Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 27, 2013
By

I’m not an aficionado of the show Extreme Couponing, but I have seen it a couple times, and have been amazed at the industriousness of the people on the show. It shouldn’t be surprising, perhaps, that in the midst of economic downturn more generally the practice of clipping coupons has become more widespread as well as more extreme.

It makes sense that when times are tight and you are looking to scrimp and save every penny in your budget that increased use of coupons can be a way to make each dollar stretch a bit farther. Companies originally offered coupons as incentives to try new products, and so it is appropriate to see coupons as a form of advertising. The first company to offer coupons was Coca-Cola, and here we can see the similarities between coupons and the free samples, which is part of what makes Costco so popular, as product promotion.

coca

But it never really occurred to me until I read this short profile of an extreme couponer that coupons should also really be seen as a kind of private welfare, reaching a high of roughly $4 billion in total savings in the US in 2011.
(more…)

poverty_2226036b1Over at the New York Times, economist Jeffrey Sachs opines about the need for greater measures to “end poverty” in countries across the world where people are truly suffering. Using data from the World Bank, Sachs reports that the proportion of households in developing countries below the extreme-poverty line has declined sharply from 52 percent in 1980, to 43 percent in 1990, 34 percent in 1999, and 21 percent in 2010. Sachs then explains what is needed in order for this to continue:

Here are the basics: economic growth, and hence a market economy, is vital. Africa’s poverty is declining in part because its growth rate picked up from 2.3 percent per year during the lackluster years of 1990-2000 to 5.7 percent during 2000-10. Without economic growth, there cannot be sustained gains in income, health and other areas. Continued progress depends on heavy investments in major infrastructure — water, electricity, waste management — and these in turn depend on large-scale private financing, hence a suitable market framework.

So anti-market sentiment is no friend of poverty reduction. But neither is free-market fundamentalism. Economic growth and poverty reduction can’t be achieved by free markets alone. Disease control, public education, the promotion of new science and technology, and protection of the natural environment are public functions that must align with private market forces.

At this point we can begin to see the lack of social imagination in the goal of simply “ending poverty.” The Christian tradition, instead of focusing on only two spheres of society — government and the economy — pushes the conversation forward toward human flourishing and sustainable economies because people are made for more than simply living in a less-bad world. Christian teaching places emphasis on the moral, social, political, and economic contexts that contribute to societies where humans can flourish in morally excellent ways consistent with their creational design. Sachs completely misses, then, the importance of mediating institutions.
(more…)

Acton On The AirSamuel Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research, continues to promote his fine new book Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy and Human Flourishing via radio interviews all across the country. Today, Sam spoke with Jan Mickelson on Des Moines, Iowa’s 50,000 watt WHO Radio. It was a fine conversation, with Mickelson calling the book “a spirited read,” well worth your time. To pick up a copy of your own, head over to the book’s website. Listen to the interview via the audio player below.

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, September 23, 2013
By

IRS-300x300A few months ago I wrote about how when I was a young Marine I learned that when the commanding officer says, “I wish” or “I desire,” these expressions have the force of a direct order and should be acted upon as if they had given a direct order. If our CO were to say, even in musing to themselves, “I wish there was something that could be done about that,” we knew we should jump into action. The main problem with this custom was when Marines would assume they knew the CO’s desires and wishes — and then act on that assumption.

A similar custom appears to be practiced at the Internal Revenue Service. A new report finds that IRS officials thought it was Obama’s unstated desire for them to crackdown on Tea Party groups:
(more…)

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, September 19, 2013
By

BRITAIN BOXING

Floyd “Money” Mayweather

Over at Think Christian today, I explore the connection between higher education as a means to greater earning power in “The myth of lucrative college majors.” I argue that “the size of a paycheck is not the only factor worth considering,” and go on to detail what a paycheck does and does not represent.

By looking at the earnings of various majors, it becomes apparent that we have a need for more engineers of various kinds. But apart from specific market signals, I echo, in large part, the conclusion of Paul Heyne, who wrote that the success of the market in increasing affluence and getting us the things we want ought to impel us “to think more carefully about what we want.”

The reality of today is that we have a developed economy to the extent that we have unprecedented levels of specialization. You can make a living, even if it isn’t a particularly lucrative one, doing almost anything imaginable. This is in marked contrast to previous eras, where the realities of class, technological innovation, and knowledge were such that only a few careers options were possible. Consider, for instance, the case of the early modern executioner.

One way of showing the incredible levels of specialization made possible today would be to simply observe the many, many things you can major in at a college these days. My working hypothesis is that if you have to add the word “studies” after something, then it probably isn’t a real major. But more seriously, the level of specialized education available today is simply breathtaking. And that doesn’t even begin to address the question of whether higher education is necessary at all.

In the TC piece I point to the example of undefeated boxer and high school dropout Floyd Mayweather Jr., who enjoyed a record breaking payout this past weekend. Mayweather is exceptional, certainly, as he would be the first to tell you. But there are plenty of more mundane examples of crafts and trades, as well as innovators and entrepreneurs, who found success without going to college.

