Tuesday, February 28, 2017

dialogue and tradition at Notre Dame

A letter representing a debate at Notre Dame: How does a premier Catholic institution invite the pro-abortion / anti-science President from 2009 and not invite the current President?

Interestingly, the letter-writer admits to idolatry-- directly (Obama as "a personal political idol") and indirectly (race is far more important than far-more-important things).

I could hardly contain my glee at having the first African American President of the United States and a personal political idol of mine, since his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention, speak at my graduation.

My glee was short-lived, however, as for months, groups protested and argued it was inappropriate for a Catholic institution to invite a pro-choice President to speak and be honored at its commencement.

ND's president, Fr. John Jenkins, used "dialogue" and tradition to motivate his invitation to President Obama. Will the same happen this year with President Trump?

responsibility vs. blame-evasion; justification by grace vs. self-justification

A good essay by Joel Belz in World on 1.) something modern and 2.) something as old as the hills...

1.) Post-modernism has much to offer (esp. relative to modernism), but it's penchant for relativism causes a lot of trouble.
2.) Blame-evasion and rationalization goes back to Genesis 3.

Our response should be:
a.) look in the mirror; accept responsibility
b.) accept God's mercy and grace
c.) extend that mercy and grace to others
d.) focus on discipleship with Jesus and positively influencing those around you-- rather than falling for the illusions and trappings of an idolatrous political world

Monday, February 27, 2017

addiction (of all sorts) is rough business

Addiction is rough business.

In its most "popular" forms-- performance-impeding substance abuse-- addiction leads to degeneracy and various deficiencies. But addiction (defined coherently) is much more prevalent than that. For example, you might need to have Starbucks every morning or a glass of wine at every dinner; play sports talk radio every time you're in the car; hit your devices at every turn; reflexively watch national TV news/politics.

In Christian theology, addictions are one form of idolatry. Idols always look better than they are, deliver less than advertised, and cost you much more than you can (easily) see.

What to do? In Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul talks about "putting off the old man" and "putting on the new man". Both "putting off" and "putting on" require action, discipline, wisdom, and often, courage. In terms of thoughts, words, and actions, "putting off" is akin to pulling weeds; "putting on" is akin to planting flowers. Pulling weeds is a good start, but the goal is for us to have a garden.

From there, Paul follows up with eight verses, applying this principle to several key categories: the tongue, work, kindness, and anger. For example, in 4:29, he exhorts us to no longer use words that make people less whole, but to use words that "build others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." 

Along the same lines: If you're wondering whether you're an addict on X, see if you can give it up for a significant period of time. Practice a "weed/flower" spiritual discipline of giving up X and adding in Z.

Let's get specific. Perhaps you quit watching TV news for two weeks and read a book or two instead. Stop Starbucks for a month and give $100 to a local charity. Try silence and meditation in your car for three weeks. For the next 10 weekdays, put your phone down when you get home and don't pick it up until the next morning. 

It's easier to point at people who are clearly a mess. But all of us are a mess. And God's goals for us include a process of sanctification where we partner with Him, continue to have our character and skills refined, becoming more effective in loving God and those around us. Don't let a subtle addiction get in the way of your enjoying the goodness of God's Kingdom.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Michael Novak, RIP

By all accounts, Novak was a gentle soul who was productive in terms of his work and innovative in his thinking. From Acton, here are five facts about and six quotes from Novak.

A Novak quote on research which demonstrates that the way out of poverty for most Americans is to make a few simple life choices: “Some 97 percent of those who complete high school, stay married (even if not on the first try), and work full-time year-round (even at the minimum wage) are not poor. Nearly all poverty in the United States is associated with the absence of one or more of these three basic accomplishments”—not with insufficient social spending or a lack of economic opportunity.

From Chuck Colson on Michael Novak: "Free, democratic capitalism is like a three-legged stool, supported by economic freedom, political freedom, and moral restraint. Today's sub-prime mortgage crisis, which could threaten the American economy, shows what happens when you forget that third leg of the stool—moral restraint."
Samuel Gregg on Novak's classic book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, in its 1982 pre-Reagan-Revolution, pre-fall-of-Socialism, some-crappy-Catholic-social-thinking context... 
Flavio Felice and Arthur Brooks here and here through AEI, Michael Barone through AEI, Brian Anderson in City Journal, Jeffrey Tucker for FEE, William Grimes in the NYT, Art Lindsley with IFWE, and the Independent Institute with an overview of Novak's life. Joel Belz in World, relying on a cool quote of Novak's: “Socialism is a system for saints. Democratic capitalism works because it’s a system for sinners.”

Finally, Heritage is getting ready to put on a celebration of Novak's life and work. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

wage subsidies are far better than the minimum wage (well, that is, if you're trying to help the working poor)

If govt is going to try to help the working poor: instead of a higher minimum wage, they should directly subsidize the wages of low-income, working, heads-of-household.

