Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Says Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff:

Hollywood’s cartoon-like caricatures of evil multinational corporations may some day seize mainstream consciousness, leading to political upheavals that shatter today’s social contract. That won’t be good for profits, or for the poor.

For more on Tinseltown’s demonization of multinational corporations, see “The Manchurian Mistake.”

I haven’t had a chance to talk about this yet, but early last month, school district officials in Kalamazoo, Michigan announced “The Kalamazoo Promise.” The Promise consists of a group of anonymous donors that have come together to commit to fund the post-secondary education of every student of the Kalamazoo Public School system. To receive full-funding for four years, you must have to attend KPS schools from grades K-12 (funding is gradually decreased depending on the number of years in the system). The scholarships are available for use at “any public university or community college in the State of Michigan.”

The Promise represents a genuine act of charity on the part of the donors, and ought to be praised as such. The challenge now comes for educators in the Kalamazoo public school system to provide their students with an education that will prepare them for the rigors of post-secondary study. It’s one thing to have college paid for, it’s another to be accepted to school. And it’s still another to actually complete a program once you start.

The purveyors of the ACT, the standardized test of choice in Michigan and much of the Midwest, found that almost 60 percent of students who took the exam were woefully unprepared for college level courses in algebra, and nearly 75 percent were not ready for college biology. Even more troubling? “Only 21 percent of the students were prepared for college-level work in the four tested areas of English composition, algebra, social sciences, and biology.”

And even if students do get in and are prepared for the workload, as U.S. News & World Report education reporter Alex Kingsbury puts it, “For years, universities have known that one freshman does not a graduate make.” Some proof of this truism: “Only 63 percent of all students entering four-year colleges have their degrees within six years, according to government statistics. Rates for black and Hispanic students are less than 50 percent, and the gap between minority and white students is growing.”

So a program like the Kalamazoo Promise is an important one, but is only part of a complex of issues that relate to the success of students in and beyond high school. Students have to start with the hope of things to come, of course. The Promise has given that hope for kids in the Kalamazoo Public School system when they might not have had it before.

It’s also likely that there will be some kind of regional positive effect on public schooling, as the public schools in Kalamazoo will be more attractive to parents, forcing neighboring districts to become more competitive and find their own valuable assets to offer. The Promise may have already sparked enrollment increases in the Kalamazoo schools.

Who’s looking out for ya, baby…

I know I’ve been enjoying the falling oil prices of late when filling up my minivan’s gas tank. At the height of the post-Katrina and Rita oil price spike, I was paying upwards of $70 to fill the thing up. Now that things have calmed down a bit, I’m even hoping to see gas drop back down to that magic $1.99 level or lower.

And who do we have to thank for these lower costs? At first blush, I’d say Adam Smith. But I’d be wrong. It turns out that one man singlehandedly took on the high-price beast… and won.

That man?

O’Reilly.

CAVUTO: Okay. Gas prices are down a lot. Why do you think that is?

O’REILLY: Because they’re afraid they’ll go to jail. And those C.E.O.s who manipulated them–

CAVUTO: Why are you sure that they manipulated them?

O’REILLY: I have guys that are inside the five major oil companies – my father used to work for one of those oil companies, by the way – who have told me that in those meetings they look for every way to jack up oil prices after Katrina, every way. When they didn’t have to. And they got scared because in my reporting and some other reporting, they said –

CAVUTO: Wait, you’re taking credit for gas prices being down?

O’REILLY: My reporting and reporting of others.

Hmm. Perhaps tomorrow night’s “Unresolved Issues” segment on The Factor will focus on Bill’s incomplete knowledge of the law of supply and demand.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, December 2, 2005

As much as I would love to have the choice to pick what channels I pay for and receive over cable individually, I think Arnold Kling is right: The FCC shouldn’t force cable companies to offer that option. He says, “With some phone companies threatening to get into the TV business through their fiber-optic cables, this point may become moot. It could be that in a competitive market, unbundling will occur naturally. There is absolutely no reason for the FCC to inject itself into cable TV pricing in this way.”

