Category: Public Policy

Both my parents grew up in Detroit, and my childhood was filled with great trips to visit family for holidays and in the summer. The downtown Hudson’s store was always a destination. One of my aunts worked there, and it was the place to shop. Our trips always included a stop for a Sander’s hot fudge ice cream puff as well. My sisters and I played endless games on the stoop of my grandmother’s home, and a few miles away, rode bikes up and done sidewalks neighborhood sidewalks with our cousins.

That Detroit doesn’t exist anymore. What was once a thriving and beautiful Midwestern city is now a place struggling to remake itself. Harry Veryser, economist and professor at University of Detroit Mercy, has a few ideas as to how Detroit just might make a comeback, and why it ended up the way it is now.

 

On Naharnet, a Lebanese news and information site, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg and Director of Istituto Acton Kishore Jayabalan comment on Pope Francis’s forthcoming environmental encyclical, which the news organization says is planned for release this summer. (Note: The article describes Acton as a “Catholic” think tank but it is, in fact, an ecumenical organization with broad participation from Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians and those of other faith traditions.) Naharnet notes that “a papal encyclical is meant to provide spiritual guidance to the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, but among advocates of climate action hopes are high that this one will resonate far beyond the church.”

Samuel Gregg, research director of the conservative Michigan-based Catholic think tank, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, said he doubts that the pope will weigh in on the science of climate change or on any particular political course of action.

“Individual Catholics—lay people, as well as bishops—have a variety of views on the science of climate change, and as citizens, they’re quite entitled to hold those views,” he said. “It’s not the church’s responsibility, nor does it have the authority to say that Catholics must support this treaty, that treaty, or any treaty. It doesn’t fall into the area of faith and morals. And this is often a distinction not understood outside the Catholic Church, or even by a good number of Catholics themselves.” (more…)

hopebutverifyLast week a group of (mostly liberal) Christian leaders took out a full-page ad in Roll Call calling on lawmakers to support the recent Framework Agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. “As Christian leaders we are telling our political leaders: It is imperative that you pursue this agreement with integrity, commitment, and perseverance,” The ad says. “We will be praying for you.”

The support of the agreement is a mistake, says Nicholas G. Hahn III. Why focus on urging a nuclear agreement when Christians are suffering under the Tehran regime?
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school-choice-justiceSocial justice is a term and concept frequently associated with the political Left, and too often used to champion views that are destructive for society and antithetical to justice. Yet for Christians the term is too valuable to be abandoned. Conservatives need to rescue it from the Left and restore it’s true meaning. True social justice is obtained, as my colleague Dylan Pahman has helpfully explained, “when each member, group, and sphere of society gives to every other what is due.”

A key sphere of society in which social justice is in desperate need of restoration is education. The poor deserve the same freedom to obtain a quality education that is too often reserved for those wealthy enough to rescue their children from failing schools. For this reason school choice should be considered a matter of social justice.

As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput says, lack of a quality education is a common thread among persons in severe poverty. And once stuck in deep poverty it’s very hard for anyone to escape due to the lack of skills needed to secure and hold employment:
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29taxes.2-500In an attempt to trap Jesus, some Pharisees and Herodians asked him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” In response, Jesus said,

“Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The Pharisees and Herodians “marveled” at Jesus answer, but had they asked an agent of the Roman IRS they likely would have been given a similar answer.

Governments have always had to contend with citizens who make what are considered “frivolous tax arguments” to avoid complying with tax laws. Such arguments rarely work (it’s usually not effective to try to present a creative interpretation of tax law to the people who interpret tax laws) but people keep trying.

The IRS has an entire list of responses to the most common frivolous tax arguments. Here are four of my favorites:
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RefuseServiceSignIn today’s Acton Commentary, “The Logic of Economic Discrimination,” I take up a small slice of the larger controversy and discussion surrounding religious liberty laws like the one passed recently in Indiana. My point, drawing out some of the implications of observations made by others, including Ryan Anderson and Shikha Dalmia, is that anti-discrimination boycotts depend on discrimination. Or as Dalmia puts it, “what is deeply ironic is that corporate America was able to wield its right not to do business (and boycott Indiana) by circumscribing the same right of Indiana businesses.”

