searching-blindfolded-manIn the latest edition of First Things, Acton’s Director of Research Sam Gregg discusses how adherence to Catholic social teaching does not require a limited economic viewpoint. In fact, such a limited vision, or blindness as Gregg states in the article’s title, is what holds back development in many parts of the world. (Please note that the full article is available by subscription only, but is excerpted here.)

Gregg recounts how the aggressive or “Tiger” economies of East Asia have resulted in positive changes, despite problems such as endemic corruption.

To be sure, not everything is sweetness and light in East Asia. Memories of the region’s severe financial meltdown in 1997 linger. More ominously, China’s mammoth banking system is a hopelessly run extension of its government. The same banks are heavily and rather incestuously invested in propping up thousands of underperforming Chinese state-owned enterprises. That’s a recipe for trouble. Corruption remains an endemic problem, most notably in China and India, which rank an unimpressive 96 and 134, respectively, in the World Bank’s 2014 Ease ofDoing BusinessIndex, while Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand are ranked in the top twenty.

Nonetheless, the overall benefits of greater economic liberty in East Asia can’t be denied. In 2010, the Asian Development Bank reported that per capita GDP increased 6 percent each year in developing Asian countries between 1990 and 2008. Christians should especially consider how this growth has contributed to the reduction of poverty. The ADB estimated that between 1990 and 2005 approximately 850 million people escaped absolute poverty. That is an astonishing figure.

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Jordan J. Ballor speaks at Acton On Tap

Jordan J. Ballor speaks at Acton on Tap

Acton Research Fellow and Executive Editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality, Jordan Ballor, was recently named as one of the 40 Under 40 – A New Generation of Leaders in the CRC & RCA. More about the list:

We asked one question to leaders and agencies across the two denominations: “Who do you know under 40 that is doing something very innovative and/or is influential beyond their home church?” We received a plethora of responses and then attempted to pick the leaders with the most votes that represented the widest and most diverse spectrum of our collective movement.

See the whole list here. For some of Ballor’s writing, see his profile on the PowerBlog and his Acton Commentaries and Religion & Liberty articles. Along with his work at Acton, Ballor is the associate director of Calvin Seminary’s Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research. He’s written several books, most recently Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (& Action).

children-600pxWhat is the “border crisis?”

The “border crisis” is the frequently used term for the spike in unaccompanied minors who were caught illegally crossing the border U.S. border over the past few months. According to the Congressional Research Service, the number of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) arriving in the United States has reached alarming numbers that has strained the system put in place over the past decade to handle such cases.

In 2013 the federal government housed about 25,000 minors who were going through deportation proceedings. This year, that number is expected to rise to over 60,000. There has also been an increase in the number of UAC who are girls and the number of UAC who are under the age of 13.

What countries are the minors coming from?

Four countries account for almost all of the UAC cases (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico) and much of the recent increase has come from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

In fiscal year 2009, Mexican UAC accounted for 82 percent of the 19,668 UAC apprehensions, while the other three Central American countries accounted for 17 percent. By the first eight months of FY2014, the proportions had almost reversed, with Mexican UAC comprising only 25 percent of the 47,017 UAC apprehensions, and UAC from the three Central American countries comprising 73 percent.

Why aren’t UACs turned away at the border?
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In the latest issue of Faith and Economics, a bi-annual journal from the Association of Christian Economists, Dr. Robert Black reviews two of CLP’s four tradition-specific primers on faith, work, and economics: Chad Brand’s Flourishing Faith (from a Baptist perspective), and David Wright’s How God Makes the World a Better Place (from a Wesleyan perspective).

Black reviews each book quite closely, aptly capturing the key ideas and themes in each, and concluding that both are “well suited as a non-technical introduction to biblical and theological aspects of work, wealth, church history, and economic systems.”

Wright - Copy

As a sample, here’s Black’s summary of the Wesleyan connection between Christian conversion and broad-scale human flourishing:

The final section of [Wright’s] book…contrasts an unconverted will at work with the converted will at work. While we may wish not to work at all, we are not freed by conversion from work. Instead, we are freed to enjoy work, “to experience work as the expression of all that is most beautiful and magnificent about us.” Instead of a “lifetime of self-centered pursuit,” Wright encourages us to “use [our] influence to nurture the kind of economic and legal systems that favor meaningful, rewarding work.”

What kinds of people are Christians called to be and how do those characteristics affect economic activity? Chapters 1, 2, and 3 of Part Three develop three character traits to which converts to Christ are called to be: people of assurance, people of integrity, and people of authenticity; Assurance of God’s calling overcomes the “[i]nsecurity and fear [that] are terrible burdens to carry into our work” (p. 28). In a “world … awakened to the desperate need for the renewal of ethics,” personal integrity is most welcome (p. 35). Authentic Christians, who are true to the character of Jesus Christ, the original ideal for us, are an antidote to those people who seek to be authentically true to their own selfish hopes and misguided desires. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Senate Passes Special Envoy Bill to Prioritize State Department Engagement on Religious Liberty
Leanna Baumer, FRC Blog

The U.S. Senate took an encouraging step forward in the effort to force the State Department to prioritize the freedom of religion in diplomatic efforts globally. In a unanimous vote, the Senate cleared the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2014 (S. 653).

