Category: Public Policy

Blog author: dphelps
Thursday, July 27, 2006
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Ohio Court Limits Eminent Domain

Sunglasses

Hunger, disease, the waste of lives that is extreme poverty are an affront to all of us. To Jeff [economist Jeffrey Sachs] it’s a difficult but solvable equation. An equation that crosses human with financial capital, the strategic goals of the rich world with a new kind of planning in the poor world. –Bono, Foreward to The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs, italics mine.

I am informed by philologists that the “rise to power” of these two words, “problem” and “solution” as the dominating terms of public debate, is an affair of the last two centuries, and especially of the nineteenth, having synchronised, so they say, with a parallel “rise to power” of the word “happiness” for reasons which doubtless exist and would be

Mustaches

interesting to discover. Like “happiness”, our two terms “problem” and “solution” are not to be found in the Bible-a point which gives to that wonderful literature a singular charm and cogency. . . . On the whole, the influence of these words is malign, and becomes increasingly so. They have deluded poor men with Messianic expectations .. . which are fatal to steadfast persistence in good workmanship and to well-doing in general. . . . Let the valiant citizen never be ashamed to confess that he has no “solution of the social problem” to offer to his fellow-men. Let him offer them rather the service of his skill, his vigilance, his fortitude and his probity. For the matter in question is not, primarily, a “problem”, nor the answer to it a “solution”. –L. P. JACKS, Stevenson Lectures, 1926-7

This proper way of serving others also leads to humility. The one who serves does not consider himself superior to the one served, however miserable his situation at the moment may be. Christ took the lowest place in the world—the Cross—and by this radical humility he redeemed us and constantly comes to our aid. Those who are in a position to help others will realize that in doing so they themselves receive help; being able to help others is no merit or achievement of their own. This duty is a grace. The more we do for others, the more we understand and can appropriate the words of Christ: “We are useless servants” (Lk 17:10). We recognize that we are not acting on the basis of any superiority or greater

Says Masses

personal efficiency, but because the Lord has graciously enabled us to do so. There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then we are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord’s hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. — Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

How can government best uphold Christian values? The right’s traditional answer is through legislating morality issues that are central to family values or the sanctity of life. It looks like the left will counter this with an expanded version of government. Andrew Lynn looks at the growing competition for the religious vote in the context of Sen. Barack Obama’s recent speech to Call to Renewal.

Read the entire commentary here.

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
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It’s a deceptively simple idea. Everyone would be allocated an identical annual carbon allowance, stored as points on an electronic swipe-card. Points would be deducted for every purchase of non-renewable energy. People who did not use their full allocation, such as people who do not own a car, would be able to sell their surplus carbon points into a central bank. High energy users could then buy them – motorists who used their allocation would still be able to buy petrol, with the carbon points drawn from the bank and the cost added to their fuel bills. To reduce total UK emissions, the overall number of points would shrink each year.

Tech Central calls this "This Year’s Dumbest Political Idea…." More analysis along these lines here.

The Chimp seems interested in it, though. And hey – maybe we could just skip the "electronic swipe-card" and go straight to the microchip.

No plastic to dispose of.

UPDATE: This writer misses the whole "identical carbon allowance" thing, but has another ethical problem with carbon rationing by way of a national identity register.

I am totally opposed to ID cards and am involved in the campaign. However, I am also deeply concerned about climate change and cannot see any solution to it, other than carbon rationing, that is both effective and equitable. The survival of human existence is clearly an issue besides which even the disasters likely to arise from ID cards will pale into insignificance.

Fascinating statement. "anon" seems to fear that people will be more afraid of climate change than of giving up their individual and economic freedoms. Evangelicals generally see the reign of anti-christ as an economically-dominated one, but what if carbon credits become the currency of the day? Is the climate "crisis" (real or imagined) driving us inexorably in this direction?

OK, all you Actonites out there: What’s the Christian response? How would you address anon’s concerns?

UPDATE: Ok, how about a CO2 credit lottery? That makes just as much sense.

Blog author: jcouretas
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
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Headline: It’s a Sin to Fly, Says Church

Actually, "It’s a Sin to Fly, Screams Headline" would be more appropriate. Here’s what the Church (or rather, the Bishop of London) actually says:

“Making selfish choices such as flying on holiday or buying a large car are a symptom of sin. Sin is not just a restricted list of moral mistakes. It is living a life turned in on itself where people ignore the consequences of their actions.”

I think there’s merit to this. How far removed really from "loving thy neighbor" is making the decision to walk or bike to the corner store instead of jumping into your car? From an energy and pollution standpoint, perhaps not too far. As Archbishop Williams puts it in the article, we "make moral choices" on all sorts of things (money, sex, time) all the time.

