Posts tagged with: government

I am presently reading Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (New York: Penguin Press, 2006), by Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas E. Ricks. Any one who knows of a critical review of this best-selling book would help me by suggesting where I can find said review. The book is, to my mind at this moment, a powerful and fair-minded critique of much that has gone wrong in our Iraq military adventure. According to Ricks blame for our multiple failures, if we are to assign primary blame, lies with the civilian leadership at the Pentagon. This begins with Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has called most of the shots in this war, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the neo-con genius who has been a principal architect of the philosophical thinking that led us into this conflict.

The question I would like to pose about the philosophy that is behind this war is quite simple. President Bush and his advisors have consistently argued (since 9/11) that democracy is an inherent desire that lies in the heart of people. By this argument the Iraqi people deeply desire to live under some form of democracy and we are there to build a nation that allows this desire to be expressed politically. This argument is based upon several intellectual arguments that have been presented by influential thinkers in and out of this administration.

My question: Is the desire for political freedom a value or an instinct? Bush and his advisors argue that it is an instinct. (And on this basis they are seeking to build a democratic nation in Iraq that will become a beacon of hope to other peoples in the Middle East.) I think the desire for political freedom is clearly a value. And it is a value that took us centuries to develop. We value democracy in the West only because of the influences that have come into our way of thinking through both Christian social thought and Enlightenment insights, neither of which is an influence on Iraq at all. Even in the West it took us a long time to come to our present understanding and commitment to democratic values; e.g., we fought a Civil War to define these values less than a hundred and fifty years ago. I do not see a biblical or philosophical basis for arguing that a desire for democracy is instinctive to the human heart. If this is true then how do you explain the people of God under the Old Covenant? And how do you explain the ancients who settled, except for a limited experiment in Greece, for something less? And what about the Middle Ages? There just seems to be little evidence for this argument thus I think it should be challenged in the court of public debate. This challenge does not constitute a capitulation to the far left. Many social and political conservatives have made it before me.

Let it be noted that I personally believe in democracy. I believe it is the best system of government that we know for a people like ourselves, a people with our values and influences. What I question here is the assumption that it is the right, or best, system for all other people. I also seriously question how a Muslim country can truly understand and embrace democracy. Certainly the democracy that we have already introduced is extremely limited given the religious expressions in the Iraqi Constitution.

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."

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 20, 2006

NBC Nightly News has long had a special feature titled, “The Fleecing of America,” which investigates various instances wasteful spending by government officials.

To get a visual clue about the massive size and diversity of the federal budget, check out “Death and Taxes”, the 2007 edition, “a representational graph of the federal discretionary budget. The amount of money that is spent at the discretion of your elected representatives in Congress. Basically, your federal income taxes.”

The website also notes, “Don’t forget about the national debt! It’s the circle so big it doesn’t even fit in the box.”

I recommend printing out the graph in landscape orientation on ledger-sized paper and posting it somewhere near your desk. You’ll get plenty of questions from curious passers-by.

(HT: Mises Economics Blog)



Update: In response to the limitations of the graph noted by Tim in the comments section below, it should be noted that this graph does only refer to discretionary spending. This does not include either the mandatory spending that falls under the federal budget each year or the various entitlement programs, such as Social Security, which are “off budget.” With this in mind, of course, the pork in the graph above is the good news, relatively speaking.

With regard to speculation as to why the makers of the budget graph chose only to look at discretionary spending, I quote this Reason article: “Because discretionary spending can theoretically be zeroed out each year, it is generally regarded as the clearest indicator of whether a president and Congress are serious about reducing government spending.”

Rick Ritchie has a thought-provoking post over at Old Solar, deconstructing a rather shrill WorldNetDaily article. In a piece titled, “What!? Caesar’s Money Has Strings Attached?,” Ritchie soberly observes, “When you do accept state funding, the state does have an interest in how its money is used.”

The WND piece and Ritchie’s post refer to this bit of California legislation, signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, which requires any educational institution that receives government support in any form, including through student financial aid, not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, among other things.

According to the WND article, the Capitol Resource Institute’s “analysis of the legislation concluded it will prevent parochial schools such as private, Christian and other religious institutions from getting financial assistance for students if they maintain a code of conduct that does not endorse such behavior.”

As Ritchie rightly observes, the legislation doesn’t seem to say anything about condoning, promoting, or endorsing particular behavior, but simply about not discriminating on such a basis.

Ritchie writes, “This issue, when you tease it out, really has to do with the nature of the state’s involvement in education in a broader sense. That these groups are suddenly bothered now as if a really new element had entered into the equation strikes me as disingenuous. Either that, or these people are really stupid.”

