Category: Public Policy

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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overpopulationThe Nordic philosopher and priest Anders Chydenius (1729-1803) — the “Adam Smith of the North” — once asked:

Would the Great Master, who adorns the valley with flowers and covers the cliff itself with grass and mosses, exhibit such a great mistake in man, his masterpiece, that man should not be able to enrich the globe with as many inhabitants as it can support? That would be a mean thought even in a Pagan, but blasphemy in a Christian, when reading the Almighty’s precept: ‘Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.’

Unfortunately, this mean and blasphemous thought was soon popularized as an obvious and incontrovertible fact by Chydenius’ contemporary, the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus. In An Essay on the Principle of Population Malthus argued that excesses in population are held within resource limits by two types of checks: positive checks (hunger, disease, war) raised the death rate while preventative checks (abortion, birth control, postponement of marriage) lowered the birth rate.
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Help-Wanted-Whites-OnlyThe legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., like most mortals, evokes a certain ambivalence regarding what should be celebrated and what should be rightly critiqued. There are certainly parts of his life and thinking that warrant correction, rebuke, and challenge, but this will be true of all us if we live long enough. On this MLK holiday, however, I am thinking about my parents. My parents spent the first third of their lives being denied the equal application of the rule of law because of Jim Crow laws.

During Jim Crow, my parents could not trust the justice system. State and local courts of justice were unreliable. My parents were not free to take roads trips wherever they pleased, especially at night. They were not allowed to attend certain elementary and high schools. They were not allowed to even apply to several colleges. They were not allowed to equally compete in the marketplace against whites in the South. What made Jim Crow additionally immoral is that they were laws that protected a particular class of people so that they could not suffer the consequences of racial discrimination. Jim Crow protected whites in the South from learning the hard lesson that racial discrimination is bad for business and undermines social flourishing.
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100930_minimum_wageYesterday I mentioned that translating economic principles into intuitive concepts is one of the most urgent and necessary tasks to prevent such evils as harm to the poor. Today, William Poole provides an excellent example of what is needed with his “common-sense thought experiment” on minimum wage increases:

Suppose Congress were to enact a minimum wage $50 higher than the current one of $7.25 per hour. Would a minimum of $57.25 reduce employment? I know of no economist who would assert a zero effect in this case, and recommend that readers ask their economist friends about this thought experiment. Assume that the estimate is that a minimum of $57.25 would reduce employment by 100,000. The actual number would be far higher but 100,000 will do for this thought experiment. Now, consider several other possible increases of less than $50. The larger of these increases would have substantial effects, the smaller ones smaller effects.

But is there reason to believe that a minimum of $10 would have no effect? I have never seen a convincing argument to justify that belief. If you accept as a fact that a minimum wage of $57.25 would reduce employment, and you accept as a fact that some workers are currently paid $7.25 per hour, then logic compels you to believe that a small increase in the minimum wage above $7.25 will have at least a small negative effect on employment.

The only escape from this logic is to believe that there is a discontinuity in the relationship between the minimum wage and employment. No one has offered evidence that there is a discontinuity at a certain minimum wage such that a minimum above that has an effect and one below does not.

Far too often, advocates of minimum wage increases tend to dismiss such thought experiments before giving them due consideration. I think I know why. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on their motives (it certainly sounds like I’m about to cast aspersions on their motives, doesn’t it?), but I suspect they fear that admitting the undeniable logic of this reasoning will cause them to lose the moral high ground.
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Five nights a week, Dr. Jim Withers walks the streets of Pittsburgh bringing free medical help to the homeless. Since 1992, he has served over 25,000 impoverished people in need of care.

Dr. Withers and others like him are doing important, praiseworthy work. But we should be careful that we don’t confuse this stop-gap measure with a solution. Providing care on the streets is necessary — for now. The goal we must work toward, though, is to help these citizens find a permanent solution that provides the care, comfort, and dignity that can never come from sleeping on a steam grate.

(Via: 22 Words)

MedicaidMoney_jpg_800x1000_q100If a large Oregon study is any indication, says Jonathan Witt in this week’s Acton Commentary, the Affordable Care Act may drive up frivolous emergency room visits and do little to improve people’s physical or economic health:

In essence, the healthcare industry becomes the enabler in a lucrative game in which patients put off needed lifestyle reform, opting instead for prescription pills, surgeries and conversations about “genetic predispositions.” None of this gets at the root problem, and indeed exacerbates the root problem. People face a moral challenge, to accept responsibility as stewards of their bodies to live a healthy lifestyle. The system, instead of spurring them on to do the responsible thing, all too often invites them to believe they are not responsible and should entrust their genetically hopeless selves into the hands of the medical/pharmaceutical industrial complex.

The full text of his essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, January 14, 2014

net-neutralityIn a ruling that has significant implications for the future of the Internet, an appeals court has ruled that the FCC cannot impose so-called “net neutrality rules.” What exactly is net neutrality? And why should Christians care?

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality (short for “network neutrality”) refers to both a design principle and laws that attempt to regulate and enforce that principle. The net neutrality principle is the idea that a public information network should aspire to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally. At its simplest, network neutrality is the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally and that every website – from Google.com to Acton.org — should all be treated the same when it comes to giving users the bandwidth to reach the internet-connected services they prefer.

Net neutrality laws are legislation or regulation that prevents Internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating or charging different prices based on such criteria as user, content, site, platform, application, or type of attached equipment.

What is the basic argument in favor of net neutrality regulation?
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WhitePrivilegeIn 1988, Peggy McIntosh gave us “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” to expand our thinking about the reality that being born white in America means that one is free from a host of pressures and burdens that racial minorities have no choice but to face. In 1989, UCLA Law professor Kimberlé W. Crenshaw coined the phrase “intersectionality” to help us see that American life is best understood from an integrative perspective, emphasizing the intersection of several attributes like gender, race, class, and nation. There is not one aspect of our lives that defines who we are. For nearly 25 years, “white privilege” and “intersectionality” have been standard categories in discussions of race in American life. After reading about these ideas I am wondering why Christians do not use these themes when talking about “racial reconciliation.”

Perhaps the cause of this reticence is that progressives see inequality and privilege as something to be remedied–as something abnormal — whereas a more virtuous understanding of these issues in an imperfect world sees privilege and inequality as a opportunity to practice charity and spread shalom.

Since the release of my book Aliens In The Promise Land in 2013, I am bringing to a close my work on race and evangelicalism. If the goal is to demonstrate that being made in the image of God and having equality in the gospel (Gen 1:26-28; Gal 3:28) has implications for daily life, there needs be a more dynamic discussion beyond “racial reconciliation.” In fact, it seems to me that evangelicals will not make progress on race until the discussion advances integrative concepts like “white privilege” and “intersectionality.” “Racial reconciliation” does not cut deep enough and often ignores the intersections and the roles of class and social power.
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Why is free speech necessary for a free society? As Deirdre McCloskey, an economist, historian, and rhetorician, explains, persuasion is the only alternative to violence. A free society is a speaking, rather than violent, society.