Note: This is the first in a weekly series of explanatory posts on the officials and agencies included in the President’s Cabinet.

When Obamacare was signed into law in 2010, the Catholic nuns didn’t expect it would affect their religious liberty. Nor did they suspect that in a few years the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would restrict their freedom of conscience. Yet it was that Cabinet-level government agency that issued a mandate requiring the women to disregard their deeply held convictions by providing health care coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients. Even though it would have caused no harm to give the nuns an exemption to the mandate, the federal agency refused to back down until forced to do so by the Supreme Court.

The attempted coercion of the Little Sisters of the Poor was a wake-up call for many Christians. The expansive power of government agencies was being used in an unprecedented manner to control and restrict liberties many Americans had taken for granted. And the case raised even greater concerns: If HHS could threaten religious freedom, what could even more powerful federal agencies do?

Unfortunately, many Americans have only a basic understanding of what the President’s Cabinet even is, much less how it can affect our lives. To increase awareness, this weekly series will explain the functions of Cabinet-level departments, consider how they can expand or restrict liberties, and look at the men and women President-elect Trump has nominated to lead these agencies.

But first, here are answers to some basic questions you might have about the Cabinet.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The incoherence of Bishop Robert McElroy’s position on Catholic Social Thought and Public Unions
Steve Bainbridge, Professor Bainbridge

Public sector unionism in fact poses a direct and inescapable threat to the common good of society in a way that private unions simply do not.

Helping Work Reduce Poverty
Ron Haskins, National Affairs

The problem of poverty in America has been an intractable one, despite nearly a century of public programs attempting to alleviate it. The government spends $1 trillion a year at the federal, state, and local levels, and yet 21% of children under the age of 18 live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold. Our anti-poverty programs clearly aren’t working as well as they should. To find better solutions, we need to find the source of the problem.

A bipartisan victory against child sex trafficking
Marc A. Thiessen, AEI Ideas

On Tuesday, Republican subcommittee chairman Sen. Rob Portman (full disclosure: my wife is his deputy chief of staff) and ranking Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill held a hearing to release their bipartisan report.

The Origin and Function of Government Under God
R.C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries

If you don’t like the president of the United States, remember that the One who cast the deciding ballot in his election was almighty God.

Benjamin-FranklinToday is the 311th birthday of the Founding Father and polymath, Ben Franklin. As a leading statesman and scientist of his day, Franklin made innumerable contributions—many of which made him a wealthy man. At his death, Franklin is estimated to have been worth about $67 million.

Here are six quotes by Franklin on money, wealth, and virtue:

On increasing wealth: The way to wealth is as plain as the way to market. It depends chiefly on two words—industry and frugality.

On the prejudices of politicians: We assemble parliaments and councils to have the benefit of their collected wisdom; but we necessarily have, at the same time, the inconveniences of their collected passions, prejudices, and private interests. By the help of these, artful men overpower their wisdom, and dupe its possessors; and if we may judge by the acts, arrêts, and edicts, all the world over, for regulating commerce, an assembly of great men are the greatest fools upon earth.

On credit and debt: Creditors have better memories than debtors; and creditors are a superstitious sect, great observers of set days and times.

On December 1st, Acton welcomed Cato Institute Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies Ilya Shapiro to the Mark Murray Auditorium to speak on the role of the federal judiciary in the growth of government. The lecture, delivered as part of the 2015 Acton Lecture Series, emphasized the importance of judges’ both having the right constitutional theories as well as the willingness to enforce them. Shapiro argues that too much judicial “restraint” — like that of Chief Justice John Roberts in the Obamacare cases — has led not only to the unchecked growth of government, but also toxic judicial confirmation battles in the Senate and even our nation’s current populist moment.

We’re pleased to share Shapiro’s full presentation below.


Image courtesy of Getty Images

“Why can’t sane energy policies be developed and effectively implemented without a $30 billion bureaucracy to oversee it?” asks Acton Institute president and co-founder Rev. Robert Sirico in a recent article for The Hill.  Sirico notes that under President-elect Donald Trump some overreaching government bureaucracies could be rolled back or even abolished. Most significantly, Sirico calls for an end of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives:

This well-intentioned subsidy obfuscates the nature of religious charities by incentivizing them to draw a stark line between their faith and their works. What animates believers to care for the poor is precisely their religious belief — not to serve the interests of the state, politicians and their bureaucracies.

Where believers see the human person as a living icon of God, bureaucracies tend to count numbers and see clients. Religious charities often shine best exactly when material help has failed. Believers seek to peer into the disordered soul and bring healing. The government is clueless here.


Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Note: This is post #17 in a weekly video series on basic microeconomics.

How does the price of oil affect the price of candy bars? When the price of oil increases, it is of course more expensive to transport goods, like candy bars. But there are other, more subtle ways these two markets are connected says economist Alex Tabarrok.

(If you find the pace of the videos too slow, I’d recommend watching them at 1.5 to 2 times the speed. You can adjust the speed at which the video plays by clicking on “Settings” (the gear symbol) and changing “Speed” from normal to 1.25, 1.5 or 2.)

Previous in series: How markets link the world

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, January 17, 2017

What is the “Invisible Hand”?
Art Carden, The Imaginative Conservative

Observers who disapprove of others’ exchanges too often want to substitute the visible fist of the state for the invisible hand of the market.

Men’s Breadwinning Still Matters for Marriage
Christos Makridis, Family Studies

Men’s breadwinning is perhaps more important in better-educated communities than the nation as a whole.

Religious freedom sees signs of hope
Charles C. Haynes, Green Bay Press-Gazette

Beyond the numbing headlines of despair in the past year were signs of hope — small, but profound stories about the capacity of the human spirit to counter hate with compassion, destruction with healing, violence with peaceful coexistence.

It’s Time for America to Take Vocational Training More Seriously
Reut R. Cohen, Opportunity Lives

What those hailing income-driven repayment programs fail to acknowledge is the number of students graduating who don’t end up in their professions of choice. Wages are lower for college grads today than they were 15 years ago, when college was considerably more affordable.