Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gee Officer Kurpke, Krup You

Urban renewal was one of the pinnacle dreams of the Progressive/Social Gospel/New Deal streams of American economics and politics. Government "experts" decided which neighborhoods were "blighted", used the police power of government in the guise of eminent domain to take the property from it's rightful owners, and replaced the existing "slums" with (typically butt-ugly) housing "projects" that were often either government operated or handed out by government to political cronies. (In some cases the land was turned over to private corporate development).

We find ourselves in a position today of trying to figure out how to "fix" unsustainable programs of government provision of health care (Medicare and Medicaid). Other Americans receive government provided food (at school) , and we were in the 1950s well on our way to having government being a dominant direct provider of housing. (Instead, we had two government created frankenfirms, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, subsidizing home mortgages through smoke and mirrors).

This Reason TV program highlights the damage to the lives of the poor through one government directed "urban renewal program." I know I sound like a broken record, but no oppression of the poor is more condemned in the Bible than oppression of the poor that operates out of the domination of the government by the rich and powerful. Indeed, if you want to see what replaced the living spaces of the West 99th Street families, read the full story of what is now called "Olmstead House on Central Park West." Maybe for New York City a one bedroom apartment for $3,300 per month is a steal.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Boogity, Boogity, Boogity, Amen

Are we too uptight and proud and concerned about our image to pray sincerely for the things that have been blessings to us or that are in our concerns?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Aliens Among You

It would be hard to make a list of all of the exhaustive themes in Deuteronomy, but one of them certainly is that the Israelites were to treat fairly and with dignity the sojourners (aliens) among them because they too had been sojourners in another land. Now, like with almost anything in the Bible, we need to be very, very careful in transition to specific policy prescriptions, especially in the heat of partisan politics. But my personal opinion is that there has to be some kind of moderation between the Obama administration executive decisions that come close to granting amnesty in direct contravention of what our elected representatives have decided (one the one hand) and (on the other) the out right meanness exhibited by almost all of the Republican candidates (except Rick Perry) to the sojourners in our land who were brought here, through no fault of their own, by their parents. I found the attached op-ed to do a good job of expressing my own thoughts policy after that debate:

What this article doesn't add is the Deuteronomic exhortation that we Christians, in particular, ought to take seriously.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Calling Prof. Hayek: A Central Planner Dropped Some Knowledge and Wants You to Return It

Embedded in today's New York Times article on the Solyndra solar manufacturing bankruptcy is the following amazing statement from the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget:

"While taxpayers could lose the $528 million the company borrowed from the Treasury, Jeffrey D. Zients, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, said that the system for evaluating such loans was sound. He said it was inevitable that some cutting-edge firms would fail but that over all, the investments would prove worthwhile. He did allow, 'The lesson learned here is that marketplaces can change even more rapidly than one would have anticipated.'"

The lesson learned here is that marketplaces can change even more rapidly than one would have anticipated, indeed.

Epstein and Pope Benedict: Cont'd

Doug and my co-author (and my former pastor) Brad Hansen has an outstanding discussion about the issues of the O.T. Law and economic life in his "comment" on the previous Epstein and Pope Benedict post. If you can take the time, please go read it.

The Rain in Spain Blocks the Sun and Causes Pain, Part 3,545

Why the fancy numbering on the continuing saga of the Green Jobs Bubble? Because that's what the Washington Post this morning reported is the actual number of jobs (3,545) created by the government's 38.6 billion dollar green jobs loan guarantee program, or a cost of over 10 million dollars in loan guarantees per job. Government reports that the number is closer to 60,000 jobs apparently include accounting that claims that about half of the Ford Motor Company workforce has been converted into green jobs and therefore "created". Even at 60,000 jobs, that would be a cost of over $600,000 in loan guarantees per job. Apparently as the fund has been only half allocated, one might argue that you could cut those numbers in half, so that the cost per "green job" drops to somewhere between $300,000 and $5,000,000 in loan guarantees per green job. But, as the famous Spanish report (see posts below) pointed out, this doesn't allow for any jobs lost due to the financing of the program.

Now one could argue that as these are loan guarantees, eventually the government will get its money back. But as the Solyndra bankruptcy shows, that is not guaranteed.

(H/T to Hot Air for the track to the WaPo article).
(After the first publish, I edited the text to make clear that this program is a loan guarantee program as distinguished from a direct grant program).

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Epstein and Pope Benedict, Cont'd

I'm afraid that this is going to come off disjointed. The starting point is that I've been reading Deuteronomy (which means the second telling of the Law). From the very beginning Christians have been debating what role the Old Testament Law Code should have in the life of a Christian. Almost no Christians believe that every Mosaic law is binding upon Christians. Some Christians go to the opposite extreme of antinomianism, which says that the law has no role in our lives. I suspect that the vast majority of Protestant Christians come somewhere along the lines of the reformers, who believe that the sacramental laws are no longer binding, but that there are certain of the laws that are moral laws that serve functions separate from any kind of works righteousness: they can be moral guideposts for what is expected of a sanctified life, for example.

