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 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment
We’ve all heard phrases like “you don’t appreciate what you don’t earn” or “no pain no gain.” The idea that income must follow labor goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, where Adam is told, “by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (Gen. 3:19).
A good work ethic is a cornerstone of a healthy character and success in life. When we talk about helping the poor, passing on an inheritance, or winning the lottery, we must proceed with caution, recognizing the destructive potential of income disconnected from effort.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with a friendly gift, and there are appropriate ways and means of assisting those in need—it is, in fact, a fundamental calling of the Christian life—but it is imperative that we look beyond material circumstances to ensure that our actions produce their intended results. This requires knowing the person, and that tip should clue us in on God’s design in all of this. Bureaucracies, drive-thru food pantries and quick hand-outs at the intersection are cheap knock-offs of the real thing: relationally-driven service and grace. When we remove relationship from the equation, we also remove accountability and responsibility—the lack of which is often the very source of the problem to begin with.
July 1, 2011 § 2 Comments
During lunch with a friend and former pastor a couple of days ago, our conversation steered into a question for which we each offered a different answer. At issue was the cause behind the phenomenon of young protestants who have disengaged from the idea of membership to a church congregation or denomination. Running parallel to this is the observation of non-denominational churches springing up suddenly in the last few decades.
His answer: the American spirit of rugged individualism. My answer: postmodernism. In truth, it’s probably a mix of the two, and someone better educated in the history of religion than I might point out additional factors.
“Rugged individualism” refers to the pioneering drive that has always characterized Americans, beginning with the first settlers. But if there is anything “in our genes” to this effect it most likely originated from immigrants who came from all over the world and risked everything to start anew in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” In its positive forms, individualism places a premium on taking personal responsibility for one’s choices and not mooching off of other people. The negative side of individualism emerges when it is wrongly interpreted to mean that we don’t have any responsibilities toward, nor do we need, one another. That misunderstanding just turns people into inconsiderate and lonely jerks.
Postmodernism is a philosophy that rejects tradition in favor of… well, nothing in particular. Just not tradition. It began in the arts and moved into a more broad cultural idea—primarily through higher education—as we moved toward the latter part of the 20th century. The overriding concept is that what we have been told from history is a constructed lie, and that we must unleash freedom of thought and action by casting away those outdated ideas. It is not a matter of finding “truth,” because there is no “truth” to find—it is up to each person to decide.
“The overriding concept is that what we have been told from history is a constructed lie,…”
Recent generations have been somewhat indoctrinated with this philosophy, if not at home then through the school system and Hollywood. Mixed in with a touch of the individualist spirit, I believe this view has caused today’s Christians to have decreased confidence in traditional answers and methods, and increased dependence on their own ability to sort out 2,000 years of history and theology.
I myself claim no denominational label, for several reasons, but I do expect to gravitate towards a general body of tradition in due time. I have come to appreciate time-tested practices and ideas in religion, just as I do in the legal system. Of course there is corruption here and there, and different people have had it completely wrong when they were sure they had it right. But that’s human nature, and it’s everywhere.
An independent mind in the search for truth is essential, and we should not set our reason aside when we walk through church doors. At the same time, as Aristotle claimed and Christianity supports, man is a social animal—we are designed for relationship and dependency. By downplaying the role of a local congregation and denominational ties, we are entering a wilderness alone and without a map or compass.
“By downplaying the role of a local congregation and denominational ties, we are entering a wilderness alone and without a map or compass.”
I do not mean to imply that a person cannot discover things on their own, nor am I shying away from the fact that we can be misled by false doctrines and group think. The point is to connect and engage with people and ideas that will help you to deepen and refine your understanding of God and Man, while building meaningful relationships with others who can laugh, love and struggle along with you. When you know you’re in the wrong stream, step out and move to another. Don’t use it as an excuse to stay out altogether, or you may end up dry and wilted.
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.
May 26, 2011 § 1 Comment
My first real job was at a consumer research company, calling people to survey their thoughts on various issues. One such issue was over cigarette taxes, and I recall one particular question about whether expensive cigarettes would reduce smoking or just lead to a “black market.” If it wasn’t the first time I had ever heard that term, it was surely the first time it stuck with me. Typically associated with criminal activity, black markets develop when demands for products and services cannot be met through regular economic means, due to high prices, illegality or some other barrier. It turns out that, indeed, rising taxes on cigarettes—like the one passed soon after Obama’s inauguration—have created a booming black market for cigarette smuggling.
