Thursday, February 16, 2012

Give Chuck Colson a D-

I like to interact with Chuck Colson because we have some important things in common.  It is because we have these things in common that I am sometimes disappointed with his analysis, or lack of it.  The transcript from his Breakpoint is a good example of this.

The topic is the recent rush by Congress to pass a bill to stop members of Congress and their staff members from ‘insider trading.’  Colson explains that the bill that was passed was the revival of a 2006 bill minus one of its key provisions.  This provision, Colson explains

would subject a new class of Washington insider, so-called political intelligence consultants, to the same rules as lobbyists. If you have never heard of “political intelligence consultants,” that’s because they want it that way.

Unlike lobbyists, you see, who advocate for the passage or defeat of a bill or regulation, these consultants pump people in Congress for information that they then pass on their clients, hedge-fund managers and wealthy investors. This information gives their clients an insider’s advantage when it comes to buying or selling securities.

The version of STOCK passed last week by the House omits this key provision. It was stripped out by the Republican leadership.

While I appreciate Colson’s concern here, his analysis is far too shallow.  The real problem is not that people who buy and sell stocks want to know what members of Congress know about stocks.  The real problem is that Congress is so deeply involved in matters affecting stocks that information about all this has become valuable.

I would be quite pleased if the manager of a mutual fund I own had some knowledge of things Congress might do to the stock market.  It is not limited to ‘hedge-fund managers and wealthy investors’ Colson so political-correctly cites as the financial villains he thinks the public will hiss and boo.

Anyone who risks his savings investing in capital goods (which is what happens when you invest in stocks) needs to know all he can about those things that might affect the future price of those capital goods.  The problem is that Congress, and the other branches of the central government for that matter, have seized control over much of what used to be the arena of free exchange.  It was this power grab that made knowledge of what they might do valuable.

Now Colson, probably like many others, wants to blame the victims of this power grab for trying as best they can to defend themselves.  That is shallow analysis of a kind far too often found in Christendom.

A better analysis would complain that government involves itself in matters is should not.  If Congress legislated only in those areas specified in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, there would be very little to be learned from Congress about the stock market.  No one would bother to do the things Congress is outlawing if Congress were not outlaws from the Constitution by their illicit meddling in matters that affect the market.

So I agree with Colson in condemning Congress, but not for the shallow and unperceptive reasons he cites.  I am in contempt of Congress for their ‘legislation’ in so many areas where they have no authority to legislate.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Judicial Stupidity

An interesting court case is under appeal in Georgia.  Read more about it here, but some relevant details are as follows:

In 2010, the State of Georgia enacted a law making it a misdemeanor offense for a person with a concealed weapons permit to carry a concealed weapon "in a place of worship." Several plaintiffs, including a church and its pastor, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of this law.

The fundamental question before the court was whether a state law prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons in a church violates the constitutional rights of church members to bear arms and practice their religion. In January 2011, a federal court in Georgia said no.

That decision is going to an appeals court.  One key point of the lower court’s decision was this:

"Although the Constitution protects a person's right to free exercise [of religion] only against governmental intrusion, it is clear that the protection of religious freedom against private bias or coercion is also an important governmental goal. Prohibiting the carrying of firearms in a place of worship bears a substantial relationship to that important goal by protecting attendees from the fear or threat of intimidation or armed attack."

Kent comments:

It is amazing how ‘factually stupid’ some court rulings can be.  The quote above was offered by the court as part of the reason why the Second Amendment guarantees can be preempted in this case.  Notice how the court assumes that if concealed carry permit holders brought concealed weapons into a church building, it would amount to “private coercion” and would constitute a “threat of intimidation or armed attack.”

There are many odd points to this reasoning.

First, if that is a reason to preempt concealed carry, then it could be preempted everywhere.  If the mere fact that someone could be carrying concealed weapons constitutes a “threat of armed attack” then that threat does not exist in church building only.  It exists everywhere.

