Category: Public Policy

Monsanto PlantWriting over at the Live58 blog, Catherine Sinclair describes her transition from uncertainty regarding GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) to outright opposition: “After doing some more research, I’ve come to the conclusion that we should avoid GMO as much as possible.” This a conclusion that we might think is counter-intuitive, to say the least, for an organization committed to ending the scourge of global hunger and poverty.

Sinclair’s main indictment of GMOs comes down to the agribusiness giant Monsanto: “Because they are companies seeking profit, seed developers like Monsanto do whatever they can to control the agricultural industry.”

It’s important to distinguish the theoretical and ethical basis for genetic modification from the actual behavior and practice of corporations like Monsanto. Too often the two are conflated. In my new book, Get Your Hands Dirty, I have an updated discussion of a theological framework for evaluating GM foods. As I caution at the conclusion of my examination of GM foods, “nothing in this framework presumes any particular policy outcome in the realm of law, and so, for instance, concerns about the use of property rights as a means to tyrannize or monopolize particular industries ought to be considered.”

Making such a distinction allows an approach that is more nuanced and responsible than simply identifying Monsanto with GMOs in general. So, for instance, a self-identified “hippie” writes in Slate:

I think Monsanto is evil, that patenting seeds and suing farmers is unethical, and that some GMO crops (like Roundup Ready Soybeans) lend themselves to irresponsible herbicide and pesticide use and cross-contamination.

But I’m also not going to let my anti-corporate sentiments get in the way of a diverse and promising field of research. (emphasis added)

Genetic modification and the cronyism that is so endemic to big agribusiness simply aren’t identical. That distinction strikes me as a helpful starting point for responsible discussion of GMOs.

For a critical but balanced examination of GMOs in theological context, check out Brad Littlejohn’s treatment of his “inner Luddite” at Mere Orthodoxy.

city-journal-hirschOne of the core principles of the Acton Institute is commitment to wealth creation since material impoverishment undermines the conditions that allow humans to flourish. We consider helping our fellow citizens to escape material deprivation to be one of the most morally significant economic concerns of our age. But how to do we gauge whether our neighbors are able to improve their economic security? A key metric that is often used is income or social mobility, the ability of an individual to improve their economic status over time.

Last month I noted a study that highlighted four broad factors that appear to affect income mobility:

1. The size and dispersion of the local middle class,
2. Two-parent households,
3. Better elementary schools and high schools, and
4. Civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups.

Saying that schools should be “better” is unhelpfully vague. But a recent article in City Journal by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., explains just what qualitative factor is most important: The key to increasing upward mobility is expanding vocabulary.

Hirsch’s article is one of the most important essays on education published this year — perhaps even of the decade. I highly encourage you to read the entire feature. But if you only have time for a bullet-point presentation, here are ten key facts and recommendations from Hirsch’s brilliant article:

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Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, August 1, 2013
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nature_1The central thesis of philosopher Roger Scruton case for an environmental conservatism, says Leah Kostamo, is that the primary motivation for care for the earth is oikophilia—a love of home.

Oikophilia, Scruton argues, is what emboldens people to make sacrifices for their surrounding environment and neighbour. Scruton spends many pages tracing the history of oikophilia, particularly in his native Britain, and howoikophilia has been destroyed by internationalism and big-government subsidies and regulations.

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Welcome_to_ClevelandAnthony Dent has a clever plan to improve economic mobility: move strategically unimportant federal departments and agencies to economically impoverished cities and towns across America.

Republicans would support it because, well, they hate DC and favor “real” America. Democrats would support it because their cities and states would benefit disproportionately (think Atlanta, Michigan, or Illinois).

Call it the Cleveland Plan after the city that exemplifies America’s decline. Not only does Cleveland routinely rank as one of America’s fastest-dying cities, but Clevelanders also had the indignity of watching the man who spurned them turn around and win the 2012 (and 2013) NBA Finals (not to mention they still claim Dennis Kucinich as a favorite son). Plop the Department of Energy HQ in Public Square and you suddenly have thousands of jobs that aren’t going anywhere.

Why is the Department of Agriculture on the National Mall when it could be in Kansas, which devotes 90.1 percent of its land to agriculture (compared to DC’s 0)? Shouldn’t government be close to the people it serves? In the same vein, perhaps one of the many blighted urban areas across the country could welcome the Department of Housing and Urban Development (hello, Detroit!). The Department of Education could even set up a roving headquarters in one of the nation’s worst performing school systems (scratch that—it’s already been done—ahem, DC).

Read more . . .

This case has been made that government attempts to manage economies through regulation, laws, and taxes discourage entrepreneurs entering into the marketplace. I recently asked Michael, a young entrepreneur in his 20s, what were some of his fears about being a entrepreneur in America. We’re not using his full name to protect his identity but this is what he had to say:

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TheUpcycle_featuredimage“Being less bad is not good.” This is a major theme of Cradle to Cradle, written by architect William McDonough and former Greenpeace chemist Dr. Michael Braungart back in 2002.

