In this week’s Acton Commentary, I review a new book by economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy. Text follows:
A rare growth industry following the 2008 financial crisis has been financial crisis commentaries. An apparently endless stream of books and articles from assorted pundits and scholars continues to explain what went wrong and how to fix our present problems.
In this context, it was almost inevitable that one Joseph E. Stiglitz would enter the fray of finger-pointing and policy-offerings. As a Nobel Prize economist, former World Bank chief economist, former Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, and member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, it would be surprising if he had nothing to say.
Moreover Stiglitz has assumed the role of social-democrat-public-intellectual-in-chief since his door-slamming departure from the World Bank in 1999. From this standpoint, Stiglitz opines about, well, pretty much everything. He also increasingly labels anyone disagreeing with him as a “market fundamentalist” or “conservative journalist.”
Yet despite his iconoclastic reputation, Stiglitz reveals himself in his latest offering, Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy, as a rather conventional Keynesian-inclined economist who, like most Keynesian-inclined economists, thinks everything went wrong in the early 1980s. (more…)
In today’s Acton Commentary, I examine the overtures President Obama has been making lately to usher in “a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.” I call for in part a “level playing field” for nuclear energy, which includes neither direct subsidy from the government nor bureaucratic obfuscation. The key to the latter point is to avoid the kind of breathless concern over the countries involved in the manufacture of the components for elements of the stations.
The playing field now is rather complex, of course, given the comprehensive system of tax breaks, incentives, and other subsidies that makeup today’s energy policy. In making this call I echo to some extent the complaint of Ralph Nader, although I’m much more sanguine about the ability of nuclear power to compete in a “free market” (HT: The Western Confucian).
Planet Gore’s Chris Horner calls Obama’s recent moves on nuclear energy contradictory and “flat-out dishonest.” Horner links to a couple of other important pieces that outline some of the economic distress potentially caused by clean energy legislation, as well as the official announcement of new guaranteed funds for nuclear power projects.
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) points toward complicating factors beyond the availability of federal funds. I address the concern of regulatory “bottlenecks” in the commentary piece, but I pass by the concerns over nuclear waste disposal.
Apart from recycling possibilities, which is of course a special concern for fissile material, how might we be able to safely dispose of the waste from this “new generation” of nuclear power plants? I’m talking here about the 4% or so that can’t be productively repurposed.
For a long time I’ve thought that an extraterrestrial solution might be ideal, given the political problems surrounding terrestrial storage (as in the case of Yucca Mountain), although in practice finding the technology to safely accomplish some kind of outer space disposal is more difficult. Space elevators might work. Storing material on the moon afterward might be an option, although in lieu of a lunar solution perhaps a solar solution might work. Although volcanoes aren’t hot enough to break down radioactive material, the sun would be.
So maybe we could develop and apply the technology to shoot nuclear waste into space on a trajectory that would draw it into the sun, or failing that, into a path that would not run back into us on the way around or interfere with future intra-system travel. Why not use “a cannon for shooting things into space” to dispose of nuclear waste?
Any disposal site or method, especially one that included the transport of material into space, would need to be virtually immune from the kind of attack that destroys The Machine in the film Contact.
Selected related items:
- There is No Perfect Fuel (2/12/10)
- Green Atomic Power (8/25/06)
- Transcendence and Obsolescence: The Responsible Stewardship of Oil (7/19/06)
- Comet-Busting Lasers: A Response to Andy Crouch (9/12/05)
- Pascal’s Blunder: Miscalculating the Threat of Global Warming (9/7/05)
- Stewards of the Cosmos (10/6/04)
More background links from a PowerBlog reader:
The other day with Schools Of Government, I bemoaned the number of undergrads and graduate students in the United States who are stamped by the “academic” majors and programs within universities for the expressed purpose of preparing them for bureaucratic life and perhaps leadership in the municipalities, state and federal governments of these United States.
Depending on whose numbers you use, over 25% of our economy is government – and growing. And since government operates on OPM – other people’s money – that means that three-quarters of the country’s private net worth is floating the entire boat. Reason enough to thank your dry cleaner the next time you pick something up. That goes for anyone else whose hands are hardened by toil.