He’s not saying don’t fly. He’s admonishing folks to consider the impacts and act accordingly. An admonishment easily taken out of context.

Dr Chartres’ comments seem to have elicited confusion and outrage in some sections of the media and in parts of the transport industry. This morning the Daily Mail newspaper accused the Church of England of turning the Gospel into “a party political broadcast for the Greens” and said that it should focus instead on its shrinking pews – adding that these would not be filled by reminding people of environmental concerns.

Based on the success other pastors are having, I think they’re dead wrong on that last point. Anyway, I think the liberal/secular media folks are fundamentally upset about one thing:

The Church has caught on to ecology as a moral value.

And those in liberal and secular circles don’t like it one bit, despite this being something Greens have been preaching in the media for decades. They hate polluters! But they hate being coopted even more. Or even worse, having any behavior described as (gasp!) SINFUL.

‘Hey, pal – don’t push your religion on me!’ he said as he tossed his aluminum can into the recycling bin…

Shrug, says me. It’s fair to say that the organized church has suffered chronically from legalism, and folks have to right to be wary of that. But watching the Greens wriggle around on this one is so entertaining, it’s almost sinful. [Hat tip]

Today’s NYT editorializes: “a country that consumes one-quarter of the world’s oil supply while holding only 3 percent of the reserves will never be able to drill its way to lower oil prices, much less oil independence.”

You’ll often hear the complaint that Americans use more than their fair share of the world’s oil. We’re addicted to it, some say. After all, so goes the reasoning, we have less than one-half of one percent of the world’s population, but we “consume one-quarter of the world’s oil supply.” Seems wildly out of proportion, doesn’t it?

That is, until you take into account that the United States economy represents somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of gross world product (depending on how you calculate it). So the US also produces wealth that is wildly out of proportion to our share of the world’s population.

There is a real correspondence between economic power and the use of fossil fuels. That’s part of the reality I was pointing to in this week’s Acton Commentary: “Fossil fuels would thus have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy. These limited and finite resources help raise the standard of living and economic situation of societies to the point where technological research is capable of finding even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.”

And here’s just one more side note. Without too much exaggeration, you could say that today’s electric cars are really coal-powered. If you look at the sources of electricity in the US, “coal provides over half of the electricity flowing into American homes.” That means that in one ideal world of the alternative fuel crowd, when you plug your car in, you’re plugging it in to a coal plant (this is also why the idea of consumer carbon credits is catching on). The energy and environmental issues in the world are about far more than “gas guzzling” SUVs.

The Super MoneyMaker Pressure Pump

No, we’re not talking about Elmore James’ Blues hit covered by the likes of George Thorogood, Fleetwood Mac and The Black Crowes nor its racy subject matter.

Rather, it’s how members of the other oldest profession in Kenya and Tanzania power the irrigation pumps that extend both their growing season and range of crops. This foot-powered move beyond subsistence farming to much more profitable harvests, such as vegetables, is facilitated by the aptly named MoneyMaker series of pumps. 

KickStart (previously Approtec) 10 years ago produced the Original MoneyMaker Pump; the over 4,000 in operation still generating $3.9 million in profits annually. Since then the Super MoneyMaker Pressure Pump, resembling and operated much like a Stairmaster, can push water uphill 7 M (23 ft.) to irrigate 2 acres. The newest – and most affordable – version, The MoneyMaker Plus Pump relies on swinging one’s hips side to side on a skateboard-like platform, a motion that, unlike arm-powered pumps in particular, can be performed all day. Costing $34, KickStart officals claim it generates $1000 in profits the first year.

Though even this amount can be out of the reach of the world’s poorest, KickStart co-founder Martin Fisher, insists on a business model. Along with enriching “farmerpreneurs”, Kickstar has created a private supply chain though hundred of farming supply shops that sell the pumps and spare parts. Undercutting these local merchants and removing their incentive to stock parts would be one of the serious disadvantages of giving away the pumps.

Beyond the pragmatic concerns, their ultimate goal is to “create dignity,” Fisher said on NPR’s Weekend Edition. He concluded, “When you give things away, you are really just creating dependency and people hanging out waiting for more handouts.”

Hunter Baker, blogging at his new home on the American Spectator Blog (recently added to our blogroll), responds to a post by James G. Poulos, which emphasizes President Bush’s “proposed emphasis on math and science education, to the patent detriment of the humanities.”

Says Baker, “Although I am a faithful disciple of the humanities, I often take comfort in the fact that the majority of students won’t have much exposure to the offerings on hand. Better they remain busy with their business and engineering degrees than that they should hear too much of the soul-killing discourses that reign in the older buildings on campus.”

