Tyler Cowen has an interesting column in last Sunday’s New York Times, arguing that despite run-of-the-mill objections to “cold” and “heartless” economic analysis, economics is, as a science, “egalitarian at its core”:
Economic analysis is itself value-free, but in practice it encourages a cosmopolitan interest in natural equality. Many economic models, of course, assume that all individuals are motivated by rational self-interest or some variant thereof; even the so-called behavioral theories tweak only the fringes of a basically common, rational understanding of people. The crucial implication is this: If you treat all individuals as fundamentally the same in your theoretical constructs, it would be odd to insist that the law should suddenly start treating them differently.
James Poulos offers an healthy response, reminding us that “no matter how solid the economic foundation for moral egalitarianism, there’s a thing or two of great moral significance that’s missing.”
Indeed, in attempting to avoid the cliché of cold-heartedness, Cowen risks perpetuating a different one: that economists ignore the mystery and spiritual significance of humanity and human behavior. The instilling of egalitarian sensibilities when it comes to seeing people as people is one thing, but part of this reorientation needs to include a recognition of the features that make each us different. Leveling things is helpful when the earth is rocky, but the bigger problem for the modern economist seems to be his propensity to create craters in the pretty green grass. (more…)
Regarding the USPS decision Wednesday to stop Saturday mail delivery, Ron Nixon at the New York Timeswrites,
The post office said a five-day mail delivery schedule would begin in August and shave about $2 billion a year from its losses, which were $15.9 billion last year. The Postal Service would continue to deliver packages six days a week, and post offices would still be open on Saturdays. Reducing Saturday delivery is in line with mail services in several other industrialized countries like Australia, Canada and Sweden, which deliver five days a week.
This move has not come without opposition, however. Nixon continues,
Whether it will succeed is difficult to predict. Many lawmakers view the Postal Service as the quintessential government service that touches constituents almost every day, and rigidly oppose any changes. Also, postal worker unions hold sway over some lawmakers who are influential in writing legislation that governs the agency.
Again, he reports,
Most Americans support ending Saturday mail delivery. A New York Times/CBS News poll last year found that about 7 in 10 Americans said they would favor the change as a way to help the post office deal with billions of dollars in debt. The Obama administration also supports a five-day mail delivery schedule.
But three postal unions and some businesses on Wednesday called the move to five-day delivery misguided.
He goes on to note, “Many companies said ending Saturday delivery would have a devastating effect on their businesses.”
This sounds like a dire situation. Faced with “a requirement that it pay nearly $5.5 billion a year for health benefits to future retirees” and a 37% decline in first class mail since 2007, the postal service has ceased to be profitable as it stands, despite consistent yearly increases in the price of stamps. Small businesses may be threatened; Nixon reports that Ricardo Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, has additionally claimed that stopping Saturday mail “would be be particularly harmful” to “rural communities, the elderly, the disabled and others”; shouldn’t something be done to fix this problem? (more…)
The New York Times has a fascinating profile on Ikaria, a Greek island located about 30 miles off the western coast of Turkey. With roughly 8,000 inhabitants, the island is known for its slow and relaxed lifestyle, thriving communities, and healthy citizenry.
As Ikarian physician Dr. Ilias Leriadis says in the article: “Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? …We simply don’t care about the clock here.”
Brendan Case offers a good summary of the article at Call and Response (HT), pointing to some significant themes:
“For people to adopt a healthful lifestyle,” reports Dan Buettner in a recent issue of the “New York Times Magazine,” “they need to live in an ecosystem, so to speak, that makes it possible.” Buettner’s exploration of the Aegean island of Ikaria, where people are 2.5 times as likely as Americans to live past the age of 90, showcases the inseparability of individual and communal flourishing.
On Ikaria, a constellation of factors yields long lives: a great diet, and few chances to deviate from it; lots of physical activity (little of which could be classed as “exercise”); even regular napping.
