Posts tagged with: government

Blog author: kwoods
posted by on Thursday, May 4, 2006

In January, I wrote about the Central Plains wildfires as a very personal crisis in my Oklahoma hometown.

I underscored the importance of subsidiarity, which is the idea that a central authority should perform only those tasks which cannot be handled effectively at a more immediate or local level. I’ve now had opportunity to practice subsidiarity in Oklahoma. And I can tell you, it’s harder to do than to talk or write about in the abstract.

The preceding months of drought had created a tinderbox that fueled fires that burned out thousands of Oklahoma and Texas families, including hundreds in my home town and surrounding counties. As the wildfires burned, an upscale West Michigan children’s clothing resale shop was seeking a donation location for 2,000 pieces of clothing. The need was obvious. The Effective Compassion staff at Acton now had opportunity to support local helpers in the wildfire areas, to literally equip an exercise in subsidiarity.

In politics and in society, the principle of subsidiarity represents one of the bulwarks of limited government and personal freedom. My humble, small-town Oklahoma mother can understand that. But in the wake of unprecedented national disasters, such obvious common sense can be overrun with the lure of government relief money. The bureaucratic morass of FEMA hurricane response should warn us off such temptations.

The “let the government do it” attitude springs eternal with this culture, despite obvious and continued failure. However, the “let the locals do it” approach requires more of the locals — and in this case of clothing to needy Oklahoma neighbors, that meant me. (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, April 6, 2006
Where will they go?

Churches and religious relief organizations are playing a much more active role in U.S. foreign policy. And that has been obvious in recent months in the recovery efforts for the South Asian tsunami and the Pakistan earthquakes.

In March, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life invited Andrew Natsios, who recently left the U.S. Agency for International Development as chief administrator, to talk about his five-year term there. This is a must-read for anyone who works in this field, or donates money to religious relief organizations. Some of Natsios’ most fascinating observations are about the way “Beltway Politics” influences aid policy in remote corners or the world, and the conflict within Islam about its relations to the West.

He recounted a story about a meeting with religious leaders in an unnamed African country:

We had a discussion about how HIV/AIDS was ravaging their congregations and the mosque. And the man representing the Muslim community was the president of the Muslim Doctors Association of this country. The interesting thing was the tension in the room was not among the Muslims. Muslims were 20 percent of the population of the country. It was between the pentecostals and the Anglicans. That was the theological tension. I could see it going on at lunch. I was troubled by it. But by the end of it the ambassador said, this is the best conversation I ever heard. It was a wonderful conversation because they didn’t realize that they’re all active in this area. They are all worried about HIV/AIDS because when parents die, you know who they go to first. They don’t go to the NGO community in this African country. The government ministries are not that functional. They don’t go to the government. They go to the mosque and the church for the children. Who is going to take care of the children?

And they said, we’re completely overwhelmed by orphans. They don’t know what to do with them all. They don’t have any money; they are poor parishes and congregations.

Natsios talks about Eurpean and American NGOs that press a secular approach in societies that are fundamentally religious. In fact, he says, many are hostile to the Church:

The Europeans and the Americans go in, groups not necessarily associated with governments and they press this secular thing, but in fact they are deeply religious societies. Peter Berger has written something on this; the argument he makes is that the West is basically an island of secularism, particularly Europe, when the rest of the world comes from a religious tradition – regardless of what the tradition – whether it’s animism, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or Confucianism.

If you are really developmentally mature, you don’t go into another country and trash their culture because you’re not going to be very successful in the development process if you do that. Both the left and the right do this, and they have done it to AID. I have received letters attacking us simultaneously from the left and the right on the same policy.

Read the transcript for “Religion and International Development: A Conversation with Andrew Natsios” on the Pew Web site.

Blog author: kjayabalan
posted by on Monday, February 13, 2006

Over the weekend, the Daily Telegraph’s Charles Moore asked, “Why should the Left win the scramble for Africa?” :

[T]he trouble with this subject – perhaps this is why the Left dominates it – is that it attracts posturing. Africa is, among other things, a photo-opportunity. As our own educational system makes it harder and harder to get British pupils to smile at all, so the attraction for politicians of being snapped with rows of black children with happy grins grows ever stronger. The dark continent is awash with “goodwill ambassadors” who fly in for a couple of days to cure Aids before flying out to make the next movie.

There is a worse posturing – the pretence that lots of government money and the interventions of the “international community” are automatically good. It is only in the past 10 years or so, for example, that the World Bank has even begun to consider the possibility that the volume of loans matters less than their quality, or that corruption might be spoiling huge percentages of its work. All across Africa lies the detritus of aid projects which – in some cases literally – ran into the sand.

Such things are not just a waste of money – they are deeply harmful. They divert power and resources to bad people that might otherwise have gone to good. There is still no proper answer to Peter Bauer’s famous dictum that Western government aid largely consists of the payment of money by poor people in rich countries (i.e. our taxes) to rich people in poor countries.

Having spent two years working for the Holy See at the United Nations and five years for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, I’ve sat through far too many discussions of Africa’s problems, nearly all of which focused on governmental solutions. Very rarely did anyone have the courage and wisdom to say that governments ARE the problem in Africa, and even more rarely did anyone say that the an expanded private sector is the most obvious solution.

