Page 14 of the President’s FY2010 budget “blueprint” contains a section called “Fiscal Irresponsibility” that deserves scrutiny:Ah, politics.
“Another manifestation of irresponsibility is the large budget deficits we are inheriting. These deficits, over time, will harm economic growth and impose burdens on our children and grandchildren.”
“Between 2000 and 2008, real Government outlays increased at a 3.6 percent annual average rate, three times the 1.2 percent annual average rate between 1992 and 2000…Furthermore, the amount of debt held by the public has nearly doubled to $6.4 trillion from 2001 to 2008. We are now living with the fallout of this deep fiscal irresponsibility.”
“Unfortunately, we are also inheriting the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression—which will force us to increase deficit spending temporarily as we try to jumpstart economic growth.”
Time-out. The administration accurately states that federal spending and debt have increased at a detrimental pace this decade. Then it says we’re in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
And the solution to the economic downturn caused in part by too much spending and debt is to increase deficit spending and further run up the national debt? By the administration’s own logic, shouldn’t we be experiencing economic growth with all the deficit spending it “inherited?”
Friday, February 27, 2009
When politicians, enthusiastic to pose as the people's friends, bring forward bills providing for the distribution of property, they intend that the existing owners shall be driven from their homes. Or they propose to excuse borrowers from paying back their debts.
Men with those views undermine the very foundations on which our commonwealth depends. In the first place, they are shattering the harmony between one element in the State and another, a relationship which cannot possibly survive if debtors are excused from paying their creditor back the sums of money he is entitled to. Furthermore, all politicians who harbour such intentions are aiming a fatal blow at the whole principle of justice; for once rights of property are infringed, this principle is totally undermined.
So what is the prescription?
The real answer to the problem is that we must make absolutely certain that private debts do not ever reach proportions which will constitute a national peril. There are various ways of ensuring this. But just to take the money away from the rich creditors and give the debtors something that does not belong to them is no solution at all. For the firmest possible guarantee of a country's security is sound credit...
So the men in charge of our national interests will do well to steer clear of the kind of liberality which involves robbing one man to give to another."
I extremely enjoy the analogy Dembroff draws between the right to own and government's responsibility to provide as it pertains to nne of the few rights of ownership explicitly outlined in the constitution:
For example, we have the right to bear arms...does that mean the government should buy us all handguns?
Now there is an interesting idea for government stimulus!
Back to Cicero's warning against out of control private debts. Below is a chart that was discussed on NPR this morning, showing the percentage of household debt to GDP. It hit 100% last year? The last time that happened? 1929.
Whenever I get around to it, I will outline the Austrian economic theory of business cycles, which in its simplest forms blames booms and busts on government manipulation of the interest rate and money supply, both of which distort the price levels and exacerbate the effects of credit. Suffice it to say that if the Austrian theory is correct, no amount of stimulus will help our economy until individuals get their balance sheets in order.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Johnson Chapel is a small congregation. In October of 2002 Tom Salter, a retired pastor, was appointed there, sure that he would be the last pastor. For a couple of years, Johnson Chapel continued to decline (attendance under 20) then in 2005, in Tom’s words, “the stone was rolled away . . . and a near-death revival began.” Attendance doubled, offerings increased 80%, 28 new members were received in the next two years.
A crisis of numbers is happening in most churches today, if not in terms of members then (due to the current economy) in terms of finances. An appropriate question to ask, then, are if the strategies and priorities that allowed churches to grow have changed into some sort of "prevent defense" mode. The Johnson Chapel found success by re-ordering their priorities accordingly:
"Our priorities (of focus and of financial support) are #1, outreach ministries and missions: #2, congregational ministries; #3, facilities and properties; #4, pastor’s compensation."
This is interesting to me because it speaks also to a bigger problem with Christianity. More than anything Christ calls his followers to be relevant, meeting people at their point of need in order to open their eyes and hearts to Christ's message. He sent his disciples to the uttermost parts of the Earth, not to build pretty buildings and make money, but to heal, teach, and minister in his name. If we as individuals and collectively as churches show Christ's love only to other believers while judging or ignoring all others, then we fail miserably.
Good for Jackson Chapel. I hope it doesn't take a near-death experience for me to get my priorities better aligned and live a more loving and sharing life.
