Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"America's goober policy is totally nuts."

James Bovard in the WSJ on...

-Obama pounding Haiti with this recent action. (It'd be less damaging to send some more of his drones in there.)
-With the most recent farm bill, which dramatically increased subsidies for peanut farmers, Congress and Obama engaged in more of that smooth and creamy, bipartisan, crony capitalism.

One might expect this sort of thing from the GOP. But why do Dems love crony capitalism and hate the poor so much?! Is it ignorance or corruption?

the pay gap for higher-educated women

There are many frustrating aspects of the popular/political version of the (gender) "pay gap" discussion:

In particular, it takes a complex social phenomenon and ignores all of the variables, before confidently drawing ignorant and inflammatory inferences.

But it also distracts from smaller, interesting aspects of the question that *are* real and might deserve some market or policy attention.

For example, this WSJ article discusses the flip in the pay gap between education levels for women. In 1980, women with college degrees were closest to men (ignoring all other variables) with less than HS further away. Now, it's reversed.

As a specific example, researchers found that men and women earned the same immediately after earning MBAs from the U. of Chicago. But ten years later, women only earned 57% (*far worse* than the average 'pay gap')! The primary cause: "Women became mothers, interrupted their careers and eschewed lengthy hours that generated higher paychecks." Claudia Goldin: "These particular occupations are not very forgiving of taking time off and raising kids."

There's also an interesting literature on differences in willingness/ability to bargain by gender I suspect that's part of the mystery here, but the article does not discuss it.

Democratic opposition to Obama's plan to close Guantanamo

Democratic opposition to Obama's plan to close Guantanamo

as reminded by Reason in June 2016

tax rates vs. tax revenues vs. collected tax revenues

How do you decrease the gap between taxes and taxes collected

Well, here are some things that don't help:
-giving the IRS the ACA to enforce
-an unnecessarily complicated tax code
-higher marginal tax rates that encourage tax evasion (as well as tax avoidance and less work)

Through its actions, the Left gives the impression that it wants to pose on raising money from the wealthy, while actually getting less money from them. 

One of my favorite questions from the 1980s for Lefties: Would you rather have higher tax *rates on* the wealthy or higher tax *revenues from* the wealthy? The reactions were always fun and fascinating.

Friday, May 27, 2016

one article on Hillary enabling Bill, five more on her email server problems (in the last 24 hours), and Jill Stein's interview in Rolling Stone

Rich Lowry on the nastiness of Hillary enabling and attacking the women accusing Bill. 

Hillary Clinton’s self-image as a feminist champion has always been at odds with her political partnership with a serial womanizer whose electoral career has depended on discrediting and smearing the women with whom he’s had dalliances...Perhaps you think Hillary had no choice but to stand by her man, or she made the correct calculation that...justified waging political war against a few inconvenient women. Even so, there is no doubt Hillary compromised herself, by the standards of feminism 20 years ago, and even more by the standards of today.

Jonah Goldberg on her more insidious flaws-- most notably, through all of the lying. 
The State Department's inspector general released a report this week concluding that Hillary Clinton is a breathtakingly brazen and consistent liar...By setting up a secret email server in her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., without proper authorization from any legal or security official, Clinton displayed a cavalier disregard for national security and an outrageous desire to hide her doings from Freedom of Information Act requests, government archivists, Congress, the press and, ultimately, the American people.

Over a year ago, Clinton held a press conference at the United Nations intended to put the whole controversy to rest. Nearly every significant statement she made was a lie. And we've known it for a year. For instance, she said, "I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material." We know that's untrue....Another major lie: that she did this out of "convenience" because she didn't want to carry two devices...More lies. Not only did she carry several devices, but the IG report makes it clear that this stealth rig took a lot of planning and effort. She told staffers, "I don't want any risk of the personal being accessible."...if Clinton did nothing wrong, she also would have talked to the inspector general, like every other relevant secretary of state did. And she would have happily told her team to cooperate with the IG to clear the air. They all refused.