The book arrived like a tidal wave on the green movement and exposed the categorical deficiencies and uselessness of tags like, “reduce, reuse, recycle.” The problem highlighted in the 2002 book is not that we need to simply damage the environment less but, even worse, we lack the entrepreneurial creativity and innovation to design products that actually make the natural world better after their initial use. Eleven years later, McDonough and Braungart move the conversation forward and provide a framework to think differently in their new book, The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability—Designing For Abundance.

There isn’t space here to review the entire book but the introduction and first chapter alone are enough to challenge the ongoing hegemonic perspective that sees human action as an environmental liability rather than seeing human action, as McDonough and Braungart suggests, as an asset to the flourishing of all life. First, the authors challenge readers to see the world as space teaming with abundance instead of finite resources. Just as plant and animal waste are actually complimentary nutrients in an ecosystem we should begin to think creatively about how the by-products of our manufacturing processes can become “technical nutrients” to other processes. Human action creates opportunities for positive cultivation.

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Blog author: qtreleven
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
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In his famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. declared,

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

MLK decried equality for children of all races, and his monumental contribution to the realization of this dream should forever be remembered. However, it seems that some education reformers in the U.S. have already forgotten the words of King. Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, and Florida have all implemented new race-based standards into their public education systems with the approval of the Department of Education. While No Child Left Behind did divide children into subgroups based on ethnicity, it did not set different standards according to those subgroups. The race-based standards in these four states do not alter curricula or test questions, but they set different goals for percentages of students expected to pass based on the racial subgroups. (more…)

Climbing_into_America_Ellis_Island_by_Lewis_HineIt is a moral right of man to work. Pursuing a vocation not only allows an individual to provide for himself or his family, it also brings human dignity to the individual. Each person was created with unique talents, and the provision of an environment in which he can use those gifts is paramount. As C. Neal Johnson, business professor at Hope International University and proponent of “Business as Mission,” says,

“God is an incredibly creative individual, and He said that I’m making men and women in my own image. He made us to be creative individuals … He gave a number of things to humanity and to mankind and said, ‘Look, this is who I want you to be. This is who I’ve made you to be. I want you to take dominion. I want you to exercise your creative gifts.’”

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Nietzsche-e1348964402763In the Genealogy of Morals, Friedrich Nietzsche makes an interesting observation about cultural elites and how a culture defines what is “good”:

[T]he real homestead of the concept of “good” is sought and located in the wrong place: the judgement “good” did not originate among those to whom goodness was shown. Much rather has it has been the good themselves, that is, the aristocratic, the powerful, the high-stationed, the high-minded, who have felt that they themselves are good, and that their actions were good, that is to say of the first order, in contradistinction to all the low, the low-minded, the vulgar, and the plebeian. It was out of this pathos of distance that they first arrogated the right to create values for their own profit, and to coin the names of such values (italics his)

As frustrating as Nietzsche can be for many, his point here is helpful in understanding why it is that elites feel justified in using power and coercion to force those who are not as enlightened and advanced, in the opinion of the elites, to live according to the elite’s imaginings for human life. This is a basic orientation of the type of progressivism we see playing out in American politics today. Progressives see themselves as more enlightened than the rest of us and believe that it is within their right to exert power over the common person to conform us all to a progressive vision for society.

Progressive elites not only know what is best but they will always use power to implement programs to actualize their social visions. Back in 1920, Herbert Croly, a key apologist of progressivism that heavily influenced the New Deal policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, described it this way:

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h-armstrong-roberts-1930s-magician-hands-pulling-rabbit-out-of-top-hatPulling a rabbit out of a hat is a classic magic trick. But if a magician wants to do it nowadays he also needs to be able to pull out a license for the hare and a USDA-approved “rabbit disaster plan” that details how the bunny will hop to safety in case of a natural disaster, like a hurricane, flood, or sharknado. Or even if the air conditioning goes out.

This Kafkaesque regulatory requirement started over forty years ago — with a dog named Pepper.

In 1965, Pepper disappeared from the yard of her home. Shortly after the disappearance, the owner recognized his missing dog in a picture taken of an animal dealer’s overcrowded truck featured in a local newspaper. The owner’s wife, children, and even his congressman tried to locate and retrieve the dog but were denied entrance to the “dog farm.” Unfortunately, the family never got the dog back: Pepper had been euthanized in an experimental procedure at a New York hospital. The incident led the congressman to introduce H.R. 9743, a bill that would require dog and cat dealers, and the laboratories that purchased the animals, be licensed and inspected by the USDA.

According to the USDA, the 1966 law, which was primarily concerned with dogs and cats, was restrictive in regards to its coverage of the types of animals and regulated facilities. Research facilities only had to register if they received government funding and the dogs or cats had to have crossed state lines. But as David A. Fahrenthold notes, “the letter of the law was broad. In theory, it could apply to someone who “exhibited” any animals as part of a show.” And indeed it does:

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