Archived Posts January 2006 - Page 5 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: kschmiesing
Friday, January 6, 2006
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The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on the closing of a federal housing loophole. The full article is accessible only to subscribers, so I’ll summarize. College students for a number of years have been taking advantage of Section 8 (federally subsidized housing) rules to live in “projects” while they go to school. Such housing is, obviously, supposed to be for the needy, but decidedly un-needy students have been benefiting. The Des Moines Register originally investigated the story (described here) and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa initiated the legislation to close the loophole. One student living at the expense of taxpayers was the son of the Univeristy of Iowa’s football coach, who earns $2 million per year.

So kudos to Harkin for addressing the issue. But the deeper and more intransigent problem is that massive government programs to help the needy will always be vulnerable to abuse. By necessity they must be subject to complicated and cumbersome bureaucratic rules, which cannot be adapted by administrators on the ground level making reasonable judgments. The existence of federal dorms for middle and upper class collegians over the last decade is only the latest example of the absurdity invited when the principle of subsidiarity is ignored.

Blog author: jcouretas
Thursday, January 5, 2006
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Market Day in Romania

The new Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal report on economic freedom is out, and the findings couldn’t be more straightforward. “The countries with the most economic freedom also have higher rates of long-term economic growth and are more prosperous than are those with less economic freedom,” the report says.

Overall, the world is economically freer than it was a year ago, according the authors of the report. Of the 157 countries graded in the 2006 Index of Economic Freedom, 99 improved their overall scores, compared to 51 whose scores worsened and five that remained unchanged. Overall, 20 are classified as “free,” 52 as “mostly free,” 73 as “mostly unfree” and 12 as “repressed.”

Hong Kong and Singapore finished 1st and 2nd in the rankings for the 12th straight year. Ireland overtook Luxembourg and Estonia and moved up to No. 3, and Iceland moved up three spaces to No. 5, where it is tied with the United Kingdom. The United States improved enough to re-enter the top 10 after falling out last year for the first time ever. It’s tied for 9th worldwide with Australia and New Zealand.

The links between countries that embrace economic freedom and prosperity are long established. Those in countries with “mostly unfree” or “repressed” economies earn 70 percent less than those in countries with “mostly free” economies, the Index editors say. And those in “free” economies enjoy a per capita income more than twice what those in “mostly free” economies earn.

The countries that showed the most improvement were led by Pakistan, Romania and the Kyrgyz Republic. Iran, Italy and Guinea showed the biggest declines.

Blog author: kwoods
Thursday, January 5, 2006
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With a gracious spirit, let’s say that [url=http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?c109:1:./temp/~c109UcVNaR:e173273:]Section 317[/url] of [url=http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c109:1:./temp/~c109UcVNaR::]Senate Tax Relief Act of 2005[/url] was penned with the intent of fostering honest accountability in the charity world. And, furthermore, let’s graciously allow that the legislation was designed to send the message that the Internal Revenue Service is vigilantly watching over the donation of tax-deductible clothing and household goods.

A [url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/29/AR2005122901503.html]recent article[/url] in the Washington Post justifiably underscored the importance of providing goods to charities that actually have value. Too much of what is given to charities today winds up in the local dump.

But Congress was not thinking clearly when it included a “Limitation of Deduction for Charitable Contributions of Clothing and Household Items” in Section 317. This measure requires the Secretary of the Treasury to annually create a list that places ‘market values’ on all household goods or items that would potentially be donated to a charitable organization. For a contribution in excess of $250, the donor would be required to secure a receipt from the charity that provided an itemized list “of number of items contributed, an indication of the condition of each item, a description of the type of item contributed, and a copy of the Secretary’s valuation list or an instruction on how to obtain such list.”

If the donated item is not in a “good used condition or better,” the charity would then need to value the contribution at 20 percent of the market value as deemed by the Secretary’s list. Or no value at all if the charity said it was worthless to the organization.

The [url=http://www.cpjustice.org/cprf]Coalition to Preserve Religious Freedom[/url] argues that Section 317 generates serious operations and accounting burdens for rescue missions and small nonprofit organizations. That is a polite response.

For more than two years now, the IRS has been telling Congress — and the Senate Finance Committee in particular — that it doesn’t have the resources to get its charity oversight work done. Now the IRS wants to get into the clothing and household goods valuation business?

Maybe the Beltway crowd has missed the private sector solution to this issue — one that you can simply order onlilne. The [url=http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0970323077/qid=1136406966/sr=8-1/ref=pd_bbs_1/002-5327901-0168046?n=507846&s=books&v=glance]2005 It’s Deductible Workbook[/url] is now significantly discounted, but even last week, you could get a copy online for $14.95. Called the “Blue Book for Donated Items,” this private sector product is fully compliant with IRS code.

So, first of all, we should all agree that the IRS doesn’t need to “reinvent the in-kind donation pricing wheel.”

What’s more, we need to ask why the responsibility for finding the value (whatever the source) of donated in-kind goods is put on the receiver of the goods instead of the giver.

Section 317 has the potential to create a classic “unintended consequences” scenario. It may result in the government spending millions of tax dollars to generate information that already exists in the private sector, which by the way, is based on market values. Then the agency that receives the donation has to go through the red tape of providing an itemized list, value, and condition report for each item. That should go a long way toward further burdening and possibly eliminating scores of smaller charities, thrift shops, and rescue missions — groups that are already stretched by the basic tasks of receiving, sorting, and selling donated goods.

Is this all by design? Officials in Washington have been quoted as saying that there are too many small charities in this country. That means, to their way of thinking, that these charities are too difficult to regulate. If the true intent of charity regulation reform is greater accountability for all, let’s find a better way. Section 317 is neither the effective nor efficient way to accomplish this objective.

On Jan. 6, Rev. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, will introduce author George Weigel at the Calvin College January Series in Grand Rapids, Mich. Weigel’s topic will be “Revolutionary Papacies: John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and the Future of the Catholic Church.” You may also listen to the program live (Friday, Jan. 6 @ 12:30pm EST) through this link on the Calvin site.

There’s a lot of buzz in the blogosphere on Mark Steyn’s “It’s the Demography, Stupid”, which appears in today’s OpinionJournal.com and is originally published in the January 2006 issue of The New Criterion.

As usual, Steyn has many excellent observations about our present crises, but this article is a more extended look than his op-eds. Some highlights:

The design flaw of the secular social-democratic state is that it requires a religious-society birthrate to sustain it. Post-Christian hyperrationalism is, in the objective sense, a lot less rational than Catholicism or Mormonism.

That’s what the war’s about: our lack of civilizational confidence. As a famous Arnold Toynbee quote puts it: “Civilizations die from suicide, not murder”–as can be seen throughout much of “the Western world” right now. The progressive agenda–lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism–is collectively the real suicide bomb.

We’re pretty much awash in resources, but we’re running out of people–the one truly indispensable resource, without which none of the others matter. Russia’s the most obvious example: it’s the largest country on earth, it’s full of natural resources, and yet it’s dying–its population is falling calamitously.

Yet, even by the minimal standards of these wretched precedents, so-called post-Christian civilizations–as a prominent EU official described his continent to me–are more prone than traditional societies to mistake the present tense for a permanent feature. Religious cultures have a much greater sense of both past and future, as we did a century ago, when we spoke of death as joining “the great majority” in “the unseen world.” But if secularism’s starting point is that this is all there is, it’s no surprise that, consciously or not, they invest the here and now with far greater powers of endurance than it’s ever had. The idea that progressive Euro-welfarism is the permanent resting place of human development was always foolish; we now know that it’s suicidally so.

And that’s just a sampling.

