Category: Public Policy

Topping today’s Science/Nature section at BBC News, “Population size ‘green priority'”, by Richard Black. The article focuses on the thoughts of Professor Chris Rapley, Director of the British Antarctic Survey, who contends that the “current global population of six billion is unsustainably high.” This is to say nothing of the growth rate and future generations.

Based on a column Rapley wrote for a new BBC feature, The Green Room, the article presents the view that “humankind is consuming the Earth’s resources at an unsustainably fast rate,” based on “a number of studies.”

The basis for Rapley’s concern, as you might expect, is carbon emissions, but he writes, “Although reducing human emissions to the atmosphere is undoubtedly of critical importance, as are any and all measures to reduce the human environmental ‘footprint’, the truth is that the contribution of each individual cannot be reduced to zero.”

He concludes, “Only the lack of the individual can bring it down to nothing.”

Rapley laments that there is a paucity of opportunities to discuss population growth, since it is not often discussed at global environmental summits. “Rare indeed are the opportunities for religious leaders, philosophers, moralists, policymakers, politicians and indeed the “global public” to debate the trajectory of the world’s human population in the context of its stress on the Earth system, and to decide what might be done,” he writes.

Rapley does seem to overlook the UN’s World Population Day, which is little more than a campaign for population controls. And the myth of humanity as a plague species has been fodder for London’s “The Human Zoo,” as well as happening to be the view of Agent Smith in the Matrix movies.

As we saw in a recent commentary by Acton research fellow Jay Richards, Rapley is certainly not alone in his concern. A letter to Richards about his book on intelligent design from a prominent scientist read in part: “Still, adding over seventy million new humans to the planet each year, the future looks pretty bleak to me. Surely, the Black Death was one of the best things that ever happened to Europe: elevating the worth of human labor, reducing environmental degradation, and, rather promptly, producing the Renaissance. From where I sit, Planet Earth could use another major human pandemic, and pronto!”

Perhaps some individuals have imbibed such a view, as birth rates in the developed world are not growing. A 2004 UN report showed that “because of its low and declining rate of population growth, the population of developed countries as a whole is expected to remain virtually unchanged between 2005 and 2050.” Most of the countries in the developed world which will account for the decline in birth rates belong to the EU. The US, on the other hand, is one of the eight nations that will “account for half of the world’s projected population increase.”

But part of the reason that Rapley’s concerns aren’t getting much attention beyond pop culture phenomena and some macabre colleagues is that the population explosion myth has been rather thoroughly debunked. The case of carbon emissions is simply the latest hook for population control advocates. For more on population and the environment, check out Acton’s policy section, which links to a number of helpful resources.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Friday, January 6, 2006
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The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on the closing of a federal housing loophole. The full article is accessible only to subscribers, so I’ll summarize. College students for a number of years have been taking advantage of Section 8 (federally subsidized housing) rules to live in “projects” while they go to school. Such housing is, obviously, supposed to be for the needy, but decidedly un-needy students have been benefiting. The Des Moines Register originally investigated the story (described here) and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa initiated the legislation to close the loophole. One student living at the expense of taxpayers was the son of the Univeristy of Iowa’s football coach, who earns $2 million per year.

So kudos to Harkin for addressing the issue. But the deeper and more intransigent problem is that massive government programs to help the needy will always be vulnerable to abuse. By necessity they must be subject to complicated and cumbersome bureaucratic rules, which cannot be adapted by administrators on the ground level making reasonable judgments. The existence of federal dorms for middle and upper class collegians over the last decade is only the latest example of the absurdity invited when the principle of subsidiarity is ignored.

Blog author: kwoods
Thursday, January 5, 2006
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With a gracious spirit, let’s say that [url=http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?c109:1:./temp/~c109UcVNaR:e173273:]Section 317[/url] of [url=http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c109:1:./temp/~c109UcVNaR::]Senate Tax Relief Act of 2005[/url] was penned with the intent of fostering honest accountability in the charity world. And, furthermore, let’s graciously allow that the legislation was designed to send the message that the Internal Revenue Service is vigilantly watching over the donation of tax-deductible clothing and household goods.

A [url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/29/AR2005122901503.html]recent article[/url] in the Washington Post justifiably underscored the importance of providing goods to charities that actually have value. Too much of what is given to charities today winds up in the local dump.

But Congress was not thinking clearly when it included a “Limitation of Deduction for Charitable Contributions of Clothing and Household Items” in Section 317. This measure requires the Secretary of the Treasury to annually create a list that places ‘market values’ on all household goods or items that would potentially be donated to a charitable organization. For a contribution in excess of $250, the donor would be required to secure a receipt from the charity that provided an itemized list “of number of items contributed, an indication of the condition of each item, a description of the type of item contributed, and a copy of the Secretary’s valuation list or an instruction on how to obtain such list.”

If the donated item is not in a “good used condition or better,” the charity would then need to value the contribution at 20 percent of the market value as deemed by the Secretary’s list. Or no value at all if the charity said it was worthless to the organization.

The [url=http://www.cpjustice.org/cprf]Coalition to Preserve Religious Freedom[/url] argues that Section 317 generates serious operations and accounting burdens for rescue missions and small nonprofit organizations. That is a polite response.

For more than two years now, the IRS has been telling Congress — and the Senate Finance Committee in particular — that it doesn’t have the resources to get its charity oversight work done. Now the IRS wants to get into the clothing and household goods valuation business?

Maybe the Beltway crowd has missed the private sector solution to this issue — one that you can simply order onlilne. The [url=http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0970323077/qid=1136406966/sr=8-1/ref=pd_bbs_1/002-5327901-0168046?n=507846&s=books&v=glance]2005 It’s Deductible Workbook[/url] is now significantly discounted, but even last week, you could get a copy online for $14.95. Called the “Blue Book for Donated Items,” this private sector product is fully compliant with IRS code.

So, first of all, we should all agree that the IRS doesn’t need to “reinvent the in-kind donation pricing wheel.”

What’s more, we need to ask why the responsibility for finding the value (whatever the source) of donated in-kind goods is put on the receiver of the goods instead of the giver.

Section 317 has the potential to create a classic “unintended consequences” scenario. It may result in the government spending millions of tax dollars to generate information that already exists in the private sector, which by the way, is based on market values. Then the agency that receives the donation has to go through the red tape of providing an itemized list, value, and condition report for each item. That should go a long way toward further burdening and possibly eliminating scores of smaller charities, thrift shops, and rescue missions — groups that are already stretched by the basic tasks of receiving, sorting, and selling donated goods.

Is this all by design? Officials in Washington have been quoted as saying that there are too many small charities in this country. That means, to their way of thinking, that these charities are too difficult to regulate. If the true intent of charity regulation reform is greater accountability for all, let’s find a better way. Section 317 is neither the effective nor efficient way to accomplish this objective.

The Real Clear Politics Blog passes along an op-ed from Bob Herbert, “Blowing the Whistle on Gangsta Culture,” a NYT Select item (subscription required). In the column, Herbert discusses the “profoundly self-destructive cultural influences that have spread like a cancer through much of the black community and beyond.”

Tom Bevan calls the piece “suprisingly candid,” and “some stiff, righteous stuff – all the more impressive coming from the source.” Herbert, of course, has been a NYT columnist since 1993, and Bevan thinks that “If Herbert is disgusted with the current state of black leadership in America then we may indeed have reached a tipping point.”

Acton research fellow Anthony Bradley has written widely on the moral status of rap culture. Be sure to check out these items: “Candy Shopping – Rap’s Dehumanizing Message” and “Ghetto Cracker: The Hip Hop ‘Sell Out’”.

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.