Category: Public Policy

RefuseServiceSignIn today’s Acton Commentary, “The Logic of Economic Discrimination,” I take up a small slice of the larger controversy and discussion surrounding religious liberty laws like the one passed recently in Indiana. My point, drawing out some of the implications of observations made by others, including Ryan Anderson and Shikha Dalmia, is that anti-discrimination boycotts depend on discrimination. Or as Dalmia puts it, “what is deeply ironic is that corporate America was able to wield its right not to do business (and boycott Indiana) by circumscribing the same right of Indiana businesses.”

Now there are lots of other angles and significant points to explore surrounding this enormously complex and important debate. Many have criticized the hypocrisy of corporations like Apple for doing business in places like China and Saudi Arabia even while they grandstand against Indiana. Others are now pointing to the actions of many in Silicon Valley, which despite the proclamations of support for social justice, have actually created huge inequalities. Tech centers like Silicon Valley are great, it seems, unless you are a woman, have a family, or are a blue-collar worker.

Indiana politicians, under massive scrutiny, have since moved to “clarify” the RFRA law that was passed, a move that has mollified some but not others. From the beginning, these conversations about religious liberty and economic rights have, in my view, insufficiently included sensitivity to considerations like freedom of association. Hopefully the larger context and interactions of contracts and rights, not merely “religious liberty” narrowly defined, can help broaden and mature the conversation.
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bureaucracySmall-government conservatives often share a regrettable trait with their big-government liberal opponents: they frame the issue almost exclusively in terms of the size and scope of the federal government.

Although conservatives sometimes expand their view and include state governments, the focus tends to miss the local governments, city and county municipalities, that can have a considerable impact on an individual’s life. But in Texas they’re beginning to take notice—and are doing something about it:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has been vocal about his opposition to what he characterizes as an overabundance of regulations implemented at the local level in his state.

During remarks at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s 13th annual Policy Orientation in January, Abbott said that “the truth is, Texas is being California-ized with bag bans, fracking bans, tree-cutting bans…We are forming a patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that are eroding the Texas Model.”

And as James Quintero, the director of the Center for Local Governance at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, told The Daily Signal, “big government at the local level is still big government.”

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Rembrandt The Hundred Guilder Print.jpg

Rembrandt The Hundred Guilder Print” by Rembrandt – www.rijksmuseum.nl : Home : Info. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“No, those who labor and are heavy-laden do not all look the way Rembrandt drew them in his ‘Hundred Guilder’ picture—poverty-stricken, miserable, sick, leprous, ragged, with worn, furrowed faces. They are also found concealed behind happy-looking, youthful faces and brilliantly successful lives. There are people who feel utterly forsaken in the midst of high society, to whom everything in their lives seems stale and empty to the point of nausea, because they can sense that underneath it all, their souls are decaying and rotting away. There is no loneliness like that of the fortunate.”

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer

pollution-permitsA key way to reduce pollution is to provide a mechanism that allows some firms to pollute as much—or even more—than they normally would. That idea may sound ridiculous—reduce pollution by allowing pollution?—but it’s been proven to be a surprisingly effective means of cleaning up the environment.

In 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act were added which included market-based incentives to reduce pollution, such as “emissions permits” for certain pollutants. As Robert W. Crandall explains,

These are, in effect, rights to pollute that can be traded among polluters. Imagine a giant bubble that encloses all existing sources of air pollution. Within that bubble, some emitters may pollute more than the control level as long as other polluters compensate by polluting less. The government or some other state or regional authority decides on the desired level of pollution and the initial distribution of pollution rights within an industry or for a geographic region—the “bubble” that encloses these sources. Purchases and sales of permits within the “bubble” should reduce the total level of pollution to the allowable limit at the lowest total cost.

The method not only works, it has shown to reduce pollution to even levels lower than could have been achieved by an across-the-board cap on all polluting firms—and at costs that are significantly cheaper.

MRUniversity recently released a video that explains the economics of these tradable pollution permits.

mandatory-votingWhile speaking in Cleveland yesterday President Obama came out in favor of making voting in elections compulsory:

In Australia and some other countries, there’s mandatory voting. It would be transformative if everybody voted — that would counteract money more than anything. If everybody voted, it would completely change the political map in this country. Because the people who tend not to vote are young, they’re lower income, they’re skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups… So that may end up being a better strategy in the short term.

While there may be some benefits of mandatory voting, counteracting the amount of money in politics is not one of them. In fact, it would likely increase the amount of money spent on campaigning.

Currently, political campaigns spend a lot of money targeting likely voters and getting them to the polls. Mandatory voting would eliminate the need for spending on get-out-the-vote efforts, but it would make targeting voters even more essential. Political parties would have a need and an incentive to spend millions—perhaps even billions—more on campaigns since they would need to reach millions of additional, low-information voters.

But there are two other reasons why mandatory voting would be a terrible policy:
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rubio-leeWhat is the Rubio-Lee Plan?

The plan—officially titled the “Economic Growth and Family Fairness Tax Plan”—is a white paper in which Senators Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) lay out a tax reform proposal they believes will “resolve these major problems in the tax code.”

What’s in the plan?