Why is that? Christians are especially obliged to look after the poor but often seem to be the most willing to support further governmental interventions. But this is just passing the buck to unaccountable and faceless bureaucracies. What accounts for this socialist temptation?

My educated guess is that an ideological prejuidice against market economies has been operating in social justice circles for many decades and is only starting to be overcome. Educating people in sound economics, an undoubtedly prosaic if not sometimes downright boring subject, is surely an imperative. Too many lives in Africa have already been lost to the dreams of utopian poets.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 24, 2006

“The political left in America is emerging victorious,” writes Patrick Chisholm, and its true because “the era of big government is far from over. Trends are decidedly in favor of that quintessential leftist goal: massive redistribution of wealth.”

Over the past two decades, “Republicans’ capture of both Congress and the White House was, understandably, a demoralizing blow to the left. But the latter can take solace that “Republican” is no longer synonymous with spending restraint, free markets, and other ideals of the political right.”

Chisholm cites the fact that since 2000, “During the first five years of President Bush’s presidency, nondefense discretionary spending (i.e., spending decided on an annual basis) rose 27.9 percent, far more than the 1.9 percent growth during President Clinton’s first five years, according to the libertarian Reason Foundation. And according to Citizens Against Government Waste, the number of congressional ‘pork barrel’ projects under Republican leadership during fiscal 2005 was 13,997, more than 10 times that of 1994.”

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, since “discretionary spending is dwarfed by mandatory spending – spending that cannot be changed without changing the laws.”

Read the whole thing: “Triumph of the redistributionist left.”

John H. Armstrong tackles the question, “How Should Government Deal with Poverty?”

He writes, “A regular argument made, at least from some evangelical political voices from the political left, is to cite numerous Old Testament texts about poverty and then suggest that one of the central concerns of a just government is to solve the problems associated with poverty.”

He cuts to the heart of such fallacious reasoning, recognizing “No one who has an ounce of compassion disagrees that Christians should care about poverty and its associated social ills. The issue here is not ‘Should we care about poverty and the problems related to it?’ Rather, the question is, ‘What is the best way to respond to poverty?’”

Armstong narrates what the “profound” influence of Ronald Reagan on his point of view, and concludes: “The solutions to poverty are to be found in the free enterprise system and the sooner we stop bashing business and wealth making enterprises the better will be our overall response to poverty in America.”

Blog author: kwoods
posted by on Thursday, January 19, 2006
Wait for government help?

A couple of weeks ago, I noted the amazing “just do it” outpouring of compassion in response to the wildfires in the Central Plains. My small home town in Oklahoma was among those areas burned or seriously damaged by the fires.

Since Nov. 1, more than 363,000 acres, 220 structures and four deaths have been attributed to these wildfires. Much of the destruction has occured on Indian trust lands within such areas as the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muskogee Creek and Seminole tribal jurisdictions, as well as more densely populated areas like Oklahoma City and Edmond, Okla. As of Jan. 14, there were more than 1,000 fires and in excess of 411,000 acres burned.

But counter to the culture, many of the people affected don’t consider “government help” as the first response. Nor should they. According to one report, Oklahoma officials said it took FEMA 12 days to approve the state’s request for comprehensive disaster assistance to combat wildfires.

Of course Oklahomans are grateful for the useful government help they do get, especially for those emergency firefighters. But much of the relief work could be simply categorized as neighbors and church folks helping each other. An article from the United Methodist News Service quotes my mother’s pastor in Seminole: “Most of the work that’s done here is the community working together … We had already started doing that when the fires came.” They’re already starting to rebuild homes lost in the fire.

“The community really depends on one another and uses the churches as a hinge point for relief efforts,” said Rev. Wayne Loftin, pastor of Davis United Methodist Church.

When the need goes beyond what neighbors and community can provide, then the next level of assistance in this case has been the conference-based United Methodist Committee on Relief. The efforts of multiple churches in multiple denominations contribute, too.

Don Oxford from the Davis church said, “We didn’t do anything heroic. We just do whatever we need to do.”

Would that we could all expand our own responses to the daily needs of neighbors around us, never waiting for international, national or even local agencies to show up. Dig in and get started. So many people are willing to help and in a way that helps people rebuild their lives. And this work greatly enriches personal relationships, quickly blurring the lines between helped and helper.

A Stanford expert on philanthropy argues that tax-deductible American charity is actually a government subsidy and that philanthropy is not ‘redistributive’ enough. Acton’s Karen Woods points out (obvious to most) that helping the needy is not the exclusive domain of the state. “The real problem with government ‘charity’ is that government takes a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the problem of poverty,” Woods writes.

Read the complete commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 17, 2006

After decades of civil unrest, the African nation of Liberia has elected the first female head of state in the history of the continent. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist and veteran of international affairs, was sworn in yesterday in the capital city of Monrovia. Founded in 1822, Liberia is Africa’s oldest republic, and the result of the work of the “American Colonization Society to settle freed American slaves in West Africa. The society contended that the immigration of blacks to Africa was an answer to the problem of slavery as well as to what it felt was the incompatibility of the races.”