Today "the all-you-can-eat buffet" is stigmatized and the "sexual smorgasbord" is not. Eberstadt's surmise about a society "puritanical about food, and licentious about sex" is this: "The rules being drawn around food receive some force from the fact that people are uncomfortable with how far the sexual revolution has gone -- and not knowing what to do about it, they turn for increasing consolation to mining morality out of what they eat."
Modern science, our culture's de facto authority figure, has little willingness to speak about sex in terms of morality, but it has a tremendous amount to say about the value and danger of various foods.
This can be a good thing - a dear friend is having great success fighting cancer in part due to a strict diet of mostly fresh organic fruit. My wife's grandfather has managed his heart and blood pressure condition for years with little more than flax seed oil. There is definitely scientific cause and effect at work in the foods we eat. There is also a limit.
In terms of percentages, garbage in = garbage out. People who drink a twelve-pack of soda or beer a day are generally not in good shape. Yet there remain the statistical outliers - the 96 year-old who smokes, drinks, and chews while never leaving the coach except to prepare a frozen dinner, and, unfortunately, the healthy athlete whose life is cut far too short by cancer.
So, sure, I think about what I eat, and I try to burn a few calories here and there, but nature and our bodies are far to complex for simple binary relationships. That, and I don't get suckered by the trap of absolute materialism as pointed out by Will:
Furthermore, as increasing numbers of people are led to a materialist understanding of life -- who say not that "I have a body" but that "I am a body" -- society becomes more obsessive about the body's maintenance. Alas, expiration is written into the leases we have on our bodies, so bon appetit.
Bon appetit indeed. Of course in moderation less we delve into gluttony, but bring on a slice of that gorgeous, sexy, creamy, delicious food porn.
I am very encouraged by what is happening around the world in regards to a growth of virtue-based education, and hope that it continues to gain momentum. At the center of much of this growth is The Virtues Project. Started by psychotherapists, they combine virtue ethics with positive psychology to develop training programs, curriculum, and books on virtue. A critical point is that they draw from all religious and cultural traditions and use language that can be universally accepted regardless of one's personal faith. In addition to their client list, recent news stories have shown their use in day care:
The Rose Garden philosophy is about creating children who are friendly, caring, respectful, cIn private schools:
o-operative and peaceful,” said licensee Ferruccio Baiocchi.
“Character formation starts at birth and ends around six to seven years of age.
“Does it not make sense that childcare should be the first formal education that a child is exposed to, especially when it comes to character education?”
Mr Baiocchi said Rose Garden Childcare had identified this need and worked together with parents in bringing out virtues in children.
The positive language of the virtues, all three principals agreed, has been a valuable tool in praising students and in disciplining them in a meaningful and appropriate way.In public elementary schools:
“It’s not a punitive approach,” said Trudy Dwyer, principal of Sister Mary Phillips School, discussing how the language of the program can be used to discipline students. “And it’s fabulous at building relationships because now they’re not afraid to come to our office.”
"It's been an amazing transformation since we first started putting the virtues into practice," said Nordgren. "The culture has evolved here and the parents seem to appreciate it a lot."In public high schools:
"Instead of looking at the behavior, we're actually looking at the kids."Beyond The Virtues Project, the need to develop virtues is being discussed in Higher Education:
"We want students to become good students, but we also want them to become good citizens," said Paula McCoach, an education specialist in the state agency's youth development branch. "Character education ... has influences on the climate of the building and the school itself."
The University of Chicago is making a science project of of virtues, and the University of Pennsylvania has become the home of positive psychology. These are not exactly backwater schools, and I am encouraged that their leading initiatives, along with the work of The Virtues Project and other similar organizations, will become more widely adopted in the near future.
"In order to teach virtue," Power said, "we have to know what it is, how children acquire whatever it is, then, how we can teach it."
Children develop virtue through interaction. They need to be nurtured in communities in order to develop virtue. These communities must provide competence, care and choice.
"Children who grow up neglected or isolated from other students are high risk. We need connection. As teachers we need to protect these students, not only from bullying, but from isolation as well," Power said."We also don't want to have our life totally managed. We can't develop morally if we don't interact and make our own decisions."
