Category: Public Policy

Public schools are now embroiled in the controversy over the teaching of intelligent design. Eric Schansberg points out that we wouldn’t have this problem if there were more choice in education. But neither education elitists nor theocrats are big on educational freedom. “They wage battle within the monopoly, hoping to capture the process and force their view of truth down the throats of others,” he writes.

Read the complete commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, January 4, 2006
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The US government is getting set to open up a set of airwave frequencies, vacating the prime estate for obscure channels that will serve its purposes just as well. In addition, the newly available channels will provide a big boost to the capabilities of current wireless telecom providers.

Hugo Grotius (1583-1645)

As Gene J. Koprowski writes for UPI, “It’s something like an eminent-domain case — except this time, the government is vacating the space in order to further the technology economy, rather than the reverse.” We might call it something like “common” or “conventional” domain. Wikipedia traces the origin of the term eminent domain as “derived in the mid-19th Century from a legal treatise written by the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius in 1625.” Grotius (1583-1645) was a Remonstrant natural-law theorist.

“With 90 megahertz of additional spectrum, today’s cellular carriers will be tomorrow’s next-generation broadband providers,” Michael D. Gallagher, assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, said in a statement. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the Department of Commerce, says the channels are to be used for “advanced wireless services.”

The cost of the move is estimated to be around $936 million, which is actually well under previous industry predictions, and will be paid for by the proceeds from the auction of the channels. “We found a way to open up a ‘beach front’ spectrum for key economic activity without jeopardizing our national security,” Gallagher said.

The move follows successful lobbying by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). TIA President Matthew J. Flanigan said in a press release, “The passage of the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act last year and today’s report by NTIA are important steps in accelerating the deployment of advanced wireless services. Auction proceeds will create billions of dollars of capital investments and increase job growth in the United States.”

All in all, the move looks to be a positive one for economic development in the quickly growing field of wireless communication. And its noteworthy that the government is using its sovereign power to serve the interests of private enterprise rather than jealously guarding its own previously acquired “territory” (although it will look to turn a tidy profit from the sale of the newly opened airwaves).

HT: Slashdot

I’ve written about the narrower problem of generational conflict as it relates to social security policy, here and here.

From a perspective that encompasses the broader, related cultural, economic, and moral issues, Eric Cohen and Leon Kass write in Commentary the most thoughtful and thought-provoking piece I’ve read on the matter of intergenerational responsibility and end-of-life care.

Credit to Stanley Kurtz at The Corner.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, January 3, 2006
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Sometimes one man’s trash is just trash. “Most people have no clue what’s involved with taking a garbage bag of stuff and getting it to the person who needs it,” said Lindy Garnette, executive director for SERVE Inc., a Manassas-based nonprofit that operates a 60-bed homeless shelter and food bank.

According to this story, “Eager for Treasure, Not Trash: Charities Sort Through Piles of Donated Goods, Some of Which They Can’t Use,” by Michael Alison Chandler in The Washington Post, these are some of the items donated this holiday season: 20-year-old golf clubs, old Victoria’s Secret Valentine’s Day gifts, six-year-old computers, beta VCRs, broken toys, puzzles without all the pieces and unmatched shoes.

“Many of these gifts end up in the trash, or they are given to yet another charity — one with more storage space — such as the Salvation Army, which has its own dump trucks and daily pickups scheduled to haul away the unsellable stuff from its stores.

After all the sorting, cleaning, storing and transporting, gifts sometimes end up being more trouble than they are worth for strapped nonprofits, which have limited staff and resources.”

For more on how to give effectively so that nonprofits can function efficiently, check out Acton’s Impact World Hunger campaign. A huge part of what we do here is connecting the good intentions of charity and compassion with thoughtful economic understanding.


