Posts tagged with: government

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.

Rick Ritchie responds to this New Atlantis article by Peter Lawler, “Is the Body Property?” in a recent post on Daylight.

Lawler discusses the increasingly broad push to commodify the human body, especially in the context of organ sales. Lawler writes of “the creeping libertarianism that characterizes our society as a whole. As we understand ourselves with ever greater consistency as free individuals and nothing more, it becomes less clear why an individual’s kidneys aren’t his property to dispose of as he pleases.”

I myself have written elsewhere and on another related topic challenging the “ultimate right of an individual to his or her own life” and therefore to the body. I make the case that the right of possession over one’s body is not an ultimate or absolute right in any ontological sense, given the status of our relationship to God as creator.

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some more relative, less absolute, “political” right of an individual over his or her body. It simply means that libertarian rhetoric needs to be toned down and appropriately tuned to the question of the prudence of political intervention in areas like physician-assisted suicide, kidney sales, and prostitution. This would include some rather less grandiose claims than an “ultimate right of an individual.”

Ritchie gets at this latter point very well in his analysis of the typical response to “creepy libertarianism,” that is, “creepy statism.”

“To try to make an inhuman state the tool for humanizing our world is to fail to see what the modern state is. If you believe in bodily integrity, use your own body to persuade your neighbors not to sell their kidneys. And then be prepared to listen to them as they explain why they wish to do what they plan to do,” he writes.

In a plenary address a couple weeks back to the Evangelical Theological Society, law professor and journalist Hugh Hewitt spoke about the religious affiliation of political candidates and to what extent this should be considered in the public debate (Melinda at Stand To Reason summarizes and comments here). In advance of his forthcoming book, A Mormon in the White House?: 10 Things Every Conservative Should Know about Mitt Romney, Hewitt used Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as an example as to why evangelical Christians should not withhold their votes for a particular presidential candidate purely based on theological disagreement.

In the intervening time, the so-called “Mormon question” has received a great deal of media attention. (Hewitt says that yesterday was “a day of interviews about and with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.”) Here’s just one example, Time magazine’s story, “Can a Mormon be President? Why Mitt Romney will have to explain a faith that remains mysterious to many.”

A number of people, including Glenn Reynolds, have wondered about the potential hypocrisy in examining Romney’s Mormonism so closely, while apparently giving a free pass to politicians like Harry Reid. But for Hewitt, the appropriate treatment of a Mormon politician would look more like the reception Reid has gotten than the scrutiny that Romney has gotten.

Hewitt’s argument goes like this: if the long knives are brought out by Christians to attack Romney on the basis of his religious commitments, it won’t be long before secularists attack Christians on similar grounds. This is a sort of “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” argument, and it is one that is shared by “Evangelicals for Mitt,” who note that most of the objections to Romney’s fitness for the presidency are on theological matters that are “absolutely irrelevant to the presidency.”

David French of “Evangelicals for Mitt” does address one of the questions I had coming out of the Hewitt talk, which was whether Hewitt’s claims that the religious and theological commitments of candidates should be off-limits was true for practitioners of all religions (or even strands of individual religions). French writes, “Let me be clear: I am not saying that theology is never relevant. When theology dictates policy, it is fair and proper for a voter to take that theology into account.”

These are not the types of theological issues to which evangelicals are taking offense, however. Says French, “The questions we receive deal with the Mormon view of the Trinity, the Mormon doctrine of salvation, the Mormon view of the afterlife, etc. Not only are these questions not relevant to the presidency (though certainly relevant if the Governor were applying to be your pastor), by even attempting to inject them into the debate evangelicals play a dangerous game. Do we think we can reject a candidate for theological reasons and then cry foul if the media or political opponents attack our own theology?”

This distinction between theological positions that bear directly on matters of public policy and ones that do not may indeed be helpful in distinguishing when it is appropriate to discuss faith commitments ad hominem. It would certainly seem to distinguish Romney’s Mormonism from, say, an Islamo-fascist faith which would attempt to impose and enforce Sharia law with government coercion.

Moreover, disqualification of Romney simply on the basis of his Mormon faith is a mark of a theocratic tendency which holds that only Christians are fit to rule. An apocryphal saying attributed to Martin Luther is his expression that he would “rather be ruled by a wise Turk than by a foolish Christian.” We’ll get to more of what Luther actually did say about Islam in a bit. But for the moment, let’s reflect on how this sentiment bears on the conversation.

The idea is essentially that the office of government can be rightly exercised by those who from the Christan perspective hold heretical theological views. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The state possesses its character as government independently of the Christian character of the persons who govern. There is government also among the heathen.”

Acknowledging this truth does not mean that it is of no consequence whether the politician is or is not a Christian. It may simply be of no political consequence. “Certainly the persons who exercise government ought also to accept belief in Jesus Christ, but the office of government remains independent of the religious decision,” says Bonhoeffer.

