Category: Public Policy

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.

French President Jacques Chirac has given in to the student protests in his country, protests that called for the removal of the First Employment Contract. This is a controversial new law giving employers greater freedom in whom they fire amongst under-26 employees. The law, as I am sure you’ve seen, sparked students protests for weeks.

Michael Miller in last Wednesday’s Acton News and Commentary addressed the deeper issue here: economic ignorance and moral apathy–I won’t repeat his analysis here. But here’s what I’d like to point out: what will fill in the vacuum.

The minister of employment, Jean-Louis Borloo, told Le Monde newspaper that the new plan will include increasing government subsidies to employers who hire people under 26 who face the biggest obstacles to finding jobs. He said the cost to the government in the second half of the year would be about $180 million.

From more economic freedom to subsidies. It is one thing to surrender to the protests and remove this law. It is quite something else to enact an (apparently) equal and (certainly) opposite policy. One wonders what will be the straw to break the Gallic camel’s economic back. Perhaps we should start a betting pool…

Jordan’s post below observes the divisions among evangelicals on the hot-button issue of immigration. Its divisiveness—cutting across the usual lines of conservative/liberal and Democrat/Republican—has made the immigration debate an unusual and therefore extraordinarily interesting one.

The issue also divides Catholics. Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony has been among the most uncompromising national voices in favor of immigrant rights. But his comments have not gone unchallenged among Catholics. Activist Jim Gilchrist denounced Mahony’s views. Kathryn-Jean Lopez at NRO questioned them more delicately. But then Larry Kudlow, another Catholic and another conservative NRO writer, without explicitly supporting Mahony, wrote a very pro-immigrant piece (cited also by Jordan).

I don’t pretend to have the answers to this huge and complicated problem, but I do think that any contribution to the debate ought to balance two principles: compassion toward immigrants (legal and illegal) and respect for the rule of law. I share the strong pro-immigrant views evident in the public interventions made by Catholic officials such as Mahony and Bishop Gerald Barnes of the USCCB.

But these officials’ minimizing of the issue of law is disturbing. As everyone knows, in the vast majority of cases immigrants enter the United States in pursuit of economic betterment. And as Kudlow says, who can blame them? Is it not also obvious that one indispensable pillar of this country’s relative prosperity is its relatively vigorous rule of law? Any immigration reform that ignores that fact will be counterproductive in the long run. Bishops Barnes, to his credit, notes the importance of normalizing immigrants’ legal status. But he and Cardinal Mahony not only fail to recognize the importance of enforcing immigration law as the flip-side of that coin—they explicitly oppose it. This is incoherent. What is the value of being a “legal” immigrant if there is no penalty for being an “illegal” one?

“Letter on Immigration Deepens Split Among Evangelicals,” trumpets a story from the Washington Post. Ever since evangelicals received such credit in the election and reelection of George W. Bush, the ins and outs of evangelical politics has recieved a greater share of media attention. A great part of this attention has focused on so-called “splits” among evangelicals, as a way to highlight the newly recognized reality that all evangelicals aren’t card-carrying Republicans.

So from issues like immigration to global warming, the press is eager to find the fault lines of evangelical politics. And moving beyond the typical Jim Wallis-Jerry Falwell dichotomy, there are real and honest disagreements among evangelicals on any number of political issues.

This stems from the fact that political policy is most often about the prudential application of principles, and thus is a matter where there can and should be a variety of informed and committed voices. Thus, says Aquinas, human law should not seek to make illegal everything that is immoral, but only that which is necessary for the maintenance of a just society.

He writes, “many things are permissible to men not perfect in virtue, which would be intolerable in a virtuous man. Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like” (Summa Theologica, II.1.96.ii).

For Aquinas then, human law is the result of the prudent and contextual application of the natural and divine law. And it’s not surprising that among a diverse group like evangelicals, different opinions will exist as to what considerations are relevant to the construction of a particular policy.

With respect to immigration reform, for example, the previously noted Cooperman article reports that a letter signed by numerous evangelical leaders outlining four major points of emphasis was sent to members of the federal government (original letter here in PDF). Among the national evangelical organizations that signed on to the letter are the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the World Evangelical Alliance.

Notably absent, however, was the National Association of Evangelicals, and the lack of support for the bill was noted as the occasion for the Cooperman headline. According to the NAE’s vice president for governmental affairs, Rev. Richard Cizik, “the NAE itself did not sign the letter because its members are divided on how to deal with immigration.” Since the letter makes rather specific policy proposals rather than general moral and theological guidelines, many evangelicals are not ready to endorse the statement. (more…)

Where will they go?

Churches and religious relief organizations are playing a much more active role in U.S. foreign policy. And that has been obvious in recent months in the recovery efforts for the South Asian tsunami and the Pakistan earthquakes.

