Two Births and an Annunciation

Two Births and an Annunciation

I'm afraid I'm not in a position to crank this blog back into life in any sustained way just yet (though I will probably be posting a few odds and ends), but I will break the silence to make a trio of announcements (a couple days late for the Feast of the Annunciation, but oh well...).  If you know me on Facebook, you'll already know all about the first two, so you can skip down to #3, which is all-new and hot off the press, so to speak. 

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Articles New, Articles Forthcoming, and Something More Exciting

Articles New, Articles Forthcoming, and Something More Exciting

Unfortunately, a series of unforeseen pressures on my time (some of them coming in the form of malevolent microorganisms) have forced me to abandon my blogging ambitions for this month; I still hope that next month will see a return to more writing here, but a number of academic writing commitments will get in the way.

However, I have not been idle, and I do have a number of publications that have just recently come out or are forthcoming.  Unfortunately, many of them you will need institutional journal subscriptions, a lot of money, or a good library to read, but someday, the open-access revolution may burst them out from the closely guarded paywall prisons in which they now reside.  The last and most exciting item, however, will be very widely and inexpensively available:

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Rigged to Win

Rigged to Win

Since Christmas, I've been working my way slowly through George Packer's masterpiece The Unwinding, which chronicles the slow decay of American society and politics over the past generation in poignant prose that follows the struggles and triumphs of a handful of more-or-less-ordinary citizens, using them to illuminate the story of a nation.  It climaxes with the events following the 2008 financial crisis, which revealed how thoroughly corporate money and power had taken the American political process captive.  This passage was particularly eye-opening:

"The previous October, in the last month of the [Obama] campaign, Connaughton had picked up signs from [Delaware senator] Kaufman that the Obama team wanted to bring Robert Rubin on as Treasury secretary.  'Don't you realize that half the country wants to hang Bob Rubin?' Connaughton asked when Kaufman expressed enthusiasm at the prospect.  Kaufman would later say, 'It was like a car had broken down and we needed a mechanic.'  Obama, inexperienced in government and a novice in finance, seemed to believe that Rubin and his followers were the only competent repairmen available. 

No more proof was needed that the establishment . . . would emerge from the disaster in fine shape.  The establishment could fail and fail and still survive, even thrive.  It was rigged to win, like a casino.

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Working for All You're Worth: Some More Thoughts on the Minimum Wage Debate

Working for All You're Worth: Some More Thoughts on the Minimum Wage Debate

A few weeks ago, I wrote a brief reflection on the recent debates over the minimum wage for Capital Commentary.  My purpose there, and in the several conversations I've had in social media on this question, was not really to advocate for or against raising the minimum wage; in my view, the economic and political complexities of the issue are such that I'm inclined to be suspicious of anyone who's confident they know the right answer to the question.  My main concern is to call out really bad arguments against the minimum wage, particularly those peddled by Christians.  There may well be a good case to make against the minimum wage, but it seems awfully hard to find people making it sometimes.  

So I want to reflect a bit more fully on what's wrong with one of the common conservative arguments against the minimum wage: that the laborer is only worth his productivity.  The argument goes something like this: Sure, it sounds wonderful to pay people a living wage, but a worker's job is to contribute productivity to a business, adding value by his labor, and ultimately, the business cannot afford to pay him any more than what he brings in.  If a McDonalds worker can only contribute an average of $6 profit per hour to the company by his labor, then McDonalds will go broke pretty quick paying him $10/hr.  Accordingly, raising the minimum wage will simply increase unemployment, and instead, therefore, we should focus on raising worker productivity. 

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The Safest Road to Hell

The Safest Road to Hell

....And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man's best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off....

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The Search for Authority and the Fear of Difference

The Search for Authority and the Fear of Difference

A few weeks ago, a friend told me about a guy who, after years of devoted membership (and various forms of leadership) in Reformed churches, had decided to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy.  Not so much because of any deep-seated disillusionment with Reformed theology, or an intellectual decision that Orthodox doctrine on disputed points was more compelling, nor because of the frequently-cited "aesthetic appeal" of its liturgy, icons, etc.; to be sure, that was a factor, but could hardly be the decisive one for someone deeply-rooted in the Reformed faith.  Rather, it was because "he needed someone to submit to"; he was tired of the burden of always making up his own mind about everything, of the Protestant "heretical imperative" (to use Peter Berger's term) that drove everyone to define themselves over against everyone else, and to elevate private judgment above all else.  Time to put an end to such individualistic arrogance, he reasoned, and submit my judgment to something higher, older, and more authoritative—rather than "let go and let God..." it was a matter of "let go and let the bishop…"  At least, such was the story.

It struck me that among the many evangelicals and Reformed folks converting to Rome or Orthodoxy, this was a common story.  "We Protestants, we're so divided, we're so individualistic, we have no sense of authority, we have to make up our own minds about everything rather than submitting to the judgment of others.  It's time to stop trying to do all the thinking for ourselves, and submit to authority and tradition."  And then it struck me that, while this sounds superficially humble, pious, and mature, it starts to look considerably less laudable when you put it in other terms.

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The Fashionable Outcry of Each Generation

The Fashionable Outcry of Each Generation

Continuing my series on C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters:

"….The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers.  We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic.  The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.  Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiasm at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm; a century later, when we are really making them all Byronic and drunk with emotion, the fashionable outcry is directed against the dangers of the mere 'understanding'.  Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritanism; and whenever all men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants we make Liberalism the prime bogey.

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