Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
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In response to the question, “What are the moral lessons of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)?”

The ARRA makes clear that we have not learned one great moral lesson: You can’t have something for nothing. Or, among economists, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

I’m not even sure that anybody is seriously arguing that most of the items contained in this bill constitute “stimulus.” Congress can genuinely stimulate the economy in two ways: decreasing taxes and decreasing regulation. In other words, by putting fewer hindrances in the way of those who wish to produce and consume. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. Government puts money into one person’s hands only by taking it out of someone else’s; or by creating it ex nihilo, which amounts to the same thing (moralists have been condemning the debasement of currency at least since the Late Scholastics).

If the bill has any positive impact, it will be psychological, making people believe that the economy will improve and therefore generating positive economic activity. This possibility seems doubtful at this point. It appears instead that the measure’s most significant effect will be to increase the cynicism with which the American people view their government. I’m undecided yet as to whether that is a favorable development.

In response to the question, “What are the moral lessons of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)?”

Perhaps the most effective historical trope in pushing through the massive stimulus package on Capitol Hill has been the notion that if only the New Deal of the 1930s hadn’t had to wait more than three years for the election of FDR, the Great Depression might have been avoided.

But have you ever wondered why the Great Depression persisted for so long? Why didn’t we bounce out of it after two, three, or four years as we did from previous economic downturns? Hillsdale’s Burt Folsom suggests an answer. Whether it was paying farmers not to farm until we had to import millions of bushels of grain, or throttling job-creating enterprise by raising the highest marginal tax rate to 90 percent, the many tentacles of the New Deal stimulus package choked rather than stimulated the American economy.

The common theme of all of the New Deal’s misguided policies was to remove decision-making power and cash from the free market and move it to Washington. As Folsom goes on to note, such policies not only extended the economic downturn, they set interest groups against each other, stimulating rather than alleviating human envy: “The New Deal divided and politicized the country in tragic ways. Those who lobbied most effectively won subsidies and bailouts even if their cause was weak. Others, who had greater needs, received nothing.”

There is a cure for human envy, of course, but it lies with a civil rather than a government institution, and with a power higher than Capitol Hill.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is poised to be signed into law after weeks of wrangling. Since we know that “budgets are moral documents,” then spending and stimulus bills must be as well.

So this week’s PowerBlog Ramblings question is: “What are the moral lessons of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)?”

Ramble on…

Ramblings:

Blog author: mvandermaas
Friday, February 13, 2009
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Washington is all atwitter about the “Stimulus,” which is currently being pushed through Congress (without being read by most members). Acton’s own Michelle Muccio has come up with a plan of her own, and did a bit of independent research to see if her proposal would find any support:

Blog author: jballor
Friday, February 13, 2009
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In response to the question, “What is the future of the faith-based initiative?”

Under the Obama administration, the faith-based initiative will increasingly become a means to bailout flagging mainline and liberal denominations and ministries, who will have no problem accommodating their religious practices to secular standards. And in this we will see even clearer manifestation of the theocratic hopes of the religious left.

Mark Tooley calls out “emerging church maestro” Brian Mclaren in a piece today in The American Spectator titled “A Real ‘Economic’ Recovery.” I was introduced to Brian McLaren in seminary when new students were required to read his books in introductory classes. Unfortunately, I was one of only a handful not impressed. He also lectured in person to a class I took, but honestly I don’t remember much about the lecture, except conservatives were generally denounced and “big oil” was of course bad.

I can also relate to the beginning of Tooley’s piece where he highlights some of the stereotypes heaped upon religious conservatives. A few years ago, I attended a religious left conference as a reporter for Tooley’s Institute on Religion and Democracy in Cambridge, Mass. At the conference, one of the participants accused the Bush administration and a collection of evangelicals at the Pentagon of using the book of Revelation as a blueprint for implementing official U.S. foreign policy. It was bizarre to say the least, and the lady making this accusation was actually mildly rebuked by a somewhat more rational professor from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Back to McLaren. Tooley responds to McLaren’s idea of an economic recovery with wit and humor, all along making serious points. Tooley concludes the piece by noting:

McLaren is hoping to “sabotage” these addictions to “stuff” by redefining “recovery” to mean waking up from a drug-induced “comfortable, dreamy, half-awareness” into a new world of solar panels and Fair Trade coffee. But this post-industrial fantasy is itself hallucinatory, portraying the Religious Left as even loopier and more archaic than the worst stereotypes about the Religious Right.

