Category: Public Policy

Today at First Things’ On the Square feature, I question the tone and timing of Patriarch Batholomew’s recent message on climate change. While I do not object to him making a statement about the subject in conjunction with the opening of the Warsaw Climate Change Conference, his initial reference, then silence, with regards to Typhoon Haiyan while other religious leaders offered their prayer, sympathy, and support to those affected, is disappointing. I write,

While other religious leaders offered prayer and tangible support, all that has come from the Phanar is an environmental statement. Hurting people need practical and pastoral help, not politics.

An additionally troubling aspect of the problem comes from his clear implication that the typhoon was caused, or at least intensified, by anthropogenic climate change, using this tragedy to advocate for a political cause through a disposition of fear: (more…)

Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,
Why this same strict and most observant watch
So nightly toils the subject of the land,
And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,
And foreign mart for implements of war;
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week;
What might be toward, that this sweaty haste
Doth make the night joint-labourer with the day:
Who is’t that can inform me?

–Marcellus, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Human beings, with our diversity of gifts, talents, and dispositions, were created to, as Adam Smith put it, “truck, barter, and exchange.” In other words, we were made to trade.

But we were not created to be constantly trucking, bartering, and exchanging. That’s the central truth about humanity that the commandment concerning Sabbath rest communicates:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Over at The Gospel Coalition today, I expand on the news of Amazon’s new delivery service on Sundays to discuss “Sabbath Rest and the Moral Limits of Consumption.”

Just as we sleep each night to give our bodies rest from daily labors, our souls (as well as our bodies) need rest from mundane and worldly activities. This is the kind of rest that the Sabbath is designed to provide. The Sabbath principle calls us to rest from the gratification of our earthly desires, whether they be morally permissible or not, and whether we consider them to be work or leisure.
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paying-taxesYesterday I was reading an article about Obamacare in the Washington Post. . .

Whether they know about that financial help is a different question, as many have had trouble using HealthCare.gov to figure out how much insurance would cost under the Affordable Care Act. And the study does not include information on whether those subsides would lead to lower premiums for shoppers buying in the health law’s new exchanges.

“There’s no question that when people get better coverage it is likely to mean that they are going to pay somewhat higher premiums,” Families USA executive director Ron Pollack said. “You don’t get anything for nothing. But if you’re eligible for subsides that are going to significantly reduce your premiums, that could more than make up for an increase in premium costs.”

. . . and then I repeatedly banged my head against the wall until I lost consciousness. Before I came to, I had this weird dream:

Uncle Sam: “Give me a hundred dollars.”

I.M. Citizen: “Why”

Uncle Sam: “I’m going to spend it on some things you need—and some stuff you don’t.”

I.M. Citizen: “I don’t really have a choice do I?”

Uncle Sam: “Not really, no.”

I.M. Citizen (reaches for wallet): “Well, okay, here is a hundred dollars . . . ”

Uncle Sam: “Wait, did you have to pay higher insurance premiums because of Obamacare?” (more…)

An exceedingly honest woman called into an Austin, Texas, radio talk show, KLBJ, to discuss why she chooses not to work. She, her husband and three children rely on tax dollars for shelter, utilities and food. She admits that her parents did not work either, and that free money and programs were offered all the time. And what’s wrong with that?

Transforming Welfare: The Revival of American Charity

Transforming Welfare: The Revival of American Charity

By offering private alternatives to the failed welfare state, this collection of essays hopes to contribute to the restoration of an ethic that can be the foundation of a truly free and humane system of social assistance.

healthcare.gov-crash-1The Obama Administration has stated that 106,000 people have managed to sign up for health care on the Healthcare.gov site, a site 3-1/2 years in the making. Both HHS Director Kathleen Sebelius and Deputy Chief Information Officer for the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Henry Cho, have been grilled by congressional committees as to the incredibly poor performance of the website. What exactly went wrong? NPR’s All Tech Considered breaks it down. (more…)

Blog author: abradley
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
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While overall crime rates are falling, in major U.S. cities the untold story is that crime is now more concentrated among the underclass. For example, the New York Times ran a cover story of the concentration of crime in the city of St. Louis to show the reality of this trend. St. Louis, like many other cities, is highly divided by race and class, demonstrated in the city’s crime statistics. The highest crime areas are also the areas that are predominantly black and lower-class. The story of how this decline came to be is quite complex, but one thing the Times story gets right is that these neighborhoods declined sharply when the middle class moved out to the suburbs. The article recounts the experience of one of the residents:

Ms. Gordon has seen a diverse middle-class neighborhood of white and black families transform into one of abandoned, overgrown lots and boarded-up houses. As in many downtrodden parts of St. Louis, the middle class fled for the suburbs, leaving behind those with less economic mobility and causing property values to drop, the education system to crumble and feeding a sense of desperation that leads people to sell drugs and steal.

The most stabilizing group of residents in inner-city communities has always been the black middle class. During the era of racial segregation, it was the black middle class that stabilized many of these communities as blacks migrated from the South to the northern cities after World War II. Many of these neighborhoods have had low-income residents for decades but they did not have the same social pathologies and economic degradation that we find in the northern sections of St. Louis. Without a resurgence of the black middle class, their virtues, and their values, it is unlikely that these neighborhoods will stabilize in the near future. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
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Untitled 3Hawaii is consistently ranked as one of the states where most Americans want to live. But for many residents, the island life is more nightmare than tropical dream. The high cost of living and lack of affordable housing contributes to Hawaii having one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country.

