Via CrossLeft, which promises to bring “balance” to the Christian voice, this short and interesting piece from Larry James’s blog Urban Daily, which documents his reflections as “president and CEO for Central Dallas Ministries, a human and community development corporation with a focus on economic and social justice at work in inner city Dallas, Texas.”

Says James, “If your goal is community and human development, you look for ways to avoid the creation of dependence or a neo-colonial approach to relief and compassion efforts.”

Of course the realization of freedom, which revolves around asking the question, “Does a program prepare clients for independence, or does it keep them dependent?,” is one of the hallmarks of effective compassion.

For groups that put these principles of effective compassion into practice, both in Dallas and around the country, check out the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide.

Mr. Fred L. Smith, Jr – Clicking this link will open a new window with a video player.

Last week, Marc posted audio from the Fred Smith’s presentation at the 2007 Acton Lecture Series. Mr. Smith, president and founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, spoke about Corporate Social Responsibility and the dangers associated with the socialization of the corporation. Video of this event is now available online and for download. You can watch it online, (a new window with a Flash video player will open), you can download the file via Acton’s podcast, or download directly as an MP4 file (60Mb). Enjoy our video goodness!

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, February 19, 2007

One of the latest iterations of the reality TV craze is the show, “Bad Girls Club,” on the Oxygen network. The premise of the show revolves around a group of young women of diverse backgrounds brought together to live in one house: “What happens when you put seven ‘bad’ girls in a house together – the type of girls who lie, cheat and flirt their way out of trouble and have serious trust issues with other women?”

It doesn’t take long for fireworks to fly. Only four days and a couple episodes into the experience, one of the bad girls named Ripsi flies off into an alcoholic rage (video here and here). After a long stretch of binge drinking (inexplicably she drinks more alcohol to sober up), Ripsi explodes into an attack on two of her housemates, amidst a flurry of broken dishes.

After that fateful night, Ripsi claims she had no memory of the events and is somewhat apologetic (although she brags about her privileged background with one of the girls she attacked), but the fallout is already decided: Ripsi has to leave the house (view the video here).

As she’s packing to leave, Ripsi shows great disdain for her possessions, giving away a $500 designer dress to one of her housemates. Too lazy to carry her bags, she simply kicks them down the stairs and lets them land where they may.

But in the midst of this prima donna behavior, Ripsi makes this tearful confession:

I just wanna be happy, I’m not happy. Nothing in the world makes me happy. I could shop until I drop. I could go out with my friends. But there’s a void in there. I have been looking for something my whole life and I don’t know what it is. I just know that I haven’t found it yet.

In this intimate and heartfelt admission, we find the confirmation of the truth of Augustine’s famous theological confession to God: “You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you” (1.1.1).

Ripsi: “I just wanna be happy, I’m not happy…”


Unless our affections are properly oriented toward God, nothing will make us happy. Ripsi exemplifies the perennial experience of fallen humanity which seeks fulfillment and happiness in various created goods, whether in the social bonds of family and friends or in material possessions. Solomon documents his search for meaning in the book of Ecclesiastes and takes Ripsi’s confession to its final conclusion: without God no one can be happy, everything is meaningless.

Ripsi’s confession is an unwitting witness to the reality that pervades all of fallen humanity, for “absolutely all of us want to be happy” (10.21.31). But by nature we seek happiness through the ignorance and corruption of our will and so we are doomed to seek happiness in sinful ways. As Augustine writes, “Sin gains entrance through these and similar good things when we turn to them with immoderate desire, since they are the lowest kind of goods and we thereby turn away from the better and higher: from you yourself, O Lord our God, and your truth and your law” (2.5.10).

Since Ripsi’s departure from the show, there have been more fights and misadventures in the Bad Girls Club. But at the very least this show has provided us with a contemporary testimony to the reality of fallen humanity and the self-destructive nature of sin. What Ripsi is looking for, even without her knowledge of it, is what all of us are ultimately seeking: the unsurpassed happiness that comes with a relationship with God, made possible through the work of Jesus Christ.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, February 16, 2007

I’m not quite sure what to make of this story from Catholic News Service. Its quotations concerning agricultural subsidies from Fr. Andrew Small, a “policy adviser for the U.S. bishops,” while not all perfectly clear without their context, seem to indicate a shift in direction compared to earlier statements from the USCCB. Small notes, for example, that the current system “incentivizes people to overproduce” and that it “isn’t helping the people it’s supposed to help.”

