Category: Public Policy

Blog author: kschmiesing
Friday, April 25, 2008
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My reaction to any politician claiming to offer “straight talk” is a knowing chuckle (“yeah, right”), and that includes John McCain. So I’ve got to give credit to the so-called Straight Talk Express for a recent campaign stop in Youngstown, Ohio, where the Republican presidential candidate offered some honest and accurate comments on a contentious subject in politically risky circumstances—straight talk, if you will.

The subject was trade, and McCain defended it in a region suffering from the real or perceived effects of the extension of free trade in recent decades. In the heart of labor union-friendly, manufacturing-dependent eastern Ohio, McCain said, among other things:

The biggest problem is not so much what’s happened with free trade, but our inability to adjust to a new world economy.

Protectionism and isolationism have never worked in American history.

I can’t look you in the eye and tell you that I believe those jobs are coming back. What we’ve got to do is provide [displaced workers] with education and training programs that work.

With pro-growth policies to create new jobs, and with honest and efficient government in Washington, we can turn things around in this city.

Pro-growth policies would include, one assumes, lowering the state’s state-local tax burden, calculated by the Tax Foundation as 12.4%, fifth-highest in the nation.

Blog author: berndbergmann
Thursday, April 24, 2008
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In the April 24 edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi focuses on the origins and lessons of the global financial crisis. In a previous article, Gotti Tedeschi argued that the downturn is an opportunity for Italy to reform its economy and cut down on unnecessary public spending.

He now examines what the crisis means for the state of international finance and draws some unusual but noteworthy conclusions. In his view, the principal answer for improving global financial architecture cannot be provided by more government regulation.

Instead, Gotti Tedeschi interprets the crisis as a wake-up call to return to “other rules – older rules which restore the priorities of the banking profession.” These rules of sound economics have been partly eroded by an excessive lowering of interest rates by central banks, inducing other actors to take excessive risks in their financial operations.

The over-stimulation of markets led bankers and business leaders to abandon the path of solid long-term growth in favor of short-term gain: “Too often managers with a poor sense of responsibility have created the illusion of realizing miraculous growth and profitability.” They abandoned the search for “concrete results and above all, long-term sustainability.” His advice is to return “to what is real, responsible and durable.”

He suggests that what is needed is a spiritual refreshment to deepen the understanding of how a successful bank or business is run. This would enable people to resist temporary financial fashions and evaluate real risks and possible gains adequately.

Gotti Tedeschi is in a good position to combine the practical insights of the world of banking with a profound theoretical grasp of business ethics. While he is one of the most well-known bankers in Italy, he has also found the time to write books about the relationship between Christian values and economics.

His advice deserves to be taken seriously. As politicians around the world propose a whole range of new regulation in response to the credit crunch, it must not be forgotten that public authorities provided the markets with cheap money and excessive stimuli. The result was a widely distorted perception of risk and profitability. It would be unfortunate if a period of over-stimulation was followed by a period of over-regulation.

This blemish-free sun brought to you by OxyClean!

Submitted for your consideration:

THE scariest photo I have seen on the internet is www.spaceweather.com, where you will find a real-time image of the sun from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, located in deep space at the equilibrium point between solar and terrestrial gravity.

What is scary about the picture is that there is only one tiny sunspot.

Disconcerting as it may be to true believers in global warming, the average temperature on Earth has remained steady or slowly declined during the past decade, despite the continued increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, and now the global temperature is falling precipitously.

All four agencies that track Earth’s temperature (the Hadley Climate Research Unit in Britain, the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the Christy group at the University of Alabama, and Remote Sensing Systems Inc in California) report that it cooled by about 0.7C in 2007. This is the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record and it puts us back where we were in 1930. If the temperature does not soon recover, we will have to conclude that global warming is over.

The author of this story is Phil Chapman, a geophysicist, astronautical engineer, and the first Australian to become a NASA astronaut, just in case you were wondering. No word on whether he’s picked up his briefcase full of cash from Exxon yet or not. Perhaps our local independent media can do some checking on that…

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
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I know there are some economic arguments against recycling, at least some forms of it. Many of these seem to be based on the fact that there’s no real profit margin, so proponents have to either engage the coercive power of government to get people to recycle (by charging them a fee or by offering city services) or people have to simply donate their recycle-ables gratis.