Even the last places you would expect to find people discussing virtue are coming on board, including science:
Whew, it will feel good deleting all these bookmarks from my browser. At some point I will get to my link extravaganza on Austrian economics, but for now, my workday beckons...
Science educators need to help graduates develop a robust commitment to acting with integrity in their professional lives. Students should come to appreciate how it feels to be exposed to negative role models in the workplace, and how to resist their influence.
Employing the sorts of experiential approaches used successfully in medicine could enhance the teaching of virtue ethics and other ethical frameworks to science students. Scientific integrity needs to be protected from within as well as without, lest it be sacrificed in the name of progress. Otherwise we all end up paying the price.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
It is Ash Wednesday today, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. Nigerian Christians are joining millions across the world to observe this ritual season of intensified prayer, fasting and abstinence, with alms giving and sundry works of penance. The Lenten season for Christians marks the forty-day period of Jesus' desert experience of fasting and prayer. During the period, Christians seek to identify more closely with, and to participate more worthily in the celebration of the core mystery of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which is commemorated at Easter.
The desert is the land of austerity, withdrawal, detachment, discipline and self-control. The desert is the place of utter vulnerability and surrender. But in Judeo Christian religion, it is in the desert that some of the most profound encounters with God were recorded. It is in the desert that God called out Moses and prepared him for the ministry of taking the children of Israel out of Egypt, into the Promised Land. It is in the desert that Elijah and John the Baptist honed the preparation for their outstanding prophetic ministries. It does happen that the very austere and Spartan environment of the desert helps the individual to acquire the right disposition to respond with concentration to God's call to a life of holiness and virtue.
Therefore the Lenten season which marks Jesus' own desert experience, is the auspicious time to challenge Christians and indeed all believers in God to come to the recognition that the way to true greatness is marked by discipline, self-denial, selfless service, humility and generosity, and not the rat race for more and more power, wealth and fame, which often results in distress, conflict and violence, but to which many of our country men and women are today so religiously devoted.
The author goes on to describe the consequences of a society who ignores a commitment to virtue:
In a country overwhelmed with the runaway passion for wealth and power; in a country subsumed under the crippling culture of corruption; and in a country largely governed by disorder and impunity, Lent is here to challenge Nigerian Christians to confront the evil forces within themselves and to claim their victory over the three-fold "concupiscences" identified by traditional Christian spirituality as: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Nigerian believers need to go along with Jesus Christ in his desert experience in order to conquer the inordinate desires, the evil inclinations and the unruly passions that have conspired to make our motherland such a sick nation.
Our dire economic circumstances, the decay in our social infrastructure, the monumental fraud in our political arrangements, and the widespread insecurity in the land, are not God's design but the cumulative consequence of the free rein of the disordered instincts of our countrymen and women, which must be arrested and put in check if we truly desire to overcome our present predicament. Lent is the time to make a definite break with our destructive past. It is the time to reject a lifestyle of corruption and indiscipline. And yes, it is the time to pray for true healing and restoration.
As the previous blog post on "The Virtue of Godlessness" points out, it doesn't really matter how many people in a society overtly identify themselves as religious, but how many of those are living a life that reflects their words:
Our social discourse is often saturated with God-talk. What is missing is the discipline, the austerity, the truthfulness, the self-control and the sacrificial love that are traditionally associated with genuinely religious people. So we need to tie up our piety with the sterling virtues that the Lenten season patently highlights.
Happy Lent! Regardless of faith and/or denomination, may this be a time to decide to be the best possible versions of ourselves.
Philippians 4: 8 - Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
As Vox Day has stated in his blog and book The Irrational Atheist, atheists fetishize science as a method to refute the exisence of God. How the study of the natural world is supposed to refute the existence of the supernatural remains unclear to me. Liars use statistics, and Atheists use science.
All this to link to an interesting article in New Scientist Magazine, "Born Believers: How your brain creates God":
Bering considers a belief in some form of life apart from that experienced in the body to be the default setting of the human brain. Education and experience teach us to override it, but it never truly leaves us, he says. From there it is only a short step to conceptualising spirits, dead ancestors and, of course, gods, says Pascal Boyer, a psychologist at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. Boyer points out that people expect their gods' minds to work very much like human minds, suggesting they spring from the same brain system that enables us to think about absent or non-existent people.
