September 18, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Over at Values and Capitalism this week, I commemorate Constitution Day with a reminder of the importance of the Constitution, not only in American history, but as a teacher of political principles.
“The center stage of contemporary political debates seems dominated by questions of economics and entitlements, as though government’s role is to simply decide which levers to pull and how far. Were Americans better educated in the history and philosophy of the U.S. Constitution, we might be better equipped for this discussion. Regrettably, our culture has largely relegated the Constitution to the realm of patriotic folklore, denying most Americans the intellectual tools for understanding our own institutions and political principles.” READ MORE…
July 4, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This July 4th we celebrate more than Independence; we celebrate an exceptional nation. American exceptionalism is not about hollow jingoism as critics charge, but a recognition of the unique character and role of the United States in human history and international affairs.
April 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
A discussion has been ongoing at Values and Capitalism over the relationship between Christianity and libertarianism. Does the libertarian emphasis on individualism and license jive with Christian values of brotherhood and morality? And does conservatism offer a different answer? This morning’s post examines these questions and more >> click here to read the blog.
March 22, 2012 § 4 Comments
The first film in the Hunger Games trilogy is hitting theaters at midnight and is already looking like a huge success. If you haven’t read at least the first book I would recommend doing so this weekend.
In honor of the event, ValuesAndCapitalism.com is publishing a series of posts regarding the trilogy’s ending. Yours truly was asked to make a contribution, which you can read here, but you’ll want to read V&C program director Eric Teetsel’s explanation of the blog series first. Note: given that these talk about the last book, here’s a major spoiler alert.
For those of you who have only read the first book (or if you’re reading this after seeing the movie), check out my January post in which I discuss some of the lessons of the Hunger Games.
August 26, 2011 § 1 Comment
Which is better at serving the poor: food stamps or corporate jets? Read my take at Common Sense Concept’s Two Cents blog. [http://www.commonsenseconcept.com/extravagance-benevolence/]
Also, check out the video below, which discusses the findings of a recent study by the Heritage Foundation (I mention it in the post).
August 4, 2011 § Leave a Comment
While elected officials in Washington have been debating over the debt ceiling, another robust conversation has been materializing at the intersection of faith, poverty and economic policy.
In July, an ecumenical coalition of Christian leaders met with President Obama to present a statement—the “Circle of Protection“—casting welfare programs as a moral imperative. Claiming a commitment to the values outlined in Matthew 25 (“…whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”), groups like Sojourners, led by God’s Politics author Jim Wallis, insist that “funding focused on reducing poverty should not be cut.” This initiative reflects a larger movement among young Christians toward a view of wealth redistribution as “social justice.”
While the moral appeal for welfare is nothing new, the boldness of couching it as an explicit commandment of Christ adds a new log to the fire. After a bloody culture war in which the church fought at the front lines, many young evangelicals resented the pigeonholing of Christians as a right-wing voting block. Those sentiments were intensified as Republicans in the Bush era were characterized as ignorant and bigoted. The current fiscal debate has provided an opportunity to set up camp alongside the progressive wing in a way that emphasizes compassion. Unfortunately, while they are right in suggesting that “budgets are moral documents,” they confuse individual responsibility with collective coercion.
In response to this shift, and recognizing the lack of sound economic principle in the church, a countermovement has emerged declaring the virtue of free enterprise and the danger of bloated government. Throughout the Twittosphere, Christian capitalists have been critiquing the agenda of the Circle of Protection, making the case that government programs frequently exacerbate and prolong poverty, and that Christ calls us to serve one another as voluntary individuals, not through a bureaucratically adulterated political game. Furthermore, they argue, a burdensome regulatory and tax system slows economic growth and makes it more difficult for individuals at every income level to pursue a fruitful life.
“Christ calls us to serve one another as voluntary individuals, not through a bureaucratically adulterated political game.”
A full-page ad by the American Enterprise Institute’s Values & Capitalism project appeared in Politico, in opposition to a previous ad by Wallis. In turn, Sojourners’ communications director Tim King attempted to clarify the Circle’s position, albeit ineffectively. King writes that the Circle does not seek a “blanket exception for all poverty programs under any and all cuts,” yet everything in the statement communicates otherwise—including the aforementioned quote that such programs “should not be cut.” If what King says is true, the authors of the Circle’s statement were merely sloppy and irresponsible in their prose.