This evening, the CNBC show Cigarette Wars included a segment on this new criminal industry. Gang rings—fighting one another for territory—are getting busted up, participating convenient stores are being shut down and their owners arrested, and millions of dollars of paraphernalia (in the form of, say, cartons of Marlboro Light) are being confiscated as federal government agents and local law enforcement officers crack down.
Maybe you’re asking yourself why all this is necessary, since cigarettes are perfectly legal. But smoking or selling is not the crime. In economics, there’s a word for buying in one place and selling in another at a higher cost: “arbitrage.” Smugglers are buying cheap cigarettes in low-tax states and delivering them to happy customers in high-tax states. But again, you might think, that’s a legal, and common, business strategy. I take advantage of it every time I go to a Texas grocery store and buy Florida oranges. But legislators decided it shouldn’t be legal in this case. Maybe they really hate smoking, but more likely, they don’t like people getting around their taxes.
As CNBC puts it, a “crime wave” of “black market profiteers [are] cheating the U.S. government out of $5 billion in cigarette tax dollars each year.” And that’s just from “illegitimate” sales—the government is getting much more than that from legal transactions. But I really have to stop here and ask, who is actually paying the price in this situation? Where do we, as consumers, employees and citizens, stand in this fight?
Under the current law, everyone pays except for the government. The consumer must either pay “as much as $14 per pack” or go without. The store owner loses business, and so does the manufacturer. As cutbacks follow, the people who work for the store owner and the manufacturer also lose. In fact, taxpayers who are funding the police actions toward busting this “crime” are also losing. But the government is the big winner, with billions added to its coffers from primarily low-income smokers.
“By trying to control supply and demand of a legal product, the government has actually created a whole new business opportunity for hard criminals and vulnerable kids on the streets, while loading down police officers with additional concerns.”
Actually, there is one more winner—the criminal community. By trying to control supply and demand of a legal product, the government has actually opened up a whole new business opportunity for hard criminals and vulnerable kids on the streets, while loading down police officers with additional concerns. We’ve seen the same things happen through the banning of prostitution, alcohol and illegal drugs. But at least those who support outlawing such activities argue that they cause sufficient societal harm. A cigarette, in comparison, is about as dangerous as a cheeseburger.
What’s irritating is how preventable this problem would have been if the lawmakers made any attempt to examine the economic incentives they were creating. Price-fixing does not solve problems, it only creates new ones. Sadly, destructive laws like this will continue to be written and never evaluated, because with all of their expensive and oppressive flaws, they were made with good intentions.
May 20, 2011 § 1 Comment
Four years ago I could not have guessed how much I would appreciate Houston Baptist University, and I am certain this would not be the case had Dr. Robert Sloan, former president of Baylor, not taken the reigns the year before I entered. Indeed, he was part of the reason I decided on HBU. The greater reason was that I wanted a learning environment where issues of morality and faith were part of the discussion—where secular concerns could be examined from a Christian understanding of human life and the world we inhabit. Four years later, through my studies and my work on staff, I have come to a much deeper view of Academia, its purpose, and its current failures.
The modern tragedy in higher education has been the transformation of institutions from forums of open dialogue and independent intellectual development to factories of certified laborers; from teaching how to think to teaching what to think. Ask almost anyone why people go to college and their response would be something along the lines of, “to get started on a good career,” or “to get a higher paying job.” And to some extent that is true—you ought to be prepared to perform at a higher standard, and therefore be more appealing to companies, after you graduate. But with the focus entirely on a post-college position, students see little use for education that does not directly train them for their job of choice. Core curricula are treated as inconvenient distractions one must dispense with on the way to the finish line, where graduates can say, “I did my four years, now give me a diploma so I can put it on my resume.”
“The modern tragedy in higher education has been the transformation of institutions from forums of open dialogue and independent intellectual development to factories of certified laborers.”