The reality of the strings attached to government money have led some schools, like Hillsdale College, for instance, to refuse to accept any federal funding. This legislation comes on the heels of recent cases in California where students have been expelled from a Christian school for so-called “lesbian behavior,” in addition to a school which expelled a student “because her mother is gay.”

I got a copy of Marvin Olasky’s The Politics of Disaster: Katrina, Big Government, and a New Strategy for Future Crisis in the mail today, fittingly enough on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating storm surge.

Olasky, among many other roles, is a senior fellow at the Acton Institute. You can expect a review of the book to appear here in the near future. Olasky blogs over at the World Magazine Blog.

Update: Related interview with Olasky at NRO here.

In 1936 Congress passed the Aid to Dependent Children Act to help widows stay home and raise their children. From 147,000 families on welfare in 1936 the number rose to five million by the 1994, the peak year. Ten years ago today, August 26, President Clinton signed into law the Welfare Reform Act. Last year the number of families receiving welfare had declined to 1.9 million. Contrary to the cries against the bill in 1996, which were numerous, the reform in welfare promoted in a bipartisan manner by President Clinton and the Congress, has generally proven successful.

Various measures of success can be applied to the question of welfare reform. Here are a few. 69% of single mothers are employed today, up from 62% in 1995. In 2000 the number employed actually reached 73%. Another measure of the success of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act is the poverty rate among children. In 1994 the poverty rate among children was 22%, today it is 18%, still much too high I am sure. At the same time there are some numbers that show that we still have a major problem. An average of 1.2 million single mothers a month, who live in homes where there was no wage earner and no Social Security, received no welfare in 2003, up from 700,000 in 1996. Many of these have disabilities, or mental-health and/or substance-abuse problems, reports the Wall Street Journal. (more…)

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “The Minimum Wage: A Denial of Freedom and Duty,” I look at the concept of minimum wage legislation from the perspective of the employer/employee relationship.

In his second epistle to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul sets down a moral principle: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” But Paul’s words seem also to imply the opposite positive principle, something like, “If you will work, you should eat.”

Even so, I argue, it does not follow that the government should be the guarantor of this reality. Drawing in part on the thought of Abraham Kuyper, I find that “the civil government has a role in justly and fairly enforcing the contractual relationship between employer and employee. It does not, however, have the absolute right to determine the specific nature of this relationship in any and all circumstances.”

Throughout the commentary, I address some of the concerns raised in an interview conducted by Faithful America, a weblog associated with the National Council of Churches. Faithful America talked with man named Dan, who gave his experiences of working for and living on the minimum wage. A transcript copy of the interview is pasted in below the jump (the audio is available here). (more…)

According to figures recently released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, federal workers receive on average about double what private sector workers make: $106,579 vs. $53,289. These numbers are based on total compensation.

A study done by the Cato Institute (PDF here of 2004 figures), under the direction of Chris Edwards, shows that for 2005, “If you consider wages without benefits, the average federal civilian worker earned $71,114, 62 percent more than the average private-sector worker, who made $43,917.”

In his WaPo op-ed, Christ Edwards points to a number of reasons for this disparity. He says that there are a number of contributing factors. “Federal pay schedules increase every year regardless of how well the economy is doing. Thus in recession years, private pay stagnates while government pay continues to rise. Another factor is the steadily increasing ‘locality’ payments given to federal workers in higher-cost cities,” he says.

Edwards continues, “Rapid growth in federal pay also results from regular promotions that move workers into higher salary brackets regardless of performance and from redefining jobs upward into higher pay ranges. The federal workforce has become increasingly top-heavy.” In addition, “The structure of that workforce has also changed over time. There are fewer low-pay typists and more high-pay computer experts in the government today than there were a generation ago.”

A WSJ op-ed also notes that “many federal employees are in white collar occupations that often command high pay,” so that may account for a small part of the disparity.

The WSJ states that “one market test is the voluntary quit rate of these workers, and data for recent years show that rate for federal employees is only one-fourth that in private sector occupations. High-paying federal jobs are so coveted that they are now like rent-controlled apartments in Manhattan: Once you’ve got one, you hold on to it for life.”

It seems to me that there is something deeper behind a number of these phenomena. Edwards hints at this element when he notes, “Federal workers’ unions try to convince Congress that their members suffer from a ‘pay gap’ with the private sector.”

Labor union membership in the private sector has declined steadily and stands at about 8%. By contrast, in the government sector labor union membership stands at around 37%.

This is itself a huge disparity, and one that I would think has large effects on issues of pay, benefits, and job security. Thus, I think there has to be a link between the rates of union membership and compensation between the public and private sectors.

