Acton On The AirThis afternoon, Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico joined host Paul Edwards on The Paul Edwards Program (broadcasting live from the Acton Institute here in Grand Rapids today, by the way) to discuss some of the hot issues in the world of politics and economics, including the efforts of governors in Wisconsin and Michigan to address the fiscal issues faced by their states, and also giving a response to Jim Wallis’ question of what would Jesus cut? Listen via the audio player below:

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Last week President Obama gave an address outlining his new energy policy. In light of the tragic events in Japan, the speech was much anticipated especially considering the president’s prior commitment to nuclear energy.

As expected President Obama continued advocating for a greener energy policy while continuing to push for the country’s independence from oil. However, the President’s speech, an article by Reuters points out, was “short on details on how to curb U.S. energy demand.”

Furthermore, the President’s call for a path towards greener energy and energy independence will not be easy. The New York Times appropriately states, “The path to that independence — or at least an end to dependence on the Mideast — could well be dirty, expensive and politically explosive.”

President Obama continues to voice his support for alternative fuels and green energy. He argued for energy from wind, solar, natural gas, biofuels, natural gas, and nuclear. However, as I have argued in the past, these alternative fuels have costly subsidies, unintended consequences, are not cost effective, and have proven to be largely inefficient (I address the unintended consequences of ethanol here, here, and here and the unintended consequences with wind turbines here).

The president is calling for more government regulation. He gave a glimpse of a new energy standard he is going to pursue this summer, “This summer, we’re going to propose the first-ever fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks. And this fall, we’ll announce the next round of fuel standards for cars that build on what we’ve already done” he said. In an economy that is looking to rebound from a recession, businesses do not need another costly government mandate forcing them to change their transportation fleet. Instead, the President should rely on the market. Businesses will upgrade their transportation fleet naturally through the market when it is efficient and more cost effective for them to utilize heavy-duty trucks that are more fuel efficient.

The president also stated that we need to look to other countries, such as Brazil, for oil. However, an article published by Real Clear Markets is very critical of the President’s pursuit of Brazilian oil:

Now, with a seven-year offshore drilling ban in effect off of both coasts, on Alaska’s continental shelf and in much of the Gulf of Mexico – and a de facto moratorium covering the rest – Obama tells the Brazilians:

“We want to help you with the technology and support to develop these oil reserves safely. And when you’re ready to start selling, we want to be one of your best customers.”

Obama wants to develop Brazilian offshore oil to help the Brazilian economy create jobs for Brazilian workers while Americans are left unemployed in the face of skyrocketing energy prices by an administration that despises fossil fuels as a threat to the environment and wants to increase our dependency on foreign oil.

Furthermore President Obama’s talk of expediting drilling permits is not wholly accurate. The Obama Administration has not been friendly to offshore domestic drilling since the BP disaster last year. As the above quoted article from Real Clear Markets explains, there has been a seven-year offshore drilling ban on Alaska’s continental shelf and in much of the Gulf of Mexico. That has not changed under the Obama Administration. The Heritage Foundation pointed out in February:

Putting aside calls from some who want to increase domestic exploration to areas in Alaska and elsewhere, President Obama has completely shut down the existing oil drilling infrastructure in the U.S. At least 103 permits are awaiting review by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. The federal government has not approved a single new exploratory drilling plan in the Gulf of Mexico since Obama “lifted” his deepwater drilling moratorium in October 2010. Obama also reversed an earlier decision by his administration to open access to coastal waters for exploration, instead placing a seven-year ban on drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts and Eastern Gulf of Mexico as part of the government’s 2012-2017 Outer Continental Shelf Program.

As expected the president’s energy speech is not receiving much praise from the oil industry. Obama claimed that the oil industry is sitting on leases instead of using these for oil production. Ken Cohen, Exxon Mobile Corp.’s vice president of public and government affairs addressed the President’s claims and reflected on his speech in a Wall Street Journal article:

Said Mr. Cohen: “90% of the words sound relatively right in line with what you’d hear us say,” in terms of enhanced use of natural gas, increasing energy efficiency, more research and development and more domestic production. But the speech didn’t address policies that Mr. Cohen said are hampering oil development, such as opening areas that are off limits to the industry, and insisted on uneconomic mandates for renewable fuel. Moreover, the mention that oil companies are hoarding unexploited leases is off the mark, he said.

“The notion that there’s some economic incentive to sit on a lease is wrong,” Mr. Cohen said, particularly when oil prices are above $100 a barrel.

Despite the recent tragic events of Japan’s nuclear power disaster, it was relieving to see the president not call a halt to nuclear energy. While it will most likely take time for nuclear energy to rebound from the catastrophic events, the president looked at the situation pragmatically by continuing to voice support for nuclear energy while requesting a Nuclear Regulator Commission safety review to make sure all existing nuclear energy facilities are safe.