Just in the last 24 hours on Hillary's lies, here's Chris Cilizza, a non-partisan (or even lean-left observer), conservative Megan McArdle, and liberal MSNBC. Finally, here's Dick Morris-- albeit, often an axe-grinder-- with a blurb on Bill Clinton's assistant having access to the server (with no security clearance). 

Finally, here's a real feminist-- even if her policy RX's are a mess: an interview with Jill Stein in Rolling Stone

Monday, May 23, 2016

Russell Moore's "Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel"

I haven't had a ton of interaction with Russell Moore: a handful of essays on public policy and adoption. He's always seemed somewhere between reasonable and really solid. But apparently, he's been pushing some unfortunate buttons in this "Year of Trump", so maybe I would judge his work differently. 

(For example, Moore has seemed stronger to me than Al Mohler on potentially-unorthodox Christian literature and a Christian worldview of politics and public policy. On literature, see his reviews of The Shack and esp. Joel Osteen vs. Rob Bell.) On politics, Mohler seems to have moved a good bit-- as evidence in this blog post and from his interaction with Cal Thomas in April at SBTS. Then again, I don't have enough data on either of them to get too excited.) 

Anyway, I read Onward as a resource for a forthcoming journal article. I enjoyed the book-- from little blurbs to bigger points-- and will outline some of that below. 

The American Civil Religion
Moore is really strong "the American civil religion". I don't know how such things can be measured. But it seems clear that a good chunk of American Christianity-- say, in the 1950s-- was "civil religion rather than biblical Christianity. Among other things, as I've pointed out for a long time: the parents of the 1950s gave us the children of the 1960s, so they could not have been too impressive spiritually. 

And so Moore observes: "That's why one could speak of 'God and country' with great reception...but would create cultural distance as soon as one mentioned 'Christ and Him crucified." (6) Or as I usually put it, try making reference to "the Triune God" rather than just "God" or "god". Alternatively, the civil religion's vision was not "to be about Christ and Kingdom, just God and country." (12)

I thought Moore was helpful on the "Christian nation" / majority vs. minority idea: Ironically, "The temptation is to pretend to be a majority, even if one is not...a profoundly Darwinian way of viewing the world...like a frightened animal puffing out its chest in order to seem larger and fiercer..." (29) And then some balance: "If we see ourselves as only a minority, we will be tempted to isolation. If we see ourselves only as a kingdom, we will be tempted toward triumphalism. We are, instead, a church. We are a minority with a message and a mission." (35)

Moore plays with one of my pet peeves: the ridiculous confusion about II Chronicles 7:14-- as if that refers to America as a country rather than "the Church" or perhaps "the American church" in some contexts. But then Moore goes a hilarious and ironic step further, in comparing this line of thinking to the prosperity gospel! This is "precisely what the prosperity gospel preachers do" along the lines of invoking Deuteronomy's physical/material blessings if we obey (75-76)

Moore rips "non-sectarian prayer" as "the state establishment of various forms of Unitarianism" (148); "A Christless civil religion of ceremonial Deism freezes the witness of the church into something useless at best, pagan at worst. Government-run doxology cannot regenerate a soul, or resurrect a corpse." (150a)

The good news, given recent cultural changes: "The Bible Belt marrying parson who weds whosoever will show up and rent his church; his day is over. The gelatin-spined neighborhood pastor who hitches the cohabiting couple and hopes to see them at church when their children are old enough for Sunday School; his time is up...laissez-faire wedding policies and the nominalism that foes with them are done for, and good riddance to them. For too long, we've acted as though the officers of the Christ's church were Justices of the Peace." (179)

The Kingdom is "Now and Not Yet"
Moore is also strong in talking about eternal life beginning now, for the believer-- and the "now and not yet" of God's Kingdom. I picked up these themes (and "God can only bless you where you're at"), most forcefully, from Dallas Willard. 

Moore says he "cringes when I hear Christians talk about the lists of things they want to do before they die" (52). Instead, "my sojourn in this interval is shaping and preparing me for what is ultimate, so I cannot shirk off the person I am becoming by the habits I am learning." (54) Again, we must be careful with the tension here. If not, we risk one of two errors. First, we can be "too near" (now) and, as a result, "fall for utopianism" and coercive means of reaching presumed-godly ends. Second, we can be "too distant" (not yet) and end up with "prophecy chart fixations or cultural apathy or failed attempts to withdraw from society" (58).