Now there are lots of other angles and significant points to explore surrounding this enormously complex and important debate. Many have criticized the hypocrisy of corporations like Apple for doing business in places like China and Saudi Arabia even while they grandstand against Indiana. Others are now pointing to the actions of many in Silicon Valley, which despite the proclamations of support for social justice, have actually created huge inequalities. Tech centers like Silicon Valley are great, it seems, unless you are a woman, have a family, or are a blue-collar worker.

Indiana politicians, under massive scrutiny, have since moved to “clarify” the RFRA law that was passed, a move that has mollified some but not others. From the beginning, these conversations about religious liberty and economic rights have, in my view, insufficiently included sensitivity to considerations like freedom of association. Hopefully the larger context and interactions of contracts and rights, not merely “religious liberty” narrowly defined, can help broaden and mature the conversation.
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bureaucracySmall-government conservatives often share a regrettable trait with their big-government liberal opponents: they frame the issue almost exclusively in terms of the size and scope of the federal government.

Although conservatives sometimes expand their view and include state governments, the focus tends to miss the local governments, city and county municipalities, that can have a considerable impact on an individual’s life. But in Texas they’re beginning to take notice—and are doing something about it:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has been vocal about his opposition to what he characterizes as an overabundance of regulations implemented at the local level in his state.

During remarks at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s 13th annual Policy Orientation in January, Abbott said that “the truth is, Texas is being California-ized with bag bans, fracking bans, tree-cutting bans…We are forming a patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that are eroding the Texas Model.”

And as James Quintero, the director of the Center for Local Governance at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, told The Daily Signal, “big government at the local level is still big government.”

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Rembrandt The Hundred Guilder Print.jpg

Rembrandt The Hundred Guilder Print” by Rembrandt – www.rijksmuseum.nl : Home : Info. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“No, those who labor and are heavy-laden do not all look the way Rembrandt drew them in his ‘Hundred Guilder’ picture—poverty-stricken, miserable, sick, leprous, ragged, with worn, furrowed faces. They are also found concealed behind happy-looking, youthful faces and brilliantly successful lives. There are people who feel utterly forsaken in the midst of high society, to whom everything in their lives seems stale and empty to the point of nausea, because they can sense that underneath it all, their souls are decaying and rotting away. There is no loneliness like that of the fortunate.”

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer

pollution-permitsA key way to reduce pollution is to provide a mechanism that allows some firms to pollute as much—or even more—than they normally would. That idea may sound ridiculous—reduce pollution by allowing pollution?—but it’s been proven to be a surprisingly effective means of cleaning up the environment.

In 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act were added which included market-based incentives to reduce pollution, such as “emissions permits” for certain pollutants. As Robert W. Crandall explains,

These are, in effect, rights to pollute that can be traded among polluters. Imagine a giant bubble that encloses all existing sources of air pollution. Within that bubble, some emitters may pollute more than the control level as long as other polluters compensate by polluting less. The government or some other state or regional authority decides on the desired level of pollution and the initial distribution of pollution rights within an industry or for a geographic region—the “bubble” that encloses these sources. Purchases and sales of permits within the “bubble” should reduce the total level of pollution to the allowable limit at the lowest total cost.

The method not only works, it has shown to reduce pollution to even levels lower than could have been achieved by an across-the-board cap on all polluting firms—and at costs that are significantly cheaper.

MRUniversity recently released a video that explains the economics of these tradable pollution permits.

mandatory-votingWhile speaking in Cleveland yesterday President Obama came out in favor of making voting in elections compulsory:

In Australia and some other countries, there’s mandatory voting. It would be transformative if everybody voted — that would counteract money more than anything. If everybody voted, it would completely change the political map in this country. Because the people who tend not to vote are young, they’re lower income, they’re skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups… So that may end up being a better strategy in the short term.

While there may be some benefits of mandatory voting, counteracting the amount of money in politics is not one of them. In fact, it would likely increase the amount of money spent on campaigning.

Currently, political campaigns spend a lot of money targeting likely voters and getting them to the polls. Mandatory voting would eliminate the need for spending on get-out-the-vote efforts, but it would make targeting voters even more essential. Political parties would have a need and an incentive to spend millions—perhaps even billions—more on campaigns since they would need to reach millions of additional, low-information voters.

But there are two other reasons why mandatory voting would be a terrible policy:
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