Category: Effective Compassion

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Tuesday, February 26, 2013

With the most recent fiscal cliff approaching this Thursday (February 28), it is worth asking, “How did we get into this mess?” My answer: a little leaven works its way through a whole lump of dough….

Touchstone Magazine
(March/April 2013) recently published my article, ”The Yeast We Can Do,” in their “Views” section (subscription required). In it, I explore the metaphor of yeast in the Scriptures—how little things eventually work their way through our whole lives and can lead to big consequences. In some cases, I point out, this is a bad thing. For example, I write,

According to Evagrios the Solitary, one of the early Christian hermits of the Egyptian desert, our spiritual struggle can be summarized quite simply: it is because we have first failed to resist little temptations that we eventually fall to greater ones. Following John the Evangelist’s warnings against succumbing to “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16), Evagrios identifies three “frontline demons” in particular: gluttony, avarice, and seeking the esteem of others.

Little by little, when we give in to small temptations, they eventually work their way through our whole lives, leaving us vulnerable to bigger, related areas of temptation.

Now, how does this relate to our over $16.5 trillion national debt and annual deficits over $1 trillion for the last four years that brought us to a looming sequestration deadline, with little time to come up with some solution to drastically cut spending to get our finances under control, adversely affecting the lives of millions? Well, as I said, a little leaven works its way through the whole lump of dough. (more…)

Today at Ethika Politika, I explore the prospects for a renewed embrace of the Christian spiritual and ascetic tradition for ecumenical cooperation and the common good in my article “With Love as Our Byword.” As Roman Catholics anticipate the selection of a new pope, as an Orthodox Christian I hope that the great progress that has been made in ecumenical relations under Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI will continue with the next Roman Pontiff.

In addition, I note the liturgical season: “The calling of Lent, for Christians of all traditions, reminds us of the ascetic heart of the Gospel way of life.” I continue to say,

Indeed, how many of our social problems today—poverty, violence, abortion, etc.—would benefit from such personal and relational love? We cannot view such problems with regard to statistics and policies alone (though we ought not to ignore them). On a much deeper level, they show us the suffering of persons in crisis who need the love of those who live a life of repentance from past sin and striving toward the likeness of God, the “way toward deification.”

I have commented in the past on the PowerBlog with regards to asceticism and the free society, but here I would like to explore the other side of the coin. We ought to embrace the radical way of love of the Christian tradition when it comes to the social problems of our day, but as I note above, we ought not, therefore, to ignore statistics and policies.

In his 1985 article, “Market Economy and Ethics,” then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes, “A morality that believes itself able to dispense with the technical knowledge of economic laws is not morality but moralism. As such it is the antithesis of morality.” Heeding this warning means uniting good intentions and sound economics.

Failure to do so, despite having the right intentions and even the right morals, can lead to great error and unintended, harmful consequences. It reminds me of two passages from the readings for the past weekend’s Acton/Liberty Fund Liberty and Markets conference that I had the opportunity to attend. (more…)

During the State of the Union address President Obama suggested that having a minium wage was a moral issue. In the speech he said:

not-hiring2Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.

The President believes that it is a moral wrong for any full-time worker, regardless of what the job is, how much the job is worth, etc., should be able establish a home for a family of four. To solve this problem the President announced:

Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. . . . For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.

I probably sound like a broken record, beating the same drum, but if you were a minority or teenager raising the minimum wage to $9 per hour is not what you wanted to hear. Here’s why as I stated back in 2006:
(more…)

One of the most astounding economic statistics is the wealth gap between black and white Americans. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of government data from 2009, the total wealth (assets minus debts) of the typical black household was $5,677 while the typical white household had $113,149. Why is the median wealth of white households 20 times that of black households?

racial-wealth-gapPlummeting house values were the principal cause, says Pew Research. Among white homeowners, the decline was from $115,364 in 2005 to $95,000 in 2009 and among black homeowners, it was from $76,910 in 2005 to $59,000 in 2009. The fact that only 46% of black Americans own a home, compared to a homeownership rate of 76% for whites likely affect the gap too.