Does this discussion signal a change from earlier bishops’ statements, such as the one I criticized here?

Dr. Kevin Schmiesing

Acton Institute research fellow Dr. Kevin Schmiesing recently received a Templeton Enterprise Award from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The 2nd place award in the articles category recognized Dr. Schmiesing’s piece, “Another Social Justice Tradition: Catholic Conservatives.” The article was published in the University of St. Thomas Law Journal in 2005.

The article outlines the historic differences between progressive and conservative Catholic approaches to social and economic issues. His states that “the conservative approach represents a tradition of thought that is not only consistent with authoritative Catholic social teaching, but is also an important corrective to deficiencies in the progressive approach.” Further, “conservatives’ hesitance to invoke government, recognition of the potential of business and the market, and emphasis on personal responsibility and civil society are all valuable contributions to a public discussion about the most effect means of alleviating poverty, ensuring justice, and serving the common good.”

Placing first in the book category is Thomas E. Woods, Jr, who won for his book, The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy. This book is part of the Lexington book series entitled Studies in Ethics and Economics, which is edited by Acton’s director of Research, Sam Gregg.

First place winners in the articles category are Bryan Caplan and Ed Stringham. This EconLog piece gives some additional insight.

The Templeton Enterprise Awards are presented annually to scholars early in their careers who have recently produced books and articles dealing with economics, culture, and globalization. For more information about the Templeton Enterprise Awards, see the full press release or visit the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s website.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, February 16, 2007

Today’s Detroit News ran a brief letter to the editor in response to my Jan. 23 op-ed, “Don’t prevent religion from helping to reform prisoners.” (Joe Knippenberg engaged a previous response on his blog here).

David Dery of Central Lake writes, “Jordan Ballor’s article encouraging religious groups in prisons is fine, as far as he goes…. The problem comes when the state attaches some benefit to attending these programs without providing a non-religious alternative.”

In response I’ll simply make a few observations and raise a few questions. I agree that the state “attaching some benefit” to a program like IFI is potentially problematic, although the nature of the benefit would probably need to be more clearly defined (are we talking material benefits? social?). What if this benefit is not attached by the state but inheres to the nature of the program itself (i.e. spiritual)?

I also think there is not only a question of a religious vs. non-religious/secular alternative to be considered, but Christian vs. other religions (Islam, paganism, Buddhism, et al.) That is, if the government allows a Christian program into prisons, must it also provide a non-Christian religious alternative? What if there are no groups who are doing religious reform work in prisons from these groups?

Here’s a tentative alternative proposition: if the state allows a Christian group to do reform work in the prison, it must allow (not necessarily provide itself) other groups, whether religious or secular, to do reform work under the same conditions and standards as the Christian group. But the state need not necessarily seek out or artificially create Buddhist, pagan, Islamic, or secularist groups to do the reform work.

The fact that Christian groups are perhaps the most active in this area says something about the nature of the Christian faith and its expression.

IFI’s appeal of the decision in Iowa began this week. Joe Knippenberg gives some good introductory links and IFI’s ruling page gives information on how to listen to the oral arguments.

Mr. Fred L. Smith, Jr. at the 2007 Acton Lecture Series

Mr. Fred L. Smith, Jr. of the Competitive Enterprise Institute was today’s guest speaker as part of the 2007 Acton Lecture Series here in Grand Rapids, speaking on the topic of The Irresponsibility of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Smith argues that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become the new rationale for old policies of transforming private firms into public utilities—and forcing them to perform whatever duties are politically attractive at any one time. The corporation is an extremely valuable way of organizing large numbers of people to produce goods and services efficiently—that is, to create wealth. That wealth then flows into the hands of shareholders, workers, customers, and suppliers, who are then empowered to advance their own individual goals and values. According to Smith, to “socialize” this process is to reduce the ability of individuals to advance their goals, placing the values of politicians as paramount. Nothing would do more to reduce the world’s ability to address poverty and pollution than to force CSR onto the world economy.

