Category: Public Policy

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A couple years ago I wrote a commentary that didn’t exactly defend outsourcing, but did recognize its benefits and argued that it could be done morally if done correctly. I won’t pretend that my writing is read widely enough to generate voluminous responses of any sort, but that piece did elicit a significant number of responses, many of them negative. Several correspondents, who had no personal connection to me, ostensibly knew a great deal about me, including my salary and the type of vehicle I owned. The salary estimate was high by about 250 percent. The car model guess was closer: I’ve never owned a Lexus but I did drive a Lincoln at the time (ten years old, it cost me $3500).

All this by way of introducing an interesting piece by Martin Davis on NRO today. The source of the rancor from some of my outsourcing critics was the assumption that my job as an academic was “safe” and that I, therefore, had the luxury of looking at the issue from a position insulated from the competition that beleaguered manufacturing and tech workers confronted. As I thought at the time, it’s shortsighted to think of any kind of job as “safe.” After all, who would have thought 20 years ago that American computer programmers would be threatened by the advances of Indian tech workers?

As Davis’s article suggests, it turns out that education jobs are vulnerable to foreign competition as well (when not artificially protected, of course). And yet, my view of outsourcing remains unchanged. Good thing I don’t have payments to make on a Lexus.

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Steve Wozniak, famed inventor of Apple I, Apple II, and the original Apple software, has a new autobiography coming out. Here is a snippet from a Businessweek interview where he gives a nice, Actony take on creativity and education.

Are there larger lessons that you have drawn about creativity and innovation?
That schools close us off from creative development. They do it because education has to be provided to everyone, and that means that government has to provide it, and that’s the problem.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1975: Ready to Change the World

An interesting followup: according to a 2002 Census report, 76% of American business owners do not have a college degree, (24% have a high school equivalent or less).

I am certainly not anti-education, but the point is this: there is something other than education that drives people to create. We must begin (again) instilling in our children the old-fashioned-American-ingenuity-Do-It-Yourself mentality, the kind of thinking that encourages entrepreneurialism and creativity. These sorts of people are the ones who make huge differences in the lives of everyone (i.e. personal computers).

This Live Science article, “How Children Learn About God and Science,” by Robert Roy Britt, summarizes a new survey of scientific studies about the way children learn. It seems that an interesting conclusion has surfaced from these studies: “Among things they can’t see, from germs to God, children seem to be more confident in the information they get about invisible scientific objects than about things in the spiritual realm.”

There’s no conclusive explanation for why this is the case, but there are plenty of speculative options. Let me add my own theological proposition: as fallen human beings, our noetic apparatus for the perception of spiritual realities is naturally impaired. There’s a problem here both of intellect and will, although the greatest determining factor may well indeed be that of willful ignorance. In Calvin’s words,

Bright, however, as is the manifestation which God gives both of himself and his immortal kingdom in the mirror of his works, so great is our stupidity, so dull are we in regard to these bright manifestations, that we derive no benefit from them. For in regard to the fabric and admirable arrangement of the universe, how few of us are there who, in lifting our eyes to the heavens, or looking abroad on the various regions of the earth, ever think of the Creator? Do we not rather overlook Him, and sluggishly content ourselves with a view of his works? And then in regard to supernatural events, though these are occurring every day, how few are there who ascribe them to the ruling providence of God—how many who imagine that they are casual results produced by the blind evolutions of the wheel of chance? Even when under the guidance and direction of these events, we are in a manner forced to the contemplation of God (a circumstance which all must occasionally experience), and are thus led to form some impressions of Deity, we immediately fly off to carnal dreams and depraved fictions, and so by our vanity corrupt heavenly truth. This far, indeed, we differ from each other, in that every one appropriates to himself some peculiar error; but we are all alike in this, that we substitute monstrous fictions for the one living and true God—a disease not confined to obtuse and vulgar minds, but affecting the noblest, and those who, in other respects, are singularly acute (Institutes, 1.5.11).

He goes on to note that it is only in faith that we can come to true and saving knowledge of God: “In vain for us, therefore, does Creation exhibit so many bright lamps lighted up to show forth the glory of its Author. Though they beam upon us from every quarter, they are altogether insufficient of themselves to lead us into the right path. Some sparks, undoubtedly, they do throw out; but these are quenched before they can give forth a brighter effulgence. Wherefore, the apostle, in the very place where he says that the worlds are images of invisible things, adds that it is by faith we understand that they were framed by the word of God (Heb. 11:3); thereby intimating that the invisible Godhead is indeed represented by such displays, but that we have no eyes to perceive it until they are enlightened through faith by internal revelation from God” (Institutes, 1.5.14). It is entirely understandable, therefore, why human beings in such a state would feel less certain about spiritual and divine realities.

