Category: Public Policy

One of the unintended consequences of the church growth movement was the narrowing of an understanding of how Christianity contributes to the common good by reducing what Christians contribute to the local church. While the church remains vital for the moral formation of society, there are other aspects of human flourishing that require the development of other institutions as Andy Crouch recently explained at Christianity Today.

This reduction has been adopted in some platforms that currently promote church planting. This church planting emphasis, in some cases, has led to an atrophied historical understanding of the Christian tradition’s emphasis on seeking the peace of the city through multiple institutions like schools, hospitals, professional societies, etc. While many churches are being planted in America’s most “strategic” cities, there seems to be little interest in coupling church planting with the creating of Christian schools to provide alternative education opportunities for children trapped in substandard public schools.

Let’s take New York City as an example:

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ups-freight-globalUPS CEO D. Scott Davis was asked in a recent BusinessWeek interview, “You talk a lot about trade, global trade. What is your company’s role?”

Here’s what Davis said (emphasis added):

We always consider ourselves an enabler of global commerce. The worst thing for this country and UPS, and for the world, is protectionism. The natural reaction in a recession is people look inward and say, “Let’s put up barriers.” That stifles economic growth for everybody. I’m on the president’s Export Council, and my job is to educate the public and Congress. We’ve got to have a country that exports. We need more trade agreements.

In a piece earlier this year in Comment magazine, I examined the relationship between “Trade and Mutual Aid.” As Martin Luther described interpersonal obligation in another context, “It remains, therefore, for us to render mutual service with our gifts, so that each with his own gift bears the burden and need of the other. Thus we shall fulfill the law of Christ.”

In the BW interview, Davis also addresses the nature of the relationship between UPS and the USPS, Amazon, and what it’s like shipping sharks.

A recent Boston Globe headline reads: “Marketing to millennials can be a tough sell.” The article relates the differing approaches of Campell’s, Lindt USA, and GE when it comes to marketing to Millennials, highlighting a general skepticism and indifference toward advertising in the target demographic:

For instance, marketing materials for GE’s Artistry series of low-end appliances featuring retro design touches, due out this fall, says it focuses on “the needs of today’s generation of millennials and their desire to uniquely express themselves.”

Lindt USA recently introduced a line of chocolates — they include Berry Affair and Coconut Love flavors — that are wrapped in vibrant packaging and are being promoted through social media.

And packaging for Campbell’s Go Soup, which comes in microwavable pouches with ingredients such as chickpeas, quinoa, and smoked Gouda, features photos of young people with thought bubbles. The sayings include cutesy snippets like “Make your momma proud” and “What’s kickin’?”

The idea is to hook millennials now and remain connected with them as they progress to bigger and more expensive products.

But marketing specialists and consumers like Volain question the effectiveness of that approach.

“My immediate reaction to targeted marketing is to picture a bunch of people sitting around in a room saying, ‘How can we get these people to buy these products?’” [Anna] Volain [a millennial] said.

While I am sympathetic to Volain’s sentiment here, I think something deeper is at work. There is an erroneous anthropological assumption that people of a particular, generic group must be homogeneous enough that all one needs to do is figure out the perfect calculus for appealing to their sensibilities, and they will be hooked on a brand for life. In particular, I think the problem is ultimately a Marxist error: assuming that one can perfectly categorize a whole group of people and then act on their behalf. (more…)

It’s no secret that the number of people receiving food stamps in the U.S. has exploded in the past few years. Not only is it easier than ever to get food stamps, the government actively recruits people to sign up. Is there waste? Are your tax dollars being used wisely? Fox News thinks not.

In a recent series called “The Great Food Stamp Binge”, reporter John Roberts spent some time with a young, healthy surfer in California. His reason for being on food stamps? Watch and see.

020705_1579_0012_lslsEntitlement reform cannot succeed by eliminating dependence, says Adam J. MacLeod. Instead we should aim to promote healthy dependencies.

In his address, Obama placed entitlement programs in perspective, observing that many people fall on hard times through no fault of their own. “We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives,” he said, “any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm.” He lamented a bygone era “when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.”

Here the president touched on a very real concern for many Americans: the fear of being left to fend for oneself. While economic rights are reasonably viewed as liberating, their liberating function can be overstated. Humans are by nature dependent beings. Even independently wealthy people are dependent upon others for goods such as friendship, art, and learning. And most people are not independently wealthy.

So lawmakers cannot, and should not attempt to, do away with humans’ dependence upon others. Instead, they should aim to foster healthy dependencies and to eradicate unhealthy ones. At its best, law does not free us from others but instead channels our dependence toward those who will take our wellbeing into consideration and act upon it. It encourages moral connections between dependent people and other dependent people.

Read more . . .

Wizard of Id - Minimum WageThe protests organized by labor organizations to advocate for an increase in the minimum wage have garnered attention, most recently from the NYT, which editorialized in favor of such moves. Over at Think Christian, I weigh in with an attempt to provide some more of the complex context behind the moral evaluation of such mandates.