The second sentence about education and experience teaching us to override our belief in God struck me the wrong way, but besides that line, the writing seemed interesting and fairly objective. The article continues:
Even so, religion is an inescapable artefact of the wiring in our brain, says Bloom. "All humans possess the brain circuitry and that never goes away." Petrovich adds that even adults who describe themselves as atheists and agnostics are prone to supernatural thinking. Bering has seen this too. When one of his students carried out interviews with atheists, it became clear that they often tacitly attribute purpose to significant or traumatic moments in their lives, as if some agency were intervening to make it happen. "They don't completely exorcise the ghost of god - they just muzzle it," Bering says.and
So if religion is a natural consequence of how our brains work, where does that leave god? All the researchers involved stress that none of this says anything about the existence or otherwise of gods: as Barratt points out, whether or not a belief is true is independent of why people believe it.
Monday, February 23, 2009
As a stop-gap, an article entitled The Virtues of Godlessness by Phil Zuckerman has been making the rounds on both atheist and religious websites.
I found it on a blog call Fortune Cookies, and I posted my response to the article in the comments section there.
As the old saying goes, "statistics don't lie, but liars use statistics." Well, in this case, I think Zuckerman's numbers would not even qualify as statistics, and his expert analysis seems to be a rather half-hearted attempt to patch together a framework of quasi-facts and figures around predetermined theory. Considering the contents of his faculty profile page includes a list of favorite songs for atheists, I think my theory of a biased data set is in good shape. At least he likes Nick Drake and Elliott Smith.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
I somehow doubt Dr. RosenRosen wants one, but I will take this time to congratulate both him and Jason on the safe arrival of healthy boys to their respective families. To further clarify the previous sentence - two different men, two different families, two different baby boys. Not that they will need the help, but I will enjoy reminding the Republican father that he has the Obama Inauguration to forever mark his son's birth, and the Democrat has the signing of the largest spending bill in our country's history.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Well, apparently there are parts of Darwin's theories that most don't want taught in schools. The full title of his most famous work is The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or,The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. What you won't in there however, is extensive discussion about humans or their evolution. For full treatment of the subject of humans, readers must look to The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, published 12 years later as Darwin's clarification on what his earlier work could potentially mean about the human races.
Consider the following quotes from Chapter 5 of The Descent of Man:
Natural Selection as affecting Civilised Nations.- I have hitherto only considered the advancement of man from a semi-human condition to that of the modern savage. But some remarks on the action of natural selection on civilised nations may be worth adding. This subject has been ably discussed by Mr. W. R. Greg,* and previously by Mr. Wallace and Mr. Galton.*(2) Most of my remarks are taken from these three authors. With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
Sounds like eugenics to me. Note the mention of Mr. Galton, Darwin's cousin and the father of eugenics. Surely we shouldn't teach this in school, should we? Darwin continues:
The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.
Well good, Darwin doesn't actually prescribe eugenics. As much as it would benefit the human races, those pesky instincts of sympathy and nobility get in the way. But he continues:
We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage, though this is more to be hoped for than expected.
Hmmm, I'll let that speak for itself, but given the birth rate trends between industrialized and 3rd world countries, I am thinking Darwin's hopes are in the process of being dashed. Still, maybe that bumper sticker should say "Darwin has sympathy for you" or "Darwin Loves Superman."
For more on the implications of Darwin's quotes above, see a more in depth look at Stand to Reason Blog.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
...truth is not a two dimensional simple one page explanation.
I wrote before that the current situation is a combination of so many partial factors that make up the whole. Artificially low interest rates by the Federal Reserve, easy credit, government sponsored privilege and loose oversight of Fannie and Freddie, huge deficit spending at the behest of the executive and legislative branches during the Bush years, it goes on and on. Yes, we need to analyze each of these issues separately, but the writer of the article makes an important distinction:
It is characteristic of the age in which we live to see the "moral dimension" as a matter of following yet more rules or dictated regulations. The ancients, however, seldom referred to rules or even principles. For them a moral life was not a matter of what you do but of what you are.
Better people make better decisions, and better decisions makes for better capitalism, regardless of rules and regulations.