In March, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life invited Andrew Natsios, who recently left the U.S. Agency for International Development as chief administrator, to talk about his five-year term there. This is a must-read for anyone who works in this field, or donates money to religious relief organizations. Some of Natsios’ most fascinating observations are about the way “Beltway Politics” influences aid policy in remote corners or the world, and the conflict within Islam about its relations to the West.

He recounted a story about a meeting with religious leaders in an unnamed African country:

We had a discussion about how HIV/AIDS was ravaging their congregations and the mosque. And the man representing the Muslim community was the president of the Muslim Doctors Association of this country. The interesting thing was the tension in the room was not among the Muslims. Muslims were 20 percent of the population of the country. It was between the pentecostals and the Anglicans. That was the theological tension. I could see it going on at lunch. I was troubled by it. But by the end of it the ambassador said, this is the best conversation I ever heard. It was a wonderful conversation because they didn’t realize that they’re all active in this area. They are all worried about HIV/AIDS because when parents die, you know who they go to first. They don’t go to the NGO community in this African country. The government ministries are not that functional. They don’t go to the government. They go to the mosque and the church for the children. Who is going to take care of the children?

And they said, we’re completely overwhelmed by orphans. They don’t know what to do with them all. They don’t have any money; they are poor parishes and congregations.

Natsios talks about Eurpean and American NGOs that press a secular approach in societies that are fundamentally religious. In fact, he says, many are hostile to the Church:

The Europeans and the Americans go in, groups not necessarily associated with governments and they press this secular thing, but in fact they are deeply religious societies. Peter Berger has written something on this; the argument he makes is that the West is basically an island of secularism, particularly Europe, when the rest of the world comes from a religious tradition – regardless of what the tradition – whether it’s animism, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or Confucianism.

If you are really developmentally mature, you don’t go into another country and trash their culture because you’re not going to be very successful in the development process if you do that. Both the left and the right do this, and they have done it to AID. I have received letters attacking us simultaneously from the left and the right on the same policy.

Read the transcript for “Religion and International Development: A Conversation with Andrew Natsios” on the Pew Web site.

As student demonstrations in France mount, the government finds it increasingly difficult to dismantle restrictive labor laws that are directly tied to high unemployment rates. Michael Miller examines the political and cultural factors that are behind the French fear of economic risk taking.

Read the complete commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
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Large numbers of migrant populations going out of a particular area or nation should be viewed in large part as a signal of something. There are reasons for people to pick up and move, and policy and governing bodies would do well to examine these reasons.

When business close facilities and open elsewhere, it is usually because the destination location has a better economic and business-friendly environment. So the natural course of action when examining this phenomena is to ask what is it about the place that these businesses are leaving that makes it inhospitable? Michigan’s single-business tax is a great example of a contributing factor on a statewide scale.

Similar analytical methods should be applied to the question of individual or personal immigration. There is a reason that so many residents of the country of Mexico want to leave: there is better opportunity for flourishing in the United States. In particular, the primary motivation for many immigrants is economic opportunity, but the yearning for other sorts of freedoms (religious, political) can be the motivation for immigration as well.

In an article on NRO today, “The Economics of Immigration,” Larry Kudlow makes this same point regarding economic opportunity. He writes, “As long as the American boom beckons, Mexicans in search of prosperity will continue to stream to this country.” The movement of people from Mexico to the United States says a lot about immigrants’ opinions regarding the comparative advantage of living in the US.

A long term answer to immigration reform must include the economic reform of Mexico. Mass immigration out of a country is a symptom of poor economic conditions in the originating nation (other freedoms being equal).

Kudlow writes, “Instead of an Asian or Irish Tiger, Mexico has become a poodle-like Chihuahua, with economic growth of less than 2 percent a year and per-capita growth at less than 1 percent. That’s pathetic. In an age when free-market reforms are sweeping emerging economies worldwide, Mexico should be growing at 8 to 10 percent each year.”

If immigration is a symptom of economic disease, the cure is development, prosperity, and stability in Mexico. And on that score, investment in the manufacturing sector in Mexico, as in the case of outsourcing, is a good thing.

Following up on yesterday’s entry about Ronald Aronson’s call for a renewed socialism in American politics, I offer this paragraph from J. Budziszewski’s book, What We Can’t Not Know.

Discussing the principle of subsidiarity as first explicitly articulated by Pius XI in the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, Budziszewski writes,

As Pius explained, what pushed the principle of subsidiarity to the forefront was the crisis in civil society brought about by the industrial revolution. For a time it seemed as though the middle rungs of the ladder might be crippled or destroyed, leaving nothing but the vaunting state at the top of the social scale and the solitary self at the bottom. Collectivists and individualists made strange alliance to cheer this holocaust of the little platoons. The principle of subsidiarity reaffirms the social design of the species, corrects both its individualist denial and its collectivist perversion, and champions the rights and dignity of all those in-between associations which, if only allowed, will take root and flourish, filling the valley between State and Self with fruit and color.