Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, February 14, 2006

George H. Taylor, the State Climatologist for Oregon, writes at TCS Daily, “A Consensus About Consensus.” The article is worth reading. It shows that scientific consensus is often overrated, both in terms of its existence and in terms of its relevance.

With resepct to global warming, Taylor looks at some of the claims for scientific consensus, and states, “But even if there actually were a consensus on this issue, it may very well be wrong.” This simply means that the majority can often be terribly wrong.

It is noteworthy that what holds true for consensus in the hard sciences also holds true for efforts in other fields. So, while Christians should take seriously the work of the Copenhagen Consensus, for example, there should not simply be an uncritical move from consensus to specific policy action. Christians are called to critically engage the efforts of science and economics, and the failure to do this on either count is an abdication of responsibility.

Blog author: kwoods
posted by on Monday, February 13, 2006

A friend forwarded a Website link for The Nonprofit Congress recently that was downright scary. It appears to be the epitome of good intentions fraught with unintended consequences. Or perhaps the consequences are not unintended. The Congress is an apparent call to advocacy (i.e., political pressuring) within the National Council of Nonprofit Associations.

To the group’s credit, the “why” is a forthright statement of their view and values: The time has come for nonprofits of all sizes and scope to come together. The nonprofit charitable sector has long served our nation with distinction – from helping individuals survive (through health care, domestic violence centers, meals, and other human services) to helping local communities thrive (through artistic, cultural, educational, environmental, and other enriching services). Every American has been touched at one time or another by the work of a nonprofit. Good intentions.

Unintended consequences: Rather than championing the nonprofits’ unique abilities to provide individualized solutions, the Nonprofit Congress labels such efforts “fragmented and isolated” and frankly seems to be advocating that onerous “one size fits all” strategy for which government programs are so famous.

With that perspective, however, what this Nonprofit Congress wants to DO is not surprising: forge a collective identity based on shared values; develop a unified vision and message; and exercise a collective voice.

I would argue that a primary value of nonprofits is their lack of a collective identity or message and the freedom to contribute or help based on divergent values. That reality has been revealed within the Nonprofit Panel of Independent Sector — literally battling government agencies and federal policy makers for the continued independent existence of the nonprofit sector.

But with a Revere-like ‘call to arms,’ the council invites nonprofits to join the movement, forge a “stronger, bolder, more prominent role for nonprofits.” Hmmm … sounds like burgeoning political power to me, fashioned under the banner of “but we help people and communities. We do good things.”

Peter Drucker, arguably the most visionary management guru of this century, said that it is more important to do the right thing, than to do things right. Doing the right thing — helping individuals and communities–does not include sacrificing nonprofit uniqueness to leverage potential political muscle. And those who think so need to recalibrate their compassion quotient. The nonprofit sector may be “like herding cats,” but “unionizing” isn’t the strategy to help individuals or communities.

Blog author: kjayabalan
posted by on Monday, February 13, 2006

Over the weekend, the Daily Telegraph’s Charles Moore asked, “Why should the Left win the scramble for Africa?” :

[T]he trouble with this subject – perhaps this is why the Left dominates it – is that it attracts posturing. Africa is, among other things, a photo-opportunity. As our own educational system makes it harder and harder to get British pupils to smile at all, so the attraction for politicians of being snapped with rows of black children with happy grins grows ever stronger. The dark continent is awash with “goodwill ambassadors” who fly in for a couple of days to cure Aids before flying out to make the next movie.

There is a worse posturing – the pretence that lots of government money and the interventions of the “international community” are automatically good. It is only in the past 10 years or so, for example, that the World Bank has even begun to consider the possibility that the volume of loans matters less than their quality, or that corruption might be spoiling huge percentages of its work. All across Africa lies the detritus of aid projects which – in some cases literally – ran into the sand.

Such things are not just a waste of money – they are deeply harmful. They divert power and resources to bad people that might otherwise have gone to good. There is still no proper answer to Peter Bauer’s famous dictum that Western government aid largely consists of the payment of money by poor people in rich countries (i.e. our taxes) to rich people in poor countries.

Having spent two years working for the Holy See at the United Nations and five years for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, I’ve sat through far too many discussions of Africa’s problems, nearly all of which focused on governmental solutions. Very rarely did anyone have the courage and wisdom to say that governments ARE the problem in Africa, and even more rarely did anyone say that the an expanded private sector is the most obvious solution.

