Category: Public Policy

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, July 13, 2006
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Ever since the popularization of the Internet, a debate has raged—within and without Christian circles—about the effect of the medium on human development and relationships. A serious and plausible charge against the Web came from those who thought its mode of disembodied communication would alter the form of human interaction for the worse. (See, for example, Quentin Schultze’s Habits of the High-Tech Heart, reviewed in the Journal of Markets & Morality by Megan Maloney.)

As is usually the case with new technologies, an accurate assessment of the effect of the Internet seems to be a weighing of tradeoffs. That’s the gist of an interesting interview on Zenit today (daily dispatch 7/12/06). Psychologist G. Alexander Ross summarizes the findings of various studies that gauge the impact of cyber communication on human relationships. Here’s one passage:

This limitation in the richness of communication has obvious disadvantages, yet research suggests some interesting compensations.

Social psychological research shows that physical attractiveness often has a more powerful influence on relationship formation than the deeper, more significant personal factors that we would prefer to influence friendship formation.

Although members of some of the cyber communities will share personal photos and other media as well as messages of text, the physical characteristics of the individual are not normally visible to the communicators. This can allow the deeper personal characteristics of the individual to be more salient in the interaction that occurs.

One interesting laboratory experiment found that subjects who met for the first time on the Internet liked each other more than those who first met each other face-to-face.

Today, too, Reuters has this story on telecommuting, which indicates that many potential in-home workers choose to go to the office because they “miss the social interaction.”

The verdict is still out on the long-term impact of the Internet, but early evidence suggests that it is not unlike other technological advances in its potential for both benefit and detriment. On social interaction in particular, there are surely limitations to distant and disembodied communication, but people are negotiating those limitations in diverse ways (by choosing not to telecommute, for example, or by using e-mail to initiate or sustain relationships that will end or began as face-to-face). The social nature of the person cannot be suppressed.

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
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Philanthropy, for all its good intentions, does not necessarily imply a personal connection with the needy person. It can and often does, but it doesn’t have to. Philanthropy is the more institutional, “big-picture” cousin of charity, which is the personal and direct connection to those in need. Andrew Carnegie building hundreds of libraries with the wealth he made in the steel industry, and being celebrated for it to this day, is philanthropy. Your Aunt Evelyn volunteering at the local church-operated hospice and sending the facility an annual donation of $150, in perfect anonymity, is charity.

Karen Woods examines Warren Buffett’s gift to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and discusses the importance of his philanthropy while at the same time emphasizing the need for support of smaller, local charities that interact directly with those they help, creating accountable and personal relationships that effect change in people.

Read the complete commentary here.

It is one thing to create wealth by using our gifts. This is a matter of knowledge. It is quite a different thing to know what to do with the wealth that has been created. That is where wisdom comes into the picture. Rev. Zandstra, a Senior Fellow with the Acton Institute, examines Warren Buffett’s recent gift of $31 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and offers words of hope that the Gates Foundation can use this wealth with wisdom, making a difference in the lives of those they seek to help.

Read the full commentary here.

From the abstract of a new paper from the NBER, “Globalization and Poverty,” by Ann Harrison:

“This essay surveys the evidence on the linkages between globalization and poverty. I focus on two measures of globalization: trade and international capital flows…. The collected evidence suggests that globalization produces both winners and losers among the poor. The fact that some poor individuals are made worse off by trade or financial integration underscores the need for carefully targeted safety nets.”

Dr. Mart Laar, former prime minister of Estonia, discusses the relevance for the papal encyclical Centesimus Annus for Europe today. “The message of Centesimus Annus is not a message of left or right. It is a universal message of hope. We can see these same ideas in most groups working on the future of Europe. The only problem is in finding political leaders ready to implement them in reality,” he writes.

Read Dr. Mart Laar’s full commentary here.

Acton PowerBlog contributor Don Bosch (aka The Evangelical Ecologist) had his post, “Guilt Free Ecology,” picked up and recognized by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in their feature “Best of the Blogs,” on June 18. Good job, Don!

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
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A new review on H-German by John Alexander Williams of Bradley University examines the edited collection of essays, How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005).

The volume’s editors contend in part that “the green policies of the Nazis were more than a mere episode or aberration in environmental history at large. They point to larger meanings and demonstrate with brutal clarity that conservationism and environmentalism are not and have never been value-free or inherently benign enterprises.” While Williams argues that this conclusion “rings hollow” in light of the evidence produced in the essays, he does affirm that “the desire to protect nature must be accompanied by an equally strong commitment to social justice and human rights.”

