Bridge-building-w-cranesThe state of Michigan is in the midst of something of an infrastructure crisis. We’re consistently ranked as among the states with the worst roads in the nation, something of an embarrassment for what used to be the automotive capital of the US. This infrastructure challenge is also no doubt part of a legacy of a state with one of the more troubled economies in the nation over the previous decade. (In spite of all this, Michigan remains a beautiful state with wonderful people, something Thrillist noted in recently ranking the Mitten state as the best state in America!)

To President Obama’s quip about infrastructure to business leaders, “You didn’t build that,” one might be tempted to retort that, in Michigan at least, that’s also increasingly true for the government. The roads aren’t being maintained in anything like a responsible fashion.

The voters of Michigan recently defeated Proposal 1, which was put forth by the state’s politicians as the only feasible solution. The voters actually saw it for what it was: a game of brinkmanship and blame-shifting. The defeat of Prop 1 put the onus back on the elected politicians to actually do their job and undertake the tough work of governing.

There have been a number of other ideas floated after the end of Prop 1, and part of that overhaul of our state’s approach to infrastructure investment and maintenance includes debate over so-called “prevailing” wage laws that require “union-scale wages and benefits on public construction contracts.”
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kindness-heart-image-orgspringSurely, there is not one social conservative or conservative Christian that has not been shaken by the events in our nation over the last week or two. It seems as if everything we know and believe to be true has been cast aside and trampled upon. Should we take the Benedict option? The Buckley option? Should we just put our heads down and go quietly about our lives, hoping no one notices us?

The New York Times’ David Brooks has an idea worth pondering. First, he says (as have many others), we must realize we live in a post-Christian culture. (I think most of us have gotten this point, loud and clear.) Perhaps though, Brooks opines, we are now in a post-cultural war culture as well. It’s over – at least to a point.

Consider putting aside, in the current climate, the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution.

Put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations from any consideration of religion or belief. Put aside an effort that has been a communications disaster, reducing a rich, complex and beautiful faith into a public obsession with sex. Put aside a culture war that, at least over the near term, you are destined to lose.

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“We view autism as one of our key competitive advantages,” says Tom D’Eri of Rising Tide Car Wash in Parkland, Florida, which employs 43 employees, 35 of which are on the autism spectrum. “Our employees follow processes, they’re really excited to be here, [and] they have a great eye for detail.”

Hear more of their story here:

Among adults with autism, the unemployment rate is around 90%, and yet, if you were to ask D’Eri, whose brother has autism, the market is simply not recognizing the enormous potential and unique gifts these people possess. “Typically people with autism are really good at structured tasks, following processes, and attention to detail,” he says. “So we saw that there are really important skills that people with autism have that make them, in some cases, the best employees you could have.” (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
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9 Bastiat Quotes for his 214th Birthday
Amelia Hamilton, The Stream

Exactly 214 years ago this Tuesday, Claude Frederic Bastiat was born. Before his death just 49 years later, his work on political theory and economics would make him a leader in both fields. We now remember him as a father of the Austrian and libertarian schools of thought.

Obama Plans to Expand Overtime Eligibility for Millions
Mike Dorning, Bloomberg Business

The Obama administration plans to raise the wages of millions of Americans who work more than 40 hours a week by requiring their employers to pay them overtime.

The Poverty of the Prosperity Gospel
Vaneetha Rendall, Desiring God

When we assert that pain-free lives are God’s reward for the righteous, we insinuate to the wounded that their problems are of their own making.

Improving mobility for our kids: Starting early is key
Aparna Mathur, AEI

While there is no one statistical database that would capture all of these effects, it is clear that what matters for children’s mobility is parent’s income, family structure and geography. Here are the numbers.

frederic-bastiat-john-lToday is the 214th birthday of Frederick Bastiat, one of the greatest political and economic thinkers of the 19th century. Bastiat, a farmer turned politician and pamphleteer, had a inimitable gift for explaining economic and political concepts in way that make them not only understandable but seem downright commonsensical.

Bastiat, as Charles Kaupke notes, drew on his Catholic faith and the writings of Adam Smith and John Locke to articulate a vision of limited, efficient government that respects each citizen’s God-given dignity. And as Religion and Liberty adds,

He typified that rare breed of liberal who holds a deep and powerful belief in a personal and transcendent God, and who incorporates this belief in a wide ranging social philosophy centering on the proposition that when left alone society will most clearly display the wisdom and intent of the Creator.

A particular concept of Bastiat’s that has profoundly influenced my thinking is the idea that God arranged the social world. “I believe that He Who arranged the material world,” wrote Bastiat, “was not to remain foreign to the arrangements of the social world.” I wholeheartedly agree. That is why I never tire of arguing about how God created such economic phenomena as the price system and comparative advantage in order to coordinate human flourishing.

There are dozens of ideas in his writings like this one that are worthy of close attention, but here are four particularly important concepts of Bastiat’s that you should know:
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greekbanks_3357117bWhat’s going on in Greece?

Greece is defaulting on a key debt owed to the international community—and the Greek government is putting the question of whether the country will default on even more government debt up for a popular vote this week.

How did Greece get into such a financial mess?

Too much debt. For the past twenty years the government of Greece has spent more than it has collected in taxes.

Wait, that can’t be all there is to it. The U.S. does the same thing, doesn’t it?

Yes, but the U.S. is a rich country with a good credit rating while Greece is not.