Adding depth to the conversation, the Values & Capitalism project, represented by Eric Teetsel, is helping to build a new coalition—Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE)—to provide a counterweight to the Circle. Teetsel co-authored CASE’s Letter to the President, requesting their own meeting with Obama. The letter dismisses the idea that the Circle of Protection represents a majority view among Christians, and provides a freedom-oriented, values-based approach to fiscal responsibility. The letter, like the Circle, is signed by a wide array of respected Christian leaders. The letter was made available for the public to sign, and continues to add names. (You will find my moniker at #33. sign here)
This discussion is a very important one for the Church body, though there is a tendency to shy from such complex and controversial topics. Religion and politics are ostensibly forbidden from friendly discourse—especially in the same sentence. But there are some issues that cannot be passed over. Public policy must be rooted in ethical purpose, and if the church is silent, others will fill the gap. We must engage fully in a search for understanding about humanity and social institutions, and we must do so with grace and cordiality. We are first and foremost brothers and sisters in Christ, and secondly agents of His justice on Earth.
For those interested in exploring this debate, Remnant Culture has posted a convenient round-up of responses from various Christian writers on the “What Would Jesus Cut?” question.
July 6, 2011 § 1 Comment
He spent his teens as an Eagle Scout, lived two years as a foreign missionary, earned his B.A. in International Politics, became fluent in three languages, served four presidents and reached 90 percent approval ratings as a Republican Governor of Utah. Jon Huntsman has an uphill battle to climb with the GOP base, but if he plays his cards right, his experience and centrist appeal just might place him among the most serious contenders this election season.
If this happens, many voters may face a double dose of what has been termed the “Mormon Problem.” A third cousin of Mitt Romney, Huntsman shares more than DNA with the man who made the issue national in 2008, and with both men in the race, the likelihood of a Mormon GOP nominee is looking probable. This would force many Christians into an uncomfortable reconciliation of their personal convictions with their public concerns, as Mormon theology is commonly understood to be at odds with Christian orthodoxy.
One approach says that we should select candidates as professionals, not pastors. If we need heart surgery, we do not care what the doctor believes, so long as he knows how to make us well. There is merit to that argument, but we must be cognizant of the important distinction between a position of leadership and a position of mere tactical knowledge. Leaders determine direction, and direction stems from values. Decisions in a business, church or body politic reflect the values of its leadership.
“Decisions in a business, church or body politic reflect the values of its leadership.”
Still, there is a more important criterion for measuring a candidate against his religious faith: the extent to which a president’s beliefs support the fundamental claims upon which a free and just society is built. It must revere and hold responsible the free choice of individuals; it must place a sacred value on both the human person and the family unit, including the institution of marriage; and it must allow room for the tough decisions that Commanders in Chief must make in the face of hostile evil.
Not all belief systems can support these concepts, but the “Church of Latter-Day Saints” does. Responsible stewardship and the strength of the family, for example, are central features of the Mormon faith, and members are urged to engage fully in civil service. Significant theological disagreements do exist between mainstream Christianity and Mormonism, but when it comes to the confluence of core values and social institutions, they are much more likely to stand together on key issues.
There is no reason to believe that a Mormon president would lead America in a direction counter to Christian principles. Furthermore, it is not guaranteed that a Christian candidate would not. Regardless of the faith a candidate identifies with, we must be attentive to the decisions that are made and the results they produce. If a president’s policies betray liberty, dignity and family, then it matters little what book or deity they claim to follow.
“If a president’s policies betray liberty, dignity and family, then it matters little what book or deity they claim to follow.”
Though the American Founders believed in the value of a strong religious—primarily Judeo-Christian—influence in society, they did not envision a nation governed by a particular doctrine. They viewed the roles of church and state as separate, and for good reason: the church should not wield the sword of law, nor be yielded by it. Therefore, our Constitution was designed to preserve freedom no matter the ruling party, and each president is sworn to protect that document by oath. It is not a president’s particular theology that should concern us, but whether or not that oath means anything to the person taking it.
