Posts tagged with: government

There’s a lot of consternation, much of it justified, about the news that now 1% of the population of the United States is incarcerated. Especially noteworthy is a comparison of the rate of imprisonment with institutionalization in mental health facilities over the last century.

But a breathless headline like this just cannot pass without some comment: “Michigan is 1 of 4 states to spend more on prison than college.”

Given the fact that policing, including imprisonment, is pretty clearly a legitimate function of the state (at least as broadly conceived in the Christian tradition, see Romans 13), while providing post-secondary education is not so obviously a responsibility for the government (n.b. I did go to a state school), maybe more states should spend more on prison than college…leaving college to private institutions.

Maybe this just means Michigan’s state government has its spending priorities more in order than other states. That truly would be newsworthy.

Update: Sometime PowerBlog contributor and longtime friend of Acton John H. Armstrong takes a look at the numbers and concludes, “For the overwhelming majority of inmates they are where they should be and we are all much safer, so it seems.” I think Ray expressed some similar sentiments in the office yesterday.

Blog author: rnothstine
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
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Besides my two years of living abroad in Egypt, I spent my entire elementary and upper school existence in the public schools. My experience with the public schools in Hawaii and Mississippi were rather atrocious. To read one experience I encountered in the public schools in Hawaii, check out this Acton blog post.

Mississippi has a wonderful and generous culture, and the people have strong values. In fact, I love Mississippi. The state’s public schools, however, could often be described as nothing short of disappointing. It should also be noted that I went to one of the public schools that was considered to be the best in the state. The problem in my view was not that Mississippi was a poorer state. The teachers for the most part were intelligent and just as there are everywhere, there were good and bad teachers. I had an exceptional teacher in high school who helped foster a love for American history, and American military history.

But one of the fundamental problems with these schools was that most people did not want to learn. In fact, classes were daily interrupted by kids “pantsing” each other, or oddly enough, sometimes pantsing themselves. If you walk into many high schools in America, it becomes evident it’s more of a fashion show and popularity contest than an actual serious center of learning. While socialization is an important part of education, it’s hard to argue public schools are the best models for socialization.

I had an English class in 11th grade where the teacher was mooned by students on several occasions. The kids of course would be suspended. They would be back only days later to disrupt class and offer a rerun of their crimes. When I first moved to Mississippi, I was shocked to learn that corporal punishment was allowed to be administered by administrators in the school. Within weeks, I felt it was not administered enough.

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe has a piece today titled, “Big Brother at school.” The fact that government schools are so steeped into our life and culture makes it hard for traction to be gained for reform, and for differing views to emerge about education. It may be why so many conservative leaders talk about government never voluntarily giving up power, or government never voluntarily reducing itself in size.

Jacoby delved into a host of ideological conflicts between parents and government run public schools. Here is his main point against government domination of education:

A more fundamental truth is this: In a society founded on political and economic liberty, government schools have no place. Free men and women do not entrust to the state the molding of their children’s minds and character. As we wouldn’t trust the state to feed our kids, or to clothe them, or to get them to bed on time, neither should we trust the state to teach them.

The point is all the more valid when we hear politicians talking about their federal and state programs for daycare and preschool. Many generations of infants, children, pre-teens, teens and beyond will be raised, taught, shaped, and cared for by the state. Do we really think that’s a good idea?

A quote from T. H. Green, refuting the view that the law’s “only business is to prevent interference with the liberty of the individual,” construed as doing what you like as long as it does not infringe on others’ rights to do what they want. Green writes:

The true ground of objection to ‘paternal government’ is not that it violates the ‘laissez faire’ principle and conceives that its office is to make people good, to promote morality, but that it rests on a misconception of morality. The real function of government being to maintain conditions of life in which morality shall be possible, and morality consisting in the disinterested performance of self-imposed duties, ‘paternal government’ does its best to make it impossible by narrowing the room for the self-imposition of duties and for the play of disinterested motives.

From Green’s Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation (PDF) [1883], quoted in Himmelfarb, The De-Moralization of Society, p. 152.

See also, “Moral Duties and Positive Rights.”

Why might there be “increasing participation by religious organizations in offering substance abuse treatment funded by federal government vouchers”?

Perhaps because, at least in part, “A program’s faith element relates to the people they serve and the type of help they provide, as programs with more explicit and mandatory faith-related elements are likely to be substance-abuse programs.”

Thus, the more explicitly faith-filled substance abuse programs will increasingly face a special temptation to take federal funds for such purposes. And this will lead to complaints “that many of the faith-based programs funded by ATR [Access to Recovery] do not meet state licensing requirements, and are permitted to use religiously-based materials in treatment programs.”

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
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To hear the NYT tell it (and Sojourners, for that matter), the family farm is facing severe threats. With no small degree of dramatic flourish, the NYT editorial linked above concludes:

For the past 75 years, America’s system of farm subsidies has unfortunately driven farming toward such concentration, and there’s no sign that the next farm bill will change that. The difference this time is that American farming is poised on the brink of true industrialization, creating a landscape driven by energy production and what is now called “biorefining.” What we may be witnessing is the beginning of the tragic moment in which the ownership of America’s farmland passes from the farmer to the industrial giants of energy and agricultural production.

If federal subsidies for corporate agribusiness is a threat to the family farm, then so is extensive FDA regulation of homegrown products and the morass of complex zoning regulations, telling people what they can sell, when they can sell, it and where they can sell it.

As my colleague Kevin Schmiesing wonders within a similar context, is the problem that the government just doesn’t quite have the right approach nailed down yet, or that the unintended consequences of government intervention into the market (in various ways) inevitably will screw things up (because, perhaps, special interests, whether corporate or individual, will always have an undue influence in the formation of policy)?

