Category: Public Policy

Check out this piece by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, an Acton senior fellow, in which she argues “that marriage is the cornerstone of civil society. And the images of Katrina demonstrate this, if we are willing to see.”

Andy Crouch was kind enough to respond to my article on climate change (which itself was penned in reply to Crouch’s original piece), and I’ve included a response of my own. His words are in the large blocks of italics below:

While I’m disappointed that you don’t even try to engage the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by far the most extensive and diligent effort I’m aware of to evaluate the science of global warming,

In my defense, I did refer to Sir John Houghton, co-chair of the Scientific Assessment Working Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As an experienced writer, I’m sure you know of the necessary limits of a 700-word commentary piece. I chose to limit the scope of my piece to engage your original article.

If you would like to see me engage your claim that “there is in fact no serious disagreement among scientists that human beings are playing a major role in global warming,” I refer you to one of my responses on an earlier thread, wherein I cite the following statement from Hans von Storch, who heads the Coastal Research Institute of the GKSS Research Centre in Geesthacht, Germany: “A considerable number of climatologists are still by no means convinced that the fundamental questions have been adequately dealt with. Thus, in the last year a survey among climate researchers throughout the world found that a quarter of the respondents still harbor doubts about the human origin of the most recent climatic changes.”

There’s a lot more that could be said on the science of course. Suffice it to say that consensus (or even unanimity) of opinion among scientists does not rise to the level of establishing ontological truth. The majority can be, and often is, terribly wrong.

And since your piece really is more about the economic benefits of political action on climate change than the science (which you rather take for granted), I’m disappointed that you didn’t engage the work of the Copenhagen Consensus of 2004, whose “basic idea was to improve prioritization of the numerous problems the world faces, by gathering some of the world’s greatest economists to a meeting where some of the biggest challenges in the world would be assessed.”

what really disappoints me, coming from the Acton Institute, is your failure of economic imagination. Why should the action to mitigate global warming be a drain on economic resources? That has not been true of past major technological initiatives. I have every expectation that the world economy will *grow* as a result of the efforts to develop and transfer new technologies.

You may call it a “failure of economic imagination” to see the possible technological advances and innovations, but I question your optimism regarding the economic benefits of pursuing potential cures for a perceived problem that may or may not be caused by human activity. I would liken your argument to a sort of “broken window fallacy” writ large.

If you are disappointed by my lack of economic imagination, I in turn am disappointed by your lack of some basic economic understanding (e.g. opportunity cost). Your whole concept of an “environmental wager” is predicated on the concept that it doesn’t matter if Sir John and the IPCC are wrong about global warming, we’ll still be better off acting as if they were right even if they aren’t. The following thought experiment is intended to show why this just isn’t true. The science does matter…and so do economic costs.

“Back in the 60′s, I developed a weather changing machine which was in essence a sophisticated heat beam which we called a ‘laser.’”

To illustrate this with a bit of pop culture, we might think one day that a killer comet is hurtling toward earth. Let’s say we’ve only got twenty years before impact. Naturally after the initial panic passes, we come up with a plan. We have some time, so we get all our pointy-headed intellectuals together and invent some really cool comet-busting technology. I mean real nice sci-fi stuff. We send out our mission and get all our lasers (or whatever else) ready, and let’s say we do all this in just ten years. We’ve got plenty of time. We’re set to go, but when it’s time to “ready, aim, fire,” we only get to “ready.” As we try to aim, we realize we were wrong. There is no comet (or there is a comet but it’s not heading towards us).

What’s the result? Yeah, we’ve got some really cool comet-busting lasers. It might even be helpful to us if we want to build a Death Star. We employed a lot of pointy-headed intellectuals during those 10 years, so that’s good. Unemployment was down because everyone was working on the comet-busting laser. It’s all good right?

Take that, global warming!

I don’t think so. Maybe we stumble across some useful technological advances during the five years and in the course of spending billions if not trillions of dollars. But I don’t think we’ll accidentally stumble across the cure for AIDS, or the answer to malaria epidemics, or the means to clean water access, or the solution to political corruption in developing nations.

