Category: Public Policy

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)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, May 11, 2006

Quick quiz: What’s the most obvious difference between the Ansari X Prize and the newly announced “H-Prize”?

HT: Slashdot

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.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, May 11, 2006

You can read my piece today responding to an article in the New York Times over at National Review Online, “Free Workers & Free Trade.”

The NYT piece passes on the allegations of numerous immigrant workers at garment factories in Jordan that they have been lured into the country, had their passports taken, and then forced to work long hours for illegally low wages. There’s an implicit critique of the free market system, and large retailers like Wal-Mart and Target, in the article, blaming them for the de facto conditions of slavery.

I, in turn, examine the culpability at various levels, including the responsibility of the factory owners, the duties of the Jordanian government, as well as the “unique ability for American companies to use their economic leverage to push for an end to foreign labor exploitation.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Daniel Son gives a nice summary of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA) over at Townhall.com. Check it out.

Christianity Today’s email update from today has a link for this piece, “A Climate of Change,” which reviews the current situation among evangelicals regarding environmental stewardship. And here’s a useful link to the CT Library archive of articles on the environment.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, May 9, 2006

You may have seen an op-ed in the NYT last week by Tom Friedman, who noted that when oil and gas prices go up, bad things happen in oil producing nations abroad. The tendency is for the oppressive regimes in oil producing nations to consolidate their power and be less responsive to the demands of their citizens when they have the added buffer of huge profits from the sale of oil.

And domestically many have made the claim that rising oil and gas prices are a bad thing. Many people’s pocketbooks have been hit hard, when they stop to fill up at the pump and over the course of the long winter. So many people are against high gas prices that politicians at almost every level have felt the need to respond and make some sort of gesture, token or substantive, to address the issue.

There’s no doubt that the poor, as in most cases, are disproportionately affected by high energy prices. People on fixed incomes often have trouble paying their utility bills when prices spike. Others who must commute to their jobs have trouble filling up the gas tank. Attention needs to be fixed on the people in these sorts of situations, and help should be there when they need it. It must be noted, too, that increased taxes have the same drawback as increased prices from market-pressures: they are regressive.

But for the vast majority of Americans, if addressed honestly, the rising cost of oil is more of an inconvenience than anything else. If people can afford to buy expensive new SUVs and large trucks, they can afford the pinch on their disposable income that higher gas prices mean.

Even so, the inconvenience does have the ability to change people’s behavior, and this is why I’m making the argument that high gas prices have the potential to be a good, albeit a costly one (so to speak). People might drive less, carpool more, walk to the corner store instead of driving, and so on.

But an even bigger point is this: as gas prices rise the cost relative to other forms of energy is bound to decrease. This is why so many environmental advocates have long been arguing in favor of some sort of hefty additional petroleum products tax, which would make other sources of energy more competitive.

But what so many fail to see is that the market can accomplish by itself what such artificial and authoritarian measures are intended to do. Clearly the price we pay at the gas pump includes a huge amount by way of taxes to the various levels of government. But when gas prices rise without an increase in the amount of government taxation, the market itself is making other cleaner and renewable sources of energy more competitive.

As the Cornwall Declaration observes, “A clean environment is a costly good.” This has never been more true than in the case of rising gas prices. The wealth created by market economies allows the creation of new, better, and more efficient technologies. And the market itself gives strong economic incentive to the pursuit of such endeavors, especially when oil prices are on the rise.

It’s high time that environmentalists stopped being so wishy-washy about the market. As Paul Jacobs points out, they like the market when the prices are high but hate it when they are low. On this inconsistency, Jacobs is right. But where he’s wrong, I think, is that arguing for the positive effects of the market in this case automatically means that you must otherwise be for increased taxation to accomplish the same goals.

Related Items:

“Bodies for Barrels,” The McLaughlin Group, May 5, 2006 (archived text of issue available here; search for ” Issue Two: Bodies for Barrels.”) Key quote from Tony Blankley: “I’m in favor of free markets. The people will go to smaller cars if they want them. And trying to force people to buy cars they don’t want is foolish. And anybody who wants to protect their family, particularly if you have children, you want them in a lot of steel around them. And that to me is the better call to protect your children – driving around in Suburbans and large vehicles.”

Tom Daschle and Vinod Khosla, “Miles Per Cob,” The New York Times, May 8, 2006. Another installment of the “governments create markets” fallacy.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Humanity’s creativity helps environment,” Detroit News, April 22, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Cashing in on Carbon Credits,” Acton Commentary, April 19, 2006.