that doesn’t quite match up with the typical caricature of globalization. After all, how can both America (as the “imperial” dominator) and the developing world (as the exploited poor) both be made worse off by international trade?

If it were truly the case that global trade weren’t mutually beneficial, that would be one thing. What’s visible on news reports everyday are the layoffs, buyouts, and unemployment levels in the US. What isn’t always so visible is the extent to which Americans depend on the low prices associated with many imported goods. One group you might think should know better than the average American about such complexities are professional economists. (more…)

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Vote for Acton - Bloggers ChoiceHelp Acton do well in the 2008 Blogger’s Choice Awards by submitting a vote or two for Acton. We’re nominated in the following categories (you may vote for Acton in each if you’d like or if you feel we deserve it):

Best Blog Design
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Voting for a blog does require registration, but it doesn’t take long to do. I’ll occasionally post reminders about this here so that those of you who would rather wait for a rainy day will remember to vote for Acton.

In case you’re still not convinced – here are a few reasons why I think we’re the best:

1) We recently updated the look and feel of the PowerBlog – its now much easier to read and connects better with www.acton.org – the main Acton Institute website.

2) Our content is fantastic. If you look over at our tag cloud (showing our most recently covered topics) you can see that we write on everything from environmental stewardship to bible and theology; christianity to economics; socialism to business and society.

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It’s been a while since we’ve had a GWCW update, so here are links to a couple of articles I just ran across at Watts Up With That:

That second post is especially interesting considering the breathless media reports about endangered polar bears in danger of drowning as the ice melts from under their feet last year. Once again, reality is just a teensy bit different from what’s reported on this issue.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A new Acton Notes is now available online. Acton Notes is a monthly newsletter published by the Acton Institute. This month’s issue features an article by Rev. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, about Socialism. Rev. Sirico points out a couple of ways in which to confront those who mistakenly hold to the fashionable ideology.

If a person identifies with the idea of common ownership of the means of production, point out that this is impossible because you hold no rights over anything. “Ownership implies the right to control and sell the good, which cannot be done if everyone is said to own something,” writes Rev. Sirico. Common ownership, he points out, is actually State ownership. Another point with which to confront a Socialist is the absence of money. Point out the significant failures that the Soviet Union experienced when attempting to implement this policy. Close with words from Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical, Spe Salvi. Read the President’s Message to find out more.

Other contents of the February issue include:

  • First Brazilian TFAVS Receives High Marks from Participants
  • From Acton Conference to University Doctorate
  • What Would Jesus Buy? Rev. Sirico on Fox Business News
  • Glenn Sunshine to Discuss Wealth, Work, and the Church

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, February 5, 2008

From a review in the New Yorker magazine (HT) of David Levering Lewis, God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570 to 1215, in which the author

clearly regrets that the Arabs did not go on to conquer the rest of Europe. The halting of their advance was instrumental, he writes, in creating “an economically retarded, balkanized, and fratricidal Europe that . . . made virtues out of hereditary aristocracy, persecutory religious intolerance, cultural particularism, and perpetual war.” It was “one of the most significant losses in world history and certainly the most consequential since the fall of the Roman Empire.” This is a bold hypothesis.

To say the least. It is of course true that in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Muslims had been in possession of a number of Aristotle’s works in Arabic that were not readily available in the Latin West. It isn’t so clear, however, that the depth and breadth of Greek philosophy and the classical virtues were saved by Islamic philosophers during the West’s “dark” ages. There’s much more on that here, including this summary:

The Arabic translations, although they did serve as an early reintroduction for some Western Europeans to Greek thought, didn’t “save” Greek knowledge as it had never been lost. It had been preserved in an unbroken line since Classical times by Greek, Byzantine Christians, who still considered themselves Romans, and it could be recovered there. There was extensive contact between Eastern and Western Christians at this time; sometimes amiable, sometimes less so and occasionally downright hostile, but contact nonetheless. The permanent recovery of Greek and Classical learning was undertaken as a direct transmission from Greek, Orthodox Christians to Western, Latin Christians. There were no Muslim middlemen involved.

In any case, here’s the take of the New Yorker reviewer on Lewis’ book:

I can foresee a time when another matter important to us, the threat of ecological catastrophe, will prompt a historian to write a book in praise of the early Europeans whom Lewis finds so inferior to the Muslims. The Franks lived in uncleared forests, while the Muslims built fine cities, with palaces and aqueducts? All the better for the earth. The Franks were fond of incest? Endogamy keeps societies small, prevents the growth of rapacious nation-states. The same goes for the Franks’ largely barter economy. Trade such as the Muslims practiced—far-flung and transacted with money—leads to consolidation. That’s how we got global corporations.

So, the development of free market economies so often attributed to Western civilization are actually due to Muslim nation-states…and for that reason we ought to prefer European culture!

How refreshing!

Two weeks ago, French bank Société Générale announced that off-balance sheet speculation by a single “rogue trader” had cost the company 4.9 billion Euros ($7.2 billion). The scandal had enormous repercussions in international markets leading some commentators to decry the rotten nature of global “casino” capitalism and to call for the reversal of financial liberalization. However, the actual circumstances of the case do not justify more government intervention in financial markets but illustrate individual moral failings and poor internal governance on behalf of the bank.