Also, as a matter of fact the misuse of weapons to threaten or attack innocent people by those with concealed carry permits is statistically almost non-existent.  So, while a meteor might fall on me while mowing my yard, the likelihood of that happening is so small as to make it irrational to avoid mowing my yard for fear of being hit by a meteor.  It is just as irrational for the court to, it appears, rely on this statistically insignificant possibility as a basis for its ruling.

Finally, what the empirical evidence shows is that we are generally safer in a population that contains armed citizens who are concealed carry permit holders.  But such permit holders will usually obey the law as it stands.  This means that in Georgia, they will either not attend church meetings, or do so unarmed.  This also means that, like the Virginia Tech situation of a few years ago, someone who wants to commit multiple murders is fairly safe in choosing a church meeting in Georgia as a target.  It would be a perfect place to kill many innocent people before anything could be done to stop the killing.

So the court made an assumption based, not on factual considerations, but on its own ideological suppositions.  The court simply assumed that an armed concealed carry permit holder is a standing threat to those around him.  That is simply false.

We can only hope that the appeals court reverses this rather idiotic decision.  And we can only hope it is before someone bent on mass murder picks those at a church meeting as his victims.  If that occurs, it will not be martyrdom.  It will just be judicial stupidity.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ideology vs. Reality

The President’s budget plan calls for more than $1.5 trillion in new taxes on corporations and wealthy.  This is supposed to help the economy.  The President said in a speech today that this is not ‘class warfare.’

It matter little what you call it.  This kind of policy has demonstrable effects.  As a recent study shows:

corporate income taxes have a highly significant and negative effect on long-term growth.
The estimates suggest that cutting the corporate rate by 10 percentage points is associated with an increase in total real gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 11.1 percentage points over the period.
This would move the United States from below average to above average in terms of economic growth among OECD countries.

Personal income taxes on high incomes also have a significant negative effect on growth, such that cutting the rate by 10 percentage points is associated with an increase in total real GDP growth of 7.5 percentage points over the period.  This would bring the United States to roughly an average level of growth relative to OECD peers.

If lawmakers want to have the biggest impact on boosting long-term economic growth in the United States, they should turn their attention to cutting tax rates on corporate and individual income.

Studies showing this relationship are neither new nor rare.  This means the President is well aware of this relationship.  So when he says that his policy is an attempt to help the economy, he cannot possibly be speaking from ignorance.  He is speaking from ideology, which in this case means he is lying.

For some reason we find it is easy to envy those with high incomes and incorporated businesses.  But it is easy to figure out why taking more money from those with large incomes and from businesses will hurt the economy.  These are two important sources of capital:  goods used to produce the things we want to consume.

You cannot both remove the source of production and hope to have more to consume.  The President knows this very well.  He is simply not an honest man whenever his ideology conflicts with the facts.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Are You Ready for ‘Evolution Sunday’?

Did you know that tomorrow is “Evolution Sunday”?  It is a new thing to me.  It is apparently a time when some churches attempt to urge their members to “be reconciled to Darwinism.”  You can find an interesting report on this here.  There is also a good article on the compatibility of Darwinism and historic Christianity here.

Many think of some Christians as being ‘knee-jerk’ anti-Darwinists.  I think there is a lot of that going around.  I try not to be one of those.

I am compelled to reject Darwinism because Darwinism excludes anything other than pure randomness in its explanation of life, including human life.  You can read about attempts to reconcile Darwinism and the historic Christian faith in the article linked above.  It seems that even theistic evolutionists must decide whether they will attempt to construct their views on randomness or something else.  Whenever, in the end, that ‘something else’ is mind, they have in essence departed from Darwinism.

Even beyond the ‘Evolution Sunday’ debate, randomness cannot be a sufficient explanation of order.  We might say that you cannot even get Darwin and Darwinists by chance.  Darwinists are not complete idiots.  Many are very intelligent people who have simply not sufficiently considered the implications of randomness.  One such implication is that the very defense of Darwinism offered by Darwinists is merely a random happening!