June 17, 2011 § 3 Comments
C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that God wants “a child’s heart but a grown-up’s head.” Followers of Christ are charged, by the ethos of our calling, with a high standard of practical reason, fused with compassion. When we carry our faith to the political sphere, we must do so with grounded understanding, not idealistic, emotive or superficial thinking. This means that the abdication of our duty to educate ourselves in the unsightly “secular” forces of politics and economics is morally unacceptable.
To the detriment of our own effectiveness, the Church has largely overlooked the relevance of these studies to the Christian mission. Through political philosophy, we examine the relationship of power and protection, and the proper extent of the state. There are important implications here for those who believe the individual has a right to free will. But it is the economic sphere that seems to have caused a phobia in religious discourse, even though the central concern of economics is, in fact, human needs and how they are met through voluntary service—an arrangement far preferable to political coercion.
While many people—including religious leaders—have spoken against capitalism for its ability to amplify greed and materialism, a number of Christian scholars and organizations are helping to reverse that view and to make the case that economic liberty is not only efficient, but morally superior to any other known system. Tragically, the intellectual overlap of theology, economics and politics is near absent in Christian higher education, leaving society in the dark as it seeks ethical answers to practical problems.
“…the intellectual overlap of theology, economics and politics is near absent in Christian higher education, leaving society in the dark as it seeks ethical answers to practical problems.”
I visited two organizations over the last two weeks that are trying to fill this gap and alter the national dialogue. The Acton Institute has been building a case for the “moral foundations of a free society” for twenty years. Their “Acton University” conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan has become an ecumenical Mecca for Judeo-Christian thinkers who affirm the value of ordered liberty. The American Enterprise Institute is also beginning a new initiative on values and capitalism. Their “Purpose & Prosperity” conference brings evangelical undergraduate students to this established DC think tank to engage with scholars on the critical issues of our day, and learn how to evaluate them through sound principles.
Both groups are proclaiming the same, as I call it, freedom gospel: our Creator values the person and his/her talents, and desires hearts of humility, responsibility, service and stewardship. From this basic premise, the individual is the central decision-maker, not the state, and the dignity of responsible human creativity and work ethic replaces government mechanisms for the distribution of wealth and opportunity. The latter method is spiritually void, and robs the soul of social value. Our faith also has meaningful implications on the roles of the family, Rule of Law and personal accountability in a healthy economic society.
“Our Creator values the person and his/her talents, and desires hearts of humility, responsibility, service and stewardship. From this basic premise, the individual is the central decision-maker…”
Christians should resist state-run solutions characterized by imposed charity and resentful class warfare, where the vulnerable are cast as victims, incapable of achievement and disconnected from their own choices. We should instead advocate a system that rewards service and selflessness, minimizes political controls and increases well-being at all levels of society.
To apply the old adage, the Church has largely embraced the idea that if a man is hungry, a bureaucrat ought to transfer to him a fish from someone else’s catch. It seems more consistent with Christian virtue, however, to teach him how to catch fish himself, then ensure that he can keep the rewards of his labor, not only so that he can eat, but so that he can feed his family and perhaps open his own fish market, providing employment to his neighbors and prospering his community.
I encourage those interested in public policy issues to familiarize themselves with the Acton Institute (www.acton.org) and the American Enterprise Institute (www.aei.org). Surely other groups are doing similar things, but my personal experience working with these great organizations allows me to lend personal endorsement, which I am very eager to do.
June 13, 2011 § 1 Comment
A report, published a few weeks ago, says that 74% of Detroit’s population is “functionally illiterate,” despite half of that number having a high school degree or GED. This alarming fact begs a few questions: how could so many students graduate without learning to read? Why would a school system allow it? And why would only half the population get a diploma or GED, in a society where education is paid for? As surprising as this statistic may be, the deteriorating quality of our education system is widely recognized. From sea to shining sea, we are failing to equip our children with the necessary tools for healthy, prosperous, and ethically responsible lives.