A new report also suggests that a lack of internal controls and weak enforcement of existing rules may be the real source of the problem at one of the oldest banks in France.

On January 24th, Société Générale said that it had discovered a “massive fraud” through “a scheme of elaborate fictitious transactions.” The event caused a great stir not only for the magnitude of the bank’s losses but also because it is partly blamed for the worst European stock market collapse since September 11, 2001.

Jerome Kerviel, who worked as a junior trader in the arbitrage department at Société Générale, was responsible for betting on markets’ future performances. The bank claims that he had made unauthorized and concealed bets of around 50 billion Euros on European markets. According to the New York Times, Mr. Kerviel told prosecutors that his bets would have resulted in a profit of 1.4 billion Euros for the bank if they had been cashed out by the end of December. However, at the start of this year, stock markets experienced a sharp downturn turning the projected profits into losses.

The French bank discovered the bets in mid-January when auditors in the risk management office noticed a series of fictitious trades on its books. Société Générale then conducted a dramatic market sell-off operation in order to neutralize Kerviel’s deals. Traders estimate that the bank unwound contracts in the range of 20 billion to 70 billion Euros from January 21st to 22nd.

Many suspect that selling all these positions into an already volatile European market contributed to the shocking stock market performance in Europe around that time. This in turn, provoked an unexpected and controversial interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve of 0.75 per cent in order to protect the New York Stock Exchange which had been closed on the day when European markets dived. The curious series of events was summed up by a hedge fund manager who told Reuters that: “The real story here is basically, this guy, paid 100,000 Euros a year, sitting in some office at SocGen, forces the Fed to cut interest rates by 75 basis points, which is basically what happened”.

The huge and wide-ranging market repercussions have given ammunition to the critics of financial liberalization. An editorial of the French newspaper Libération sarcastically entitled “Casino” laments that no one controls the huge sums of money moving around in financial markets and demands tighter regulation of financial markets. It also claims that the scandal embarrasses President Sarkozy’s alleged embrace of laissez-faire capitalism. (more…)

Knowing the Gardener was a look at the "big picture" distinguishing God’s intent for Christian creation care from the rest of environmentalism.

But I must tell you friends, there’s a huge pitfall out there to avoid. It’s a pit God’s been tirelessly digging me out of for some time now. Paul points to it in Romans 8:

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit… [Rom 8:1, KJV]

Salvation through Christ awakens us to a whole new perspective on creation care. But if we’re going to do anything fruitful for the planet in this new life our doing must be in the Spirit, not after our flesh.

But let me back up a bit… (click more to read on) (more…)

I came across a troubling essay in this month’s issue of Grand Rapids Family Magazine. In her “Taking Notes” column, Associate Publisher/Editor Carole Valade takes up the question of “family values” in the context of the primary campaign season.

She writes,

The most important “traditional values” and “family values” amount to one thing: a great education for our children. Education is called “the great equalizer”: It is imperative for our children to be able to compete on a “global scale” for the jobs that fund their future and provide hopes and dreams for their generation.

So far, so good. But from the somewhat uncontroversial assertions in that paragraph, Valade moves on to make some incredibly unfounded conclusions. (I say “somewhat” uncontroversial because it’s not clear in what sense education is an “equalizer.” Do we all get the same grades? Do we all perform as well as everyone else?)

Valade simply assumes that an emphasis on “education” as a “family value” means that we ought to push for greater government involvement in education, in the form of funding and oversight. “Education funding should be the most discussed topic of the campaign; it should be the focus of budget discussions,” she writes.

Let’s be clear that the immediate context for these comments are the national primary elections. It’s thus fair to conclude that Valade is talking primarily about the role of the federal government. This is underscored by her claims that “Head Start and pre-school programs are not a ‘luxury’ in state of federal budgets; they are an absolute necessity.”

The problem with Valade’s perspective is that it equates concern for education with concern for political lobbying: “Who will ask for such priorities if not parents? Who will speak on behalf of our children’s well-being if not parents?”

It is the case that the great concern that so many parents have for their children’s education have led them to move them into private schools and even (gasp!) to home school them. There is no facile and simple connection between valuing education and valuing government involvement in education. Given the performance of public schools in general compared to charter schools and private schools, there is an argument to be made that greater government involvement in education weakens rather than strengthens our children’s education.

Placing a high priority on a child’s education leads some parents to want their kids to be instructed in the truths about God and his relation to his creation, and this is instruction that by definition is excluded from a government-run public education. So there’s at least as strong a case to be made that valuing education means that we should lobby for less government involvement rather than more, or at least not think of education as primarily a political issue but rather a familial and ecclesiastical responsibility.

“There are many things the government can’t do – many good purposes it must renounce,” said Lord Acton. “It must leave them to the enterprise of others.” One of those “good purposes” is an education centered on Christian moral formation.

See also: “Too Cool for School: Al Mohler says it’s time for Christians to abandon public schools.”

And: H-Net Review, Religion in Schools: Controversies around the World (Westport: Praeger, 2006).