Acton Institute Senior Editor Joe Carter joined host Darryl Wood’s Run to Win show on WLQV in Detroit this afternoon to discuss the issue of income inequality from a Christian perspective. The interview keyed off of Carter’s article, What Every Christian Should Know About Income Inequality. You can listen to the entire interview using the audio player below.
Admittedly, predicting that the state of our union will be described as “strong” is about as safe a bet as you can make when it comes to politics. Over the last hundred years presidents have described the State of the Union (SOTU) in various ways — Good (Truman), Sound (Carter), Not Good (Ford). But it was Ronald Reagan who started the “strong” trend in 1983 by referring to the SOTU as “Strong, but the economy is troubled.” Since 1983, “strong” has been used to refer to the SOTU in 26 addresses.
Here is how the state of the Union has been described over the past hundred years:
There is always much to discuss after a State of the Union address, and Tuesday’s speech is no different. Sam Gregg, Director of Research at the Acton Institute, shared his thoughts:
“The overall theme of the address is that government is there to do stuff for you,” he said. “He starts out making remarks about America being a country that values free enterprise and rewards individual initiative…and yet he offers proposals for government intervention after intervention after intervention,… and there’s not much there at all about freeing up the labor market or trying to do things like reducing America’s absurdly high level of corporate tax.”
Specifically, Gregg wanted to view the speech through a Catholic lens, using the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity:
Obama, he said, “basically seems to think the government, and specifically the federal government, should be intervening all over the place in the economy. He talks about the administration partnering with a certain number of communities throughout the U.S. You have to say, ‘Well, why does he think the federal government needs to be involved in these situations?’”
Obama said, for example, that his administration will “begin to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit [economically] towns in America to get these communities back on their feet.”
“Subsidiarity would suggest that surely one should be looking at other communities both in terms of local and state government,” said Gregg, “but also the actual communities themselves, if we’re serious about dealing with some of these problems.”
Sam Gregg is author of “Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture and How American Can Avoid a European Future”.
During Tuesday’s State of the Union, President Obama called for an increase in preschool education in order to prepare workers in the future:
…none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs.
And that has to start at the earliest possible age. You know, study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.
But today, fewer than three in ten 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. So, tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.
Setting aside the fact that our country has no money to expand such programs, let’s look at the idea of preschool education itself. Head Start, the government’s preschool program, was an outgrowth of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty”, and began in the 1960s. It exists in all 50 states and has served over 1 million children. We have, then, almost 40 years of data on the effectiveness of this type of education for three- and four-year olds.
It doesn’t work.
Over $160 billion dollars have been “invested” in Head Start, and the results are in:
…children who attended Head Start are essentially indistinguishable from a control group of students who didn’t.What’s so damning is that this study used the best possible method to review the program: It looked at a nationally representative sample of 5,000 children who were randomly assigned to either the Head Start (“treatment”) group or to the non-Head Start (“control”) group.
Andrew J. Coulson of the Cato Institute calls Head Start a “tragic waste of money”, and states there is no category – academics, social skills, emotional development, health – where children in Head Start did better than those who had not attended a non-Head Start program.
Even the government knows this is true. The Department of Health and Human Services has admitted “by third grade, the $8 billion Head Start program had little to no impact on cognitive, social-emotional, health, or parenting practices of participants. On a few measures, access to Head Start had harmful effects on children.”
Increasing government preschool programs is sentimental mythology: we have to do something for the children, even if it doesn’t work. It makes us feel better. It’s a bad idea, Mr. President. It was a bad idea 40 years ago, and it’s a bad idea now. We don’t dare waste one more penny in our debt-laden nation, and we certainly can’t afford to continue to use our kids as guinea pigs in an experiment that fails them, and fails our nation.
It was William F. Buckley who said “conservatism takes into account reality.” Reality has become the giant political obstacle for conservatives when it comes to governing, campaigning, and political messaging. It seems too many Americans still love their freedoms but eschew many of the responsibilities that come with it. That’s the crisis we face, the lack of responsibility and our collective grasp on reality.
In last night’s State of the Union Address, President Obama predictably fatigued those looking for real cuts, a limiting of the federal government, and the courage to tackle the federal debt and spending crisis. The president set the agenda on the sequester issue by calling decreases in the rate of growth, “cuts.” It’s not even close to the reality we face as a nation when it comes to the need for real cuts to address our federal debt.