There are many contributing factors to this broken system: underperforming teachers/teachers unions, low salaries, unengaged parents, large class sizes, lagging technology and so on (I would strongly advise those interested in this to see the film Waiting for Superman, or pick up the May 2011 issue of Reason Magazine). But these, and most other common excuses, are not the problem, they are symptoms of two root problems: 1) political management, and 2) disregard for individuality. It is fair to say the second merely follows from the first—collective action through law must treat all as equals and serve the “common” good. The alternative is political favoritism.
The culture of American education ignores individuality by presuming that people share the same internal biology and capability, therefore differences in achievement must be from some source beyond the individual. Curricula and teaching methods are developed with the intention that each child will learn the same things, the same way, and management of teachers is handled on only the most equitable basis. Thus, responsibility and accountability are rare in the classroom. Individual success goes unrewarded, or under-acknowledged, and mediocrity is the new standard.
Without giving individual students the opportunity to learn and develop as individuals, and not as products on an assembly line, they can never reach their full potential. The view that drives education is the direct reverse of that which drives quality in nearly every other industry: competition. But as competition places value on individual achievements, it is said to have no place in an education system that is supposed to uplift all. It is, in fact, the same false paradigm that supports nationalized healthcare.
The popular solution has always been to throw in more money. Between 1945 and 1950, spending on education quadrupled to $10 billion. It reached $100 billion just 26 years later, and has since surpassed $800 billion. In my lifetime alone, America has more than quadrupled spending on education. Yet, the quality of education seems to have actually decreased. (see chart) Lack of money is not the problem. The American education system must be unhinged from its government monopoly. Our increasingly bloated, bureaucratic and expensive model has shown no sign of improvement, and it will not until that model is radically altered.
“Lack of money is not the problem. The American education system must be unhinged from its government monopoly. Our increasingly bloated, bureaucratic and expensive model has shown no sign of improvement, and it will not until that model is radically altered.”
In recent years, major efforts have been made toward a more privatized system. Whether through voucher programs or the hybrid “charter school” model, competition and accountability are again taking their place in education. I applaud these efforts. But the idea of a predominantly or completely private education system is intriguing to me. While I remain skeptical that a purely private industry could ensure a properly educated public, it doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it once did. Allow me to explore that thought.
THE CASE FOR PRIVATIZATION
The first assumption most people make about a private education system is that only the wealthy elite could afford it. That isn’t true. There was a time when political class determined one’s destiny, but in modern democratic capitalistic societies, supply and demand is the arbiter of wealth and opportunity. With an education industry consisting of thousands of companies, competing for the business of millions of potential customers, prices would adjust to what families are able to spend. This principle is the reason there are 3D IMAX theaters and Redbox kiosks; department stores and Wal-Marts; BMW and Nissan—or bicycles for that matter.
Through private education, each child would presumably get the quality of instruction suitable to their academic potential and/or the amount of money parents are willing to spend. The last half of that is obvious, but we tend not to think of the first. We think scholarships are only for college, but that’s just because K-12 is already covered. Without government subsidies, investors and philanthropists would be pouring in to offer scholarships to students who showed real potential to advance favorably in a better environment. And with a far lower tax burden for education, that money would be more available.
In America, there’s really no such thing as being “stuck,” unless the government is involved. And though we think of education as being the great source of upward mobility, in many ways it is very restrictive. Every child must spend thirteen years of their life—five days a week and
9 months at a time—doing what the state, district, principle and teachers have them do. Parents have little say in what or how their child learns, and end up spending most of the most important years on the sidelines. The one hope for most parents is that they move into a neighborhood with a good school.
The harsh reality: many children would be better off at home—and for some older teens, at work—than they are in our abysmal school system. We should not compare our options to what we wish education would be, but what is actually is. Here’s where the rubber meets the road: how much is the average low-performance student really getting out of sitting in classes until he/she is 19 years old? I suspect it’s not much. But what if that same child were spending the last two years or so with his/her family, learning a trade, starting on a low-paying job, and getting a head start at figuring out how to survive in the real world?
