Category: Public Policy

The problem and pain of poverty garners a prolific amount of attention in the Church today, and rightfully so. In Evangelical Christian Churches, poverty awareness, discussion, and action has risen to new heights. Much of this has to do with the rapid speed of communication, increase in education, and a reaction against social conservatives, who in the past, have emphasized much of their focus on more specific social and moral issues such as abortion.

While I was in seminary, during an annual event which was supposed to raise awareness of issues of poverty, some students pretended to be homeless, they lived in cardboard boxes and any form of materialistic – luxury was denounced. Much of the problem solving initiatives called for increased government regulation and programs to solve issues of justice and fairness in society.

Big corporations in some seminary classes were also denounced from time to time, mostly by the endless examples of Enron, the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, and of course anybody in “big oil.” In addition, some professors would throw in Halliburton because of its ties to the current Executive Branch. Another problem which was highlighted often on campus was Western exploitation of developing nations. Understandably, I did not agree with many of the caricatures of business and the endless stereotypes of institutions and people with capital.

Professor Mark Hendrickson of Grove City College, reminds us of the positive aspects business plays in reducing poverty. In his piece titled The Liberal Temptation, Hendrickson notes how the political left does a disservice to anti-poverty initiatives. A few quotes from the article are provided below:

The liberal approach to poverty is also rendered problematical by their anti-capitalist, anti-business mentality. Liberals regard themselves as the good guys for initiating government programs to help Americans of modest means, while disdaining businessmen as selfish, less-than-moral beings who are engaged in the selfish and morally inferior pursuit of profits. This is an unduly harsh assessment of businessmen; in fact, it is spectacularly ignorant and perversely unfair. A person may not like the daily tussle of business or individual businesspersons who behave abusively, and they are fully justified in being repulsed by illegal conduct. However, there is a vital historical fact that anti-business liberals generally overlook: business’ role in reducing poverty.

Throughout most of human history, the masses of human beings were wretchedly poor. Only in the last few centuries have large numbers of people climbed out of poverty. What has been the agent of such a fundamental change? Profit-seeking business. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, business has lifted more people out of poverty than all the churches, charities, and government programs (national or multilateral—like the World Bank) combined. Look at the history of Great Britain, the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Chile, South Korea, and now China and India. Wherever you look, standards of living rise where business is allowed to flourish.

In contemporary Evangelical Christianity and in the political world there are a lot of poverty traps present. Too many Christians do not move beyond reactionary action for aiding and assisting the poor. One of the great characteristics of America is the number of immigrants who came here, with little or no material or capital wealth, and succeeded with their new life. One of the reasons there was such an abundance of opportunity was because of the lack of excessive regulation and taxation.

It’s important to take a look at Hendrickson’s article, because it’s a reminder just how much human initiative, free markets, and business plays a powerful role in reducing the sad state of human misery in the world. Often times, people who identify with a conservative world-view on economic issues are labeled as being against something, because they might be against a new government program, or a regulatory act. But this is simply not the case, if you are for free markets, deregulation, lower taxes, and other pro business initiatives, you truly are a part of the largest anti-poverty campaign in the history of the world.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 21, 2007
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The PowerBlog’s own Don Bosch is attending the Let’s Tend the Garden evangelical environmental conference this week. He’s liveblogging at his own habitat, and will cross-post and update us here as opportunity permits.

He writes to me briefly that there are “lots of Christian environmental leaders (Rich Cizik is here, along with Rusty Pritchard, Floresta, A Rocha, etc) and also secular groups (Sierra Club).”

Related to last week’s commentary and blog post, check out this WSJ piece, “Gates Crafts Long-Term Iraq Plan, With Limited Role for U.S. Forces,” in which Defense Secretary Robert Gates says, “My view is that whatever works economically ought to be tried.”

Blog author: abradley
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
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In his recent and fascinating book Five Minds for the Future, Harvard professor Howard Gardner outlines the 5 basic types of intelligence people have:

1. The Disciplinary Mind: the mastery of major schools of thought, including science, mathematics, and history, and of at least one professional craft;

2. The Synthesizing Mind: the ability to integrate ideas from different disciplines or spheres into a coherent whole and to communicate that integration to others;

3. The Creating Mind: the capacity to uncover and clarify new problems, questions and phenomena;

4. The Respectful Mind: awareness of and appreciation for differences among human beings and human groups;

5. The Ethical Mind: fulfillment of one’s responsibilities as a worker and as a citizen.

Gardner makes the striking point that the Synthesizing Mind is becoming more important than ever, given our highly technological, highly informational world. The Disciplinary Mind — or what we think of as classical intelligence, the stuff child prodigies are made of — has dominated the intellectual landscape throughout history. But, Gardner argues, now that the Internet, technology, and media are making massive amounts of very dense information available to the average person, the type of mind that can acquire and store information is still impressive, but ultimately less useful than a mind that can process, connect, and communicate cross-disciplinary information to others in a meaningful way.

