Category: Public Policy

Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky writes about two examples of churches placing the needs of Christians and evangelism in the developing world above their own congregational comforts. In the first piece, Olasky discusses Mount Zion United Methodist Church just outside of Baltimore.

While mid-Atlantic heat can be oppressive, it’s nothing compared that of the everlasting lake of fire. With this priority of the eternal over the temporal in mind, the congregation decided “the sanctuary would get air conditioning only after the congregation built a church in Africa.”

To this end, Olasky writes, “The church came up with the money, and from there, amazingly, everything — personnel, permits, property, governmental approvals, construction — went right. The orphanage opened in 2003 and now provides food, shelter, medical care, clothing and schooling for the children at a cost of about $11,000 per month.” And thus the Children of Zion orphanage in Namibia was founded.

The second story is about Damascus Wesleyan Church, north of Washington, DC, that instead of expanding worship space, “went to purchase a 99-year-lease on 10,000 acres here in Senkobo, 15 miles north of Livingstone and the Zimbabwe border. The land came with a beautiful farm house, 2,700 fruit trees, cattle and other animals, four deep wells, three dams, a tobacco-curing barn that could be turned into apartments, and other farm buildings that could become orphanages and classrooms.”

It’s great to hear about Christian churches taking action themselves, loving their neighbors, and not succumbing to morality melting materialism.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, August 5, 2005

In a column in today’s Washington Times, Arnaud de Borchgrave looks at the growing gap between executive compensation and the pay of just about everyone else. He quotes a Wall Street Journal study showing that in 2004 the median salary and bonus for CEOs soared 14.5 percent, while paychecks for salaried employees averaged a 3.4 percent increase. Among those who view this situation with alarm are Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and Christopher Cox, the new chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

de Borchgrave notes that “William J. McDonough, chairman of the Public Company Oversight Board since 2003, and president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank for the previous decade, called the yawning gap ‘the single most important issue’ in today’s America. Hello. Is anyone listening? Income disparity is now wider than anywhere in the European Union or Japan, and can only be found in Third World countries.”

de Borchgrave predicts that this wealth gap is “guaranteed” to produce a backlash that will lead to increased labor union militancy. That’s far from certain. For one thing, Americans tolerate and perhaps grudgingly admire the extravagant compensation packages of Wall Street execs and other corporate chiefs because they understand that the market system rewards those who compete and succeed. Not a few Americans aspire to a life where they are vastly overpaid, themselves. If you look at a business career as a high stakes poker game, then you should be playing for the jackpot.

A retired business executive recently explained it to me: “There are three ways to acquire wealth. You can inherit it. You can marry it. Or you can steal it. Of the three ways, stealing is by far the most honorable.” This is a joke, of course. The point, I think, is that Americans look on passively acquired wealth with suspicion, while those who succeed in the marketplace on their talents and their wits, are admired.

But the issue of executive compensation — or overcompensation — raises profound moral questions about the character of CEO stewardship, the oversight role of boards of directors, and the just treatment of salaried and hourly employees. Time and again at public companies, we see examples of CEOs obsessively enriching themselves as their companies go into long-term decline or oblivion. These cases are not soon forgotten by those who have been left broken and adrift when these woefully mismananged companies disintegrate or go under.

If de Borchgrave is right about the prospect of more labor militancy, then Americans will see the truth of an old adage: If your company has a union, it probably deserved it. And that’s no joke.

Check out this Seattle Weekly article, detailing the experience of Armen Yousoufian, who sought public disclosure of records in 1997 relating to “the proposed new Seahawks stadium, now called Qwest Field, which was built largely with public money.”

When faced with government foot-dragging in release of the records, “Instead of giving up, Yousoufian was energized by the rejections. ‘They picked on the wrong Armenian!’ he liked to say.”

John Stossel exposes government welfare for billionaires in the form of public money for sports stadiums in his book Give Me a Break, in a section titled, “Sports Tycoon Freeloaders.” Sports teams very often hold local governments hostage, threatening to move unless new multi-billion dollar stadiums are built. So the taxpayers end up footing the majority of the bill.