Despite the criticism, it is still important to keep in mind that we are all stewards of the Earth and need to take care of the planet God has given us. We do not get a replacement and we must see that future generations have a planet they can live in without problems created by our generation. The President’s call to not waste energy should be applauded, and advice we should all heed. However, as the United States continues to define its energy policy it is also equally important to keep in mind we are called to not just be environmental stewards, but also financial stewards. Our energy policy should be for the well-being of the planet but also economically feasible without being burdened with costly subsidies and unintended consequence.

Full text from President Obama’s speech can be found here.

The American Enterprise Institute also provides and insightful critique on the President’s speech which can be found here.

Blog author: hunter.baker
Sunday, April 3, 2011
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While visiting my grandmother’s home for her 95th birthday a little evening television surfing brought us to House Hunters International. We observed with fascination as a couple living in New Orleans worked toward their move to the French countryside.

The husband was a professional trumpeter apparently making money on the side as a carpenter. The wife was identified as a dancer of some sort. While we heard the husband pop out a few bars of When the Saints Come Marchin’ In on a couple of occasions, the wife did not provide any sort of evidence of her spinning and twirling chops. They had a young son and seemed to have a friendly community of pals in the Big Easy.

During the episode, we discovered that the wife was French and that was part of the motivation for making the move to France, but the big draw, enthusiastically embraced by the husband, was that “Everything is free there!” He went on to mention health care as an example.

The first thing that comes to mind is that this young fellow needs an immediate short course in Robert Heinlein’s TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch). Someone is paying, my friend. Now, maybe it’s a rich guy. I don’t know. Does the rich guy owe this couple free healthcare? Or then again, maybe they will pay for it after all. Maybe they’ll pay in taxes. Maybe they’ll pay in other ways than money. Maybe they’ll pay with things like time and DMV-style inconvenience.

The second thing that occurs to me is that policymakers in France can’t be very happy with developments like this. A young couple with no certain way to make a living is moving to their country to take advantage of “free” things like healthcare. THAT’S GREAT NEWS!

The word “sustainability” applies to things other than the environment. :-)

In today’s Grand Rapids Press I respond to a previous piece by religion columnist Charley Honey, “Religious voices have a place in the state’s budget cut discussions.”

I Hope I Die Before I Get OldI argue in “Christ’s kingdom is bigger than the federal government” that there is a basic confusion from many religious voices in the budget debate about the primary role of the federal government, and make the point that Abraham Kuyper’s “famous quotation attributes the claims of lordship over ‘every square inch’ of the world to Christ, not to the government. To miss this critical distinction is to undermine the very basis of Kuyper’s comprehensive and variegated social thought. For Kuyper, there are important differences among the responsibilities of the government, the church, the family, schools and a host of other social realities.”

I also refer to last month’s conversation with Gideon Strauss of the Center for Public Justice on “A Call for Intergenerational Justice” (audio here). Be sure to check out the event later this month where I’ll be a panelist to discuss these issues along with Strauss, Jennifer Marshall, Ron Sider, Jonathan Merritt, and Ryan Streeter, “I Hope I Die Before I Get Old,” hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (the event will be streamed online for those fortunate enough not to live in or near the Beltway).

Richard Reinsch II has an excellent condensed summary of his book Whittaker Chambers: The Spirit of a Counterrevolutionary over at the Heritage Foundation. I really cannot praise Reinsch’s account enough. It is perhaps the best book I read in 2010.

I reviewed the book on the PowerBlog and in Religion & Liberty. We also featured Whittaker Chambers as the “In The Liberal Tradition” figure in the last issue of Religion & Liberty. In the write up, we included the citation to the 1984 Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously awarded to Chambers by President Ronald Reagan. The citation reads:

At a critical moment in our Nation’s history, Whittaker Chambers stood alone against the brooding terrors of our age. Consummate intellectual, writer of moving majestic prose, and witness to the truth, he became the focus of a momentous controversy in American history that symbolized our century’s epic struggle between freedom and totalitarianism, a controversy in which the solitary figure of Whittaker Chambers personified the mystery of human redemption in the face of evil and suffering. As long as humanity speaks of virtue and dreams of freedom, the life and writings of Whittaker Chambers will ennoble and inspire. The words of Arthur Koestler are his epitaph: ‘The witness is gone; the testimony will stand.’

I encourage you to read Reinch’s summary. It is a fitting and informative tribute to one of the great minds of the 20th century.

To provide water for people, communities have usually turned to  two different options: public or private utilities. However, if Bolivian President Evo Morales, leader of the Movement Towards Socialism Party, gets his way, the United Nations will pass a resolution blocking the sale of public water utilities to private companies. If adopted, this resolution will cause problems for many nations, especially the undeveloped countries receiving support from the U.N. that will be forced to abide by one option—public supply of water—instead of being permitted to consider privatization which may be more efficient and cost effective.  The makes the global water crisis much worse.

