I’m a “dot connector” by inclination; I generally network people and resources, but old questions with new answers that have yielded encouraging results are a great thing to connect as well.

In September 2004, the Manhattan Institute hosted an event intended to revisit 1996 welfare reform legislation results with the hope of positive lessons learned and applied for then pending reauthorization. (The fact that such was continually delayed is yet another matter.) “Whither Welfare Reform: Lessons from the Wisconsin Experience,” included panelists Jason DeParle of the New York Times, Lawrence Mead, NYU, and Jason Turner, Visiting Fellow in Welfare Policy at the Heritage Foundation. Turner had been Governor Tommy Thompson’s policy architect for Wisconsin’s largely lauded welfare reform innovations.

Question: “What would be the one critical reform that each of you would institute to bring men back into the family?” Mead suggested improved welfare work programs connected to child support; Turner argued for opportunity as well as punishment in prison, connecting parole to enforced work.

Grand Rapids’ Cascade Engineering is a stellar example of innovative business-public agency partnerships charged to place low income workers in decent jobs with opportunities. Prison Fellowship contractor Innerchange Freedom Initiative developed a re-entry program that facilitates and empowers an incarcerated man’s regeneration and reconnection to his family. The Christian Reformed Church is spearheading related work with strong direction from Grand Rapids’ leaders. Mead and Turner would be pleased.

Another productive strategy to reconnect men to their families has gained momentum in neighborhoods where local knowledge and accountability provide big leverage: healthy marriage initiatives. The Wall Street Journal recently profiled Dr. Wade Horn, head of the federal Administration for Children and Families, who “has employed the zeal of an ideologue and the discipline of an academic to inject marriage promotion into a host of government programs … ” More than 200 programs across the country seek to change attitudes toward marriage, encouraging teenagers to aspire to healthy marriages and bringing relationship skills to couples of all ages.

Research indicates that marriage education works for middle-class white families; new studies will determine if the same holds for poor, nonwhite couples. The early research coming out of Healthy Marriages Grand Rapids in its work with low income, urban residents is very encouraging. Recent unofficial reports from a Grand Rapids donor who partnered with Horn’s ACF marriage work indicate that a significant number finish the programming and that importantly, neighborhood trainers are ‘moving out’ further in the community to share the skills building tools.

As we ponder the season, I’m thankful for Grand Rapids business and social entrepreneurs who put their talents to work to bring men back to the family.

Fast Company has announced the results of its 2007 search for socially responsible companies, conducted along with Monitor Group. View the winners and their grades in slideshow form here.

The winners range from the generally praiseworthy, such as ACCION International, to the rather more questionable, like Ceres, whose claim to fame on the list is that “after joining Ceres, Dell agreed to support legislation to require electronics recycling,” to the downright stultifying, such as TransFair USA, the certifying body for the Fair Trade movement, which “has certified 74.2 million pounds of Fair Trade coffee.”

Meanwhile, The Entrepreneurial Mind notes that “socialized entrepreneurship is high on the Democrat’s agenda now that they have taken power.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, November 27, 2006

Here’s some good news for those who prefer to combat cultural evil through the edification and cultivation of moral sensibilities: In “Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets,” Alvin E. Roth finds that “distaste for certain kinds of transactions is a real constraint, every bit as real as the constraints imposed by technology or by the requirements of incentives and efficiency.”

He also finds that “while repugnance can change over time, change can be quite slow.” This presumably applies to the decrease of a sense of repugnance over a currently outlawed activity, as well as the increase in repugnance to a currently practiced pursuit.

This means, though, that not only is patience required, but also that church leaders need to get their positions right before they have a chance of influencing culture for the better. This also means, in part, not calling evil good and good evil as false prophets do.

John Piper’s words from his foreword to John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation would seem to apply here:

As I look across the Christian landscape, I think it is fair to say con귎rning sin, ‘They have healed the wound of my people lightly’ (Jer. 6:14; 8:11, ESV). I take this to refer to leaders who should be helping the church know and feel the seriousness of indwelling sin (Rom. 7:20), and how to fight it and kill it (Rom. 8:13). Instead the depth and complexity and ugli­ness and danger of sin in professing Christians is either minimized—since we are already justified—or psychologized as a symptom of woundedness rather than corruption. This is a tragically light healing. I call it a tragedy because by making life easier for ourselves in minimizing the nature and seriousness of our sin, we become greater victims of it.

Blog author: jmorse
posted by on Sunday, November 26, 2006

Along the same lines as my earlier post, The Weekly Standard argues that putting the needs of parents first, can form a more stable foundation for an alliance between fiscal and social conservatives.

Both fiscal and social conservatives should put themselves in the shoes of the parenting class and focus on advancing competition and choice while also encouraging the growth and strength of the two-parent family. In health care, for instance, conservatives have consistently failed to approach things from that point of view….Conservatives should also look beyond the horizon and see that long-term care for the aged is about to become the next major concern of the parenting class…. In education, it is well past time to have another serious go at school choice, which can appeal to the parenting class both as a solution in their own children’s lives and as a call to conscience.

A Free and Virtuous Society needs to respect autonomy and importance of the social sphere, especially the family. Kudos to Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center for writing this article, and to the Weekly Standard for publishing it.

is the title of an insightful article by Fr. James Schall over at the Ignatius site. An analysis of the political contribution of Deus Caritas Est, Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, he comments:

The Second half of the encyclical is a brilliant treatise on the nature and limits of the State and what lies beyond it. "We do not need a state which regulates and controls everything," Benedict writes, "but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need" (par 28b).