Obama even offered new government spending initiatives such as pre-kindergarten, climate change legislation, and more federal “jobs” programs. Obama called for tax reform too, embracing further tax increases for the productive sector and the savers and investors. It’s a far cry from the president’s promise to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term in office. Instead, it has increased by $6 trillion under his watch.
Our federal spending is increasing poverty and government dependence. It is making us poorer and crippling future economic opportunities for Americans. The president missed the grand opportunity to address the reality of the crisis we face. He intoned that, “deficit reduction alone is not a spending plan.” True enough, but increased government spending and the inability to deal with spending is the grand failure of Washington and both political parties.
In the GOP response, it may be that Marco Rubio struck a much too partisan tone and appeared just to be reacting out of opposition to the president. I thought Rand Paul, with his tea party response, struck the right chord and spoke the truth about the monumental crisis we face. He cut through the spending problem directly stating, “Every debate in Washington is about how much to increase spending – a little or a lot.” He directly addressed the deeper obligations of government within the constitution and should receive credit for laying out the problem, even if you don’t agree with how he wants to address it.
Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s Governor, made a powerful point too after the president’s remarks about the shifting of greed to the government sector. The larger point is that the private sector is dwindling in significance, and being swallowed by government growth and strangulation. Unfortunately, as a nation, right now, there is not enough collective courage and responsibility to deal with the reality in Washington.
On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg reflects on President Obama’s State of the Union address last night, and flags the “reality-denial” that is expressed by “a few token references to free enterprise and rewarding individual initiative (to reassure us we’re still living in America instead of just another declining European social democracy).” More:
Judging from the president’s remarks, you’d never guess we just had a negative quarter of economic growth; or that the unemployment rate just ticked up again; or that millions of Americans have simply given up looking for work; or that Obamacare is (as predicted) already driving up the health-care costs that the president claimed are falling (just ask those businesses busy shifting thousands of employees into part-time positions in order to cap their exploding health-care costs); or that . . . again, I fear I am belaboring the point.
What’s the plan from the White House?
… we hear the president tell us, yet again, that we need to pump more money into universities and colleges. Never mind the higher-education bubble, which is going to implode sooner than most people think. We’re also told that we need to develop high-speed rail. One wonders if anyone has asked people in the People’s Republic of California how that’s working out. Then there is the apparently endless promise of green energy, which, despite the billions of taxpayer dollars poured into it, hasn’t actually created that many jobs at all. In addition to all this, we are now informed we must raise the minimum wage. Never mind all the evidence underscoring just how much damage minimum-wage laws do to the job prospects of the poor and many young people, not to mention newly arrived immigrants who just want a chance to start working.
Read “Rhetoric versus Reality” by Samuel Gregg on NRO.
And pick up a copy of Gregg’s new book Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future here.
Thanks to RealClearPolicy for linking.
Over at National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg recaps President Obama’s State of the Union address:
There is always something surreal about a Chicago politician talking about “fairness” and “playing by the rules.” There is something even more bizarre about a president talking about the need to expand energy production after his administration has generally undermined significant progress in facilitating energy development for three years in the middle of a recession. And who would describe Detroit as “on the way back”? A stroll down the ghost town otherwise known as downtown Detroit — which is teetering on the edge of being put into administration — would suggest the opposite. It’s not often that I agree with very much said by the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd, but this State of the Union speech illustrated that the lady was dead right in describing the Obama presidency as a bubble within a bubble.
Read it all on NRO.
I was asked for my initial reaction to President Obama’s State of the Union speech, and the handsomely redesigned Think Christian posted them last night, “Jobs, Steve Jobs, and the State of the Union.”
As I point out, the president’s protectionist posturing is belied by the realities experienced by companies like Apple. The president is essentially telling companies: Ask not what you can do for your company, but what your company can do for America. My contention is that “in casting global trade in terms of a simple win/lose proposition, the president missed a wonderful opportunity to show that Americans need not be made better off at the expense of other countries.”
The president also provided the latest instance of the yearly bi-partisan political ritual, in which the commander-in-chief is transformed into the cheerleader-in-chief, praising the American dream to high heaven and extolling the virtues of the American work ethic. The state of our union is always strong, it seems. “Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you – America will always win,” said the president. He also claimed the priority of “the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.”
