Category: Public Policy

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Monday, November 7, 2005

For those of us who harbor some nostalgic sentiment for this country’s agrarian past…

I’ve written previously about the corrosive effect of subsidies on American agriculture. Now, Denis Boyles, in a thoughtful piece on NRO, notes from a similar perspective the importance of entrepreneurial thinking in preserving the agricultural towns of rural America.

Here’s one piece:

When I asked Genna M. Hurd, the co-director of the Kansas Center for Community Economic Development at the University of Kansas and an expert in rural communities, what made the difference between a town that lived and a town that died, I expected her to give me the old saw about how it takes a school to save a town. Instead, she answered simply, “Local leadership and vision.”

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Thursday, November 3, 2005

Aaah, the magical soothing balm that is government regulation!

The delightfully titled Now Batting for Pedro Borbon blog (“Manny Mota…Mota…Mota”) reveals the (predictable) results of governmental efforts to “increase transparency” in the business world:

So, let’s review. The law that was supposed to ensure greater transparency and make the stock market safe for all of us, especially the little guy, is driving companies to purge the little guy, become less transparent, and shun our world-class public capital markets.

Score another beaut for the Great Sausage Factory!

“We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you,” indeed…

Regardless, it seems to me that this is yet another opportunity to reflect on the importance of maintaining ethical business practices in both large and small corporations. As you recall, Sarbanes-Oxley was the congressional response to the various Enron-Worldcom type business accounting scandals in the late 90′s. Those scandals – a result of a distinct lack of ethical practices – resulted in a lot of people losing a lot of money, public distrust of corporations, and a resulting governmental response to the public outcry. The final links in this chain of events include massive new costs for businesses in order to comply with the new regulations, and now the phenomenon noted above. In other words, everyone loses. Returning to and reinforcing core ethical principles, however, creates a situation in which everyone can win.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, November 3, 2005

A story on today’s Morning Edition by Claudio Sanchez examines the future of the school system in New Orleans following the hurricane Katrina disaster. New Orleans school superintendent Ora Watson complains that charter schools are stepping in to fill the void left when public schools were cancelled for the remainder of this school year.

She says, “There are so many different agendas. The mayor has decided that the city can run 20 schools under a charter. We have individual schools going to individual groups saying, ‘Would you charter me?’ They’re picking the school district apart. This is a real, real frustration.” Of course it’s easy to see why this would be a “real frustrating” for someone with a vested bureaucratic interest in maintaining the pre-Katrina state of publicly administered education in New Orleans.

According to the report, Watson worries that New Orleans could be the “first urban school system in America to be taken over by special interest groups.” I assume she means special interest groups other than the National Education Association.

Listen to the rest of the report for other viewpoints on reconstructing education in New Orleans. In many ways, the disaster can be viewed as an opportunity to improve a broken and failing system.

It’s clear that superintendent Watson is ardently opposed to introducing a principle of freedom of choice and competition into the system. For more on how competition, rightly practiced, can work in the educational arena, see this interview with J. C. Huizenga, chairman of the National Heritage Academies.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, November 2, 2005

evilmonkeyJordan Ballor, associate editor at the Acton Institute, responds to a study published by Joan Silk, a researcher at the University of California, which finds that monkeys do not exercise compassion.

Silk’s team placed a chimp in a situation where it had the option of pulling one of two ropes. Pull the first rope, and the chimp received a bit of food. Pull the second rope, and the chimp received the same bit of food, but a monkey in a neighboring cage also received a similarly-sized morsel.

What Silk found was that “the chimps were entirely indifferent” to the situation of their neighbor. They pulled the first rope about half the time, and the rest of the time they pulled the other. And this indifference was manifested even though the neighboring chimp would often plead or implore its potential benefactor to pull the second rope. “They had their face right up there sometimes. But the begging gestures don’t seem to have had a big impact on the chimp’s behavior,” Silk said.

Ballor reflects on Silk’s research, commenting that “even though not all humans act compassionately, and perhaps not all animals act selfishly, the important reality to recognize is that we necessarily make moral conclusions about such behavior.” Selfless compassion, says Ballor, is a manifestation of the imago dei: “We were built for a purpose, to love God by loving our neighbor.”

Read the full commentary here.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Americans living in Europe were often scolded about the need for big, centralized government to look after the poor, and we heard yet again about the moral superiority of Europe’s social model over America’s market-driven one.

People who follow the Acton Institute and read the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page are too smart and well-informed to fall for such bromides. The American Entreprise magazine also devoted a whole issue debunking Europe’s claims.

But when mainstream publications such as Newsweek International can see the hypocrisy and obvious failings of European protectionism, we may be reaching a tipping point.

This week’s edition has an article on Europe’s increasing reluctance to expand global trade. The biggest culprits are France, Germany and Italy, the continent’s three largest economies but whose political classes, whether they be of the left or of the right, are beholden to trade unions and other opponents of increased competition. (The U.S. Congress is not spared deserved criticism, either.)

Part of the socialist mystique is that the poor are too vulnerable to survive market changes – but the Newsweek article shows how the poor also have the most to gain from increased trade. Europeans must start to understand that this affects not only the poor in Africa and Asia but in their own countries as well.

As Tony Blair recently told the European Parliament, “What type of social model is it that has 20 million unemployed?”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, November 2, 2005

There’s a new venture, Kiva, that according to the founder Matthew Flannery is “a startup focused on connecting lenders with micro-businesses online. We provide the world’s first and only online micro-lending opportunity and just opened to the public 3 weeks ago. We have now started over 30 businesses in Uganda and are scaling at a rapid pace.”

The effort still looks to be in its infancy, but as of October 11 Kiva was officially out of “beta” testing. This means “we spent 6 months testing our software and our processes and we no longer consider this whole thing to be a ‘test’.”

Simply put, this is a great concept that can have real, concrete, positive effects in the lives of those living in the world’s poorest nations. Access to capital is a huge problem in many of these areas. Banks often cannot take on the risk of providing low-interest loans with terms long enough to spark development because of governmental, monetary, and economic instability in these countries. Now those of us who are concerned and live in the most prosperous nation in the history of the world can charitably take on that risk.

One of the great things about the microloan solution is that it attempts to find solutions that really work and address problems that arise in the real-world economic systems. These kinds of answers are an excellent alternative to economically misinformed campaigns like the “fair trade” movement.

Of course, not only for this particular venture but for all such efforts, effectiveness, transparency, and stewardship are key elements. Read more about Kiva’s due diligence process here.

The good news? “Due to the recent overwhelming interest in Kiva,” there are currently no businesses listed still looking for loans. The bad news? The need is great in the developing world, but it is difficult to bring these entrepreneurs to light. There is a lot of infrastructure work that needs to be done. Kiva is pursuing this in partnership with the Village Enterprise Fund.

HT: Seth Godin’s Blog

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, October 31, 2005

A flap over religion in schools developed last week at Newark High School in Delaware. According to reports, “The principal of a public high school apologized to parents for allowing a Christian-themed assembly that featured two Philadelphia Eagles players, saying he was misled about what the presentation would cover.”

“Principal Emmanuel Caulk of Newark High School wrote in a letter that he expected the talk by players Tra Thomas and Thomas Tapeh to focus on ‘values, choices and challenges that adolescents face in today’s society.’”

But apparently the players were to talk about such topics without any reference to their own experience…since that experience is Christian. Caulk claimed to be ignorant of the fact that Tra Thomas is a founder and spokesman for Athletes United for Christ.

“What we’re trying to do is to help the kids make better decisions in life. I guess I understand,” why some people objected,” said Thomas, “because you have other religions there. But we’re not preaching to the kids.”

He continued, “I’m just trying to get them to identify with me, the person, rather than just Tra Thomas, the football player, so we can relate to each other better. And my Christianity is a big part of what I am.” What might have been an acceptable post-modern claim to individuality in other circumstances is not acceptable for a Christian, apparently.

The requisite outrage from the ACLU was reflected in a statement by Drewry Fennell, executive director of the of the Delaware chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union: “Organizations like this one across the country are gaining access to schools through the famous people and entertainment value and then using those opportunities to proselytize.”