But the likely keys to Ikarian longevity are harder to map. Buettner suggests that social structures — the marriages, families and friendships that knit Ikarians into a densely woven fabric of village life — are what sustain these communities in healthy practices.
At a superficial level, it can be easy for us to overly romanticize such places, especially for those of us who are routinely exhausted by fast-paced Western culture (though I still prefer a widespread concern for clocks). Buettner, for example, often seems over-sold on the notion of Ikaria as Utopia–likely, no doubt, because of his research interests in longevity (understandable). (more…)
I have been duped. I thought, along with my husband, that we were doing a good thing by raising our children in a household that valued traditional marriage and saw our children as gifts from God. I chose, for more than a decade, to work at home raising our children because I could not imagine a more important job during their formative years.
Wives who perform unpaid caregiving and place their economic security in the hands of husbands, who may or may not be good breadwinners, often find their options for financial support severely constrained the longer they remain financially dependent. Decades of research on the feminization of poverty show that women who have children, whether married or not, are systematically disadvantaged when competing for good jobs. Marriage is neither a recipe for economic security nor responsible parenting.
Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson says everyone seems to understand that the private sector creates jobs. Everyone, that is, except the New York Times. Samuelson calls the Times’ decree of government job creation “simplistic” and that it has a “flat-earth quality”.
He explains that if the government adds jobs – expands government – it comes at taxpayer expense.
But if the people whose money is taken via taxation or borrowing had kept the money, they would have spent most or all of it on something — and that spending would have boosted employment.
Job creation in the private sector is mostly a spontaneous and circular process. People buy things they need and want. Or businesses and private investors take risks by investing in new products, technologies and factories. All this spending, driven by self-interest and the profit motive, supports more jobs. In a smoothly functioning market economy, the process feeds on itself. By contrast, public-sector employment grows only when government claims some private-sector income to pay its workers. Government is not creating jobs. It’s substituting public-sector workers for private-sector workers.
With knowledge of how the developing world struggles to create jobs, Juan José Daboub, former Managing Director of the World Bank, concurs: (more…)
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat tackles the topic of religious liberty with his most recent column, “Defining Religious Liberty Down.” In it, Douthat highlights the public nature of the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of the “free exercise of religion”:
It’s a significant choice of words, because it suggests a recognition that religious faith cannot be reduced to a purely private or individual affair. Most religious communities conceive of themselves as peoples or families, and the requirements of most faiths extend well beyond attendance at a sabbath service — encompassing charity and activism, education and missionary efforts, and other “exercises” that any guarantee of religious freedom must protect.
Many would say that the religious liberty squabbles of today–the HHS mandate debate and last week’s Chick-fil-A fracas, for example–reflect a contemporary confusion about what is actually protected by the Bill of Rights’ “free exercise of religion.” Instead, Douthat posits that the conflict is a result of a present tension between religious values and the modern idea of freedom. This, Douthat argues, is really at the heart of the religious liberty debate.
The question is not whether “the free exercise of religion” allows the government to mandate contraception purchase or regulate businesses according to their values. The question is whether certain religious beliefs of today run so contradictory to the public zeitgeist that, like 15th century Aztec sacrifice rituals, they violate the common good and cannot merit public protection. Those who answer the latter question with a “yes” should quit the emaciated definitions of religious liberty and move on with the debate:
It may seem strange that anyone could look around the pornography-saturated, fertility-challenged, family-breakdown-plagued West and see a society menaced by a repressive puritanism. But it’s clear that this perspective is widely and sincerely held.
It would be refreshing, though, if it were expressed honestly, without the “of course we respect religious freedom” facade.
If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms. Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.
There, didn’t that feel better? Now we can get on with the fight.
This was the topic of our latest Campus Martius discussion group at the Istituto Acton office in Rome. Our guest speaker was law professor David Forte, who presented some of the challenges in furthering liberal democracy in Muslim-majority countries.
