Category: Public Policy

Bridge-building-w-cranesThe state of Michigan is in the midst of something of an infrastructure crisis. We’re consistently ranked as among the states with the worst roads in the nation, something of an embarrassment for what used to be the automotive capital of the US. This infrastructure challenge is also no doubt part of a legacy of a state with one of the more troubled economies in the nation over the previous decade. (In spite of all this, Michigan remains a beautiful state with wonderful people, something Thrillist noted in recently ranking the Mitten state as the best state in America!)

To President Obama’s quip about infrastructure to business leaders, “You didn’t build that,” one might be tempted to retort that, in Michigan at least, that’s also increasingly true for the government. The roads aren’t being maintained in anything like a responsible fashion.

The voters of Michigan recently defeated Proposal 1, which was put forth by the state’s politicians as the only feasible solution. The voters actually saw it for what it was: a game of brinkmanship and blame-shifting. The defeat of Prop 1 put the onus back on the elected politicians to actually do their job and undertake the tough work of governing.

There have been a number of other ideas floated after the end of Prop 1, and part of that overhaul of our state’s approach to infrastructure investment and maintenance includes debate over so-called “prevailing” wage laws that require “union-scale wages and benefits on public construction contracts.”

pope plant“Laudato si, mi’ Signore!” Both the title and first line of the most recent papal encyclical come from St. Francis’ canticle which looks at nature as a great gift, but you all know that. Every news source worth its salt made that clear before the encyclical was released (either time); yet, we as Christians are called to be salt of the Earth. This entails more than a brief glance at the word on the street about the ecological pronouncement. What is at stake here is the central call of humanity: to till and keep the gifted garden (Genesis 2:15). The first human was placed in this role of cultivation of the earth even before being told to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There was a promise to act and a law to keep. The Bible is divided into two halves: law in the Old Testament and promise in the New Testament. The call to be salt of the earth is about the Christian life fulfilling that promise. Note that the law followed the promise in the order of our creation. Core to human being was first the love of the life of the world–the greatest commandment as Christ said. So, then why is the reactionary focus of the encyclical even before it was released surrounded upon the policy, the law, that it would inspire and not the call to promise?

Surely within the encyclical there is language that leads to law being created. What Pope Francis has seen in the world directly articulates the life he leads–one unaccepting of a “globalization of indifference” for any child of God’s in need. (more…)

Coal power plant Datteln 2 Crop1Today at The Federalist I explore “Why Big Oil Wants A Carbon Tax.” Perhaps such advocacy isn’t just made out of a sense of global citizenship and environmental stewardship.

On the surface such advocacy may seem counter-intuitive. Why on earth, other than out of selfless benevolence, would a firm (or group of firms) advocate for higher taxes on their products? But on reflection, it makes some sense, and the reasoning is similar to why an online retailer like Amazon might be in favor of the collection of sales tax at the state level.

As Adam Smith famously put it, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

Companies are often happy to raise prices if it hurts their competition or provides them with a competitive advantage. And in the case of carbon taxes, it’s important to recognize that not all fossil fuels are equally carbon-intensive, just as not all renewable sources are equally sustainable and resilient.

This is one of the economic realities that I wish Pope Francis had recognized more clearly in Laudato Si’, although I may have more to say about this later. For now, David Brooks expresses a similar desire in his column, “Fracking and the Franciscans.”

Poverty Rate Rises To 15 Year HighWithin 48 hours of the Supreme Court issuing its diktat on same-sex marriage, there were already calls for religious organizations that oppose gay marriage to lose their tax-exempt status. But Mark Oppenheimer goes even further. The writer of a regular column on religion for the New York Times argues in Time magazine that “the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage makes it clearer than ever that the government shouldn’t be subsidizing religion and non-profits.”

There is a lot that could be said about this proposal, but one fact needs to be stated clearly: it is un-American.

In the past I’ve had discussions with Oppenheimer on other issues. I don’t often agree with him, but I like him personally. He seems to advocate what he truly believes. I don’t think he is attempting to simply gain attention with a provocative article; I think he considers his proposal to be good for America. I say all this to make it clear that I am not using the term “un-American” as an invective against a despised political opponent. In fact, I don’t use that term as an insult at all, but merely as an accurate description of an idea that is fundamentally at odds with American principles. Taxing churches and other charitable non-profits implies that the people exist to serve the government, rather than the government for the people. That is about as un-American as it gets.

In his article, Oppenheimer provides some unconvincing rationales for his proposal. But the underlying premise is that the government should be the primary, if not the sole, provider of services handled by charities and other non-profits:

The Acton Institute’s 2007 book Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition offers insight on Jewish theology as it connects to creation and our place in the world. The following list provides seven key quotes from “The Spiritual Nature of Human Work,” an essay in the book written by Jewish scholars.

1. The religious Jew has much appreciation for the beauty of nature. We are filled with gratitude for these natural treats to our senses that are also natural treats to our senses that are also natural resources vital to the human race. In fact, a collection of benedictions is part of every religious child’s early-learned faith arsenal. From the earliest age, Jewish children smilingly utter the benediction for a rainbow upon seeing this arc in the heavens. When seeing a beautiful tree, the ocean, hearing thunder, and for many other manifestations of God’s world, we say a fervent “thank you.”


Since its publication in 2007, the Acton Institute’s Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition has been one go-to source for religious thought on environmental stewardship. The following list gathers information from “A Biblical Perspective on Environmental Stewardship,” an essay from the book that offers the Christian perspective on humanity’s place in nature.

1. God, the Creator of all things, rules over all and deserves our worship and adoration (Ps. 103:19—22).

2. The earth, and, with it, all the cosmos, reveals its Creator’s wisdom and goodness (Ps. 19:1—6) and is sustained and governed by his power and loving kindness (Ps. 102:25—27; Ps. 104; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3, 10—12). Men and women were created in the image of God, given a privileged place among creatures, and commanded to exercise stewardship over the earth (Gen. 1:26—28; Ps. 8:5).

3. The image of God consists of knowledge and righteousness, and expresses itself in creative human stewardship and dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26—28; 2:8—20; 9:6; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).


The U.S. Supreme Court decided today that it is unconstitutional for a state to declare that marriage is only between one man and one woman. There is nothing in the Constitution that requires states to redefine marriage, but the Court decided that the Due Process Clause prohibits defining marriage as it has been defined for millennia just as it found a right to an abortion in the same Due Process Clause over 40 years ago.

The role of the Court is to rule on the merits of a case based on prior case law and the Constitution. The Court is not to legislate or find ways to make something legal that they personally believe is better for society. When the Court removes an issue from the realm of democracy and imposes its will based on what it perceives as the best public policy, there is a natural resentment that occurs from the people and states opposed to the ruling, particularly when such a ruling has no real basis in constitutional law.

“Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law,” writes Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent. “Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.”