Category: Public Policy

EA-Logo-redbgYou may have noticed over the past couple of years that effective altruism has become the hot new trend/buzzword in philanthropy. As the Centre for Effective Altruism explains,

Effective Altruism is a growing social movement that combines both the heart and the head: compassion guided by data and reason. It’s about dedicating a significant part of one’s life to improving the world and rigorously asking the question, “Of all the possible ways to make a difference, how can I make the greatest difference?”

As a broad concept, effective altruism is a refreshing change from the all-too-common strand of charity that puts more emphasis on good intentions than effectiveness. Rather than a consumer-driven, feelings-based approach to philanthropic activity (think: TOMS Shoes’ “buy one, give one” model), effective altruism (EA) tends to rely on evidence to maximize individual impact on solving problems.

For example, some EA advocates choose to use their skills to get a high-paying job rather than work directly for a non-proift or charity. The thinking is that instead of earning $25,000 a year working for Oxfam you can earn $100,000 on Wall Street, live on $25K a year, and donate $75,000 to hire other workers. Doing that allows an individual to triple their contribution to the solution.

In general, this is likely to be a much better angle than pure do-goodism (though as Anne Bradley and Jay W. Richards explain, enterprise is the most effective altruism). But this approach can become less effective and even hindered by a person’s worldview beliefs, such as what a person believes about the “end times.”

potus-prepTonight is the first Republican primary presidential debate of the election season. The debates are promoted as a way to distinguish the candidates from one another. But they are a terrible format for achieving that objective.

Currently, there are 38 Republicans who have declared they are running for their party’s nomination (though you’ve likely only heard of 17 of them). On the other side of the political spectrum you have 17 Democrats who have declared they are running (though you only know 5 of them). Can we really tell which of them would make the best President based on 60 second soundbites? Can we truly determine who has the relevant “experience” to be the chief executive and commander-in-chief based on how they answer a debate question?

No, we can’t. Which is why we need a better plan for knowing which of the candidates has acquired the skill-set needed to be the leader of the free world. That is why I’ve decided to design a preparatory course that would help prepare future candidates for the job, one that would (Acton Institute bias alert) promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.

It’s too late for this gaggle of candidates, but here’s how it would work prior to future elections.

If you want to see what happens when a government fails its basic responsibilities of maintaining law and order, read this fine and saddening piece by Detroit Free Press columnist John Carlisle, “The last days of Detroit’s Chaldean Town.” In it you’ll encounter the fraying of the town’s social architecture built around faith, family, work, and government.

At a conference a few weeks ago I was involved in a discussion about the ‘worst’ jobs we had ever had. Mine was cleaning the meat room at a grocery store run by four Chaldean brothers in an area just a bit further east of Chaldean Town. I worked at a “training wage” for the better part of a year, I think, while in high school. I didn’t mind transferring out to make a bit less bagging groceries.

Joseph Sunde has written a fair bit on how “hard work cultivates character.” Earlier today I was reading through a classic speech by the famed American pastor Russell Conwell, which includes this bit of wisdom: “There is no class of people to be pitied so much as the inexperienced sons and daughters of the rich of our generation.” Conwell’s point was that the rich most often attained wealth by working smarter and harder. But “as a rule the rich men will not let their sons do the very thing that made them great,” thereby depriving them of the very same experiences that enabled the creation of wealth in the first place. This is actually as true for the moderately rich as it is for the extremely wealthy. As Michael Novak has put it, “Parents brought up under poverty do not know how to bring up children under affluence.”

So even though I hated that job cleaning the meat room at the Chaldean market, which closed some years later, I was sad to see it go and I’ll always carry those experiences with me and try to pass their lessons along to my own children. The rise and fall of Chaldean Town also has some things to teach us about flourishing at the community level.

failureIn 2002, fewer than one in four Americans were dissatisfied with the nation’s system of government and how well it works. Since then that level of discontent has been steadily increasing. Last year the number who said they were somewhat or very dissatisfied reached 65 percent.

The primary reason for our disgruntlement is the government’s record of failure. As Peter Schuck explained in his recent book Why Government Fails So Often, ‘government failure’ is neither a political creed nor a reactionary slogan—it’s an empirical fact.

In a recent analysis paper, Chris Edwards lists five reasons why failure of the federal government is endemic:

1_123125_123090_2077062_2085126_030702_marriage.jpg.CROP.original-original“Why don’t we just get government completely out of the marriage business?”

For decades, if someone asked that question it would be a safe assumption it was coming from a libertarian. Shifting marriage to private contracts that didn’t require the government’s imprimatur has long been an issue championed by those who lean libertarian. But the rise of same-sex marriage—and it’s threats to religious liberty—have caused many others, especially Christian conservatives, to ask if that’s not the best solution to the problems that stem from state and federal government’s redefining of marriage.

The answer is no—privatizing marriage is a terrible idea. It’s rooted in the flawed assumption that marriage is essentially a religious institution, and that it should therefore be left in the hands of religious organizations. The belief is that by keeping government out of what is religious by nature prevents it from being politicized. What this perspective fails to realize is that marriage belongs to neither religion or the state. Marriage is both a pre-political and pre-religious institution that was instituted by God before any formal government or religious institutions were created.