Why is that? Christians are especially obliged to look after the poor but often seem to be the most willing to support further governmental interventions. But this is just passing the buck to unaccountable and faceless bureaucracies. What accounts for this socialist temptation?

My educated guess is that an ideological prejuidice against market economies has been operating in social justice circles for many decades and is only starting to be overcome. Educating people in sound economics, an undoubtedly prosaic if not sometimes downright boring subject, is surely an imperative. Too many lives in Africa have already been lost to the dreams of utopian poets.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, February 13, 2006

For a quick overview of the current state of appreciation for economics and capitalism among various ‘academics,’ see the newly inaugurated e-journal Fast Capitalism. It might as well be subtitled: Marxism, Alive and Well. Most of the contributors to the first issue are in sociology, communications, or political science. Here’s a sampling:

In “Beyond Beltway and Bible Belt: Re-imagining the Democratic Party and the American Left,” Ben Agger, who teaches sociology and humanities at the University of Texas at Arlington, writes, “Electoral politics now matter. George W. Bush, Jr. and his evangelical-Christian supporters have seen to that. Bush threatens to undo the welfare state, roll back civil liberties (and block new ones), and isolate the United States from the rest of the world. His foreign policy is an admixture of isolationism and unilateral adventurism. Homeland Security, his contribution to our political lexicon, has a Nazi-era resonance. Gays, lesbians, foreigners, liberals, the left have been demonized by a supposedly literal interpretation of the Bible, which drives the Christian right, Bush’s base of support. This has the makings of fascism.” One other tidbit: “FDR’s welfare state, while not perfect, significantly buffered the ravages of capitalism for those without jobs and without hope.” Also check out the planks in his “agenda for American social democracy,” which include “economic restructuring,” in which “the Democratic Party must take the lead in reconceptualizing the United Nations not only as an international police force but as an agent of the redistribution of capital.”

See also Charles Lemert, Andrus Professor of Sociology at Wesleyan University, who is self-described as “once a minister, still a student of theology, seldom a church-goer.” He writes an encomium to Reinhold Neibuhr, praising him for, among other things, opposing the Ford auto company in the early 20th century. “Though called to serve a traditional, declining urban congregation, Niebuhr, still in his twenties, quickly engaged himself on the side of industrial workers in a city where automobile manufacturing ruled by the hand of Henry Ford who presented himself as the patron saint of economic justice in the offer of then higher wages. Thus began Fordism, born not of fairness, but of greed for efficient production. The higher wages famously broke Marx’s rule on the suppression of labor costs as the key to the extraction of surplus value. But the break was only apparent. The wages were taken back in the purchase of the automobiles labor produced—thereby doubly exploiting the laborer,” he writes.

And don’t miss “Politics and Self in the Age of Digital Re(pro)ducibility,” by Robert W. Williams, who teaches Political Science at Bennett College in North Carolina. His claim, explicitly made within “the Marxist tradition,” is that “there is a dialectic of in/dividuality present in the conjuncture of globalizing capitalism and liberal-democratic policies. The relationships that reduce us as separate selves to digitally mediated signifiers and that “reproduce” those signifiers as dividuals also provide the potential for resistance against the oppressions resulting from digital re(pro)ducibility.”

HT: The Blogora

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, February 10, 2006

Forbes is featuring a slideshow highlighting a series of the most corrupt countries around the world, based on findings from Transparency International. The list of the “The Most Corrupt Countries” includes Chad, Bangladesh, Turkmenistan, Myanmar, Haiti, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Cote D’Ivoire, Angola, Tajikistan, Sudan, Somalia, Paraguay, Pakistan, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

(Jacob Silberberg/AFP/Getty Images)

“Under its current president, Nigeria is making a determined effort to clean up its act. President Olusegun Obasanjo has surrounded himself with a dozen senior government officials who are firmly opposed to the corruption that remains rampant. The president has begun issuing a monthly list of the amounts doled out to each of 33 states and more than 600 municipalities, so the funds can be monitored at the grassroots level. So far, it hasn’t had much impact.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, February 10, 2006

There’s something like a question of theodicy implicitly wrapped up in the debate about global warming among Christians. It goes something like this:

Why did God create oil?

One answer is that the burning of fossil fuels is simply a divine trap for unwitting and greedy human beings, who would stop at nothing to rape the earth. Another answer is that there is some legitimate created purpose for fossil fuels.

I’m inclined to think the latter, for a number of reasons. The first answer strikes me akin to the claim that God created the earth to look old…it just doesn’t seem like something God would do. It would cast doubt on the veracity of God, in whom there is nothing false. After all, I don’t recall the covenant with Adam having anything to do with burning fossil fuels.

