Posts tagged with: government

The Wall Street Journal offers a welcomed reminder of the value of tax revolts titled, “The Spirit of 13.” Proposition 13 is a notable property tax revolt which was led by the late California citizen Howard Jarvis in 1978. There are several books about the famed revolt and many attribute the event to helping fuel the “Reagan Revolution.”

Proposition 13 passed with 65 percent voter support, and ever since has been part of the California Constitution. As a result, property taxes were slashed by 30 percent and annual increases were capped at no more than a 2 percent increase. Retirees with limited income benefited greatly from Proposition 13. Perhaps most important, taxpayers know exactly how much to budget for their property tax. The law continues to hold very popular support among Californian voters, a state where citizens are taxed heavily already.

Still there are tax and spenders who constantly decry the lack of tax revenue, and Proposition 13 always finds its way back in their crosshairs.

Next Monday will be the sixtieth anniversary of Luigi Einaudi’s inauguration as Italian President. Einaudi (1874-1961) was a distinguished economist and defender of classical liberalism. In the immediate period following World War II, he was governor of the Bank of Italy and finance minister. Many credit his policy of low taxes and dismantling tariffs with having laid the foundation for Italy’s “miracolo economico” of the 1950s and 1960s.

However, while his role as president between 1948-55 is still remembered, his legacy of economic freedom as a key to Italian post-war development has largely been forgotten. In a recent article, the Milanese financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore lamented that currently there is no political force in the country which feels inspired by Einaudi’s actions and insights.

The center-right led by Silvio Berlusconi which won the recent general elections in April cannot be considered a catalyst for market reforms. Its new economy minister Giulio Tremonti has expressed hostility to free trade and blames most of the world’s economic problems on an ideology he calls “marketism”. At the same time, the Northern League, Berlusconi’s junior coalition partner, is impossible to categorize in terms of its economic policy. It demands decentralization and reducing the role of the Italian state but also advocates protectionism.

Neither can Einaudi’s heirs be found on the Italian center-left. The recently founded Democratic Party (PD) has its origins in communism. One can appreciate its transformation towards more moderate positions and a certain openness to economic liberalization. However, the transition is not complete and cannot be compared to the process initiated by Tony Blair in the UK Labour Party in the 1990s.

It is regrettable that nobody wishes to emulate Einaudi’s achievements. These go beyond the technical mastery and application of market economics. Einaudi’s understanding of freedom also led him to insights of more wide-ranging importance for Italian society. He believed that an excess of state power tends to make citizens more lazy in the way they live their lives and think of their responsibility towards others. This attitude leads them to tolerate the social ills around them. They view the poor state of public services as inevitable and accept corruption and rent-seeking as unchangeable phenomena.

Now, that so many people in Italy worry about the economic situation of the country and feel alienated from the political institutions and their lack of accountability, one might think that the time is ripe to return to Einaudi’s lessons.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A statement of the reformer Heinrich Bullinger, an influential second-generation leader in Zurich, on his preferred form of government:

God had established through Moses in His law the most excellent, the most admirable and convenient form of republic, depending on the wisest, most powerful and most merciful king of all, God, on the best and fairest senators and not at all on extravagant and arrogant ones, and finally on the people; to which He added the judge, whenever it was necessary. They would have maintained it at any cost had they been wise; but rarely is the multitude wise. In general it is changeable and always fickle, ungrateful and eager for new things (trans. J. Wayne Baker, Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenant [Ohio UP, 1980], p. 69).

See also: “Our Counter-Majoritarian Constitution.”

This sounds like a book with a compelling narrative: McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld.

I’ve often thought about the connection between organized crime and legitimate governmental structures. In the NPR interview linked above, “Journalist Misha Glenny points out that while globalization may have given the world new opportunities for trade and investments, it also gave rise to global black markets and made it easier for criminal networks to do business.” There’s a lot of cogent analysis of trade issues and how government policy not only combats but also contributes to the existence of globalized “black markets.”

It has occurred to me more than once, in watching shows like HBO’s “The Sopranos,” that a good deal of the socio-political aspects of organized crime is explicable in terms of alternative (and often obsolete) forms of governance. That is, often when extorting money from business owners, superficially legitimate services are offered, like “protection,” i.e. protection that the official authorities like the police are unwilling or unable to provide.

Can Tony Soprano claim to be the “king,” or at least “kingpin” of a more feudal or monarchical socio-political structure? Perhaps, just perhaps, there is the hypothetical exceptional situation in which the “outlaws” represent a more legitimate form of governance than official but tyrannical structures (think of Robin Hood, for instance).

But there is at least clear precedent for understanding the reverse to be true; legitimate authorities can certainly degenerate into outright banditry even if bandits may not be able to rise to the level of authentic sovereignty. As Augustine has reflected on the nature of legitimate sovereignty,

Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.” (City of God, Book IV, Chapter 4, “How Like Kingdoms Without Justice are to Robberies.”)

And so the appeal to political legitimacy can only be made in recognition of the rule of law, the higher law or the “law beyond law,” that governs all human endeavors.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, April 11, 2008

Late last month I argued that recipients of the federal government’s stimulus package “should use this rebate money as they see fit, since they are the ones most familiar with their own situations and their own needs. Consider giving part of the money to charity or saving, paying off debt or investing.” Now other voices are giving similar advice, recommending saving rather than spending.