I think there is a good chance that the delivery of information to homes in the US will be opened up in radical new ways in the coming years, which will only increase competition in these types of areas, similar to what is happening with VOIP and cell phones with respect to telephone landlines. If TV over the internet becomes a reality, and I can get internet access through my power lines, cable companies will be forced to make their services more customer-friendly.

It’s a strange quirk, for example, that I get ESPN2 but not any other ESPN channel. I’d love to be able to add ESPN, but I’m not willing to pay the price for the next highest bundle package to get it. In fact, the only reason I have cable TV right now is because it actually costs me less to have than not to, given that I pay for broadband internet access over the cable lines. Signing up for the $13 a month basic cable gets me a $15 a month discount on the internet access. What a deal!

Blog author: kjayabalan
posted by on Thursday, December 1, 2005

There’s a persistent myth in Europe and America that farms subsidies are needed to protect the “family farm” and all the virtues that accompany rural life. Religious leaders and Catholic Bishops conferences seem to be especially prone to this argument.

Well, that myth is starting become exposed for what it actually is – protectionism by wealthy, politically-influential, corporate farm lobbies.

The EUObserver reports that a new website, FarmSubsidy.org, has been launched today. The website is not yet fully operational, but once it is, it will begin to shed much needed light on this troublesome issue.

Go check out the site, offer comments, and help get this project off the ground.

Europeans are very proud of their democratic credentials, so they should be eager to find out just where their money is going.

The up-side of all this could be freer trade and effective help (as opposed to more governmental aid) for developing countries.

Stay tuned.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, December 1, 2005

The Financial Times reports that generous farm subsidies in the United States and Western Europe are increasingly beleaguered. If the US and Europe don’t voluntarily eliminate the unfair advantage their agriculture producers enjoy in the global market, then developing nations are likely to take legal action through the WTO. No one wants to see American agriculture destroyed, but the injustice of developed-nation subsidies in light of the struggles of developing-nation farmers is hard to deny. The ramifications of ag subsidy reform are debatable, but many have argued that it will help rather than hurt smaller farms in the US. We may find out soon.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, December 1, 2005

A section compiled by Matt Donnelly at Science & Theology News calls the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance’s recent formation a continuation of “the recent and laudable trend of faith-based organizations making a serious attempt to grapple with the religious basis for environmental stewardship.”

The section also provides links to their coverage of a number of other aspects of “the intersection of religious belief and environmental protection.”

Blog author: kwoods
posted by on Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Tis the Season!

The Salvation Army Bell Ringers are now audibly calling us to seasonal charitable giving. But the pleas from multiple organizations for our benevolence—from both unprecedented terrorist attacks and natural disasters to the ever-present needs of our less fortunate neighbors—have been virtually ongoing since 9/11.

However, amidst all the research about how much Americans give and who needs what the most, and the gloom and doom rhetoric of so-called donor fatigue, it is appropriate to appreciate another principle as important as charity–freedom. Apart from any “shoulds” and “oughts,” we may first give thanks that whatever resources we have—including time, goods, and financial ones—are ours to give freely. (The IRS variable is ever-present, so it’s not ALL ours to give, but there is some.)

And notwithstanding the [url=http://www.ncrp.org/press_room/index.asp?Article_Id=73]accusatory finger pointing[/url] of [url=http://blog.acton.org/index.html?/archives/140-The-Best-Kind-of-Charity.html]“social philanthropy” advocates[/url] those with little or generous means are on a level decision making playing field: they have the freedom to give to those individuals, causes, and communities, even in countries of their choosing.

In review of unprecedented disasters spanning September 11 to the 2005 hurricane season, a [url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/05/AR2005110500276.html]Washington Post headline[/url] blazed “Some disasters compel us to give: Americans reach for their wallets.” And frankly, no where else on the planet do human beings seem so compelled to give and give so generously as Americans. Congressional attention to the [url=http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c109:8:./temp/~c109CEgfH5]Katrina Tax Relief Act[/url], the [url=http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:s.01780]C.A.R.E. Act [/url] and the recent late night passage of the [url=http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:s.02020]Budget Reconciliation Bill[/url] all attempt to encourage us to give even more to charity.

