Category: News and Events

One line from last night’s debate leapt out at me. It wasn’t a stumble amidst the cut and thrust of open debate. It was during President Obama’s closing statement—400 words that I’m guessing he and his staff crafted with painstaking care.

About half way through his summation, the president gave his vision of government in a nutshell. He said that “everything that I’ve tried to do, and everything that I’m now proposing for the next four years,” was “designed to make sure that the American people, their genius, their grit, their determination, is – is channeled.”

In that one word, channeled, President Obama distilled the problem. It isn’t his job to channel America’s genius, grit and determination anymore than it’s a traffic cop’s job to tell you where to go when you hop in your car. The police officer has an important role. Government has an important role. But it isn’t to channel.

That isn’t how you free a country for greatness; it’s how you suffocate it, by having politicians and bureaucrats endlessly picking winners and losers, inserting themselves into the middle of every market bigger than a lemonade stand. (Oh wait, they got to the lemonade stand, too.)

President Obama quickly went on to explain what he meant by the federal government channeling, but the gloss was cold comfort. The good parts of the gloss—“everybody’s getting a fair shot,” “everybody’s playing by the same rules”—had nothing to do with channeling. And the part that was all about channeling—the government making sure that “everybody’s getting a fair share, everybody’s doing a fair share”—was just same failed, slightly creepy vision of an all-embracing nanny state that has Europe on the brink.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), a group that works exclusively for the U.S. Congress, issued a report with one of the greatest titles I’ve ever seen on a government document:

Receipt of Unemployment Insurance by Higher-Income Unemployed Workers (“Millionaires”)

Now the first nine words are nothing special, typical policy-wonk speak. But whoever added in the word “millionaires” with scare quotes and parentheses is a genius. Most people would have been nodding off around the word “Insurance” but seeing millionaires (that’s such a quaint word nowadays) in the title makes you wake up and ask, “Wait, are they saying that millionaires got unemployment insurance?”

The answer: Yes. Yes they did. Millionaires have indeed been getting unemployment insurance. In fact, almost 3,000 of them in 2008 were on the dole:

At least Obamacare comes at us head on. The greater legislative threat may be the one that most Americans have never heard of. Economist Scott Powell and Acton friend Jay Richards explain in a new piece in Barron’s:

While Obamacare received more attention, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, also known as Dodd-Frank after its Senate and House sponsors, … unleashed a new regulatory body, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to operate with unprecedented power.

Dodd-Frank became law in 2010 and is supposed to avert the next financial crisis. Yet banks are still too big to fail and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac remain wards of the state, while the CFPB has been given sweeping authority over consumer credit and other financial products and services that played no significant role in the crisis of 2008.

Powell and Richards then offer some specifics:

Joe Carter recently highlighted the discussion at Ethika Politika, the journal of the Center for Morality in Public Life, about the value of (not) voting, particularly the suggestion by Andrew Haines that in some cases there is a moral duty not to vote. This morning I respond with an analysis of the consequences of not voting, ultimately arguing that one must not neglect to count the cost of abstaining to vote for any particular office. One issue, however, that I only touched on was that of voting for a third party candidate, which I would like to explore further here. (more…)

Blog author: crobertson
Friday, September 28, 2012

Thanks to Andrew Walker for a great review of Wisdom & Wonder appearing in the fall issue of The City:

It is important to remember that for Kuyper, reflection upon these disciples is not for the sake of their own merit, but instead, in an attempt to bring a coherent understanding of how, as the foreword states, ‘the gospel, and thereby the practice of the Christian faith, relates to every single area of society.’

Many who profess an interest in Kuyper have often become Kuyperians by reading about Kuyper instead of reading him. For many, Kuyper’s influence is mediated through second-hand sources. Wisdom & Wonder is an important step in bringing Kuyper’s cultural theology to bear on new audiences.

Wisdom & Wonder consists of the last ten chapters of Volume 3 in the larger Common Grace set by Abraham Kuyper. Common Grace Volume 1 will be released in early 2013. Click here for more information on the Kuyper Translation project. Read Walker’s entire review here, and connect with the Common Grace project on Facebook here.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 28, 2012

Article: “Big Questions and Poor Economics”
James Tooley. “Big Questions and Poor Economics: Banerjee and Duflo on Schooling in Developing Countries.” Econ Journal Watch 9, no. 3 (September 2012): 170-185.

In Poor Economics, MIT professors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo set out their solutions for global poverty. Their key premise is that development experts have been sidetracked by the “big questions” of development, such as the role of government and the role of aid. This approach, they say, should be eschewed in favour of adopting carefully tested “small steps” to improvement. The book ranges widely, covering topics such as food, health, family planning and microfinance. Here I treat only their arguments on education in developing countries. Poor Economics points to evidence that shows that governments have not been successful in bringing quality education to the poor. Nevertheless, the authors bring their own big-think judgments to suggest why, despite the evidence, governmentally owned and operated schooling should remain central. Part of their own evidence concerns how private schooling, including for the poor, is burgeoning and outperforming government schooling. But private education cannot be the solution, they argue, because private schooling is not as efficient as it could be. The problems identified by Banerjee and Duflo are, however, clearly caused by bad public policy. I suggest that development economists are quite justified in forming and exercising judgment on the big questions, and that when they do exercise such judgment they should be aware that they are doing so.


Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, September 27, 2012

At the height of the housing crisis, it was estimated that 11 million homes in America were mortgaged for more than they were worth. That debt crisis may soon be dwarfed—if it hasn’t been already—by the student loan debt problem:

With college enrollment growing, student debt has stretched to a record number of U.S. households — nearly 1 in 5 — with the biggest burdens falling on the young and poor.

The analysis by the Pew Research Center found that 22.4 million households, or 19 percent, had college debt in 2010. That is double the share in 1989, and up from 15 percent in 2007, just prior to the recession — representing the biggest three-year increase in student debt in more than two decades.

Unlike an negative equity mortgage, student load debt is not dischargeable in a bankruptcy. It’s also non-transferable—the college degree that was “bought” with the debt cannot be sold or traded. That makes degrees that are not “marketable” or that were acquired for reasons of personal growth an expensive luxury good.

Obviously many people (including me, with some qualifications) believe that the value of obtaining a liberal education is worth taking on debt. But what about graduates who will receive neither a life-broadening education nor a vocationally useful skill-set from getting a college degree? Should we continue to encourage them to take on debt to pay for higher education?