Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, September 15, 2005
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.

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?

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)