I think Steyn’s right on just about all his points, but I also know that demographics is a very hard field to predict much beyond the space of one generation. Is there anything that rules out a baby boom among young European Christians 30 years from now? Have there not been popular revivials or awakenings throughout the 2,000-year history of Christianity, often taking place in the midst of much civilizational decay? Or are Pope Benedict and others simply wasting their time?

Steyn addresses many issues central to the Acton Institute’s mission; it’d be a real shame if we couldn’t have a lively discussion over his piece. Let’s get one started, and maybe Hugh Hewitt will take notice.

The Real Clear Politics Blog passes along an op-ed from Bob Herbert, “Blowing the Whistle on Gangsta Culture,” a NYT Select item (subscription required). In the column, Herbert discusses the “profoundly self-destructive cultural influences that have spread like a cancer through much of the black community and beyond.”

Tom Bevan calls the piece “suprisingly candid,” and “some stiff, righteous stuff – all the more impressive coming from the source.” Herbert, of course, has been a NYT columnist since 1993, and Bevan thinks that “If Herbert is disgusted with the current state of black leadership in America then we may indeed have reached a tipping point.”

Acton research fellow Anthony Bradley has written widely on the moral status of rap culture. Be sure to check out these items: “Candy Shopping – Rap’s Dehumanizing Message” and “Ghetto Cracker: The Hip Hop ‘Sell Out’”.

Public schools are now embroiled in the controversy over the teaching of intelligent design. Eric Schansberg points out that we wouldn’t have this problem if there were more choice in education. But neither education elitists nor theocrats are big on educational freedom. “They wage battle within the monopoly, hoping to capture the process and force their view of truth down the throats of others,” he writes.

Read the complete commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, January 4, 2006
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The US government is getting set to open up a set of airwave frequencies, vacating the prime estate for obscure channels that will serve its purposes just as well. In addition, the newly available channels will provide a big boost to the capabilities of current wireless telecom providers.

Hugo Grotius (1583-1645)

As Gene J. Koprowski writes for UPI, “It’s something like an eminent-domain case — except this time, the government is vacating the space in order to further the technology economy, rather than the reverse.” We might call it something like “common” or “conventional” domain. Wikipedia traces the origin of the term eminent domain as “derived in the mid-19th Century from a legal treatise written by the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius in 1625.” Grotius (1583-1645) was a Remonstrant natural-law theorist.

“With 90 megahertz of additional spectrum, today’s cellular carriers will be tomorrow’s next-generation broadband providers,” Michael D. Gallagher, assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, said in a statement. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the Department of Commerce, says the channels are to be used for “advanced wireless services.”

The cost of the move is estimated to be around $936 million, which is actually well under previous industry predictions, and will be paid for by the proceeds from the auction of the channels. “We found a way to open up a ‘beach front’ spectrum for key economic activity without jeopardizing our national security,” Gallagher said.

The move follows successful lobbying by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). TIA President Matthew J. Flanigan said in a press release, “The passage of the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act last year and today’s report by NTIA are important steps in accelerating the deployment of advanced wireless services. Auction proceeds will create billions of dollars of capital investments and increase job growth in the United States.”

All in all, the move looks to be a positive one for economic development in the quickly growing field of wireless communication. And its noteworthy that the government is using its sovereign power to serve the interests of private enterprise rather than jealously guarding its own previously acquired “territory” (although it will look to turn a tidy profit from the sale of the newly opened airwaves).

HT: Slashdot

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, January 3, 2006
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First item in this month’s Christianity Today Bookmarks.

Conclusion: “Disconcertingly, Stark argues without qualification, nuance, and the balancing of perspectives that academics love so much. Nonetheless, he may be right.”

For those of you who enjoy listening to podcasts, Acton has updated its own podcast to be more iTunes friendly. We’ve added an iTunes graphic to the feed, updated our description tags, and categorized it on the iTunes music store. For those interested in checking it out, please follow this link to the iTunes Music Store (iTunes is required).