On this point Williams specifically criticizes the final essay in the book, by Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, which “focuses on the SS’s wartime planning of the landscape in the occupied territories to the east of Germany.”

As Williams writes, “The Nazi war of imperial conquest, in carving out a new ‘living space’ for German colonists through mass expulsion and extermination, opened ‘new vistas for landscape architects and urban planners’ (p. 244). Hitler appointed Himmler in charge of ‘cleansing’ of occupied landscapes for resettlement by ethnic Germans.” Williams’ concern is that “Wolschke-Bulmahn never clearly explains what was environmentalist about these planners and the blueprints they prepared for Himmler.”

Williams concludes, “The failure of this essay is unfortunate, since Wolschke-Bulmahn and others have written much more effectively elsewhere about the intertwining of pastoral landscape ideals with Nazi imperialism and genocide.”

Read the entire review here.

Read about Racine, Wisconsin in the New York Times, “On Lake Michigan, a Global Village,” by Steve Lohr. Gary Becker is mayor of Racine, and according to the article, “Racine’s future, Mr. Becker believes, lies in forging stronger links with the regional economy and global markets. Reinvention can be unnerving, he acknowledges, but he says it is his hometown’s best shot at prosperity and progress.”

“In the past, Racine was a self-contained economy,” Becker said. “But that is not an option anymore.” A key observation is that “in a world where new technologies can quickly upend an industry and China and India loom large on the economic horizon, nobody knows exactly which businesses and skills will prove to be winners.” That’s one reason that government programs to promote specific types of research as the “next big thing” are ill-advised.

The current and previous administrations of the state of Michigan, for example, have decided that life sciences, alternative energy, advanced automotive, manufacturing and materials, and homeland security and defense are “the four competitive-edge technologies” that should receive government subsidy.

The NYT article highlights the work of Olatoye Baiyewu, a Nigerian immigrant who “runs a program to train young, inner-city men as apprentices to electricians, plumbers, carpenters and cement masons.”

From Barack Obama’s speech to Jim Wallis’s Call for Renewal (worth the read, if for nothing more than to gain an insight on how he sees his crowd. Study one’s rhetoric and style and you’ll know how they view their audience):

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

This may be difficult for those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of the possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It insists on the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime; to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.

(Quickly: regarding Sen. Obama’s implication that religious policy arguments do not have the apparatus per se to debate in a pluralistic society: I suggest he ask his denomination, the United Church of Christ, to reexamine the concept of Natural Law — perhaps read some of our own good Dr. Grabill’s work on the matter.)

I would rather, however, discuss how Sen. Obama characterizes the players in religiously-grounded policy debates. But while there are those who, rightly or wrongly, base their policy decisions and opinions on what they say “my Bible tells me” (Obama’s words), Obama implies in his speech that all policy arguments from the religious right are of this type of argument: I advocate such and such a policy because the Bible said so.

On the contrary, the most substantive arguments in the policy market at present are firmly rooted in reason and yet still resonate with faith. (Faith and reason, as has been pointed out, are certainly not at odds.) And if we are fair, we will grant that there is a huge wash of arguments in the political arena that, while held by religious people, translate themselves particularly well to our common sense of law and liberty. I think Sen. Obama betrays either his ignorance or rhetoric by not engaging the arguments of, for example, George Weigel or Michael Novak, and instead repeatedly naming Pat Pobertson and Jerry Falwell as representative of religious policy commentators. Such ignorance (or rhetoric) makes me strongly suspicious of whether Sen. Obama truly hopes that we will “refuse to treat faith as simply another political issue with which to score points.”

HT: Catholic Educator’s Resource Center

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, June 29, 2006
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“If you look at all the discussions surrounding biotechnology, I feel that we are clearly focusing too much on ethics.”

Toine Manders, Dutch liberal member of the European Parliament, on discussions in the European Parliament about stem cell research. From “Debate on stem cells holds back EU research drive,” Financial Times, June 14, 2006. (HT: WorldMagBlog)

“It is because the moral sciences tend to show us such limits to our conscious control, while the progress of the natural sciences constantly extends the range of conscious control, that the natural scientist finds himself so frequently in revolt against the teaching of the moral sciences.”

F. A. Hayek, “Scientism and the Study of Society: Part III,” Economica 11, no. 41 (February 1944): 37-38.