A good back-and-forth at in character on health care reform between Karen Davenport and Heather R. Higgins. Question: Will the implementation of the health-care bill passed by Congress improve the character of our country?

Davenport says “yes”:

While we cede some rights, we also assume new responsibilities. First, we assume the responsibility to obtain and maintain coverage for ourselves, and acknowledge that we cannot wait to purchase health insurance until we are sick. We also take on greater responsibility for others, particularly by helping individuals and families purchase coverage if they cannot afford to do so on their own.

Higgins says “no”:

In contrast, the health bill is premised on the idea that people should expect to be taken care of. This law is more aligned with the sentiments of a European social democracy where hard work is devalued and income inequalities condemned. In the health bill, personal freedom and individual choice are replaced with bureaucratic dictates, one-size-fits-all parameters, and the removal of responsibility and consequence from individuals. Citizens are infantilized as wards of the state. But that’s only the beginning of the adverse consequence that this travesty will have on our national character.

PopSci follows up with the question I asked awhile back, “Why Not Just Dispose of Nuclear Waste in the Sun?”

The piece raises doubts about launch reliability: “It’s a bummer when a satellite ends up underwater, but it’s an entirely different story if that rocket is packing a few hundred pounds of uranium. And if the uranium caught fire, it could stay airborne and circulate for months, dusting the globe with radioactive ash. Still seem like a good idea?”

This is precisely why I raise the possibility of a modified space cannon to shoot the material that cannot be recycled into the sun.

Remember when Nancy Pelosi said that the House needed to pass the health care reform legislation so we could find out what was in it? Well, it turns out that she might have done Congress a big favor by slowing things down and allowing her House members to figure out what was in the bill before passing it. I mean, I’m only saying that because it seems that in the process of passing the bill Congress may have accidentally left itself without health care coverage. No biggie, though. I’m sure this sort of thing happens all the time in DC. From the New York Times:

In a new report, the Congressional Research Service says the law may have significant unintended consequences for the “personal health insurance coverage” of senators, representatives and their staff members.

For example, it says, the law may “remove members of Congress and Congressional staff” from their current coverage, in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, before any alternatives are available.

The confusion raises the inevitable question: If they did not know exactly what they were doing to themselves, did lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill fully grasp the details of how it would influence the lives of other Americans?

If even the Times is starting to ask that sort of question, perhaps there is hope for America after all.

Via Hot Air, where Allahpundit brings the requisite snark:

Turns out that fantastically long, mind-bogglingly complex bills which no one has actually read may create unintended consequences.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch, though.

Heads up to those in the Southern California area:

Distinguished scholar, author, and former Ambassador Michael Novak will give an April 15 lecture at Fuller Theological Seminary on “The Moral Foundation of Markets.”

Novak will argue for the need to re-establish an informed and well-reasoned understanding of both the value of markets for human well-being and the moral foundation necessary for their continued survival.

Among other achievements, Novak is the 1994 winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, an honor that Fr. Robert Sirico called “well-deserved” in this Acton Religion and Liberty article.

If you are not able to catch Novak’s Fuller lecture, he will speak two additional times on Friday, April 16. In the morning at Biola University’s chapel, and in the evening at La Cañada Presbyterian Church, Novak will revisit his seminal book, “Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life,” from the perspective of our current economic difficulties.

Lecture locations and additional background information are here. Novak’s appearances are sponsored by the Sierra Madre, Calif.-based Center for Faith and Enterprise.

Alex Chafuen

Alex Chafuen

Congratulations to Acton board member and Senior Fellow Alejandro A. Chafuen who received the Global Leadership Award at Wellington College in the UK on April 2. The award was co-sponsored by The World Congress of Families and The Bow Group.

Alex is president of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, and has been a great friend and advisor to Acton for many years. The work he and Atlas have done to support “intellectual entrepreneurs” worldwide — those who advance the vision of a society of free and responsible individuals — has been inestimably important.

About Alex:

Alejandro A. Chafuen has been president and CEO of Atlas Economic Research Foundation since 1991 and is president and founder of the Hispanic American Center of Economic Research. A graduate of Grove City College and the Argentine Catholic University, Buenos Aires, he also holds a Ph.D. in economics from International College, California. He is a frequent commentator on economics, security, and strategic threats in Latin America, as well as on the relationship between economics and ethics. As well as publishing articles in newspapers ranging from the Wall Street Journal to La Nacion, he is also the author of the book “Faith and Liberty”, which has been published in several languages and in different editions in Spain, Poland and Italy. He is one of the world’s leading commentators on the economic thought of Thomistic and Late-Scholastic thinkers. He is also a member of the advisory board of the Social Affairs Unit (U.K.) and since 1980, a member of the Mont Pèlerin Society.