There will always be a sphere of human life which requires love, and which is therefore, beyond the reach and competence of the State. It is not possible to create a State which can literally provide everything the human person needs, because it can never provide genuine love, which is a property of individuals.

The strength of the American Revolution, as opposed to the French Revolution, is that our experiment in ordered liberty respected the sphere of Society and Market, which were beyond the scope of the State. Unlike the French Revolution and its progency, our revolution did not require the State to subsume everything, including the whole social order, into itself.

There is no longer a minimum government party in American politics. The Democrats have not been minimum govt party since about the time of Grover Cleveland. The Republican commitment to miminimum govt has been fragile, because it over-emphasized economics and utilitarianism. Yet even in this area, the Republicans are not reliable: witness their overspending and earmarking of pork barrel projects.

It is time, long past time actually, for us to do for Society what Milton Friedman and the Chicago School did for the Market: Establish Society as an entity independent of the State, which deserves autonomy and respect.

I have been quite concerned for some time about the shrill debate over illegal immigration and its potential fallout for free trade. I have argued, at Acton events and elsewhere, that no long-term solution to the flow of illegal immigration from Mexico is possible, without significant economic growth in Mexico. U.S. per capita GDP is 6.5 times greater than the Mexican per capita GDP. The public service infrastructure in the US is far superior to that in Mexico. Taken together, a Mexican, even uneducated and working at the worst jobs in America, can substantially improve his standard of living in the US. Until something is done to equalize the incomes, the pressure for immigration, legal or otherwise, will be enormous.

Therefore, I was relieved to hear that Senator John Cornyn is proposing a North American Investment Fund to improve the infrastructure of Mexico. At the same time, I am distressed to see so many conservative publications denouncing this and other moves as attempts to compromise US sovereignty. See here and here, for instance. I am at a loss: if we want to control immigration, we have to do something about the earnings gap. If every attempt to help Mexico through free trade or infrastructure support is attacked as an affront to US sovereignty, what exactly do these people think is going to help?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, November 23, 2006

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfaignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.

–U.S. Book of Common Prayer, “The General Thanksgiving,” (1979), p. 58-59.

The following is the text of a paper presented on November 15, 2006 at the Evangelical Theological Society 58th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, which was themed, "Christians in the Public Square." Part 3 of 3 follows below (series index).

War and Peace

I will conclude with a brief word about Bonhoeffer and pacifism, given the ongoing claims about Bonhoeffer’s ethical commitment to the practice of nonviolence.[i] First, it should be noted, with Clifford J. Green, that it is invalid to talk about Bonhoeffer as advocating a principled pacifism, since “‘Pacifism’ for Bonhoeffer did not mean adopting nonviolence as an absolute principle in all circumstances. His ethic was not an ethic of principles.”[ii] (more…)

Refreshing news from Major League Baseball:

Let’s Go A’s!

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say, I have loved the Oakland Athletics for a long time now. I love how they are the anti-Yankees, consistently fielding winning teams despite having one of the lower payrolls in the game, and losing superstar after superstar to richer teams. I love their plucky spirit and their annual belief-defying August winning streaks. I love Billy Beane’s flair for the dramatic. I love that they wear white spikes with white pants and that their symbol is a circus elephant. I love that most seasons, their players more closely resemble a beer-league softball team that should have a keg at second base to help guys like Matt Stairs, John Jaha, and Nick Swisher continue to pad their magnificent beer guts, than a major league team.

But now I love them even more.

Because the A’s are going to become the first team in a decade to build a new stadium entirely financed with private funds. The plan is pure genius – get land basically for free from Cisco Systems in exchange for stadium naming rights, and raise funds for construction using private venture capital in exchange for soon-to-be-vaulable commercial real estate around the new stadium. It’s a stadium that pays for itself! It seems so obvious – why didn’t anyone think of this before?

And yes, I am proud to be the first PowerBlogger to credit Umpbump.com for a story.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Desperate Philanthropist?

In a recent column in the National Post, David Frum looks at an “astonishing” new book on charitable giving due out this month from Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks. In “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth of Compassionate Conservatism,” Brooks contends that conservatives are really “more generous, more honest and more public-spirited” than liberals.

Frum starts his column with a quote from Desperate Housewives actress Eva Longoria, who asserts: “Everyone on Wisteria Lane has the money of a Republican, but the sex life of a Democrat.”

You’ll have to read the column to see where he goes with this, but rest assured he finds fault with her argument on a couple points.

Back to Frum on the new book:

Consider for example this one fundamental liberal/conservative dividing line, the question “Do you believe the government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality?” In a major 1996 survey, 33% of Americans gave the liberal answer, “yes”; 43% gave the conservative answer, “no.”

Those who gave the conservative answer were more likely to give to charity than those who gave the liberal answer. And when they gave, they gave much more: an average of four times as much as liberal givers.

Correct for income, age and other variables, and you find that people who want government to fight inequality are 10 points less likely to give anything at all–and when they did give, they gave US$263 per year less than a right-winger of exactly the same age earning exactly the same money.

And this from “Right-Wing Heart, Left-Wing Heart,” a Brooks column published on the CBS News site this summer:

Young liberals in 2004 belonged to one-third fewer organizations in their communities than young conservatives. In 2002, they were 12 percent less likely to give money to charities, and one-third less likely to give blood. These differences were not due to demographics such as age or education. Imagine that you picked two people, both under 30, from the American population. Imagine they had the same education level, same household income, and were of the same race and gender. The only difference was that one was a self-described liberal, and the other a conservative. Based on nationwide data collected in the year 2000, the young conservative would donate nearly $400 more per year to charity than the young liberal.