Archived Posts August 2007 - Page 2 of 11 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The relation of the creation account and the narrative of the flood in Genesis is a complex one. One of these linkages comes in the similarities of the mandates set forth by God in both accounts.

The sixteenth-century reformer Wolfgang Musculus identifies three mandates in the creation account (in addition to the specific prescription regarding the tree of life). The first of these is the procreation mandate: “Be fruitful and increase in number.” The second is the dominion mandate, flowing from the first: “fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” The third mandate relates to sustenance of life: “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”

Musculus notes that each of these elements are reiterated in the flood account. God says to Noah, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” He also says, “The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.” And finally God says, “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”

In this recapitulation the procreation mandate seems unchanged. The dominion mandate seems to be marked now by a relationship of antipathy, characterized “fear and dread” rather than benevolence. And thirdly, God expands the provision of human sustenance beyond plants to include eating of animals.

I’d like to focus on this third point, while noting that the change of the relationship noted in the second point is no doubt related to the inclusion of animals as fit for human consumption. Animals would have reason to fear being eaten now, for instance.

There’s been a great deal of reflection on the meaning of God’s adjustment of the creation mandate to include animals as the source of human food. Some commentators have focused on the need for the new human family to have ready sources of protein and nutrients that might not otherwise be available in the post-diluvian world. Related to this, if it’s true, as many vegetarians would have us believe that eating meat is unhealthy, it may be a way for God to ensure that the human lifespan would be limited: “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

As I’ve noted in another context, the expansion of the food mandate to include animals is a reflection of the comprehensive corruption of the Fall. Sin has marred the created harmony of the relationship between humans and animals.

Here, however, I’d like to speculate on another aspect of the extension of this mandate to include animals. Given the nature of fallen humankind, focused on inordinate and idolatrous self-love (cor curvum se, as Anselm puts it), God may be testifying to the fallen-ness of the human/animal relationship and simultaneously providing incentive for fallen humanity to take an active and interested role in stewardship of the animal kingdom.

By linking human survival to dependence on animals for food, God has set in place a relationship that will tend to mirror, if even in a fallen and imperfect way, the original responsibility of human beings to exercise stewardship and dominion over the created order. Human beings now have a basic motivation from self-interest from survival to economic prosperity to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

As many economic observers have noted, a key way to ensure survival of a species is to commodify that species for human consumption in one form or another. There is no lack of cows in America primarily because there is an economic motivation for farmers to keep sustainable herds to meet consumer demand.

There is of course no guarantee that unbounded greed and short-sightedness will short-circuit the economically-savvy self-interest that manifests itself in sustaining a reliable and long-term source of animal products. For a case in point, see Eric Dolin’s new book, Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America (interviews here and here, reviewed here). While the whaling industry provided foundational means for economic development in colonial New England, it was a lack of perspective that allowed these populations to be hunted near extinction (see the case of the right whale, for instance).

The key here is note that enlightened self-interest, as opposed to base and short-sighted greed, manifests itself in an impulse to protect sustainable sources of animal products. In this way economic development and the protection of species are not in fundamental opposition, as so many environmentalists have construed laws like the Endangered Species Act.

Fox News reports:

The nation’s poverty rate dropped last year, the first significant decline since President Bush took office. The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that 36.5 million Americans, or 12.3 percent — were living in poverty last year. That’s down from 12.6 percent in 2005. The median household income was $48,200, a slight increase from the previous year. But the number of people without health insurance also increased, to 47 million.

The last significant decline in the poverty rate came in 2000, during the Clinton administration. In 2005, the poverty rate dipped from 12.7 percent to 12.6 percent, but Census officials said that change was statistically insignificant.

The poverty numbers are good economic news at a time when financial markets have been rattled by a slumping housing market. However, the numbers released Tuesday represent economic conditions from a year ago.

The poverty level is the official measure used to decide eligibility for federal health, housing, nutrition and child care benefits. It differs by family size and makeup. For a family of four with two children, for example, the poverty level is $20,444. The poverty rate — the percentage of people living below poverty — helps shape the debate on the health of the nation’s economy.

Robert Rector, of the Heritage Foundation, reminds us of what it means to live as “the poor” in America:

The following are facts about persons defined as “poor” by the Census Bureau, taken from various government reports:

* Forty-six percent of all poor households actually own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.

* Seventy-six percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

* Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

* The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)

* Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars.

* Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.

* Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.

* Seventy-three percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a third have an automatic dishwasher.