But in many universities, it seems to make little difference, as core requirements have been gradually worn down and diluted to meet the growing push for greater numbers of people in college. They’ve been made “seeker friendly,” if you will, with more flexibility in choices and lower demands in class. You may disagree with me, but I am of the mind that not everyone belongs in college. Many people would be better served going directly into the job market, or perhaps entering a technical school that focuses on fast-track career-specific development. But they are pushed into the idea that they must get their four-year degree, even though they have no interest whatsoever in history, economics, language or philosophy. Some quit after a year or two. Some struggle through, changing majors a few times, barely making it to the end, often beyond the typical four years. And how many of those who graduate actually do anything related to what they believed they were “training” for?
Furthermore, K-12 education has utterly failed to equip many students with the intellectual tools necessary for critical and abstract thought. They are taught to memorize facts, to do homework, to cram for tests long enough to pass classes and get out. And having removed religious and moral considerations from public schools, class thinking has moved from introspection to regurgitation; creation to reaction.
In college, students should expect to learn useful facts that will be essential if their career follows their major. But four years of higher education should provide more than that, especially at today’s rising tuition rates. We are seeing more and more disappointed alumni, struggling to get a job and pay down college debt, while they ask themselves why they ever bothered with college in the first place. And that is only indicative of the public’s misconception of the purpose of higher education.
A university education should teach individuals to think openly and independently—skills that are valuable to any career path, but more importantly, skills that are essential to life itself. Interaction with other people is one of the few guarantees on this earth, and success for anyone depends greatly on whether or not they can navigate the complexities of human relationships and social institutions. Even at an internal level, there is a sense of relationship with oneself—and God for those of faith. Philosophy and theology, among other disciplines, teach us how to engage with our internal struggles in a healthy way.
One of the ways of teaching independent thinking is to constantly challenge assumptions and conclusions, and part of that is introducing students to the great thinkers of history who challenged conventional wisdom or pioneered new paths of understanding. Another positive outcome of this is that, as students construct a more well-rounded mental picture of human history and the ideas that have shaped and propelled our world, they join into that “great conversation” and have a more solid grasp of human nature, global events, and their place in that grand panorama.
“A diligent and honest search for the truth should leave nothing off the table, and this is a very important claim, with very deep implications for academia, on which even many faith-based institutions have difficulty delivering.”
When I chose to stay in Houston for graduate school, a key factor was my ability to continue working with the HBU staff during this crucial phase of its strategic development. Its leadership embraces the purposes of higher education as I have described, and also believes in the unity of faith and un-compromised academic scholarship. A diligent and honest search for the truth should leave nothing off the table, and this is a very important claim, with very deep implications for academia, on which even many faith-based institutions have difficulty delivering. What makes HBU particularly unique is its location in the third largest, and one of the most culturally and economically diverse metropolitan areas in the United States. The university has given me a great education, and significant changes over the last few years are promising for the future quality and reputation of my alma mater. I hope to stay involved, and perhaps after graduate school I will have the opportunity to teach others there as well.
And if I ever teach at the college level, I hope that the people who fill the seats of my classroom are not just warm bodies who have been pressured into being there, and whose tuition has been subsidized by the government. I would prefer that they have a real interest in learning, and that they want it bad enough to make significant personal investments. As long as we are looking at colleges as machines for producing a workforce, they will become increasingly less capable of doing so, while trillions of dollars in time and money will be wasted on spinning wheels.
May 1, 2011 § 6 Comments
I was just watching the show “GPS” on CNN. Speaking on the subject of income inequality, host Fareed Zakaria said “everyone agrees that income inequality is a major problem.” His guest, Malcolm Gladwell (author of Blink) then explained a theory of how it started, with an expansion of capital in the 1970s, the elites in entertainment and major corporations began demanding higher incomes.
My first thought was: I didn’t know that “everyone agrees” that income inequality is a problem. I certainly don’t think so. What is inherently bad about some people having more or less income than other people? Who exactly is harmed by this? It seems to me that income inequality is more an opportunity to advance than some sort of limitation.
Furthermore, if we each have different talents, and some work more or harder than others, and if the products we produce vary in terms of supply and demand, then shouldn’t we expect incomes to vary? And if so, what would be required to solve this “problem”?