Having studied and spoken on Islamic law for many years, Prof. Forte is no extremist on the question and had been generally optimistic about the democratization of the Muslim world. In the wake of the “Arab spring” and increasing persecution of Christians and other minorities in Muslim countries, he now calls himself a “cautious pessimist.” For his explanation, go to this Zenit Rome Notes feature by Edward Pentin. It’s especially noteworthy that “lapsed Catholics” (i.e., the vast majority of Catholics in the West) are considered ripe for conversions by Islamists; the same can indeed be said of “lapsed liberals,” as I will explain. (more…)
On The American Spectator, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg observes that, “as evidence for the European social model’s severe dysfunctionality continues to mount before our eyes, the American left is acutely aware how much it discredits its decades-old effort to take America down the same economic path.” Against this evidence, some liberals are pinning the blame on passing fiscal and currency imbalances. No, Gregg says, there’s “something even more fundamental” behind the meltdown of the post-war West European social model. (Thanks to RealClearWorld for linking).
… this reality is that the Social Democratic project is coming apart at the seams under the weight of the economic policies and priorities pursued by most Social Democrats (whatever their party-designation) — including the American variety.
From the beginning, post-war Social Democracy’s goal (to which much of Europe’s right also subscribes) was to use the state to realize as much economic security and equality as possible, without resorting to the outright collectivization pursued by the comrades in the East. In policy-terms, that meant extensive regulation, legal privileges for trade unions, “free” healthcare, subsidies and special breaks for politically-connected businesses, ever-growing social security programs, and legions of national and EU public sector workers to “manage” the regulatory-welfare state — all of which was presided over by an increasingly-inbred European political class (Europe’s real “1 percent”) with little-to-no experience of the private sector.
None of this was cost-free. It was financed by punishing taxation and, particularly in recent years, public and private debt. In terms of outcomes, it has produced some of the developed world’s worst long-term unemployment rates, steadily-declining productivity, and risk-averse private sectors.
Above all, it slowly strangled the living daylights out of economic freedom in much of Europe. Without Germany (which, incidentally, also engaged in welfare reform and considerable economic liberalization in the 2000s), it’s hard to avoid concluding that Social Democratic Europe would have imploded long ago.
Frank Schaeffer: Bachmann, Palin, Perry Use Religion Like Snake Oil Salesmen (2011)
Remaining Orthodox in a Secular World : A Sermon by Frank Schaeffer (2002)
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), has a story on FrontPageMag.com about Frank Schaeffer’s call for the Occupy Wall Street protesters to go after evangelical Christians. Schaeffer is the son of evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). Tooley:
A blogger for The Huffington Post, young Schaeffer is now faulting religious conservatives for facilitating Wall Street greed. He’s imploring the Wall Street Occupiers to “protest the root source of America’s tilt to the far unregulated corporate right.” For Schaeffer, the next logical step is to demonstrate “outside mega churches, Evangelical publishing houses, [and] religious organizations that lead the ‘moral’ crusades against women and gays and all the rest.”
The article, titled “Wall Street Occupiers Urged to Target Churches,” also describes Schaeffer attacking Roman Catholics as “likewise ‘fundamentalists’ who have ‘delegitimized the US Government and thus undercut its ability to tax, spend and regulate.’ So Catholic bishops, like evangelical mega churches, have also tricked their followers into voting against their ‘own class and self-interest.’” See the top video in this post for a sample of Schaeffer spleen.
In August, New York Times reporter Mark Oppenheimer interviewed Schaeffer about his new book Sex, Mom and God and said that that the author’s “break with conservatism, and with evangelicalism, came in the late 1980s.” But, as Oppenheimer described it in “Son of Evangelical Royalty Turns His Back, and Tells the Tale,” Schaeffer:
… had long been skeptical of many of his bedfellows. He found the television pastor Pat Robertson and some of his colleagues to be ‘idiots,’ he told me last week, when we met for coffee in western Massachusetts. Looking back, Mr. Schaeffer says that once he became disillusioned he ‘faked it the whole way.’