Stossel relates a conversation with Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox, who says that the government “had to” fund his new stadium, but ends up admitting: “You mean, if somebody walks up to you and hands you money, you shouldn’t take it? The fact is–I was offered this stadium by elected officials.”

Stossel gets it right in his analysis of these situations:

Every scheme to create jobs through government spending means people who work and pay taxes have less money to spend on projects they would choose. But we in the media miss that. I can interview the people who got jobs or benefits from the government project, but I can’t find the people who didn’t get a job because money was diverted.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, August 4, 2005

CBS News reports that “while a majority still thinks the Space Shuttle is worth continuing, the program receives its lowest level of support in this poll since CBS News started asking about it in 1986. In addition, the public gives the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) its lowest job rating to date.”

This is an interesting bit of news, but the general unreliability of polls is exacerbated in this case, since “this poll was conducted before the repair of Discovery took place.” The huge amount of live TV news coverage the repair recieved would certainly boost public opinion of the shuttles in particular and NASA in general.

It may, however, help to show a general trend downward in support for the governmental program, down to 59% from a high of 80% support in 1986. As in all political matters, funding decisions should be made with a coherent prioritization in view of monetary scarcity. Nevertheless, special interests and political economy serve to make what ought to be and what is two quite different things.

In light of the recent exodus from the AFL-CIO, Dr. Charles W. Baird examines the nature of labor unions through the lens of Catholic social teaching. “Catholic social teaching has supported labor unions as part of a general defense of freedom of association,” he writes. “This defense has not extended, however, to unions that are coercive or politically partisan.”

Read the full text here.

Dr. Charles W. Baird is professor of economics at California State University, East Bay and author of Liberating Labor: A Christian Economist’s Case for Voluntary Unionism.

A recent interview with Dr. Baird on the AFL-CIO split is available for download here (MP3).

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Crude oil prices have reach a record high $62 per barrel. Combined with Time Warner’s worse-than-expected recent earnings stocks dropped today as investors waited uneasily for the government’s latest petroleum inventory report. A barrel of light crude was quoted at $62.40, up 51 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gasoline rose more than a cent to $1.7945 a gallon while heating oil gained a cent to $1.7350 a gallon. As American refineries operate at nearly 100% capacity, prices at the pump may continue to rise due to increased summer demand, pending tropical storms and hurricanes, and increased tensions this week because of Iran’s nuclear threat. Are we learning anything here about the complex, multi-facted dimension of the economy?

From SoYouWanna.com:

“Socially responsible investing is when you take your beliefs and values and apply them to how you invest your money. This is also known as having a ‘double bottom line,’ because not only are you looking for a profitable investment, but also one that meets certain moral criteria and that lets you sleep well at night. Your second bottom line could be moral, religious, or based on whatever Chicken Soup for the Soul principles help guide you through life.”

Acton’s Sam Gregg underscores this last point in a commentary on why Christians should look closer at the ethics behind “ethical” investing.

HT: the evangelical outpost

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, August 2, 2005

The issue of the federal regulation of non-profit groups, including churches, has meshed with a number of other questions, including allegations of government discrimination against faith-based groups. Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, writes of an attack on funding for faith-based initiatives in the New York Times as “typical of what’s been happening in the press and in Congress. Year after year, a Senate minority blocks votes on faith-based legislation. They demand that ministries not ‘discriminate’ by hiring only people of their own faith.”

But this is the inherent danger in taking money from the government (or anyone else for that matter). The tendency is to become increasingly dependent on that revenue source, and to become correspondingly beholden to the interests of the benefactor. If that benefactor is the government, the fight becomes more and more political, as a faith-based group might lobby for greater freedom in hiring, while a secular program might lobby to exclude some of the faith-based competition. In the process, valuable time, funds, and intangible resources are spent politicking.

And if government policies do change disfavorably, a program might face the hard choice of seeking replacement funding elsewhere or acquiescing to the new guidelines. But since much of the focus has been on lobbying government, necessary skills and infrastructure for grassroots fundraising have probably atrophied greatly in the interim. The choice might come down to the collapse of a program or meeting the demands of government.