Like all things, there are better and worse reasons to go to college and to choose a particular major. To simply increase your future earnings isn’t a particularly good motivation. And if all you care about is making money, then college may not be the best choice anyway, although as Michael Lewis puts it, “If you’re a certain kind of kid who doesn’t actually know anything about anything, Wall Street is still a great place to go.”

That said, all this comes from someone who majored in English at Michigan State University and then spent more than a decade pursuing theology at the graduate level. So I may be precisely the wrong sort of person to ask about lucrative career choices. As I often remind my wife, she married the wrong kind of doctor.

american-tax-policyYesterday, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) gave a speech on tax reform at the American Enterprise Institute that has been praised by many conservatives. Here’s what you should know about Lee’s proposal.

What exactly did Sen. Lee propose?

The “Family Fairness and Opportunity Tax Reform Act” is a proposal by Sen. Lee to deal with the individual income side of the tax code (not the corporate side) by making it more “family-friendly” and eliminating what Sen. Hill calls the “parent tax penalty.”

What is the parent tax penalty?

While Social Security and Medicare are often referred to as “insurance” programs, they are really generational transfer payments. Younger workers pay for the elderly and retired. The FICA and Medicare taxes taken out of a worker paychecks today are used today to directly pay for these benefits to seniors.

Sen. Lee notes that this structure requires that parents contribute twice — by paying FICA and Medicare taxes and by bearing the economic costs of raising children. According to Lee, this is essentially a “capital gains” tax on children (who will later provide the human capital for the generational transfer payment system).

Can you give an overview of Lee’s plan?
(more…)

JMM_16 1 FRONTThe newest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality has been published. The issue is available in digital format online and should be arriving in print in the next few weeks for subscribers. Volume 16, no. 1 is a theme issue on the topic of “Integral Human Development,” which was the focus of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate. He writes,

The development We speak of here cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man.

In this light, this most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality focuses on the goal of development with the broadest possible conceptions, combining insights from the disciplines of theology, philosophy, ethics, economics, and law, in order to explore the complex goal of lifting people out of all forms of poverty — whether material, spiritual, or otherwise — so that they can better fulfill their God-given potential and vocations. (more…)

Untitled-9One of the things I never learned in my U.S. government courses in high school was just how quickly government agencies and programs grow without undergoing Congressional vetting. For example, I recently discovered that there exists a federally-funded White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). When did that happen? How did that happen? In fact, a few days ago, the White House announced changes in the leadership of this initiative.

President Obama names two dynamic new leaders to head the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Dr. George Cooper will begin this week as the Initiative’s Executive Director, and Dr. Ivory Toldson will serve as Deputy Director. The task at hand for Dr. Cooper and Dr. Toldson is to lead a team, stretched across 32 federal agencies, corporate entities, and philanthropic organizations, to work together in strengthening the capacity of over 100 HBCUs, as they strive to shape this country’s next generation of leaders.

Since a large share of HBCUs are private schools, I am curious about why these schools deserve special attention from the President of the United States in ways that other historic coalitions of colleges do not. After looking at the Department of Education’s website for information I discovered that this is a tale of presidential executive orders.
(more…)

Blog author: abradley
Thursday, September 12, 2013
By

NYC Mayoral Candidate Bill de Blasio Campaigns In BrooklynPeter Beinart at the Daily Beast writes a fascinating article about the way the “left” is currently being reshaped. It seems that young adults in the Democratic Party are far more radical than what America saw in the Clinton White House. In fact, as the article notes, Bill de Blasio’s Democratic Party nomination to run for New York City mayor is a signal of this new direction. If those who love liberty are not paying attention to this shift, they should: we are likely to see more and more of de Blasio’s platform at the local and state level. Here are just a few things de Blasio wants to accomplish in New York City if elected:
(more…)

choiceopportunityfront1Last week, as the country was remember MLK’s dream of children being judged on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, Attorney General Eric Holder was suing the state of Louisiana because he’s more worried, as the Wall Street Journal says, about the complexion of the schools’ student body than their manifest failure to educate.

Late last week, Justice asked a federal court to stop 34 school districts in the Pelican State from handing out private-school vouchers so kids can escape failing public schools. Mr. Holder’s lawyers claim the voucher program appears “to impede the desegregation progress” required under federal law. Justice provides little evidence to support this claim, but there couldn’t be a clearer expression of how the civil-rights establishment is locked in a 1950s time warp.

Passed in 2012, Louisiana’s state-wide program guarantees a voucher to students from families with incomes below 250% of poverty and who attend schools graded C or below. The point is to let kids escape the segregation of failed schools, and about 90% of the beneficiaries are black.

During the 2012-13 school year, about 10% of voucher recipients came from 22 districts that remain under desegregation orders from 50 or so years ago.
For example, says the complaint, in several of those 22 districts “the voucher recipients were in the racial minority at the public school they attended before receiving the voucher.” In other words, Justice is claiming that the voucher program may be illegal because minority kids made their failing public schools more white by leaving those schools to go to better private schools.

Read more . . .