Category: Public Policy

As Earth Day approaches (April 22), Jordan Ballor reflects on the Kyoto Protocol and some of the results of the “market-based” incentives promised to those who signed on. The Kyoto Protocol created a carbon trading system, a “cap and trade” mechanism where a set number of carbon credits were established based upon the 1990 levels of emissions from the involved countries. These credits could then be sold or bought from other countries.

So what is the problem? As Ballor explains, Kyoto is having “some unintended consequences.” “Russia,” writes Ballor, “currently one of the world’s worst pollutors and emitters of greenhouse gasses, is being rewarded by the carbon credit scheme.” Russia is able to maintain current “efficiency” levels, not curbing their pollution or emissions at all, and still has carbon credits worth some $1 billiion. The so-called market incentives are completely ineffective.

Read the rest of “Cashing in on Carbon Credits” for Ballor’s full critique of the cap and trade scheme that Kyoto has initiated.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
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This article, “Evangelicals Debate the Meaning of ‘Evangelical’,” which appeared in the New York Times on Easter, is instructive on a number of levels. First off, the article attempts to point out widening “fissures” among evangelicals, in which “new theological and political splits are developing.” While the article does talk at the end about so-called “theological” differences, the bulk of the piece is spent discussing the political divisions.

Michael Luo writes, “Fissures between the traditionalist and centrist camps of evangelicalism have begun to emerge much more prominently in recent months in the political realm.” He points specifically to the issues of global warming and immigration, which recall the topics of a post of mine from a few weeks back. Incidentally, the text of my post somehow found its way onto no less an auspicious locale than the Sojourners site.

The fact that political differences about issues on which there are a variety of defensible biblical positions is viewed as a threat to the unity of evangelicalism says something important about how the movement is more broadly perceived. That is, evangelicalism has become publicly identified as much or more with particular political views than any necessarily corresponding theological position.

Thus, while Rick Warren is identified as “theologically and socially conservative,” the fact that he has generally avoided politics makes him a “centrist” rather than a “traditionalist” evangelical, according to the categories that the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life uses. And on climate change, for example, there is “a tension that exists between the traditionalists and the centrists,” according to the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.

In my mind, however, this political aspect really is a red herring, albeit one of great interest to the secular media. Aside from the few social issues on which the perspective of Scripture is rather straightforward, evangelicals should be free to express the convictions of their consciences without being perceived as outside the tent.

And the reason that such clear moral evils need to be opposed is because their affirmation would directly undermine the normativity of the Bible. If anything, this is the baseline identifiying characteristic of evangelicalism, as evidenced by the doctrinal basis for the Evangelical Theological Society: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.” (See also the “Statement of Faith” of the National Association of Evangelicals.) But otherwise, where prudential judgments are concerned, evangelicals enjoy a wide freedom and diversity.

And it is with respect to the theological differences that the NYT article truly gets to the heart of real cracks in the evangelical edifice. Ultimately the unity of any group of Christian believers must be founded on doctrinal agreement. Practice is informed by belief. The eventual failure of the Life and Work and the Faith and Order movements of the ecumenical enterprise to remain completely separate testify to this reality

This is why creeds and confessional statements have enjoy such an important place in the history of Christianity, and why the NAE and the ETS define themselves in theological and doctrinal rather than political, practical, or social terms.

If the unity of evangelicalism is threatened by disagreements, however sharp, over prudential political concerns, then the so-called “unity” is something more like the unity enjoyed by political parties and factions rather than that of the body of Christ. One characteristic of the spirit of sectarianism is that it makes matters of moral prudence and permissibility a litmus test of true Christianity.