It will not help any country to limit its options when searching for the most efficient and cost effective solutions for providing a clean, sanitary, and abundant source of water.

Theories and examples in support and against both private and public water utility systems are numerous. A study conducted by the University of Michigan showed that water prices, in general, are too low. The study explains that direct and indirect subsidies, in both developed and undeveloped countries, have caused low prices, resulting in water waste. Furthermore, the study argues that if the subsidies are removed, the price of water will increase and provide an incentive for those utilizing water to not waste it. This, in turn,  will result in the investments that are needed to develop more efficient technologies. If subsidies are removed, then a lighter burden is placed on public funds.

Lending support to the findings of the University of Michigan study, a survey conducted in 2004 by Global Water Intelligence found that the under-pricing of water is widespread. The study analyzed the prices charged by water utilities in 132 major cities worldwide and found that 39 percent of water utilities had average tariffs that are set too low to cover basic operation and maintenance costs. Some 30 percent had tariffs that are set below the level required to make any contribution toward the recovery of capital costs.

Changing the price system may be a solution. Some argue for a metering that charges water users based on consumption. However, while subsidies are proving to be largely inefficient the question must be asked: Can those in undeveloped countries, who are already living in a state of grave poverty, afford increased prices on water?

The International Development Association and the World Bank are quick to point out the success of private water utilities. Examples can be found in Rwanda and Mozambique where the private sector helped provide, improve, and/or expand the water supply. The U.N. has acknowledged five reasons to pursue private sector partnerships.

A private sector supply of water can be more efficient and cost effective. According to the World Bank, it is estimated that in the United States each dollar of public funds raised for utilities has an opportunity cost of $1.30 of private consumption, and the average opportunity cost for each dollar of tax revenue raised is $1.17 for 38 African countries.

Critics of the privatization of water argue that while it is more efficient and cheaper, the private systems fall short of social equity in supplying water and charge higher prices. While there have been unsuccessful stories of privatization, the aforementioned examples in Rwanda and Mozambique are a just a few of the many success stories, and, as The Economist notes, when private utilities charge higher prices, that often corresponds to higher rehabilitation investments, better water quality, and better service.

Privatization will also promote the decentralization of  government, and in the case of many developing nations, remove the control of water out of the hands of corrupt bureaucrats. A large overarching centralized government is not needed. Instead, the principle of subsidiarity should be applied.

Private entities are able to supply an efficient and cost effective supply of water. Privatization is an effective solution, and its ability to meet the needs of consumers has improved. As a result, water supply can follow the principle of subsidiarity by utilizing other alternatives to supply water instead of through a system brought forth by a centralized government.

It is important to note that just as public utilities are open to corruption, inefficiencies, and poor management, so is privatization. Privatization can fall subject to a corrupt government. The example of Detroit is instructive here. For example, when a government decides to contract a private utility to supply water, instead of having an open bidding process, the government accepts no outside bids and picks a company that is owed a political favor. If privatization is to succeed government must take the appropriate actions to allow it to succeed and also nurture an environment that is open to decentralization, promoting business without unnecessary government interference.

Bill Whittle at Declaration Entertainment uses a recent Iowahawk post, Feed Your Family on $10 Billion a Day, to figure out how an “Eat the Rich” economics program would work as a solution to our fiscal ills.

In today’s Acton Commentary, “Debt and the Birth Dearth,” I examine the interrelationship between demographics, economics, and morality, especially within the context of America’s current public debt crisis.

I conclude by pointing to the spiritual nature of our “debts”:

Jesus taught Christians to pray, “Forgive us our debts.” If we do not renew and reform our culture along the lines suggested here, a renewal that must be led by Christians acting as agents of transformative grace, the debts for which we must pray forgiveness will be far weightier than those incurred by the federal government.

In a primary sense, of course, all of our debts, sins, and transgressions are more than we can afford to make recompense for. This is why the atoning work of Jesus Christ, in his life, death, and resurrection, is of fundamental importance.

But this reality doesn’t remove our responsibility to respond to God’s saving grace in thankfulness and in “fear and trembling.” Instead Christ’s work makes our even meager attempts at faithfulness possible and meaningful.

The Heidelberg Catechism describes this daily conversion of the Christian, the turning away from sin and toward Christ, in terms of death and life, mortification and vivification. This “mortification of the old man” is a dying-to-self, “a sincere sorrow of heart, that we have provoked God by our sins; and more and more to hate and flee from them.” Vivification, by contrast, is “a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.”

A critical part of this “joy of heart in God, through Christ,” must manifest itself in the celebration of God’s gift of life itself. This includes promoting faithful procreation and parenting, and as Russell Moore has argued so well, promoting a culture of adoption.

