Category: Public Policy

Kris Mauren, executive director of the Acton Institute, kicks off the second season of the Free Market Series, a television program for American and Canadian audiences produced by The World Show in partnership with the Montreal Economic Institute and broadcast on PBS affiliates. In Episode 1, Mauren takes apart the “fatally flawed poverty industry” and talks about Acton’s Poverty Inc. documentary. Interview notes:

Many people imagine that free markets are synonymous with self-interest and greed, but for Kris Mauren, freedom is a necessary condition of a good society. As he describes in this illuminating interview, when he co-founded the Acton Institute, the errors of rejecting markets were becoming undeniable. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and of real communism, he says, “we could see the results of generations of socialist experimentation, and the results were not good. And people of good will have to be concerned with results, not just philosophy.” (more…)

techrevolutionAcross the globe, extreme poverty has been reduced by the advent and ubiquity of a simple tool: cell phones. As USAID says, mobile phones “fundamentally transform the way people in the developing world interact with one another and their governments, and access basic health, education, business and financial services.”

Could the same technology that is alleviating extreme poverty around the world also be used to help solve America’s homeless problem?

In an intriguing paper by the America Enterprise Institute, Kevin C. Corinth proposes giving the homeless smartphones as part of a “tech revolution for the homeless.” “I propose equipping homeless individuals with free smartphones and service plans in exchange for providing daily information on themselves through a specialized app—including their sleeping locations, use of services, and personal outcomes,” says Corinth. “The possibilities could transform how we understand and confront homelessness.”
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29taxes.2-500In an attempt to trap Jesus, some Pharisees and Herodians asked him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” In response, Jesus said,

“Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The Pharisees and Herodians “marveled” at Jesus answer, but had they asked an agent of the Roman IRS they likely would have been given a similar answer.

Governments have always had to contend with citizens who make what are considered “frivolous tax arguments” to avoid complying with tax laws. Such arguments rarely work (it’s usually not effective to try to present a creative interpretation of tax law to the people who interpret tax laws) but people keep trying.

The IRS has an entire list of responses to the most common frivolous tax arguments. In honor of Tax Day*, here are four of my favorites:
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Video source: The Harry Read Me File. More clips from the hearing here.

On Wednesday, the Rev. Robert A. Sirico, co-founder and president of the Acton Institute, testified at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public works. The hearing aimed “to examine the role of environmental policies on access to energy and economic opportunity … ” A report at the Energy & Environment news service said the hearing was “full of fireworks.” It was convened by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a sharp critic of the Obama administration’s climate policies.

“The true purpose of the president’s climate polices have nothing to do with protecting the interests of the America people,” Inhofe said. “Instead, they are meant to line the pocketbooks of his political patrons while promoting his self-proclaimed climate legacy.”

Democrats on the committee pushed back against those arguments. But it was majority witness Alex Epstein, the author of “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” who caused much of the contention at the hearing.

Epstein testified that rising carbon dioxide levels benefit plants and Americans. He defended fossil fuels as a driver of stability and prosperity in an ever-changing climate.

“The president’s anti-fossil-fuel policies would ruin billions of lives economically and environmentally,” he said, “depriving people of energy and therefore making them more vulnerable to nature’s ever-present climate danger.”

In a follow up report, the news service highlighted testy exchanges between Democrat members of the committee and Sirico: (more…)

How-to-Understand-Federal-Tax-FormsAfter almost three decades of filling out increasing complex tax forms, you’d think I’d be used to it (or at least resigned to the onerous task). But every tax season I complain even more than I did the year before. Why do I have to do this?

Perhaps the problem, notes Daniel J. Hurst, is that I’m forgetting that it’s part of my responsibility as a Christian. “While we may have grumbled when filing our taxes this year,” says Hurst, “did we pause to think that giving the government part of our income is a way we honor the Lord and express our trust in his grand design?”
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Leighblackall-76202405Andrew Biggs of AEI has a piece up today at Forbes addressing the gender pay gap and provides a neat solution: “forbid women from staying at home with their children.” As Biggs points out, such a policy would address perhaps the greatest root cause of gender pay inequality: varied work experience attributable to choices women make. “Most mothers who stay at home or work only part-time are doing what they wish to do and what they view as best for their kids,” writes Biggs. This results in gaps in pay when those women re-enter the work force or increase their labor participation.

Biggs’ proposal to “make staying at home with kids illegal, just like child labor is illegal” would have another benefit favored by many: it would be a boon to GDP. As I point out in a review essay in the latest issue of Christian Scholar’s Review, the work that stay-at-home parents do is not counted toward GDP. When those parents pay someone to take care of their children as part of a business transaction, however, as in the case of day care centers, then that exchange does count towards GDP.

My piece, “Affluence Agonistes–A Review Essay,” takes a look at the book The Poverty of Nations by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, in addition to a couple of other recent publications. The CSR essay expands upon a review of the Grudem/Asmus book I wrote for Public Discourse, “Life to the Full: The Dangers of Material Wealth and Spiritual Poverty.” As Grudem and Asmus put it simply, to combat poverty “the goal must be to increase a nation’s GDP.”

So not only are stay-at-home moms a major source of wage inequality, they are also “a drag on GDP.” As one press report put it, “With female participation stagnating, potential growth isn’t rising as quickly.”

Biggs’ proposal to ban stay-at-home mothers should logically be embraced by both anti-gender inequality progressives as well as GDP growth fundamentalists. As I argue in the essay, “If a nation were to pursue GDP growth as its highest goal, it would probably institute policies and incentives to induce women to work outside the home and professionalize child care. GDP incentivizes specialization and the division of labor, since such transactions are the only things taken into account.”

But the Grove City College economist Shawn Ritenour rightly concludes, “We ought not give into the temptation that all of human welfare is encapsulated in GDP.” Another way of putting it is that men, women, and children do not “live on GDP per capita alone.”

Update: For those readers who might not bother to read Biggs’ piece, he does not (and neither do I, for that matter) actually advocate for this policy.

cleancoallead2Electric cars are not a new invention, nor are they as popular as they once were. (They debuted in 1890 and by 1900 electric cars accounted for around a third of all vehicles on the road.) But over the past decade, thanks to Elon Musk and Tesla Motors, electric cars have become much more interesting.

Tesla rolled out the first fully electric sports car in 2008 and a fully electric luxury sedan in 2012. And earlier this month they unveiled the Model 3, a premium sedan for $35,000.

The Model 3 won’t be produced until 2017 but it’s already something of a success. You can “reserve” a Model 3 for $1,000, and so far the company has over 325,000 reservations. As Tesla brags, this corresponds to about $14 billion in implied future sales, making this “the single biggest one-week launch of any product ever.”

I confess that if I had $35k I’d gladly trade in my 2004 Toyota Prius for a car that goes 0 To 60 MPH in under 4 seconds. But as a conservationist and a conservative the idea of driving a car powered by coal and subsidized by the government gives me pause.

What’s that? You didn’t realize electric cars were powered by coal? That’s not surprising since you won’t find it mentioned in Tesla’s brochures. But it’s true that they are “fueled” by electricity that is created by coal or other fossil fuels (at least mostly in some states, exclusively in others). And it’s also true the government will, in the name of protecting the environment, give you a tax break for buying a car that runs on coal.

Tesla’s electric cars are beautiful, but they aren’t necessarily better for the environment. As environmental economist Bjorn Lomborg explains in this video, electric cars aren’t necessarily greener than conventional gasoline cars.

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