The point is our time, money, and resources can better be spent, right now, elsewhere. Maybe in twenty or fifty or a hundred years man-made global warming really will be a challenge…if we’re faithful with our resources and fight the problems we really have today, those later generations will be a lot better prepared to fight the problems of their day. If we squander our efforts on things that may or may not ever be real threats, then we can be sure that real people today will pay the price.

Furthermore, there is little need for command-and-control government policies — the creation of markets in carbon emissions should do much of the work very efficiently. I recently reviewed a study — I’ll try to track down the reference, but I’m traveling and don’t have it with me — suggesting that the Environmental Protection Act, which opponents at the time saw as a major threat to economic growth and jobs, actually *created* jobs and contributed to economic growth. And there is every reason to expect that policies to mitigate carbon emissions will be better designed to harness the energies of markets than the EPA.

I can agree with you that government policies that at least attempt to deal with the realities of the marketplace should be better than the EPA, again I’m not as optimistic that government-imposed carbon emission markets would “do much of the work very efficiently.” You can try to package the deal in market-friendly terminology, but the limits of emissions would still have to be set by governments. The Kyoto Protocol allows for “emissions trading,” but as this article title succinctly demonstrates, “CO2 market needs federal push to blossom.” For more on the future of cap and trade systems, see this article.

Really, if the science were so unsettled and the potential economic consequences so calamitous, why would corporations like BP, GE, and Shell (Shell!) be endorsing action on climate change? I believe they see tremendous economic opportunities in this area.

I can think of any number of reasons. For starters, such multi-nationals might think they perceive the handwriting on the wall, and that the kinds of regulatory standards that are coming out of the EU and efforts like Kyoto will inevitably be enacted globally, and the US will eventually capitulate. They already have to meet standards in many other countries…so why not make those standards consistent across their own operations?

If they are right, it’s of course more valuable from a public relations standpoint to be at the forefront of the shift. Thus, “earth-friendly” companies like BP and GE make a point of running commercials, wherein cute dancing baby elephants tell us about their “eco-magination.”

If BP, GE, and Shell want to take action on climate change, they should do so, and consumers who support their positions should make it a point to patronize their places of business. But these companies are not only advocating for action on their own part, they are advocating for imposed action on everyone. That’s whole different ballgame.

If these companies are right about climate change, then they’ll be richly rewarded for their business-savvy and their economic and technological imagination. If they’re wrong, then they’ll have wasted a lot of money and resources on not-immediately-useful technology. In either case, the market should be sufficient to reward or punish them. I don’t think we need “command-and-control government policies” on top of it.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, September 9, 2005

It’s one thing to have a great government policy put in place with intention of seeking justice. It’s quite another to continue to promote policies whose unintended consequences hurt the most vulnerable populations.

Even though Iraq has the world’s third largest oil reserves, the lack of a reliable infrastructure, sabotage, and government-imposed price controls (oil is $.05 a gallon, a holdover from the Saddam Hussein regime) make gas for law-abiding citizens hard to come by.

These price controls result in forced government rationing. Now new regulations allow driving only on every other day, depending on your license plate number. Last Tuesday was the first day of the restrictions, and only cars ending with odd numbers were allowed on the streets of Baghdad.

Reuters reports on the effect that these policies are having on Iraq’s working classes, such as they are. Taxi driver Amir al-Hameeri, who did not take his car out on Tuesday, fearful of a fine equivalent to $20 if his even-numbered licence plate was spotted.

“It’s a ruthless decision against the poor,” he grumbled. “How can I feed my family now?”

This is a prime example of how policies which may have the best of intentions (affordable fuel for all Iraqis) that ignore the realities of the marketplace have adverse consequences. And as always, it is the poor among us who suffer the most.

Here’s an NPR story with more on how motorists are “beating the system” through black markets and other means.

HT: John Powers

The House is likely to vote this week on an aid package that will provide nearly $52 billion during the next month or so on housing, clothing and other recovery needs for Hurricane Katrina victims. In the Senate, however, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana threatened to delay passing the bill for more money. Republicans said that any attempt to amend the bill could delay getting the measure to President Bush for his signature before last week’s $10.5 billion disbursement runs out. Instead of delaying the bill for more money can’t Congress simply pass another bill in a few weeks after needs are re-assessed?