That the government’s attempts to underwrite this promise has played a large role in putting us in the dire fiscal straits we face today was a concern absent from the president’s speech. That the biggest threat to continued flourishing in this country is a spendthrift federal government continues to be ignored, while more and more promises about what government can and must do are made.
Anyone who would put foreigners to work is unpatriotic, it seems. Anyone who would point out the very real problems facing America are equally erroneous: “Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” says the president.
Mark Twain said that patriotism is “supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” And as Christians, we know that our ultimate purpose is not to promote our own individual (or national) interests at the expense of others. A government that uses trade and tax policies as a club to bring other nation’s to heel is little deserving of support.
Perhaps the best way we can support our country in this time of trial is to call our governmental leaders to account. As the president’s speech also made clear, we are entering the prime time of election season, and there’s no better way to hold politicians accountable than at the polls.
When it comes to energy policy, there is no perfect fuel. But in these debates, as elsewhere, the imaginary perfect fuel cannot become the enemy of the good.
And for the first time in recent memory, this means that nuclear energy, by all accounts a good alternative for the scale of demand we face, might be getting a seat at the table. Coal, which still provides more than half of the energy for the American grid, is cheap and plentiful, but environmentally and politically costly. And according to Popular Mechanics, it can only be “cleaned” up so much. That leaves a huge gap for other sources to fill.
As James B. Meigs writes,
Coal will never be clean. It is possible to make coal emissions cleaner. In fact, we’ve come a long way since the ’70s in finding ways to reduce sulfur–dioxide and nitrogen-oxide emissions, and more progress can be made. But the nut of the clean-coal sales pitch is that we can also bottle up the CO2 produced when coal is burned, most likely by burying it deep in the earth. That may be possible in theory, but it’s devilishly difficult in practice.
The rest of the piece goes on to argue how we’re really talking about “cleaner” coal, rather than “clean” coal. Remember that debate over whether it was appropriate to call sex with various forms of birth control “safe” or “safer”? We might well see a similar shift in language about coal from “clean” to “cleaner.”
But what about so-called “alternative” energy sources, like geothermal, wind, and solar? Well, as John Whitehead over at the Environmental Economics blog concludes, “…potential supplies of wind and solar don’t appear to be large enough to completely replace oil and coal in the foreseeable future. If that is the purpose, then no, alternative energy can not effectively replace fossil fuels.”
So for the foreseeable future what we’re looking at in terms of the sources of our energy, in the face of growing global demand, is a mélange; coal, oil, natural gas, and yes, wind and solar, all have their place. But so does nuclear, and that’s one of the positive takeaways from President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he commended “building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.”
The challenging for existing energy firms will be to adjust to providing the right sources in this mixture. One way to do this is to be cognizant of the alternatives and their relative costs and benefits. ExxonMobil’s “Energy Outlook” released at the end of last year predicted that the growth of some of the newer sources, like wind and solar, would grow faster than some of the conventional sources, like oil and coal.
This means that a focus on innovation and efficiency will move some surprising players to fill the demand for cleaner energy, and the vision of increasingly transient reliance on fossil fuels might indeed come to pass.
As I wrote in 2006, “The human stewardship of oil and other petroleum-based fuels entails a responsibility to use the economic opportunities they afford to find and integrate other renewable, sustainable, and cleaner sources of energy, especially represented by the promise of nuclear power, into our long-term supply.”
In last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama commented that “even though banks on Wall Street are lending again, they’re mostly lending to bigger companies. Financing remains difficult for small-business owners across the country, even though they’re making a profit.”
He then offered some of our tax dollars to help: “So tonight, I’m proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat.”
The irony is that our government helped create this problem in the first place, both Republicans and Democrats. By repeatedly bailing out big corporations, Washington signaled the markets that it will protect “too-big-to-fail” companies if they should falter. So is it any surprise that big companies are attracting the lion’s share of the available credit?
What else has the government done to help? Well, it’s gobbling up an obscene portion of the world’s available credit by borrowing unheard of amounts of money. And by holding interest rates artificially low, it’s preventing the price function from coordinating the supply and demand of credit.
With help like this from the federal government, it’s a wonder there’s any credit left over for small businesses.