Fr. Sirico coincidentally brushed on that subject in his latest Acton Notes piece that the postman brought this weekend. He writes:
“The boom was a result of government intervention with markets, and the bust has been the inevitable result. Many people miss this completely. So they blame the most conspicuous sectors in society they can: businesspeople and traders on Wall Street, no matter how unjust this blame is.”
But leave it to George Will to tie all this together. In a current commentary titled “Blinded By Science” Will hits on a more specific dilemma facing Constitutional Government in America. And that’s what the science fanatics who promote climate frauds together with those about to be exposed in the nutrition arguments (Harvard’s just released an analysis of saturated fats. Stay tuned.) – assert with lucrative help of OPM from government and quasi-government bureaucracies. Those named in the articles include the just resigned Head of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia; the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); and a U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change – Todd Stern.
Mr. Will suggests that this last fellow may be guilty of violating U.S. Constitutional law.
“It is tempting to say, only half in jest, that Stern’s portfolio violates the First Amendment, which forbids government from undertaking the establishment of religion. A religion is what the faith in catastrophic man-made global warming has become. It is now a tissue of assertions impervious to evidence, assertions which everything, including a historic blizzard, supposedly confirms and nothing, not even the absence of warming, can falsify.”
But as we move into the second full week in Lent, I’m comfortable deferring to the Ten Commandments on matters of temptation and sin. Specifically:
3. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of any thing] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth:
5. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me;
In the Feb. 27 issue of WORLD Magazine, editor in chief Marvin Olasky interviews Anthony Bradley about his new book, Liberating Black Theology (2010, Crossway Books). Bradley is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, a professor at The King’s College in New York, and a contributor at WORLDmag.com. Excerpt:
Olasky: From what does black liberation theology have to be liberated?Bradley: Black theology has to be liberated from itself. Its primary anthropological presupposition is that humans are victims of social oppression: That is the starting point of a person’s identity. I want to switch the conversation and say, “Slavery happened, injustice happened because the devil is real and the Fall is real, so you’ll always have injustice. But the core of a person’s identity is that of the Imago Dei, being made in God’s image.”
Olasky: Where does black theology fail?
Bradley: If theology emphasizes “victim status” and not something more ontological, the remedy is often short-sighted: When your theology is nothing but politics and sociology, it doesn’t help you when you get cancer or your husband leaves you. If your theology of liberation is grounded in the Imago Dei, you’re much more open to looking at the multiple ways in which the Fall affects human life.
Download the introduction to Bradley’s new book and the first few pages of Chapter One here.
Here’s the brief description of Liberating Black Theology from Crossway:
When the beliefs of Barack Obama’s former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, assumed the spotlight during the 2008 presidential campaign, the influence of black liberation theology became hotly debated not just within theological circles but across cultural lines. How many of today’s African-American congregations-and how many Americans in general-have been shaped by its view of blacks as perpetual victims of white oppression?
In this interdisciplinary, biblical critique of the black experience in America, Anthony Bradley introduces audiences to black liberation theology and its spiritual and social impact. He starts with James Cone’s proposition that the “victim” mind-set is inherent within black consciousness. Bradley then explores how such biblical misinterpretation has historically hindered black churches in addressing the diverse issues of their communities and prevented adherents from experiencing the freedoms of the gospel. Yet Liberating Black Theology does more than consider the ramifications of this belief system; it suggests an alternate approach to the black experience that can truly liberate all Christ-followers.
Watch for it soon in the Acton Bookshoppe!
Jordan Ballor’s recent post “What Government Can’t Do” contained a quotation from Lord Acton worth revisiting:
“There are many things the government can’t do – many good purposes it must renounce. It must leave them to the enterprise of others. It cannot feed the people. It cannot enrich the people. It cannot teach the people. It cannot convert the people.”
On February 18th Barack Obama announced a “Debt Panel” – officially termed a Bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform – to be headed by former government veterans Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Erskine Bowles of the Clinton White House years by way of Morgan Stanley; and the university at Chapel Hill. (Wiki terms Bowles an “American Businessman” but the only business he’s been in is financial services. Bankers are money lenders. I know it’s a peculiar distinction but that’s hardly on a par with entrepreneurial spirt or creating wealth with an idea and a lot of sweat.) Bankers use OPM — other people’s money — and put it out for a fee.