You can listen to his address by clicking here (7.4 mb mp3 file). We’ll be posting video of today’s event tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, February 15, 2007

One of the stories told in the Acton’s forthcoming documentary, “The Call of the Entrepreneur,” (trailer available here) is that of Brad Morgan, a Michigan dairy farmer, who bucked the odds and the naysayers and turned the problem posed by the disposal of his herd’s manure into a profitable business venture.

His innovative solution to manure disposal, turning it into high quality compost for a variety of purposes, led to the formation of Morgan Composting in 1996, and more than ten years later the business is still going strong.

Sirico: “Sometimes they’re the most common resources that we walk over, that we ignore, that we even are perhaps repulsed by…”

Reflecting on the role of the entrepreneur in the market economy, Acton president Rev. Robert A. Sirico says, “Sometimes they’re the most common resources that we walk over, that we ignore, that we even are perhaps repulsed by, that become the source of wealth, the source of jobs, the source of prosperity. I mean this is an incredible institution.”

Perhaps no “resource” illustrates this reality better than manure. Brad Morgan turned the waste from cows into a valuable commodity. And now researchers and government officials are following Morgan’s lead.

Wendy Powers, a professor of agriculture at Michigan State University, says, “We really need to think outside the box on what uses for manure are.” Brad Morgan thought outside the box and Morgan Composting now offers a full line of products.

The Associated Press report says that “fiber from processed and sterilized cow manure could take the place of sawdust in making fiberboard, which is used to make everything from furniture to flooring to store shelves.”

“Farmers are having to put more and more money into dealing with manure,” said Tim Zauche, a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. “This is a huge cost to farmers.” A dairy farm can spend $200 per cow per year to handle its manure, Zauche said.

But looking at manure as a resource to be managed rather than waste to be disposed of is the key difference in perspective. That’s what Powers calls thinking “outside the box.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, February 14, 2007

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine the most recent buzz-worthy trend in the lottery industry: privatization.

While most critics of these moves have pointed to the foolhardiness of selling off a long-term income stream for a lump sum jackpot, I argue that privatization by itself does nothing to address the underlying problems afflicting the lottery business. I conclude, “A government-run monopoly would merely be replaced by a government-enforced monopoly.”

And as I’ve claimed previously, government reliance on lotteries as a morally praiseworthy generator of income is illusory. UPDATE (HT: Mere Comments): Here’s a bit from the abstract from a recent article examining lottery trends from 1976-1996: “One of the most important policy-oriented determinants of income inequality is the lottery and a significant portion of the increase in income inequality over our two-decade time period is attributable to the increasing prevalence and popularity of state lotteries” (Elizabeth A. Freund and Irwin L. Morris, “The Lottery and Income Inequality in the States,” Social Science Quarterly 86 [December 2005 Supplement]: 996-1012).

The newest incarnation of the Michigan Lottery’s attempt to sell the industry as contributing to the common good describes the lottery as a thread running through all sectors of society, connecting everyone in a single bond of community. Is it really true that under a state-run lottery system that “we all win,” or all we all simply trapped in the same web?

Earlier this year the New York Post reported that the expansion of legalized gambling is having a deleterious effect on the ability of non-profits to raise funds through gambling fundraising events (HT: Don’t Tell the Donor).

And now there are some plans in the works to expand lotteries to a whole new level. The UK Telegraph reports that within five years a multi-million dollar worldwide lottery could be put in place.

I actually am quite (pleasantly) surprised that some enterprising young congressperson hasn’t yet been successful in putting forward the idea of a national lottery. Surely the Commerce Clause could be invoked to regulate and nationalize the regional interstate lottery games that are currently underway. The talk about something like No Child Left Behind being an unfunded mandate could be cut off in one fell swoop.

Read the entirety of this week’s commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, February 14, 2007

PARADE Magazine has published its annual list of “The World’s Worst Dictators.” Topping the list is the man overseeing the genocide in Darfur, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir.

At least three of the top twenty are important friends and allies of the United States in the war on terror: #5 King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia; #9 Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya; #15 Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan.


“See, Lois? I told you we had allies. Slobodan, you made it!”


David Wallechinsky, PARADE contributing editor and author of Tyrants: The World’s 20 Worst Living Dictators, compiled the list. PARADE has come out with an annual list since 2003.