Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jballor
Monday, August 11, 2008
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The sixth week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The sixth leg of the journey took the bikers from Fremont to Madison, a total distance of 548 miles.

The “Shifting Gears” devotional for this week does a good job reminding us of the appropriate relative value of temporal vs. eternal things. “A human being’s life consists not in the abundance of his or her possessions, but in the blessing of loving relationships. May we be shrewd stewards of all the rest and not forget those around us who live in meager circumstances,” concludes the day 37 devotion.

The daily prayers for the road often take a look at local organizations doing work in the areas that the tour passes through. On day 37, for instance, the prayer notes the work of Justice For All (JFA), “a movement to defend and advance disability rights and advocate for the self-sufficiency and empowerment of adults and children with disabilities.” The day 41 prayer remembers the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN), which “serves homeless families in collaboration with local faith communities and organizations.”

The sixth week of the tour travels through the state of Iowa, and you can check out the Samaritan Guide for programs integrating faith and work effectively in this state, including the Rural Senior Citizen and Prison Inmate Volunteers of Hope Haven, based in Rock Valley, Iowa. These volunteers, made up of rural senior citizens and prison inmates, volunteer their time and efforts “to refurbish used wheelchairs and to manufacture our own pediatric wheelchairs to deliver to the disabled poor living around the world.”

Iowa is also the home of one of the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a program related to the work of Prison Fellowship Ministries that was challenged on constitutional grounds in 2006. While much of the ruling against IFI was overturned on appeal, the state’s contract with the group was terminated and ended in June of this year.

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, August 11, 2008
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Writing in the London-based Times, Chris Ayres in “Welcome to Nannyfornia” looks at the “frenzy of puritanical edicts from California’s politicians” that cover a host of sins, ranging from transfats to the highly objectionable use of the terms “Mom” and “Dad.”

Ayres raises a “disturbing” question:

Is Nannyfornia providing us with a glimpse of what Obama’s America might look like? After all, Obama is a classic banner. He recently proposed banning all toys from China. He banned his own staff from wearing green clothing during his recent trip to the Middle East (green is the colour of the Hamas flag). He banned the New Yorker magazine from his press plane after it depicted him as a terrorist in a political cartoon. He wants to ban “excessive” profits by raising capital gains tax. Why? Because he thinks it’s fair. No matter that the state’s revenues from the tax have always gone up whenever the rate has been lowered.

Jot Condie, president of the California Restaurant Association, is one of many Americans who fears all this prohibition is going too far. “The Government here in California is banning a food product simply because it’s not healthy,” he complains. “What do you ban next? Bacon fat? The possibilities are limitless.”

Read “The Sin Tax: Economic and Moral Considerations” by the Rev. Robert A. Sirico on the Acton Web site. Quote:

It is a mistake to entrust the modern state with the enforcement of certain moral codes of behavior that extend beyond obvious crimes against person and property. When government is allowed to go beyond these limits and enforce a wider array of moral issues, it will substitute its own form of morality for traditional morality. A government program like recycling, for example, could be deemed more morally worthy than traditional virtues like fidelity in marriage. Obeying securities regulations could be seen as the very heart of virtue, whereas teaching children at home seen as a vice. The government’s sense of morality, especially when it is influenced by excessive power, is often at war with traditional standards and common sense.

Also see “Cigarette Tax Burnout” in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Democrats are planning one more pre-election go at a $35 billion children’s health program expansion (S-chip) funded by a 61-cent per pack tobacco tax increase. They justify the new levy as a “sin tax.” OK, but if Americans don’t start sinning a whole lot more, states and Uncle Sam are going to go broke.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, August 7, 2008
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From time to time, we’ve drawn attention to and discussed the merits of microfinance.

A recent series of posts on the subject by Christian missionary, Mark Russell, reflects on the relationship between mission and microfinance. It’s a nice articulation of the rationale behind Christian support for such programs, focusing in particular on the economic and cultural environment of central Africa (the Congo).

Blog author: jballor
Monday, August 4, 2008
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The fifth week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The fifth leg of the journey took the bikers from Denver to Fremont, a total distance of 553 miles.

The “Shifting Gears” devotional opens the week by focusing on the poor. “Consider this: each one of us has far less to worry about than those living in poverty who often do not know where their next meal is coming from.”