Obama wants the debt panel to come up with a solution for dealing with too much government outflow versus what citizens are willing to pay in taxes. It’s a CYA venture and the two guys “leading” the discussion and the fellow appointing them are illustrative of what is wrong with what passes on multiple levels for both elected and hired government leadership in The United States of America these days.
The conceit that brings us debt panels starts with the presumption inherent in such concepts as “schools of government” that are fixtures in many of our leading universities throughout the country. At Texas A&M, there’s a school of public service with former President Bush’s name over the doorway. At Harvard there’s the Kennedy School of Government. At University of Maryland the department is called “Business, Government, Industry” — an interesting ordering of words don’t you think with “government” at the center. And on the left coast, The University of Southern California touts their school of Public Administration as being responsible for training more bureaucrats for city, county and state government jobs than any other in the region.
After three terms in the U.S. Senate Alan Simpson left to take a job as lecturer and Director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School whose mission is “studying public policy and preparing its practitioners.” They boast 27,000 graduates in 137 countries. The effort was “born in the midst of the Great Depression and on the eve of World War II. As government grappled with historic challenges both domestic and international” and no doubt has helped bring us such innovations as The World Bank and other drains on our national checkbook.
The cumulative graduate classes from these places has contributed to the burgeoning number of municipal jobs throughout our country. Think about the job fair at your kids’ high school. How many private businesses were there? Okay, maybe a major aerospace company came or JOHN DEERE, but mostly these assemblies are catered by the police and/or fire departments, local public works departments, a county hospital, or Teach for America. The private sector is conspicuous in its absence and that’s too bad because I think it’s one of the reasons the size of government and government’s workforce has become so large, intrusive and demanding on our nation’s treasure.
In a recent post former Bush guy Rich Galen puts the total cost of running Congress at $4,656,000,000 per annum and moans that they can’t or won’t do their job. I did some research last year and was told by the Congressional Budget Office that annual operating costs of the Senate is $800 million and the House $1.2 billion plus security. That’s half of what Galen writes but if you do the math even with the smaller number you get $3.7 million per Congress member. They make over $175,000.00 a year. In fact 19% of all federal employees make over $100K per year. In Los Angeles, California more than a dozen City Council members make $195,000 annually and the city is going broke.
In a neat little book titled Liberty And Learning, author Larry Arnn chronicles among other things, The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and The Homestead Act in an effort to illuminate the importance of education to the American Founders. He adroitly makes the point that education was never given the high priority it had in the Founder’s lives in order to “provide skilled workers for a changing economy” or insure that citizens would “make more money.” Education, especially knowledge and understanding of this nation’s founding principles was acknowledged by the Founders to be a prerequisite for the insurance of individual freedom and their constitutional republic.
But where are we in this? In the shame of survey and test results such as provided by Intercollegiate Studies Institute that testify to our Civic Illiteracy, many citizens vote present at a time when our nation’s economic and spiritual solvency are at risk. And every day we are told by a fawning news media that Obama and his administration – which does not include one high level official formed by some private sector experience – are the most intelligent assemblage in our country.
Recently I had the chance to read and discuss a story by Flannery O’Connor – The Enduring Chill. In the story a 25 year old son named Asbury has returned to his mother’s farm from an attempt as a writer in New York. There’s an older sister. He’s sick and if you know O’Connor you’re likely to be able to guess what’s missing in his life. While they wait for a country doctor to examine Asbury and make a prognosis the narrative provides us this:
When people think they are smart – even when they are smart – there is nothing anybody else can say to make them see things straight, and with Asbury, the trouble was that in addition to being smart, he had an artistic temperament. She did not know where he had got it from because his father, who was a lawyer and businessman and farmer and politician all rolled into one, had certainly had his feet on the ground…. She had managed after he died to get the two of them through college and beyond; but she had observed that the more education they got, the less they could do.
I think we have to do more for ourselves. And it needs to begin NOW.
Francis Beckwith is back with another book. He has written Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft.
I’ve not yet had a chance to read it, but this may be the book people have been asking me for as a follow-up to The End of Secularism.