Tocqueville is among the legion who have articulated this [url=http://www.acton.org/publicat/m_and_m/new/review.php?id=26]unique, overwhelming American response[/url] to needs of fellow human beings. And now ‘tis the season to not just give thanks for the resources that we have but more importantly the freedom that we have to use those resources.

Only in a free society is the true dignity of each human person underscored. Free to earn and free to give. And even the decision about what is “good charity” vs. “bad charity” is a reflection of a society that gives us freedom to have and then to exercise those values. End-of-year giving should cause us to reflect on July 4th as well.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, Jay Richards looks at the ingrained tendency of many environmentalists to view man’s place in nature as fundamentally destructive. For people of faith, this is simply bad theology. Jay examines this anthropological error, and highlights the work of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, a new coalition that is working to deepen religious reflection on environmental questions.

Environmental policies founded on faulty fundamentals can lead to disastrous consequences, as Jay points out.

Every environmental policy implemented by government authority, for instance, stems from someone’s views about the nature of man and man’s place in nature. If those views are anti-human, the policy probably will be anti-human as well. Consider the ban on DDT in the 1970s. The ban, which in hindsight we know was misguided, has resulted in the deaths of more than a million people a year. The vast majority of these deaths have been among the poor in developing countries.

Read the full text of “God and Man in the Environmental Debate” here.

The ISA has also published a new paper on environmental stewardship that includes the perspectives of science, ethics and theology. This paper should be required reading for people of faith who are concerned about the environment.

Blog author: kjayabalan
posted by on Wednesday, November 30, 2005

That’s the title of this week’s survey of Italy in The Economist.

The news for Italy is quite depressing. Its economic growth is the slowest in Europe, behind even France and Germany, its productivity is down while its wages are up, and a massive demographic crisis looms.

The survey is extensive, covering the structural, political and even cultural impediments today’s Italy faces. These include a tendency to blame Europe and China for Italian woes, an over-reliance on small- and medium-sized enterprises, too little foreign competition (especially in the banking sector), fractured political coalitions, high taxes and budernsome regulations, and crime, corruption and poverty in southern Italy. And while the economic situation is bleak, things are not really bad enough to push through the needed reforms. The overall prognosis is for a “long, slow decline.”

(See also, next week’s Time Asia magazine for this interview with Italy’s finance minister. I’m baffled how one man can manage to confuse the issue of global competitiveness so many times in one short intervew!)

The major difficulty is, however, ideological. Berlusconi himself and his government are simply not believers in the power of free markets, as they have sought personal and national wealth through political cronyism and negotiated deals. There is even less hope that a center-left coalition led by Romano Prodi will be capable of seeing the light.

Here’s a passage from the survey that sums this up:

“One general problem is that the whole notion of service is rather undervalued. Indeed, Italy often seems to suffer from a pervasive anti-business, anti-consumer culture. Italians may be entrepreneurial and creative, but they are no means pro-market. Neither of the two main post-war political parties, the Christian Democracts and the Communists, could be described as economically liberal. Nor is the Catholic Church, still a huge influence in the country, which has always affected to disdain profit. In any case, many businessmen in Italy do better by exploiting contacts and seeking favours from the state than by building companies or trying to serve customers better.”

This is a fair description of the intellectual climate regarding business in Italy, and it is a highly unsatisfactory one. Capitalism remains a dirty word espcially among the elite classes, including the religious.

Thankfully, the late Pope John Paul II helped develop Catholic social doctrine and lead it in the direction of a greater appreciation of free markets. In the landmark 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, he explicitly supported “an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector” (n. 42).

Clearly, this development of doctrine has not yet taken root in Italy, but that’s why the Acton Institue is here. With friends like the Istituto Bruno Leoni, we hope to be able to change this climate for the good of the bel paese and its charming yet under-employed citizens.