Blog author: ehilton
Thursday, July 23, 2015

benevolence farmsIn today’s American, nearly a quarter million women are incarcerated, primarily for drug-related or non-violent crimes. That’s roughly an 800 percent increase in the past 30 years. And female felons don’t have any easier a time finding work than their male counterparts. Typically, about half of those released from prison have no stable home, no transportation … and few legal job skills. Many of these people struggle with addiction and/or mental health issues as well.

One woman, a social worker-turned-entrepreneur in North Carolina, has found a way to join her passion for fresh food with her passion for helping these women. Tanya Jisa now oversees Benevolence Farm,

nestled in pastoral lands west of Durham, N.C., which will serve as a transitional living program for just released female ex-convicts. For a period of six months to two years, these women will learn about how to operate the farm, growing their own food along with produce to be sold at farm stands, farmers markets, and local grocery stores.


ssn-gunsThe Obama administration is pushing to ban Social Security beneficiaries from owning guns if they lack the mental capacity to manage their own financial affairs.

When I first heard this claim, I assumed it must be a false rumor circulating on social media and less-than-reputable websites. Instead, it turns out, if the L.A. Times can be trusted, to be true account of the White House’s intentions.

The push is intended to bring the Social Security Administration in line with laws regulating who gets reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, which is used to prevent gun sales to felons, drug addicts, immigrants in the country illegally and others.

A potentially large group within Social Security are people who, in the language of federal gun laws, are unable to manage their own affairs due to “marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease.”

There is no simple way to identify that group, but a strategy used by the Department of Veterans Affairs since the creation of the background check system is reporting anyone who has been declared incompetent to manage pension or disability payments and assigned a fiduciary.

According to the LAT, the policy change would affect about 4.2 million adults who receive monthly benefits that are managed by “representative payees.”

The first question the Obama administration should have asked before implementing the “solution” was “Is there a problem?” Are there currently a lot of Social Security recipients who pose a threat to themselves and others by owing a firearm?” The second question they needed to ask was if incompetency in financial matters is the standard, must they also take guns away from everyone in Congress?

Michael Severance, operations manager for Istituto Acton in Rome, wrote an article for Catholic World Report examining the economic concept of scarcity in light of Laudato Si’ and Pope Francis’s trip to South America.

Severance focuses on the pope’s efforts to promote a culture of self-control and asceticism and specifically analyzes the implications of paragraph 222 of the encyclical, where Francis writes: “We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that ‘less is more’”(222).

Acknowledging the difference in perspectives between ecologists and economists, Severance explains how theories of scarcity and “finiteness” apply to the current ecological debate. He concludes that there is merit to the optimistic side of the conversation, which “[trusts] in human capacity to deal inventively with the increasing demands on scarce goods while balancing environmental concerns.”

Do we want less of everything in order to return to some pure form of Eden-like abundance, to go back to the original state of nature free of the high demands of industry and consumers squeezing mother earth’s resources dry? And are we really running out of finite resources, in the first place, or actually creating more because of human ingenuity?

Read the full text of “Is Less Really More? Reflections on Scarcity in Laudato Si'” here.

sen.scottLast week Senator Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) proposed an amendment to the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind bill that would allow Title I funds–the funds the federal government allocates to districts with high-poverty populations–to follow students out of their assigned district schools to schools of choice.

Democrats in the Senate (joined by six Republicans) successfully fought to keep the portability amendment as well as school vouchers out of the legislation. As Think Progress explains, the White House and Senate Democrats opposed the amendment because some school districts with high concentrations of poverty would lose federal funds.

This certainly seems like a plausible reason to oppose the measure. After all, who wants to harm poor school districts? But as Sen. Scott notes in an impassioned speech on the Senate floor, we must ensure our focus is in the right place—on the children, not school bureaucracies.

“Education is not about protecting a bureaucracy,” says Scott, “it should not be about empowering Washington, and cannot be about an endless, fruitless push for some one-size-fits-all type of system.”

Scott encouraged the Senate to allow portability and return some measure of power to the states in education, saying “Local and state leaders are figuring out that when parents have a choice, kids have a chance.”

You can hear his entire speech in the video below:

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, July 17, 2015

graffiti_litter“Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact,” said G. K. Chesterton. “The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin—a fact as practical as potatoes.”

Recognizing the fact of sin should be the beginning of all inquiries in how we should arrange public policy. This is especially true for those of us who champion liberty. Because order is a necessary precondition of liberty, we need to maintain order by limiting and impeding certain types of sinful behavior.

Throughout human history, sin has been restrained through norm, rules, customs, and laws, and traditions. Inevitably, certain individuals push back against these restrictions and complain that they hinder their own personal liberty. Sometimes this is true, of course, but more often than not it is merely an individual wanting to put their own self-centered actions and behaviors ahead of the reasonable needs of society.

Some have argued that as long as only a relatively few people break the norms and rules that it would have little to no affect on society. But this misses, as Chesterton might say, the fact of sin, especially the fact of sin as a social contagion.

Take, for example, the victimless crimes of prostitution, vagrancy, or public drunkenness. Theoretically, we could justify the decriminalization of all these acts since they do not necessarily harm other people or their property. I’m not likely to become a vagrant because I see one on the streets, so what harm does it do?

As it turns out, such actions do lead to harmful affects on society. As the renowned criminologist James Wilson notes: