Category: Public Policy

Acton Institute’s Center for Effective Compassion is offering an intensive one-day event in Ft. Myers, Fla., on Oct 28, where nonprofits and community leaders will get practical, how-to skills to help them increase the “return on investment” for charity programs. Foundation grantees, grassroots community and faith-based service providers, students and volunteers won’t want to miss this event. Read more about the event here.

Key speakers include Rev. John Nunes, pastor of Dallas-based St. Paul’s Lutheran Church; Carol McLaughlin, chief programs officer at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation; Craig Folk, a partner with the Fort Myers accounting firm Miller, Helms & Folk, and Karen Woods, executive director at Acton’s Center for Effective Compassion. The event press release is available here.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, September 19, 2005
By

Government is the only arena in which I can readily see that incompetence and failure, often of the staggeringly ignominious variety, is “punished” with an increase of funding and influence. Many others have observed this phenomena, perhaps most pervasive in the public education system. As we all know, the problem is always a lack of funds.

But we find the same twisted logic at work following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The inadequacy of government at all levels, with most of the focus on the federal, is not leading some to the obvious criticism of the size, complexity, and bureaucracy of government. Instead, we are seeing the contrary call, to increase the size of the government. As Anne Applebaum writes in The Washington Post, a number of figures, including German chancellor Gerhard Schrr, see the problem as too little government, not too much.

Applebaum rightly takes this statist interpretation of events to task, as she writes of the pervasiveness and effectiveness of relief efforts by elements of civil society. While “it is true that the worst failures of the past two weeks have been big government failures,” she observes, “The biggest successes, by contrast, have come out of this country’s incredibly vibrant, amazingly diverse and fantastically generous civil society. Sooner or later, it will be impossible not to draw political lessons from that paradox.”

The political lesson should not be that more government is the answer, but rather a more focused and efficient government. The increase in government should be qualitative, not quantitative. It remains to be seen which will prevail: the axiomatic big government logic (perhaps manifested in an increased FEMA budget!), or common-sense conclusions about the scope and necessary limits of government power.

Deal W. Hudson of the Morley Institute reports on an address by a Vatican official. The story is also reported here:

Vatican Official Explains What Makes a School Catholic

His name is one you should know. Archbishop J. Michael Miller is the Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education in the Vatican. That means he helps oversee Catholic education from kindergarten to college and graduate school throughout the world.

I met with the self-effacing Archbishop over breakfast before his lecture at a Conference on Catholic education co-sponsored by the Catholic University of America and the Solidarity Association of Atlanta, Georgia. He left the presidency of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas to take his post sixteen months ago. After arriving, Miller was “surprised to discover that only twenty Episcopal conferences in the world had approved ordinances implementing Ex Corde Ecclesiae.”

When asked if the situation was improving he was upbeat, “Canada and Australia are close to finishing their ordinances and India and Mexico have them well underway.”

But there is better news. Since the publication of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, over 1,300 new institutions have been created in India. An abundance of new growth is also found in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, Mexico, and Chile. “Overall the future looks promising,” he adds, “because of new growth in Catholic institutions where they are most badly needed.” All the data, he says, is chronicled in a new book published by his Congregation, unfortunately only in Italian.

Miller’s address to the conference turns out to be the finest I have ever heard on Catholic education. His words belied the blandness of the title, “The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Education.” Rather than citing text upon text from Vatican documents, he cut to the heart of the matter, telling the audience that he wanted to answer the question, “How do you know if a school is really Catholic.”

He offered the following five benchmarks of a Catholic education as the essence of Vatican teaching on education. Miller called them the “marks of a Catholic education.”

Although these criteria apply mainly to K through 12 education, Miller insisted they could easily be adapted to college and university education by the addition of a criterion on excellence in scholarship.

A Catholic school should be:

1. “Inspired by a supernatural vision.” Schools are about preparing students for “heavenly citizenship.”

2. “Founded on a Christian anthropology.” Education is the “perfection of children as images of God.”

3. “Animated by communion and community.” Schools should have the collaboration, interaction, and environment that “safe-guards the priority of the person.”

4. “Imbued with the Catholic worldview across the curriculum,” Catholic education should “transform the way we see reality.”

5. “A place where committed Catholics teach.” Catholic teachers should themselves be “witnesses for Christ.”

Archbishop Miller has real world experience in Catholic education. As president of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, he helped to make a good Catholic university into an excellent one – a university that deserves to be included on any short list of faith based Catholic colleges and universities.

Good Catholic schools grow from the “bottom up, not from the top down,” Miller concluded. Wherever you find a good Catholic school you will find leaders behind it who have a “genuine Catholic vision of education.”

At the beginning of the conference the present Chair of the USCCB Committee on Education, Bishop Bernard J. Harrington, congratulated the co-sponsors, saying it was the first meeting of its kind on Catholic education in the United States. Harrington mentioned other conferences that were being planned in the near future. We can hope that Archbishop Miller’s list of benchmarks will be the starting point of future discussions on Catholic education. Such clarity is as rare as it is bold.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, September 15, 2005
By

I’ve finally had a chance to respond to this piece on Tech Central Station, “The State of Nature in New Orleans: What Hobbes Didn’t Know.” In this article, TCS contributing editor Lee Harris takes George Will to task for his citation of Hobbes, to the extent that, as Harris writes, “my point of disagreement is with Hobbes’ famous and often quoted characterization of man’s original state of nature as one in which human life would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.'”

Harris’ problem with Hobbes’ formula is that in his estimation, it is patently and empirically false. Harris writes:

The problem I have is with the first adjective: solitary.