I have pointed out the funding disparities between the humanities and the sciences before in a paper given earlier this year (for a visual example of the disparity, click here). And Baker may well be right: what passes for the “humanities” in the acadmey today isn’t worth funding.

But in response to Poulos, the humanities, as they ought to be pursued, should receive more attention and funding commensurate with their value as the classical basis for Western civilization. But I also don’t think it’s in keeping with the humanist spirit to make their pursuit dependent on government funding, which is why I also point out, “public sources of funding, or the lack thereof, are not the end of the tale. Most freely available digital history initiatives are underwritten in whole or in part by private charitable foundations.”

An article in yesterday’s NYT, “Saving the World, One Video Game at a Time,” by Clive Thompson, gives a good overview of the current trend in the video game industry, especially by nonprofits and activist groups, to create “serious games,” a movement which “has some serious brain power behind it. It is a partnership between advocates and nonprofit groups that are searching for new ways to reach young people, and tech-savvy academics keen to explore video games’ educational potential.”

“What everyone’s realizing is that games are really good at illustrating complex situations,” said Suzanne Seggerman, one of the organizers of the third annual Games for Change conference in New York. “And we have so many world conflicts that are at a standstill. Why not try something new?”

One such game is Peacemaker, which is a political simulation based on the current situation in the Middle East. Another is the World Food Programme’s Food Force (which I review here).

Of course, serious simulations are nothing new in the gaming world, and even predate the advent of video media. An argument could be made, for example, that games like Axis & Allies and Risk, while focusing on military aspects, are in some sense serious (albeit limited) teachers about the realities of war policy and foreign affairs. And games like Shadow President, released in the early 1990s, are relatively complex and immersive political simulations.

A typical game of Risk in play. Many game elements such as the board, dice, units and cards are visible. (GNU Free Documentation License)

Related PowerBlog Items:

“Video Games Can Save Lives and More…”, Thursday, June 1, 2006.

“Speaking a Language They Can Understand”, Wednesday, February 15, 2006.

‘Your mind makes it real’, Tuesday, November 22, 2005.

“Vidiocy”, Thursday, August 11, 2005.

“Family Values and Grand Theft Auto”
, Wednesday, July 27, 2005.

“Game Review: Food Force”, Thursday, May 12, 2005.

Juliet Eilperin, “Bush Pollution Curbs Are Rated Equal to Clinton’s: Science Panel Says Proposed Cap-and-Trade System Will Help Clean Air,” Washington Post, July 24, 2006:

The report from the National Academy of Sciences, released yesterday, represents the latest effort to assess how best to reduce air pollution estimated to cause as many as 24,000 premature deaths each year. The panel concluded that an earlier Bush plan would have allowed pollution to increase over a dozen years, but it found that the administration’s more recent Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) — which targets emissions from power plants in 22 states and the District of Columbia — would help clean the air over the next two decades.

The CAIR approach aims to reduce nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions by 70 percent by 2025 at the latest, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, through a system that would allow utilities to sell and buy pollution credits as long as industry emissions as a whole stayed below a pre-set cap.

Cap-and-trade schemes may be better than command-and-control techniques, but maybe they’re not all they’re cracked up to be.

Hugh Ross, “The Faint Sun,” Facts for Faith, Reasons to Believe, 2002:

The timing of humanity’s arrival—near the end of life’s long tenure on Earth—may appear tragic at first glance. But a longer look suggests it may be viewed as a gift. Scanning the horizon of civilization—farms, ranches, towns, cities, and all the transportation and communication arteries linking them—one sees a plethora of building materials derived from nearly 4 billion years of life and death: gems, sand, steel, asphalt, concrete, copper, limestone, marble, plastics, etc. Most of the energy that drives civilization comes from biodeposits—oil, coal, wood, kerogen, natural gas, and so forth. Many of the fertilizers that support agricultural production also come from biodeposits—phosphates, nitrates, and such.

Such bountiful provisions powerfully indicate a Provider who carefully planned and prepared the planet through the ages for human life. They speak of a purpose for the human race. The Bible reveals a purpose that involves, yet goes beyond, the current “heavens and Earth.”

More here on the providential purpose for petroleum. (HT: John Linsley of RTB)

Associated Press, “Christian Ministry Wants to Build Turbines to Spread the Gospel,” The Church Report, July 23, 2006:

A Christian ministry group wants to build 36 wind turbines on the roof of a former steel company to generate money to help spread its message….

Energy produced by the turbines will be sold back to Wisconsin Energy Corp. through a buyback program.

More here on these so-called “Cuisinarts of the air.”