Important items to remember:

(1) Those living “in poverty” is never a static population. People cycle in and out of poverty over time.
(2) Unemployment numbers remain steady. Both the number of unemployed persons (7.1 million) and the unemployment rate (4.6 percent) were about unchanged in July. The jobless rate has ranged
from 4.4 to 4.6 percent since September 2006. (Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics)
(3) Raising the minimum wage will not reduce the poverty rate but increasing the number of jobs will in the short-term.
(4) The low-skilled labor market continues to experience job loss due to advances in technology (robots, “self-check out” lanes, etc.)
(5) There has been considerable job growth since 2003. On August 3, The Bureau Of Labor Statistics released new jobs figures. Since August 2003, more than 8.3 million jobs have been created, with more than 1.8 million jobs created over the twelve months ending in July. Our economy has now added jobs for 47 straight months.
(6) According to White House data:

(a) Real GDP Grew At A Strong 3.4 Percent In The Second Quarter Of 2007. The economy has now experienced nearly six years of uninterrupted growth, averaging 2.7 percent a year since 2001.

(b) Real After-Tax Per Capita Personal Income Has Risen By 11.4 Percent

(c) Real Wages Rose 1.3 Percent Over The 12 Months Ending In June. This is faster than the average rate during the 1990s, and it means an extra $782 in the past year for a family with two average wage earners.

(d) Since The First Quarter Of 2001, Productivity Growth Has Averaged 2.8 Percent Per Year. This is well above the average productivity growth in the 1990s, 1980s, and 1970s.

In the end, the current poverty rate reduction is simply a result of a combination of the factors listed above. In order to continue reductions in poverty the business sector needs more freedom to create jobs to meet the needs of our changing communities. Tax burdens and frivolous government regulation continue to stifle entrepreneurial creativity and innovation. Additionally, the moral dimensions of poverty need continued attention by the various mediating institutions like the church and other non-profits. Poverty is multi-layered and material solutions alone will not bring about long-term reductions.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, August 28, 2007

When the sign for one of those payday lending stores went up on the corner a block away from my house, I have to say I was less than enthusiastic.

The standard response in a market economy to “market failure” is for a nonprofit to fill the gap in services or meet the need. Today’s NYT reports on efforts in the short-term loan industry to meet that need. As it stands in the market system, “Payday loan stores, which barely existed 15 years ago, now outnumber most fast-food franchises. Typically a customer borrows a few hundred dollars in exchange for a check, postdated to the next payday, made out in the amount of the principal plus a fee of $15 to $22 per $100 borrowed.” 22 dollars every two weeks works out to about 572 percent annual interest.

The troubling part of this is that those who are most likely to need these kinds of loans are the poor, people who are hit the hardest by higher rates of interest. It’s also clear that they are making some very poor fiscal decisions.

Nonprofit groups are in the early stages of setting up programs to help ameliorate the situation. GoodMoney, a joint venture of Goodwill Industries and Prospera Credit Union, charges about half of what for profit lenders charge. That still works out to over 200 percent interest annually, but “Of the $9.90 that GoodMoney charges per $100 borrowed, nearly half goes to writing off bad loans, Mr. Eiden said, and the rest to database service and administrative costs.” In the case of Ms. Truckey, profiled in the NYT piece, because of GoodMoney, “A few dollars from each payment go into a savings account, the first she has had in years.”

Programs like GoodMoney are still in their infancy and it’s clear that charging some level of interest might be a necessary part of encouraging responsibility and promoting independence on the part of the borrower. And market levels of interest approaching 600 percent per annum seem a bit like throwing someone in debtors prison if they can’t pay back a loan: there’s simply no way out of the mounting debt.

Now whether or not the amount that GoodMoney is charging isn’t precisely clear (there are no entries for GoodMoney at either GuideStar or Charity Navigator, and GoodMoney’s website doesn’t seem to disclose a breakdown of the programs expenses), but the enterprise itself is an interesting exercise in meeting the needs coming out of a pretty clear instance of market failure.

Do you ever walk into a business and see a license on the wall and wonder if that specific industry really needs to be licensed by the state? I know I have thought that, if just a few times. John Fund of the Wall Street Journal looks at how licensing laws hinders low prices and competition in the marketplace. In a piece titled, License to Kill Jobs, Fund also explains how over regulation has stymied job growth and the ability of new entrepreneurs to become more self reliant.

Fund also notes in his column:

In the 1950s, only about 4.5% of jobs required a license to work. Today, that proportion is more than 20%. Many of the jobs that require a government stamp of approval don’t involve health or safety. Depending on the state, you need a license to be a hair braider, florist, auctioneer, interior designer or even fortune-teller.

The cost of the education for the license also hurts those who may have the necessary skills but can’t afford to meet all the requirements. Furthermore, sometimes the licensing requirements have little to do with the relevancy of the actual work performed. Another aspect Fund looks at is the arbitrary nature and requirements from state licensing, compiled by a major study by the Reason Foundation. California requires 177 specific business types to be licensed, while Missouri requires only 41. The “Live Free or Die” state of New Hampshire, requires a walloping 130 licenses for specific businesses types.