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, September 8, 2005
Flavius Josephus

With the prevalance of moral relativism in the western world, science tends to forge ahead, regardless of opposition from traditional ethics, into whatever realms it deems neccessary for the “advancement” of mankind. To counter-balance the extremity of the scientific community, especially in regard to the genetic engineering of hybrid species, I would like to offer up the thoughts of an historian from 2000 years ago regarding the mixing of species. His ideas come from the long oral and written traditions passed down through the Jews from Moses:

…The seeds are also to be pure, and without mixture, and not to be compounded of two or three sorts, since Nature does not rejoice in the union of things that are not in their own nature alike; nor are you to premit beasts of different kinds to gender together, for there is reason to fear that this unnatural abuse may extend from beasts of different kinds to men, though it takes its first rise from evil practices about such smaller things. Nor is anything to be allowed, by imitation whereof any degree of subversion may creep into the constitution; nor do the laws neglect small matters but provide that even those may be managed after an unblamable manner. (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 4.8.20)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, September 8, 2005


FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has produced a “Kidz Rap,” designed to alert children to the dangers of disasters and the function of FEMA.

For example, did you know that “mitigation is important to our agency”? Also, “When disaster strikes, we are at our best / But we’re ready all the time, ’cause disasters don’t rest.”

Click here to listen to the “rap” (RealAudio required).

No word yet on what role the FEMA rap played in informing Deamonte Love of how to act in an emergency.

Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)

In this week’s Acton Commentary titled “Pascal’s Blunder: Miscalculating the Threat of Global Warming”, Jordan Ballor writes on the growing voice of evangelical Christians speaking out about global warming. Ballor responds to a recent article in Christanity Today by Andy Crouch, who compares the current debate about global warming to Pascal’s wager, stating that we gain nothing if global warming turns out to be completely natural and beyond human control, but that we gain everything if we can control it. Ballor points out the error with this line of thinking:

The problem with this analogy is that Pascal’s wager is only valid when placed within the context of the eternal and the ultimate. When it is applied to everyday issues, it quickly loses its persuasive power. Crouch’s contention that “we have little to lose” if we exaggerate the threat of global warming displays no recognition of the reality of the future impact of unduly restrictive political policies and environmental regulations.

Ballor goes on to cite Vernon L. Smith and Thomas C. Schelling, two distinguished professors at George Mason University and the University of Maryland, respectively, who argue that there are much more pressing issues affecting the world to which our attention should be turned toward. The money we spend researching global warming could much more effectively be providing solutions to problems such as AIDS/HIV, malnutrition, and hunger.

Read the full text here.

Blog author: kwoods
posted by on Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Like everyone else outside the Gulf Coast (i.e., not a direct victim or a tireless rescue worker, volunteer, or military member there to help), the TV remote has become my constant companion. The challenges are unprecedented–which is hard to fathom after 9/11. We are all passionately concerned that Katrina victims be safely and humanely moved out of harm’s and ill-health’s way. But that is only one small step.

Once the scope of disaster and the need became evident, communities all over the country began to evaluate how many victims that their local resources could accept and empower beyond mere emergency support. Governor Bob Riley calls this effort in Alabama “Operation Golden Rule.” Just as small business is the lifeblood of America’s economy, so are small communities going to be the long-term assistance that will be so critical to Katrina victims. Large government and relief organizations will address the large issues and make the big decisions.

But it will take the human connection to regain hope. As people in churches, community centers, and small neighborhood clinics welcome new neighbors so desperate for help, these communities–maybe our own communities–need our help as well. Start where you are with what you have. No effort or outreach is too small.

Pro running back Warrick Dunn, a native of Louisiana, is challenging every NFL player (other than New Orleans Saints) to donate at least $5,000 to hurricane relief efforts. “If we get players to do that, that would amount to $260,000 per team. I have heard from so many players both on my team and around the league who just want to do something. Well, this is the best thing that we can do and it’s something we should do,” he said. Dunn, a former Pro Bowler, starts for the Atlanta Falcons and played college ball for Florida State.

