One of the most astounding economic statistics is the wealth gap between black and white Americans. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of government data from 2009, the total wealth (assets minus debts) of the typical black household was $5,677 while the typical white household had $113,149. Why is the median wealth of white households 20 times that of black households?
Plummeting house values were the principal cause, says Pew Research. Among white homeowners, the decline was from $115,364 in 2005 to $95,000 in 2009 and among black homeowners, it was from $76,910 in 2005 to $59,000 in 2009. The fact that only 46% of black Americans own a home, compared to a homeownership rate of 76% for whites likely affect the gap too.
But in a paper published last month, Princeton graduate student Rourke O’Brien suggests another reason: the generosity of black families. (more…)
The term “school choice” refers to programs that give parents the power and opportunity to choose the schools their children attend, whether public, private, parochial, or homeschool.
Why is school choice necessary?
While there are some excellent public schools in America, many students are trapped in schools with inadequate facilities, substandard curriculum, and incompetent teachers. Most parents, however, cannot afford to pay for education twice—once in taxes and again in private school tuition. School choice programs empower parents by letting them use public funds set aside for education on programs that will best serve their children. As Bill Cosby, a comedian who holds a doctorate in education, says, “We have a moral and societal obligation to give our children the opportunity to succeed in school, at work, and in life. We cannot meet that obligation unless parents are empowered to select the best schools of their children.”
What types of school choice programs exist for students and families?
Last September the New York City Board of Health approved a measure that would ban the sale of sugary drinks over 16 ounces. Politicians justified the action because of the city’s escalating obesity rate and research linking sugary drinks to weight gain. Overall, care for obesity-related illnesses costs the New York City nearly $2.8 billion annually, according to city Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. Politicians, then, believe they have the authority to legislate how much of a beverage citizens can legally purchase at one time.
In a strange turn of events, and possibly the first time in recent history we seen cooperation of this nature, the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation are joining forces to fight government intervention in the market to try to stop the ban from taking effect March 12. The Associated Press reports: (more…)
Perhaps the legislators aren’t aware of what state lotteries are, in effect if not intent, designed to do: redistribute the income of mostly poor Americans to a handful of other citizens—and to the state’s coffers.
Nevertheless, the lawmaker’s moral intuitions seem to be leading them to good intentions. As Rep. Paul Stam says, “We’re giving them welfare to help them live, and yet by selling them a ticket, we’re taking away their money that is there to provide them the barest of necessities.”
Okay, so maybe the irony isn’t lost on every politician.
You might be wondering how they could actually implement such a ban since it’s not obvious who is on welfare. According the Christian Post, at present the proposals seek to ban lottery ticket merchants if they “knowingly” sell a lottery ticket to someone on welfare. So the lawmakers are hoping that cashiers and sellers would be able to recognize locals who use food stamps, and therefore should refuse to sell lottery tickets to those people.
In other words the government wants to punish business owners for helping facilitate government sponsored gambling to people on the government dole.
I have a better idea—not a good idea, mind you, just a better idea that the punish-the-innocent approach that the government wants to take. (more…)
There’s an old proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Life is often difficult, full of challenges, trials, and travails. But it is a testament to the human spirit, created in the image of God to mature and develop morally, spiritually, and intellectually, that in the face of such troubles human ingenuity often wins out. Brad Morgan, a dairy farmer turned fertilizer magnate featured in the documentary The Call of the Entrepreneur, put it this way: “You put your butt in the corner, you’ll be surprised what you can achieve.”
I was reminded of this insight in reading a story this week about a local company, National Nail Corp., whose recent experience embodies this reality. As Jim Harger writes, “When the bottom fell out of the home building industry in 2008, the National Nail Corp. was forced to regroup and diversify, says W. Scott Baker, president and CEO of the employee-owned company.”
One of the new products is called Camo, which “created a new way to nail down deck boards without having nails or screw heads poking through the surface to create slivers, pop up or discolor a deck surface.” As Baker puts it, “Camo was birthed when we found ourselves in a place where no one would have willingly gone.”
I’m not very handy, but Camo looks pretty cool to me.
When your butt is in a corner, you’ll be surprised what you can achieve.
This is an important lesson to remember, especially in the midst of economic turmoil and fiscal crisis. Yes, we live in an age of dizzying change, but with these changes also come new opportunities. God has given human beings the august responsibility to be moral agents, to work productively in service of others. Rather than bemoaning our fate when adversity comes, we ought to look forward in hope and creatively exercise those talents God has given us to find innovative new solutions to the myriad challenges facing the world today.
Why do the wicked prosper? This plaintive query is a consistent cry from the psalmist and the prophets. As Jeremiah puts it, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?”
The concern in large part has to do with injustice; why do those who are so morally and spiritually bankrupt enjoy such great temporal blessings?
Over at the IEA blog, John Meadowcroft passes along an answer, at least insofar as it relates to the political structures of social democracy. Drawing on Friedrich Hayek, Geoffrey Brennan, and James Buchanan, Meadowcroft writes that “we should expect that the people most willing to work to attain political office will be those who expect to gain the most from holding it.” And it turns out that quite often those who stand to gain most from political office are those who, in the words of Brennan and Buchanan, “place higher values on the possession of such power.”