Blog author: jballor
Monday, January 2, 2006
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As the newly-burgeoning field of space tourism takes the first steps towards reality, elements of the federal government are already pushing for stringent regulation. In a 60 Minutes report last night, the Ansari X Prize, “an extraordinary competition created in 1996 to stimulate private investment in space,” has spawned the new space race. This new field is “a race among private companies and billionaire entrepreneurs to carry paying passengers into space and to kick-start a new industry, astro tourism.”

Space: The Final Frontier

Part of the X Prize credo states the following: “We believe that spaceflight should be open to all — not just an elite cadre of government employees or the ultra-rich. We believe that commercial forces will bring spaceflight into a publicly affordable range.” I have argued previously that the developments in space travel should be recognized by Christians as a confirmation of “the significance of our solar system as a responsibility and blessing for human stewardship.”

Out of recognition of the possibilities for human flourishing represented by private spaceflight, Wired News reports about legislation that was made law last year, allowing the industry to develop “without too much government interference prohibits the Federal Aviation Administration from issuing safety regulations for passengers and crew for eight years, unless specific design features or operating practices cause a serious or fatal injury.”

The idea is essentially the opposite of some applications of the so-called precautionary principle, the idea that something must be proven to be safe before the public can make use of it. The FAA acknowledges that the instituted law instead gives the regulatory body an “informed consent” role to “encourage, facilitate, and promote” private space travel in a way that emphasizes safety. According to newly proposed regulations, “This means that the FAA has to wait for harm to occur or almost occur before it can impose restrictions, even against foreseeable harm. Instead, Congress requires that space flight participants be informed of the risks.”

This set of proposed FAA regulations (PDF) was released last Thursday, comprising what appear to be advisory regulations intended to provide information to the purveyors and consumers of space travel. According to the document summary, “The requirements are designed to provide an acceptable level of safety to the general public, and to notify individuals on board of the risks associated with a launch or reentry.”

Comments about the proposed regulations can be submitted until February 27, 2006. Given the eight-year window referred to in the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004, it seems that even if these regulations are set by the June 23, 2006 deadline, they would not go into effect until 2012.

On another note, G4 (the videogame TV network) has added reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation to its schedule, beginning with an 8-hour marathon on January 8.

A newly certified Guiness World Record, presented without further comment.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, December 30, 2005
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O God our heavenly Father, you have blessed us and given us dominion over all the earth: Increase our reverence before the mystery of life; and give us new insight into your purposes for the human race, and new wisdom and determination in making provision for its future in accordance with your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

–U.S. Book of Common Prayer, “For the Future of the Human Race,” (1979), p. 828

I cannot pass up this prayer without mentioning the announcement for an upcoming academic conference I saw recently. The Applied Global Justice group of the Research Training Network will be holding the “Environmental Justice, Sustainable Development and Future Generations” international conference at the Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium), 24-25 February 2006.

What struck me about this posting was the idea of “intergenerational justice,” and especially the topic of a paper by Prof. Dr. Peter Koller (University of Graz, Austria): “Natural resources, environmental justice, and the rights of future people.”

“The rights of future people.” Here’s a phrase that ought to have implications far beyond the concerns simply of environmental justice.

Indeed, the right to life can be seen as the basis for all other rights, as it is the necessary condition for the actualization of other rights, whether they be conceived of as liberty and the pursuit of happiness (Declaration of Independence), liberty and security of person (Article 3, Universal Declaration of Human Rights), or the right to respect for physical and mental integrity (Article 3, The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union).

The ability of future generations to realize the right to a sustainable environment is first contingent on the realization of the fundamental right to life. This must be the first and fundamental recognized right of future people.

Blog author: mvandermaas
Thursday, December 29, 2005
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At risk, thanks to environmentalism.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has yet another example of what happens when good intentions fail to connect with sound economics (or in this case, sound science).

Thanks to the nation’s housing boom, business has been good for the West’s sawmills for the past three years. But Jim faced an insurmountable problem: He couldn’t buy enough logs to keep his mill running. This despite the fact that 10 times as many trees as Jim’s mill needed die annually on the nearby Kootenai National Forest. From his office window, Jim could see the dead and dying standing on hillsides just west of the mill. They might as well have been standing on the moon, given the senseless environmental litigation that has engulfed the West’s federal forests.