But in a paper published last month, Princeton graduate student Rourke O’Brien suggests another reason: the generosity of black families.
(more…)

In the German newsmagazine Spiegel, Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati says that foreign aid to Africa is doing more harm than good:

SPIEGEL: Mr. Shikwati, the G8 summit at Gleneagles is about to beef up the development aid for Africa…

Shikwati: … for God’s sake, please just stop.

SPIEGEL: Stop? The industrialized nations of the West want to eliminate hunger and poverty.

Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.

SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?

Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn’t even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, December 19, 2012

During the debate about how to resolve the fiscal cliff crisis, lawmakers on both sides have considered reducing the charitable tax deduction. That strikes many people as the wrong approach (especially those of us who work for non-profits!) even though we may not be able to explain why it’s such a bad idea.

Fortunately, John Carney has provided a superb explanation for why reducing or removing this deduction is counterproductive. For instance, changing the charitable deduction as Carney notes, has the same effect as another deduction that most of us didn’t even know exist: the deduction for volunteers.

Imagine that you serve a charity that pays you $15 a hour for your labor. Instead of cashing their checks, though, you immediately donate that money back to the charity. If this income was taxed and deduction was allowed, it would mean we were paying a tax on the time we volunteer to charities. But as Carney explains, this is the same thing as when we provide “free” labor to a charity. The income we forgo is equivalent to donated income.
(more…)

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Thursday, December 13, 2012

This past Friday, I had the opportunity to present a paper at the Sophia Institute annual conference at Union Theological Seminary. This year’s topic was “Marriage, Family, and Love in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition.” My paper was titled, “What Makes a Society?” and focused, in the context of marriage and the family, on developing an Orthodox Christian answer to that question. The Roman Catholic and neo-Calvinist answers, subsidiarity and sphere sovereignty, respectively (though not mutually exclusive), receive frequent attention on the PowerBlog, but, to my knowledge, no Orthodox answer has been clearly articulated, and so it can be difficult to know where to begin. To that end, it is my conviction—and a subject of my research—that a historically sensitive, Orthodox answer to this question can found be in the idea of asceticism, rightly understood.

While I will not reproduce my paper here, I wanted to briefly summarize two of its main points that might have broader interest. First of all, what is asceticism? Second, how can asceticism be viewed as an organizational principle of society? Lastly, I want to briefly explore—beyond the scope of my paper—the relevance of this principle for a free society. (more…)

The Goldwater Institute has released a new study showing that states with a larger share of entrepreneurs do a better job at reducing poverty than states with fewer entrepreneurs.

There is a strong connection between a state’s rate of entrepreneurship and declines in poverty. Statistical analysis of all 50 states indicates that states with a larger share of entrepreneurs had bigger declines in poverty. In fact, comparing states during the last economic boom—from 2001 to 2007—data show that for every 1 percentage point increase in the rate of entrepreneurship in a state, there is a 2 percent decline in the poverty rate.

To help reduce poverty, policymakers should focus on increasing the number of entrepreneurs in their state. Research shows that one of the most effective ways to increase entrepreneurship is by lowering tax burdens. In particular, this study shows that high tax burdens, measured as a percentage of personal income, drags down the growth rate of entrepreneurship in a state: for every 1 percentage point increase in the tax burden, there’s a corresponding 1 percentage point drop in the entrepreneurship rate. States without income taxes also have higher average rates of entrepreneurship than those with income taxes. The average number of sole proprietors as a percentage of employment in states without an income tax is 21.7. The rate for states with an income tax is 19.6.

You can access a PDF of the report here.

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Monday, October 22, 2012

Recently at Big Questions Online, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead answers the question, “Does a culture of thrift cultivate generosity?” with a solid yes, documenting the history of thrift and generosity in the United States and their subsequent and unfortunate decline in recent years:

By the 1960s, however, the coalition of national organizations promoting thrift ceased their activities. Schools gave up their savings programs. And American households increasingly turned to consumer debt rather than savings to finance their wants and needs. The savings rate, which stood in double digits as late as the early 1980s, fell to near zero in 2005 and has since rebounded to a still anemic 4.4 percent.

As a consequence, thrift has lost much of its cultural force. Few schoolchildren today have even heard the word, much less are able to say what it means. A teacher of my acquaintance reports that her students, rich, poor and in-between, customarily throw their loose change into the trash along with their lunch leftovers. Apparently, they are clueless as to the value of their nickels and dimes when their customary medium of exchange is the “swipe” card.

Read more . . .

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Friday, September 14, 2012

Working Paper: “Top Ten Myths of Medicare”
Richard L. Kaplan (University of Illinois College of Law), Illinois Program in Law, Behavior and Social Science Paper No. LBSS13-02; Illinois Public Law Research Paper No. 11-28; SSRN, Working Paper Series (PDF)

In the context of changing demographics, the increasing cost of health care services, and continuing federal budgetary pressures, Medicare has become one of the most controversial federal programs. To facilitate an informed debate about the future of this important public initiative, this article examines and debunks the following ten myths surrounding Medicare: (1) there is one Medicare program, (2) Medicare is going bankrupt, (3) Medicare is government health care, (4) Medicare covers all medical cost for its beneficiaries, (5) Medicare pays for long-term care expenses, (6) the program is immune to budgetary reduction, (7) it wastes much of its money on futile care, (8) Medicare is less efficient than private health insurance, (9) Medicare is not means-tested, and (10) increased longevity will sink Medicare.

Conference: “How to Feed Nine Billion People from the Ground Up”
Quivira Coalition, November 14-16th, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Global human population is projected to reach nine billion by 2050, which means food production will need to expand by 70% to keep up. Fulfilling this demand will place unprecedented pressure on ecosystems, including the planet’s grasslands, especially as competition grows for scarce natural resources. How to meet this daunting challenge while ensuring the health of land, water, wildlife and people will be one of the great tasks of the 21st century. In this conference, we will explore a variety of innovative practices that are already successfully intensifying food production while preserving, maintaining, and restoring the natural world. Speakers will share their hands-on experience and ideas for feeding all life – from the ground up.

Working Paper: “The Economics of Religious Altruism: The Role of Religious Experience”
Timothy T. Brown (University of California, Berkeley), ARDA/ASREC Working Papers Series (PDF)

Altruism has many motivations, including religious motivations. Perceived religious experience plays a strong role in the life of many religious individuals in the U.S. and can be a strong motivator of altruistic behavior. Religious altruistic behavior can be described by an economic theory of religious/spiritual health. Empirical tests using a theoretically and statistically valid set of instrumental variables show a strong causal link between perceived religious experience and the frequency of altruistic acts. An additional weekly event during which an individual perceives feelings of love that they believe come directly from God results in individuals increasing their altruistic acts by an average of 4.7% over a one-year period.

Call for Papers: “Ethics, Society, and Cultural Analysis”
Southwest Commission on Religious Studies, AAR session

Proposals for papers and panels are invited on the following topics in Ethics, Society, and Cultural Analysis: Pedagogy and Ethics, History and Ethics, Christian Social Ethics, and Moral Theology. Also of interest are reflections about comparative theological and ethical discourse featuring reflections on Jewish Ethics, Islamic Ethical Perspectives, Indigenous Religious Moral Perspectives, Buddhist ethics and Christian ethics. Constructive treatments of ethical issues including immigration, transnationalism, bioethics, global economics and poverty, health care, food and hunger, environmental ethics, ecofeminism, ecowomanism, medical ethics, theological ethics, sexual ethics, and the use of Scripture or tradition in ethics are also invited. Proposals may also discuss Womanist ethics, Mujerista theological ethics, Latina/o ethics, Native and Indigenous religious ethical perspectives, LGBTIQ ethics, and Feminist ethics.