Category: Public Policy

The Blue MarbleYesterday I had the pleasure of taking part in a panel discussion at Calvin College, hosted by the Paul B. Henry Institute, focusing on challenges facing the next president. The topic of this inaugural panel for the series was “The Environment,” and there was what I thought was a very worthwhile conversation with Jamie Skillen of Calvin’s Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies department, moderated by Micah Watson of Calvin’s political science department.

I had the chance to prepare some opening remarks, and I ordered them as five basic theses each paired with its own corollary. To wit:

Thesis 1: Our world belongs to God. Corol. God’s world belongs to us.

Thesis 2: Humans have a unique stewardship responsibility. Corol. Humanity is of unique significance in the world.

Thesis 3: Stewardship involves being productive. Corol. A clean environment is a costly good (cf. Cornwall Declaration).

Thesis 4: Economic and environmental stewardship, rightly understood, are not fundamentally opposed. Corol. Short-termism is the enemy.

Thesis 5: Good stewardship of fossil fuels is the key environmental challenge today. Corol. Nuclear has to be part of the solution for transcending fossil fuels.

coal_power_plant

What just happened?

On Tuesday the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Obama administration’s effort to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants. The vote was 5-to-4, with the court’s four liberal members dissenting, to put a temporary halt on the implementation of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule change.

Why is this significant?

As the New York Times notes, the Supreme Court had never before granted a request to halt a regulation before review by a federal appeals court:

“It’s a stunning development,” Jody Freeman, a Harvard law professor and former environmental legal counsel to the Obama administration, said in an email. She added that “the order certainly indicates a high degree of initial judicial skepticism from five justices on the court,” and that the ruling would raise serious questions from nations that signed on to the landmark Paris climate change pact in December.

In negotiating that deal, which requires every country to enact policies to lower emissions, Mr. Obama pointed to the power plant rule as evidence that the United States would take ambitious action, and that other countries should follow.

What was the EPA rule change?

In June 2014, the EPA issued a proposed rule change on “emission guidelines for states to follow in developing plans to address greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units.”

Specifically, the EPA is proposing state-specific rate-based goals for carbon-dioxide emissions from energy producers (mostly from 600 coal-fired power plants) and setting guidelines for states to follow in developing plans to achieve new state-specific goals.

Is this is an important change?
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fy2017-budgetWhat is the President’s budget?

Technically, it’s only a budget request—a proposal telling Congress how much money the President believes should be spent on the various Cabinet-level federal functions, like agriculture, defense, education, etc. (A PDF of the 182 page document can be found here.)

Why does the President submit a budget to Congress?

The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 requires that the President of the United States submit to Congress, on or before the first Monday in February of each year, a detailed budget request for the coming federal fiscal year, which begins on October 1.

What is the function of the President’s budget request?

The President’s annual budget request serves three functions:
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In honor of the sixth annual National School Choice Week, here are some facts you should know about school choice in America.

What does “school choice” mean?

NSCW-Stacked-LogoThe 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?

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Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
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The_Odds
In this week’s Acton Commentary, I take a look at “The Moral and Economic Poverty of the Lottery.” I take a look at the main parties involved: the winners, the players, and the government, and conclude, “Far from a force for good, lotteries are a danger to society.”

The problems with lotteries and gambling more generally are various and sundry. But Gerda Reith captures a fundamental aspect when she writes that “the state-sponsored fantasy of the big win turns the ethos of production and accumulation on its head.” This is essentially what Edmund Burke’s problem with a gaming society involves, which I explore in more depth in this week’s piece.

And later today I’ll be on Chris Brooks’ program on Moody Radio, “Equipped,” to discuss lottery winners and losers. Tune in at 1pm Eastern.

government_is_the_problem_poster-r60410fd507e74984b86adfb78cccb9fd_a3l0_8byvr_324What is the worst problem facing America? According to a recent Gallup poll, most Americans agree with former President Reagan, who said government is not a the solution, government is the problem.

An average of 16 percent of Americans in 2015 mentioned some aspect of government—including President Obama, Congress, or political conflict—as the country’s chief problem. The economy came in second with 13 percent mentioning it, while unemployment and immigration tied for third at 8 percent.

While government takes the top slot, that’s still an answer given by fewer than one in five citizens. We can’t even seem to come to a consensus about our biggest problems. Indeed, 2015 is only the second time since 2001 (2014 was the other year) that no single issue averaged 20 percent or more for the year. Rather than being focused on a single issue, there is a broad range of concerns troubling us; more than a dozen issues received 2-6 percent of the vote for worst problem.
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noun_283226_ccIn today’s Acton Commentary, I have some further reflections on the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The basic thrust of the piece is to encourage institutional thinking. We should expect that humans are going to institutionalize their goals because humans are natural institution builders, or culture makers.

This is one of the animating concerns behind the forthcoming volume The Church’s Social Responsibility as well. Even if younger generations now are more skeptical about “organized religion,” they will necessarily and eventually codify their views in some institutional form. In the context of religion, this means some understanding of “church,” which may look far different than previous incarnations.

As David Brooks puts it, “Most poverty and suffering — whether in a country, a family or a person — flows from disorganization. A stable social order is an artificial accomplishment, the result of an accumulation of habits, hectoring, moral stricture and physical coercion. Once order is dissolved, it takes hard measures to restore it.”

Of course institutions, being created by flawed human beings, have their flaws, and are prone to corruption of various kinds. So scrutiny of institutional structures as well as individual behavior is necessary. But I further argue that the level of public scrutiny should be commensurate with social power, particularly in economic and political forms. So by all means, let’s worry about what Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan are going to do with $50 billion. But let’s worry that much more about what the federal government does with that amount of money in a work week.

Let’s talk about The Force Awakens, which is tracking to smash global revenue records as it passes $1.5 billion. But let’s also not forget that the federal government spends a billion dollars in less time than it takes to sit down for a screening of the latest Star Wars episode!