One problem is where is the dividing line between the sacramental and the moral law? I think that most Christians wouldn't have any trouble putting the prohibition against weaving together two types of cloth or clean and unclean foods in the former category. But what about the prohibition against tattoos? According to my study Bible, tattoos were a sign of cultic paganism. But what about today, when that connection has been lost? Maybe we should see this law, given its ancient cultural context, as essentially sacramental. But if we are going to make cultural drift a part of the distinction between sacramental and moral laws, where do we stop? Does that lead us to surrender ALL of our moral values to our culture?

I think that most Christians would argue that the 10 Commandments form the core of an unambiguous moral law. But if we stop with the Decalog, what do we have to guide the kind of moral context for economic life that I mentioned in the last post? One: "Thou shall not steal" is pretty good. And bearing false witness could include all kinds of deceit and fraud. But much of what forms our debate on economic policy is found in the extra-decalog Mosaic rules: the restrictions on usury, the jubilee and tort codes, and so forth. So are the rules against usury like the rules against theft or like the rules against tattoos?

Another approach is to note that the 10th Commandment is unique in that it prohibits a particular way of thinking: coveting your neighbor's stuff. And that's where this all loops around back to Deuteronomy. It is in Deuteronomy that Jesus pegs "the Greatest Commandment", and it is another rule about our thinking and not our actions: "Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:29, quoting Deut 6:4-5).

But how, you may be asking, does this get us back to economics. Well, just 2 chapters later is an amazing command from God that is also a "right thought" command and it certainly goes to the heart of our economic life. From Deuteronomy 8:

"Take good care lest you forget your God by not keeping his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up and you forget the Lord your God....Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.' You shall remember the Lord your God for it is he who gives you the power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day."

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Epstein Part II: Pope Benedict

In the post below, I linked to Richard Epstein's discussion about Warren Buffett. But I mentioned that the first part of Prof. Epstein's article was a critical discussion about Pope Benedict's statements in Spain on economics.

Prof. Epstein says that the Pope is attacking markets. But his quotes (and those in the embedded link) don't obviously follow in that direction. I agree with Prof. Epstein that "putting people before profits" and "the common good" are two of those vacuous phrases that shows a lack of serious thinking about ethics and economics. On the other hand, the Pope warned against consumerism and hedonism which, to me, is a legitimate social criticism that has little to do with criticizing markets per se. On the other (third?) hand, his argument that a people or a society need an ethical framework seems to have morphed into a statement that an economic system as as system needs an ethical framework. I'm not ready to go there.

I remember when the Pope's encyclical on economics was released. I read through it, and I thought that it read as though it was written by a committee, full of "on the one hand but on the other" type of discussion of economic theory and what we know about the functioning of markets. Some of the sections were quite perceptive and economically literate, others were on the level of the "people before profits" slogans mentioned above.

At the end of the day, while I may literally come down on the side of Prof. Epstein in his critique of Pope Benedict's summary statements, at least Pope Benedict has attempted to articulate a theology of ethics and the marketplace that combines a positive analysis of how economies operate with a Christian ethical theology. This is something much more than many if not most mainline Protestant leaders have accomplished, even if I don't find it consistent or completely satisfying.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A New Category on Today's "Jeopardy!", for A Half-A Billion Dollars, Alex

We've presented numerous posts in the category "unintended consequences". It looks as though we need a new, continuing category:

"The Guys in Spain Warned Us About The Unsustainability of A Centrally Planned Green Jobs Bubble"

Here's a Washington Post/Tulsa World report on the failure of Solyndra, a solar energy company with a a half-a-billion dollars in federal loan guarantees.

Meditation 3: Language

Yesterday was my 27th birthday. Today, maybe, I feel marginally wiser so that's good news. But, what struck me yesterday reading facebook wall posts and talking to people was the power of language and words. The love and encouragement from others was palpable. And, with that sentiment, combined with conversations earlier in the week, my meditation is simple: Words have the power of life or death, and, we should remember that when we speak.

Also, the manner with which we speak is like a litmus test for the heart. As Jesus said, 

"The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45)

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Did I say that this story is awesome. This is about America. This is about why there is a difference between free markets and "greed is good." This is about the flyover country that DC and New York and Boston and Berkeley love to sneer at. This is about your neighbors helping each other in hard times. This is about entrepreneurship as opposed to a sterile static model of "perfect competition." This is about waffles.

(Hat tip to awesome Jonah Goldberg at NRO for the link).