Rick Haglund, a Michigan business columnist for the Grand Rapids Press, notes that “Some saving measures can go a little too far, though. I recently heard a personal financial consultant say people can save by no longer buying that cup of coffee and newspaper on the way to work.”

“Give up the coffee, but please, please keep buying the paper. The newspaper business is in a terrible financial state,” he writes. Haglund thinks that newspapers are more important to the country than coffee…a debatable proposition. Coffee, not oil, might well be the lifeblood of American enterprise.

But the economic status of newspaper publishing is in a strange place. I’ve been getting the weekend paper for a year or so, and when I renewed I received a call from the paper just to tell me that I’d be getting the rest of the week for free (a good thing too, or I would have missed Haglund’s column).

It reminded me of getting a postcard in the mail from the government telling me to expect a rebate…no notice necessary, just send the free stuff and the money. I don’t think it cost the Grand Rapids Press millions of dollars to make the phone calls, though (it cost the feds $42 million to mail out those inane little rebate notices).

In any case, it makes more sense for many newspapers to give their issues away to get a boost in circulation numbers than it does to count on the income from subscriptions. I also recently saw one of the narrowest daily newspapers I had ever seen last weekend, part of the trend to cut printing costs. (I can’t complain too much, though, since the Port Huron Times Herald has published more than one of my commentaries. Keep up the good work!)

Of course, some folks, like Betty J. Mazur, are going to do just what the government wants them to do with the money. “I’m going to buy new clothing with my check,” she said. (The piece linked above is in part about how it is necessary to file federal taxes for 2007 in order to get the 2008 rebate. Marketplace discusses that, and also debunks some myths about the rebate, here.)

Oh, and don’t forget to blame conservative theology for the credit crisis. After all, it seems as if adherents to so-called “conservative” theology don’t save as much as they ought.

How any decent sociologist could have this reaction is beyond me: “Keister was surprised that when demographic factors — such as education, age and race — were held as constant, religion still proved to be an influential factor in wealth accumulation” (emphasis added).

Amazing, just amazing. Can you dare admit that religious beliefs really do influence behavior?

Keister says a typical “conservative Protestant” might be a member of the Assemblies of God, Churches of Christ, Nazarene and Pentecostal churches. I guess they’ve forgotten what John Wesley said.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 3, 2008

Rod Dreher links to a piece by Cato’s Brink Lindsey, “Culture of Success.” The conclusion of Lindsey’s piece is that familial culture is more important to child success in school and economic achievement than external assistance, in the form of tuition grants or otherwise:

If more money isn’t the answer, what does have an impact? In a word: culture. Everything we know about high performance in all fields of endeavor tells us that, while natural talent is a plus, there is no substitute for long hours of preparation and hard work…. Apply these lessons to doing well in school, and it becomes clear that the class divide in academic achievement is fundamentally a cultural divide. To put it in a nutshell, the upper-middle-class kid grows up in an environment that constantly pushes him to develop the cognitive and motivational skills needed to be a good student; the low-income kid’s environment, on the other hand, pushes in the opposite direction.

Lindsey, to his credit, recognizes the fact that these sorts of trans-generational, cultural and familial concerns typically lie outside the competence of his own libertarian ideological camp:

We insist on the central importance of individual responsibility for the healthy functioning of a free society. Yet, by the time people become legally responsible adults, circumstances not of their own choosing — namely, how they were raised and whom they grew up with — may have prevented them from ever developing the capacities they need to thrive and flourish.

I’m disappointed to find that Lindsey then makes the move to say that on that basis there exists “the possibility that government intervention to improve those circumstances could actually expand the scope of individual autonomy.” I’m not disappointed because the statement is false (it is in fact true), but because the government isn’t the first place we should look to find solutions to cultural problems. What about other institutions, most especially the church?

Dreher’s post is lengthy and worth a read in full, in part because it takes Lindsey’s piece as a point of departure to bring in a number of other insights and sources. Dreher writes of the government’s relation to culture among the poor,

…I don’t believe all the government programs we could possibly imagine will fundamentally change their condition, because their condition is not fundamentally a matter of material deprivation.

Culture is more important than politics, as Moynihan said. But he also said that politics can save a culture from itself. What kind of politics could save inner-city black culture from itself? Ideas? Because we certainly need them in society at large, not just the black inner city.

Dreher also echoes my question: “Here’s what I don’t understand: where are the churches in all this?”

Where are they? If they aren’t actively engaged in responsible urban evangelism, which many are, then they are probably doing (A) nothing or (B) lobbying the government to do something. A is bad and B might be worse.

Dolly Parton was featured on American Idol this week. One of the songs a contestant performed from her body of work was the song, based on her real-life experiences, “Coat of Many Colors,” and it teaches a lesson directly relevant to this topic.


Here’s the last verse, after the children make fun of her for her coat:

But they didn’t understand it
And I tried to make them see
That one is only poor
Only if they choose to be
Now I know we had no money
But I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me
Made just for me

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.

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.”