Category: Public Policy

"Help me help you."

“Help me help you.”

Yesterday in conjunction with this week’s Acton Commentary I looked at Tim Riggins’ gift of freedom to his brother and the corresponding sense of responsibility that resulted. When Tim takes the rap for Billy, Billy has a responsibility to make something of his life. As Tim puts it, that’s the “deal.”

When Tim feels that Billy hasn’t lived up to his end, it causes conflict. Tim’s gift has created an obligation for the recipient. This reality is on clearest display in this exchange between the two brothers:

Billy: “How long are you going to hold it over my head, man?”

Tim: “The rest of my life if I feel it needs to be.”

This hints at the shadow-side of much of our gift-giving as human beings, as this good thing can be turned into a way of manipulating, controlling, or holding “it over” someone.

Consider these words about Augustine and their implications for the kinds of gift-giving that we ought to pursue:

A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about. If such a thing as spiteful benevolence existed (which is impossible, of course, but supposing it did), a genuinely and sincerely merciful person would wish others to be miserable so that he could show them mercy!

The “spiteful benevolence” that drives much gift giving is actually intended to keep the recipient in a state of dependence, in a relationship that gives power to the giver which can be lorded over others. This, I think, is actually one of the key dynamics of much of the modern international aid movement. Aid can become a tool of a kind of neo-colonial policy.

It is this debased and corrupted form of gift-giving that has led so many to the extreme position which argues that true gifts require no response and inspire no responsibility. But as I argue this week, this abuse of the reality of gift is no argument against its proper use: “The connection between gift and gratitude invigorates a life of stewardship and responsibility.”

bitcoinLast month, in my series on Bitcoin, I wrote that for the crypto-currency to succeed it will one day have to become trusted by more mainstream consumers, which requires adding such features as regulatory oversight and a centralized monetary authority—the very features of other currencies that Bitcoin was created to avoid.

That day may be coming sooner than later:
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As commencement ceremonies once again are being celebrated around the country, I was reminded again of the moral crisis of US education.

Elise Hilton recently surveyed the dismal employment rate among young adults in the US, writing that we have moved in twelve years from having the best rate in the developed world to being among the worst, following the path of Greece, Spain, and Portugal.

She highlights two possible solutions. The better one is from Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg:

Gregg says we must rely on free markets rather than redistribution of wealth, economic liberty, rule of law, entrepreneurship and the ability to take risks economically – all things that have made America great in the past.

The second comes from David Leonhardt, who, among other ideas, suggests, “Long term, nothing is likely to matter more than improving educational attainment, from preschool through college.”

Notice the language he uses? Not educational quality, nor even job-training, but “educational attainment.” With no intended disrespect to Mr. Leonhardt, it is precisely this well-meaning, widespread, but ill-informed mentality that has led, in large part, to our current educational crisis. (more…)

climate-changeDo you believe that Jesus will return to Earth someday? Then you probably don’t care about environmental devastation and the catastrophic loss of life of future generations.

That’s the absurd conclusion drawn in an academic paper published in the latest issue of Political Research Quarterly. In their article, “End-Times Theology, the Shadow of the Future, and Public Resistance to Addressing Global Climate Change,” David C. Barker of the University of Pittsburgh and David H. Bearce of the University of Colorado test the following hypothesis:

Citizens who believe in Christian end-times theology are less likely to see global warming as a policy problem that requires immediate government action, compared to citizens who do not hold end-times beliefs.

Initially, I thought by “Christian end-times theology” they might be referring to premillinial dispensationalism, a eschatological view held by many American Evangelicals, that was popularized in the Left Behind series of novels. But the authors make it clear that they are not just referring to dispensationalists but to all Christians who believe in the Second Coming.
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While school choice is helpful, what we really need in the U.S., says Stephen Davies, is a revolution in the delivery of education that gives us “education choice.”

“Retirement as a cultural concept needs to go away.” So says Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry in a thought-provoking piece today over at Forbes.