The plan has two main sections, one “pro-growth” and one “pro-family.” The pro-growth side of the plan includes seven recommended changes:
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men-waiting-outside-soup-kitchenThe people of Seattle recently voted to put their poorest residents out of work by increasing the minimum wage to $15 over the next seven years. But wealthier residents may soon find out just how quickly it will affect them too. A number of area restaurants are already shutting down, and many others will soon closing their doors. As Anthony Anton, president and CEO of Washington Restaurant Association, says, “It’s not a political problem; it’s a math problem.”

[Anton] estimates that a common budget breakdown among sustaining Seattle restaurants so far has been the following: 36 percent of funds are devoted to labor, 30 percent to food costs and 30 percent go to everything else (all other operational costs). The remaining 4 percent has been the profit margin, and as a result, in a $700,000 restaurant, he estimates that the average restaurateur in Seattle has been making $28,000 a year.

With the minimum wage spike, however, he says that if restaurant owners made no changes, the labor cost in quick service restaurants would rise to 42 percent and in full service restaurants to 47 percent.

“Everyone is looking at the model right now, asking how do we do math?” he says. “Every operator I’m talking to is in panic mode, trying to figure out what the new world will look like.” Regarding amount of labor, at 14 employees, a Washington restaurant already averages three fewer workers than the national restaurant average (17 employees). Anton anticipates customers will definitely be tested with new menu prices and more. “Seattle is the first city in this thing and everyone’s watching, asking how is this going to change?”

You may have the smartest lawyers on retainer, the most-connected lobbyists on your payroll, and the most powerful politicians in your pocket, but it won’t help you change the law of unintended consequences. When you muck around and make changes to a complex system—such as labor pricing—you’re bound to create problems like the one’s Seattle’s restaurateurs will be facing. The law of unintended consequences always gets the final say.

If it were a matter of mere ignorance this new law might be excusable. If the supporters of the $15 minimum wage were able to honestly say, “We couldn’t have known raising the wage would put people out of work” we could let them off the hook. But they knew—or should have known—because it has been pointed out to them time and time again.
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Blog author: ehilton
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
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lovely guinnessFor those so inclined, St. Patrick’s Day is a great day to enjoy a pint of Guinness. The legendary beer of Ireland has not only a rich taste, but a rich history.

Arthur Guinness was a brewer and entrepreneur in a time when clean drinking water was hard to find in Dublin. Alcoholic beverages were the norm. While alcohol is preferred to polluted water, it also has the unhealthy effects of drunkenness. Beer was deemed a healthier alternative to homemade concoctions and hard alcohol, and Arthur Guinness set about perfecting the ideal brew.

Guinness was also a man of God. One Sunday morning, while attending St. Patrick’s Cathedral with his family, Guinness heard John Wesley speak.

We do not know exactly what Wesley preached, but we can know a few things. Wesley would have called the congregation at St. Patrick’s to God, of course, but he also would have had a special message for men like Guinness. It was something he taught wherever he went. “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can,” he would have insisted. “Your wealth is evidence of a calling from God, so use your abundance for the good of mankind.” (more…)

og_apple_watch_editionOver at Think Christian today I examine some of the moral implications surrounding the announced release of the new Apple Watch.

In the background of my thinking was a TEDxPuget Sound talk by Simon Sinek that focuses on identifying the “why” of organizations. It’s important to ask the “why” of our consumption as well, which is why I want to know of moral justifications for purchasing something like a $10,000 gold Apple Watch.

Please pass along your suggestions in the comments section.

buried“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible,” said Stanisław Jerzy Lec. Whether that is true in nature, it’s certainly seems to be true for many of the precious little snowflakes who find themselves, after making poor educational decisions, buried under an avalanche of student loan debt. Consider, for instance, this op-ed by Tad Hopp, a student in “his last semester in the MDiv program at San Francisco Theological Seminary.”

Before we delve into what will be one of the worst opinion pieces of the year, let me offer a word of caution. Reading Mr. Hopp’s op-ed may affect you, as it did me, by filling you with despair. Can America survive when millions of people have such a self-centered sense of entitlement? I’m not sure. And if you’re prone to declinist thinking, you’ll want to skip the rest of this post. Here’s a compilation of kitten videos to watch instead.

Let’s start by reviewing the circumstances Mr. Hopp finds himself in:

1. Goes to an expensive private college and majors in a subject that is in low demand on the job market (English).
2. Graduates with $50,000 in debt and is unable to find a job.
3. Goes to another expensive private college and majors in a subject that is in low demand on the job market (Master of Divinity).
4. Nears graduation with an additional $50,000 in debt and no prospect for finding a job.

As Mr. Hopp says,

Perhaps you can see my dilemma here. Here I am, about to graduate from a very prestigious master’s degree program, saddled with student loan debt and the constant worry that I won’t be able to find a job once I graduate.

Based on that list of events you might expect him to provide a wise, experienced-based warning that others should not follow his example. You might expect him to advise, “Don’t go to a college you can’t afford, don’t wrack up debt you can’t pay, and don’t major in a subject that won’t help you get a job. And for goodness sake don’t do all those things twice!

But instead, Mr. Hopp takes a different approach:
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