(Before that, I'd stop taxing the working poor through FICA and state income taxes, but that's a separate post. Besides, Dems are so passionate about pounding the working poor with $1,000's of income taxes every year. So let's let the Dems have their fun and focus on this proposal instead.)

Wage subsidies are better targeted than the MW-- only hitting the folks we're really trying to help. Subsidies don't make them more expensive/difficult to hire. (Or is that the point?) It doesn't create *any* unemployment among people who really need to work and get training.

Support for the MW is largely driven by a.) a lack of policy imagination; b.) labor market cartels (unions) who benefit from it; and c.) ignorance about the MW's racist origins and racist outcomes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

crazy or unconventional and crazy like a fox?

An interesting/provocative piece by Wesley Pruden...Is Trump crazy or just unconventional and crazy like a fox?

For their own sake (idolatry ain't good for ya), for the political party they claim (and are damaging), and for the country, I hope that the rabid/fundy part of his opposition continues to fade.

Trump is certainly a mess in some ways and his policy RX's are a mishmash ranging from excellent to horrible. Hopefully, his administration will get some good stuff done. And the opposition party can avoid distractions, hysteria, and the temptation to posture-- to play a useful role in helping us avoid bad policies.

Friday, February 10, 2017

my (really odd) K-12 journey

There are some people posting their K-12 journey on Facebook, particularly those who proudly went to public schools. This seems to be part of the opposition (and often-hysterical response) to Betsy DeVos' nomination as Secretary of Education. Because she advocates for school choice-- through charters (public schools with more flexibility) and vouchers (the GI Bill for K-12)-- the crony capitalists in this arena and partisans have risen in vocal opposition.
The flavor of much of this is ironic. These reforms are about providing choice-- to allow competition in markets and to allow choice for individuals. If you consider yourself "pro-choice" in general-- or on the only issue where a lot of people are "pro-choice"-- perhaps you will consider allowing others (particularly the poor and marginal) to exercise a choice that you didn't choose, through charters and vouchers.

Where did I go to school in K-12?
I had a really strange path through 11 schools over 10 years of grades 1-12! (I skipped two grades, so I only had ten years. My college path was interesting too, including getting kicked out of school for bad grades after my third semester at George Mason. And I only had a GPA over 3.5 once after 9th grade.)

1.) Kentucky Country Day (Louisville, secular private)
2.) Sacred Heart (Louisville, Catholic)
3.) ?? (Pittsburgh, public, repeating a year in terms of material)
4.) Sacred Heart (catching me back up)
5.) Flanders (rural NY, skipped a grade)
6.) GB Davis
7.) Franklin Academy MS (skipped a grade)
8.) Notre Dame (Catholic)
9.) Franklin Academy HS (public)
10.) Chantilly HS (Fairfax, VA; public)
11.) Robinson HS (public)

In all, I didn't have two years in one school until my junior and senior years in HS. I went to four schools between May 1973 and January 1974. We moved from Pittsburgh back home to Louisville to Malone, NY-- and then moved from a rental house to a house in Malone. Most of the moves were us moving cities or houses (to #3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11). The move to #2 was caused by a fire at #1. Two moves were from elementary to middle and middle to high school (#7, 9). #8 was to get to a better school

For our four boys, we've done everything, as appropriate to what was best for them and our ability to provide with a professor's salary: public, Christian private, Catholic private, and homeschooling. We had pre-K and K in private (and a bit of Head Start for boy #3 with modest learning disabilities). We had two years of public, until we got through a year of a "pass the trash" teacher for #1 in 2nd grade. Then, we homeschooled for three years. Then, we couldn't do that effectively anymore, especially with three boys in school and #3's challenges. Then, we used private Catholic through 8th grade. In high school, we've done 2.5 years of private for one boy, but the rest of it will probably be public (if that's what's best). What's best for each-- and for our family-- has varied over time. Maybe this is more evident to us, given our two adoptions. But we're thankful to have been able to exercise choice for our boys.

As a final aside, of the 20 folks we surveyed one day when I was in grad school at A&M (PhD's or future PhD's), 19 had attended Catholic schools. The other was raised in a predominantly-Muslim country.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

don't miss out: strive for a fuller testimony

Kent's opening: After reading my post on the value of a “boring” testimony, my friend Eric Schansberg, Ph.D., emailed me to respectfully challenge my use of the word “testimony”. I suggested we take it outside and fight about it. Being more level headed, he offered to write a blog post. I loved it! I hope you do too.

In his recent post, Kent described boring and exciting “testimonies”. All of us are sinners. We should all accept God’s grace (Romans 6:23). But the path we travel to get there—and the stories we tell about that grace and our salvation—can range from the mundane to something out of The Jerry Springer Show.