Gladwell’s answer is that we could have an even more progressive tax—that is, your tax rate goes up as your income does, so that the very rich pay a very high rate. But, he says, this is impossible to accomplish, politically. So plan “B” is to have institutions just stop paying so much. If people just say “enough with the high incomes” then we won’t have them. Wow, I didn’t realize it was so simple!
I want to take Gladwell to task on both his reason for high incomes and his solutions. Yes, part of the problem relates to something he said: access to expanded capital. For him, this was a result of good economic times, but he doesn’t factor in the easy money policies that the government pursued in the middle of the century, and Richard Nixon’s final separation of the dollar from gold. With a fully flexible currency, access to capital was just a matter of ink and paper. As American citizens have preferred to print money than to earn it, there are more dollars in circulation than there should be, making conditions right for greater income diversity.
Another generator of inequality was, as Gladwell probably knows, the lowering of the tax rate under Reagan, then more under Bush 43. This allowed the economy to grow and for more people to keep their earnings. With greater liberty comes more inequality.
And the third major reason for income inequality is a major increase in global trade, such as Clinton’s opening of trade relationships with China. But this doesn’t just benefit the wealthy—if half of the items you own have another country’s name stamped on it, you’ve benefited economically from global trade. And this is genuine growth, not an artificial boom caused by government. Again, liberty = inequality.
As for Gladwell’s solutions, I can’t understand how high and unequal taxes are somehow morally superior to unequal incomes. In order to believe that, you’d have to believe that a dollar in the hands of government, through taxation, is more just and honorable than a dollar in the hands of an individual, through skill and labor. Countries that have tried this system for any length of time have only driven themselves into poverty because they ignored principles of human behavior. And anyway, he’s right about it being impossible.
Lastly, no institution is going to just tell their high-earners to take less or leave. There’s a reason they are getting a high salary in the first place: the company believes that the person is worth it, and they’re willing to compete for that person using wages. Let’s see what happens when an NFL team decides to just stop paying so much.
As long as people are free to use their own money, there will be inequality, and the more currency in circulation, the greater that inequality will be. But none of that is necessarily bad.
The moral of the story is this: Next time CNN decides to discuss economic problems and solutions, they should consult an actual economist.
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.
August 20, 2010 § Leave a Comment
I’m going to chime in on this ground zero mosque issue that everyone is raving about, though I should admit that there are plenty of factors to consider, which I may not see.
The builders say it’s intended to promote understanding and cooperation. The opposition says it’s an offensive gesture, and quite possibly a national defense issue. The supporters say everyone has a right to practice religion and the God-and-Guns people need to stop being chauvinists. This week the fight went political, with seemingly every politician having to clarify their stance. The president’s support of the project drew wide criticism, and you would think that the entire upcoming election is going to hinge on whether or not someone is with Obama on this.
Let me say right away: this is not a political issue. The Federal Government either can or cannot stop a private group from building on private land, for purposes of entirely legal activity, and the answer is not equivocal. Thankfully, the Constitution strictly prohibits the government from getting involved, though one could argue that local officials may have more leverage. With that said, there is really no reason for federal politicians to take a stance on whether this should be “allowed” or not.
If the concern is on national security grounds, the solution is to monitor the activities there and only take action when it is clear that illegal activity is taking place. Arguments against the project on grounds of how offensive it is, or how happy it makes muslim extremists, are simply not valid enough for the Federal Government to step in. How often have we complained that “offense” is not a criminal activity? Let’s not employ a double-standard here. Our national values dictate that within our borders, you are free to be a prideful and offensive jerk.
Now, this doesn’t mean I support it. They are free to build it, but I am free to say that, yes, it is offensive, and dumb, and possibly even dangerous. With the backers stubbornly resisting any and all efforts to appease the weight of the conflict, I have little reason to be confident in their claims that they are doing this for the sake of unity and cooperation. And if not, what are they building it for? Any claims about the purpose of this building are speculative, and though its existence at ground zero may offend some of our friends and satisfy some of our enemies, speculation is not enough to close it down.
