Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bad job market for college graduates in Minnesota.

Here's an interesting story on the state of the economy in Minnesota.

It points out the job market is very poor for young people.  60 percent of kids who graduated in 2011 with college degrees don't have full time jobs today.

I suspect the dramatic increase of the minimum wage in Minnesota will only the make the situation worse, particularly for non-college graduates. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Income inequality and wealth redistribution. Doesn't everybody lose in the long run?

There's a lot of talk about what to do about income disparities as the percent of income in society is moving towards the wealthy.  The easy, almost knee jerk reaction of some is redistribution of wealth through raising taxes on the wealthy, raising minimum wage and so forth. 

But simply taking money from higher income people and giving it to another through a government welfare program often benefits no one in the long run.  Welfare, except for the truly needy, discourages work and initiative and encourages dependency.  The wealthy person taxed has less incentive to work hard and invest and create jobs, so there are fewer jobs for lower income folks.

Here's a discussion of this by columnist Robert Samuelson.  He references a French economist Thomas Piketty who dislikes income inequity so he wants to redistribute money.
He objects to extreme economic inequality because it offends democracy: Too much power is conferred on too few. His economic analysis sometimes seems skewed to fit his political agenda.
Take his tax increases. He doubts that they would hurt economic growth. This seems questionable. Incentives must matter, at least slightly. Or consider his predicted slowdown in the world economy.

This seems possible, but if it happens, capital owners would likely suffer lower returns. As for the power of the superrich, they hardly control most democracies. In the United States, where about 70 percent of federal spending goes to the poor and middle class, the richest 1 percent pay nearly a quarter of federal taxes. After-tax and post-government-transfer incomes are less unequal than Piketty's pretax figures.

Still, the present concentration of income and wealth instinctively feels excessive. It understandably stirs resentment. We'd be better off if the rich were less so and other Americans were more so. But it's doubtful that political action to force this transformation would be similarly beneficial. Class warfare is bruising; today, it would degrade the confidence needed for a stronger recovery. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

The "Brave New World" of surrogacy.

An issue in the Minnesota legislature and beyond is surrogacy, the treatment of children as a commodity and the exploitation of women.

Here's a good article on the topic by Jennifer Lahl and Christopher White. 
This wide-ranging and often confusing mix of surrogacy legislation shows that our laws have failed to keep up with ever-advancing reproductive technologies and the ways we use them, increasingly, to form our families. The fallout from the dearth of serious reflection on the ethics and uses of these technologies has allowed for the explosion of a lucrative, unregulated fertility industry in the United States, leaving women and children unprotected. Laws that aim to legitimize the practice are driven by the powerful partnership that those who are desperate for children form with the doctors and lawyers eager to profit from this pursuit.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What's the great economic engine? You might be surprised.

It's marriage.  That's the theme of this article by researcher Patrick Fagan of the Family Research Council.  Sadly, there's little to no discussion of the importance of marriage and family.  Many people are too busy trying to deal with the symptoms of the problem, redefining it, or simply ignoring it.
Family, church, and school are the three basic people-forming institutions, and it is no wonder that they produce the best results—including economic and political ones—when they cooperate.

Even if all the market reforms of the Washington think tanks, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes Magazine were enacted, we’d still need to kiss the Great American Economy goodbye. Below the level of economic policy lies a society that is producing fewer people capable of hard work, especially married men with children. As the retreat from marriage continues apace, there are fewer and fewer of these men, resulting in a slowly, permanently decelerating economy.

When men get married, their sense of responsibility and drive to provide gives them the incentive to work much harder. This translates into an average 27-percent increase in their productivity and income. With the retreat from marriage, instead of this “marriage premium,” we get more single men (who work the least), more cohabiting men (who work less than married men), and more divorced men (who fall between the singles and cohabiters).

All this is visible in the changing work patterns of our country, resulting in real macro-economic consequences. Fifty years ago family life and the economy were quite different.

Around 1960, just prior to the sexual revolution, the United States was the world’s heavyweight champion in economic productivity and earnings. Today we can still lift a lot, but, to extend the metaphor, we are moving down to the middleweight class. My colleague Dr. Henry Potrykus has shown that divorce alone has reduced the annual growth rate of the economy by at least one sixth since the mid-1980s, which with its compounding effect is by now quite significant.

No matter which way you look at it—through the lens of income, savings, or poverty—marriage is the great engine of the economy, with every household a building block that either contributes or takes away, millions of times over. Put all these families together, and we have the team that runs the American economy.

Friday, April 4, 2014

"Mozilla's Intolerance"

The CEO of Mozilla Brendan Eich was forced to resign from his position because he, get this, supported man, woman marriage.  Yes, for this act of "intolerance" he was forced out of his CEO position.  The Wall Street Journal has a good opinion piece on it as does Powerline blog.

Another example of the rising attacks on people's religious beliefs.  The land of the free is starting to look like the land of the persecuted.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Cutting through the fog of Obamacare signups.

President Obama is declaring Obamacare a success.  As Michael Tanner notes, the President did not take questions. 
But while the president basked in his success and predictably castigated his critics, he took no questions. Perhaps that’s because some of them would have been hard to answer. For instance:

How many new enrollees have paid their premiums? The numbers above include everyone who has “picked” a health plan, even if they haven’t yet paid for it, sort of like Amazon counting every item a shopper puts in their “cart” as a sale. Even Health Secretary Kathleen Sibelius concedes that only 80 percent of those who’ve picked a plan have actually paid the first month’s premium. Insurance executives also report that another 3 percent to 5 percent paid once, but then stopped.

