Tuesday, November 22, 2016

on trying to help the poor (especially when the government causes so much trouble in this realm)

A post on the occasion of a new IFWE booklet by Kathryn Feliciano on trying to help the poor... (See also: Corbert and Fikkert's already-classic book.)
If you're on the ground, trying to help "the poor", you quickly realize how complicated and challenging it is.

Start with two key government policies: 1.) welfare programs which tax the poor at an average of 80-90% as they earn money, encouraging them to remain on welfare and to embrace trouble with family stability/structure; and 2.) govt's huge monopoly power over the poor in K-12 education, exacerbating the family problems they've helped to create.

Add in a mix of all sorts of personal problems-- from lack of discipline and job experience to addiction and mental illness.

Now, try to help this wide variety of people, especially when there are "compassionate" subsidies beckoning them to remain in the same position.

Olasky notes that the word "compassion" used to derive its contemporary meaning from its Latin roots-- "to suffer with". Now, it merely means sentiment and feeling sorry for someone, often from a distance. But "distance" doesn't work well here. If you want to help-- and especially if the government wants to continue messing with the poor-- you'll have to get your hands (really) dirty.


good/bad news (post-election) for the Dems

The occasion for this post is a related article by Michael Barone...

Good news for Dems:
-They would have easily won the Presidency and had some (sizable) coattails if they had chosen (not rigged?) any other candidate.
-The GOP is unimpressive and fractured.
-It's about time for another natural recession that they can blame on the GOP.
-Trump may be a really bad president in terms of economics (causing economic trouble) or civility.

Bad news:
-They have a penchant for making excuses rather than making adjustments. (As with many temptations, it feels good in the short-run, but hurts you in the long-run.)
-They're more into politics and power than policy. Or from another angle: They've mostly run out of ideas and we've mostly run out of money to spend as taxpayers
-African-Americans are increasingly likely to move away from them on economic policy and the embrace of modern science is catching up to them on abortion.
-They're not having as many kiddos.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Moore on the Religious Right, the 2016 election, and where to go from here...

First Things recently hosted Russell Moore on "Can the Religious Right Be Saved?". The title is a nice pun on "saved" and a useful depiction (in general terms) of political temptations (over time) for those on "the right" within the Church and its periphery.

I'm especially interested in Russell Moore's opening (4:15-11:15) on being a product-- and a survivor-- of his Southern, Religious-Right background. Good stuff, particularly if you've been burned by some common (but far-from-universal) aspects of the RR-- political idolatry, social or moral hypocrisy, and end-times hockery. For people with baggage in this area, his testimony may bring perspective and relief.

From there (until 1:03:00), he discusses the problem of the Trump candidacy (presidency?) for Christian public supporters-- not necessarily that he was supported but the manner in which he was supported and some of the arguments that were used in that support. And beyond that, what so much avid support tells us by revealing profound flaws in our efforts at promoting discipleship with Jesus. And beyond that, where do we go from here?

Q&A starts after that, including the need to empathize within politics and a reference to Haidt's Righteous Mind as must-reading!

book recommendations for me?

I'd appreciate your help on this:

I'm putting together a list of books to recommend as an aspect of discipleship with Jesus (particularly for small-group studies to be read and discussed together).

I'm dividing the list into "200-level" and "300-level"-- where 200s are shorter & easier; and 300s are longer and/or heavier. I have a zillion books for the 200s, but am looking for more.

300s includes series/combos of books (e.g., four classics by C.S. Lewis) and some mid-level "equipping" curricula, but I'm looking for more individual books. The three examples I have at present: Willard's Divine Conspiracy, Chesterton's Orthodoxy, Piper's Desiring God.

Please list last name of author, book title, and a brief (5-10 word description). Thanks in advance!

Friday, November 18, 2016

letter to the editor of the C-J on "trickle-down economics"

Dear Editor,

In his recent op-ed piece, Matt Erwin uses the phrase "trickle-down economics" and then mischaracterizes "supply-side economics".