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, April 9, 2010
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A reader sends on this fun video. Anyone know where can I get a bottle of this Dr. Utopia’s Ism elixir? Looks tasty. Is one sip enough?

Can you discern a nation’s spirit, even its economic genius, from the literature it produces? That’s long been a pastime of literary critics, including those who frequently see the “original sins” of Puritanism and capitalism in the stony heart of Americans.

Writing in Commentary Magazine, Fred Siegel looks at just this problem in a new appreciation of cultural critic and iconoclast Bernard DeVoto’s three-decade campaign to rescue American letters from the perception that European aesthetics were superior to the homegrown variety.

Bernard DeVoto at his desk (ca. 1954)

Bernard DeVoto at his desk (ca. 1954)

According to Siegel, DeVoto was the lone voice speaking out against the literary intelligentsia of the age. While it is true that DeVoto had his moments of clarity regarding literature, especially as it pertains to his insights that rescued Mark Twain’s work from a certain obscurity, Siegel nonetheless inflates DeVoto’s total contribution to cultural criticism.

Indeed, DeVoto was erudite and a prodigious writer. But, despite Siegel’s assertions, he wasn’t a particularly astute observer of the literary landscape. In fact, he was a bit of a cranky pants who wedged works he didn’t fully understand too quickly into an easy anti-American category. This strategy yielded diminishing returns for DeVoto’s reputation, which is probably the primary reason why his name is seldom if ever mentioned in the canon of literary criticism. Siegel’s rebranding attempt is not likely to help. DeVoto penned the monthly Easy Chair column for Harper’s from 1935 to 1955, won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, “Across the Wide Missouri,” and wrote “Mark Twain’s America.” Siegel notes that DeVoto’s “most important book,” however, was the 1944 volume, “The Literary Fallacy.” In it, Siegel asserts, DeVoto “illuminated the inner life of modern liberalism as no one had before or since.” (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
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This week, Acton’s research director Samuel Gregg appeared on EWTN’s The Abundant Life for an interview titled, “Socialism: Threat to Freedom.” In the course of an hour, he discusses the philosophical origins of socialism, its various manifestations, and the manner in which its modern expressions are slowly eroding our liberties in America and Western Europe. The interview, conducted by Johnnette Benkovic, may be found at The Abundant Life’s Web site.

An interesting column from Glenn Reynolds, AKA the Instapundit, at the Washington Examiner noting the failure of the regulators in Congress to anticipate the consequences of their health care takeover, in spite of much effort:

…both Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and Securities and Exchange Commission regulations require companies to account for these changes as soon as they learn about them. As the Atlantic’s Megan McArdle wrote:

“What AT&T, Caterpillar, et al did was appropriate. It’s earnings season, and they offered guidance about, um, their earnings. “So once Obamacare passed, massive corporate write-downs were inevitable.

They were also bad publicity for Obamacare, and they seem to have come as an unpleasant shock to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who immediately scheduled congressional hearings for April 21, demanding that the chief executive officers of AT&T, John Deere, and Caterpillar, among others, come and explain themselves.

Obamacare was supposed to provide unicorns and rainbows: How can it possibly be hurting companies and killing jobs? Surely there’s some sort of Republican conspiracy going on here!

More like a confederacy of dunces. Waxman and his colleagues in Congress can’t possibly understand the health care market well enough to fix it. But what’s more striking is that Waxman’s outraged reaction revealed that they don’t even understand their own area of responsibility – regulation — well enough to predict the effect of changes in legislation.

In drafting the Obamacare bill they tried to time things for maximum political advantage, only to be tripped up by the complexities of the regulatory environment they had already created. It’s like a second-order Knowledge Problem.

FA Hayek and his beloved 1978 Catalax

FA Hayek and his beloved 1978 Catalax

None of this comes as a surprise to those of us who understand that the health care market in the United States is too large and complex to be “managed” from Washington and should instead be made more free than what it has been in order to give individual health care consumers more options, thus placing downward pressure on prices and so forth – Hayekian Catallaxy in action. (I’ll have to check with HR, but I’m pretty sure I get some sort of a cash bonus for using the term “Hayekian Catallaxy” in a blog post.)