More details and reactions to the event are available here.

The critical error of events like this in public schools rests on the assumption that you can have a morality based purely on secular humanism. And this further assumes that such a position is not reflective of any particular “faith” or “belief system.” All morality is founded on a belief system of some kind or another. To expect that Christians can talk about, in the principal’s words, “values, choices and challenges that adolescents face in today’s society,” without reference to Christianity is patently absurd.

Scottish theologian John Baillie insightfully relates the following: “The progress of modern thought seems every day to be making it clearer that between religion and naturalism there is no final resting-place in humanism. As regards anything we are in ourselves naturalism is true, and ‘a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast’. When man ceases to be rooted in God, he relapses inevitably into the sub-human.” The final choice can only be made between naturalism or religion (supernaturalism).

Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck discusses the necessity for a supernatural foundation for a coherent system of morality. He writes,

The only true alternative to the recognition of the supernatural, accordingly, is not a rationalistic deism but naturalism, i.e., the belief that there is no other higher power but that which is immanent in the present natural order and reveals itself [there]. But then one loses all warrant for believing in the triumph of the good, the ultimate victory of the kingdom of God, in the power of the moral world order. For the good, the true, the moral world order, and the kingdom of God are matters that have no power to realize themselves on their own. The hope is that human beings will bring supremacy and yield to the power of truth is daily dashed by disappointments. Their triumph is assured only if God is a personal omnipotent being who, in the face of all opposition, can lead the entire creation to the goal he has in mind for it. Religion, morality, the acknowledgement of a destiny for humankind and for the world, belief in the triumph of the good, a theistic worldview, and belief in a personal God are all inseparably bound up with supernaturalism.

The secular humanist myth of morality without religion, supernaturalism, or faith of some kind is exposed for what it is in instances like this one. The sad part is, of course, that these children desperately need to be taught moral truths, but the public school system is increasingly unable and unqualified to do so, because of institutional, legal, and personal barriers.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, October 28, 2005

Acton Senior Fellow Marvin Olasky in a column today on TownHall.com looks at the “important new coalition” called Kill Malarial Mosquitoes Now that is working to bring the banned pesticide DDT back into battle against malaria. The disease, he writes, kills an estimated 1 million people annually — 90 percent of them Africans.

The United States has been contributing about $200 million per year to Africa’s war on malaria. Four months ago, President Bush promised an additional $1.2 billion over five years in U.S. anti-malaria funding. But last week, a coalition of 100 doctors, scientists and activists said that anti-malaria funds up to now have been misspent.

The KMMN coalition — which includes eminent malaria experts and public health specialists, the former U.S. Navy surgeon general, the national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, a co-founder of Greenpeace, the president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce and the president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons — says most of the annual $200 million goes to advising African governments on how to combat malaria, not on actual combat.

The KMMN coalition says that none of that money goes for the most effective weapon: the insecticide DDT, which eradicated malaria in Europe and the United States more than half a century ago, but was banned in the United States in 1972 because of its supposed environmental effects. Soon, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Agency for International Development cut out DDT from its programs.

Read the “Kill Malarial Mosquitoes Now!” declaration and add your name to the growing list of endorsers by emailing “info [at] acton [dot] org” with your name, degrees, and organizational affiliation. Acton will forward your name to the Africa Fighting Malaria advocacy group.

Steven Milloy, publisher of JunkScience.com and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, argues that “there is no economical substitute for DDT when it comes to malaria in poorer regions of the world.”

When DDT is available, the results are nothing short of spectacular. Indoor spraying with DDT, for example, reduced malaria cases and deaths by nearly 75 percent in Zambia over a two-year period and by 80 percent in South Africa in just one year. DDT works like nothing else – there’s simply no doubt about it.

For these reasons, we ought to support a bill in Congress (currently it’s known as the Senate version of H.R. 3057) that would reform the U.S. Agency for International Development so that insecticides like DDT could be added to the arsenal for fighting malaria. President Bush announced in July that U.S. taxpayers would spend $1.2 billion for world malaria control over the next five years.