This does not necessarily determine, however, whether Christian faith is objectively less warranted than belief in the invisible conclusions of the empirical world. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Faith alone is certainty; everything outside of faith is subject to doubt. Jesus Christ alone is the certainty of faith. I believe the Lord Jesus Christ who tells me that my life is justified. So there is no way toward the justification of my life other than faith alone.” But indeed, the reality of the fall into sin does give us some reason to expect a relatively less sure subjective sense of certainty, also known as doubt. (See also John 20:29, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”)

Even more reason, therefore, to take seriously the apostolic dictum to care for the education of our children in the truth of spiritual realities, that is, to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 NIV).

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Friday, May 19, 2006

The Rock Star, sounding kind of Acton-ish:

Bono acknowledges that four years ago when he toured Africa with then U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, bringing private sector with him would never have crossed his mind.

“…I could see so many of the pieces intersected with commerce, trade and entrepreneurial spirit.”

It’s a signal of changes in Africa over the past decade, but in part it’s Bono’s own advocacy that has helped shift attitudes toward the African agenda.

“I think it is bizarre that Africa got me interested in commerce,” chuckles the U2 lead singer in an interview with Reuters. “I am an activist but I looked at the mosaic of problems facing this magical place and I could see so many of the pieces intersected with commerce, trade and entrepreneurial spirit.

“And I’m saying, I believe that Africa can compete with China in terms of offering jobs to its people in the apparel sector, I believe Africa can compete with India in terms of offering jobs to people in the IT sector, if this problem of business efficiencies and strangulation of red tape and corruption can be dealt with,” he said. Africa’s political leaders know the influence he wields. Lesotho’s Minister of Trade and Industry Mpho Meli Malie is one of those who knows that having Bono pitch for Lesotho’s apparel sector could bring new investments. “A celebrity like Bono and with his organization DATA they should be able to penetrate and encourage some of the brands to consider Lesotho as a destination,” said Malie.

The more that Bono and his fellow advocates turn their attention to private sector and entrepreneurial solutions to Africa’s problems, the better. And Bono – if you’re out there – Give us a call, will you? Let’s talk.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, May 17, 2006

“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
posted by on Tuesday, May 16, 2006

As a brief follow-up to my post last week about the state of scholarly publishing, I want to highlight this recent article in The New York Times, “Scan This Book!” by Kevin Kelly, who is on the staff at Wired magazine.

He conjures up the same image as Janet H. Murray, of “the great library at Alexandria,” and laments that “for 2,000 years, the universal library, together with other perennial longings like invisibility cloaks, antigravity shoes and paperless offices, has been a mythical dream that kept receding further into the infinite future.”

But when Murray predicted the inevitable advent of the universal library nearly a decade ago, she acknowledged some complicating factors, such as consumer taste and market forces. Kelly makes similar predictions about the inevitability of absolute digitization: “The reign of the copy is no match for the bias of technology. All new works will be born digital, and they will flow into the universal library as you might add more words to a long story.”

But he won’t admit the validity of any real barriers, be they economic, social, or even legal. He writes, “The great continent of orphan works, the 25 million older books born analog and caught between the law and users, will be scanned. Whether this vast mountain of dark books is scanned by Google, the Library of Congress, the Chinese or by readers themselves, it will be scanned well before its legal status is resolved simply because technology makes it so easy to do and so valuable when done. In the clash between the conventions of the book and the protocols of the screen, the screen will prevail.”

Thus, he concludes, “On this screen, now visible to one billion people on earth, the technology of search will transform isolated books into the universal library of all human knowledge.” I think Kelly is correct about the power of search and its implications for new depth and complexity with respect to learning. I don’t think he’s right that such a digital “Tower of Babel” project is inevitable, at least in the sense that all books will be digital and they will also be completely open access.

Intellectual property laws are created to protect the economic incentive for people to create things. New technology isn’t going to suddenly replace the need for people to be paid for what they make. Kelly points to the paradigm in the sciences as an alternative, but as I noted earlier, the strange economics of scientific publishing is created in large part because of the widespread dependence on subsidization by the government. The same publishing paradigm simply won’t work for commercial and popular publications.

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Sir Bob, Free Trader?

The May 16 Independent is guest-edited by the ubiquitous Bono and sports the RED brand–another Bono project where a share of the profits from the mag will be donated to fighting AIDS and poverty in Africa. (Other companies with RED brands include Converse, American Express, Armani, and GAP.) See the issue for yourself (where you will find a critique of subsidies, as well as Nelson Mandela giving props to RED as well as an interview with commedian Eddie Izzard–two men who much too rarely share a marquee).