Meadowcroft concludes by invoking Hume’s “dictum that political institutions should be designed as if every person was a knave with no end other than his or her own private interests, even though we know that not all people behave knavishly.” The lesson for political power is that it ought to be limited such that the knaves who seek it for their own selfish ends (or those who are turned into knaves by the exercise of their power) ought to have their ambitions blunted by the constrained scope of their authority.
In the context of political power, the wicked tend to prosper, that is, they tend to become powerful precisely because it is so important to them to become powerful. The truth of this insight from public choice theory can also be applied more generally to the prophetic concern.
Why do the wicked prosper? The answer is in part, at least, because the wicked under examination here are the ones who are so attracted to material or temporal gain that they are willing do to pretty much anything to get it. They often achieve their goals, and thus prosper in this limited sense for a season. But in enabling them to achieve what they so desire, God allows their desire to become its own judgment.
A corollary to all this is that there is an obligation on the part of the church and other morally-formative institutions to do their best within their mandates to encourage and promote the development of those who might seek to exercise authority (whether political or otherwise), not as selfish knaves but as suffering servants. Since there are no systems or structures that are incorruptible, it is perhaps just as important to develop non-knavish leaders as it is to limit the scope of any particular leader’s power.
In the most recent issue of Religion & Liberty (22.3), I review Just Politics by Ronald Sider (read the full review here). While the book has much to commend it, my review ultimately ends up being critical. I do not believe it succeeds in constructing a solid social framework for Evangelicals comparable to Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants, as is its stated goal. I write,
Just Politics may be a guide in the same sense that a field guide to birds can rightly be called a guide, but it does not succeed at being “a methodology”—like, for example, the scientific method—as is its stated goal. Or more to the point, unlike the Roman Catholic framework of subsidiarity, solidarity, and natural law or the neo-Calvinist framework of sphere sovereignty, the antithesis, and common grace, Sider’s framework (Part 3 of the book and the vast majority, nearly 140 pages) resembles more the things one would hang upon a framework than a framework itself.
Among the many things Sider highlights in field-guide-to-birds style (between “Starvation” and “Capital Punishment”) is this peculiarity under the category of the sanctity of human life:
Smoking kills an estimated 438,000 Americans every year. Around the world, the death toll from smoking rises to 5 million each year.
The social costs are enormous. The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that smoking costs the nation $75.5 billion each year in medical bills and $92 billion in low productivity. Lung cancer snatches fathers and mothers away prematurely.
Given the devastation caused by smoking tobacco, it is especially ironic that senator Jesse Helms, long heralded as one of the great pro-life supporters, strongly supported government funding to send American tobacco to developing countries under our “Food for Peace” program.
Christians must insist that the sanctity of human life applies to everyone, including people seduced by clever cigarette advertising. Christians must work for effective laws that prevent tobacco advertisements, forbid smoking in most public buildings and facilities, and educate the public on the dangers of smoking. American experience over the last thirty years demonstrates that this mix of government programs can reduce smoking and the deaths it causes.
I find the above statement both challenging and confusing. Let me explain…. (more…)
Unless you’ve been in a coma for the past few months you’ve surely heard of the debt limit crisis. But if you’re still unclear on what it’s all about, this video provides a brief, helpful explanation.
The key point in the video is that the debt limit is about paying bills already incurred. Congress agreed to allow the government to spend in excesses of revenues but is now refusing to pay what is due. As Albert Mohler notes, (more…)
One of the papers presented was from Jan Jorrit Hasselaar, who discussed the inclusion of non-human entities into democratic deliberation in his talk, “Sustainable Development as a Social Question.” I got the impression (this is my analogy, not Hasselaar’s) that there was some need for a kind of tribune (for plants instead of plebeians), who would speak up for the interests of those who could not speak for themselves.
The framing of the issue of the dignity of animals, plants, and the natural environment more broadly connected the integration of these interests into our public discourse as analogous to the civil rights revolutions concerning race and sex in the West over the previous century. The following video makes an argument in similar terms:
Environmental issues have increasingly become polarized. No sooner has a new technology been announced than some outspoken individual climbs athwart it to cry, “Stop!” in the name of Mother Earth.
To some extent, this is desirable – wise stewardship of our shared environment and the resources it provides not only benefits the planet but its inhabitants large and small. When prejudices overwhelm wisdom, however, well-intentioned but wrongheaded projects such as Promised Land result.
The latest cinematic effort by screenwriters-actors Matt Damon and John Krasinski (from a story by David Eggers) and director Gus Van Sant, Promised Land earnestly attempts to pull back the veil of corporate duplicity to expose the evil underbelly of hydraulic fracturing, which is more commonly known as “fracking.”
The fracking technique has been employed successfully by oil and natural gas industries since the late 1940s. Briefly, fracking involves high-pressure injection of chemically lubricated water to break up rock formations in order to drive trapped fossil fuel deposits toward wellbores.
Combined with horizontal drilling and new advances in information technology, the fracking process has reinvigorated our nation’s natural gas industry and opened up new energy resources previously considered out of reach or economically unfeasible. It has also reinvigorated debate over whether the practice is environmentally sound.
Of primary concern to opponents is its impact on groundwater, an issue Promised Land does nothing to dispel despite fracking’s impressive track record over the past 60 years and numerous government reports confirming its overall benign environmental impacts. (more…)