William Easterly: Poverty Is a Moral Problem

Christianity Today has an excellent interview with economist William Easterly on his new book The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor. In it, Easterly explains that poverty is a moral problem that cannot be easily fixed by technocratic solutions. The answer comes from treating the poor with the same dignity as everyone else. He explains,

I realized our attitude towards the poor is so often condescending and paternalistic. We think of them as helpless individuals. We don’t respect their dignity as individuals.

The next step was not to just avoid paternalism or condescension but actually to go back to first principles and think about the rights of the poor and what role those rights play in development. Economists’ research actually does give the institutions associated with individual rights a lot of the credit for the development in the West and the rest of the world. This combined with my own moral awakening that these rights are a desirable good in and of themselves. Whenever we violate them, we set back development.

Check it out.


This Day in Sarajevo, 1914

My dad was around eleven or so years old when he was reading a book on World War I. He said something along the lines of what a cool-looking war with those uniforms, tanks, and planes. His grandfather became very upset and told him that it was a horrible war which destroyed Europe and created a living hell for its nations. My great-grandfather was born in Czernowitz, a city which proudly celebrated its European and Austro-Hungarian character. He lived through the mass warfare which ravaged the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and he also witnessed the terrible aftermath of nationalist and ethnic uprisings in Eastern Europe. Europe was never the same again. Despite being Jewish, this war disturbed and haunted him far more than even World War II and the Holocaust.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Duchess Sophie, by Gavrilo Princip and the Black Hand in Sarajevo. This is the event that set Europe ablaze, triggering the war.

The Washington Post has an interesting article showing how it and the New York Times covered the event back in 1914. Check it out.

Mormonism and Gender

David Holland
David Holland

Plenty has been written on Mormonism and gender both here and elsewhere, especially in the wake of Ordain Women. David F. Holland, professor at Harvard Divinity School and son of LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland, gave an interview expounding on the common view Mormonism holds toward gender roles. The interview is balanced and thoughtful. Check it out.

Horlivka: A Neglected Mormon Story

Try a little experiment. Type “Mormon” into Google news. You will find a lot about Kate Kelly and Ordain Women, some about Jabari Parker, and a little on John Dehlin. Now type “Mormon Donetsk” and “Mormon Horlivka.” You won’t find a single relevant result, yet this is easily the biggest Mormon story this year. Pro-Russian separatists have seized the Latter-day Saint meetinghouse in the Eastern Ukrainian town of Horlivka (or Gorlovka), banned worship, and are now using it to house militants.
I have known about this for several weeks, but have not posted on it since until now there was no official source. Not even in the Church newsroom.
On June 26th, the Ukrainian information agency Ukrinform confirmed the report with Andrey Lysenko, a spokesman for the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine. Lysenko added that “apparently [the separatists] have nothing better to do.” The brief report incorrectly states Donetsk, but local members have stated that this happened in Horlivka. One of the meetinghouses in Donetsk was spray-painted with “Children of Satan,” and “Yankee, go home,” but was not seized by separatists.
One of the few things that I could find in English shows that a Protestant ministry school in Horlivka had also been seized by separatists. This is a very worrying trend. The church may have pulled the missionaries out of Eastern Ukraine, but the majority of local members remain in their own homes.

What Would a Tea Party USA Look Like?

Conservative Political Action Conference Draws Major Leaders From The Right

I wouldn’t have expected such a fair piece from Slate, but this article about a hypothetical alternate universe where the Tea Party is in charge and Rand Paul is President is really useful for understanding some of the basic beliefs and aspirations of the Tea Party. Here’s a sample:

Deep divisions notwithstanding, there are a number of principles that unite the movement. The most important of them is a devotion to subsidiarity, which holds that power should rest as close to ordinary people as possible. In practice, this leads Tea Party conservatives to favor voluntary cooperation among free individuals over local government, local government over state government, and state government over the federal government. Teatopia would in some respects look much like our own America, only the contrasts would be heightened. California and New York, with their dense populations and liberal electorates, would have even bigger state governments that provide universal pre-K, a public option for health insurance, and generous funding for mass transit. They might even have their own immigration policies, which would be more welcoming toward immigrants than the policies the country as a whole would accept.

I don’t consider myself a Tea Partier, but I have been to one rally (it was fun) and I’m sympathetic to a lot of the sentiments and principles that animate the movement. From my standpoint, this article is definitely worth the read if you want to understand a little bit more about it.