But one “economic” argument I’ve never understood is the on that goes like this: it’s not worth my time. After all, I get paid $X per hour, and I’m not getting paid at all to recycle. Why waste the time doing something for free? One economist puts it like this: “as one of the great one-liners of economics goes: ‘Recycling is the philosophy that everything is worth saving except your time.'”

And so, “Why don’t we recycle in our house? Because our time is worth more than a pile of newspaper.” Other economists have made similar arguments against volunteering, to which I’m a bit more sympathetic, at least insofar as it isn’t always a better use of time to volunteer.

But c’mon, “our time is worth more than a pile of newspaper”? That sounds more like rationalizing laziness than true economic sensibility. I understand the concept of opportunity costs, but it isn’t as if you are making your standard wage 24/7/365.

My time is worth more than a pile of dirt, too, but that doesn’t mean my house doesn’t need to be cleaned. Just because the negative externalities of throwing your trash into a public dump aren’t visible doesn’t mean that you don’t have a responsibility to manage your waste.

And don’t tell me there aren’t good economic arguments in favor of recycling, too. Take a look at the legacy of Ken Hendricks, a high school dropout and an entrepreneur who made a fortune in the building materials business. He passed away late last year, and during his life “Hendricks loathed waste and dedicated his life to recycling and rehabilitation in all their forms. He resuscitated decaying buildings, directly through the millions of square feet he personally owned and indirectly through the hundreds of millions of square feet restored by his customers.”

Maybe Prof. Anthony Bradley can help me out

This sounds like a book with a compelling narrative: McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld.

I’ve often thought about the connection between organized crime and legitimate governmental structures. In the NPR interview linked above, “Journalist Misha Glenny points out that while globalization may have given the world new opportunities for trade and investments, it also gave rise to global black markets and made it easier for criminal networks to do business.” There’s a lot of cogent analysis of trade issues and how government policy not only combats but also contributes to the existence of globalized “black markets.”

It has occurred to me more than once, in watching shows like HBO’s “The Sopranos,” that a good deal of the socio-political aspects of organized crime is explicable in terms of alternative (and often obsolete) forms of governance. That is, often when extorting money from business owners, superficially legitimate services are offered, like “protection,” i.e. protection that the official authorities like the police are unwilling or unable to provide.

Can Tony Soprano claim to be the “king,” or at least “kingpin” of a more feudal or monarchical socio-political structure? Perhaps, just perhaps, there is the hypothetical exceptional situation in which the “outlaws” represent a more legitimate form of governance than official but tyrannical structures (think of Robin Hood, for instance).

But there is at least clear precedent for understanding the reverse to be true; legitimate authorities can certainly degenerate into outright banditry even if bandits may not be able to rise to the level of authentic sovereignty. As Augustine has reflected on the nature of legitimate sovereignty,

Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.” (City of God, Book IV, Chapter 4, “How Like Kingdoms Without Justice are to Robberies.”)

And so the appeal to political legitimacy can only be made in recognition of the rule of law, the higher law or the “law beyond law,” that governs all human endeavors.

Blog author: dwbosch
Friday, April 18, 2008
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I’m hosting this month’s Oekologie environmental science blog carnival. Lots of interesting stuff if you’ve got a hankering for a little less politics shaken on your greens.

Blog author: jspalink
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
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The 2008 Samaritan Award opens today! If you know of a great charity or non-profit organization that directly serves members of a vulnerable population and receives little to no government funding, please encourage them to apply. The grand prize is $10,000 and there are several smaller awards for runners-up.

From the Samaritan Award website:

This $10,000 grand prize is awarded once a year to an exceptional and privately funded nonprofit that fosters deep personal change in the individuals they serve. A comprehensive application makes a program eligible for the Award and enters it in the Samaritan Guide.

The Samaritan Guide encourages effective charity within the United States by providing information on nonprofits that are supported primarily by private donations. Every charity that applies for the Samaritan Award is included in the Samaritan Guide.

Apply Now for the Samaritan Award!