Back to Luther. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Monday, November 13, 2006
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Three timewasters that will help you gauge where your affinities lie on the political spectrum. The varied results will show you just how much the formation of the questions affects how you are categorized. The links follow along with my score for each (post your scores in the comments section if you feel so inclined).

Politopia from the Institute for Humane Studies. I came out as a “Northwesterner” (just south of Drew Carey), the area with “a large degree of economic and personal freedom.”

Political Compass (HT: Blogora). My ratings: Economic Left/Right: 5.50; Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -1.08, which puts me one line below and six lines to the right of the mid-lines, in the Right/Libertarian quadrant. This is to the Right of where I came out on the Politopia map, and probably more accurate.

And finally, “Are You a Socialist or Capitalist?” from Blogthings (HT: Of Making Many Books):


Jordan, You Are 80% Capitalist, 20% Socialist


In general, you support a free economy and business interests.
You tend to think people should fend for themselves, even when times get tough.
However, do think the government should help those who are truly in need.

One thing that President Bush’s formation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives did was lead the way for the formation of similar offices at various other levels of government.

For example, in Michigan, Gov. Granholm formed the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives by means of an executive order in March, 2005. And the city government in Lansing also has such an office, formed in August of this year, and has recently announced the agenda for the effort (HT: Religion Clause).

If David Kuo wants to portray the president’s faith-based initiative as nothing more than a political ploy with no substance, he’s going to have to account for all the work that is potentially being done at all these other levels of government. (I say potentially because there are of course questions about how these efforts have been implemented and what sort of work they are actually doing.)

Perhaps the formation of such community and faith-based offices at other levels were unintended by the Bush campaign, but even so they now mean that the work of governmental faith-based initiatives is no longer simply identical and coextensive with that of the White House office.

On this eve of the mid-term elections in the United States, it’s worthwhile to reflect a bit on the impetus in North American evangelical Christianity to emphasize the importance of politics. Indeed, it is apparent that the term “evangelical” is quickly coming to have primarily political significance, rather than theological or ecclesiastical, such that Time magazine could include two Roman Catholics (Richard John Neuhaus and Rick Santorum) among its list of the 25 most influential “evangelicals” in America.

When the accusations came to light about Ted Haggard, which led to his resignation from the National Association of Evangelicals and eventual dismissal from New Life Church, the first instinct by many was to see this as primarily a political event. Late last week James Dobson said of Haggard, “It appears someone is trying to damage his reputation as a way of influencing the outcome of Tuesday’s election.” Perhaps the timing of the charges did indeed have political motivations, but Haggard’s admission of guilt carries with it implications that reach far beyond mere politics, into the realm of the spiritual.

It should be noted that after Haggard’s guilt came to light, Dobson did say that the scandal had “grave implications for the cause of Christ,” and Pastor Larry Stockstill, head of the oversight board in charge of Haggard’s investigation, said “that politics played ‘zero’ role in the haste of the process that led to Haggard’s removal, and that the oversight board received no political pressure from anyone.” But even so, the fact that Haggard has been portrayed as a political heavyweight (with access to the President) and the National Association of Evangelicals has been called “a powerful lobbying group,” rather than an ecumenical and ecclesiastical organization, speaks volumes. (more…)

Data from a new CNN poll: “Queried about their views on the role of government, 54 percent of the 1,013 adults polled said they thought it was trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Only 37 percent said they thought the government should do more to solve the country’s problems.”

These results follow a period in which the GOP has dominated both the executive and legislative branches at the federal level. During this time, “Discretionary spending grew from $649 billion in fiscal year 2001 to $968 billion in fiscal year 2005, an increase of $319 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.” That’s nearly a 50% increase.

“Conservatives came to office to reduce the size of government and enlarge the sphere of free and private initiative,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. “But lately, we have increased government in order to stay in office.”

Power tends to corrupt…

Mark Whitehouse reported in the September 25th issue of the Wall Street Journal that the living standards of average Americans will have to be adjusted downward in coming years because a larger share of our national debt is going to debt-service. He writes,

That means Americans will have to work harder to maintain the same living standards—or cut back sharply to pay down the debt.” Catherine Mann, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics notes, “Our net international obligations are coming home to roost. It’s as if on our personal MasterCards we have run up large obligations and never had to make personal payments. You can’t believe that is going to last forever.

I am not a professional economist but such news makes me wonder how we will really handle these things as a nation when the spend-spend-spend spigot is finally turned off. The pay day is coming, maybe sooner than later. Our prosperity is always one really bad cycle from a serious implosion and then the country will either adjust corporately, and grow stronger morally and spiritually, or it will begin to break down in ways that could be alarming over the long term. Let us pray that we learn how to adjust sooner than later. Churches that spend so much on themselves, and their upwardly mobile lifestyles, should take note. The kingdom calls for sacrifice and frugality, not lavish expenditures on empire building.

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."

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."