Luther famously described parenthood as a sacred calling.

Preaching on “The Estate of Marriage” in 1522, Luther said:

Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason (which the pagans followed in trying to be most clever), takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, “Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labor at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful, carefree life; I will become a priest or a nun and compel my children to do likewise.”

What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, “O God, because I am certain that thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers, or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labor, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in thy sight.”

A wife too should regard her duties in the same light, as she suckles the child, rocks and bathes it, and cares for it in other ways; and as she busies herself with other duties and renders help and obedience to her husband. These are truly golden and noble works. This is also how to comfort and encourage a woman in the pangs of childbirth, not by repeating St. Margaret legends and other silly old wives’ tales but by speaking thus, “Dear Grete, remember that you are a woman, and that this work of God in you is pleasing to him. Trust joyfully in his will, and let him have his way with you. Work with all your might to bring forth the child. Should it mean your death, then depart happily, for you will die in a noble deed and in subservience to God. If you were not a woman you should now wish to be one for the sake of this very work alone, that you might thus gloriously suffer and even die in the performance of God’s work and will. For here you have the word of God, who so created you and implanted within you this extremity.” Tell me, is not this indeed (as Solomon says [Prov. 18:22]) “to obtain favor from the Lord,” even in the midst of such extremity?

Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool—though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith—my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling—not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all his creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools.

[Martin Luther, vol. 45, Luther’s Works, Vol. 45: The Christian in Society II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works, 39-41 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999).]

Thus Christians, in celebrating life, marriage, family, and children, must risk being worldly derision and ridicule, relying on heavenly wisdom rather than the devil’s foolishness.

Thrift almost seems like a lost virtue among much of our governing class. It is also true of the general population. We don’t have to just look at our staggering public debt, but consumer credit card debt tells the story too. In a past post on the virtue of thrift, Jordan Ballor reminds us that “thrift is one of the things that separates civilized capitalism from savage consumerism.”

When I worked for U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor in Mississippi, we had a lot of second-hand office equipment. The boss was always serious about saving tax dollars. I know there are still representatives out there that take thrift seriously. However, we should also let the illustration provided by Amity Shlaes on Calvin Coolidge over at National Review sink in, especially given some of the lavish entertainment we hear about in Washington:

For Coolidge, no savings was too small to overlook. Recently William Jenney, the archivist for the state of Vermont at the Coolidge homestead, pulled out for me an old looseleaf notebook. It contained the White House housekeeper’s journal of outlays for White House entertainment. The White House, even then, received tens of thousands of visitors a year; the Coolidges hosted Col. Charles Lindbergh and Ignacy Padereweski, the pianist and politician. There were many days when Coolidge shook 2,000 hands. But he also kept an eye on the budget. For 1926, the housekeeper itemized each purchase for each event; the total was $11,667.10. For 1927 she managed to get the amount down to $9,116.39. The president reviewed this and wrote her a note: “To Miss Riley, very fine improvement.”

Shlaes, who has a forthcoming book on Calvin Coolidge coming out soon, was interviewed in Religion & Liberty’s 2009 fall issue. She discusses her book The Forgotten Man and the Great Depression in the interview.

I have also touched on Coolidge on the PowerBlog. In a post titled “Keep Cool with Coolidge,” I linked to a great recording on Coolidge talking about the cost of government spending. Have a listen:

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Writing in the Wall Street Journal today, William McGurn looks at some of the root causes of the catastrophic decline of the city of Detroit. Census information released last week showed the city — once the fifth largest in America and a place which had such awe-inspiring industrial might that President Roosevelt labeled it the Arsenal of Democracy — had lost more than 25 percent of its population in the last decade. Detroit’s population fell to 713,777 in 2010, the lowest since 1910 (two years after Henry Ford’s Model T was introduced). The city, vasts stretches of which are depopulated, is now smaller than Austin, Tex., Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla.

What happened to Detroit?

As McGurn points out, much of Detroit’s problems are of its own making. There was no tsunami or hurricane to blame. He quotes Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, on the cultural factors that have contributed to the city’s demise:

Most Americans did not need to be told that Detroit is in a bad way, and has been for some time. Americans know all about white flight, greedy unions and arrogant auto executives. The recent census numbers, however, put an exclamation mark on a cold fact: A once-great American city today repels people of talent and ambition.

“Detroit is a classic example of how a culture that was legendary for enterprise and innovation was slowly eroded by toxic politicization from the 1960s on,” says the Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Michigan-based Acton Institute. “It’s been class warfare on steroids, and the inevitable result is that so many Detroiters who had the means—black and white—have fled the city.”

Another way of putting it is this: Unlike New Orleans and Japan, the ruin we see in Detroit is entirely man-made.

Read “A Requiem for Detroit” in the Wall Street Journal.