A good way to measure a country’s debt is to compare it to its GDP. The United States deficit averaged -3.03 percent of GDP from 1948 until 2014, reaching an all time high of 4.60 percent of GDP in 1948 and a record low of -12.10 percent in 2009 (low is bad). Greece averaged -7.19 percent of GDP from 1995 until 2014, reaching an all time high of -3.20 percent of GDP in 1999 and a record low of -15.70 percent of GDP in 2009. In other words, Greece spends about twice as much (as a percentage of it’s GDP) as does the U.S.

Let’s imagine two countries—Greece and the U.S.—as if they were persons: GDP would be the person’s “income”; the deficit would be “additional credit card debt”; and interest on the deficit would be like “interest on a credit card.”

The U.S. has a high income (16.7 trillion a year) and every year adds about 3 percent to the total it owes the credit card companies (the national debt). No one is too worried that the U.S. will default on its loans so the credit card companies give them a low interest rate (2.43 percent).

Greece, on the other hand, has a relatively modest income (242 billion, or 1/70 the size of U.S GDP) and adds a lot more to its debt every year (7 percent). Greece has a low credit score (i.e., the credit card companies aren’t sure Greece will pay off it’s debt) and so is charged a high interest rate (about 15 percent).

Now Greece is refusing to pay it’s creditors, causing financial turmoil throughout Europe.

If Greece is such a small economy why does it really matter if they default?
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Blog author: bwalker
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
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Matt Ridley on Climate Change
Russ Roberts, Library of Economics and Liberty

Science writer and author Matt Ridley discusses climate change with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Based on his reading of the scientific evidence, Ridley describes himself as a “lukewarmer.” While Ridley agrees that humans have made the climate warmer, he argues that the impact is small or positive over some temperature ranges and regions. He rejects the catastrophic scenarios that some say are sufficiently likely to justify dramatic policy responses, and he reflects on the challenges of staking out an unpopular position on a contentious policy issue.

Pope in US to meet with homeless, prisoners and immigrants
Nicole Winfield, Associated Press

Pope Francis will meet with homeless people, immigrants and prisoners during his upcoming trip to Cuba and the United States. He’ll also preside over a meeting about religious liberty – a major issue for the U.S. Catholic Church in the wake of the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision.

Dalai Lama Endorses Pope Francis’s Encyclical on Climate Change
Cole Mellino, EcoWatch

The Tibetan spiritual leader also spoke about the need to end war, calling the concept of war “outdated.” The Dalai Lama said we need to shift our focus to launch a global effort to tackle climate change. “Countries think about their own national interest rather than global interests and that needs to change because the environment is a global issue.”

Thousands Take to Rome’s Streets to Echo Pope Francis’ Call for Climate Action Thousands Take to Rome’s Streets to Echo Pope Francis’ Call for Climate Action
Hoda Baraka, 350.org

The celebratory march was animated by a musical band, a climate choir and colourful public artwork designed by artists from Italy and other countries, whose work played a major role in the People’s Climate March in New York City last September. Among the artwork was a 75-meter sign in the shape of a green leaf, with verses from Scripture which speak to God’s care for creation and for the poor.

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pope plant“Laudato si, mi’ Signore!” Both the title and first line of the most recent papal encyclical come from St. Francis’ canticle which looks at nature as a great gift, but you all know that. Every news source worth its salt made that clear before the encyclical was released (either time); yet, we as Christians are called to be salt of the Earth. This entails more than a brief glance at the word on the street about the ecological pronouncement. What is at stake here is the central call of humanity: to till and keep the gifted garden (Genesis 2:15). The first human was placed in this role of cultivation of the earth even before being told to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There was a promise to act and a law to keep. The Bible is divided into two halves: law in the Old Testament and promise in the New Testament. The call to be salt of the earth is about the Christian life fulfilling that promise. Note that the law followed the promise in the order of our creation. Core to human being was first the love of the life of the world–the greatest commandment as Christ said. So, then why is the reactionary focus of the encyclical even before it was released surrounded upon the policy, the law, that it would inspire and not the call to promise?

Surely within the encyclical there is language that leads to law being created. What Pope Francis has seen in the world directly articulates the life he leads–one unaccepting of a “globalization of indifference” for any child of God’s in need. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
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Capitalism should stop being so self-serving
Archbishop Justin Welby, The Telegraph

If we relied solely on self-interest, society would collapse – but inclusive capitalism benefits everyone

In Victory For Small Businesses, Texas Ruling Eliminates Onerous Occupational Licensing
Carrie Sheffield, Opportunity Lives

Sometimes it’s all about the small victories. Yet as we have discussed here at Opportunity Lives, occupational licensing is no small problem that disproportionately harms the poor and the young. Some 29 percent of American workers are in jobs mandating these licenses, which are often lobbied for by incumbent business owners to shield them from fair competition.

ACLU: Why we can no longer support the federal ‘religious freedom’ law
Louise Melling, Washington Post

The ACLU supported the RFRA’s passage at the time because it didn’t believe the Constitution, as newly interpreted by the Supreme Court, would protect people such as Iknoor Singh, whose religious expression does not harm anyone else. But we can no longer support the law in its current form.

Supreme Court lets Obama administration say words don’t mean what they say
Michael Barone, AEI

For most people, words mean what they say. But not necessarily for a majority of Supreme Court justices in two important decisions handed down Thursday.

BuyLocal.inddOver the past few decades buying locally produced goods and services over those produced farther away has become increasingly fashionable. However, this “modern” trend is really a reversion to an earlier period when most all products were produced and bought from people in a localized area. For most of human history, “buying local” was the only option.

There may be many reasons we may want to buy local goods and services—but improving the local economy is not one of them. As economist Don Boudreaux explains in the video below, there are many reasons why it’s foolish to ‘buy local’ if your goal is to improve the economy of the locale in which you live.