In an interesting riff off of Reynolds’ column, the Blogprof notes that part of the problem is that even in government, we all have to deal with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics:

But the 2nd Law doesn’t end in the physical world. It extends to other aspects of nature. Unless intelligent energy is expended, relationships decay. I’ve lost touch with some of my best friends from high school and before. There was no falling out. At some point, intelligent energy wasn’t expended to maintain those bonds and they naturally decayed. Divorce is more common now than ever before for precisely the same reason. It’s just a natural function for decay to occur. On a societal level, some of the greatest civilizations in human history are all but gone, with only relics remaining. The Roman empire, the Persian empire, the Egyptian empire, more recently the Soviet Union. Just decayed out of existence. Nearly the entirety of human civilization was corrupted beyond redemption before the great flood. In our own country, I don’t think anyone argues that we are not on a path of increasing decay. Intelligent energy isn’t being applied by our leaders in maintaining this country, and it is decaying. Depravity is going mainstream. God is being devalued. Life is being devalued. Christian principles are being devalued. All natural occurrences of a civilization in decline.

Can it be stopped? Slowed down? Reversed? As a matter of fact, it can. But it won’t be easy.

I know that I, for one, often feel a sense of fatigue about the direction of my country – a sense that many of the social and governmental trends that I abhor have been around far longer than I have, have only become more pronounced since I have been aware of them, and have a real feeling of inevitability about them. But we just celebrated Easter, and if Easter teaches us anything it’s that nothing is inevitable. The Apostles took the basic, powerful truth of Christ’s resurrection, and in the face of insurmountable odds began a movement that would utterly change the course of world history. Our task – proclaiming the truth about the inherent value of the human person in the eyes of God and defending the ability of that person to engage freely in economic matters – is almost nothing by comparison. It’s not easy, to be sure, but it’s worth it.

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, April 5, 2010
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First Principles, the excellent Web-based resource from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, has posted another “classic” from its extensive archive of journal articles, this one by Wilhelm Roepke. I’m snipping a kernel from “The Economic Necessity of Freedom” (Modern Age, Summer 1959) because it so succinctly and powerfully sums up why a moral framework — and our “highest values” — are necessary for a market economy that is not only efficient, but humane. These values flow out of the “classic-Christian heritage of Europe” and are rooted, for Roepke, in an orthodox Christian anthropology.

… I came to see that socialism did not have the cure for our social ills, that indeed socialism was a heresy which aggravated these ills the more men acted on it. The economic “orthodoxy” according to which I adjudged socialism a heresy was historical liberalism, and with this liberalism I am quite willing to take my stand. What such liberalism advocates in the economic realm can be very simply stated. It holds that economic activities are not the proper sphere of any planning, enforcing, and penalizing authority; these activities are better left to the spontaneous co-operation of all individuals through a free market, unregulated prices, and open competition.

But there is more to the matter than the advocacy of a certain economic technique. As an economist, I am supposed to know something about prices, capital interests, costs, and rates of exchange, and all of them supply arguments for free enterprise; but my adherence to free enterprise goes to something deeper than mere technical grounds, and the reason for it lies in those regions where each man’s social philosophy is ultimately decided. Socialists and nonsocialists are divided by fundamentally different conceptions of life and life’s meaning. What we judge man’s position in the universe to be will in the end decide whether our highest values are realized in man or in society, and our decision for either the former or the latter will also be the watershed of our political thinking.

Thus my fundamental opposition to socialism is to an ideology that, in spite of all its “liberal” phraseology, gives too little to man, his freedom, and his personality; and too much to society. And my opposition on technical grounds is that socialism, in its enthusiasm for organization, centralization, and efficiency, is committed to means that simply are not compatible with human freedom. Because I have a very definite concept of man derived from the classic-Christian heritage of Europe in which alone the idea of liberty has anywhere appeared, because that concept makes man the image of God whom it is sinful to use as a means, and because I am convinced that each man is of unique value owning to his relationship to God but is not the god declared by the hybris of an atheistic humanism — because of these things, I look on any kind of collectivism with the utmost distrust.

And, following from these convictions along the lines of reason, experience, and the testimony of history, I arrive at the conclusion that only a free economy is in accordance with man’s freedom and with the political and social structure and the rule of law that safeguard it. Aside from such an economic system (for which I make no claims of automatically perfect functioning), I see no chance of the continued existence of man as he is envisaged in the religious and philosophical traditions of the West. For this reason, I would stand for a free economic order even if it implied material sacrifice and if socialism gave the certain prospect of material increase. It is our undeserved luck that the exact opposite is true.