One facet of this debate is over whether or not the building is at ground zero at all. That depends on your definition. No, it is not being constructed in the empty footprint of the WTC towers. But, as Hugh Hewett noted on his radio show earlier this week, any spot where plane and body parts landed should be considered hallowed ground. Still, the fact that this attack occurred in the middle of lower Manhattan means that we’re just going to have to get used to the idea that life and commerce will go on. Here in Texas, hundreds of men were killed fighting for our independence at the Alamo. Today, the iconic memorial sits adjacent to Jackalope Joe’s and the Out West Giftshop. And everywhere you look there are Mexican restaurants and paraphernalia.
I understand the discomfort, and I know that some people will be emotionally hurt by this. But I am not one that believes emotional distress is a crime. Muslim extremists may view this as a victory, and there may be consequences that we cannot see, but I am also not one who thinks speculation and assumptions are enough evidence to stamp out the First Amendment.
I know that I break with many conservative voices on this, but it is important that our facts are accurate and unexaggerated, and our principles are consistent. You don’t win a battle of ideas by changing them for political expediency. Many Republicans are using this as a wedge issue to stir up trouble with Democrats before an important election. And though I applaud just about any attempt to get the current leadership out of Congress, we should be careful not to get so excited that we lose track of our ideals.
August 16, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Smashingmagazine.com posted a great article in which the author espouses the benefits of a free and open internet, otherwise known as “Net Neutrality,” arguing that any law limiting that freedom would “shatter the core values that make the Internet so profoundly valuable to society.”
I couldn’t agree more. The internet has become an incredible tool for information, communication, trade, and practically anything else we can think of. And this has only been possible because millions of people with millions of ideas have been able to freely develop them, and the best ideas are allowed to spread quickly and easily. The internet allows us to create, and share our creations with as many people as possible, at whatever price we wish to charge. Miraculously, no one “governs” the internet. There is no global committee in charge of approving websites and what goes on them, or who is allowed to have access to what (outside of laws that overlap with the rest of the “real” world). Yet, the internet continues to grow and meet more of our every day needs in more efficient ways, through a voluntary and organic process.
Interestingly, this is exactly the argument those of us make who firmly advocate for the free and unfettered market, ostensibly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
There are inevitably those who point to the fact that freedom allows people to cheat and harm—like creating viruses—and who step up to defend the “victims” of free-enterprise by calling for government action. In the tech world problems have been addressed through things like virus software and spam filters. And how much spam do you get today compared to 1999? The market solved it, though admittedly not without some casualties. As old problems are addressed, new ones are created, and because it’s impossible to foresee the next attack it’s impossible to prevent people from getting harmed.
But it doesn’t mean you shut the whole thing down, or put some ultimate decision-maker in charge of it. The internet is just too big to “plan”. Today, if a massive virus is discovered, every company in the tech industry puts their best resources into defeating it. A few clicks and phone calls to tech support later and the whole event is history. This is because each of those companies have a vested interest in keeping things squeaky clean. What might happen, though, if only the person “in charge” had the authority to deal with it? Problems would get so out of control and burdensome that most people would simply stop using the internet.
In such a state, the death of the internet wouldn’t be a huge loss anyway, since there would be far less to do with it. Imagine what might happen under a controlled web. Many companies would fail to get approval to operate a site at all, and others would decide that the new fees—oh yes, you can count on fees—aren’t worth it. Since companies operating through the web would have an “unfair” advantage over others, product sales would be taxed higher, turning even more companies away. And since the whole process of getting approval for, building and operating a website would require so much red tape and so many regulations, few individuals could afford to experiment with new ideas—certainly not free ones.
The next Wikipedia, Google, or Facebook would simply never happen. But people can’t miss what they never had. And they would count whatever inconvenience they did notice as the small cost of security and fairness.
Freedom is a two-sided coin. When you allow people to make their own choices you must take the good with the bad. Our knee-jerk reaction to bad decisions is to prevent them, usually through threat and regulation. And there is definitely cause for that approach in certain cases. But is there a better way to get better results? Yes. And does it require a central planning authority that grows larger with every new problem? Absolutely not. But this isn’t something that can be explained in a blog post.
Like language and currency, the internet has been created by people and for people, with no central controller. It’s not too often that humanity gets such an illustration of the raw ingenuity of the human spirit, and the power of free people acting independently, toward great social benefit. Yet, the internet provides a perfect learning opportunity for understanding how Capitalism results in better living, greater freedom, and more opportunity for all. Adam Smith would be very proud.