If these numbers hold, it would mean that just 5.6 million Americans (and 312,000 New Yorkers) really bought insurance through the exchanges.

How many were previously uninsured? Seven million insurance sign-ups doesn’t mean 7 million more Americans with insurance. For starters, as many as 6 million Americans had to change their health plans because ObamaCare banned the policy they’d had before. Many of those whose plans got canceled bought new insurance through the exchanges, and are among the 7 million.

How many? Estimates vary, but Rand Corp. data suggest that barely a third of enrollees were previously uninsured. If so, that means fewer than 2 million Americans have actually gained insurance nationwide because of ObamaCare.

While data from New York’s Department of Insurance suggest that the state has done a better job of enrolling the actually uninsured, still, 41 percent of those signing up on the state’s exchange already had insurance. That means just 230,000 newly insured New Yorkers.

How many Americans lost their insurance? In addition to the newly insured, we also need to look at the newly uninsured. That includes some of the millions whose policies got canceled because they didn’t comply with ObamaCare. Most found new plans, though maybe more expensive or that no longer included their current doctor, but the Rand Corp. estimates that slightly less than 1 million Americans couldn’t find an affordable replacement plan, so are now uninsured. Somehow those Americans didn’t make it into the president’s remarks yesterday.

Who signed up? Far more important than the raw number of enrollees is the mix of people signing up. ObamaCare depends on young and healthy people overpaying for insurance in order to subsidize coverage for older and sicker individuals. In order to make that work, 38 percent to 40 percent of those enrolling need to be young and healthy.

In fact, estimates suggest that less than 30 percent of enrollees are under the age of 35. This will mean hefty premium hikes next year, and could eventually lead to a meltdown of the entire insurance market.

And we get all of this for the low, low price of just $2 trillion in taxpayer spending over the next 10 years.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The role of imagination and reason in faith.

CS Lewis is known for his Chronicles of Narnia book series and Mere Christianity.  Often apologetics is viewed as merely an issue of reasoning people to faith.  Here's an interesting discussion of the role imagination, stories and images play in faith and finding truth. 
Of course, everyone recognizes Lewis's great imaginative gifts. Often people will say that his great strength was his ability to present Christianity both rationally and imaginatively.

His rational approach is seen in The Abolition of Man, Miracles, and, at a more popular level, Mere Christianity. These works show Lewis's ability to argue: to set forth a propositional case, proceeding by logical steps from defined premises to carefully drawn conclusions, everything clear, orderly, and connected.

And his imaginative side, so the argument goes, is seen in The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, and, at a more accessible level,The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. These works show his ability to dramatize: to set forth an attractive vision of the Christian life, proceeding by means of character and plot to narrate an engaging story, everything colorful, vibrant, and active.

By these accounts, Lewis's rational works and imaginative works are different and distinct. They are two discrete modes in which he presented the faith. And it makes sense that we would think this way: The dichotomy between reason and imagination is how we have been taught to think ever since the so-called Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries. Reasonable people don't need imagination. Imaginative people don't need reasons.
Yet in Lewis' thinking reason and imagination work together.
All our truth, or all but a few fragments, is won by metaphor," Lewis wrote in his essay "Bluspels and Flalansferes." Similitudes, seeing one thing in terms of another, finding meanings here which correspond with what we want to say there, are for Lewis the essence of meaningful thought. "For me, reason is the natural organ of truth," Lewis wrote, "but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination . . . is not the cause of truth, but its condition." In other words, we don't grasp the meaning of a word or concept until we have a clear image to connect it with. 

...Lewis took this one step further. For Lewis, meaning is "the antecedent condition of both truth and falsehood." In other words, before something can be either true or false, it must mean something. Even a lie means something, and a lie understood as a lie can be very instructive. Reason, "the natural organ of truth," is our ability to discern true meanings from false meanings. But the meaning comes first. So, imagination has to operate before reason. Reason depends on imagination to supply it with meaningful things that it can then reason about.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Missionaries, democracy, and economic and social development.

Here's a very interesting article on the role "conversionary Protestants" played in the economic, social and political development of countries outside the West.  A very thorough in depth study by sociologist Robert Woodberry asserts they were the primary influencers in this development.  While there were no doubt a few bad apples, by and large they played a significant positive, development role in the countries they lived in.
Woodberry already had historical proof that missionaries had educated women and the poor, promoted widespread printing, led nationalist movements that empowered ordinary citizens, and fueled other key elements of democracy. Now the statistics were backing it up: Missionaries weren't just part of the picture. They were central to it.

"The results were so strong, they made me nervous," says Woodberry. "I expected an effect, but I had not expected it to be that large or powerful. I thought, I better make sure this is real. I better be very careful."

...Three years later, Woodberry received half a million dollars from the foundation's Spiritual Capital Project, hired almost 50 research assistants, and set up a huge database project at the University of Texas, where he had taken a position in the sociology department. The team spent years amassing more statistical data and doing more historical analyses, further confirming his theory. With these results and his dissertation research, Woodberry could now support a sweeping claim:
Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.
 He also found that certain types of missionaries had this influence.
There is one important nuance to all this: The positive effect of missionaries on democracy applies only to "conversionary Protestants." Protestant clergy financed by the state, as well as Catholic missionaries prior to the 1960s, had no comparable effect in the areas where they worked.

Independence from state control made a big difference. "One of the main stereotypes about missions is that they were closely connected to colonialism," says Woodberry. "But Protestant missionaries not funded by the state were regularly very critical of colonialism."