Blog author: jspalink
Monday, April 17, 2006
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Jay Richards, Director of Media and a research fellow at Acton, is quoted in the cover article in the new issue of World Magazine. The article, “Greener Than Thou” explores the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) and questions the clarity of its vision and the accuracy of its claims regarding global warming and human-induced climate change. The ECI is the latest environmental policy initiative from evangelical leaders, signed by 86 people including Rick Warren (author of the Purpose Driven Life) and Jack Hayford (president of the Four Square Church). Read the article at World Magazine’s website.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, April 13, 2006
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Here’s an abstract of some recent NBER research:

“Why Does Democracy Need Education?,” by Edward Glaeser, Giacomo Ponzetto, Andrei Shleifer

“Across countries, education and democracy are highly correlated. We motivate empirically and then model a causal mechanism explaining this correlation. In our model, schooling teaches people to interact with others and raises the benefits of civic participation, including voting and organizing. In the battle between democracy and dictatorship, democracy has a wide potential base of support but offers weak incentives to its defenders. Dictatorship provides stronger incentives to a narrower base. As education raises the benefits of civic participation, it raises the support for more democratic regimes relative to dictatorships. This increases the likelihood of democratic revolutions against dictatorships, and reduces that of successful anti-democratic coups.”

But here’s a follow-up question: Does a top-down, dictatorial model of eduation undermine education’s tendency to support democracy? If so, then it seems the best model for education in a democracy would be the vigorous and free schooling provided by the private sector.

Blog author: jspalink
Thursday, April 13, 2006
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When I was in college, living in the dorms, friends of mine would play a game called bigger and better. In this game, they would take an object–something that they owned–and trade it up for something that was worth a bit more to them, but worth a bit less to the person that they were trading with.

This is a perfect example of a market economy. You have something that you can trade, somebody else has something that they can trade, and both parties are better off for the transaction. My friends could go out with a pen and come home with a couch for the dorm. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t always this successful. It usually involved a little bit of time, but it made for a fun Saturday afternoon.

Then I found this website, a blog, where a man documents his game of bigger-and-better. He started out with a little red paper-clip. Right now he’s looking to trade one year in Phoenix (which includes one year free rent in the heart of downtown Phoenix. [If needed, the apartment can also come fully furnished] and roundtrip airfare for two from any major airport in North America) for something bigger-and-better. His goal is to own a house at the end of his game.

A small example of how having something of little value to yourself doesn’t mean that you can’t leverage what you have on the market to find something of greater value to yourself.

An op-ed earlier this week in the New York Times examines the emphasis and attention that has been placed on the influx of low-wage immigrants to the United States. According to Steven Clemons and Michael Lind, “Congress seems to believe that while the United States must be protected from an invasion of educated, bright and ambitious foreign college students, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs, we can never have too many low-wage fruit-pickers and dishwashers.”

They base this conclusion on many of the measures and stipulations that have been put forth in the varieties of proposals, bills, and amendments flowing out of the latest discussions over immigration reform. “While the United States perversely tries to corner the market in uneducated hotel maids and tomato harvesters, other industrial democracies are reshaping their immigration policies to invite the skilled immigrants that we turn away,” they write.

The answer, say Clemons and Lind, is to model US immigration policy on the successful examples of other countries, that see highly-educated and motivated immigrants as a boon rather than a curse. Even so, the authors oppose the interests of skilled and educated immigrants against those of the unskilled and uneducated. In doing so, I think they go a bit too far.

It is one thing to say that the influx of competitive, driven, educated, and skilled immigrants has not received enough positive attention in the current debate. Clemons and Lind are right on that score. As they write, “more talent means more innovation and opportunities for all, immigrant and native alike.”

They don’t think this holds true for unskilled immigrants however, and view them in a rather less positive light: “with the vast pool of poorly paid, ill-educated laborers already within our borders, we do not need a third of a million new ones a year.” But to make their case, I don’t think Clemons and Lind have to pit the skilled against the unskilled.

It is true that higher competition for low-wage jobs will have the tendency to lower wages, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be a powerful incentive for unskilled natives and immigrants alike to pursue new training and education to increase their standard of living. Being a line-worker at Subway is ideally not a career, but rather ought to be a transitional position and motivation for workers to increase the cost of their labor.

The Copenhagen Consensus of 2004 recommended policies that lower barriers to migration for skilled workers as a “fair” program, because they “were regarded as a desirable way to promote global welfare and to provide economic opportunities to people in developing countries.” The reason that the Consensus opposed guest-worker programs was not because low-skilled workers necessarily have a negative economic impact, but because they have a “tendency to discourage the assimilation of migrants,” by placing them in a social and economic position that is lower than natives.

