Category: Business and Society

“Amtrak officials seem to be working hard to patch up the older parts of the system. But recent delays serve as only the latest reminder that Amtrak’s problems are not bad management so much as stingy government. With gas prices up and airplanes overloaded, the nation’s leaders should be trying to figure out why this advanced nation does not have a more advanced passenger rail system.” Thus says an editorial in today’s NYT, blaming the lack of government subsidy for the woes of the US train system.

It doesn’t seem to occur to the editorial writer that the current situation may in fact be the result of the railway system’s historic dependence on the government, which has fostered the inability to run competitively, independently, and efficiently. To me this sounds like the lament when any other government program fails: “But we didn’t have enough funding!”

I do know that booking travel on an Amtrak train can often be more expensive than flying by plane to the same destination. If a slower, more expensive form of transportation is what government subsidization gets you, no thanks.

The Vatican recently concluded a conference on corruption (insert joke about ‘knowing whereof they speak’). It was an impressive array of speakers, including World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, and many sensible things were said. But one is tempted to respond, “That’s all well and good; but what is anybody *doing* about it?”

Which is why it’s encouraging to see, coincidentally, another story on the same day, detailing the grassroots efforts of Catholic schools in Cameroon to nip corruption in the bud.

Seven years after the United Nations assumed control of the Serb province of Kosovo, talks are underway about its future. Orthodox Church leaders for the minority Serb population, which has been subject to attacks for years by Muslim extremists, are hoping to forestall mounting pressure to establish an independent state. Is the Church headed for extinction in Kosovo?

Read the complete commentary here.

“As we look at how the immigration debate is unfolding, there are reasons to be concerned about the rule of law,” Jennifer Roback Morse writes. “The mass demonstrations of the past weeks reveal a much more sinister development: the arrival of French-style street politics in America.”

Read the complete commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, May 12, 2006

For some reason, I get the impression that both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the editorial board of the NYT need a lesson in the birds and the bees.

The NYT criticizes Putin’s plan to address falling population levels in Russia “with a wide range of subsidies and financial incentives, along with improved health care, a crackdown on illicit alcohol, improved road safety and the like.”

Thankfully for the future of humanity, the NYT has a different suggestion: “Perhaps another approach would be to see whether the population could be increased through improved democratic institutions.”

I hate to have to point this out, but populations don’t increase through government programs, policies, or “improved democratic institutions.” They increase as the aggregate result of the successful procreative acts of human beings as blessed by God.

The Times suggests that if Russian citizens were to “share in the country’s governance, riches, debates and dreams, maybe the drinking and poverty would give way to larger families.” The NYT doesn’t seem to realize that countries with “democratic institutions” that function perfectly well, at least according to the Times’ definition (such as in the rest of Europe), also face demographic declines.

What we have here is a spiritual problem that requires a spiritual solution. Yes, material factors can contribute to the aggravation or the relief of the issue, but alone they cannot be the solution.

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'” (Genesis 1:28 NIV)

Many are alarmed as Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia veer toward leftist class-struggle politics and socialist economic policies. But, as Sam Gregg points out, the potent combination of state-authoritarianism, populism, nationalism and xenophobia — or “corporatism” — seen today in Latin America was also present in European fascist governments in the 1930s, and later during the regime of Argentina’s Juan Peron. One encouraging sign: Catholic leaders are now speaking out against this corporatist agenda.

Read the complete commentary here.

As the immigration debate continues, commentators dig deeper in the search for the “sources of the problem.” Many have rightly pointed out that a healthier Mexican economy would alleviate the need that spurs many Mexicans to seek financial recourse across the border. Whatever one’s views on the current debate, we ought to be able to agree that a more prosperous Mexico would be beneficial for everyone. But then others have correctly noted that talk about the Mexican economy is really a diversion from the US immigration reform issue: We need to figure out what to do about the large number of illegal immigrants currently here regardless of what happens in the Mexican economy.

Nonetheless, for anyone concerned about Mexicans, Americans, and Mexican-Americans, the issue of the Mexican economy is an important one. And on that issue, William P. Kucewicz offers a helpful analysis at NRO. I wanted to focus on one extraordinary line at the end of the piece:

Another analysis found Mexico’s level of government corruption has the same negative effect on inward foreign direct investment as raising the marginal tax rate by 42 percentage points.

Sam Gregg and Osvaldo Schenone wrote a while back about the pernicious effects of corruption in their contribution to Acton’s Christian Social Thought Series. Kucewicz’s citation above dramatically illustrates the impact that moral turpitude can have on economic wellbeing. No single magic bullet can bring prosperity to Mexico or anywhere else, of course. But any progress down that road will have to involve coming to terms with corruption, the long arm of which erodes the common good in diverse and significant ways—among them compelling migrants to leave their homelands.

Andrew Yuengert, the author of Inhabiting the Land – The Case for the Right to Migrate, the Acton study on immigration, looks at the current debate and debunks some common misconceptions. “The biggest burdens from immigration are not economic – they are the turmoil caused by the large numbers of illegal immigrants,” Yuengert writes.

Read the complete commentary here.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Jordan pretty well covered the territory in his earlier post on gas prices. But with the silliness from both Republicans and Democrats ongoing, it can’t hurt to suggest two additional sensible treatments of the subject: Thomas Nugent on National Review Online, and Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute on FoxNews.

Two Acton scholars, Andrew Yuengert and Fr. Paul Hartmann, were interviewed on “The World Over” (EWTN Studios) last Friday, April 28, about the Catholic response to immigration rights. Yuengert, author of the Acton monograph “Inhabiting the Land,” emphasizes the dignity of the human person as a foundation for looking at the issues surrounding immigration. Yuengert says that the “right to migrate” is not an absolute right, but to prevent people from assisting immigrants in need is immoral. Immigrants come because they want to work. They generally find positions as low-wage laborers, and tend to send large amounts of money home to poorer nations. The economic burdens that immigrant workers place on the United States are relatively small, although those burdens tend to fall heavily on specific regions, most noticeably on southern California. Yuengert says that the burdens themselves do not justify new restrictions on immigration although, viewed from an economic perspective, the nation could probably adjust to a massive loss of immigrant labor.

Fr. Hartmann reiterates the necessity of being allowed to provide charity to those in need. It becomes a major problem, however, if laws exist which make it a crime to extend a helping hand to immigrants and their families. The Church should oppose such laws, he says. What’s more, Christians have a moral obligation to “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked,” without prejudice.