Thanks to Jim’s resourcefulness, his mill survived its last five years on a steady diet of fire- and bug-killed trees salvaged from Alberta provincial forests. Such salvage work is unthinkable in our national forests, forests that, news reports to the contrary, remain under the thumb of radical environmental groups whose hatred for capitalism seems boundless. Americans are thus invited to believe that salvaging fire-killed timber is “like mugging a burn victim.” Never mind that there is no peer-reviewed science that supports this ridiculous claim–or that many of the West’s great forests, including Oregon’s famed Tillamook Forest, are products of past salvage and reforestation projects.

So the scorecard looks like this: One point to the environmental groups who have worked so hard to shut down sawmills; zero points to the sawmill workers who are now out of a job; zero points to the sawmill operator who can no longer make a return on his investment; and most ironically, zero points to the forests that will not be thinned and thus be at much greater risk of disastrous wildfires. Come to think of it, that might negate the point awarded earlier to the environmental groups, so let’s just say that nobody wins.

One more quote from that article:

Fifteen years ago, not long after the release of “Playing God in Yellowstone,” his seminal work on environmentalism’s philosophical underpinnings, I asked philosopher and environmentalist Alston Chase what he thought about this situation. I leave you to ponder his answer: “Environmentalism increasingly reflects urban perspectives. As people move to cities, they become infatuated with fantasies about land untouched by humans. This demographic shift is revealed through ongoing debates about endangered species, grazing, water rights, private property, mining and logging. And it is partly a healthy trend. But this urbanization of environmental values also signals the loss of a rural way of life and the disappearance of hands-on experience with nature. So the irony: As popular concern for preservation increases, public understanding about how to achieve it declines.”

A new UN report examines the “digital divide” in developing countries and concludes that the “gaps are still far too wide and the catching-up far too uneven for the promise of a truly global information society.” Stephen Grabill examines the issue and the role that civil society plays in enabling access to information technology.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
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Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says his research shows that “regular religious participation leads to better education, higher income and a lower chance of divorce. His results (based on data covering non-Hispanic white Americans of several Christian denominations, other faiths and none) imply that doubling church attendance raises someone’s income by almost 10%.”

The article linked above gives a good overview of Gruber’s methods, and touches on some related ideas in the history of economics, including Max Weber’s thesis. What’s new about Gruber’s work is that it purports to be “quantitative research on whether religion affects income directly and if so, by how much.”

If Gruber’s study is true, and I’m inclined to think something like it may well be given my own anecdotal experience, it immediately raises the question of how church attendance has such an effect. One of the causal possibilities Gruber offers is the idea of the church as a center of “social capital,” a burgeoning field of study in economics. Social capital is “a web of relationships that fosters trust. Economists think such ties can be valuable, because they make business dealings smoother and transactions cheaper. Churchgoing may simply be an efficient way of creating them.”

Russell D. Moore over at Mere Comments notes that Barbara Ehrenreich, pseudo-Marxist social critic, relates a tale in her latest book about attending “a Christian ministry for job-seekers in Georgia. She writes of the charismatic speaker encouraging the unemployed seekers to learn how to network. ‘And who should be our first networking target?’ the motivational speaker queries. ‘The Lord.'”

The author of The Economist article notes that “given that Jesus warned his followers against storing up treasures on earth, you might think that this wasn’t the motivation for going to church that he had in mind.” I might also note that putting Jesus at the center of your life, or viewing Christ as the “center” of theology or the Bible (as the title of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s lectures might intimate: Christ the Center), doesn’t mean that he becomes the central hub of your business networking.

The sociality that is initiated by the Gospel in the Christian Church is a multifaceted and complex phenomenon. But if the motivation to go to church in America is increasingly to raise income levels and build social capital, Avery Dulles might just have to add another and less than lauditory appendix to his Models of the Church: The Church as Country Club.