Schaeffer might be telling the truth, but remember he’s a self-confessed faker. One thing’s for sure — Oppenheimer didn’t do his homework.
The second, grainy video at the top of this post, shot in a Greek Orthodox church about six months after the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, shows Schaeffer in his post-evangelical, pre-HuffPo culture wars mode — more than a decade after his purported “break” from the right. You hear him warning those in the pews about the threat from “the Islamic horde that now pours toward our frontiers” and hear him berating Protestants and Catholics for their soft “feminized” Christianity that won’t stand up to secularism, hedonism and a whole catalog of evils that might have been formulated by, say, Pat Robertson. Schaeffer wants a Christianity that isn’t wishy-washy, therapeutic and “sentimental” but has a “my way or the highway” ethic — a lot like the U.S. Marine Corps. In fact, he has found the alternative to America’s flabby faith: the Orthodox Church.
A tireless book promoter (see also the first five minutes of this longer video), Schaeffer spent a good part of the 1990s and beyond attacking Western Christianity for its many failures and novelties over and against the “pure and clean and perfect” Orthodox Church, into which he was received as a convert. The launching pad for much of this vitriol was his 1995 book, Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religions, which combined Orthodox triumphalism and cold-hearted sectarian vituperation and took it to new heights.
My Greek Orthodox parish was instrumental in bringing Schaeffer to Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1995 for a speaking engagement at a local high school that drew more than 1,000 people. The crowd included many curious Protestants who wanted to hear the son of the famous evangelical theologian explain why he had left the fold and converted to Orthodoxy. While in town, Schaeffer was interviewed on Calvin Forum, a public affairs program on the Calvin College educational TV channel. Indeed, the Reformed minister who interviewed him later was received into the Orthodox Church. Listen to Kevin Allen of Ancient Faith Radio interview former moderator of Calvin Forum, Robert Meyering, about the role Schaeffer played in his journey East.
What is Orthodoxy? According to Schaeffer, “it is the church that has maintained the worship, the sacrament, the truth, in its only pure form that can be found in the world today.” Problem is, in his current incarnation as scourge of the Religious Right, Schaeffer doesn’t say much about the Orthodox Church and his many years of (faking it again?) traveling the country as a Neo-Byzantine circuit rider. You see no evidence on his personal web page of any of those rants against the Catholic and Protestant enemies of Orthodoxy, nor access to a digital version of his tabloid Christian Activist newspaper that was frequently the vehicle for these attacks.
In Dancing Alone, Schaeffer decried the “Protestant debacle [embodied in the ecumenical movement] which has resulted in the disintegration of Western civilization, the acceptance of abortion on demand, the ordination of women, homosexuals and lesbians, the apostasy and heresy inherent in ‘liberal’ Protestant theology.” This was years after he “broke” with the conservatives and Religious Right? Here’s the contents page for the book on Regina Orthodox Press, the publishing house Schaeffer founded and which continues to sell titles like From Baptist to Byzantium and The Virtue of War.
Schaeffer’s Orthodox history might be inconvenient to him today because based on the Church’s teachings — sanctity of life, sexuality, marriage, a hyper-patriarchal priesthood — it looks a lot like the dimwitted “Taliban” Christians and “fundamentalists” that Schaeffer spends so much time denouncing of late. Then again, you can hardly go around advertising the fact that you spent years proselytizing on behalf of traditional morality if, today, you want to maximize your page views on HuffPo and get MSNBC producers to call you back.
IRD covered a speech Schaeffer recently gave in which he cited the Orthodox tradition’s reverence for “holy mysteries” as grounds for rejecting “the frozen being of belief.” But the mysteries of the faith in Orthodox teaching (indeed, the Christian faith rests on profound mysteries) do not provide a basis for a faith that changes, as he puts it, “like the weather.” He should go back and re-read his history of the Ecumenical Councils if he thinks that “anything goes” is how the Church does theology.