Andrew Yuengert makes the case that there is a limited right to migrate in his monograph, Inhabiting the Land. The unskilled possess this right to no less of an extent than the skilled.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, April 13, 2006
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Silla Brush penned an interesting little piece in the latest U.S. News and World Report, using the Massachusetts health care bill as a springboard to a wider observation of policy innovation at the level of state government. Leaving aside what any of us may think about any of the initiatives mentioned (they mostly represent bigger government), the observation is a good one.

But then this:

When the feds stall, leave it to the states. The result may be a hodgepodge. But maybe, just maybe, some of the best ideas will find their way to Washington.

This is a manifestation of just the wrong sort of mentality. Brush views the states as laboratories where legislator-scientists impatient with the pace of change at the federal level experiment with policy ideas. Once the states, with their hodgepodge laws, have worked out the best one, the feds can take it and make it universal.

No, our end-goal should be the hodgepodge, not national uniformity. Various states have various sorts of industry, resources, populations, and cultures. Their different needs and values can be expressed through differing policy approaches to questions such as health care, wages, and the environment (with, of course, certain responsibilities reserved to the national government, per the Constitution). That’s the genius of the federal system. Let’s not view the states as launching pads for national policy; let’s allow the states to make policy and leave it at that.

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
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In this week’s commentary, Jennifer Roback Morse takes a look at the socio-economic factors that influence the age at which young people aim to get married. Many are waiting. One reason why so many young people put off marriage unitl their late 20s or early 30s, says Morse, is that the cost of setting up an independant household is too high — unjustifiably high. Physically, humans are ready to reproduce in the mid-teens; financially, young people are not ready to be independent until their late 20s; the cost of housing and debt are often obstacles. During this waiting period — a time of sexual-economic tension — young people pick up many habits and expectations that are not compatible with maintaining a healthly marriage.

So, what can be done? Read Morse’s commentary to hear one approach to the problem.

On a related note – Zenit interviews Maggie Gallagher about the importance of a healthy marriage in the lives of children. In a nut-shell:

  • Marriage reduces the risk of poverty.
  • Fatherless households increase the risk of involvement in crime.
  • Marriage protects childrens’ physical and mental health.

It seems that it may be possible. An interesting article from yesterday’s International Herald Tribune:

Danielle Scache tries to avoid using the term “capitalism” in her economics class because it has negative connotations in France.

Instead, she teaches her high school students about the market economy, a slightly less controversial term she started using last year after a two-month internship at the dairy giant Danone. That was an experience that did away with more than one of her own prejudices, she said.

“I was surprised to see that people actually enjoyed working in a company,” said Scache, who is 59. “Some of them were more enthusiastic than many teachers I know.”

“You know,” she confided with a laugh, “in France we often think of companies, especially multinationals, as a place of constant conflict between employees and management.”

This view of bosses and workers as engaged in an endless, antagonistic tug-of-war goes some way toward explaining the two-month rebellion against a new labor law.

Read the whole thing for an interesting look into the state of economic education in France.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, April 10, 2006
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Bryan Caplan at EconLog says that he has long wondered about the validity of the statistics of the spread of AIDS on the African continent:

The whole story had a quasi-Soviet flavor to it. The main difference: Soviet growth statistics were too good to be true, while African AIDS statistics were too bad to be true. Reflecting on the incentives cemented my skepticism: Just as the Soviet Union had a strong incentive to exaggerate its growth numbers in order to get the world’s respect, researchers and advocates had a strong incentive to exaggerate their AIDS number in order to get the world’s money.

He goes on to cite a recent Washington Post story that backs up his doubts. While Caplan may ultimately be wrong in his skepticism, I think it’s a responsible question to ask. Any system of charity or aid that faces an ongoing and high-level need should wonder about the incentives that it creates for people to take advantage of the system.

Update: More on “disease-mongering” at WorldMagBlog. I suspect there’s an analogous phenomenon in all the climate change, environmental disaster hubbub.