Rather than wasting that money on ineffective bed nets and anti-malaria drugs – and then repeating such futility in another five years – let’s spend it on DDT and get the job done now.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, October 27, 2005

So often we are bombarded with news of businesses accusing others of unfair trade practices, intentional competition smashing, monopolization, etc. Every once in a while, its good to hear about the good business that goes on, the appreciation that one company has for another, and a customer oriented view of production. In that spirit, I offer up two companies: Adobe (the creators of the PDF and Photoshop) and Apple. Apple’s recent foray into the image-editing world with the release of Aperture has many people intrigued about the possibilities of Apple trying to take marketshare from Adobe. John Nack, the program manager for Photoshop at Adobe has this to say from the Adobe Blog:

“And you know, to the degree that Aperture stirs things up, I’m excited. [Photoshop] CS2 wouldn’t be all it is today without the apps I mentioned keeping us on our toes, and the more tools offer solutions for photographers, the better off customers will be. So in the spirit of the Apple of yore, I say Welcome Apple. Seriously.”

Nack acknowledges that Aperture is a useful and easy application to use, and is thankful for it. Nack understands that in order to best serve the clients of Adobe, competition is neccessary. Competition is what drives a company to improve a product. Competition drives innovation. Competition drives the market.

Real estate mogul and reality show guru Donald Trump made a guest appearance on the NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives” last week and, in a real stretch, he played himself. The brief cameo was in the context of Mr. Trump’s visit to the Horton Foundation, a charity based in the fictional town of Salem. The dialogue between Trump and Mickey Horton gives us some insight into Donald Trump’s view of economic success and the resulting responsibility:

Donald Trump

Mickey: Thank you very much, Mr. Trump, for your generous contribution to the Horton Foundation on its anniversary. And I can assure you that it will be put to very good use.

Donald: Well, I’m glad to do what I can, Mickey. I’ve always believed that with success comes a responsibility, and that responsibility is very important — helping those in need. Your foundation’s been doing a great job for a long time. Happy 40th anniversary, and keep up the great work.

Mickey: We’ll try. I want to thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule to come all the way up here to Salem.

Donald: I’ve been hearing so much for so long about what you’ve been doing, and I really had to come up and see the place for myself. It’s great. It’s really terrific.

Now of course in many ways this view might be an artifact of the need to find some device for Donald Trump to appear on “Days”. But this season of Trump’s reality show, “The Apprentice”, gives us some other clues in this regard.

On his own show, the reward for the winning team in Week 3 was to “give back to the community” by “distributing tens of thousands of dollars worth of free electronics to kids in the hospital.” This is in distinction to past rewards, which include jet-set getaways and expensive jewelry and gifts.

Joy to the World: Mark enjoys his time with hospitalized kids during Excel’s Santa Claus moment. (Week 3: Tech Expo)

(Kevin T. Gilbert/Blue Pixel)

“It puts everything into perspective,” said Josh. “You can’t really quantify the value of giving a gift and a smile to a kid.” Added Mark, “It was like being Santa Claus.”

And on Martha Stewart’s version of “The Apprentice”, for which Trump serves as executive producer, the Week 2 reward again was “an opportunity to give back to New York City. The corporation banded together with New York Cares to help the Hudson Guild community organization create a garden in Manhattan’s Chelsea district. They transformed a dingy dirt patch into a beautiful oasis of flowers outside the Guild’s new recreation, arts, and children’s center. Working alongside volunteers and neighborhood children, the candidates of Primarius [the winning team] were touched by the joy of giving.”

These are just some of the most recent examples of compassion coming to the small screen. The newest show this season is NBC’s “Three Wishes”, hosted by Christian musician Amy Grant. I’ve discussed before the issue of mixed-motives in the commercialization of compassion, especially with respect to ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”. I’m still inclined to give such shows the benefit of the doubt…whatever the motivations, there is good being done. And even if there is duplicity and the motive is purely that of economic self-interest, this merely attests to the foundational reality of mutually beneficial exchange at the heart of the market system.

This post has been crossposted to Blogcritics.org.