This week’s Grand Rapids Press religion section had a front page story on the problem of panhandling. How ought we to treat beggars on our streets? Many in the early church, including John Chrysostom, argued that Christians were called to be promiscuous in charitable giving, leaving the consequences of ill-used money to those who received it. Chrysostom said, “For if you wish to show kindness, you must not require an accounting of a person’s life, but merely correct his poverty and fill his need.”

As we have moved into a modern industrial society, however, it has become clear that ways of giving that provide incentives to remain poor do not properly deal with the social pathologies of poverty. The insight that our love needs to be unlimited and abundant is a proper corrective to our natural inclinations to be miserly with love and money. But from this it doesn’t follow that our giving doesn’t need to be intentional and critical.

Making our compassion effective in practice is the focus of the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Award and Guide programs. The bicyclists on this poverty tour will be heading through Nebraska this week. Check out effective charities in Nebraska and consider supporting program’s like Hasting’s Crossroads Center’s 4-Phase Program (a 2006 Samaritan Award honoree), and the W.E.C.A.R.E. and Dads Matter programs (2004 and 2006 honorees respectively) of Essential Pregnancy Services in Omaha.

Robert Stackpole of the Divine Mercy Insititute offers a thoughtful analysis of the positions of the major presidential candidates on health care at Catholic Online. I missed part one (and I don’t see a link), but the series, devoted to examining the electoral responsibilities of Catholics in light of their Church’s social teaching, is evidently generating some interest and debate.

Stackpole’s approach is interesting because he tries to steer a course between the two dominant camps that have developed over the last thirty years of presidential elections: Catholics who vote for Republican candidates in large part or solely because they are at least marginally and in some cases significantly more in line with the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life with respect specifically to the legality of abortion (I belong here); and Catholics who, reluctantly or otherwise, vote Democratic because they perceive that candidate’s platform to be more in line with Catholic teaching on a range of other issues (death penalty, welfare, health care) and thereby to outweigh the Democrat’s unfortunate position on abortion.

Stackpole avoids two common mistakes made by Catholics on the Democratic side: he does not minimize the preeminent importance of abortion as a grave abuse that might be easily outweighed by other issues; and he does not oversimplify the respective Democratic and Republican positions on other issues by claiming, for example, that Church teaching indisputably favors the Democratic policy on welfare.

On health care specifically, he is scrupulously fair both to McCain and Obama, eventually siding with Obama’s plan as being more compatible with Catholic teaching. Not that I agree with the conclusion, but it is a serious argument.

On one more general point, however, Stackpole trips. Here is the problematic passage:

Strictly “political” issues would be things like who has the best experience to be the next president, who has flip-flopped more on key issues, who is beholden to which special interest groups, whose tax and spending policies would be best for the economy as a whole, who is right about offshore oil drilling, and who has the most sensible proposals for dealing with global warming. Such questions are purely political, matters of factual analysis and prudential judgement about which Catholic Social Teaching and the Divine Mercy message can have little to say.

In contrast, he asserts, the issues of abortion, health care, and the Iraq war are “matters on which Catholic Social Teaching can shed considerable light.”

I would say, instead, that every matter that he cites has a moral dimension, and the principles of CST can shed light on them all. It’s true that there are facts, independent of CST, that must serve as the basis for judgment about how to deal with all political questions. To give Stackpole the benefit of the doubt, he possibly means to say that the very narrow question about what economic impact a particular tax policy has is a question of fact, not moral judgment. The statement could easily be interpreted, though, as meaning that tax policy is purely a political question, when it instead has all sorts of ramifications, through the incentives it creates, for the discouragement or encouragement of personal virtue, healthy family life, and the flourishing of mediating institutions (including churches). To separate neatly certain “strictly political” questions from other matters with a moral dimension is, I think, a dangerous move for any person of faith.

Which is not to say that there are important distinctions to be made. Better, however, to go with the approach taken by Archbishop John Myers of Newark, in a 2004 statement on the political responsibilities of Catholics:

Some might argue that the Church has many social teachings and the teaching on abortion is only one of them. This is, of course, correct. The Church’s social teaching is a diverse and rich tradition of moral truths and biblical insights applied to the political, economic, and cultural aspects of our society. All Catholics should form and inform their conscience in accordance with these teachings. But reasonable Catholics can (and do) disagree about how to apply these teachings in various situations.