One possible argument in favor of the first view is that God has created the world in such a way that wrong actions tend to bear negative consequences. The wisdom literature of the Bible attests to this natural order, in which evil bears its own fruit of destruction. But this would mean that fossil fuels were created only with the fallen state of human beings in view, as a check or consequence on human sinfulness (see the corollary at the end).

It seems much more tenable to me to assert that oil was created by God as a natural resource for human beings to use wisely and to steward well in the culturing of the world. It would be much more difficult to “fill the earth and subdue it” if we didn’t have cars and planes and ships to carry us about.

If this is the case, then oil, natural gas, and other petroleum products exist to be used by human beings, but just like any other thing, are to be used responsibly. For example, we can use or misuse food: we can gorge ourselves on it (gluttony), we can waste it, we can hoard it, or we can eat and grow and share food appropriately. Oil might well be a tool like any other, that can be used for good or ill.

Supposing that one of the inevitable effects of the human consumption of oil (speaking here only about engine combustion and not other uses of fossil fuels, e.g. to make plastics) is carbon dioxide emission which inevitably raises global temperatures and adversely effects global climate, what then is our answer to the question? Is there any legitimate use for oil left if this is true? Is oil the forbidden fruit of the twentieth century?

Or perhaps petroleum products are here as a transitional stage in human development, much like societies based on wood-burning sources of energy progressed into the usage of fossil fuels. In this case, petroleum products would have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy, which would raise the standard of living and economic situation of the societies to the point where technological research would find even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.

I don’t think anyone is claiming that oil is going to be the primary source of fuel forever. It’s just the best we have right now. And most of the world, China, for example, is heading into the stage of development where use of fossil fuels is necessary and are not at the point of progressing beyond it.

A corollary: the issue of the creation of fossil fuels through animal death may or may not have an impact here. It’s an open question to me whether animal death existed before the Fall. Certainly some kind of death (plant) undoubtedly occurred, and some form of animal death (bacteria) probably existed as well. If oil is only the consequence of animal death which is itself the product of the Fall, perhaps the well is tainted, so to speak. You might be able to argue conversely, however, that this is an example of God bringing good from evil, so the origin of fossil fuels from animal fossils doesn’t seem to be definitive.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, February 9, 2006

On January 21, 2006, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love in a Hook-up World and a Senior Fellow in Economics at the Acton Institute, gave this lecture at the Centesimus Annus Conference in Rome. Dr. Morse talks about the failure of the European welfare state to sustain economy and the demographic implications resulting from the “marginalization of the family.” Dr. Morse covers quite a bit of ground in this lecture, beginning with a critique of the evidence of a failing “European Social Model” and following up with the “Catholic alternative.”

A summarized version of the speech is available as an Acton Commentary, while an MP3 version of the speech can be downloaded here, or via or Acton’s podcast.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, February 9, 2006

The traditional formula for understanding the relationship between the developed and the developing world is the following: Aid = Economic Growth. That is, foreign aid spurs economic development in poorer nations.

A new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research challenges this wisdom, however. “Aid and Growth: What Does the Cross-Country Evidence Really Show?” by Raghuram G. Rajan and Arvind Subramanian shows that “regardless of the situation — for example, in countries that have adopted sound economic policies or improved government institutions — or the type of assistance involved, aid does not appear to stimulate growth over the short or long term.”

Findings like this should cause advocates of aid-oriented programs like the ONE Campaign and the Micah Challenge to reassess their efforts. One way to change things would be to focus on actual outcomes rather than simply looking at the inflow of aid. The ONE Campaign by definition is focused on the front side, the supply of aid, rather than any actual effects of the aid: “We believe that allocating an additional ONE percent of the U.S. budget toward providing basic needs like health, education, clean water and food, would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation of the poorest countries.”

A summary of the NBER paper states, “Challenging the simplistic but seductive view that increased assistance from rich countries is likely to put many poor countries on the path to prosperity, a new study on the impact of foreign aid finds ‘little evidence’ that it ever has a positive effect on economic growth.” So the real-world formula looks something like this: Aid ≠ Economic Growth.

“Rajan and Subramanian observe that there is a tendency in analyzing the impact of aid for economists to take sides and conclude that it is good or bad for growth. But the authors argue that neither assertion is valid because the data supporting either argument is so ‘fragile’ that with only minor tweaks, it can yield the opposite result. For example, they take an analysis.”