Supreme Court: Government Can’t Make People Into Religious Hypocrites
Travis Weber, The Federalist

The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision recognized that who people are can’t be separated into separate ‘work’ and ‘faith’ boxes.

Compassion and the Rule of Law
Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary

The surge of illegal aliens–and in particular unaccompanied minors from Central America–across the border in Texas has started a debate in which more than immigration reform seems to be stake.

The Quiet Movement to Make Government Fail Less Often
David Leonhardt, New York Times

When the federal government is good, it’s very, very good. When it’s bad (or at least deeply inefficient), it’s the norm.

Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Case Challenging Affordable Care ActArchbishop William Lori of Baltimore and Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, are asking the Catholic faithful and others to reach out to their senators in response to a piece of legislation known as “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014” (S. 2578.) Lori is the chairman for the United State’s Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee for Religious Liberty, and O’Malley serves as chair for the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

According to the letter on the USCCB website, the legislation is an attempt to reduce religious freedom, and puts health coverage above one of America’s most cherished freedoms. The bishops list several concerns:

    • This new legislation “appears to override  ‘any other provision of Federal law’ that protects religious freedom or rights of conscience regarding health coverage mandates.”
    • This bill would “rollback” not only federally-protected conscience clauses regarding artificial birth control “but to any ‘specific health care item or service’ that is mandated by any federal law or regulation.” In the future, if the executive branch decides to add late-term abortions (for example) to mandated health care coverage, employers would have no recourse.
    • This bill applies to all employers, not simply for-profit employers.
    • The bill would extend its reach past employees, to their dependents. For instance, a teen girl may wish to have an abortion over her parent’s objection, and the parent’s health care package would have to pay for it. The daughter would be federally-entitled to the abortion coverage.
    • The bishops believe this type of legislation will lead to employers dropping health care coverage for employees all together.

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    SONY DSCJapan and Australia recently signed and passed a trade agreement that abolishes or reduces some tariffs on their highest grossing trade items: beef and dairy from Australia and electronics from Japan. State officials as well as the media have branded this a “free trade agreement;” however, this is actually an example of a “Preferential Bilateral Trade Agreement.” While this is not as desirable as free trade agreements are, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Trade is almost always mutually beneficial provided that neither party is coerced ­­­­­– if it were not, then trade would never take place. Because of the international success of free trade agreements in that region, China is being forced to keep up by becoming more competitive in the international market.

    Early this month, China met with South Korea to begin drafting a new bilateral trade agreement. The result is the Won-Yuan trading market in Seoul, which will be complete by the end of the year. This will enable South Korea to trade with China and not rely upon the dollar to do so, thus accelerating trade between the two countries. Up until this agreement passed, the Korean Won was not directly convertible to the Chinese Yuan, requiring the two countries to find another currency as the medium of exchange, specifically, the U.S. dollar. The agreement illustrates that China is increasing the economic freedom of the country in an attempt to boost its wealth and trade efficiency. Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg recently discussed transitions to more economic freedom and the ensuing religious freedom that comes with that. Gregg states:

    Once you grant liberty in one area, it’s hard to preclude freedom from spreading to other spheres. Economic liberty, for instance, requires and encourages people to think and choose freely. Without this, entrepreneurship is impossible. It’s challenging, however, to limit this reflection and choosing to economic questions. People start asking social questions, political questions, and, yes, religious questions. And many Chinese have decided Christianity is the answer to their religious ponderings.

    China has the experienced benefits from economic deregulation experiments, such as in Hong Kong, and the country as a whole seems to be headed down a very similar path. Liberty in China has had a direct connection to economic improvement. The government seems to have had a proclivity to allow such freedoms in order to attain wealth. By lessening trade restrictions, they are crafting a tomb for their socialist regime.

    Thanks to the trade act, China is allowing for religious freedom to take hold as Gregg points out. China is still one of the most religiously repressed countries at this time, which is continued only due to the government’s power over it.  With the wane of the Chinese government’s power, there will be a more vibrant religious and cultural exchange that comes naturally with trade.  When there are multiple faiths and ideals, ideas are challenged and thoughts are provoked. Truth is often the result, and liberty follows, whether it be economic, cultural, or religious. In this particular instance, North Korea sees the trade agreement as an attack.  One stratagem countries such as North Korea employ is isolation. The North Korean people know little more than what the government tells them, and they are only aware of the culture that the government deems appropriate.