For example, our preferential option for the poor is a fundamental aspect of this teaching. But, there are legitimate disagreements about the best way or ways truly to help the poor in our society. No Catholic can legitimately say, “I do not care about the poor.” If he or she did so this person would not be objectively in communion with Christ and His Church. But, both those who propose welfare increases and those who propose tax cuts to stimulate the economy may in all sincerity believe that their way is the best method really to help the poor. This is a matter of prudential judgment made by those entrusted with the care of the common good. It is a matter of conscience in the proper sense.

But with abortion (and for example slavery, racism, euthanasia and trafficking in human persons) there can be no legitimate diversity of opinion.

The Summer issue of City Journal features a piece worth reading by Guy Sorman titled “Economics Does Not Lie.” The paper includes weighty arguments favoring a free market economic system and the author does a good job explaining the rationale of those who criticize a free economy. Sorman says:

If economics is finally a science, what, exactly, does it teach? With the help of Columbia University economist Pierre-André Chiappori, I have synthesized its findings into ten propositions. Almost all top economists—those who are recognized as such by their peers and who publish in the leading scientific journals—would endorse them (the exceptions are those like Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs, whose public pronouncements are more political than scientific). The more the public understands and embraces these propositions, the more prosperous the world will become.

These are the ten propositions put forward by Sorman:

1. The market economy is the most efficient of all economic systems.

2. Free trade helps economic development.

3. Good institutions help development. (governments & rule of law)

4. The best measure of a good economy is its growth.

5. Creative destruction is the engine of economic growth.

6. Monetary stability, too, is necessary for growth; inflation is always harmful.

7. Unemployment among unskilled workers is largely determined by how much labor costs.

8. While the welfare state is necessary in some form, it isn’t always effective.

9. The creation of complex financial markets has brought about economic progress.

10. Competition is usually desirable.

Sorman adds:

These ten propositions should guide all economic policymaking, and to an increasing degree they do, worldwide. Does this mean that we’ve reached an “end of history” in economics, to borrow a phrase made famous by Francis Fukuyama, by way of Hegel and Alexandre Kojève? In one sense, perhaps: economic science will never rediscover the virtues of hyperinflation or industrial nationalization. Some critics charge that economics is not a science in the way that, say, physics is—after all, economists can’t make precise predictions, as an exact science can. But this isn’t quite true: economists can predict that certain bad policies will lead necessarily to catastrophe. If economics, a human science, lacks the precision of physics, a natural one, it advances the same way—evolving from one theory to the next, each approximating a reality that eludes our complete grasp.

On a somewhat related note about economic policy, here is a review I wrote about the book Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity. The review appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of Religion and Liberty.

The fourth week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The fourth leg of the journey took the bikers from Salt Lake City to Denver, a total distance of 478 miles.

The “Shifting Gears” devotional at the beginning of this week focuses especially on the relationship of the church to culture. On day 22, the devotion notes that the “crucial pillars of civilization–education, family, government, and science–are in a state of decline and disrepair.” This may seem like a strange claim given all that humans have been able to accomplish over the last century or so. But if you look at the moral center of all these pursuits (for no human endeavor is “value” free), then the claim begins to make some sense.

Take, for example, the prayer from day 22, which focuses on gambling and the state of Utah’s position, which “forbids gambling and casinos.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer once reflected on a symptom of the lifelessness of modern society when he wrote,

One gambles with the future. Lotteries and gambling, which consume an inconceivable amount of money and often the daily bread of the worker, seek the improbable chance of luck in the future. The loss of past and future leaves life vacillating between the most brutish enjoyment of the moment and adventurous risk taking.

Similarly, the day 22 devotion observes “that today’s culture, including the church, has sunk into a passionless routine.”

And in the same way, the day 23 devotion examines the ambivalent relationship between church and culture, although it ends on a rather optimistic note: “A hundred years ago biking was a Sabbath sin. Now our whole troupe bikes to church Sunday mornings. We, like the land, are being redeemed.” Even so, a consistent theme of critique towards destructive aspects of modern life is present throughout these devotions. As the day 13 devotion concludes, “Constant busyness is not godliness.”

The overall focus of the bike tour is poverty. To get involved in charities that effectively integrate faith and compassion, visit the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide. Be sure to check out the charities working in Colorado. Denver, the destination at the end of week 4, is home to two previous Samaritan Award honorees, “Providence Homes” (2004) and “Joshua Station” (2007).