I agree with the sentiment, in large part because good work never ends.

But as Gobry also illustrates, we need to rethink our conceptions of work as well as retirement, which for many is just another way of talking about the end of work.

As Michael Novak observes in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, “A successful corporation is frequently based upon the principle of subsidiarity. According to this principle, concrete decisions must be made on the level closest to the concrete reality. Managers and workers need to trust the skills of their colleagues. A corporate strategy which overlooks this principle–and many do–falls prey to all the vices of a command economy, in which all orders come from above.”

According to a study by Melba J. Duncan in the Harvard Business Review, such delegation makes economic sense: “Generally speaking, work should be delegated to the lowest-cost employee who can do it well.”

A recent BusinessWeek article updates the case for executive assistants. Anyone who has had significant contact with corporate settings knows that the EAs are the ones who really get things done. But for such delegation to be effective and efficient, it must be empowering. As Duncan writes, “The most effective executives think deeply about the pieces of their workload that can be taken on—or restructured to be partially taken on—by the assistant.”

Even the “lowest-cost employee” has a stewardship responsibility.

Of course, delegation can go too far, too.

frackingA new report by the Environmental Protection Agency finds that one of our cheapest sources of energy may be cleaner than we had previously thought:

The Environmental Protection Agency has dramatically lowered its estimate of how much of a potent heat-trapping gas leaks during natural gas production, in a shift with major implications for a debate that has divided environmentalists: Does the recent boom in fracking help or hurt the fight against climate change?

Oil and gas drilling companies had pushed for the change, but there have been differing scientific estimates of the amount of methane that leaks from wells, pipelines and other facilities during production and delivery. Methane is the main component of natural gas.

The new EPA data is “kind of an earthquake” in the debate over drilling, said Michael Shellenberger, the president of the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental group based in Oakland, Calif. “This is great news for anybody concerned about the climate and strong proof that existing technologies can be deployed to reduce methane leaks.”

The EPA credits stricter regulations, but as Erika Johnsen points out, we should not “overlook the overarching role of the free market in inspiring increased efficiency, innovation, and improved technology.”
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“Anytime you are going to throw money up in the air,” says Abraham Carpenter Jr., a farmer in Grady, Arkansas, “you are going to have people acting crazy.” Although “throwing money up in the air” is increasingly one of the main functions of the federal government, Mr. Carpenter is referring to a specific case in which the Agriculture Department “opened the floodgates to fraud.”

The compensation effort sprang from a desire to redress what the government and a federal judge agreed was a painful legacy of bias against African-Americans by the Agriculture Department. But an examination by The New York Times shows that it became a runaway train, driven by racial politics, pressure from influential members of Congress and law firms that stand to gain more than $130 million in fees. In the past five years, it has grown to encompass a second group of African-Americans as well as Hispanic, female and Native American farmers. In all, more than 90,000 people have filed claims. The total cost could top $4.4 billion.

From the start, the claims process prompted allegations of widespread fraud and criticism that its very design encouraged people to lie: because relatively few records remained to verify accusations, claimants were not required to present documentary evidence that they had been unfairly treated or had even tried to farm. Agriculture Department reviewers found reams of suspicious claims, from nursery-school-age children and pockets of urban dwellers, sometimes in the same handwriting with nearly identical accounts of discrimination.

Yet those concerns were played down as the compensation effort grew. Though the government has started requiring more evidence to support some claims, even now people who say they were unfairly denied loans can collect up to $50,000 with little documentation.

Read more . . .

A recent CNBC article by Mark Koba notes the bleak outlook for 2013 college grads looking for work:

A survey released last week from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reported that businesses plan to hire only 2.1 percent more college graduates from the class of 2013 than they did from the class of 2012.

That’s way down from an earlier NACE projection of a 13 percent hiring rate for 2013 grads.

There is good reason for this bad news, however. As Koba notes, “One reason there may not be so many grads hired is that many employers don’t believe college graduates are trained properly.” He goes on: (more…)