Category: Public Policy

In one of this week’s Acton Commentaries, Ray Nothstine and I juxtapose a static, sedentary dependence on government subsidies with a dynamic, entrepreneurial spirit of innovation.

The impetus for this short piece was an article that originally appeared in the Grand Rapids Press (linked in the commentary). I have two things to say about these stories and then I want to add some further reflections on the world of agricultures subsidies.

First, I found the article’s “hook” to be quite shoddy and lame. The blatant attempt to “shock” the reader into a reaction of disgust that a billionaire like Dick DeVos, yes, “that Dick DeVos,” got a whopping “$6,000 in federal farm subsidies from 2003 to 2005.” That’s roughly $2k a year for three years.

Unsurprisingly, DeVos’ spokesperson didn’t know anything about it. It’s ludicrous to think that a guy with as much on his plate as Dick DeVos would have any time for what is essentially pocket change for a billionaire. Does the fact that DeVos got a subsidy even though he campaigned on eliminating government waste make him a hypocrite?

Judge for yourself, but I think these payments say more about the government’s inefficiency and waste than they do about DeVos’ integrity. People of all income brackets pay tax professionals to maximize their returns. For the very wealthy, it’s simply a process that’s on a bigger scale, that’s much more thorough, and with many more loopholes than when you or I go to H&R Block. The more diversified your holdings, the more likely there are a plethora of tax breaks for you to exploit. The breathless lede to this story was simply off-putting to me, especially given the rather clear political undertones of the insinuations.

“Simplify, man.”

What’s the real lesson? As a recycling hippie once told The Simpsons‘ Principal Skinner in a quite different context, “Simplify, man.” Simplify the tax code and eliminate all these special interest loopholes.

But the complaint about the story’s hook is really a minor quibble compared to my second point. In a companion piece, Lisa Rose Starner, executive director at Blandford Nature Center and Mixed Greens says that farm subsidies are essentially about “social justice.” That’s right, subsidies are about social justice. They’re about the social injustice of subsidizing a product so that people from poorer nations around the world, who would like to do more than simply engage in subsistence farming, can’t compete in a global marketplace because prices are artificially deflated. So, our subsidies are feeding the rich at the expense of the poor in more ways than one.

Of course, the pat response is that other nations are subsidizing too, so our subsidies are just leveling the playing field. To be sure, the world of agricultural business is a complex one, as many of the commenters on our piece point out. Direct farm subsidies are just one thin slice of the government’s intervention into agriculture. Perhaps they’re the most obvious, but they may also not be the most insidious. As one astute reader wrote to me, “The web of market interference in ag is broad and complex.”

Simplify, man.

Update: The Detroit News ran a version of the original piece here.

Awhile back in a PowerBlog exclusive I asserted, “Many, if not most, young evangelicals are just as conservative on life issues as their forebears.”

Here are some references to back that up:


  • 70% Evangelicals 18-29 who favor “making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion.”
  • 55% Evangelicals 30 and older who favor this.

(HT: Go Figure) From: “Young White Evangelicals: Less Republican, Still Conservative,” Pew Research Center.

And next, “In attitudes toward education, drugs, abortion, religion, marriage, and divorce, the current generation of teenagers and young adults appears in many respects to be more culturally conservative than its immediate predecessors.” From: “Crime, Drugs, Welfare—and Other Good News,” Commentary.

On second thought, perhaps what I said before was even an understatement.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, is scheduled to join Fox Business host David Asman tonight to discuss the new documentary, “What Would Jesus Buy?” They’ll be joined by documentary producer Morgan Spurlock and performance artist Bill Talen, of the “Church of Stop Shopping.” The segment is set to air between 7-8 p.m. Eastern time. Check your local listings — and expect a lively debate.

Watch the WWJB? trailer here.

Update: Here’s the interview…

Add another crisis to the list of problems caused by climate change – a lack of jet parking at small international airports. To be fair, this isn’t a direct consequence of climate change, but it wouldn’t be a problem in Bali, Indonesia right now if not for the big UN climate change shindig that’s going on. Via Newsbusters, a report on the urgent situation:

Tempo Interaktif reports that Angkasa Pura – the management of Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport are concerned that the large number of additional private charter flights expected in Bali during the UN Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) December 3-15, 2007, will exceed the carrying capacity of apron areas. To meet the added demand for aircraft storage officials are allocating “parking space” at other airports in Indonesia.

The operational manager for Bali’s Airport, Azjar Effendi, says his 3 parking areas can only accommodate 15 planes, which means that some of the jets used by VIP delegations will only be allowed to disembark and embark their planes in Bali with parking provided at airports in Surabaya, Lombok, Jakarta and Makassar.

It’s bad, folks. It’s really bad.

Artist’s conception of the current state of Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport – Click for full size

Adding insult to injury is this nasty little fact:

Never before have so many people converged to try to save the planet from global warming, with more than 10,000 jetting into this Indonesian resort island, from government ministers to Nobel laureates to drought-stricken farmers.

But critics say they are contributing to the very problem they aim to solve.

“Nobody denies this is an important event, but huge numbers of people are going, and their emissions are probably going to be greater than a small African country,” said Chris Goodall, author of the book “How to Live a Low-Carbon Life.”…

…The U.N. estimates 47,000 tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants will be pumped into the atmosphere during the 12-day conference in Bali, mostly from plane flights but also from waste and electricity used by hotel air conditioners.

If correct, Goodall said, that is equivalent to what a Western city of 1.5 million people, such as Marseilles, France, would emit in a day.

But he believes the real figure will be twice that, more like 100,000 tons, close to what the African country of Chad churns out in a year.

A couple of questions spring to mind:

  • have these folks ever heard of videoconferencing?
  • If that isn’t possible, wouldn’t it make more sense to hold the conference in a place served by many airlines that already fly regularly scheduled routes rather than a place that requires so many chartered flights? Say, someplace exotic like, oh, I don’t know – how about… New York?

A hat tip on the carbon footprint link goes to Texas Rainmaker, who closes this update with a friendly reminder:

The conference is aimed at developing a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty whose members actually increased greenhouse emissions after ratifying it.

Are farmers hooked on pork?

Jordan Ballor and Ray Nothstine look at the current battle over farm subsidies. “By encouraging the production of overabundant commodities, the government is creating a cycle of dependency that undermines entrepreneurial initiative,” they write.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What’s behind the stunning defeat of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez in a popular referendum this week? Undoubtedly, he overestimated the appeal of his “21st century socialism” among Latin Americans. A new poll also shows that the most trusted institution in Latin America is not the government — but the Catholic Church.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Not to belabor the topic of divorce (following Don Bosch’s interesting post from yesterday), but Acton senior fellow Jennifer Roback Morse has a thought-provoking piece on on the perverse incentives of marriage law. She makes several important points, but I am most intrigued by her suggestion that the frequency of divorce, combined with the peculiarities of the legal system designed to handle it, has created one of the most invasive areas of American law.

The discussion recalls Dr. Morse’s earlier book (Love and Economics), which argued persuasively that a free society requires virtuous families, for within them are molded citizens capable of handling freedom responsibly. (“Liberty is government of Conscience,” said Lord Acton.) More directly, when families fail to fulfill their role, demand is created for government action. Divorce is but one more example.

None of this should be construed as beating up on those who have suffered broken marriages. It is, instead, a recognition of the far-reaching impact of family life and a reminder to do all we can—individually and as a society (e.g., in law)—to encourage rather than discourage the lasting bond that is the core of the family, “the first school of the social virtues” (Vatican II, Declaration on Christian Education, inter alia).