Another interesting point Fund makes is the licensing requirements hurt the very consumers it’s meant to protect. Fund notes just a few of the facts from the Reason Foundation study:

The higher prices such licensing bodies impose for services can also hurt consumers by creating incentives to do dangerous jobs themselves. “Electrocution rates are higher in states with strict electrical licensing requirements, as more consumers risk performing their own electrical work,” the study notes. “Similarly, states with stricter dental licensing laws also have the highest incidence of poor dental hygiene.”

In the Wall Street Journal piece, the author also declares how in some instances the courts have stepped in and found some of the licensing requirements completely unnecessary, and additionally acts as a regulatory infringement on the right to earn a living. Fund also declares, “Some courts are even citing the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses in striking down protectionist government regulations.”

Which makes one wonder all the more: Are the over-zealous requirements and so called need for licensing helping the consumer or just perpetuating higher prices, and lack of competition, which can result in inferior products and service? Obviously licensing in some classes of business are needed. But does everybody, in say an interior design or the florist industry need to be licensed? There are large and powerful lobbying groups able to protect and strengthen certain businesses from more competition, but in some cases little help for newcomers trying to break into the market. In addition, we often overlook just how much the market can regulate itself.

It all reminds me a little bit about the stories you see in the news print and media about young children getting their lemonade stands shut down by bureaucratic governmental standards . Concerning the crackdown on lemonade stands, where are the “It’s For The Children” speeches when they are actually needed?

It’s been at least a few months since I admitted abandoning all of my principles and ethics in favor of rolling around in great piles of filthy Exxon lucre, and I’ll be honest with you here – I haven’t even gotten so much as a thank you note from Rex Tillerson. Meanwhile, Al Gore appears to have offset his carbon emissions by planting a forest of magical money trees, and it’s HARVEST TIME, BABY!

Not too long ago, a premier ad agency wouldn’t touch a campaign warning about the effects of global warming, fearing backlash from the automakers and oil companies that keep Madison Avenue’s lights on. But now one of the most hotly contended pitches out there is for the Alliance for Climate Protection, the organization formed last year by Al Gore.

Four elite agencies — Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, the Martin Agency and Y&R — are squaring off for the business and are expected to present to the former vice president himself early next month, according to executives familiar with the review. The budget for the “historic, three-to-five-year, multimedia global campaign,” as the request for proposals puts it, is contingent on how much money the alliance raises. Media spending will likely be more than $100 million a year.

So the next time you hear about all the millions of dollars being funneled to climate change skeptics, keep in mind that those puny millions are going up against a half-billion dollars in advertising alone on the other side of the issue. Heck, if I were really in this for cash, I’d be as hysterical as James Hanson

Earlier this month, Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson complained about the lack of creative thinking concerning the issue of social security. “Washington’s vaunted think tanks — citadels for public intellectuals both liberal and conservative — have tiptoed around the problem,” he wrote. “Ideally, think tanks expand the public conversation by saying things too controversial for politicians to say on their own. Here, they’ve abdicated that role.”

As though on cue, in the publications pipeline at the time was the latest in Acton’s Christian Social Thought Series, Pensions, Population, and Prosperity by Oskari Juurikkala.

Samuelson states the issue that befuddles policy wonks: “The aging of America is not just a population change or, as a budget problem, an accounting exercise. It involves a profound transformation of the nature of government: Commitments to the older population are slowly overwhelming other public goals; the national government is becoming mainly an income-transfer mechanism from younger workers to older retirees.”

A problem of such proportions requires an innovative solution. Juurikkala combines a closely reasoned analysis of current pension systems around the world with a bold and radical proposal to shift responsibility for old-age care away from the state and back to the family. It’s the only way, he argues, to create a “social security system” that is at once durable and humane.

Ryan T. Anderson over at the First Things blog, takes a look at the Acton documentary The Call of the Entrepreneur and wonders:

Countless movies and sitcoms portray businessmen as greedy, conniving, self-serving agents of exploitation who sully the air, melt the ice caps, and abuse the poor. The news media is even worse: Enron, Arthur Andersen, WorldCom—watching the nightly news and reading the morning paper, one gets the impression that businesses are run solely by the corrupt, the vile, and the base. With headlines announcing scandal after scandal, one wonders if anyone of moral principle inhabits the Financial District.

He concludes:

So, what do these three stories in The Call of the Entrepreneur demonstrate? They show that an entrepreneur—even when just trying to keep his family farm afloat—is always other-regarding: always looking and reaching outside of himself to think of a product that others need and of innovative ways to make it. And in this creative act he cooperates with God and participates in divine creativity. Creation is an ongoing reality in which God upholds the world and empowers human agents to participate.

Read Ryan’s “St. Duncan of Wall Street,” his review of the Acton documentary here.