Catholics Against Capitalism

Kevin Williamson has an article over at National Review that expresses many of the feelings I’ve had regarding some of the more hostile, self-righteous religious critics of capitalism. The article discusses the recent “panel of Catholic intellectuals and clergy, led by His Eminence Oscar Andrés Maradiaga,” that was “convened to denounce a political philosophy under the headline “Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case against Libertarianism.” The conference was mainly about free-market economics rather than libertarianism per se…” But as Williamson notes, “There is something about the intellectually cloistered lives of religious professionals that prevents them from engaging in anything but the most superficial way with the 21st-century economy.” But then he just lays it out:

The implicit economic hypothesis [of the panel] is that producing a certain amount of goods more efficiently — in this case, with less labor — makes the world worse off. (“Why not use spoons?”) The reality is the opposite, and that is not a matter of opinion, perspective, or ideology — it is a material reality, the denial of which is the intellectual equivalent of insisting on a geocentric or turtles-all-the-way-down model of the universe.

The increasingly global and specialized division of labor and the resulting chains of production — i.e., modern capitalism, the unprecedented worldwide project of voluntary human cooperation that is the unique defining feature of our time — is what cut the global poverty rate in half in 20 years. It was not Buddhist mindfulness or Catholic homilies that did that. In the 200,000-year history of Homo sapiens, neither of those great religious traditions, nor anything else that human beings ever came up with, made a dent in the poverty rate. Capitalism did.

Production and resources are important. “If the Good Samaritan had been the Poor Samaritan,” explains Williamson, “with no resources to dedicate to the stranger’s care, then the poor waylaid traveler would have been out of luck. All the good intentions that we may muster are not half so useful to a hungry person as a loaf of bread.” The fact that “men of the cloth, of all people, should be blind to what is really happening right now on the global economic scale is remarkable, ironic, and sad. Cure one or two people of blindness and you’re a saint; prevent blindness in millions and you’re Monsanto.” What is really happening is this: “there is no poverty in the capitalist world comparable to poverty in the early 18th century, much less to the poverty that was nearly universal in Jesus’ time. Our people are clothed, fed, and housed, and the few shocking exceptions, as with the case of the neglected mentally ill, are shocking because they are exceptions.”

It boils down to “how you intend to fulfill the Lord’s command to feed His sheep — with rhetoric or with bread…”

G. I. Joe: Devil Eyes

My favorite part of the novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is when the mage, Mr. Norrell, is recruited as part of the war effort against Napoleon. The plan is to terrify Napoleon by troubling him with nightmares. The plan fails because the bookish old antiquarian is useless at imagining horrors. The worst he can come up with is a captain of dragoons hiding in Napoleon’s wardrobe.

Truth, however, is stranger than fiction.

As part of the effort to rid Bin Laden of a support base, the CIA commissioned a demonic action figure of Bin Laden. Unsuspecting parents in, say, Karachi, would buy their children an innocent looking Bin Laden toy, and after bringing it home the action figure would react to the heat, its original face being replaced by a demonic, red one. To make things even better, this mix between Get Smart and Team America was designed by Donald Levine, one of the creators of G.I. Joe. He designed the toy, and secretly manufactured it in China. Thus Habsboro’s role in the War against Terror. I personally can’t picture anyone being spooked by this toy, not even in regions were belief in devils, demons, and jinns is widespread, and the CIA seems to agree. They shelved the toy, but one source says that hundreds of toys actually made their way to Pakistan.

Who knows, there might be hope for a collector’s item after all.

Sun News Network Shows How to Cover Mass Shootings

2014-06-20 Sun News Network

About two weeks ago, a killer in New Brunswick killed three Royal Canadian Mounted Police and left two more in critical condition. Sun News Network covered the story closely, but in a way that is very different from what the American mainstream press does in similar situations: they refused to release the name or the photo of the killer. They then published an editorial explaining their decision.

Far more people have been killed in the bad neighbourhoods of Chicago than were killed in all the mass shootings combined. But these rare incidents are never forgotten. And with the rise of social media, they’ve become a spectacle… Following the deadly Newtown, Connecticut shooting in December 2012 that left 26 dead, including 20 children, it was discovered that the perpetrator kept a “score sheet” of previous mass shootings. Did he hope his name would be placed at the top of the list?

The theory that publication of mass killings leads to more mass killings is very hard to study empirically because mass killings are so rare, but copycat suicides provide a plausible basis for the fear. In copycat suicides, a well-publicized suicide sparks a wave of imitation suicides. This is a very old phenomenon, with the first notable example dating to the 1774 publication of The Sorrows of Young Werther. Because of this well known effect (called suicide contagion) many news agencies around the world place limitations on the amount of publicity they will give to suicides.

I would like to see similar levels of self-restraint–on the part of news agencies and us, the audience–here in the US. The sad reality is that it’s only a matter of time until we have the opportunity to put it into practice. I do not think that such self-censorship would end mass shootings overnight, but I do think that it could help. And that it’s the least we can do.