Our whole testimony
There is another important sense in which we have testimonies. In the New Testament, the terms “saved” and “salvation” are used broadly. We are saved from our sin. But…

  • Peter notes we’re also saved from a profitless life (I Peter 1:18)
  • David writes about being saved from adversity and enemies (Psalm 109:31)
  • Paul says we’re not saved by good works (Ephesians 2:8-9) but to do good works (Ephesians 2:10)
There’s more to our salvation—and our testimony—than merely the path to our conversion. The ongoing work of a Christian’s life – our whole testimony – should not be boring.

We’re walking with an awesome Father who is active in this world. The Son modeled an exciting life. And we’re empowered through the Holy Spirit living in us. God wants great things for us as we walk with Him and work for Him. If your whole testimony is boring, then you’re missing out!

Living an exciting story
I want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and be a hero in my family, at work, and with my neighbor. Anybody can love those who are nice to us (Matthew 5:46). But I want to love difficult people like Jesus did. Most people can do the easy stuff and avoid the easy temptations. But I want to be an engaged father who does the difficult things and avoids the difficult temptations.

Most people can say good stuff. But I want to say the perfect words, perfectly. I want to have difficult conversations well—with courage, tact, and grace. With a bit of experience, patience, and humility, we can all have some wisdom. But I want to be led by the Spirit to see things I would not otherwise discern. I want to be empowered by God to say and do things I can’t do on my own.

David writes: “My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long…I will come and proclaim your mighty acts” (Psalm 71:15-16). David is not describing his point-in-time salvation; he’s talking about the daily acts of God in his life.

I want to model a godly life for my boys. And I want to share this testimony with them—how great God is and how much He wants for us and from us. May all of God’s children strive to walk with Him—in such a way that they will have an exciting, passionate testimony about the mighty things God has done in their lives. And may we pass this sort of vibrant faith along to our children.

Eric is Professor of Economics at IU Southeast in New Albany, IN. He’s the author of Turn Neither to the Right nor to the Left: A Thinking Christian’s Guide to Politics and Public Policy and the co-author of Thoroughly Equipped: A Disciple-Making Curriculum. More important, he’s been Tonia’s husband for 21 years and they’re trying to raise “a few good men”, ages 12-18.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Dollars for Grocery Stores?

The title of Andrea Neal's piece-- and the related legislation-- is telling: Why is it dollars to classrooms instead of dollars to families or students/parents? Do we see Medicare as dollars to doctors and hospitals? Food stamps as dollars to groceries? The GI Bill as dollars to colleges? Section-8 as dollars to landlords?

Dollars go to providers in each of those cases, but it's indirect. In K-12, the preeminent purpose of dollars is apparently to finance the (monopoly, public-sector) providers.

And then to Andrea's point, well...it doesn't work well-- and can't be expected to work well, with the current arrangements. Monopolies are known for high costs and taking advantage of customers. Govt is known for thick bureaucracies, wasteful spending, mediocre results, and inattention to the vulnerable. Let's fully implement the GI Bill for K-12 and watch great things happen.

Monday, February 6, 2017

troubles with legalism

There are a number of problems with legalism: it often confuses means and ends; it insists on black/white when a matter is gray; it majors in the minors; it usually leads to self-righteousness, judgmentalism, and nasty comments; and so on-- and if it's a lifestyle, it will take you to a small life.

Another tough thing about legalism on a topic (or being a legalist in general). If you get dogmatic, you're vulnerable to the realities of an "X - 1" argument. Here, if driving 56 is unsafe and sinful, then you should drive 55. But really you should drive 54 or 53 or 50...or just stay at home.

The first time I remember something like this: For a time, my brother had become convinced that kissing a girl before marriage was always a sin. After trying various angles, I settled on pretending that holding hands with a girl before marriage was always a sin-- and that I would judge him for holding hands.

One prominent aspect of the ministry of Jesus was dealing with the professional legalists. Think of all of the healings on the Sabbath. They provoked him to righteous anger. Think of Jesus noting that the Pharisees tithed their spices but missed justice. And so on.) If you find yourself hanging out in L territory, be really careful!

KY's GOP governors doing what Dems won't do

You'd think Dems would have done this already-- when they controlled things for so long. But unfortunately, there aren't nearly enough liberals in that party to pull off this sort of thing.

In Kentucky, it took a GOP governor to remove most of the working poor off the state's tax rolls (Fletcher) and now it takes a GOP governor to help this group of marginalized folk.

When your friends on "the Left" don't celebrate, they're telling you that they're Democrats, not liberals.

C-J article on trade (restrictions)

Made it into the C-J with this op-ed...

