Category: Public Policy

Poverty-In-America“Each of us has a personal responsibility to heed the call to care for the poor,” says Jennifer A. Marshall. “The Bible doesn’t leave us room to make poverty someone else’s problem.”

Long before LBJ’s call to combat poverty, Christians heard a higher call to compassion for the poor. How to live out that biblical command in the context of 21st-century America is the challenge. And it’s one that thinkers such as Sherman, author of the book Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, have encouraged Christians to think about more deeply.

Good intentions, they argue, aren’t enough. Truly effective compassion means striving for human flourishing and seeking the conditions that make it possible. The good news is that the good news has equipped the church for the kind of relational restoration of individuals and communities that is so urgently needed for fighting poverty in America today.

[. . .]

Effective compassion doesn’t settle for handouts; it strives for true human flourishing that goes beyond material need. Made in the image of God, human beings are by nature relational. Brian Fikkert, co-author of the book When Helping Hurts, suggests that four fundamental relationships are essential: right relationship with God, self, others, and the created world.

Seeking holistic thriving helps us keep the created dignity of those we serve at the heart of our efforts—while also keeping us in touch with our own needs in these spheres. In our pursuit of flourishing, we need to consider how appropriate roles for marriage and family, church, business, and government—not to mention personal responsibility—can help prevent and overcome poverty. Effective compassion draws on all these roles and calls for right relationships among them.

Read more . . .

Untitled 4Even when we agree on what Biblical principles should guide our political choices, evangelicals from the left and right rarely agree on policy solutions. But there is one area where there appears to be an increasingly significant level of agreement: the immorality of our national debt.

At Christianity Today, David P. Gushee — an ethicist and politically progressive evangelical — explains why the $17 trillion national debt is both immoral and unwise:

Most progressive evangelicals who address government spending focus on compassion issues. They connect God’s care for the poor to U.S. government spending priorities. This often seems to mean by default that all cuts to social welfare spending are bad, and that all increases are good.

I agree with my progressive evangelical allies that our government—which projects spending $3.77 trillion in fiscal 2014—seems to have sufficient resources to provide for the sick, the aged, the poor, and the uninsured. I agree with an overall reading of the Bible that prioritizes physical human needs over most other priorities. But I protest a too-easy move from “God cares for the poor and calls Christians to do the same” to “God wants the secular government of the United States to spend x on social welfare.” Translating a sacred text into a political ethic is not that easy.

Still, we have a moral problem on our hands: While our nation budgets $3.77 trillion for spending in fiscal 2014, it forecasts revenue of $744 billion less than that. If a nation does that for long enough, it ends up with a debt of $17 trillion—and rising.

A government that develops a pattern of spending considerably more than it raises behaves immorally. But its immorality is not simply the immorality-as-immediate-hardheartedness-to-the-poor, so often decried by my friends.

Read more . . .

Book information: The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself by Glenn Harlan Reynolds. Jackson, TN: Perseaus Books, 2013. Pp. viii + 106. Paperback. $21.50.

Instapundit’s Glenn Harlan Reynolds’ The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself is a clear and succinct, yet thorough, essay on creative destruction and American education. This slim volume (only about 100 pages) is divided approximately into 50 pages on higher education, 25 on secondary and elementary, and 25 on predictions and concluding remarks. While this might seem surprisingly brief, those of us who have been following the education crisis in the U.S. know that, actually, the problem really isn’t that complex.

As Reynolds summarizes his dean’s comments on the crisis, “Everybody knows there’s a problem; they just don’t want to talk about it because they don’t know what to do about it, and they’re afraid of what they might have to do if they did.” Very simply, what we have is a product (college degrees), whose cost has greatly outpaced inflation over the last 30 years and whose quality has plummeted, calling into question its key selling-point, viz. the idea that getting a college degree is a reliable means of upward income mobility. “The current system isn’t working,” he writes. “And, alas, neither are too many of its graduates. There may be a connection.” In the face of this, growing numbers of people simply aren’t buying the current model. (more…)

Blog author: johnteevan
posted by on Wednesday, January 8, 2014

I was reading an essay that I found in an old book I bought in Vermont. Dr H.J. Laski (Oxford and Yale) wrote, “The less obvious the differences between men in the gain of living, the greater the bond of fellowship between them.” In other words the less we talk about differences between the rich and poor, the better we will all like each other and get along. In the Depression which began as he was writing, nearly everyone was poor.

Those more cheerful days of fellowship ended with Michael Harrington’s The Other America written in 1962. Harrington described and defined the poor in America not as the lower working class (think coal miners back then) or as ghetto dwellers, but as The Poor. We declared a $7 trillion War on Poverty during 1960s, apparently with no adequate outcome as we still have 48 million people poor enough to be on food stamps.

The “bond of fellowship” has little chance today as it faces a daily reminder that the rich are very rich and that they are a sort of enemy of the poor. If the rich, the argument goes, would give up a small fraction of their immense profits or wealth then the poor would all be earning a “living wage.” That’s the energy behind the talk now of the $15/hr minimum wage.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, January 8, 2014

povertyFifty years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson gave his 1964 State of the Union Speech, in which he launched the ‘war on poverty.’ Within four years of that speech, the Johnson administration enacted a broad ran of programs, including the the Job Corps, Upward Bound, Head Start, the Neighborhood Youth Corps, the Social Security amendments creating Medicare/Medicaid, the creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and over a dozen others.

Here are a few numbers related to governmental efforts to eradicate poverty in America:

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According to a report released this week by the Pew Research Center, the so-called “digital divide” between whites and blacks is slowly being closed by smart phones. Here are the key findings of the report:

(1) African Americans trail whites by seven percentage points when it comes to overall internet use (87% of whites and 80% of blacks are internet users). At the same time, blacks and whites are on more equal footing when it comes to other types of access, especially on mobile platforms.
(2) Overall, 73% of African American internet users—and 96% of those ages 18-29—use a social networking site of some kind. African Americans have exhibited relatively high levels of Twitter use since we began tracking the service as a stand-alone platform.
(3) 92% of African Americans own a cell phone, and 56% own a smartphone.

While this may appear to be helpful information, the way the study is being reported tells us nothing about race. This type of data continues to feed the myth that the digital divide in this country is determined by a “racial wealth gap.” I am not convinced that there ever was a digital divide by race to begin with because the real digital divide in America is determined by class, not race.

If one reads the Pew report closely it becomes apparent that studying the “digital divide” along the axis of race is useless because there is essentially no statistical difference between access to the internet between blacks and whites when controlling the data according to income.
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, January 7, 2014

common-coreWhat is Common Core?

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that established a single set of educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics.

What do the educational standards entail?

Common Core is intended to cover fewer topics in greater depth at each grade level. In English language arts, the Common Core State Standards require certain content for all students, including: Classic myths and stories from around the world; America’s Founding Documents; Foundational American literature: and Shakespeare. The remaining decisions about what content should be taught are left to state and local determination. In addition to content coverage, the Common Core State Standards require that students systematically acquire knowledge in literature and other disciplines through reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

In Mathematics, the Common Core State Standards lay a solid foundation in: whole numbers; addition; subtraction; multiplication; division; fractions; and decimals. The middle school and high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real world issues and challenges in an attempt to prepare students to think and reason mathematically.

Did the federal government implement Common Core?

No, the program is not being implemented by the federal government — though the Obama administration has had some influence over the program. Common Core is an initiative driven by state governors and education commissioners, through their representative organizations, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). However, President Obama is a strong supporter and the federal government poured $438 million of economic stimulus funding into developing standardized tests aligned to the Common Core. Additionally, the federal government strongly encouraged states to adopt “college- and career-ready standards” in the competitive grant program Race to the Top and through No Child Left Behind, which outlines consequences for schools that do not meet goals.

Have all the states adopted Common Core?

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icon_22372Over at NRO, Thomas Sowell takes on what he calls the “lie” of “trickle-down economics.” Thus, writes Sowell, “the ‘trickle-down’ lie is 100 percent lie.” Sowell cites Bill de Blasio and Barack Obama as figures perpetuating the “lie,” along with writers in “the New York Times, in the Washington Post, and by professors at prestigious American universities — and even as far away as India.”

But we should also note that “trickle-down theories” get a mention in Evangelii Gaudium, too: “some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.”

In the midst of his discussion, Sowell asks the following penetrating questions:

Why would anyone advocate that we “give” something to A in hopes that it would trickle down to B? Why in the world would any sane person not give it to B and cut out the middleman?

Whether or not there is such a thing as “trickle-down economics” in the discussions about the market economy, isn’t there something akin to what Sowell asks about at play in usual redistributive welfare programs? Don’t we “give” something to governmental bureaucracies and agencies in the hopes that they will in turn redistribute it (hopefully in more than a trickle) to the poor?

And as for the “trickle” part of trickle-down welfare economics, Juan de Mariana long ago observed that “money, transferred through many ministers, is like a liquid. It always leaves a residue in the containers.” So why not give directly to the poor and cut out the middleman, as Sowell wonders?

That’s precisely the discussion that’s been going on over at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog, among other places, about direct cash transfers to the poor instead of bureaucratic welfare programs. Head on over to the BHL blog to check it out.

elementary-school-student-and-teacher-look-at-computerWhat is the key to improving education in America? Stuart Buck says that Barker Bausell’s book, Too Simple to Fail: A Case for Educational Change, provides the answer:

His main thesis: that the only thing that improves education is spending more time on instruction at a given child’s level. In his words:

All school learning is explained in terms of the amount of relevant instructional time provided to a student.

That’s it: more time + suitability for a child’s level.

This may seem too simplistic at first glance, but Bausell marshals evidence that his theory explains, well, a lot. Possibly even the achievement gap. Studies of home behavior have shown that middle-class families spend much more time talking and reading to their children at a high level. This is the most elegant explanation for why those children do better in school — they have had much more time devoted to their learning.

Read more . . .

KOPPITZ 0010Reading this profile of UPS’s “Mr. Peak,” Scott Abell, is an enlightening exercise, particularly after the close of this holiday season. Mr. Peak is the guy in charge of making sure that the thing you ordered the Friday before Christmas gets there by Christmas Eve. Or as Devin Leonard puts it, “It’s become so easy for people to shop via computers and smartphones that they frequently delay their purchases until the last minute. Mr. Peak’s job, in effect, is to fulfill the Internet’s promise of instant gratification.”

In my Christmas commentary, I wondered about what a civilization organized around the principle of instant gratification might look like. It wasn’t a pretty picture: “A society that sows the gratification of its material desires everywhere and always, without limitations of rest or Sabbath, will reap a harvest of barbaric sensualism.”

If the Internet promises instant gratification, is the world wide web a force for barbarism rather than civilization? No, but perhaps only if we are willing and able to adjust our expectations. The civilized thing to do might be to order your Christmas presents with more than a few hours to spare. It would certainly make life a bit easier on Mr. Peak. He had a pretty rough season this year.

Mr. Peak “tries to get his family to avoid Internet shopping altogether after Thanksgiving. ‘I’m not going to tell them not to shop,’ he says. ‘But I tell them that they should do it early. Early’s better.’”
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