Adam Smith reminded us in his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, written long before his better-known work, The Wealth of Nations, all about what he called "the moral sentiments." He himself distinguished between self-interest, which he promoted, and greed. Self-interest is both good and essential. Greed is always wrong and bad. The key difference is the former uses self-restraint, which obviously requires a moral code and a moral compass. There are moral preconditions in a market economy: the sentiments of sympathy, benevolence and compassion, of approval; disapproval and indignation, which underpin the social order and make it possible to engage in business in the first place. Human beings are not just profit-maximizers. They have moral scruples, personal commitments and the desire for happiness. These set limits to their plans for personal profit, and also stimulate them to pursue profit in ways that honor their higher values and generosity.
Absent virtues, we kid ourselves if we think more government or more regulations will solve all problems. After all, Madoff and Stewart Parnell both knew the law, and it was not a sufficient deterrent to keep them from selling fraudulent investments or salmonella infected peanut butter.
I am a realist, and as long as companies get government granted privileges (LLCs, tax exemptions, subsidies, etc.), they should be subject to regulations that seek to counterbalance those privileges. The reality is we don't live in a virtuous world, and the legal system and markets simply don't catch every immoral or illegal act, so some level of proof of regulatory compliance is sensible. But go too far and everyone suffers while the bad guys continue to disregard the rules.
So yes, there are big picture decisions regarding our economy and government's role that must be analyzed and answered, but there remains a bigger crisis, a moral crisis, that requires stronger families, stronger educations, stronger communities, more personal respnsibility, and embracing both the rewards and risks of freedom.
That moral crisis cannot be dictated by governmental power or throwing money at "problems." One of the paradoxes of the "progressive movement" is that it has spawned public policies that have had as their collective consequence an end totally opposite to the one intended. Instead of offering temporary help to a needy few, we have expanded the ranks of those perpetually in need. Where communism failed to create "new socialist man" behind the former Iron Curtain we are succeeding in America. Instead of creating a society of free and responsible individuals, we have created the entitlement generation(s). Ever since we proclaimed that we should be free from fear, we have been afraid to be free.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Even better is the comment from "Mezzanine":
Good politics requires action, constant proof that the politician is working tirelessly.
Good economics requires quiet consistency so people can plan for the future.
The times we live in are the greatest example in my lifetime of the tension between these two goals.
From "Yes, Minister" - the political syllogism:
Something must be done.
This is something.
Therefore, this must be done.
...the U.S. Senate unfortunately voted on Feb. 6 to restrict banks and other financial institutions that receive taxpayer bailout money from hiring high-skilled immigrants on temporary work permits known as H-1B visas.
There is simply no reason for this. LEGAL, PRUDENT immigration is a vital aspect to attracting people who can create wealth and opportunities for themselves, others, and America as a whole. After all, someone has to pay taxes. To support this point, the article continues:
Why are Americas unions, lobbyists, and so many Democrats afraid of competition?
According to research by Vivek Wadhwa, a senior research associate at the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, more than half of Silicon Valley start-ups were founded by immigrants over the last decade. These immigrant-founded tech companies employed 450,000 workers and had sales of $52 billion in 2005, said Wadhwa in an essay published this week on BusinessWeek.com.
He also cited a recent study by William R. Kerr of Harvard Business School and William F. Lincoln of the University of Michigan that “found that in periods when H-1B visa numbers went down, so did patent applications filed by immigrants [in the U.S.]. And when H-1B visa numbers went up, patent applications followed suit.”
As a tangent (after all this blog is for me to explore my opinions), I do want to stress the conditions of LEGAL and PRUDENT in immigration policy. I believe we should dramatically ramp up immigration under those two conditions. I don't think LEGAL needs much explanation, but I stress its importance as without legal immigration, the only immigrants we get are those who have already shown their willingness to break the law. That is not how I would like someone to begin their life in this country. Unfortunately, politicians ignored the labor laws of supply and demand, and illegals naturally filled that void.
The PRUDENT condition is a little trickier to define, because to some it may make me look like a monster. Still, as I have stated previously, I see no proof of natural equality in humans. I have to be prudent in hiring decisions to weed out the bad apples, and so should the US with immigration. Again, I want more immigration, but consideration should be given to how the immigrant's abilities, education, culture, and religion will impact America's future and safety. Criminals, Islamic extremists, and those that would likely be further burden to our welfare system should be kept out.