Moore makes a number of other, nice points: 
-He describes another Rapture as nominal Christians vanishing from churches in a post-Christian culture (24)-- a real-life version of “the Rapture” (a la LaHaye’s Left Behind): “Cultural Christianity is herded out by natural selection. That sort of nominal religion, when bearing the burden of the embarrassment of a controversial Bible, is no more equipped to survive in a secularizing America than a declawed cat release in the wild. Who then is left behind? It will be those defined not by a Christian America but by a Christian gospel.”

-He quotes Buechner on "Jesus saves" as far more painful-- "cringingly, painfully personal"-- than "Christ saves", with its "objective, theological ring" (68).

-"She probably didn't think of herself as a proponent of white supremacy. The point is that she didn't think at all." (113) Man, how often do we see that line in action: people who are blind through idolatry and contentedness with good intentions!

-"Sanctity of Human Life Sunday" ought to be as unnecessary as a "Reality of Gravity Sunday". Some day! (115)

-In comparing Romans 13 to Revelation 13-- and the move from the "minister of God's wrath" to the Beast: "The Beast oversteps its bounds, sets itself up as a god, and seeks to regulate worship through threat of violence..." (143)

-A really nice point on how "legislating morality" on marriage can cause trouble. In a word, an "almost-Gospel" promotes "a divorce culture": "Nominal Christianity incentivizes divorce by, for example, giving social pressure to early marriage without an accompanying accountability to the church for the keeping of the vows. The ideal of Christian marriage without a strong community of discipleship and discipline is a dangerous combination." (172)

-Moore discusses persecution, but also the Christian propensity for anger against culture, in some circles. He compares it to the correlation of bumper stickers with "road rage": a "temptation for our public witness...to become an ecclesial version of a bumper sticker, identifying who we are and expressing outrage at the culture around us." (187-188)

-On tattoos and the evolution of culture, churches, and new forms of church leadership: "Tattoos don't mean what they used to." (213) "He might have tattoos, yes, but they aren't of Che Guevara. they're of Hebrew passages of Deuteronomy." (21)

-Moore makes the most compelling case I've seen against cremation (61-62). He says it's a matter of conscience, but that it paints "a false picture of the body. Burial signifies a Christian hope, that the deceased is 'sleeping' and thus, will be 'waked' at the coming of the Lord. Cremation signifies a perspective found in Buddhism and other religions, that the body is consumed into nothingness...'Can't I be resurrected from an urn as easily as I can from a casket?' they ask. Of course. That's not the point. God can resurrect me if my body is eaten by alligators but I wouldn't dispose of Aunt Gladys that way..." (I wonder if this connects to Haidt's research at all?!) Moore also cites the women who (properly?) cared for Jesus' body pre-burial. And he points to the ancient Egyptians as an extreme in making "the body ultimate". 

on frameworks for understanding American foreign policy since the late 19th century

From Andrew Bacevich in Harpers...

Bacevich opens with a nice summary of his thesis: "Republicans and Democrats disagree today on many issues, but they are united in their resolve that the United States must remain the world’s greatest military power...In its most benign form, the consensus finds expression in extravagant and unremitting displays of affection for those who wear the uniform. Considerably less benign is a pronounced enthusiasm for putting our soldiers to work “keeping America safe”...more or less permanently engaged in hostilities abroad, even as presidents from both parties take turns reiterating the nation’s enduring commitment to peace."
Sure, there are critics, but they're on the fringes. So, as usual, "this November, voters will choose between rival species of hawks". In terms of "national security" policy, "the outcome of the general election has already been decided...the status quo will prevail, largely unexamined and almost entirely intact..."
Bacevich blames historians for popular blindness in these matters. And he describes the American "meta-narrative" that includes major doses of isolationism and appeasement, but with our periodic and righteous activity resulting in the U.S. as the last and best superpower remaining on the stage. As Bacevich notes, "Whatever the defects of current U.S. policy, isolationism and appeasement do not number among them." With a military presence in more than 150 countries, the claim does not hold any water.  
Bacevich continues by noting that most of the public can't even imagine policy alternatives. In this, one is reminded of our country's massive excursions into K-12, Social Security, and health care/insurance. Few people can imagine provision through alternative means-- and believe that moving somewhat on the public/private spectrum is tantamount to government leaving the field. Ahh, the isolationists and the anarchists! Who would build the roads? Who would police the world? 
Instead, Bacevich encourages a different narrative with four episodes: 
1.) a "Hundred Years’ War for the Hemisphere", starting in 1898; 
2.) a "War for Pacific Dominion", also beginning in 1898, fading in the 1970s, and perhaps reviving again today; 
3.) a "War for the West", joined by the U.S. in 1917 and continuing until the Fall of the USSR in the late 1980s and early 1990s; and 
4.) a "War for the Greater Middle East", started in the post-World War I land grab of the preceding "war", but joined by the U.S. in the late 1970s and continuing unabated.

A lot of good nuggets as he develops his case. But in particular, on #2, Bacevich added some knowledge to my understanding of China, Japan, and the U.S. pre-WWII. It now makes more sense why Japan would attack us, given or interventions in episodes with Japan and China in the 1930s. 

His conclusion: "Among other things, the narrative demonstrates that the bugaboos of isolationism and appeasement are pure inventions...Since 1898, apart from taking an occasional breather, the United States has shown a strong and consistent preference for activism over restraint and for projecting power abroad rather than husbanding it for self-defense..."

Friday, May 20, 2016

the mixed blessings of post-modernism (vs. the mixed bag of modernism)

Over the past few years, I've been struck by the advantages and disadvantages of post-modernism's influence on culture and the Church (vs. modernism's mixed bag):

-more interest in story, but also encouraging narcissism;
-more embrace of subjectivity, but also more on relativism;
-more empathy for pain and struggle, while subsidizing over-sensitivity and micro-aggressions (and as a result, thus, intolerance and faux tolerance)
-less Scientism, but less science
-less process, less impressed by measurement, and more organic, but less organized, intentional, and strategic

Thoughts? Others?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

in case you were wondering, Hillary ain't Bill-- and she won't bring back the 1990s

I don't hear a lot of people making the claim that "Hillary = Bill, so we can have a better economy".

For one thing, people forget how great the economy was in the 1990s.

But even when they remember this, they're wise to remember:
-there were also many positive things happening in the 90s (e.g., massive tech advance, end of Cold War), whereas today, Hillary would be inheriting the rough/tepid Bush/Obama economy
-his positive policy positions would be somewhere between difficult and impossible now (e.g., try asking Dems or even most GOP'ers to go back to his deficit and spending levels; freer trade?? reduce capital gains taxes?!) 
-Hillary ain't Bill-- and she wouldn't be working with relatively impressive GOP'ers

Monday, May 16, 2016

the subtle costs of regulation to business (esp. small business) and society

To have consumption, we must have production. We can produce our own stuff, but most of us aren’t good at a Robinson Crusoe approach to life. So, we usually produce a few things, in areas where we have a “comparative advantage,” and engage in trade with others who do likewise. When all of us work where we have skills, we win and society wins — tremendously.

But usually, we don’t work alone and then engage in trade. We work together in groups — often, large groups — to produce goods and services. Why do we do this? Did you ever think about why businesses exist at all? Economists point to three primary reasons.

First, different risk preferences will lead some people to value the (relative) security of employment. If 99 of 100 workers are risk-averse, they would happily work for the 100th and let him deal with the greater risks (and the potential big bucks) of ownership and entrepreneurship.

Second, bringing levels of production together often reduces “transaction costs” — the cost of making trades happen. If we’re all in the same building and trying to operate by the same mission, our costs of transportation and communication should be much lower.

Third, “economies of scale” can occur with larger production. For a variety of reasons, the average cost of production often decreases when you produce more. To note, it’s usually lower-cost to produce 70 units one — than to produce one unit 70 times.

To encourage business, there is a role for government. For example, the government enforces contracts and protects the property rights of business owners and employees. Without these functions, the incentives to engage in productive activity — inside or outside of a firm — are greatly reduced.

Government also provides a regulatory function in contexts where markets struggle. For example, because we don’t have enforceable private property rights for air and much of our water, firms have an incentive to throw their pollution onto these common resources. As such, government should protect common resources with effective regulation.

Unfortunately, the government also uses regulations to make it more difficult for businesses to participate in a market. The regulations are useful as restrictions, in an effort to enhance monopoly power for cronies who want higher profits and don’t want to compete as much. In The Triumph of Conservatism, Gabriel Kolko argued that the legislative agenda of the Progressive Era was quite useful for enhancing the monopoly power of those connected to political power.

But with both types of regulation, government necessarily creates additional costs for businesses — as they adhere to the regulations. Back to our point about “economies of scale”: Uniform regulations generally provide an advantage to larger firms, since they are in a stronger position to absorb these costs. As such, regulation typically encourages the formation of larger businesses and the reduction of small businesses.

A key exception: Lawmakers often seek to mitigate this problem by exempting smaller firms from certain regulations. For example, the Affordable Care Act only applies to businesses with 50 or more employees. But this is troubling for at least two reasons. First, the exemptions indicate that the regulation is not really all that important. (If it were so important, we’d mandate it for everybody.) Second, the cutoff is arbitrary. Even if this regulation is good policy, the chosen number is certainly not revealed from on high.

As with most public policies that expand the reach of government, the benefits of enhanced regulation are obvious while its costs are larger but far more subtle. We can see the benefits of mandated labeling on food, but its costs are absorbed into price and smaller firms will tend to be driven out of business. We can see the jobs saved by international trade restrictions, but the higher prices and the greater job losses are far more subtle. We can see the problems prevented by unlicensed hair braiders and peanut farmers, but the costs are more insidious.

Economists are fond of discussing the tradeoffs in personal choices, business decisions, and public policy. But in the case of regulation, it’s certainly troubling that the costs are so subtle. And it’s worrisome that regulation tends to cause so much more trouble for small business.

If Indiana wants to promote standards of living, then less regulation is generally preferable — to protect small business, to enhance business and to encourage competitive markets that will please workers and consumers.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

National Day of Prayer: me to the Lord on education...

Dear Lord, 

We gather here today, asking for the sleeping and the slumbering to be awakened—and in particular, I want to ask you for a wake-up call on education.

We lift up our children to you
-that they would gain a passion to understand the wonderful world you have created;
-that you would protect their hearts and minds;
-that they would learn how to navigate the world around them.

We pray for fathers and mothers
-who are eager and able to encourage their kids and hold them accountable;
-strong and glorious marriages;
-for wisdom, courage, and perseverance as parents.

We pray for our teachers—
-that they would strive to empower kids to think rather than merely teaching facts or teaching to tests;
-that they would persist in hopefulness and that you would encourage them by showing them more of the fruits of their labor.

We pray for staff and administrators—
-that they would ably organize teachers and staff so that schools would be effective environments for learning; 
-for wisdom and courage as they make complex and difficult decisions.

We also pray for higher education—
-that colleges would be a place of open-minded thought and free expression of speech, in an exploration of the beautiful world you have created; 
-for listening ears that have empathy and for people who will practice true tolerance.
-for places where teenagers will become truth-seeking adults.

Finally, I pray for all of us to know that learning is not restricted to schools—that we would strive to have…
-better theology (to know you better—your character, your promises, and what you done throughout history);
-a better understanding of science and the physical world you’ve made;
-a better understanding of economics and the way we interact through markets;
-a better understanding of public policy and its subtle costs;
-a better understanding of psychology and Scripture as we seek to better understand those around us; and so on.

This year, may all of us spend more time reading than we do watching TV. Awaken in us a thirst for knowledge and wisdom.

I pray that we would seek the Truth in all things. And I pray that we would be students of the Word—both the Word of the Bible and the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. This is all lifted up in His powerful and precious name...Amen!