"Trickle-down" may be useful as political rhetoric. But it is does not aptly describe the related concepts and it is not a term that economists or proponents have ever used.  We usually allow other groups the dignity to choose their own labels. For example, we let people call themselves "pro-choice" (on abortion) rather than "pro-abortion". And we let people say they support "a living wage", instead of noting that they want to make it much more painful to hire less-skilled labor. Perhaps we should do the same on tax policy.

"Supply-side economics" simply recognizes the incentive effects of reducing marginal tax rates. For example, if the government plans to take 90% or 60% or 20% of the last $10,000 you earn, this changes your incentives to earn (and to report) income. Depending on the change in tax rates, it is possible that work effort would increase enough to offset the lost tax revenue from lower tax rates. But it is certainly not guaranteed. Of course, this becomes more likely when marginal tax rates are quite high. This explains why JFK cut the top rate from 91% to 70% in the 1960s and why Reagan (with a strongly Democratic House) cut the top rate to 28% in the 1980s.

As Erwin points out, Kentucky has struggled for some time. So, why not look forward to some new experiments with economic policy? It was the last GOP governor who took most of the working poor off of the state income tax rolls. Hopefully, Governor Bevin and the legislature will finish the task. Perhaps Kentucky can move to the 21st century on K-12 education reform, embracing public charter schools and "backpack funding". Maybe Kentucky can lead the way on innovative public sector pension reform. I look forward to the changing of the guard and some policy innovation out of Frankfurt. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

a common temptation and sin-- for 1/4 of us pre-Nov 8th and another 1/4th after Nov 8th

I Timothy 2:1-3 is a helpful barometer of the Christian faith as it applies to the realm of politics. 

If you aren't obeying these verses out of ignorance, consider yourself knowledgeable now and get to it! 

If you aren't doing it-- or even, can't do it-- it's just like any other willful sin. You'd better check your salvation claims-- and make sure that you've actually embraced God's grace. Then, repent from something that is as bad as being addicted to porn or clubbing baby seals.

With the impending change in presidential regimes, many folks are being tempted now-- in ways that others have been tempted for eight years. Just because you've only been tempted (again) in recent days doesn't mean that you've been righteous for the past eight years; you'll get a better idea of your righteousness in the weeks and months to come. Just because you're not tempted now does not mean that your heart is right either. Remember your struggles to obey this passage over the last eight years.

Today's charge: Check your heart; get right with God; disciple with Jesus; and get more comfortable in the goodness of God's Kingdom by obeying I Tim 2:1-3.

After you've done that, feel free to (lovingly) address character flaws and jacked-up policy proposals! ;-)

Monday, November 14, 2016

on "trickle-down", Trump, Clinton and Reagan

a.) "Trickle-down" again? C'mon people. Will the same people be ok if we switch to labels such as "anti-science" or "pro-abortion" on Roe v. Wade?

b.) Comparing Clinton's job growth with Reagan's? Puh-leez. 1.) Clinton had the generally-healthy economy that Reagan bequeathed him and a slight recession at the end of the Bush years from which to recover. Reagan/Volcker had the high inflation of Johnson-Nixon-Carter monetary policy to deal with (leading to the recession in 1982-- a time that was worse than the Great Recession).
2.) Clinton benefited from Reagan winning the Cold War, allowing him to divert military/defense resources to more productive uses.

c.) But to argue in favor of the author's thesis: One would not expect the necessarily-small decreases in marginal tax rates to be all that consequential-- or helpful to tax revenues or to the economy. When JFK (the original "supply-sider") cut the top rate from 91 to 70%-- and when Reagan teamed with a Democratic House to cut the top rate to 28% (and index taxes for inflation-- a huge, vastly-under-rated policy change)-- the gains were (expected to be) much larger.

Friday, November 11, 2016

trying to figure out the post-election hysteria

A number of reasons for protests and other post-election hysteria (the more obvious emergence of an Alt-Left that has always existed-- as opposed to the Alt-Right that got more play during the campaign...How large is each?)

a.) Our youngest citizen/voters have little/no context for an election that was so strange and had such regrettable candidates.
b.) Younger but slighter older citizens/voters have no memory of a Dem losing (go back to 2004) or a GOPer winning-- and don't know how to respond well.
c.) Again, moreso among younger folks in their generation: an increased tendency toward sensitivity and taking disagreements personally.
d.) Again, moreso among younger folks and more prominent among self-styled liberals: the (often-vital) importance of gender politics-- and therefore both the value of a Clinton presidency because she was a woman and an increased subjective level of harm felt from Trump's comments.
e.) Particularly among self-styled liberals, a higher value on words-- and thus, finding Trump's rhetoric (vs. the reality of the moderate way in which he will govern) more troubling.
f.) Personal values/ethics often led to downplaying Trump's flaws or mostly ignoring Clinton's. From there, lack of empathy (particularly on the Left; see: Haidt?) made it difficult for NeverTrumpers, NeverClintons, and Neithers to understand each other.
g) Certainly, values and (often rational) ignorance are in play. But in biblical terms, we can mix in idolatry as well.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

a prayer for Wednesday (and beyond)

I Timothy 2:1-2 implies that one cannot begin to righteously criticize the government unless one is praying for those leaders. Paraphrasing C.S. Lewis: whatever prayer does for others (and however it might move God), it certainly helps us. It may not change the hearts of others, but it changes our hearts-- and that alone makes it worth the effort and discipline.

My prayer for Wednesday and beyond-- with respect to the Presidential race, federal politics, and our country...

For the winner and the loser, that they would...
-accept God's gracious gift of salvation (if they haven't already); 
-become fervent disciples of Jesus, walking with the Spirit in the process of sanctification; 
-be much more comfortable in the goodness of God's Kingdom; 
-care much more for the downtrodden and the marginal;
-walk away from self-gratification and hypocrisy

For the avid supporters of each, that they would...
-see their political idolatry and walk away from it
-no longer self-style as liberals and conservatives-- and actually live up to one of those labels (or even, Libertarian!)
-have much higher standards in political matters

For whichever is elected, that they...
-wouldn't take us into war, bankruptcy, and another decade of tepid economic growth
-would not govern illiberally and work to further reduce civil liberties 
 -if Hillary is elected, that she will reverse course and not perpetuate our culture's general division between elites and deplorables
-if Donald is elected, that he will reverse course and not perpetuate hatreds of those in particular groups

-if Donald is elected, that he will not go all-crazy on us, getting us into all sorts of unnecessary trouble-if Hillary is elected, that she will not go all-Nixon on us, swamped in corruption and engaged in rampant lying

-if Hillary is elected, that she would begin to care for the working poor and middle class, rather than seeing them as political pawns
-if Donald is elected, that he would recognize the beauty and power of voluntary, mutually beneficial trade-- even across political boundaries

But I won't pray about those things too much...

Will it really matter?
-Maybe with continued Congressional fecklessness, the President/Congress combo means that it doesn't really matter that much. 

-Maybe science and coherent metaphysics will finally persuade the Left to fight for the civil rights of the most vulnerable in our society-- the unborn. 
-Maybe the GOP will move to a belief in smaller government and fiscal responsibility.
-Maybe the economy will continue to stay healthy enough to stay ahead of all of the regulations, subsidies, taxes, and garbage that will be passed in the next 2-8 years.

-God's Kingdom is so much bigger and better than all of this. "Our Father in Heaven...your Kingdom come; your Will be done on Earth..."

Or I won't pray for those things too much, because I have more important things to do.
-My vote is trivial next to my voice, so I will continue to speak prophetically against the tens of millions of "liberals" who are not liberal and the tens of millions of "conservatives" who aren't conservative; and against the political 1%-- those who abuse government power to enrich themselves and harm others. 

-My ability to impact people outside of government-- family, students, neighbors, disciples of Jesus, etc.-- is far more important than whatever will happen with our government. And so, I will redouble my dependence on the Spirit and my Kingdom work-- to love and serve others.
Please join me-- in prayer and in action. 
Grace and peace to you on Election Night 2016 and beyond...eric

self-control vs. pull the rest of my hair out

Three areas where it is really difficult for me to practice restraint:
a.) when supposedly-smart people confidently say stupid stuff about economics
b.) when supposedly-tolerant people are self-righteous and intolerant
c.) when people drive slowly in the fast line, at dusk without their lines on, while texting

Monday, November 7, 2016

Christian theology and what to do with politics

Released by IPR and forthcoming in their journal (if not in newspapers as well)...

For Christians approaching the difficult decisions of this election year, it is important to keep four concepts in balance: 1) God’s good Creation; 2) the "Fall of man"; 3) the potential for partial, earthly Redemption; and 4) an eager hope for full, heavenly Restoration.

Even outside of Christianity, one still sees at least the first three elements in play: In every aspect of life everyone has an ideal in mind, a sense in which the ideal is not met and some desire to pursue improvement.

A failure to keep these concepts in balance can lead to trouble. For example, if I acknowledge a good Creation but underestimate the Fall, I won't see enough need for Redemption or ultimate Restoration. I’m likely to settle for poor results while imagining that the results are already ideal. To the extent that I address the deficiency, I’m likely to have naive expectations and be disappointed with the outcome, despite my good intentions.

If I imagine a good Creation and see the impact of the Fall but have no passion for Redemption, I will settle into apathy or a lack of compassion for others. If I over emphasize the Fall, I'll settle into cynicism. If I exaggerate Redemption over the Fall and ultimate Restoration, I will imagine that too much depends on my efforts and end up in self-righteousness or burned out. If I focus mostly on Restoration, I'll tend to isolate myself from difficult people and social problems, waiting for all things to be made right in the next life. And so on.

The realm of politics allows fruitful application to the same principles. From the "Creation Mandate" in Genesis 1:26-28 we know that politics were part of God’s good Creation. Adam and Eve are told to exert dominion, to be fruitful and to multiply, all of which require governance and politics. Since government is pre-Fall, it follows that government and politics are not inherently evil.

But with the Fall, all sorts of things go wrong. From Christian theology, all are separated from a holy God by our sin. We're separated from each other by our selfishness and our fears. Genesis 3 describes many types of damage that resulted from the Fall —  psychological, sociological, environmental and economic problems — as well as spiritual distance from God and physical death.

In terms of politics this means that our problems are greater and more complicated, our individual capacity to address them is compromised and our capacity to work effectively with others is greatly reduced. As a result, simple solutions are likely to be simplistic. Politics is likely to attract those who wield power in a self-serving manner. Those who enter the political realm are prone to various temptations. And groups of people will find it quite difficult to reach effective solutions.

In “A Conflict of Visions,” Thomas Sowell describes “unconstrained vision” and “constrained vision.” On the one hand, unconstraineds tend to assume away character flaws in those implementing policy and those being impacted by policy. Unconstraineds see social problems as puzzles to be solved, rather than mysteries to be addressed. Unconstraineds tend to focus on benefits, while downplaying or ignoring costs and constraints.

Constraineds can get stuck on the importance of constraints, resulting in cynicism, over-analysis and policy paralysis. Relating this to the terms I’ve used here, the constrained vision can put too much emphasis on the Fall but the unconstrained vision puts little or no emphasis on the Fall, resulting in a flawed worldview and poor policy outcomes.

Particularly with this year’s presidential race, many people have been sorely tempted to overlook profound character flaws on one hand and to applaud wishful but ineffective policy proposals on the other. Still others have responded by burying their heads in the sand or wallowing in cynicism. And yet, as in other challenging areas of life, we're still called to work toward Redemption — sometimes through politics — to try to improve life for those around us, particularly the vulnerable.

All will be resolved in the end. But in the meantime, we're supposed to address the roots of problems, not merely the fruits. We're called to meet physical, intellectual and spiritual needs — ministering to the entire human person. We should address long-term goals, not just short-term objectives. We should recognize our limits and constraints, aiming for improvement, not utopia.

To what extent is more government activism an ethical and practical means to reasonable ends? As it turns out, not often. But that's another discussion for a different day.