Back to the article, I liked this from Thomas:
In an age when attracting the first-round intellectual draft choices from around the world is the most important competitive advantage a knowledge economy can have, why would we add barriers against such brainpower — anywhere? That’s called “Old Europe.” That’s spelled: S-T-U-P-I-D.
Hat tip to Matty J. for e-mailing me the article.
Our economic problems worry me much less than our political solutions, which have a far worse track record.
Monday, February 9, 2009
The problem, to many, is that when Jesus is seen primarily as teacher, then you can take what you like, leave what you don't, and continue living pretty much how you want.
I don't see it that way. While some people do come to the Christian faith by a radical Pauline conversion experience, many do so by slow acculturation or deliberate learning. The social teachings of Jesus, then, can be a great invitation for many to explore the Gospel. On the other end of the spectrum, many people who call themselves Christians could use a reminder that faith without works is dead, and that Jesus came not only to save souls, but to enrich and give purpose to our lives. We should avoid the temptation to reduce the New Testament Gospel as simply a collection social teachings, but if a person's faith is genuine then it should manifest itself, and the ideal is to be more Christ-like, more Christian.
So to unbelievers, new believers, and old believers alike, Jesus' teachings are a great thing. To believers he will remain infinitely more than simply a teacher, and to unbelievers, there is always the humble hope that he can become more than simply a teacher in their lives.
All that to mention a new book I just learned about, How to Argue Like Jesus. I don't know anything about the book, but the description is interesting and the reviews are positive. I thought others would be interested also.
Friday, February 6, 2009
If such an option existed, then anytime a politician wants to raise taxes, the public could be given access to their tax record to see if they are practicing what they preach. After all, the recent revelations of Democrats not paying their taxes have come as a complete shock to me.
I would be interested to know if Mr. Hastings employs the use of a tax attorney to minimize his taxes owed, or if he claims any tax deductions.
So why did it happen? What was the Palin episode really about? The answer has much to do with the age-old tension between populism and elitism in our public life, which is to say, between the notion that we are best governed by the views, needs, and interests of the many and the conviction that power can only be managed wisely by a select few.
In American politics, the distinction between populism and elitism is further subdivided into cultural and economic populism and elitism. And for at least the last forty years, the two parties have broken down distinctly along this double axis. The Republican party has been the party of cultural populism and economic elitism, and the Democrats have been the party of cultural elitism and economic populism. Republicans tend to identify with the traditional values, unabashedly patriotic, anti-cosmopolitan, non-nuanced Joe Sixpack, even as they pursue an economic policy that aims at elite investor-driven growth. Democrats identify with the mistreated, underpaid, overworked, crushed-by-the-corporation “people against the powerful,” but tend to look down on those people’s religion, education, and way of life. Republicans tend to believe the dynamism of the market is for the best but that cultural change can be dangerously disruptive; Democrats tend to believe dynamic social change stretches the boundaries of inclusion for the better but that economic dynamism is often ruinous and unjust.
Interesting article, and worth the full read, but I am interested in exploring a tangent. I know some are wary of the charge of elitism made by conservatives, but it is a very real, if mostly unconscious, tension that has existed in the history of American politics, religion, education, and entertainment.
I can be a "high art" elitist when it comes to music, and no one, except maybe my wife, will suffer the consequences of me only having classical music CDs in my car (yes, I am one of 7 people in the US without an I-Pod). I can send my future kids to go to the poshest schools and get them the elite education that will open the best professional doors possible, and no one has to be deprived of their educational choices as a result. I can even hold religious beliefs that may be viewed as exclusionary, but as long as I practice my faith in love and peace, life goes on.
I may be a college educated, professionally successful, artistically inclined, and convicted by my faith, that should not translate into arrogance or contempt for those with different tastes, opinions, and experiences.
But for politicians, politics are a different beast altogether, as those in power have the unique ability to make their opinion law, and that is, or should be, a HUGE problem.