As Dr. Charles Baird notes in a radio interview (mp3), “In the government sector there is no declining unionism, none at all.” And given how good the compensation and security of the jobs in the government sector are, why should there be?

More at Chris Edwards’ related post on Cato@Liberty.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, August 2, 2006
vs.

Almost everyone has been critical of the government’s methods when it comes to disaster preparedness and response.

We here at Acton also tend to be very focused on the importance of private enterprise when it comes to dealing with local problems.

And so I present an interesting case study for your analysis: The Department of Homeland Security has created a website, www.ready.gov, that promises to be a resource for those facing an imminent natural disaster. The Federation of American Scientists has released their own version (suprisingly, they’ve copied the layout and general structure of the ready.gov website, so the Department of Homeland Security must have done something right), www.fas.org/reallyready/, claiming that there were several problems with the government’s version that they hoped to correct in their own version.

The homepage of ReallyReady also contains a link that explains some of the problems that they found with the government’s website and also includes a 38 page report explaining these problems.

So, take a look and tell us what you think. Which version is better? Which one would help you be more prepared in the face of a large-scale disaster?

One more thing – the FAS page, ReallyReady, was created by a single intern in the space of about nine weeks.

These kinds of stories make me sick, and they are all too common. In today’s Washington Post, a lengthy article examines the Livestock Compensation Program, which ran from 2002-2003, and cost over $1.2 billion.

In “No Drought Required For Federal Drought Aid,” Gilbert M. Gaul, Dan Morgan and Sarah Cohen report that over half of that money, “$635 million went to ranchers and dairy farmers in areas where there was moderate drought or none at all, according to an analysis of government records by The Washington Post. None of the ranchers were required to prove they suffered an actual loss. The government simply sent each of them a check based on the number of cattle they owned.”

Texas rancher Nico de Boer says, “The livestock program was a joke. We had no losses,” de Boer said. “I don’t know what Congress is thinking sometimes.” On the $40,000 he received, de Boer continues, “If there is money available, you might as well take it. You would be a fool not to.”

But the story doesn’t just stop there. The moral ambiguity of simply taking the money that is offered to you is eventually replaced by the incentives to actively seek out and campaign for more funds, effectively defrauding the government.

Under the original terms of the plan, “a rancher had to be in a county that was suffering from a drought and declared a disaster by the agriculture secretary in 2001 or 2002. More than 2,000 counties had such declarations at the time, including many with only modest dry spells.” But once the pork started flowing out of Washington, everyone wanted to get a spot at the trough.

Increasing pressure from lobbyists and special interests eventually made even the original flimsy requirements too onerous. Speaking of 2002, “There was pressure that year to grow emergency declarations for drought,” recalled Hunt Shipman, a former top USDA official who now works as a lobbyist in Washington.

The results? “Under Congress’s new version of the program in 2003, livestock owners could qualify as a result of any type of weather-related disaster declaration by the secretary of agriculture. Or they could become eligible if their county was included in a presidential disaster declaration. Under the new rules, the time period covered also was extended, to Feb. 20, 2003. One rule remained the same: Livestock owners still did not have to prove a loss.”

And under that new situation, “With the rules relaxed by Congress, federal agriculture officials pushed their local offices to find disasters that would make more livestock owners eligible, records and interviews show. It didn’t matter if it was a cold snap or a storm that was two years old.”

There’s not much else to say, I think, besides recognizing the truth that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10 NIV).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, May 16, 2006

In his fragmentary and incomplete Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer examines the reality of the will of God, which he contends come to us from Scripture in the form of four mandates: work, marriage, government, and church. Here’s a great summary of Bonhoeffer’s view of the mandate of the government or state, from his essay, “Christ, Reality, and Good,” pages 72-73:

The divine mandate of government already presupposes the mandates of work and marriage. In the world that it rules, government finds already existing these two mandates through which God the Creator exercises creative power and upon which government must rely. Government itself cannot produce life or values. It is not creative. Government maintains what is created in the order that was given to the creation by God’s commission. Government protects what is created by establishing justice in acknowledgment of the divine mandates and by enforcing this justice with the power of the sword. Thus, marriage is not made by the government, but is affirmed by the government. The great spheres of work are not themselves undertaken by the government, but they are subject to its supervision within certain limits—later to be described—to governmental direction. Government should never seek to become the agent of these areas of work, for this would seriously endanger their divine mandate along with its own. By establishing justice, and by the power of the sword, government preserves the world for the reality of Jesus Christ. Everyone owes obedience to this government—according to the will of Christ.