I made the negative case against secularism and here Beckwith makes the positive case for a Christian politics. Amazingly, the books are priced within a penny of each other on Amazon. Bundle us up!
In seriousness, I am really looking forward to reading this book. I profited immensely from being Francis Beckwith’s graduate student years ago and have been somewhat awestruck by a number of his previous works. Any Christian involved in politics as a citizen, candidate, critic, or office-holder would benefit from reading him. Certainly, the quality of our discourse would improve as a result.
As we’ve noted before, the Planet Money team is on the ground in Haiti getting a hands-on look at the economic situation after the disaster. Today they broadcast a moving story of an entrepreneur who lost all her capital in the earthquake. Now she totes a 30+ lbs. bin of chicken necks to make a few dollars a day.
The story is a testament to the power of micro-finance, the complications of an international import operation, and the bookkeeping practices of a purveyor of chicken necks. Check it out and visit the Planet Money blog tomorrow to get the follow-up on how Yvrose fared with her lender.
The United States, unsurprisingly, has historically placed quite high on the economic freedom indexes released by various organizations. This year, the Heritage Foundation’s ranking saw the US drop. It’s still relatively high on the list, but the backward movement is disturbing. I try to explain why this development is significant in this week’s Acton Commentary:
If you’re known by the company you keep, then the United States may want to re-think its economic policy.
The 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, a joint publication of the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, measures the world’s nations according to a range of criteria from the ease of starting a business, to protection of property rights, to various forms of government interventions. Among the 15 “biggest losers” during the past year was the United States, placing it among the likes of Libya, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, and Venezuela. (The inclusion of the relatively more respectable United Kingdom is cold comfort.)
America’s plunge in the rankings is the result of a range of misguided policies, including increasing tax rates and exorbitant government spending. The Bush White House deserves some blame for setting the trajectory, but the Obama Administration has only taken Bush’s economic mistakes and amplified them.
The United States for the first time dropped out of the Index’s “free” category and into the ranks of “mostly free.” Many Americans, who fail to understand how much of the world has recognized the benefits of market-friendly economic reform and government restraint while their country has moved in an opposite direction, will be shocked to learn that Australia, Switzerland, and even Canada rank ahead of the United States on an economic freedom index. Asian city-states Hong Kong and Singapore continue to top the chart.
Why does this matter? After all, freedom and economic prosperity are not the only or even the chief measures of well-being anyway. Amelioration of poverty and protection of the environment, some would argue, are the sorts of concerns that should take precedence over the grasping of ever greater economic freedom and material accumulation.
But this view takes the wrong perspective. Advancing scores on the Index’s criteria of economic freedom are, more often than not, concurrent with poverty reduction and environmental improvement. The Index itself notes the correlation in its Highlights summary. During the last decade, countries improving in economic freedom have reduced poverty levels faster than have countries whose economic freedom has declined. Nations that enjoy vigorous property rights protection and free trade score higher on the Environmental Performance Index.
Both of these correlations fit the evidence from a long history of academic studies and lived experience that demonstrate the causations at work here: The institutions of free markets, private property rights, and rule of law create conditions conducive to economic growth; economic growth lifts an increasing percentage of the population out of poverty; as the poor are relieved of the desperate search for daily sustenance, they are willing to allocate more attention to other goods, such as conservation of natural resources.
Social benefits extend beyond the areas of poverty reduction and environmental stewardship. “Economic freedom,” the Index observes, “is also strongly correlated to overall well-being, taking into account other factors such as health, education, security, and political governance.”
Thus economic growth may be “morally neutral” in the abstract, but it certainly has moral implications in the real world. The recent experience of Haiti confirmed this point in a grim fashion. Obviously the devastation there is not reducible to economic factors, but it should be equally obvious that the country’s poverty—reflected in shoddy infrastructure and weakness in the capacities of both public and private institutions—intensified the human and material destruction.
People of good will may differ on a wide range of policy details without impugning their character. The specific connections between various policies and economic improvement are often debatable. But when a compelling measure of economic freedom shows the United States in free fall, then every conscientious citizen should take notice. We’re headed in the wrong direction.