Politicians tend to arrogantly declare that they can solve our problems if we only trust them and give them the power and money to do so. And we forget that their solution is mostly their (or their party/lobbyist/think thank of choice) opinion, and not often enough does empirical evidence, history, natural law, or constitutional restraint factor into the formation of said opinion. Yet time and time again, we grant them the power, and time and time again we create a new set of problems that must be fixed with even more government power and taxes.
What was Einstein's quote about insanity?
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Growing up, I remember my mom spending hours on the phone trying to get through in an effort to schedule an appointment. If she was lucky enough to get someone on the line, it became another feat to get a time slot inside two months. It seems like I never saw the same doctor twice, and I never had an appointment that took less than 4 hours. Most of the time, our only choice was to go to the emergency room, and wait for even longer, usually 6-10 hours, to see someone. Luckily, I was a pretty healthy. And fortunately, once we actually saw a licensed medical professional, they took their job seriously and usually provided adequate service. Yay Hippocratic Oath.
Looking back, a couple things stick out. First, I played sports growing up, and they required physicals. My parents would pay close to $100 at a local clinic for my physical, as the season would be over before I got one from the Army medical center. Knowing now how tight money was in my family, this was a HUGE sacrifice. Second, my parents still see a different doctor pretty much every time they go, and have never had a doctor that built a long-term relationship with them or took a special interest in their care. This, given their age and ailments, is sad.
So while I am very fortunate to have good health insurance at my current job, and have built good relationships with my health care providers of choice, I know there are millions of people without this benefit. So what is the solution? I don't really know, and it seems I am not alone.
I know for sure that I don't want a bunch of government-run hospitals like I experienced as a child. The private sector health care in this country is pretty darn good, just ask the rich Canadians and British who come here to escape their single-provider systems. The fundamental challenge is not of health care, but the lack of access and prohibitive costs for those not insured.
All this leads me to this article which partly through research and partly through opinion, discusses what can be learned from several European health systems:
The best healthcare system, from a conservative perspective, is that of Switzerland: it beats the U.S. system in terms of its performance, efficiency, universal coverage, and consumer empowerment. Although the Swiss system is not perfect, in empowering consumers and providing universal health insurance through market mechanisms, it merits serious consideration.
Wilhelm Röpke would be proud. I'll leave Röpke for another post, but it bears noting because his preference for solving problems with local government fostering pro-market solutions can be seen in Switzerland's approach:
Regina Herzlinger, McPherson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard and the “godmother of consumer-driven healthcare”, wrote in late 2008:
“The country of Switzerland has universal coverage, costs that are 40% lower than ours and that inflate at lower rates, and an excellent health care system in terms of outcomes and resources. The key to their success is that the Swiss system is consumer-driven: consumers buy their own health insurance from more than 90 private health insurance firms. If they cannot afford it, the cantons subsidize it. If they are sick, they pay no more for their health insurance than the well (the Swiss insurers risk-adjust each other). Consumer oversight insures value for the money better than oversight by governments and employers.”
The cantons are in control as opposed to the federal government, the consumers are empowered with choice and oversight control, and private insurance companies both compete and work together to manage costs and risks. The key is moving health insurance from an employer benefit to an individual purchasing decision, much like auto and home insurance. In order for this to work in America, there would have to be a massive overhaul to the complicated web of state regulations that make private health insurance ridiculously expensive. Less regulation would be very welcomed by me. To make the Swiss system better, the author recommends open access to doctor and hospital performance metrics. Sounds good to me.
The thing is, the Swiss approach is at least close to what Mitt Romney enacted as Governor of Massachusetts. Under current federal and state regulations, it was impossible to move away from an employer system, but he filled in the gaps through a private/public approach to getting everyone insured. I would love to have a mostly pro-market system that hinges on individual choice and responsibility, while giving everyone access to great health care.
That reminds me, doesn't Obama have an open cabinet position?
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
President Barack Obama risked a backlash within his own party by criticizing "Buy American" provisions in the huge stimulus bill that would ensure that most of the big infrastructure money goes to U.S. suppliers.
While he risks angering some in his own party, he will upset several countries if he allows the protectionist measures currently included to stand. Some have even threatened legal action or countering legislation.
The real drama will come if the bill arrives at his desk with the "buy America" requirements still included. WWOD?
