Category: Public Policy

The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences recently held a conference examining population decline and its manifold causes and effects. In connection with that meeting, the Rome-based news service ZENIT interviewed Riccardo Cascioli, president of Italy’s European Center of Studies on Population, Environment and Development. The full interview can be found at ZENIT’s site, in the daily dispatch for May 5.

The final question and answer summarize the state of the situation with respect to the impact of government policy and financial incentives on population growth. It speaks to the limitations of policy and the importance of religious and cultural factors:

Q: Many European countries hope to resolve the low birthrate with financial incentives and increases in the number of immigrants. During his intervention at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Benedict XVI explained the phenomenon of the demographic decline as a lack of love and hope. What is your opinion in this respect?

Cascioli: The experience of some European countries, though they have had decades of policies that favor births — with incentives to births, flexible work to be able to look after children and a network of social services — should teach us that these measures are not enough.

Undoubtedly improvements are seen in the fertility rates, but they are not sufficient to reverse the tendency to the demographic winter.

Sadly, the European Union, which soon will publish a white book on the subject, is moving precisely in this direction, ignoring the cultural factor, that is, the most profound motives for a couple’s deciding to have or not have children.

Benedict XVI has finally put his finger on the problem: The real issue has to do with the meaning we give to life, because there is no financial incentive that could convince me to have children, if I live withdrawn in myself and am afraid of the future.

And here is the great task of the Church, because only the proclamation of Christ can reawaken to life a society that is sliding inexorably towards death.

The Pope’s address sounds, therefore, as a severe call also to those sectors of the Church that, when they address the demographic question, underscore almost exclusively the political options that governments must take.

The state has indeed the duty to remove obstacles — economic and social — to my freedom to decide how many children to have, but it cannot also give me the profound reasons to have them. Love and hope are before the state.

Is it getting hotter in here? Why yes, yes it is:

It appears so:

Close inspections of Red Spot Jr., in Hubble images released today, reveal that similar to the Great Red Spot, the more recently developed storm rises above the top of the main cloud deck on Jupiter.

Little is known about how storms form on the giant planet. They are often described as behaving similar to hurricanes on Earth. Some astronomers believe that the spots dredge up material deep below Jupiter’s clouds and lift it to where the Sun’s ultraviolet light chemically alters it to give it a red hue.

The latest images could provide evidence that Jupiter is in the midst of a global change that can modify temperatures by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit on different parts of the globe.

The fact that “global warming” appears to be occuring on a number of planets in our solar system should probably give pause to those who have wedded themselves to the idea that such warming on Earth is entirely a product of human activity. Or perhaps the residents of Jupiter just need to cut their dependence on fossil fuels and stop driving those SUVs…

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, May 5, 2006
Mark Tooley in the Weekly Standard – "The Religious Left thinks that global warming is about to break-up the Religious Right."
According to Wallis, "biblically-faithful Christians" are soon going to turn against the Religious Right and instead follow his Religious Left. Instead, it seems more likely that an easy acceptance of apocalyptic warnings about a burning planet will ultimately confirm, not overturn, the political leanings of conservative evangelicals.

It troubles me that Wallis seems to hope it does; confirms the fear of many that ecology is too devisive for the Church. But I don’t see average Christians looking at GW apocalyptically either. If there’s a CO2 problem, people will respond to it appropriately and expect things to get better when they do.

Christian folk fall into the same camps secular greens do, with progressives (main-line liberal denominations like the PCUSA, etc) taking a more activist line and conservatives (generally evangelicals) doing church-level stewardship like recycling cans.

I agree with Dobson and Colson:

"We are evangelicals and we care about God’s creation," read the Dobson-Colson-Land letter. "However, we believe there should be room for Bible-believing evangelicals to disagree about the cause, severity, and solutions to the global warming issue." The letter urged NAE to foster "unity" in the Christian community.

GW is a devisive issue from a completely human standpoint. But if the Church Universal depends on a God who made the world and who has not abandoned it, maybe we can agree to disagree and still keep fellowship with each other.

Blog author: kwoods
posted by on Thursday, May 4, 2006

In January, I wrote about the Central Plains wildfires as a very personal crisis in my Oklahoma hometown.

I underscored the importance of subsidiarity, which is the idea that a central authority should perform only those tasks which cannot be handled effectively at a more immediate or local level. I’ve now had opportunity to practice subsidiarity in Oklahoma. And I can tell you, it’s harder to do than to talk or write about in the abstract.

The preceding months of drought had created a tinderbox that fueled fires that burned out thousands of Oklahoma and Texas families, including hundreds in my home town and surrounding counties. As the wildfires burned, an upscale West Michigan children’s clothing resale shop was seeking a donation location for 2,000 pieces of clothing. The need was obvious. The Effective Compassion staff at Acton now had opportunity to support local helpers in the wildfire areas, to literally equip an exercise in subsidiarity.