Blog author: jballor
Monday, August 6, 2007
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Picking up on the themes of the importance of narrative from recent weeks, I pass along this worthy saying of Lord Acton:

“Government rules the present. Literature rules the future.”

Blog author: abradley
Friday, July 27, 2007
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For some reason, I had never thought about what pro-life socialist policies might look like. But today, Jim Wallis’s Sojourner’s blog covered a Los Angeles Times story about a strategy shift in the Democratic party to support a House bill “designed not only to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but also to encourage women who do conceive to carry to term.”

Passed last week in the House with strong bi-partisan support, the bill provides millions of federal dollars to:

• Counsel more young women in crisis to consider adoption, not abortion.

• Launch an ad campaign to inform needy women that they can receive healthcare and other resources if they are “preparing for birth.”

• Expand parenting education and medical services for pregnant women, in some cases by sending nurses to their homes.

• Offer day care at federal job-training centers to help new mothers become self-sufficient.

According to the L.A. Times piece, the House is also considering a separate measure that would fund maternity and day-care centers on college campuses so “pregnant students won’t feel they must have an abortion to stay in school.”

So, leaving this open for discussion — Is this bill a step in the right direction that Christians should welcome and embrace as “life-affirming”? (If we federally fund abortions now, isn’t it better to federally fund moral alternatives?) Or is it just a political tactic to win over conscientious, religious voters while steeping them in the socialist principles of universal health care on their own ground? (Abortion is certainly more emotional for such voters than the worn-out, transparent appeals for federal health control they’ve heard in the past. And if much of the newly-allocated money goes to Planned Parenthood anyway, isn’t it just a wolf in sheep’s clothing?)

Perhaps it’s not enough for Christians to be “single-issue voters” on the abortion issue. Maybe what lies beneath the pro-life rhetoric matters, too. And when considering any act of the state, our only question should not be “is it a good idea?” — we should also ask the more important question, “Is it the government’s place?”

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
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It’s a recurring bit of guidance throughout the Christian tradition, that if Christians will only do what is right, they will make the best citizens and be respected, perhaps even celebrated, by the society and the government. This wisdom is an expansion of Paul’s note in Romans 13 that if you “do what is right” then the civil magistrate “will commend you.”

It seems this isn’t quite true these days, at least as it relates to the Christian virtue of chastity. Take the case of Lydia Playfoot, “a 16-year-old who has taken her school to court over its decision to ban her from wearing her silver ring symbolizing her chastity pledge.”

Lydia is participating in the UK version of the purity ministry named the Silver Ring Thing. Youth take a pledge of sexual purity and abstinence and signify this pledge by wearing a small silver ring. School officials deemed that this decoration violated the school’s dress code policy.

According to reports, “The school, which allows Muslim and Sikh students to wear headscarves and religious bracelets, argued that the ring was not an integral part of the Christian faith and broke its uniform policy.”

I guess government educrats have taken it upon themselves to determine what is and is not adiaphora. Far from commending the voluntary commitment to chastity, the British school system disrespected Playfoot’s virtuous expression of faith.

This case seems to be part of a larger social campaign against chastity. For instance, see the NYT review of More Sex is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics by Steven Landsburg (HT: NewsBusters), a book which claims:

It’s true: AIDS is nature’s awful retribution for our tolerance of immoderate and socially irresponsible sexual behavior. The epidemic is the price of our permissive attitudes toward monogamy, chastity, and other forms of extreme sexual conservatism. You’ve read elsewhere about the sin of promiscuity. Let me tell you about the sin of self-restraint.

Is the government living up to its responsibilities when it actively discourages chastity?

Update (and bumped): ‘Schoolgirl loses “purity ring” battle’ (HT: Religion Clause)

Says Playfoot: “I believe that the judge’s decision will mean that slowly, over time, people such as school governors, employers, political organisations and others will be allowed to stop Christians from publicly expressing and practising their faith.”

Blog author: jballor
Monday, July 9, 2007
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In yesterday’s WaPo, George F. Will assesses FDR’s domestic legacy, “Declaration of Dependence.”

It’s not a pretty tale: “The war, not the New Deal, defeated the Depression. Franklin Roosevelt’s success was in altering the practice of American politics.

This transformation was actually assisted by the misguided policies — including government-created uncertainties that paralyzed investors — that prolonged the Depression. This seemed to validate the notion that the crisis was permanent, so government must be forever hyperactive.”

In a previous issue of Religion & Liberty, Prof. Steven Gillen writes that FDR helped to

redefine freedom and liberalism in America. In speeches throughout the 1930s the president declared, ‘I am not for a return of that definition of liberty under which for many years a free people were being gradually regimented into the service of a privileged few’ and called for a ‘second bill of rights’ that included governmentally-guaranteed rights to remunerative jobs, decent homes, and adequate health care. Not surprisingly, FDR’s neo-liberal justification of his ‘New Deal’ expansion of the economic role of the federal government enormously appealed to the heavily poor Catholic base of his Democratic Party during the Great Depression and still dominates much of the ‘liberal’ thinking with respect to liberty, rights, and the role of government in America today.

Acton research fellow Kevin Schmiesing also discusses the history and legacy of the New Deal in his book, Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II.

A review of Schmiesing’s book by Thomas E. Woods notes of Schmiesing’s reappraisal of Catholics and the New Deal, “Schmiesing has made an important contribution because he reminds us that a great many considerations, including the dangers posed by political centralization and broad construction of the Constitution, may inform the Catholic conscience on economic matters.”

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.