What is of special interest to PowerBloggers is the article by Bob Geldof, founder of Live8, titled: Aid isn’t the answer. Africa must be allowed to trade its way out of poverty. This is the same Bob Geldof who has been lobbying for huge aid packages for twenty years, the same Bob Geldof who said “We must do something, even if it doesn’t work.” It quite something that this same fella who wrote the following:

In a time of weak world leadership, when the WTO negotiators are failing so miserably, let us remind their bosses – Bush, Chirac, Merkel et al – that we agree with them when they argue that, long term, “aid isn’t the answer”, and that the continent of Africa and its people must trade its way into the global market and sit where it rightfully belongs, negotiating as equals with the rest of us.

As always, I have no interest in questioning the intentions of Bob and Co.–I think they are the noblest of intentions, and I think more people ought to share their zeal for the poor. But could this admission that long term aid isn’t the answer mean that projects like the ONE Campaign are losing their luster? Or are people realizing that governments can’t solve poverty, but maybe the corrective is individual charity and free trade amongst free peoples?

And it is also worth noting that the cover art for the mag includes “Gen. 1:27″–I will save you the trouble of looking it up: “God created man in his own image; in the divine image he created them; male and female he created them.” I am curious how far Bono has parsed out the implications of this statement, as this verse lays the foundation for many of Acton’s economic arguments (for example, see here).

In the in-box, this interesting survey from Nate at Field & Stream:

A new survey conducted by the National Wildlife Federation (the results of which are being hosted exclusively on fieldandstream.com) shows that:

  • 76 percent of sportsmen believe global warming is occurring
  • 71 percent believe it’s a serious threat to fish and wildlife
  • 78 percent believe the U.S. should reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases like CO2

even though:

  • 73 percent consider themselves conservative to moderate on political issues
  • 50 percent consider themselves evangelical Christians

and

  • 53 percent voted for Bush (compared to 29 percent for John Kerry)

Here’s the link to the full survey. I have lots of brothers in Christ who are outdoorsman and know they have been conservation conscious for generations. But I’m surprised the numbers are that high. I’ve emailed Nate back to see if we can get more details on this; worth expanding on.

[Originally posted at The Evangelical Ecologist]

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, May 15, 2006

John Stossel has made an excellent and noteworthy journalistic career by going where the evidence takes him. He possesses an intellectual honesty and curiosity that is refreshing, especially when compared to the banal talking head syndrome which dominates most main stream media.

As co-anchor of ABC’s 20/20, Stossel has negotiated a deal which allows him to do special reports on whatever interesting and controversial topics he chooses. His latest was a special aimed at debunking popularly accepted myths, tied to the release of his new book, Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity.

Here’s Stossel’s #1 myth: More foreign aid will end global poverty. (You can view video of the segment here.) Stossel points to Bono and Jeffrey Sachs as examples of people who perpetuate this myth, with their advocacy of the ONE campaign and emphasis on increased foreign aid.

Stossel relies in part on June Arunga and James Shikwati of the Inter Region Economic Network to explode this myth: “Arunga grew up in Kenya, and she wonders why Americans waste money on foreign aid to Africa … when many politicians just steal it.”

“What’s holding down Africans is actually the bad governments, the bad policies that make it difficult for Africans to make use of their own property,” Shikwati said. “What the aid money is doing to Africa is to subsidize the bad policies that are making Africans poor.”

The Acton Institute has worked on exposing the false assumptions of this myth a long time, and with the help of Arunga and Shikwati as well. Arunga wrote a letter from a WTO meeting in Cancun in 2003, first published by the Acton Institute (PDF) and subsequently carried in the Philadelphia Inquirer (October 6, 2003). James Shikwati authored an Acton Commentary that same year, “The WTO and the Voice of the Poor.”

For more information about Acton’s work in these areas, check out our special Aid to Africa section, which brings together a number of important and related resources, including conversations on debt relief and the moral nature of business with the Rt. Rev. Bernard Njoroge, bishop of the diocese of Nairobi in the Episcopal Church of Africa, and Chanshi Chanda, chairman of the Institute of Freedom for the Study of Human Dignity in Kitwe, Zambia.

You can also visit Acton’s award-winning IMPACT ad campaign, aimed at raising awareness about the complexity of global poverty and the Solutions video, which addresses failures of governments first, governments only proposals.

And for more of John Stossel, check out the 2 CD set of his address at the Lord Acton Lecture Series on October 20, 1997, in which he deals with the pervasiveness of government and the nature of self-interest in the free economy.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on 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)