Thanks to the Internet, everyone can now access the vast storehouses of intellectual wealth that once belonged only to a concentrated elite. It makes sense, then, that the new elite could turn out to be those who can receive information rapidly, sift it, connect the dots, and put the whole picture to the best possible use for others.

In my mind, the Synthesizer concept parallels entrepreneurship in a few interesting ways. Just as information can behave like a type of good or service, it seems a person with a Synthesizing Mind can make prudent use of knowledge for the good of the entire human community. Technology makes it possible for the Synthesizer quickly to select the most relevant material from the experts — who have divided their labor to manage whole disciplines and systems of thought — without laboring to build a monolithic knowledge base of every field on his own, which would take a long time and allow him to share only a few authoritative insights at the end of all his pursuits. This does not mean the Synthesizer hurries or skips over important steps: he still must be a careful scholar who humbly stands “on the shoulders of giants,” as Sir Isaac Newton put it. It simply means he is free to use his creative powers to illuminate more readily for others the way various disciplines interact and the consequences they have for human life. That in turn makes him able to harness and combine the talents of others to form a serviceable “product” faster than a person with a Disciplinary Mind.

If thinking truly is “connecting things,” as G.K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy, the concept of the Synthesizing Mind has a great deal to offer to people of every category of intelligence. Even if you disagree with Gardner’s categorizations, having a Synthesizing Mind might help you to figure out why.

In college I wrote a paper for a Latin American Politics class titled, Barnum & Bailey Circus bailouts. The paper took the position that another financial bailout of Mexico would be a huge mistake and would not be money well spent. The paper was probably a little flippant because I interwove within the framework of the paper some characters with top hats, traveling bands of political circuses, and other outlandish theatrical symbolism. I was trying to make light of what I thought was a circus-like proposal, as well as rely on smoke and mirrors to downplay my lack of reading for the course.

There is nothing funny, however, about mortgage bailout proposals. Hillsdale professor Gary Wolfram has an excellent article in Human Events, titled “Econ 101: The Problem with Bailouts.” Wolfram shows how markets correct themselves, and even discusses the upsides to a now more affordable market:

As Sherlock Holmes told Dr. Watson in “Scandal in Bohemia,” one problem is that we see but do not observe. For every homeowner who loses his home and moves into a smaller home or a rental, there is another homeowner who moves into that home and out of a smaller home or rental.

It would be interesting if the media began doing stories on how much more affordable it is for people to move from rented apartments into owner-occupied homes. The house that used to cost $280,000 and was out of the reach of the young family is now $220,000 and becomes affordable.

If the federal government, including the Federal Reserve, bails out the mortgage industry in some fashion, the market will quickly learn that taxpayers will bear some of the risk of the investments of homeowners, lenders, hedge funds and other market participants. This will result in their taking more risk than is economically justified, encouraging the very activity that led to the situation of declining housing prices and foreclosures in the first place.

But if politicians keep rattling off vague proposals of bailout proposals in the belief it will raise their polls, they may have to think again. In an Associated Press article, J.W. Elphinstone, cites a newly popular online petition, Tax Payers Against a Wall Street and Mortgage Bailout. Furthermore, Peter Viles in the Los Angeles Times, references a Fox News Poll that shows 70% of the public against a taxpayer bailout.

Many of those people have been priced out of the market and understandably they don’t want to support people who cannot afford their homes, many of whom made really bad financial choices. The people against this bailout simply want back in the market, and they understand now the market is correcting itself.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, September 17, 2007
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Here’s a justly famous quote from C. S. Lewis on why the danger posed by a nanny government can be much more oppressive than that posed by the consolidation of economic power:

Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

That’s taken from his essay, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” and it speaks well to the difference between political and economic power. While Lewis is writing within the context of government power in the administration of criminal justice, just think about how perceptive Lewis’ observation is when applied to the ever-expanding reach government regulation via so-called “sin” taxes.

Progressives are right to be concerned about the conflation of those two sorts of power, but I think they are wrong to be reflexively more suspicious of economic power than political power.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 14, 2007
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Here’s a PCWorld piece wondering whether the “green” trend in information technology is a fad or a fixture, “Green IT: Popularity Due to Savings or Morals?” One beef I have with the piece is that it presupposes a conflict between “morality” and “efficiency” concerns. Isn’t it a part of morality to be concerned with waste and economic stewardship?

These need not be contrasted in such a way, as is evident by the words of Brian Cobb, senior vice president for enterprise systems management and IT at Fannie Mae and a presenter at IMW: “In IT, we have a responsibility to be as efficient as possible.” Surely at some level that responsibility has an explicitly moral component, even if it is cast in purely utilitarian terms.

What we have at play often are competing moral claims, not explicitly moral vs. immoral/amoral claims. To present the case otherwise is a rhetorical choice that skews the argument, whether intentionally or not.

So here’s a brief tip for the article’s author Johanna Ambrosio: You don’t need to oppose environmental stewardship and economic responsibility.