Thursday, July 19, 2012

Honest Darwinians

Here is an intriguing video in which two Darwinians (Richard Dawkins "Darwinian medicine" advocate Dr. Randolph Nesse) talk about natural selection, the human body, and its implications for medical practice.  It is about nine minutes long but worth listening to completion.  I was put on to it by the Discovery Institute.

Repeatedly, Nesse talks about the “design” of the human body.  Dawkins stops him on more than one occasion to remind everyone that this “design” is only apparent.  Nesse agrees, of course, but even comments more than once that, in spite of the fact that he is using the word “design” in a special sense, it always seems like the best word to describe his view of the human body.

There is an utterly fascinating book by Cornelius Hunter titled Darwin’s Proof where this point is explored in detail.  Hunter shows that Darwin and modern Darwinians begin with a theological view about how God should have made things, and then conclude from the fact that God did not make things the way they think He should have that God cannot be responsible for things as they are – especially in regard to living things.

To confirm Hunter’s thesis, when Nesse qualifies his use of the word “design” he stops to explain that, although the body seems designed, it is very poorly designed. No intelligent being, he claims, would design a body that way our bodies are designed.  Ergo, we cannot be designed.  The whole thing is completely captivating.

Near the end of the video, Nesse gives and illustration he likes to use in regard to how selection works in organisms.  He says it is analogous to the way we empty the change from our pocket at the end of the day into a jar.  Everyday, all sorts of coins go in.  But when we take out the coins we want in the morning, we tend to take the silver coins because they are worth more.  So what goes in is random, but via selection, what comes out is not.

It doesn’t seem to occur to the good Doctor that his illustration of selection presupposes the presence of an intelligent selector.  Those poor Darwinians!  But, in the end, they are honest.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Deceptive, to say the least

"The folks in Congress and on the campaign trail who oppose this plan warn that it would somehow hurt small businesses and job creators," Obama said in his weekly address. "They’re completely ignoring the facts."

"Under my plan, 97 percent of small business owners would avoid getting hit with any income tax hike whatsoever.  In fact, I’ve cut taxes for small businesses eighteen times since I’ve been president.  And just this week, I ordered a series of new steps to help our small businesses grow and hire," Obama said.

"The only place we disagree is whether we keep giving tax cuts to the wealthiest 2% of Americans.  Republicans in Washington want more of those tax cuts.  With the deficit we have, I don’t think we can afford them," the president said.

Read more:

I know it is an election year, and that politicians will say almost anything (delete “almost”) if they think it will get them elected.  But one has to wonder if the President gets his economic ideas from the Cracker Jack box.  I am nothing more than a (very) amateur economist, but even I can see some problems here.  Since it is very difficult to believe these arise from stupidity, I am forced to conclude that they come, rather, from duplicity.

First, consider the phrase “giving tax cuts.”  This is terminology that is surely designed to mislead people.  We have a certain tax rate right now.  The question is whether or not to keep it the same, or allow it to go higher.  The phrase “giving tax cuts” is surely intended to make people think that someone wants the current rates to go lower.  Unfortunately for the economy, few if any are proposing that.

Second, if Obama really wants growth and hiring, he would especially want to avoid increasing the taxes of that horrible “wealthiest 2% of Americans.”  People – no matter where they happen to fall in the wealth category – when they are allowed to keep their earnings, almost always do two things with those earnings.  They either spend them, or invest them.  (I suppose a few people hide cash in the mattress, but I think we can ignore them for our purposes.)

If people spend their earnings, they are buying things, which is good for people who sell things.  Why does it so upset the Obamaniacs so much to think that rich people spend money?  Isn’t that good for those with whom they spend it?

If people save their earnings, those savings are typically used to buy “capital goods” or things used to make the things we want to consume.  Most of those despised ‘fat cats’ who are filthy rich have riches invested in something or other.  And that something will be the stuff someone uses to make the stuff we want to consume.  Unless, that is, governments like Obama tax away those earnings.  Then, the stuff people want is not as easily made, and not made as much, giving us the kind of sputtering economy we have just now.

This is simply the way things work, economically speaking.  It simply does not matter what anyone, including a President, thinks or says about it.  It’s a sure as water running downhill.  Since statists know this, and persist in policies that must make us poorer, it is difficult to believe that they want us anything other than poorer.

And that is not a wildly improbable idea, because collectivists clearly want people to be dependent upon government.

One final point.  The President says that he doesn’t “think we can afford” what he calls “tax cuts” (which, remember, is really keeping tax rates constant).  Real tax cuts do not cost anyone anything.  What they do is limit the scope of government.  Again, this is something statists do not want.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Immigration Issue and Christians

To my email inbox this week came a newsletter from the Christian Standard.  The articles are all about Christianity and the immigration issue.  As is typical, the editor claims no position on the matter.  He says:

What is Christian Standard’s position on immigration? As a rule we don’t make pronouncements on political or legal issues, and that’s not our purpose here. As more than one writer this week and next says, the issues are complicated and the solutions are not easy.

But surely every reader can agree on this position: Let’s show love, Christian love, to immigrants. If we must ask about their status, let that not be the first question. We may be the best or only way for the immigrants around us to experience the peace and purpose we have discovered in our Lord. That’s Christian Standard’s position on immigration.

But despite the claim to take no position on the matter, a quick reading of the articles offered shows only one that offers something of a ‘con’, or at a cautionary, position.  The rest are more or less (mostly much more) ‘pro.’  And, in fact, the editorial quoted above at one point says, “We fear that too many Christians have come quickly to their conclusions without considering counter views from others who also love God.”  The over-all effect of the articles in the newsletter is something like this – you xenophobic hayseeds of the middle-American Christian church need to change your stubborn, uninformed minds on this matter of immigration.  I think that impression was clearly intended.

This might shock those of you who know me, but I have some sympathy for broader immigration laws.  I think many people come to this country for the freedoms they do not enjoy at home, and I admire all people who seek freedom.  In fact, I would like to exchange some of the freedom-loving immigrants I have met for many of the native statists who plague our country.  (I would be most pleased, for example, to exchange Barack Obama for some freedom-loving Iranian.  And perhaps Mr. Obama would be more at home in a nation that is already totalitarian, and doesn’t need his help getting there.)

But there are a couple of interesting omissions from this collection of articles from the Christian Standard.

First, as has been said many times by many people (and any idiot should be able to figure it out), liberal immigration policy and a massive welfare state are a recipe for disaster.  Only one article even mentions this, and even that one mentions if very briefly, and not nearly forcefully enough.  This doesn’t mean that all immigrants come here for the freebies, of which we offer an over-abundance.  But immigrants, when they arrive, will become legally entitled to many of our handouts, even if that is not their motive for coming.  Even now those here illegally can and do partake of the dole.  Many Christians, being the fluffy-headed dopes that they are, don’t even bother to consider this.  They see our massive welfare state as simply the way things ought to be.  (One of the authors of these articles is affiliated with a group dedicated to expanding the welfare state.  Another cites a leftist ‘Christian’ group that openly advocates socialism.)

That is problem number one.  There is also a problem number two.

Current immigration law is part of our overly-big, intrusive national governmental structure.  Is it a mess?  Of course, just like all the rest of it.  Our hodgepodge of statist laws and policies is irrational, and often unjust.  But immigration law is only a small part of that mess.  And it is interesting how ambivalent the Christian attitude toward law can be.

For example, one of the authors quotes with approval a sermon in which the minister said,“You may say to me, ‘what about illegal do you not understand?’ I say to you, ‘what about love your neighbor do you not understand?’”  What I would like to know is:  where can we find this same attitude toward other aspects of our massive regulatory, confiscatory state?  Where is the same kind of compassion toward those who do not want to comply with tax laws?  Where is this kind of concern for those who do not want to comply with onerous business regulations?  There are dozens more questions like those we could offer, but you get the idea.

There is a kind of political, and even moral, hypocrisy in those who urgently want to reform our massive regulatory state, but only the part of it that deals with their pet agenda.  There are many laws propagated by our government that are horribly unjust and need to be changed.  Calling on Christians to address just one small part of that nasty package is not just inconsistent.  Such changes would probably just make a bad situation even worse.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Ever Onward and Upward!

from “Lights, Camera, Crazy!” by Michael M. Rosen

According to Richard Vedder, an Ohio University economist and the foremost national expert on college tuition, the fees at his alma mater, Northwestern University, consumed 15 percent of the annual median family income in 1958. By 2003, tuition at Northwestern chewed up a gaudy 53 percent of median family income. Other schools exhibit similar explosions.

By 2003, tuition at Northwestern chewed up a gaudy 53 percent of median family income. Other schools exhibit similar explosions.

Much of this obscene acceleration in prices can be laid at the feet of the federal government, which, in a vicious cycle, subsidizes loans, makes direct grants, and offers loan forgiveness, all of which in turn spur higher education institutions to hike tuition further, which in turn necessitates further government aid.

Kent comments:

If you have been around American higher education, you are painfully aware of this.  It has contributing causes other than government money.

I have one son who works at a university that has tried to “have it all” in the last several years.  What it has is a faltering budget, and skyrocketing tuition.  I have another son who teaches at a college that is very focused – on offering good classes, imagine that!  They do not try to do it all.  As a result, it is very affordable.

Many, perhaps most, colleges and universities today do not make serious attempts to focus their mission, or to economize in reaching their goals.  But why should they, when they can more easily complain about their level of government funding, wait for the inevitable direct and indirect (through government loans and grants to students) and constantly raise tuition.

The lack of focus and lack of serious attempts to do more with less can continue to happen because governments continue to pour money into higher education.  Who can be opposed to “more money for education”?

But only the economically blind can fail to see how this does, and must, always work.  Some purportedly desirable activity gets a shot of cash from government.  What is the inevitable result?  The price of that activity will go up, since more money is now “chasing” (by being dedicated to) that activity.

Then, when the price goes up, there are renewed cries about the price increases for that activity.  Politicians are motivated to dedicate even more money to that activity.  As a result, the price of that activity increases even more, as do the cries of “it’s too expensive!”  And thus the cycle continues.

It is true of higher education, as it is always true of everything to which governments dedicate funds.  We could do a similar analysis of “health care.”  We could do a similar analysis of almost everything, since government subsidize almost everything today.

The question is:  how do we escape these vicious cycles?

It would take a remarkable amount of social-political will-power.  Quite frankly, I don’t think we have it.  I hope I am wrong, but it is difficult to come up with any plausible scenario in which I am.