The important thing to realize is that past aid programs have had no provable positive effect. The conclusion is not that aid has no part to play in future development, but simply that it cannot be the only answer, and as part of the solution, “the aid apparatus (in terms of how aid should be delivered, to whom, in what form, and under what conditions) will have to be rethought.”

A few others have addressed this issue in previous posts, but I wanted to jump in with my two cents.

Yesterday’s New York Times notes that a group of evangelical leaders have entered the debate over climate change:

Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying “millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.”

Among signers of the statement, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren, author of the best seller “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

“For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority,” the statement said. “Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough.”

Later in the article, Rev. Ted Haggard – speaking for himself and not in his capacity as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which is not participating in this effort – states that “there is no doubt about it in my mind that climate change is happening, and there is no doubt about it that it would be wise for us to stop doing the foolish things we’re doing that could potentially be causing this. In my mind there is no downside to being cautious.” Well, no downside except nearly destroying the global economy in an effort to reverse a process that may or may not be caused by man in the first place. (Jay Richards sums up the downside nicely in this post.)

One wonders whether Rev. Haggard and the others behind this declaration have been informed of the recent discovery that plants release vast amounts of greenhouse gasses. Or that one of the most famous pieces of supporting evidence for the global warming hypothesis – the “hockey stick” graph that purports to show a sudden rise in global temperatures at the beginning of the 20th century after centuries of relative stability – has been found to be riddled with serious errors. Or that global warming is not just restricted to Earth, but also seems to be occurring on other planets in the Solar System, which may cause one to think that global warming on Earth might just have something to do with… the Sun.

Since the dawn of time, man has longed to destroy the sun…

The group will be taking their message into the media via a television campaign:

The television spot links images of drought, starvation and Hurricane Katrina to global warming. In it, the Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of a megachurch in Longwood, Fla., says: “As Christians, our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to love our neighbors and to be stewards of God’s creation. The good news is that with God’s help, we can stop global warming, for our kids, our world and for the Lord.”

That would all be well and good if we knew for sure that humans were the cause of global warming. But it’s clear that we don’t know that for sure. (And if warming is indeed caused by the Sun, we’re completely dependent on God for a solution unless we embark on a Monty Burns style quest to block the Sun’s energy from reaching Earth.) In their editorial on the “hockey stick,” the Wall Street Journal sounded a note of caution that we would all do well to heed:

But the important point is this: The world is being lobbied to place a huge economic bet–as much as $150 billion a year–on the notion that man-made global warming is real. Businesses are gearing up, at considerable cost, to deal with a new regulatory environment; complex carbon-trading schemes are in the making. Shouldn’t everyone look very carefully, and honestly, at the science before we jump off this particular cliff?

Blog author: jrichards
posted by on Thursday, February 9, 2006

The Chicago Tribune has a story about the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) launched February 8th. (See my initial response here.) Most reports of this story have been somewhat fair. But the Chicago Tribune story takes an unjustified swipe at evangelicals who disagree with the ECI statement. The reporter, Frank James, describes the disagreement among evangelical Christians this way:

But environmental issues have proved divisive within the body of believers who identify themselves as evangelicals. Some who believe the world is in the “end times,” with a return of Jesus imminent, have not seen the necessity of protecting the environment for the long term. Others, meanwhile, have taken the view espoused by the evangelicals who unveiled their campaign Wednesday, that humans were given dominion over the Earth with the responsibility to protect it.

This should be printed in journalism textbooks as an obvious case of media bias. Notice the false dilemma: If you’re an evangelical, you either you agree with the ECI or you don’t care about the environment because you’re expecting the Lord’s return any day now. I read several evangelical responses to the ECI yesterday, and this is one argument that I didn’t see. I note that James doesn’t offer any quotes from representative evangelical leaders who make this argument. Hmm. I wonder why?

If I had to guess, I would say that Frank James has the “James Watt Myth” planted in his memory. James Watt was Secretary of the Interior under President Reagan. It was reported that he once said in congressional testimony: “after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.” This calumny has been repeated countless times by figures such as Bill Moyers. There’s only one problem. The story is false. The Chicago Tribune has now made the false story a generic argument of “some evangelicals.” If Frank James can provide some current, direct quotes by representative evangelical leaders (not random loose cannons) who argue that the environment is unimportant because Jesus is about to return, I’ll be the first on record denouncing the argument. If he can’t produce such quotes, then he should retract this statement.