Conservatives need to stop shying away from principled, as opposed to merely utilitarian, defenses of economic freedom and its associated institutions, says Acton research director Samuel Gregg in an article for Public Discourse:
Some fiscal conservatives are certainly too sanguine about creative destruction’s unintended negative effects on our lives. But these side effects are not sufficient reasons to try to slow or even stop the process, let alone assume that higher taxes and the welfare state (which itself breeds plenty of dysfunction) are the appropriate response.
Still, it doesn’t seem wise to play down these negative impacts. Given the conservative commitment to limited government, it would seem that the authentically conservative response would be to investigate and apply Tocquevillian “civil society” solutions to such problems before looking to the state for remedies.
Yesterday in conjunction with this week’s Acton Commentary I looked at Tim Riggins’ gift of freedom to his brother and the corresponding sense of responsibility that resulted. When Tim takes the rap for Billy, Billy has a responsibility to make something of his life. As Tim puts it, that’s the “deal.”
When Tim feels that Billy hasn’t lived up to his end, it causes conflict. Tim’s gift has created an obligation for the recipient. This reality is on clearest display in this exchange between the two brothers:
Billy: “How long are you going to hold it over my head, man?”
Tim: “The rest of my life if I feel it needs to be.”
This hints at the shadow-side of much of our gift-giving as human beings, as this good thing can be turned into a way of manipulating, controlling, or holding “it over” someone.
Consider these words about Augustine and their implications for the kinds of gift-giving that we ought to pursue:
A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about. If such a thing as spiteful benevolence existed (which is impossible, of course, but supposing it did), a genuinely and sincerely merciful person would wish others to be miserable so that he could show them mercy!
The “spiteful benevolence” that drives much gift giving is actually intended to keep the recipient in a state of dependence, in a relationship that gives power to the giver which can be lorded over others. This, I think, is actually one of the key dynamics of much of the modern international aid movement. Aid can become a tool of a kind of neo-colonial policy.
It is this debased and corrupted form of gift-giving that has led so many to the extreme position which argues that true gifts require no response and inspire no responsibility. But as I argue this week, this abuse of the reality of gift is no argument against its proper use: “The connection between gift and gratitude invigorates a life of stewardship and responsibility.”
I cannot help thinking about the fact that this is, well, a horrible reality for several other families across the world. Yes, it is unusual that a man kidnapped and help hostage in this manner in a major American city, but kidnapping and sexual slavery is not unheard of– it is shockingly common around the world.
Last month, in my series on Bitcoin, I wrote that for the crypto-currency to succeed it will one day have to become trusted by more mainstream consumers, which requires adding such features as regulatory oversight and a centralized monetary authority—the very features of other currencies that Bitcoin was created to avoid.
Last week, Verizon Communications Inc. shareholders rejected a wireless network neutrality proxy resolution from two prominent Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility members, Nathan Cummings Foundation and Trillium Asset Management Corporation.
As this writer noted in a March 28, 2013, blog post concerning a similar proxy resolution submitted to AT&T Inc., advocacy of network neutrality is far removed from the ICCR’s goals of furthering social justice because it kills jobs, deters technical innovations and drives up consumer bills. The NCF and TAMC resolutions singling out Verizon, however, are even more ludicrous as the company still awaits its day in court to appeal net neutrality rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission.
Got that? The shareholders wanted Verizon to adopt the very same rules for its wireless service that it’s battling against for its wired networks in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The NCF/TAMC resolution reads, in part:
Verizon’s stated policies for customers who access the Internet via wireless devices are markedly different from those for customers who access the Internet via wired networks.
For example, on its web site the Company offers customers who gain Internet access via its wired network a “commitment” which includes: “We will not prevent you or other users of our service from sending and receiving the lawful content of your choice; running lawful applications and using lawful services of your choice…” and “We will disclose the types of practices that we use to manage our network…”
Wireless customers, however, are given no such assurances. The Company tells wireless customers: “We will continue to disclose accurate and relevant information in plain language about the characteristics and capabilities of our service offerings so you and other users of our service can make informed choices.”