Dunn is from Baton Rouge, but he still doesn’t know the status of his grandfather who lives in New Orleans. His is clearly a heartfelt and genuine plea: “We’re such a great country and it’s at times like this a great country has to come together. We’re looking at people on TV who have no money, no homes, no job and no idea what they’re going to do with their lives. Now is when they need us most. We just have to respond and we have to respond.”

Warrick Dunn

This effort by Dunn is a clear reminder that the purpose of work must be oriented beyond the mere accumulation of wealth. As the Heidelberg Catechism states, one of the major reasons that a person labors is “so that I may share with those in need” (LD 42, A 111).

The donations will be coordinated with the Arthur Blank family charitable foundation and a vote by NFL player representatives will determine which agencies receive the funds.

Dunn’s challenge is a pointed one: “If guys don’t donate they’re being selfish,” he said. He not only talks the talk, but he walks the walk. Dunn started the Warrick Dunn Foundation in March of 2002, dedicated “to help single mother families obtain first-time homeownership.”

This purpose flows out of Dunn’s experience growing up. Here’s a brief biographical excerpt from the foundation website: “As the oldest of six, Warrick grew up watching his mother, Betty Smothers, provide for he and his five siblings. As a single mother she worked endless hours as a Baton Rouge police officer and several off-duty jobs to make ends meet. During Warrick’s senior year at Catholic high school, his mother’s life was taken in the line of duty, leaving him the responsibility of keeping the family together. Although she worked hard all of her life, Betty was never able to realize the American dream of owning her own home.”

Clearly Warrick Dunn, diminuitive by NFL standards (5′ 9″, 180 lbs.), has a huge heart.

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

Following the devastation in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, bands of looters are running rampant throughout the city. Things have gotten so bad that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin “ordered virtually the entire police force to abandon search-and-rescue efforts and stop thieves who were becoming increasingly hostile.”

According to reports, “Looters used garbage cans and inflatable mattresses to float away with food, clothes, TV sets — even guns. Outside one pharmacy, thieves commandeered a forklift and used it to push up the storm shutters and break through the glass. The driver of a nursing-home bus surrendered the vehicle to thugs after being threatened.”

In the newest developments, looters are taking a cue popularized in the controversial game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. A common strategy in that game is to wreak havoc, wait for emergency personnel and ambulances to arrive, and then kill the rescue workers as well. This tactic has been seen in terrorist activities around the world. For example, in Iraq, “insurgents had planned to detonate the car bomb first , and then the two vest bombers would target responding Iraqi soldiers, police, and rescue workers.”

Grand Theft Auto: New Orleans

The evacuation of victims from the Superdome in New Orleans has been delayed after shots were fired at a military helicopter. Other reports include that of a rescue team: “When a medical evacuation helicopter tried to land at a hospital in the outlying town of Kenner, the pilot reported that 100 people were on the landing pad, and some of them had guns.”

Richard Zeuschlag, head of Acadian Ambulance, which was handling the evacuation of sick and injured people from the Superdome, said that the pilot was “was frightened and would not land.” He said medics were calling him and crying for help because they were so scared of people with guns at the Superdome.

The Christian tradition has dealt with the question of “Whether it is lawful to steal through stress of need?” In the situation of extreme need, such as that of Jean Valjean of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Thomas Aquinas writes, “If the need be so manifest and urgent, that it is evident that the present need must be remedied by whatever means be at hand (for instance when a person is in some imminent danger, and there is no other possible remedy), then it is lawful for a man to succor his own need by means of another’s property, by taking it either openly or secretly: nor is this properly speaking theft or robbery.”

This judgment is made based on a view of property rights that is not absolute, but rather limited by the Christian concept of stewardship. Aquinas states, “Since, however, there are many who are in need, while it is impossible for all to be succored by means of the same thing, each one is entrusted with the stewardship of his own things, so that out of them he may come to the aid of those who are in need.” The prerogative of individual prudence of how to manage and distrubute one’s own goods can be trumped by the extreme and urgent need of another person.

Even so, the kinds of things that are being taken by looters in New Orleans hardly qualify as meeting a “manifest and urgent” need. Taking food and water when you are on the verge of starvation and death is one thing. Breaking in to a store so you can score some more guns is quite another. Somehow I don’t think that taking a Glock or a TV set meets Aquinas’ criteria.