Archived Posts May 2006 » Page 6 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Two quick bits for your Tuesday:

- Federal judges on green junkets at your expense? CRC says so!

- Is "steady state ecological economics" the answer to environmental and economic woes?

[also, a quick thanks to Jordan for inviting me to join the PowerBlog team.]

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Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Jordan pretty well covered the territory in his earlier post on gas prices. But with the silliness from both Republicans and Democrats ongoing, it can’t hurt to suggest two additional sensible treatments of the subject: Thomas Nugent on National Review Online, and Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute on FoxNews.

Two Acton scholars, Andrew Yuengert and Fr. Paul Hartmann, were interviewed on “The World Over” (EWTN Studios) last Friday, April 28, about the Catholic response to immigration rights. Yuengert, author of the Acton monograph “Inhabiting the Land,” emphasizes the dignity of the human person as a foundation for looking at the issues surrounding immigration. Yuengert says that the “right to migrate” is not an absolute right, but to prevent people from assisting immigrants in need is immoral. Immigrants come because they want to work. They generally find positions as low-wage laborers, and tend to send large amounts of money home to poorer nations. The economic burdens that immigrant workers place on the United States are relatively small, although those burdens tend to fall heavily on specific regions, most noticeably on southern California. Yuengert says that the burdens themselves do not justify new restrictions on immigration although, viewed from an economic perspective, the nation could probably adjust to a massive loss of immigrant labor.

Fr. Hartmann reiterates the necessity of being allowed to provide charity to those in need. It becomes a major problem, however, if laws exist which make it a crime to extend a helping hand to immigrants and their families. The Church should oppose such laws, he says. What’s more, Christians have a moral obligation to “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked,” without prejudice.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico looks at the Bush Faith-Based Initiative following the departure of Jim Towey, who headed the office. “I would far rather see a president rally people to give more to charity than rally voters to support government programs that go to religious organizations, and to create incentives and lessen penalties when they do give,” Rev. Sirico writes.

Read Rev. Sirico’s commentary here.

Anthony Bradley, a research fellow at the Acton Institute, was interviewed on “Heartland with John Kasich” on Fox News last Saturday. He was talking about the need for a “hero to emerge” from the Duke lacrosse team in the wake of a sexual assault scandal. Bradley emphasizes the need for moral leadership in the United States as a whole and why we should discourage markets from promoting the dehumanization of women.

Bradley earned quite a bit of attention after writing a commentary last Wednesday bringing attention to what he calls the “cowardly and dehumanizing … commoditized sex-for-sale industry.” Bradley asserts that the United States, as a nation, should be “outraged that two adult women subjected themselves to voyeuristic, live pornography” in the first place.

Court TV Morning, a radio show aired on Sirius satellite network (Channel 110), has also invited Anthony Bradley to discuss his Duke lacrosse commentary on Wednesday, May 3, at 7:15 a.m. Eastern time.

For more information read Anthony’s commentary, “Wanted: A Duke Lacrosse Team Hero.”

Ota Benga

Sometimes the spirit of an age prevails with such force that it moves the highest pinnacles of cultural influence to support the grossest indignities.

Consider the early 1900s. During this time, the prevailing zeitgeist of Darwinism gave rise to the tragic dehumanization of a Pygmy named Ota Benga. What follows are a few salient points from Cynthia Crossen’s story as published in The Wall Street Journal’s Déjà vu column “How Pygmy Ota Benga Ended Up in Bronx Zoo As Darwinism Dawned” on February 6, 2006. It is also available here.

Ms. Crossen tells the story of how, in 1903, Ota was bought in Africa, brought to the United States, and in 1904 became part of a living display of the stages of evolution at the St. Louis World’s Fair. After the fair and a string of events, he found himself in the monkey cages at the Bronx Zoo.

The New York Times noted, “It is probably a good thing that Benga doesn’t think very deeply. … If he did it isn’t likely that he was very proud of himself when he woke in the morning and found himself under the same roof with the orangutans and monkeys.”

The Rev. James Gordon of the Colored Baptist Minster’s Conference rejected the Times’ opinion. “Our race is depressed enough, without exhibiting one of us with apes. We think we are worthy of being considered human beings with souls.”

But the Times brushed aside the criticism: “It is absurd to moan over the imagined humiliation and degradation he is suffering. … The idea that men are all much alike except as they have had or lacked opportunities for getting an education out of books is now far out of date.” The director of the zoo didn’t get it either, saying, “He has one of the best rooms in the primate house.”

In 1916 Ota stole a revolver and shot himself. “Evidently he felt that he would rather die than work for a living,” the director offhandedly observed.