In the piece, I’m really less interested in the plight of current-minimum wage workers relative to those who might become minimum-wage workers with an increase, those who are currently priced-out of labor markets because of minimum-wage legislation, and those who will be priced out with an increase.

Earlier this week, Joseph Sunde discussed the issue with an eye towards the price of labor: “Prices are not play things.” I largely agree with Joseph about the significance of the price associated with various kinds of labor. The signal that minimum-wage workers should be receiving is that their work is not that specialized or valuable in the marketplace. You can rage against the values of the marketplace all you like, but that’s what the prices signal.
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Voting-booth-006A popular saying (often misattributed to Alexis de Tocqueville) states that a democracy can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. If this is always the case then we should expect the poor to vote themselves even more welfare payments. However, as Dwight R. Lee explains, the desire for transfers that others will pay for has almost no effect on people’s voting behavior:

This argument that a significant financial gain from transfers does not motivate poor people to vote is supported by voter behavior. Evidence is clear that low-income people are less likely to vote than high-income people. Even in the 2008 presidential election when Obama was credited with attracting a high percentage of low-income people to the polls with promises to “spread the wealth around”, the percentage of low-income citizens who voted was far lower than the percentage of high-income citizens who voted.4 If low-income people knew that only those who voted would qualify for government transfers, their individual votes would become far more decisive and their voting participation would increase dramatically.5 But since low-income with few assets are eligible for transfers that are enacted into law whether they vote or not, their individual votes are not decisive and many who do vote will vote against the transfers for reasons I now explain.6

If financial advantages are not what motivate people to go to the polls, or to vote in favor of those advantages when they do go, why do so many people vote? The most obvious answer is that people vote to express their support for candidates and policies that they believe benefit the general public.

Read more . . .

Referring to the Affordable Care Act, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus (D-Mont.) stated earlier this year, “Unless we implement this properly, it’s going to be a train wreck.”

And indeed, from looking at the Obamacare implementation timeline alone, the law seems to have gotten off to a shaky start. The implementation of the so-called employer mandate, which would require businesses with more than 50 workers to offer insurance to all full-time employees, or else pay a fine of $2,000 per worker, has been delayed until after the 2014 midterm elections. And in late June, the Obama Administration announced another delay when it pushed back the August 1, 2013 deadline of requiring religiously-affiliated non-profits to comply with the mandate to provide coverage of contraceptives, to the beginning of next year.

Time can prove valuable and as the impending “train wreck” of Obamacare gathers momentum, more and more good, free-market alternatives are beginning to take shape.

One such approach will soon be discussed in the Michigan Senate. Last week, the Senate Government Operations committee voted to send two pieces of legislation, which would create a free-market alternative to Medicaid expansion, to the full Senate for consideration by the Chamber. “Senate Bills (SB) 459 and 460, introduced by Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton) and known as the Patient-Centered Care Act, would enact a patient-centered healthcare plan that expands access to quality care without expanding government,” according to a statement released last month. (more…)

13317570-indoor-crime-sceneEmily Badger at The Atlantic Wire posts a common sense story regarding the debate about whether or not the dispersing of poor people out of inner-city housing projects into suburban neighborhoods, through government housing voucher programs, increases crime rates. The article reflects recent research by Michael Lens, an assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA.

A growing stack of research now supports [the] hypothesis that housing vouchers do not in fact lead to crime. Lens has just added another study to that literature, published in the journal Urban Studies. He looked at crime and housing data in 215 cities between 1997 and 2008 – controlling for national and regional crime trends, demographic and income variables, employment rates and more – and found “virtually no relationship” between the prevalence of Housing Choice Voucher Program households and higher crime at the city level or in the suburbs. In previous research, Lens and colleagues had investigated the same question at the neighborhood level.

“Although communities with a higher prevalence of voucher households appear to be higher in crime,” Lens writes, “there is no evidence that this is due to voucher households increasing crime.”

Lens’ findings should not sound too surprising given the fact that poverty does not cause criminal behavior in the first place. In fact, immoral behavior has never been a function of class but a matter of moral fortitude. Granted, poverty most certainly introduces particular temptations (Prov 30:8) but so does wealth (Prov 22:16). Poor people do not have more moral limitations than those who are wealthy. To assume such is make human dignity a function of class and once we cross that road, the poor find themselves the victims of patronizing oppression.

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Our health care system is broken. So why can’t we agree on how to fix it? The main problem is that disagreements about health care reform tend to be caused by a difference in values. Conservatives value personal choice and efficiency while progressives value coverage and affordability, says AEI’s Henry Olsen. But what if we could reform the healthcare system so that it recognized all these values?

What if we could design a health care system from scratch, what would we build, and why? AEI has produced several materials to help Americans think about how to answer that question.