If you step back and look at what really happened in New Orleans, the fact will jump out at you that human beings, instead of running around solitary and alone, immediately clumped together into gangs and groups, of two fundamental divergent types: one purely aggressive, and the other purely defensive.

On the one hand, you had gangs of ruthless young men who looted, raped, and murdered, doing whatever they pleased and taking whatever they wanted. On the other hand, you had weak and frightened individuals who could only defend themselves by gathering into protective clumps — circling the wagons, so to speak.

The problem with Harris’ criticism is that it doesn’t really apply to Hobbes. The conception of Hobbes’ state of nature is, in Hobbes own words, one which “It may peradventure be thought, there was never such a time, nor condition of warre, such as this; and I believe it was never generally so over all the world.” Hobbes allows for the existence of the state of nature in localized pockets, but doesn’t think it was ever the sort of thing that existed at one time in all places.

But even further, Hobbes’ point is to get at the basic state of human existence in nature. When he emphasizes that it is “solitary,” he doesn’t mean that man is always alone in the state of nature. He means, rather, that the basic unit of human reliance and trust is individual. People tend to trust themselves the most. As Jimi Hendrix once said, “I’m the one that’s got to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to.” Hobbes sense of this solitariness and independence of human existence isn’t primarily about physical proximity, but rather an astute judgment about the corrupted and fallen condition of human social relations.

Thus Hobbes writes, “Men have no pleasure, (but on the contrary a great deal of griefe) in keeping company, where there is no power to over-awe them all. For every man looketh that his companion should value him, at the same rate he sets himself: And upon all signes of contempt, or undervaluing, naturally endeavours, as far as he dares…to extort a greater value from his contemners, by dommage; and from others, by the example.”

The fear of competition and the enmity thus created, and inherent vulnerability shared by every man, creates the motivation for men to join in league conspiring together. This is the natural and expected result in the state of nature. The solitariness of man’s existence creates the context in which men will see one who possesses more, and “will come prepared with forces united, to dispossesse, and to deprive him, not only of the fruit of his labour, but also of his life, or liberty.”

Harris’ criticism falls flat, as a contextual read of Hobbes’ formula shows that the tendency for people to join together in gangs or bands of brigands is an expression of the state of nature rather than the opposite. After all, these bands are usually united around a lead figure, who dominates the others. In this way, physical human proximity and relationship can still manifest the state of natural war and domination.

The critique of Hobbes’ judgment concerning the state of nature is not, as Harris would have it, that it is inaccurate. It is rather all too accurate…but limited in the sense that it only gets at “natural” or “fleshly” man, not “redeemed” or “spiritual” man.

Blog author: mvandermaas
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
By

In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, Brendon Miniter notes that many of those stranded in New Orleans after the levee breaches were literally caught in a trap set by government “assistance”:

We still only have anecdotal evidence to go on, and we can be hopeful as the death toll remains far below the thousands originally predicted. But it’s reasonable to surmise that Sen. Kennedy is correct about those who wanted to leave: Most people who could arrange for their own transportation got out of harm’s way; those who depended on the government (and public transportation) were left for days to the mercy of armed thugs at the Superdome and Convention Center. It was an extreme example of what the welfare state has done to the poor for decades: use the promise of food, shelter and other necessities to lure most of the poor to a few central points and then leave them stranded and nearly helpless.

The Katrina disaster is yet another in a long line of lessons reminding us that government-mandated charity isn’t really charitable at all. But it also provides all of us with an opportunity to apply the principles of effective compassion.

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
By

Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

Samuel Gregg writes on a recent BBC Radio listeners poll that ranked Karl Marx as the greatest philosopher in history. Gregg reflects on the evils and attrocities that are committed by the political heirs of Marx’ philosophy while commenting that the materialist view of Communism removes any possibility of fulfilling the two greatest commandments; loving God and loving our neighbors. Above all, Gregg wonders how people have forgotten what Marx stands for: “Why is Marxism’s red flag not treated with the same contempt rightly attached to the swastika?”

Gregg sees an inherent lack of value placed upon the human person as a result of Communism’s materialist ideology. He sums up Marx’ materialism, saying, “Everything has the same value and therefore no value. In this world, there is no difference between Mother Teresa’s work and that of a concentration camp guard. They share equally in a general irrelevance of everything and everyone.” This complete lack of value denies justice and makes morality irrelevant.

Much violence has been done in the name of philosophies and religions, including Christianity. The difference is that Christianity contains moral criteria according to which we can judge and condemn such activity on the part of Christians. Marxism never had and could never have such standards. For in Marxist philosophy, there is no place for love of God and love of neighbor. Perhaps that, above all, is what makes Marx so unworthy of contemporary admiration.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
By

Check out this editorial from the current issue of Christianity Today, “Neighbor Love Inc.”

The editorial focuses on the importance of work and labor in the Christian life: “Business for the Christian is a form of neighbor-love, a way to fulfill the second Great Commandment.” The entrepreneurial calling is one that should be affirmed within a biblical framework by Christian leaders. CT recognizes that “the church has spent enormous energies on guiding our sexuality, but done little at the congregational level to give believers a developed understanding of the mandate to work.”

Rev. Robert Sirico is cited as one of the “Christian thinkers have been laying the foundation for responding to this need.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
By

The Acton Institute’s Catholic High School Honor Roll has released its annual list of the Top 50 Catholic High Schools in the United States. About half are repeat winners and half are new honorees. See the Honor Roll web site for more information.

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.