I believe that Ms. Crossen’s story calls us back as a society to affirm the basic worth of the human person. Religion, when rightly understood and practiced, can inform other disciplines, such as law, economics, or journalism, of this principle. Our economic model should embrace this affirmation, and will therefore fit with what we know of the motivations of the human person, as a being created to live in freedom and love, to own and to offer up, to create and cooperate, to lead and serve. Without this understanding, we—all of us—could mistakenly believe ourselves to be just the best primates in the zoo.

Where in the world would you pay $145,750 for a roll of toilet paper? According to an article in the New York Times, inflation in Zimbabwe is soaring higher than ever — about 900 percent since President Mugabe began seizing land from wealthy landowners in 2000. And inflation is climbing at unparalleled rates.

What problems result from such rampant inflation? If inflation is climbing daily and you have $100 one day, it might be worth only $90 the next. People are spending any money that they have because whatever they buy will hold value better than cash. No money is being saved because the annual interest rates are between 4-10 percent; much less than the rates of inflation. And the government seems to think that printing more money will solve these problems.

These problems “began” when Mugabe started seizing land from wealthy white farmers in an attempt to redistribute the wealth among the native Zimbabwean population. The result, intentional or not, was that foreign investment was scared off for good. Zimbabwe’s now “solo” economy began to flounder with a lack of goods entering the market.

Let’s recap. Zimbabwe faces economic crisis (rated as a repressed economy by the Heritage Foundation, just above Burma, Iran, and North Korea) due to massive seizing of wealth and attempts at redistribution, restriction of free international trade, lack of foreign investment, and over-printing of new monies. What do you think would solve most of Zimbabwe’s economic problems? Perhaps some human dignity, some free trade, and a little less government involvement!

Today is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker:

Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being”.

For the rest of this encyclical, Laborem Exercens, click here.

You may have heard about the debate in Washington that erupted late last week, as Senate Democrats and Republicans sought ways to respond to rising gas prices. According to Marketplace’s Hillary Wikai, the majority Republicans settled on “a $100 gas-tax rebate to be paid for by drilling in Alaska’s Wildlife Refuge.”

Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow proposed “a $500 rebate but pay for it by cutting the tax breaks for oil companies.” She said, “We should instead put that money back in the pockets of the people paying the high gas prices.” But one other Democratic plan was to stop taking that money from the people in the first place, at least temporarily.

The NYT reports that “Democrats were pushing for a 60-day suspension of the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents a gallon, and the Senate Republican leadership settled on the rebate.” The short-term nature of the proposed solutions lead many to suspect that any of the proposed moves are simply pandering to the voters in an important election year.

Indeed, Congress has good reason to distract us from the reality of the situation. As Benjamin Zycher comments (text here), “Oil industry earnings per gallon were about 19 cents in 2005, and have increased to about 23 cents more recently. Federal and state taxes per gallon of gasoline average 46 cents. And so by all means, yes: Let’s have a debate about who is profiteering from the gasoline market.”

Of the two options, clearly suspension of the tax is preferable to filtering money through the government bureaucracy and letting it trickle back to taxpayers. But why make it temporary? If Congress really wants to address the rising price of oil over the long-term, the only thing it can really do is act on what it directly controls. Congress doesn’t control supply and demand, but it does control how much it adds in taxes to the price per gallon. Why not cut or suspend the federal gas tax indefinitely? States could do the same, by the way.

Here are some of the reasons that even the 60-day relief plan was tanked, given by Congressional staffers:

Those leaders and Finance Committee aides said many Republicans opposed the Democratic plan because they feared that oil companies, which pay the gas tax, would not pass savings on to the public, or that the laws of supply and demand would push the price up again.

There was also the probable opposition of House Republicans, who have been reluctant to jeopardize the flow of the gas tax revenue to the highway trust fund that underwrites road and bridge projects.

“Our folks thought it might amount to nothing for consumers,” said one aide who was granted anonymity to discuss internal leadership deliberations.

The first excuse is really just quite lame. If increasing demand raises the prices further, they would still be lower than they would be if the 18.4 cent tax were still in place. The second paragraph really tells the tale. If Americans are addicted to oil, maybe politicians are addicted to taxes.

Instead of being worried that the move might “amount to nothing for consumers,” the politicians are clearly more worried that any move to cut taxes would “amount to nothing” in terms of spendable tax revenue.

Placing limits on the levels of government taxation of gasoline would be a much more substantial and effective move than attempts to set price controls, as advocated in an online petition introduced by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm.

According to MichiganGasPrices.com, Michigan gets nearly 20 cents (19.875) in tax revenue per gallon of gasoline sold, and this figure does not include the additional 6% sales tax that is tacked on.

Government leaders should never forget that they are entirely dependent on the productivity and labor of the nation’s citizens for their budgets. Their task is to responsibly and faithfully administer those funds, acting as stewards on behalf of the tax-payers. Attempts to point the blame for rising gas prices solely on oil companies, without acknowledging the basic role of rising demand and high levels of government taxation, is irresponsible and disingenuous.