The state government has attempted to address the crisis in ways that are sometimes as creative as they are disturbing. Earlier this year, the state legislature voted to establish a program that would pay for a one-way ticket to send homeless residents to the mainland. The program was dubbed a “return-to-home” program despite the fact that more than half of the homeless population being lifetime residents or people who lived in Hawaii a minimum of 20 years.

But that program created by the state’s lawmakers seems downright compassionate compared to how one individual state lawmaker is addressing the problem. State Rep. Tom Brower (D.) roams the streets of his district armed with a sledgehammer and smashes any shopping carts he finds that are used by the homeless:
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Creation Heart ManToday at Ethika Politika, Alfred Kentigern Siewers reviews Creation and the Heart of Man: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Environmentalism, Acton’s recent Orthodox Christian social thought monograph by Fr. Michael Butler and Prof. Andrew Morriss. Siewers offers a nuanced and critical review, being well-read in the literature himself, and ultimately welcomes the monograph as a missing voice in the broader conversation of Orthodox Christianity and creation care.

Siewers writes,

[I]n its introductory opening chapter, the authors clearly set forth their objection to what they see as a “deep left bias” in the increasingly growing library of literature on Orthodox Christian approaches to nature. Specifically, they bemoan the following: what they see as a lack of policy prescriptions drawn directly from Orthodox tradition; “the subordination of the Tradition to preexisting political or environmental agenda”; a tendency of such writings to be overly critical of Western society; and impractical policy recommendations. In this it criticizes some of the environmental statements of Patriarch Bartholomew, as well as of the post-communist Russian Orthodox Synod, but runs the risk of falling into its own critique.

Its emphases and discussion tend toward a particular kind of American conservative perspective, with an emphasis on free markets, rather than a more paleo-conservative concern about modernity along neo-agrarian lines, or the American Enterprise Institute’s Roger Scruton’s Green Philosophy with its “Red Tory” approach. More esoteric but creative approaches—such as geo-libertarianism and anarcho-monarchism—also aren’t considered, although the monograph does in a needed way open discussion further on alternatives to statist approaches and details how the latter work against the kind of spiritual transfiguration required in Orthodox cosmic theology.

Indeed, in the end the work is Orthodox and not libertarian, excellent in its rich outline of both patristic writings and a variety of contemporary scholars as well as the writings and lives of holy saints and elders (across a spectrum of approaches and views). For example, the authors do also positively address ideas of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Russian Synod, in a tradition that relies not on papal leadership but on conciliarity.

Read more . . .

money health careIn today’s Wall Street Journal, Yuval Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru argue that conservatives now have a prime opportunity to offer a “credible alternative” to ObamaCare that would not only solve the serious problems of the healthcare system but would prevent a further lurch to the left if the current law fails:

Seeing the pileup, Republicans might be tempted to step aside and let ObamaCare continue to disappoint and infuriate Americans. After all, the GOP doesn’t have the power to repeal the law, or even to make meaningful changes to undo its worst effects. So why not just watch the Democrats pay the price for their folly?

But such passivity would actually protect the Democrats from paying that price. What Republicans can and should do is offer the public something better. Now is the time to advance a conservative reform that can solve the serious, discrete problems of the health-care system in place before ObamaCare, but without needlessly upending people’s arrangements or threatening what works in American medicine. That the Democrats are now making things worse doesn’t mean the public wants to keep that prior system, or that Republicans should.

The biggest Republican misconception about health care is that the system before ObamaCare was a free-market paradise. On the contrary: It has consisted chiefly of massive and inefficient entitlements that threaten to bankrupt the nation; the lopsided tax treatment of employer-provided coverage that creates incentives for waste and overspending; and an underdeveloped individual market struggling to fill the gaps.

Read more . . .

The educational cronyism of textbook publisher cartels is coming to an end as digital alternatives are on the rise, or so says AEI’s Mark Perry in a recent article. “Hear that hissing sound?” he writes, “It’s the sound of the college textbook bubble starting to deflate. . . . The era of the college textbook cartel and $300 college textbooks is ending.”

I have written on this subject in the past for the PowerBlog (here and here), mentioning Perry’s coverage of the subject at that time, among others.

In particular, I would maintain my position today that if more affordable, quality alternatives exist, educators ought to take the time to research them and find ones that fit their curricula if they can. Students are already overburdened by student loan debt in order to get degrees of decreasing quality and utility. If a professor can do a little to lessen the financial burden of higher education, it is one small victory for the common good. And Christian educators ought to lead the way.

Perry summarizes the problem as follows:

Between January 1998 and September 2013, the CPI for college textbooks has increased by more than 144%, compared to an increase of only 44.4% for the CPI for all items, and an increase of only 0.6% for the CPI for recreational books. In real terms, the cost of college textbooks has increased by more than 69% over the last 15 years, while at the same time the real cost of recreational books has fallen by more than 30%.

The reason that the college textbook bubble is on an unsustainable price trajectory and is already starting to show some initial signs of deflating is because of the increasing amount of competition for the college textbook market.

Read more . . . .