Blog author: jcouretas
Thursday, February 12, 2009
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In my Winter 2007 article on economic globalization for AGAIN Magazine, I quoted economist Wilhelm Roepke. (AGAIN is published by Conciliar Media Ministries, a department of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church of North America). Roepke:

Economically ignorant moralism is as objectionable as morally callous economism. Ethics and economics are two equally difficult subjects, and while the former needs discerning and expert reason, the latter cannot do without humane values.

In light of all that has happened with the U.S. economic meltdown in the last few months, I continue to subscribe to the following statement from the same article:

… there is no real understanding of “social justice” without an understanding of basic economic principles. These principles explain how Orthodox Christians work, earn, invest, and give to philanthropic causes in a market-oriented economy. Economic questions are at the root of many of the problems that on their face seem to be more about something else — poverty, immigration, the environment, technology, politics, humanitarian assistance.

I remain a convinced believer in the market economy, which is a different thing than saying that I believe in the “free market” (a misnomer for industrialized economies that have always been subject to heavy regulation) or laissez faire economics (not a good idea and, again, a term that refers to something that doesn’t exist).

The climate of fear and panic that has been raised first by the Bush administration and now President Obama (we’re in a “crisis that could become a catastrophe” he claims) should have us all screaming not “help!” but “stop!” The alarm we raise should be about the fantastic expansion of government control — in some cases outright nationalization — over what was one of the freer markets in the world. And let’s recall that most Orthodox Christian immigrants came to this country for economic opportunity — in many cases a chance to put their entrepreneurial gifts to work in a growing and prosperous country. How much opportunity will be left once Washington gets finished with its top down central planning project? If this current crisis has taught us anything, it is the importance of economic growth and sustaining that growth in a humane way over the long haul.

So, I go back to Roepke for guidance on what’s being proposed in Washington. In particular, I turn to his 1957 book, “A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of a Free Market” (ISI, 1998). Page numbers in brackets:

On the necessity for economic liberty [104]: “Since liberty was indivisible, we could not have political and spiritual liberty without also choosing liberty in the economic field and rejecting the necessarily unfree collectivist economic order; conversely, we had to be clear in our minds that a collectivist economic order meant the destruction of political and spiritual liberty. Therefore, the economy was the front line of the defense of liberty and of all its consequences for the moral and humane pattern of our civilization.” (more…)

Blog author: mvandermaas
Thursday, February 12, 2009
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William F. Buckley, 1956:

[I'd] sooner be governed by the first two thousand people in the Boston telephone directory than by the two thousand members of the faculty of Harvard University.

Rassmussen poll results, 2009:

Forty-four percent (44%) voters also think a group of people selected at random from the phone book would do a better job addressing the nation’s problems than the current Congress, but 37% disagree. Twenty percent (20%) are undecided.

In response to the question, “What is the future of the faith-based initiative?”

I have little confidence in the future of the faith-based initiative because conservatives who gain office are unwilling to take any fire at all in order to advance the cause beyond concept. At the same time, liberals will be unable to make productive use of the idea because of giant fissures regarding public religion in their movement.

In theory, President Obama would make an ideal person to attempt strong implementation of a faith-based approach. As a card-carrying liberal, he could steer money to a program with a group like Prison Fellowship designed to reduce recidivism without ever being charged with theocratic tendencies.

The problem, of course, is that his party’s umbrella includes church-state police who would prefer to marginalize Christian influence rather than help prisoners get their lives back together with religious help. Thus, the idea would be scuttled unless the Prison Fellowship program can agree to do its work without Christian workers and without Christian moral and spiritual content.

The only problem with this scenario is that THERE IS NO WORK from Prison Fellowship without the Christian workers and the accompanying content. The entire reason they are more effective in preventing recidivism is because they address the spiritual person rather than the merely material person.

My answer to the church-state police would be that they consider a new view of the word secular. Secular means “in the world” so I would propose that they consider whether the religious work results in any good “in the world”. If a ministry like Prison Fellowship can demonstrate effectiveness in their purely voluntary ministry, then they should qualify for government funding. Why should they qualify for “secular” funding? Because they have proven they produce “secular” goods like reduced recidivism.

Just a suggestion. If policymakers would take it, they might find the faith-based initiative question easier to navigate.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
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In response to the question, “What is the future of the faith-based initiative?”

Perhaps taking a cue from this week’s PBR question (or perhaps not), the On Faith roster of bloggers have been asked to weigh in on the following question this week: “Should the Obama Administration let faith-based programs that receive government grants discriminate against those they hire or serve?”

Notable responses include those from Chuck Colson, Al Mohler, and Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, the latter of whom has these wise words: “If your faith-based organization wants to discriminate because of its beliefs, there is a simple remedy. Don’t take the federal grant money.”