Churches face similar pressures, in that their dependency on tax-exempt status can become a way for the government to manipulate their activities. A pastor may feel compelled to speak out about a particular policy or political issue, but refrains from doing so out of fear of retribution. In accepting the government’s tax breaks, churches run the risk of compromising their independence.

Karen Woods, director of the Center for Effective Compassion, spoke about many of these kinds of issues in an in-depth interview yesterday on The Inquisition (MP3), a web-based radio program.

The latest issue of Policy Forum, co-authored by Woods, studies how faith influences the behavior of charitable organizations, and finds that “a program’s faith element relates to the people they serve and the type of help they provide, as programs with more explicit and mandatory faith-related elements are likely to be substance-abuse programs.”

The study is based on Acton’s Samaritan Award program, “a national search for ten United States charity programs that receive little to no government funding and that agree that effective charity is rooted in the unique dignity of the human person.” The emphasis on the “little to no government funding” comes from the recognition of the complicating problems that dependence on government funding can bring for faith-based organizations.

I can therefore agree with Colson that “faith-based programs work where secular efforts fail,” and “that the Gospel is the best answer to our social problems.” But such agreement does not mean that we should necessarily seek government funding for our charitable work. It may, in fact, lead us to purposefully avoid it.

From last week’s McLaughlin Group (July 30), an exchange between Pat Buchanan and Mort Zuckerman on the AFL-CIO split:

MR. BUCHANAN: There’s no doubt it is a blow to the Democrats. And what Eleanor said is very important earlier. The future of the labor movement is in service workers and it’s government workers, John, because the industrial unions are dying. We are exporting all of their jobs overseas, whether it’s textile or steel or (atomic?) workers or auto workers. All of that’s going overseas. Free trade is killing the labor movement.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the timing –

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I’m sorry. It’s not just that it’s going overseas. Automation has changed those industries.

MR. BUCHANAN: Automation –

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They don’t need anywhere near — two-thirds of those workers are no longer needed to produce more cars and more steel. It’s automation.

MR. BUCHANAN: Globalization is killing them too.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That’s another part of it. And automation doesn’t apply to the service workers.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to ask –

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That’s why the future is there. I agree with that.

A little earlier Mr. Zuckerman says, “There’s been a complete transformation of the nature of the workforce in America. Thirty-five years ago, if you look at the auto workers and the steel workers, for example, 78 percent of them did not have a high school education. Today everybody is educated. It’s much less attractive to join a union, both culturally and politically.”

In addition, the move to a post-industrial, servece and information-oriented economy in America, and the resulting lack of mobility and innovation in some places (like Michigan), has played a large part in driving down union membership.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, August 2, 2005

On this date in 1876, Wild Bill Hickok was killed, shot dead from behind by Jack McCall while playing poker. He held a pair of aces & a pair of 8s, forever giving that combination the nickname “Dead Man’s Hand.”

Poker has come a long way since then, becoming a global multi-million dollar industry. There’s a good discussion over at World Magazine Blog, asking where parents should “draw the line,” given the rising popularity of poker among youth.

This story from CBS’s Morning Show last year profiled a mom who hosts poker nights for her son and his friends. Liz Perry says the kids are “having a great time. They’re …home. They’re not out on the street. They’re all great students great athletes and at night, this is a great way for them to hang out with each other and be with each other.”

Christian responses to gambling, card playing, and other games of chance vary, from the moderately permissive to the prohibitionist. Social conservative groups worry about the effect of gambling on young children. Keith Whyte, who runs the National Council on Problem Gambling, says “for most kids, gambling if they choose to engage in it will not be harmful. But for a percentage, four to six percent of kids will develop a serious gambling problem.” Some advocate greater government regulation and/or prohibition of gambling, saying that to do otherwise is to implicitly endorse the practice.

I would assert that governments should logically first cease the active promotion of gambling (via lotteries) before they take greater measures to restrict or discourage other forms of gambling. I just can’t see a substantive difference between spending money on the Mega Millions jackpot and having a night of poker with friends…except that the former is essentially a regressive tax promoted by the government.