Category: Public Policy

shovel_and_dirt_No2Why do liberal and conservative evangelicals tend to disagree so often about economic issues? This is the fourth in a series of posts that addresses that question by examining 12 principles that generally drive the thinking of conservative evangelicals when it comes to economics. The first in the series can be found here; Part 2 can be found here; and Part 3 can be found hereA PDF/text version of the entire series can be found here.

9. Social mobility — specifically getting people out of poverty — is infinitely more important than income inequality.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama signaled that income inequality will be his domestic focus during the remainder of his term in office. The fact that the president considers income inequality, rather than employment or economic growth, to be the most important economic issue is peculiar, though not really surprising. For the past few years the political and cultural elites have become obsessed with the issue.

That was not always the case. In 1990, a Nobel-winning economist wrote:

One reason that action to limit growing income inequality in the United States is difficult is that the growth in inequality is not a simple picture. Old-line leftists, if there are any left, would like to make it a single story–the rich becoming richer by exploiting the poor. But that’s just not a reasonable picture of America in the 1980s. For one thing, most of our very poor don’t work, which makes it hard to exploit them. For another, the poor had so little to start with that the dollar value of the gains of the rich dwarfs that of the losses of the poor.

The economist who wrote that was none other than Paul Krugman, who more recently said, “the president was right. Inequality is, indeed, the defining challenge of our time.”

The reason for Krugman’s change of opinion has less to do with economics than with political partisanship. In the apparent absence of other real economic problems, some progressives have decided to allow covetousness to drive their political agenda.
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Georges LemaîtreIn Acton’s newly published monograph, Catholicism, Ecology, and the Environment, Bishop Dominique Rey explores the relationship between man and the created world. In the book’s foreword, written by Acton’s Director of Research Sam Gregg, Gregg summarizes the Catholic view of man’s relationship to created matter:

Man is understood as intrinsically superior to the natural world. He is charged with dominion over it in order that it may be used to promote integral human development.  However, man’s dominion is not absolute. We cannot literally do whatever we wish with animals and nature. Absolute dominion belongs to God alone. Moreover, he desires that we use the natural world responsibly and therefore in ways that facilitate human flourishing.

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will-work-for-food“There is no material poverty in the U.S.,” says the always-provocative Walter E. Williams. “What we have in our nation are dependency and poverty of the spirit, with people making unwise choices and leading pathological lives aided and abetted by the welfare state.”

The Census Bureau pegs the poverty rate among blacks at 35 percent and among whites at 13 percent. The illegitimacy rate among blacks is 72 percent, and among whites it’s 30 percent. A statistic that one doesn’t hear much about is that the poverty rate among black married families has been in the single digits for more than two decades, currently at 8 percent. For married white families, it’s 5 percent. Now the politically incorrect questions: Whose fault is it to have children without the benefit of marriage and risk a life of dependency? Do people have free will, or are they governed by instincts?

There may be some pinhead sociologists who blame the weak black family structure on racial discrimination. But why was the black illegitimacy rate only 14 percent in 1940, and why, as Dr. Thomas Sowell reports, do we find that census data “going back a hundred years, when blacks were just one generation out of slavery … showed that a slightly higher percentage of black adults had married than white adults. This fact remained true in every census from 1890 to 1940″? Is anyone willing to advance the argument that the reason the illegitimacy rate among blacks was lower and marriage rates higher in earlier periods was there was less racial discrimination and greater opportunity?

No one can blame a person if he starts out in life poor, because how one starts out is not his fault. If he stays poor, he is to blame because it is his fault. Avoiding long-term poverty is not rocket science. First, graduate from high school. Second, get married before you have children, and stay married. Third, work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. And finally, avoid engaging in criminal behavior. It turns out that a married couple, each earning the minimum wage, would earn an annual combined income of $30,000. The Census Bureau poverty line for a family of two is $15,500, and for a family of four, it’s $23,000. By the way, no adult who starts out earning the minimum wage does so for very long.

Read more . . .

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Wednesday, February 5, 2014

tillingHelping people get out of poverty is hard, dirty work. It isn’t glamorous. Most of those involved do not get to wander around the developing world wearing cool blue shades and giving sound bites. In fact, the Campaign for Boring Development is so insistent on this, they’ve written a manifesto to drive home the point: development work can be…boring.

  • Development Does Not Photograph Well. Watching a family till their land does not make for riveting video. It’s just plain ole hard work.
  • “Making the Lives of the Poor Better” is not the same thing as ”Fighting Poverty.”

