Posts tagged with: Public Policy

There’s a long-running debate among public policy commentators concerning the prudence of pursuing an all-or-nothing agenda or moving incrementally toward a particular goal.

How much accommodation is wise if that accommodation does make movement, however small, towards an ideal state of affairs, and yet also reinforces a system that is structurally opposed to the ultimate realization of that same ideal? When is it politically prudent to let the perfect potentially be the enemy of the good?

These questions in the context of all sorts of policy issues, but some examples include the libertarian concern to move toward a minimal or non-existent state, the pro-life concern to make abortion non-existent, and the gay “marriage” concern to legitimize and legalize same-sex partnerships.

The past week has seen a significant victory in this third arena in the state of California. When the state supreme court validated the practice of legal recognition of same-sex “marriage,” it cited the long history of the state government recognizing similar rights, privileges, and responsibilities for same-sex couples. That is, the incrementalist same-sex marriage approach, which sought sanction for same-sex adoption, same-sex partner health benefits, and so on, paved the way for the courts to recognize same-sex “marriage” as the last in a discernible line of logical public policy progression.

Citing a long list of moves by the state legislature to “equalize” treatment of same-sex couples (PDF of decision here, summary here), the majority concluded that “the current California statutory provisions generally afford same-sex couples the opportunity to enter into a domestic partnership and thereby obtain virtually all of the benefits and responsibilities afforded by California law to married opposite-sex couples.”

The perfectionist argument has been often based on a sort of Zeno’s paradox for public policy: accommodation or incrementalism may improve the state of affairs, but it likewise removes the possibility of achieving total victory. At least in the case of California and same-sex partnerships, that paradox seems to have been resolved in favor of the incrementalist approach.

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.”

A new initiative pioneered by Sojourners/Call to Renewal is called “Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” Included in the platform are “calls for bills that would push for border enforcement while improving guest worker programs and offering chances for illegal immigrants to obtain legal status,” according to the NYT.

The NYT piece points out the potential for this to be a unifying issue for evangelicals, even though few if any prominent politically conservative evangelicals are overtly associated with Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. “The concerns of the coalition mirror those of many evangelical leaders who have often staked out conservative positions on other social issues or who have avoided politics entirely,” writes Neela Banerjee as she points to the cases of Dr. Richard Land of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Rev. Joel Osteen.

The signatories to the group’s open letter include the executive director of my denomination, Rev. Jerry Dykstra of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Some of the language in the letter is a bit mealy-mouthed, as might be expected, but I think the statement does capture the spirit of some of the most relevant scriptural principles.

Perhaps the section that some conservatives will find most problematic is the fourth principle: “We believe in the rule of law, but we also believe that we are to oppose unjust laws and systems that harm and oppress people made in God’s image, especially the vulnerable (Isaiah 10:1-4, Jeremiah 7:1-7, Acts 5:29, Romans 13:1-7).”

Many argue that the rule of law regarding illegal immigration needs to be reinforced and respected first, before any of the proposed guest worker or amnesty programs can be effective, no ifs, ands, or buts. And it might also be debatable precisely how a shared “set of common moral and theological principles” ought to be translated into public policy. This raises the question of what is the intent or purpose of law.

The letter says that immigration reform must be “fair and compassionate.” Is the end of the law justice? Love? Mercy? Peace? All of the above? I’ve been trained to understand the normative principle for social ethics, and the behavior of supra-personal entities or institutions, to be justice, as distinguished from (although not opposed to) love. It seems to me that Christians working out of a shared and common sense of obligation to love our neighbors can have legitimate and valid disagreements over precisely these sorts of questions.

With all that said, I think the letter gets it mostly right, at least on this point:

“The current U.S. immigration system is broken and now is the time for a fair and compassionate solution. We think it is entirely possible to protect our borders while establishing a viable, humane, and realistic immigration system, one that is consistent with our American values and increases national security while protecting the livelihood of Americans.”

Whoever wrote this deserves an award for managing to keep all of the various threads together. It’s almost a perfect storm of public policy ineptitude:

Just in case you lost track of the bouncing ball, here it is: Virginia has finally put the crisis-ignoring haters of truth in their place by passing a roads package to encourage the use of cars that are destroying the planet, so people can reach their sprawling subdivisions that Virginia is trying to keep in check with tax-subsidized conservation easements that will grow less popular as corn grows more expensive thanks to ethanol mandates from a federal government that is also mandating a cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay whose pollution will be made worse by corn farming.

I’m almost positive that there’s a really powerful moral to this story having to do with good governmental intentions going awry or something, but I’m laughing too hard to tease it out and I really need to get to bed, so go ahead and figure it out for yourselves.

