Posts tagged with: government

There’s lots to digest and consider in a new Barna report on poverty:

A new national survey by The Barna Group regarding people’s perspectives on poverty shows that Americans are quite concerned about what they perceive to be a significant and growing challenge facing the nation. The survey also showed that most people are actively involved in trying to alleviate poverty, although they typically believe it is primarily the government’s job to do so. The religious faith of adults appears to have a limited influence on how people perceive and respond to poverty.

One of the sentences in that introductory paragraph that jumps out at me, of course, is the sense that most people “typically believe it is primarily the government’s job” to combat poverty.

But then I ran across this paragraph, which is rather more inspiring:

Worthy of note is the divergent perspective of evangelicals. They were among the groups least likely to see poverty as a job for the government (55%) and were the group most likely to see it as a matter for churches to address (14%). The only other group that was similar was Christian Revolutionaries – the people who indicate that their highest priority in life is living for God and who possess a worldview that is based on biblical principles. Barely half of the Revolutionaries (52%) assigned poverty primarily to government agencies, while 11% said it was predominantly a church responsibility.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say when I’ve given this report a closer read. Feel free to weigh in as well.

Last Friday afternoon I attended workshops on the theme, “Christian Education in Ministry,” at the Assembly of World-Wide Partners conference. Facilitated by John DeJager, two speakers were featured in these workshops. Comfort Enders is a lead-teacher at an educational initiative in Liberia, Kingdom Foundation Institute. Dr. Gaylen Byker is president of Calvin College and an expert in Christian education around the world. (more…)

Blog author: jarmstrong
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
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Both of our major political parties have missed what seems so obvious. One says that we need more tax cuts to strengthen the economy. This is correct. The problem is that they are not willing to also make serious budget cuts. That party has spent more than any previous administration. The other political party wants to expand federal government by spending more of our money by raising taxes. The first plan helps the economy in the short run but not in the long term. The second is an even worse disaster I think.

Look, budget deficits are not a good thing, at least not in my simplistic understanding of economics. What individual would decrease their revenue, at least for the short term, and then also increase spending, for the long term? I know, cutting tax rates generates more money in the long run and thus the government benefits. I agree with that proven principle. Ronald Reagan advanced it and to the astonishment of all his enemies it worked.

What I do not think is a proven fact is that you can keep raising government spending, so as to increase deficits, and not someday have to "pay the piper." The late Milton Friedman, a hero of mine, continually noted that the burden of government is best measured by the level of our spending, not by the level of our tax rates. John Stossel pointed this out very clearly in his syndicated column that appeared in my paper today.

Here is the bad news. Your FICA and Social Security taxes currently exceed the expenditures of these programs. But by 2017 or 2018 this will all change when the baby boomers start to retire in massive numbers and begin to drain the system. Stossel gives President Bush some credit for the falling deficit because of his tax cuts. This plan has shrunk the deficit, at least to some extent. Cutting taxes and cutting deficits are not opposites. Both can and should be done. There is enough blame to go around in Washington. I want to decrease tax rates even further but I also want to seriously decrease federal spending.

John Stossel notes that the anti-Federalist writer Melancton Smith (1787) wrote: "All governments find a use for as much money as they can raise." That is the real issue and few will admit it, whether Republicans or Democrats. One party generally does a better job with this issue than the other but the difference is more one of degree than of deep and true principle, or so it seems to this amateur. I am open to seeing this differently but I think the obvious is pretty obvious. We need to grow the economy, allow people to keep their own money so they can spend it and create new jobs, and limit the role of government in solving every social ill we face. I believe there are some pressing issues that demand federal solutions. I am not a libertarian Luddite. But I also believe that at some point we had better face this deficit issue and slow spending or we will soon face financial and social chaos like we have never imagined.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Check out Global Integrity, “an independent, non-profit organization tracking governance and corruption trends around the world. Global Integrity uses local teams of researchers and journalists to monitor openness and accountability” (HT: Librarians’ Internet Index: New This Week).

There are limitations, of course, such that countries such as Venezuela or China are not listed as of yet. But Global Integrity might be one valuable tool to add to your “global citizen’s” toolkit.

And while we’re on the topic, don’t forget to add this to your toolkit as well: A Theory of Corruption, by Osvaldo Schenone and Samuel Gregg.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, March 1, 2007
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In an essay for TCS Daily last week, Arnold Kling wrote, “With or without the words ‘under God,’ the Pledge of Allegiance feels to me like a prayer. It’s a fairly nice prayer, and I have no problem with having it taught in private schools. I have no problem praying for my country — such a prayer is included in the standard weekly service at my synagogue. But government institutions ought not to be telling people how to pray.”