As investors, we are deeply concerned about this disparity in principles, policies and practices. In light of potential reputational, regulatory, and legislative risk related to Verizon’s network management practices and the issue of network neutrality, this disparity is troubling.
There may also be reputational and commercial risk in not providing customers with evidence of open Internet policies. On its public policy blog, a Verizon executive describes a high level of competition in the wireless market and says consumers “can vote with their feet if they want to” by choosing another wireless provider. (more…)
Elise Hilton recently surveyed the dismal employment rate among young adults in the US, writing that we have moved in twelve years from having the best rate in the developed world to being among the worst, following the path of Greece, Spain, and Portugal.
She highlights two possible solutions. The better one is from Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg:
Gregg says we must rely on free markets rather than redistribution of wealth, economic liberty, rule of law, entrepreneurship and the ability to take risks economically – all things that have made America great in the past.
The second comes from David Leonhardt, who, among other ideas, suggests, “Long term, nothing is likely to matter more than improving educational attainment, from preschool through college.”
Notice the language he uses? Not educational quality, nor even job-training, but “educational attainment.” With no intended disrespect to Mr. Leonhardt, it is precisely this well-meaning, widespread, but ill-informed mentality that has led, in large part, to our current educational crisis. (more…)
I’ve heard it repeated in many times and in many places that for a gift to truly be a gift, there must be no responsibility of response on the part of the recipient. As I write in “Gift, Gratitude, and the Grace of Stewardship,” that view is precisely what Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned against in his excoriation of “cheap” grace.
One of the most striking illustrations to me of this dynamic came as I watched the TV series Friday Night Lights. One of the main characters is Tim Riggins, a fan favorite who begins the series as a student and ends it as a man. Over the last two seasons Tim’s maturation really comes through, as he has graduated from high school and is trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.
Tim’s got a troubled background that doesn’t need to be explained here, but suffice it to say that the only family he’s got is his older brother Billy. Despite his better judgment and discomfort with the idea, Billy convinces Tim to help him with his new garage, which by night becomes a chop shop operation. The brothers are eventually busted, but Tim generously and lovingly takes the rap for his brother, who has a new wife and child that he’s trying to support.
After some time, Tim is paroled and comes back to Dillon, Texas. As you might imagine, Tim isn’t the happiest guy around after his stint in jail. But what really angers him is his sense that his brother Billy hasn’t done enough with the gift of freedom he’s been given by his brother’s sacrifice. After the brothers fight, Billy asks, “How long are you going to hold it over my head, man?” Tim responds, “The rest of my life if I feel it needs to be.”
Tim has given Billy a great gift, and it’s clear that Billy feels a sense of responsibility. Tim recognizes it, too, which is why they both know that there is something, some obligation, to be “held over” Billy. That doesn’t make what Tim did any less of a gift. But it does illustrate that there is a deep connection between gift and gratitude, or what Bonhoeffer called “costly grace.”
Tim’s sacrifice, in this way, is an echo of the great sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, who showed the greatest love there is in laying down his life for us (John 15:13). The reality of this gift of costly grace ought to inspire in us a sense of gratitude and responsibility, to do something good with the freedom we’ve been given in Christ.
It’s a question we are routinely asked as youngsters, with the more cliché responses ranging from “fireman” to “astronaut” to “explorer.”
Yet, as I’ve argued previously, we needn’t limit such contemplations to work outside of the home. As Karen Swallow Pior recently noted, using terminology from a Knot Yet study, family needn’t be viewed as a “capstone” to personal achievement, but should instead be seen as a “cornerstone” — an anchor and foundation from which those who are called to marry and have children will find increased fulfillment and vocational clarity, not less.
The other night, I was reading Richard Scarry’s The Bunny Book to my two toddlers, and I was struck by how clearly and effectively this same message was conveyed. The takeaway: When we think about work and vocation, we must also think about family.
The story begins with a daddy bunny tossing his baby in the air, asking that infamous question: “What will our baby be when he grows up?” (more…)
The Supreme Court of Louisiana ruled 6 to 1 on Tuesday that the way the state funds its school voucher program is unconstitutional and that public money now being used to pay private and religious school tuition should instead be going to public schools.