    The days of the Chinese socialist state are numbered. Chinese people are ready for change, as can be seen in their willingness to adapt to more Western methods of thinking and ideals such as the growing respect for personal liberty and free markets. If China is careful about the transformation, and realizes what is happening; it could become one of the wealthiest countries in physical capital, knowledge, culture, and liberty. It remains a country to keep a careful eye on over the next decade.

    Rousseau Geneve

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

    Earlier this Spring at The Gospel Coalition I reviewed Moisés Naím’s The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be.

    Naím explores in a variety of fields and with a great diversity of examples the way in which, as he puts it, “the powerful are experiencing increasingly greater limits on their power” and “power is becoming more feeble, transient, and constrained.” I think there’s a real sense in which Naím has identified a real phenomenon. Power is becoming more and more diffused.

    But as I argue in my TGC review, that’s really only half the story. Naím often has to provide a caveat that in spite of much of the centralization that we see, power really is eroding full stop. My contention, however, is that what we’re really seeing is the eroding of power in civil society, an evacuation of the power and place of mediating institutions, in two directions: toward centralized structures and authorities and toward individuals. The inability to see this leads to conclusions that would only hasten and exacerbate the evacuation of power from such mediating structures.

    Some of this echoes what Ross Douthat has been saying recently about individualism, following Nisbet in particular: “In the increasing absence of local, personal forms of fellowship and solidarity, he suggested, people were naturally drawn to mass movements, cults of personality, nationalistic fantasias.” I take my own proximate inspiration from Röpke and his identification of “enmassment,” but there are certainly resonances with Nisbet as well as older thinkers like Tocqueville.

    I should note in response to Douthat’s observation that “from the Protestant Reformation onward, individualism and centralization would advance together,” this dialectic certainly cannot be explained solely in terms of the Reformation, as perhaps Brad Gregory would argue. The role of the Renaissance more generally, and particularly the renewed engagement with the varieties of ancient and pagan philosophy has as much, if not more, to do with the Enlightenment project of the liberated individual constrained by the collective than the Protestant Reformation.

    Birth ControlOne of my jobs when I was in college was doing tech work (lights and sound) for a small but busy theater. I enjoyed the work, and most of my co-workers, not to mention the opportunity to meet the varied and creative people who came to perform. One of my co-workers, though, was a first-class jerk. His hands “wandered,” he said inappropriately sexual things to me and harassed me. When I finally figured out that he was targeting me, I told him to not only knock it off, but if he didn’t, I’d call his wife and let her know exactly what he was doing. He never bothered me again. This situation did not require a bill to passed in Congress, nor a sexual harassment seminar for all employees. It required me to stand  up for myself.

    When Sandra Fluke testified before a House panel on the need for employers to pay for women’s contraception in 2012, her testimony was celebrated by radical feminists and decried by women who believed we should be responsible for our own healthcare. It’s interesting to note how the President of the United States reacted to the whole situation. President Obama called Ms. Fluke to tell her that her parents should be proud of her. Huh? Ms. Fluke wasn’t some 4th-grade girl who stood up to bullies. She’s an adult, making adult choices and decisions. Why did the president feel it necessary to bring her parents into the discussion? (more…)

    Hobby LobbyIf you have been following the recent media debates over the SCOTUS’ Hobby Lobby decision, you may have come across this “meme” of Holly Fisher next to an international terrorist (whose identity is currently disputed). Fisher has an active online presence, garnering much attention for sharing her conservative, Christian views and commenting on controversial political topics. On Twitter, Fisher writes, “Biggest complaint I’m getting about my #HobbyLobby pic is there’s no gun, bible, or flag. Tried to make up for it”. Her earlier picture (resulting in the nickname, “Holly Hobby Lobby”) showed her smiling in front of a Hobby Lobby store while wearing a Pro-Life shirt and holding a Chick-fil-A cup.

    Michael Stone, blogger for Patheos, has labeled Fisher the “New Face of American Taliban” He writes, “While Holly Hobby Lobby is just a social media clown out for attention, she represents a dangerous strand of Christian fundamentalism that enjoys flirting with, if not threatening, real violence.” Other critics have followed suit comparing Fisher’s beliefs to Islamic extremism, and some have even gone as far as issuing violent threats against her.

    Supporters of Fisher argue against the juxtaposition of her photo with a terrorist’s. Charles C.W. Cooke offers to “explain the difference” in the National Review: “The woman on the left is a peaceful American citizen with a husband in the military. She has never killed anybody, and nor does she have any desire to….The woman on the right, by contrast…is reaffirming her commitment to jihad.” Fisher has responded as well, chastising “tolerant liberals” for intolerance and claiming that those threatening her “are the same ones whining about the #WarOnWomen.” (more…)