Darwinism and historic Christianity are mutually exclusive.  Randomness is the dividing line.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

They Are Doing Just What You Want

Perhaps you saw this very interesting, recent story from The Washington Post:

Public projects, private interests

The Post compared the annual financial disclosure reports filed by every member of Congress over the past decade to a wide range of public records. The resulting snapshot was then matched to earmarks and other spending provisions members sought for pet projects. The process uncovered nearly 50 members who helped direct millions of dollars in earmarks to projects that either held the potential to enhance the surroundings of a lawmaker's own property, or aided entities connected to their immediate family. Lawmakers said their earmarks and spending provisions were done to benefit the public, not their private interests.

Kent comments:

In perusing the list of offenders, there seemed to be a slight weighting toward the “D” for Democrat members.  But it was very close, so it is not at all a one-party problem.

The problem, in fact, is not with the members of Congress who arranged for spending on projects to benefit themselves and their friends.  The problem is with you.

With a few exceptions, you are mostly likely and American who likes the idea of your members of Congress “bringing home the bacon” for your area.  You probably respond positively when your members of Congress brag about this.

You are probably an American who is in favor of our current system in which everyone is trying to out-plunder everyone else.  You are probably an American who wants government to pay for your goodies.  You consider it a political ‘victory’ if you can get a few more goodies than the people in the next district or state.

You are probably not willing to give up these goodies, even if the system that brings them to you wastes a lot of resources in the process of delivering those goodies to the clamoring crowds.  You just want your goodies.

These nearly fifty members of Congress are simply using the system that you are unwilling to give up to get some things they want.  And the problem is not just that some members of Congress seem to be misusing the system.

The real problem is the system itself, not just the fact of ‘earmarks’ or even the seeming misused of ‘earmarks’ for the personal benefit of members of Congress.  The real problem is that most Americans want to plunder other Americans for all they can get the government to give them.

If Congress spent money only on the items mentioned in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, ‘earmarks’ would not be a problem.  Massive deficit spending by the government would not be a problem.  Many things that are problems now simply would not be on the problem radar at all.

But the Constitution was trashed in this regard long ago, and you want what you want from the government, which is almost everything.  It’s not our government as conceived by most of the founders, but it is what you want.  You say it loudly and clearly by the way you vote and almost everything you do.

So don’t blame these poor saps who are simply gaming the same system that you want gamed on your behalf all the time.  Instead, you should be honest and say to these members of Congress, “Well done, good and faithful servants of the collectivist system.”

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Unorganized Jesus

from “Church, Take Up Your Mats” --

The truth is that Jesus didn’t have much patience for organized religion. He spent most of his time walking around, meeting people face to face. He had a few donors but no annual operating budget. He brought with him a volunteer group of disciples, but had no paid administrative staff. The numbers of followers ebbed and flowed, growing to the thousands on good days, but on his last, only a couple of faithful women were anywhere to be found.

Kent comments:

I understand that churches can and have sometimes become institutions for their own sake.  This would, of course, be a problem.  In spite of that, there is a serious – and too often glibly repeated – mistake here.  The mere fact that Jesus did something does not necessarily prove that we should do exactly the same thing, the famous novel In His Steps notwithstanding.

During His time on earth, the church as such did not yet exist.  Jesus mentioned it in a “coming soon” way.  So many things connected to an organized congregation could not yet exist, and Jesus could not participate in them directly or even comment much on them in a meaningful way.

So what does that say about how a church should be organized, whether to have donors, budgets, paid staff, etc.?  Absolutely nothin’ – say it again!  Did Jesus have any ‘patience for organized religion’?  At some point, His Apostles would give directions for how His church should be organized, at least in outline form.  So the comment about Jesus and ‘organized religion’ seems to be just so much bluster rather than a well-considered conclusion.

When people, including Christians, do anything together, some degree of organization is unavoidable.  So, unless this writer is advocating that Christians never do anything together on behalf of Jesus, this whole idea is rather meaningless.

It is cool to be anti-institutional these days.  I suppose it makes Jesus seem cool to portray Him as anti-institutional also.  I have a bit of leaning in that direction myself.  But let’s not be silly about it.