The essay is well-worth reading. I especially like Kling’s description of a “Civil Societarian.” But I have another anecdotal piece of evidence to contribute to Kling’s conclusion.

It comes from the back page feature “Baby Bloopers” in the current issue of Parents magazine. Here’s the story “Lady Liberty” as told by Tracie Cirillo of Rochester, NY:

One afternoon my 4-year-old daughter, Maya, came home excited to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to me, since it’s played every morning over the public-address system at her school. When she got to the end of the pledge, she said, ‘With liberty and justice for all. Today’s lunch is quesadillas and fruit cup.’

The cynic might say that’s what you get when government teaches you how to pray.

Travis Sinquefield at Disorganizational Behavior examines this Washington Post article on new parts of an annual survey given to government workers.

Among the new statements the employees were asked to evaluate was this: “Pay raises depend on how well employees perform their jobs.” Only 22 percent of the respondents agreed with this statement, while 45 percent disagreed (25 percent were neutral).

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said that a performance-based system of rewards would not work in the federal system, in part because “most federal workers don’t trust a system by which they would be compensated or receive raises based on how they are judged on their performance by their managers.”

As Travis observes, it says something bad about “a workplace and its management if the employees don’t trust their managers to give honest, objective performance reviews.”

Your tax dollars are at work to ensure, to use the words of Clay Johnson III, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, that “every employee, from unsatisfactory to outstanding, gets the same annual raise.”

Our religious and political rights are uniquely bound up together. Most young Americans, and far too many older native born American citizens, have little or no idea how important this truth really is.

The central idea behind this unique relationship in American political understanding is limited government. This is really what classical liberalism understood and fervently practiced. Modern liberalism has little or nothing to do with this understanding, preferring to stress ideologies that are neither truly liberal nor limited.

The founding fathers fervently believed that we were all created equal, with inherent rights to life and liberty given to us by God. This belief was rooted in both Judeo-Christian beliefs and some elements of Enlightenment philosophy. The securing of these rights was the very basis for a limited government. And a limited government was based upon the understanding that true power arose from the governed who were willing to consent to a just government.

There were some very big differences of opinion among our founding fathers, such as two very different views of America’s future as represented by Jefferson and Hamilton. In some ways these two distinct views clashed in the Civil War, as North and South came to represent these two differing positions. But regardless of these early differences what clearly united the founders was a deep respect for individual rights and for limited government. (more…)

Let’s engage in a little thought experiment. How would you feel about the following scenario?

1) The government bans all activities associated with Industry X because it judges that this industry damages the common good. Industry X is under government prohibition.

2) After enough time has passed and a new generation of bureaucrats has arisen, one of them has the idea of resurrecting Industry X because it has the potential to create new streams of revenue for the government.

3) The government then legalizes Industry X but imposes strict controls, such that the government itself is deemed the only institution responsible enough to administer these activities. We now have a government-run monopoly on Industry X.

4) After initial success, the income from Industry X suffers for a variety of reasons, including competition from private enterprises in competing industries. The government realizes that it cannot run Industry X effectively, and so decides that it must privatize the industry.

5) The government doesn’t want to lose all control of the industry, however. It just wants it to be run more like an effective private-sector business. The government decides to take bids to sell of its interests in Industry X. The winner gets the exclusive right to run Industry X and is protected by a government-enforced monopoly.

At the end of this chain of events, the government has cashed in on years of running its own monopoly on Industry X, and has also gotten a huge windfall in the sale of its monopoly to a private firm.

That industry hasn’t become a real competitive market, however, because the private firm has a government-enforced monopoly on Industry X. It is still illegal for anyone other than that private firm to create a directly competitive business in that industry.

That sounds pretty bad to me. But the reality is that we are between stages 4 and 5 in the lottery industry in America today. States like Illinois and Indiana are considering selling off their interests in running a statewide lottery.

In Illinois, for instance, state officials have seen lottery revenues fall due to competition from other forms of gambling, including casinos and Internet poker.

This has led John Filan, the chief operating officer of the state of Illinois, to come to the following epiphany: “This is fundamentally a retail business, and governments are not equipped to manage retail businesses. Gaming is getting so competitive around the world that we’re worried our revenues could go down unless there is retail expertise.”

Governments are not equipped to manage retail business. What a revelation!

Rather incredibly, however, the criticism of these moves has not come from those worried about the vitality of the market and its advantages. Instead, economists are concerned that states are being short-sighted in selling off long-term income streams for a single short-term payday.

Melissa Kearney, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Maryland says, “It’s unclear exactly what is gained by selling a lottery, except for a huge pot of money that legislators can start spending right away.”

Charles Clotfelter, who teaches economics at Duke University, agrees. And Edward Ugel, author of the forthcoming Money for Nothing: One Man’s Journey Through the Dark Side of America’s Lottery Millions, writes that “Illinois is selling its future in order to fortify its present.”