Liberia’s recent history has been dominated by civil strife and regional conflict. But US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has hailed the election of Johnson-Sirleaf, nicknamed the “Iron Lady,” as signs of reform and progress in the West African nation. When asked about the prospects for debt relief, Rice responded: “The first key to debt relief is to have sound economic policies in place, policies that show that there will be budget discipline, that money will be well spent. We have a great deal of confidence in your new President, who understands these economic matters very well, who has dealt with the world community, the World Bank; and I’m sure that she will embark on an economic reform program and all Liberians should support that economic reform program.” Rice continued, “It won’t be easy at the beginning. No economic reform is easy. But Liberia has resources. Liberia has people who can be well educated. And I’m quite sure that if the right economic policies are followed, that the world will look at debt relief, will look at further assistance, because everybody wants Liberia to succeed.”

“Everybody” apparently includes mainland China, which pledged greater positive engagement with Liberia following the inauguration. Economic ties with other global nations will be key for Liberia’s future development. As Secretary Rice indicated, Liberia’s natural resources and human capital can be a valuable component of the world market.

Kofi Annan also noted the UN’s approval of the election of Johnson-Sirleaf, especially as it was the result of free and fair elections. Annan congratulated the Liberian people, who, he said “through a peaceful and transparent electoral process, have given Johnson Sirleaf an historic mandate to lead the nation towards a future of lasting peace and stability.”

A huge part of Johnson-Sirleaf’s platform was an emphasis on the elmination of government corruption, which blossomed under the previously-elected Charles Taylor, and a return to the rule of law. In a speech before the African Development Forum in 2004, Johnson-Sirleaf said, “The respect for and promotion of human rights as one of the principles of good governance can be defined simply as the promotion of human dignity through the exercise of basic human freedoms. In other words, respect for human rights requires respect for the sanctity of life; respect for the right to speak freely with responsibility; respect for the right to choose one’s religion and one’s friends; respect and confidence in the assurance that the rule of law protects an individual from the violation of their rights, particularly by the state.”

Roughly 40% of Liberia’s population of nearly 3.5 million people are identified as Christian, and we can hope and pray that the new administration ushers in an era of peace and prosperity for all of Liberia’s citizens.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Jeffrey Tucker at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute:

You might say that water needs to be conserved. Yes, and so does every other scarce good. The peaceful way to do this is through the price system. But because municipal water systems have created artificial shortages, other means become necessary. One regulation piles on top of another, and the next thing you know, you have shower commissars telling you what you can or cannot do in the most private spaces.

Has central planning ever been more ridiculous, intrusive, and self-defeating?

The long wait is finally over. Federal vouchers are coming!

Before you get too excited, however, I have to inform you that the vouchers are not for education. You can’t use these vouchers to send your child to the school of your choice.

Instead, because of the government-mandated switch for broadcast TV from analog to digital bandwidths, set for Feb. 17, 2009, upwards of 20 million television sets will be obsolete, only able to receive the then-defunct analog signals.

“To avoid a consumer revolt, Congress has set aside about $1.5 billion to smooth the transition. Owners of outmoded TV sets will be eligible for two vouchers, worth $40 each, to help buy converter boxes that will enable today’s analog TV sets to receive digital signals,” Fortune magazine reports.

The government argues that the move will open up huge new areas of bandwidth for greater technical innovation and delivery. Once broadcast TV is moved to the digital spectrum, the old analog bandwidths will be auctioned off, and the government stands to make a pretty penny on the deal. “The sale of this valuable, scarce real estate is expected to bring in about $10 billion, maybe more. That will help reduce the federal budget deficit,” writes Marc Gunther.

Of course, those companies buying up the newly-opened space will be better off too: “With the new auction, we will finally become a broadband nation,” says Blair Levin, a Washington analyst with Stifel Nicolaus. “Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Intel, Dell — these companies will all benefit. The more broadband pipes you have, the more applications will come along, the more often you will upgrade your device.”

The interesting thing about these digital tuner vouchers is that one argument for their issue is that the poor will be disproportionately affected by the switch. Gunther writes, “But for consumers with one of those 70 million sets — many of whom are likely to be poor, elderly or uneducated, being forcibly switched from one technology to another will be a nightmare.”

Gunther goes on to describe the “nightmare scenario,” in which “people who depend on free, over-the-air TV for news and entertainment will lose their access, or have to pay more for it, so that the rest of us can get faster service on our Blackberries and ESPN on our cell phones.”

Last I checked, news and weather information on which people depend is still freely available over the radio. And maybe some of us would be better off with less access to TV. AC Nielsen reports (PDF) that “During the 2004-05 TV season (which started September 20, 2004 and just ended September 18, 2005), the average household in the U.S. tuned into television an average of 8 hours and 11 minutes per day.”

We’ve all heard the stories about families on federal assistance in the inner city with big screen TVs, or living in trailer parks with satellite dishes. Nowadays, Marx might say that TV is the opiate of the people rather than religion, or better yet, that TV has become the religion of the people.
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