HT: Planet Gore

With all this talk of health care reform this year, I couldn’t help but do some digging into the real aspects of the proposals. Ranging from the completely disruptive universal medical care plan from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the socialist-like plan from Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in the 110th congress, health care is big on the agenda for 2007. I am afraid that if the policies proposed by Schwarzenegger and Kennedy are passed, future generations will witness a detrimental effect on our economy. Kennedy’s home state of Massachusetts, being the first state to provide universal health care to its citizens, has already seen negative aspects in regards to business and job creation.

These arguments for universal health care come disguised in many forms, but all contribute negatively to the economy. The idea of making health care affordable and available to citizens is an excellent idea, however, Governor Schwarzenegger’s and Senator Kennedy’s ideas are the wrong way to go.

Forcing employers to provide health care and penalizing them for not providing coverage is not the right direction to head.

The state of Massachusetts employs a combination of subsidies and penalties to make insurance more affordable and to force people to buy it. The law requires employers with 11 or more full-time employees to offer health coverage or be subject to a $295 fee for each employee, as well as face being billed for services their uninsured employees get.

Because of this policy, employees are going to lose other benefits and suffer pay cuts, or even be fired. The cost of medical insurance is extremely high. The real solution rests in not forcing employers to provide coverage, but to make insurance more affordable.

The answer lies in eliminating all of the fraudulent law suits filed every day by money-hungry lawyers who are completely destroying the medical system. As lawyers sue doctors, malpractice insurance premiums increase. The number of personal injury litigations has steadily increased at a rate of 12% since 1975.

Jury Verdict Research, a database of plaintiff and defense verdicts, says awards in medical liability cases increased 43 percent in 1999, from $700,000 to $1,000,000. Jury awards in medical malpractice claims jumped 43 percent in one year—from $700,000 in 1999 to $1 million in 2000. Juries are compensating plaintiffs more generously than in the past. From 1994 to 2000, Jury Verdict Research found that more than half of medical malpractice jury awards were for $500,000 or more.

Seeing the direct correlation between health care cost and the cost of medical malpractice insurance for doctors (driven up by law suits), the root of the problem is obvious. This must be attacked before anything else. If Senator Kennedy and Governor Schwarzenegger want to see real progress, their plans must be disregarded and tort abuse must be solved first. There are various other aspects to their plans that are also misinformed and misdirected, but I’ll save that for another time.

In my previous article, Part One, I showed how a conservative political and social movement has evolved over the past fifty years in America and how the evangelical church began to get involved in this movement. This movement led to what has been commonly called the “Christian Right.” This abused, and misused word, is now used to disparage almost everything conservatives attempt to do in the larger culture. The result of this political debate over the past thirty years has been an increased partisanship in America that threatens to derail the church both missionally and culturally. As a result we seem to have reduced the public witness of the church to support for the Republican Party, or at least to a set of a few talking point issues, in some cases. It is time to take a new look at all this and ask, “How do we engage the public square in a more effective way?”

(Continue reading the rest of the article at the ACT 3 website…)

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."

The role of evangelicals in the public square has been a major development in American life over the past twenty-five or thirty years. A recent spate of popular books has looked at this phenomenon very critically. The number of books from the political and religious left, arguing against the rise of the newer evangelical right, makes for a full shelf of books by now. Most of these popular and poorly written books sound like dire warnings about a coming religious takeover of the country. (Do not fear, blue state America is still pretty strong and this feared religious change is about as likely as a snow storm in Chicago on July 4th!)

The actual history behind all of this is really much more interesting than the fears. Historically, fundamentalism led conservative churches in America, since the 1920s, to pull away from public life in general, especially from politics. While mainline liberalism embraced a “social gospel,” evangelicals gave up on social and public involvement almost entirely. (The late evangelical scholar Carl F. H. Henry called upon evangelicals to re-enter the public sphere, writing several important books to that effect, more than fifty years ago, but few listened seriously to his intelligent plea until the popular revolts of 1980s gained traction.) In addition to this tendency to react to liberalism social gospel emphasis, evangelicals also developed escapist and over-realized millennial theories that fed a basic social passivity about the culture. This emphasis said, in effect, “Christ is coming soon so our only role in culture is to rescue as many souls as possible before he comes.” Many liberal Christians continued to engage the political process, even embracing a politics of personal destruction by the 1960s. But evangelicals, at least in my early years, saw politics as “dirty business” and not worth their time as serious Christ-centered Christians.

(Continue reading the rest of the article at the ACT 3 website…)

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."