Nowhere is any concern expressed over the impropriety of a government-enforced monopoly (even less one that is government-run).

If it is true that lotteries are “retail enterprises” that are inherently risky, and that government is ill-prepared to run them and that they should be turned over to those who are “in the risk-taking business,” then the government should legalize lotteries and open up the industry to real competition. A government enforced monopoly of a privately-run lottery system is no solution.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
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Last night the President spoke of “the challenge of entitlements” and said that “Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are commitments of conscience — and so it is our duty to keep them permanently sound.”

“With enough good sense and good will, you and I can fix Medicare and Medicaid — and save Social Security,” he averred. The ability of the federal government to negotiate drug prices has been an aspect of the recent debate over Medicare that was brought to the fore in the recent “100 hours” legislative agenda.

A number of conservative commentators have come out against this idea, including Acton’s own Rev. Jerry Zandstra and Benjamin Zycher of the Manhattan Institute (HT: The Reform Club). These are just two voices in a chorus of criticism rising against federal negotiation (I use them just because they are the ones with which I’m most familiar. I don’t mean to pick on anyone in particular).

Both of their arguments seem to me to boil down to this: the government is an effective negotiator and the result of negotiation will be that drug companies will have less money coming in and therefore spending on research and development will suffer.

Zandstra says of successful negotiation, “if, in doing so, you dry up research and development dollars so you aren’t developing drugs to treat cancer and Alzheimer’s and other diseases — if you take the profit motivation away — have you done good? No, you really haven’t.”

Zycher writes, “Federal price negotiations will cause sharp price reductions, but this will yield less research and development investment in new and improved medicines over time.”

These claims fail at a number of points in my opinion. Zycher and Zandstra are probably right on the mere claim that federal negotiation of drug prices will produce a drop in pharma income. But that isn’t the datum that is most relevant to the policy discussion.

Once government has decided to tax us and spend our money on a particular program, I think it is government’s responsibility to spend that money as well as it can, to be good stewards of efficient and productive use of those funds. This is true regardless of whether or not the program itself is one that government should be undertaking. The question of whether the government should be doing or pursuing a particular program or agenda is a different one than whether the government should pursue these programs efficiently and well.

So, given that Medicare is an entitlement to which our government has committed itself, it seems to me that the government is responsble for administering it as cost-effectively as possible. The government needs to make our tax dollars stretch as far as they can. This should include negotiating lower prices paid for prescription drugs, regardless of the effect it might have on drug company profits or research budgets.

It is a separate question whether drug companies need federal support to achieve the current or higher levels of funding for research and development. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that pharma companies do need federal support to find new drugs for “Alzheimer’s and other diseases.” If that’s the case, then the argument for subsidizing pharmaceutical research should be parsed out from the question of drug price negotiation.

Refusing to allow the feds to negotiate prescription drug prices effectively creates a subsidy for drug companies…something I would think that Zandstra and Zycher would be against, at least in principle. But maybe not.

Drug companies are in fact struggling, it seems. Pfizer, for instance, is shutting down operations at three Michigan sites and laying of 2400 workers, as part of a broader layoff of 10% of its workforce. And perhaps the estimated “loss of about five million life-years each year” is sufficient reason to support government subsidy of drug research.

But if conservatives are in favor of government subsidies for drug companies, they need to make that argument stand on its own and separate it from the question of price negotiation. Government subsidy of drug R&D should be a separate question, complete with its own line-item and its own policy analysis.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, January 4, 2007
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I’ve had this link sitting in my inbox for quite awhile and have finally gotten to it. It’s well worth the read. Brian J. Lee, writing in Modern Reformation, takes a look at the foundational passage in Romans where Paul discusses subjection to civil authorities. Lee argues that Paul’s sole concern is with Christian submission:

Properly understood, Paul’s command to submit should constrain our optimism about the civil government’s capacity to transform, save, or redeem. Civil government is not an aid to Christian sanctification, either on the individual or cultural scale. Rather, it is a dead-end, stop-gap barrier that makes space for the good in a fallen world. In our capacity as believers and as a church, our task is not to ask how to govern well, but to be governed.

Lee makes some important points, not the least of which is this: “God doesn’t need either Christian rulers or Christian systems of government to fulfill his purposes, precisely because his purposes for the civil government are not ultimate or religious or eternal. In contrast, a fallen world with its limited horizon will always tend to invest its secular authorities with ultimate significance.”

Lee traces out some of the implications for our contemporary situation, not least of which is that, “the Christian has no special expertise to rule.” Presumably, then, the converse is also true, that the non-Christian has no special handicap, which bears in on a number of current political discussions.

Read the whole thing.