Category: Public Policy

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.

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

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.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the formation of Poland’s Solidarity movement. Samuel Gregg says that Solidary gives us a view of a labor union whose “stand for the truth about the human person and against the lie of Marxism contributed immeasurably to the collapse of one of the two great totalitarian evils that disfigured the twentieth-century.”

Read the full text here.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Rev. Robert Sirico responds to Pat Robertson’s highly-publicized call for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. “What is needed here, I believe, is a time of reflection. Christianity is not a national religion. It is does not regard every enemy of the nation-state as worthy of execution. It prefers peace to war. It chooses diplomacy over threat. It respects the right to life of everyone, even those who have objectionable political views,” he writes.

Read the full text here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Americans brought this on themselves.

That’s one reaction coming from around the world as it surveys the devastation following Hurricane Katrina. In what can only be described as callously political maneuvering, Germany’s environmental minister Jürgen Trittin said today, “The increasing frequency of these natural events can only be explained through global warming which is caused by people.”

Instead of offering condolences, well-wishes, or prayers, minister Tritten delivered the judgment of secular environmentalists. The Americans’ crime? “A U.S. citizen causes about two and a half times as much greenhouse gas as the average European,” said Trittin.

This mirrors the reaction of religious global warming advocates following the Indian Ocean tsunami late last year. The global warming boogeyman, blamed for seemingly everything under the sun, is the knee-jerk explanation for any natural disaster these days.

As one paper puts it, “Because hurricanes form over warm ocean water, it is easy to assume that the recent rise in their number and ferocity is because of global warming.”

Why deal in facts when hysteria and rhetorical excess can do the trick instead? “The severity of hurricane seasons changes with cycles of temperatures of several decades in the Atlantic Ocean. The recent onslaught ‘is very much natural,’ said William Gray, a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University who issues forecasts for the hurricane season.”

Those scientists who do see a link between global warming and increases in the number and intensity of hurricanes are opposed by those who realize “worldwide weather records are far too inadequate for a thorough examination of such trends.”

As for the disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina, the prudence of building a huge coastal city under sea level should be questioned long before any issues related to global warming arise.




Global warming serves as a convenient scapegoat in place of the recognition of the God of heaven and earth (see Job 38-41). As God says to Job, “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me” (Job 41:11 NIV). Hurricane Katrina should serve as a reminder to all of us of the fleeting days of life and the priority of the eternal over the temporal, a modern-day object lesson to heed the words of Jesus.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27 NIV).

Update: More on Trittin’s comments at Davids Medienkritik

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, August 30, 2005

You may have heard of “fair trade,” one of the more recent economically-myopic efforts to act as “guarantees that farmers and farmworkers receive a fair price for their labor.”

I’ve written before about the fair trade coffee movement (especially in the Church), which has perhaps gained the most public attention. But fair traders haven’t overlooked any consumables, and the broader movement is likely to receive more attention in the future, as fair trade is a plank in platform of the ONE Campaign (see the text of the ONE Declaration). I’d like to point you in particular to this FAQ about fair trade bananas.

As the FAQ states, fair trade can be seen as the global equivalent of more locally-based minimum wage laws, and arguments against the living wage can thus be applied to fair trade: “Low conventional market prices for bananas often leave farmers unable to cover even their cost of production. The Fair Trade price is the equivalent of a living wage.”

The apparently obvious unfairness of the free trade system, in which so many people subsist on less than $1 per day, is complicated by a number of factors. One of these is that the current global system is not really all that free.

But another important economic reality is what economists call purchasing power parity (PPP). Even Ron Sider, in his 20th anniversary edition of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, integrates a number of economic analytic tools into his argument, including PPP (see pages 27-28). So the fair traders’ appeal to a fact, such as that farmers do not make enough to “cover even their cost of production,” cannot simply be taken at face value.

And even in instances where this is the case, the fair trade movement does not bother to take any account for why “low conventional market prices” for a particular commodity exist. In most cases, such as with coffee, the supply far outstrips demand. The world doesn’t need more coffee production. To artificially subsidize the production of yet more coffee is to flood the market even further and undermines the long term viability of the fair trade project.

For more on churches and fair trade, check out this commentary.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, August 29, 2005

Hurricane Katrina passed over New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf coast earlier today, and reports of “price gouging” are already coming in.

In Alabama, when the governor declares a state of emergency, it triggers a legal barrier to “unconscionable pricing.” That is (arbitrarily?) determined by the government to be a raise of 25% or more above the “normal” price.

Raising prices for scarce commodities during an emergency situation smacks of opportunism at best. So it seems on the face of it like an open and shut case in favor of state intervention.

But a greater understanding of how markets work and the price mechanism make the case somewhat more complex. An examination of the practical effects of price controls and limits shows the unintended consequences of such laws.

David M. Brown wrote a provocatively titled piece, “Price Gouging Saves Lives,” for Mises.org following Hurricane Charley in 2004. The thrust of the argument is essentially that to limit the prices vendors can charge is to reduce the incentive for vendors to go through the hardship and risk of transporting commodities to the afflicted areas.

If someone can sell gas for the “normal price” in both northern Louisiana and in New Orleans, why would that person take on the added expense of moving gas in to a disaster area? Brown writes:

If we expect customers to be able to get what they need in an emergency, when demand zooms vendors must be allowed and encouraged to increase their prices. Supplies are then more likely to be sustained, and the people who most urgently need a particular good will more likely be able to get it. That is especially important during an emergency. Price gouging saves lives.

Brown’s entire piece is worth reading. The ability to charge more for goods ensures that those goods will find their way into the “state of emergency.” Those interested in looking for a biblical precedent for situational pricing could look to Joseph’s actions during the famine in Genesis 41 (with the added caveats that biblical narrative does not equal imperative, that Joseph was technically acting in the interests of the government [i.e. Pharaoh], and that his actions fulfilled a specific purpose within God’s redemptive history. In other words, biblical precedent doesn’t necessarily create an ethical norm).

The European Union is running into some problems with its quota policies on Chinese goods:

The European Union will tomorrow put proposals to member states for the release of millions of Chinese garments stacked up at customs warehouses since the EU imposed import limits in June, said EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson.

If the proposals are accepted, then about 70 million sweaters, trousers and bras could be released by mid-September, Mandelson said in a British Broadcasting Corp. interview.

Designed to protect European manufacturers from cheaper Chinese clothing, the quotas have led European retailers to complain they may have to find higher-cost suppliers in other parts of Asia or Eastern Europe to avoid shortages.

Kishore Jayalaban, Director of Acton’s Rome office, commented on the political scrambling that is currently underway to end this impasse on Vatican Radio today. You can listen to the report by clicking here (544 kb mp3 file).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 26, 2005

It’s been determined that the view of the human person at work behind “The Human Zoo” exhibit is best exemplified by Agent Smith’s monologue from the original installment of “The Matrix.”

“Do you hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability.”

While Morpheus is held captive, Agent Smith tells him the following:

I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure.

He continues:

I hate this place. This zoo. This prison. This reality, whatever you want to call it, I can’t stand it any longer. It’s the smell, if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink and every time I do, I fear that I’ve somehow been infected by it.

This comes, of course, from a piece of software representing the machines who view humans as essentially batteries and feed the liquidated dead to the living. It is perhaps not the best anthropological foundation to adopt.