In politics and in society, the principle of subsidiarity represents one of the bulwarks of limited government and personal freedom. My humble, small-town Oklahoma mother can understand that. But in the wake of unprecedented national disasters, such obvious common sense can be overrun with the lure of government relief money. The bureaucratic morass of FEMA hurricane response should warn us off such temptations.

The “let the government do it” attitude springs eternal with this culture, despite obvious and continued failure. However, the “let the locals do it” approach requires more of the locals — and in this case of clothing to needy Oklahoma neighbors, that meant me. (more…)

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.

For Catholics, few doubt the importance of quality Catholic secondary education. However, many know that the current state of Catholic secondary education in America leaves much to be desired. The question that naturally rises is “what can concerned people do to enact serious improvement?”

The Acton Institute offers at least one solution. The Catholic High School Honor Roll is a unique evaluation system that assesses the overall quality of Catholic high schools based on academic excellence, Catholic identity, and civic education. Before the Honor Roll’s launch in 2004, there were no national evaluations for Catholic secondary schools.

Now, under the guidance of a notable advisory board, the annual top 50 list has become a “measuring stick” of sorts that honors schools for their good work and serves as a competitive motivator that helps schools continually strive for improvement.

It also generates significant national recognition for the schools and has proven to be a great resource for parents and others interested in Catholic education. Kyle L. Groos, principal of O’Gorman High School, said that the Honor Roll made “a huge impact within our community.” In an environment where parents are searching for quality Catholic education, “they want and need to know that we are considered one of the top Catholic high schools.” The Honor Roll has given schools the opportunity to help parents make the decision of where to send their children.

You can help support vibrant Catholic educational excellence and facilitate reform by encouraging schools in your area to apply for the Honor Roll. The deadline for applications is May 15. It involves no cost for you or the schools.

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.

For the past several decades in the United States many parents have gravitated toward one extreme or the other in terms of allowing religion in public schools. It is generally understood these days that our public school system is not a religious organization, and should not promote one religion as a state religion, over others. Of course, this does not mean that morality or other ideas that call on the revelation of religion cannot be taught, but we try to keep things as secular as possible. Yet, many would call down a secular version of fire and brimstone on the teacher or administrator who brought students to pray at the local cathedral on a field trip.

For those of you who do not keep up with Japanese politics (I grew up there and so keep one eye on current happenings) the current government recently issued a bill proposing an amendment to the basic laws of education. This is the first revision of this sort that has been put forth since the Allied Forces, occupying Japan following World War II, drafted the Japanese constitution and laws. The current law requires the education system to “respect individual dignity, aim at raising people who will aspire for truth and peace, and seek universal and characteristic culture.” The changes to the law propose “the teaching of values such as patriotism and respect for Japanese culture and tradition.”

While the changes may sound innocent enough, especially to Western ears, this is a very loaded phrase. Many of you might be aware of the yearly controversies surrounding Prime Minister Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine to worship the war dead of the Emporer. It usually enters the news because of demonstrations, especially in China and Korea. The problem with the shrine visit is that it is a state event, not merely personal, and that among the war dead are many convicted war criminals from World War II. This “cultural” event is in fact state-sponsored Shintoism. Other “cultural events” include the worship of ancestors and idols at various shrines and temples; “cultural events” that even President Bush (gasp) has participated in by clapping his hands and bowing in prayer. While this is not a massive problem for those Japanese who are Shinto (it should be a problem, even to them), imagine the message that this sends to Japanese, and other, Christians around the world. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, May 3, 2006

This section from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics strikes me as quite true:

The coercive factors, in distinction to the more purely moral and rational factors, in political relations can never be sharply differentiated and defined. It is not possible to estimate exactly how much a party to a social conflict is influenced by a rational argument or by the threat of force. It is impossible, for instance, to know what proportion of a privileged class accepts higher inheritance taxes because it believes that such taxes are good social policy and what proportion submits merely because the power of the state supports the taxation policy. Since political conflict, at least in times when controversies have not reached the point of crisis, is carried on by the threat, rather than the actual use, of force, it is always easy for the casual or superficial observer to overestimate the moral and rational factors, and to remain oblivious to the covert types of coercion and force which are used in the conflict.

This obfuscation of motives is part of what differentiates charity from taxation. True charity cannot be coerced.

See also: Reinhold Niebuhr Today, ed. Richard John Neuhaus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989).

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Two quick bits for your Tuesday:

- Federal judges on green junkets at your expense? CRC says so!

- Is "steady state ecological economics" the answer to environmental and economic woes?

[also, a quick thanks to Jordan for inviting me to join the PowerBlog team.]

(more…)