Let’s remind ourselves why we are so persistent in dragging our kids through school. We want them to learn, to have a better chance at success, and we want society to respect them. Unfortunately, our school system does not provide these things. And frankly, if your child does not have the character and will necessary to accomplish these things, nothing and no one (but the child) can help anyway. I am not suggesting that society give up on underachieving students. I am saying that we should allow those children to explore alternative means of success.
The overwhelming opinion is that a private system of education forever relegate low-income children to poverty and crime. But this view misplaces they key ingredients for learning and success. Some of history’s most intelligent and influential figures—like Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, just to name a few—never had formal schooling. What they had was passion, will and integrity. For some, the classroom of life is the best teacher.
With a free-market education industry, any child that showed interest and ability in learning through a traditional classroom would have access to a truly functional system. Those who did poorly in the school environment would have other means of developing life skills. But the market for education today is unable to develop innovative solutions to meet those needs, as our model imagines each individual as being a carbon copy of those around him/her, and seeks to produce the same results through the same methods. It has not worked, it is not working, and I can see no chance for significant change without shifting toward less dependence on the state-run model.
Perhaps a true private education model is absurd, but it’s a useful thought experiment. At the very least, responsibility for education must be made more local, more flexible, and more compatible with a free and competitive market of educators, ideas and talent.
April 12, 2011 § 2 Comments
Every so often you run into a piece of news that epitomizes everything that is wrong with leftism. Today’s anecdote: a Chicago school has banned children from bringing their own lunches.
The reason is simple—the principal wants to “protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.” Let’s assume that means the parents too. Perhaps banning certain types of food was not far enough; people simply shouldn’t be allowed to make their own choices. It’s far preferable to restrict them only to the approved items.
The second phase of leftist policy, once you’ve restricted choice, is to make the authority the sole supplier. This way, intellectual elites can manage our lives and make them better. At this school, “most students must take the meals served in the cafeteria or go hungry or both.” Hmmmm…. did you catch the “or both” part? Why would someone take the meals and go hungry? As it turns out, when you force people into something they don’t want, they’re less likely to value it and take care of it. If the students brought what they wanted from home, their lunch would be full of whatever they or their parents think is best, and the food might actually be eaten (especially since they bear the full cost). In economist terms, individual preferences would ensure that resources are allocated efficiently. But “individual” is a dirty word in this miniature academic utopia.
But there’s a greater reason why food is being thrown away, and it’s the same reason hundreds of thousands of decent used cars were destroyed last year (which caused used car prices to skyrocket. All in the name of helping the poor, of course). Many of these lunches are subsidized by federal dollars. The government draws a line and says anyone earning below that line can get free or discounted lunch. Imagine yourself walking into the cafeteria, someone behind a counter hands you a tray of food that you may or may not like, at no charge. If you don’t like it, you’ll just toss it. Even if you do, it’s no loss to you if you don’t finish. But if you’ve ever heard of the phrase “There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch,” you’d know that it is a loss to someone… just not anyone you know or care about.
But we do know exactly who is getting paid. Chartwells-Thompson is the district’s food provider, who gets a fee for each lunch, and if parents don’t pay, the
Federal Government taxpayer does. The paradox of restricting the free market for the sake of equality and fairness is that it is rarely equal and never fair. Governments pick winners and losers—it’s part of the job, as it is with anyone who has the power to choose one thing over another. And in this case, the winners are the food provider and the school; the losers are the students, parents and taxpayers.
But some parents do think it’s a winning situation. “The school food is very healthy,” one parent said, “and when they bring the food from home, there is no control over the food.” And that’s precisely the mentality that drives leftism: if people are left to decide for themselves then “there’s no control,” and control is just so alluring.
One point brought up in the article is that this actually will cost some parents more because they can pack lunches themselves at a lower cost. It won’t be long before someone pushes to have the difference covered by the state. And that would only be fair, given the circumstances.
What you have here is an intention to encourage healthy eating. The result is wasted food, unhappy and hungry students, and poorer parents. And who’s to say that what the school offers is healthy anyway, especially given our genes and lifestyles vary widely. Sure, some kids will eat healthier… but more importantly, they will never have to learn how to provide for themselves or anyone else. Living on the public dole will soon be the American modus operandi. And for the left, they can imagine no better future.