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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, February 4, 2014

povertycureCan the current model of humanitarian aid generated by networks of large philanthropic foundations, NGOs, and Western governments actually alleviate global poverty? The latest Liberty Law Talk podcast asks Acton’s Michael Miller, director of the new Poverty Cure Initiative, to address that question and to explain what conditions can lead to prosperity:

As Miller discusses, the prevalent humanitarian aid model frequently uproots the very beginnings of the circles of exchange that must exist for wealth to be created in these societies. Frequently missing as well in the current approach is understanding how crucial the rule of law, property rights, and markets are in the uplift from poverty, and that frequently, these economic and legal orderings are absent in regions of hardship. Consequently, the conditions for human flourishing don’t exist and cannot be created by large philanthropic interventions, which everywhere substitute parental relationships between the donor and recipient in the place of real human flourishing in these communities.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

will work for foodThere is no reason to assume that the preferential option for the poor is somehow a preferential option for big government, says Acton research director Samuel Gregg. Gregg writes that lifting people out of poverty — and not just material poverty but also moral and spiritual poverty — does not necessarily mean that the most effective action is to implement yet another welfare program:

What does living out the option for the poor mean in practice? We must engage in works of charity — those activities that often address specific dimensions of poverty in ways that no state program ever could. And this means giving of our time, energy, and human and monetary capital in ways that bring Christ’s light into some of the darkest places on earth.

Yet this does not mean that Catholics are required to give something to everything, or even that Catholics must give away everything they own. As Fr. James Schall, SJ, writes, “If we take all the existing world wealth and simply distribute it, what would happen? It would quickly disappear; all would be poor.” Put another way, living out the option for the poor may well involve those people with a talent for creating wealth doing precisely that.

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“‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say–but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’–but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Cor. 10:23-24).

Christians are called to productive service of others in our work. The fact that someone will pay you for your work is a sign that they value it, and we must say that they are better-positioned than anyone else (other than God) to decide what’s best for them. But human beings are not infallible. In fact, we are highly fallible. We deceive ourselves and desire things that are not good for us.

Does the provider of a good or service have a moral obligation not to provide certain goods (or bads) or services? When does a “service” become a “disservice”?
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fireIt doesn’t take much snow to wreak havoc in the Deep South. I remember one time being immediately sent home from high school on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi for the lightest dusting of snow. But yesterday, heavier snow in the Deep South left thousands and thousands of people stranded at schools, work, and on the road. Atlanta, Ga. and Birmingham, Ala. were two metropolitan areas hit hard. Unfortunately, it’s still an ongoing problem. USA Today has great images, video, and a write up on the seriousness of the situation, which has caused at least 12 deaths. Julie McKinney, of AL.Com, has compiled some great tales of good deeds and generosity in the Birmingham area. Here are just a few of the stories McKinney highlighted: 

We were pulled from the ditch twice on 36 right past the senior center by a man with a dually truck. There were 4 wheelers out pulling smaller cars too. It was scary, but so nice to see the true concern for your neighbors, to get out in the cold and rescue people when you could be inside safe and warm. Much appreciated. My church The Connection was helping collect the kids from school and also fed us last night and anyone else who could get there. – Sarah Parish Mccoy via Facebook

My daughter got completely stuck in the ice leaving EBSCO in Mount Laurel. Our #snowangel is Paige Thompson and her family in Highland Park. They took her into their home for the night! Made her dinner and hot chocolate. I can’t thank them enough. — Wayne Rogers

I thought I was going to be spending the night in my car at the Chevron on Old Springville Rd, but a nice man named Herman drove me home! If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be home safe and sound with my family. He went above and beyond and extremely far out of his way to help me. Thank you Herman!!! — Misty Murphy Westover

Stopped in Alabaster…driving a front wheel drive, left my purse at home …no money…I get to the gas station…gentleman offered to pay my gas & something to eat…this is truly my #snowangel! Grateful for blessings such as him! — Naomi Raye Rabago

Read all of the good deeds complied by McKinney here. Even more have been compiled on a Facebook page. And read about Mark Meadows, a Chick-fil-A owner, who saw an “opportunity to help” those stranded in the snow. When it comes to charitable acts and meeting the needs of your neighbor, the citizens of Alabama are well known for rallying to aid those who find themselves in a dangerous or precarious situation. I wrote more extensively about this in “The Church and Disaster Relief: Shelter from the Stormy Blast.”

In the latest EconTalk podcast, Nina Munk, journalist and author of The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty, talks about how she spent six years following Jeffrey Sachs and the evolution of the Millennium Villages Project — an attempt to jumpstart a set of African villages in hopes of discovering a new template for development.

Munk details the great optimism at the beginning of the project and the discouraging results after six years of high levels of aid. As Munk notes, Sach’s story is one of the great lessons in unintended consequences and the complexity of the development process.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

black-students-university-michigan-bbumContrary to the spirit of cooperation and solidarity, a group of black students at the University of Michigan believe they should receive some sort of special treatment because they are black. While the students may have legitimate concerns regarding campus culture, making outrageous demands is the least effective means of asking the administration to take their concerns seriously. In fact, given their unreasonable and unrealistic expectations it would be best if all of these protesting black students simply transferred to a premiere historically black school (HBCU) like Howard University in Washington, D.C.

The ‘Being Black At University of Michigan’ (#BBUM) movement launched after Theta Xi, a fraternity at University Of Michigan, held a “Hood Ratchet Thursday” party portraying all sorts of cultural stereotypes during the fall semester of 2013. Many offended students responded by requesting that black students share stories of what it was like being black at Michigan. This is completely reasonable. As someone who was a minority student at all four schools I attended, I know how important it is to have these stories known and heard by those who making decisions about campus culture. But this is where the reasonableness ends. In a baffling move this week the Black Student Union at Michigan offered a list of “demands” the university must meet:
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