Years ago, it was obvious to some Orthodox Christians that Schaeffer had anger management issues. In a 1995 review of Dancing Alone, the scholar and essayist Vigen Gurioan said the book “oozes with the same moralism, instrumentalism and pragmatism that have contributed to the secularization and loss of catholic Christian consciousness that he condemns.”
Schaeffer, Guroian wrote, is at heart an individualist who has taken it upon himself to single handedly interpret the Truth and right all wrongs:
Schaeffer seems to have become Orthodox because the rest of America has gone wrong, and Orthodoxy is the best religious remedy for cultural crisis and moral malaise. At work here is not the catholic mind of the church but the romantic self that takes upon itself the task of reconstructing and arbitrating theological truth. Schaeffer intones “Holy Tradition” repeatedly when he passes judgment on the falsehood in others and claims truth for his own statements (“Holy Tradition says…”). But at center stage as arbiter and mediator of this so-called Holy Tradition is the “I.”
Schaeffer is still arbitrating the truth, but now from the left. Fair enough. That’s his choice. Although, inciting mobs to attack churches and publishing houses does sound a tad intolerant.
But the New York Times claim that the years of “faking it” among Christian traditionalists ended in the late 1980s, doesn’t hold water. Actually, his right wing, sectarian hate speech phase extended deep into the 1990s and 2000s, albeit masquerading in the rich brocades of Orthodox triumphalism. You wonder: Because Frank Schaeffer is such a good faker, could he still be faking it today? Is he a double agent in the culture wars, secretly going among the liberals at HuffPo and MSNBC until the time is ripe to once again expose the evildoers with new books and fresh tirades? We’ll have to stay tuned.
Gas prices are not the only thing on the rise. As of yesterday, corn is at its highest level in three years at $7.60 a bushel and prices are not predicated to go down anytime soon. The United States government anticipates a shortage despite farmers’ intent to plant 5 percent more acreage of corn this year, a shortage is still predicted.
Reuters also indicates that rising corn prices will continue:
U.S. corn prices will keep rising to new highs over the coming months, a new Reuters poll has found, as demand from ranchers and ethanol makers proves better able to withstand record costs than many thought.
The forecasts will compound inflation concerns as higher feed costs filter through to beef and chicken prices. Analysts also warned that anything less than perfect growing weather for the spring crop could push prices even higher as traders fear tight conditions will extend well into next year.
As the article later states, the chances of having a perfect growing season with no weather related problems are very slim.
Reuters also asserts that food prices rose by 14 percent over the past three months which can be attributed to the rising use of ethanol and the ranchers demand for feed for livestock: “The rally has sharpened the focus on two imponderables: the price point at which livestock ranchers or ethanol makers will begin to cut back use, relieving demand pressures; so far, traders say there’s little evidence of this happening yet.”
Perhaps the United States should learn from China’s mistake. An article in the New York Times describes how the biofuel sector does affect the food supply and price, and how China’s ethanol use resulted in higher food prices:
It can be tricky predicting how new demand from the biofuel sector will affect the supply and price of food. Sometimes, as with corn or cassava, direct competition between purchasers drives up the prices of biofuel ingredients. In other instances, shortages and price inflation occur because farmers who formerly grew crops like vegetables for consumption plant different crops that can be used for fuel.
China learned this the hard way nearly a decade ago when it set out to make bioethanol from corn, only to discover that the plan caused alarming shortages and a rise in food prices. In 2007 the government banned the use of grains to make biofuel.
However, the article later explains that China is now using cassava, instead of corn. China may have not entirely learned their lesson as cassava is still a food crop used predominately in Africa and also in China during food shortages.
The article by the New York Times adequately closes with a quote from Olivier Dubois, a bioenergy expert at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization that gets at the root of the food and fuel argument: “We have to move away from the thinking that producing an energy crop doesn’t compete with food,” he said. “It almost inevitably does.”
Previous blog posts on ethanol, rising food prices, and the moral issues of the two can be found here, here, here, and here.