Our new president often expresses hostility toward international trade. On this topic, he will find many allies in Congress. There are winners and losers with trade—and trade restrictions. How can we make sense of the relevant economics and politics?

It’s easy to underestimate the value of international trade. Its benefits are relatively subtle, while its costs are relatively obvious. Consumers benefit from greater choice, higher quality and lower prices. But it’s easy to take this for granted. Producers are well aware of their competition—domestic and foreign. Workers worry about losing their jobs. The flip side of the good news for consumers is tough news for producers and workers—somewhere between keeping them on their toes and driving them out of business.

In contrast, trade restrictions are often politically attractive. Its benefits are relatively obvious, while its costs are relatively subtle. When we limit foreign competition, all of the above is reversed. Again, consumers are less likely to see the cause and effect. But producers are keenly aware that business is easier and jobs are more secure with fewer competitors.

Econ teachers use various principles to explain these ideas. For example, you don’t need a Ph.D. in economics to understand the value of competition and the trouble with monopoly power—for consumers and markets.

The most important of these principles is the practical and philosophical value of voluntary, mutually beneficial trade. When we engage in trade, both parties perceive that they benefit, enhancing their well-being and increasing social wealth. Extending this principle across national boundaries may be interesting, politically. But it does not change the underlying economics.

Teachers also use three analogies to make these points.

First, blockades are an attempt to prevent a country from importing goods during a war. Likewise, trade sanctions are used to hurt countries by limiting trade with them. When should we impose blockades or trade sanctions on ourselves?

Second, boycotts are a refusal to engage in what would otherwise be a mutually beneficial trade. We want to impose a cost on a producer—for something they’ve done that is unrelated to what they sell. To do this, we’re willing to impose a cost on ourselves, moving from our top choice to a lesser choice. Trade restrictions are like a self-imposed boycott. When should we force American consumers to boycott international goods?

Third, discrimination is a refusal to engage in otherwise-beneficial trade, because I have a problem with someone—for example, their race or religion. Discrimination harms the discriminator in material terms, but they enjoy messing with the other party. Why would we want to mandate discrimination against those in other countries and do harm to ourselves and to them?
Sometimes, thought experiments can be helpful to make the subtle more obvious. For example, if we imagine that a trade restriction is good for our economy, then it should be good for a state as well. And if it’s good for a state, it should be good for a county. And if it’s good for a county, it should be good for towns and neighborhoods. Once we extend the policy far enough, its costs become quite obvious.

My friend, David Norton takes this a step further with this parable: A virtuous man would only eat food within ten feet of living room recliner—cockroaches and the occasional mouse. He could sew the mouse pelts into clothing and use their guts for thread. Why stop at “Brexit”—the exit of Britain from Europe? Perhaps we should strive for “LRexit”—where we each remove our Living Rooms from the global economy. Conveniently, our Living Rooms already have walls to keep out the Mexicans, Canadians, Chinese and other neighbors who want to take our rodent-catching, pelt-sewing and mouse-cooking jobs. And surely, if we allowed trade, outsiders would undercut our living room “markets” for mouse—with chicken, fish, and vegetables.

One more parable from Dr. Steven Landsburg: Imagine that an entrepreneur figures out how to turn grain into inexpensive, high-quality cars. Grain goes into the factory. Through a mysterious and efficient process, the entrepreneur is able to pay good wages and produce a great product. Consumers cheer and the country applauds the technological advance. But then, a journalist discovers that the “technological advance” is international trade. The entrepreneur has been selling the grain overseas, receiving cars in return. When people hear this news, they are furious and ask legislators to pass all sorts of restrictions on the entrepreneur.

The extension of mutually beneficial trade—whether domestic or international—is equivalent to the winners and losers that occur with technological advance. The president seems to misunderstand this basic point. Will Congress go along with him, protecting certain jobs and helping interest groups through bi-partisan crony capitalism—while harming consumers, markets and the economy as a whole? Or will freedom and wealth-creating international trade be allowed to grow?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

more from Charles Murray on the (class) "bubbles"

Murray is indispensable, if you're interested in matters of class (and thus, it's correlations with race). Here's my review of Coming Apart with some updates...

An update from Murray, including the PBS version of the bubble quiz and some more analysis...

Murray discussing assumptions within the bubble quiz and other distinctions...

Michael Barone on how this relates to politics...

some of Mark Perry's top posts from 2016...

1. Hillary's speaking fee is greater than average CEO annual pay
2. Ignoring FICA taxes on income (like the Dems do, unfortunately), ‘the rich’ don’t pay a ‘fair share’ of federal income taxes, they pay almost everybody’s share
3. 18 spectacularly wrong predictions made around the time of the first Earth Day in 1970...
5. More guns, less gun violence, 1993-2013
7. the 23% gender pay gap myth