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
A great and historically underappreciated composer, Mendelssohn is also credited with reviving interest in the music of who I consider the greatest musician of all time, J.S. Bach, through a performance of the glorious St. Matthew's Passion.
(Note on the video - fast-forward to about 1:40 - the intro scene is annoying but this is the best recording of the 1st movement of the Italian Symphony that I could find on YouTube.)
Monday, February 2, 2009
Most of the studies of the optimum size of government made by reputable scholars in recent decades have indicated that total government spending (federal plus state plus local) should be no lower than 17 percent, nor larger than about 30 percent of GDP. In a just completed paper, economists at the Institute for Market Economics in Sofia, Bulgaria, have provided new estimates of the optimum size of government, using standard models, with the latest data from a broader spectrum of countries than had been previously available. Their conclusion is that there is a 95 percent probability that the optimal size of government is less than 25 percent of GDP.
The figures for government spending in the US are between 36-40% of GDP, with the spending bill making its way through Congress representing an additional 5-6% of GDP. And more than the size of government spending, I wonder how much GDP growth in the private sector is restrained due to regulatory hurdles for small business?
Judge Norman Krumenacker has given two Amish couples 60 days in which to have their new houses in compliance with building and sewage regulations or face eviction.
Krumenacker’s order comes a week after he held another member of the sect, Andy Swartzentruver of Barr Township, in contempt of court for failing to bring two outhouses at the Amish school into compliance .
Swartzentruver owns the property on which the school is located. He may purge himself of the contempt by bringing the outhouses into compliance and paying $1,600 owed in fines and costs by Feb. 23.
They belong to the ultraconservative Swartzentruver Amish sect, whose members do not use modern conveniences, including having their outhouses meet sewage facility requirements.
What happens if they don't comply?
Otherwise, he may face a jail sentence of up to six months and an additional fine, the judge said. In addition, the school will be padlocked and the children unable to attend classes there, the judge indicated.
I could understand if they were trying to build a house in the suburbs of Philly with a latrine in the back yard, but seriously, what the hell? Padlocking schools and evicting families from their homes because some county enforcement office has nothing better to do than harass Amish people and keep them from living the way they want, in their own communities, on their own property, this is another low point.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
No. 234: Allow five days of public comment before signing bills
To reduce bills rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them, Obama "will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days."
Obama signs first law without Web comment
First, over at CATO, a post about the current "stimulus" bill makes an important distinction between political entrepreneurs and market entrepreneurs using a historical example and tying it to big business, in this case IBM, today:
Right away this separates two groups of entrepreneurs — those who sought subsidies and those who didn’t. Those who tried to succeed in steamboating primarily through federal aid, pools, vote buying, or stock speculation we will classify as political entrepreneurs. Those who tried to succeed in steamboating primarily by creating and marketing a superior product at a low cost we will classify as market entrepreneurs. No entrepreneur fits perfectly into one category or the other, but most fall generally into one category or the other.
Enter IBM chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano
Since November, Palmisano has been making a pitch to Obama’s transition team that investing $30 billion in expanding rural broadband access, computerizing health-care records and improving the electrical grid could create 949,000 U.S. jobs. [ The stimulus package] could also create billions in revenue for Big Blue, which specializes in the technology and services used for health-care IT and smart-grid infrastructure, not to mention its recent $9.6 million contract to provide broadband service in rural America.I think the distinction between political and market entrepreneurs is critical, as I am pro-business for market entrepreneurs but not pro-business when it comes to the lobby ridden political entrepreneurs.
What we see here is IBM as the political entrepreneur.
Next, David Theroux has a post with passages quoted from one of my few heroes, C.S. Lewis, who would prefer life under robbers barrons before allowing others to rule with our "best" interests in mind:
As the old saying goes, hell is paved with good intentions.
If we are to be mothered, mother must know best. . . . In every age the men who want us under their thumb, if they have any sense, will put forward the particular pretension which the hopes and fears of that age render most potent. They ‘cash in.’ It has been magic, it has been Christianity. Now it will certainly be science. . . . Let us not be deceived by phrases about ‘Man taking charge of his own destiny.’ All that can really happen is that some men will take charge of the destiny of others. . . . The more completely we are planned the more powerful they will be.
. . . .
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. Their very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.
—C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock