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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

So, as you may have noticed, Becky’s solo venture has resulted in a serious paucity of entries on East of Mina. I plan on still using this site for all things personal (there may be an up-tick in posts after baby arrives) but I have also decided to try my literary wings in a new sector of the blogosphere as a guest political writer for R.J. Moeller’s blog.

I’ll be posting there once a week in 4-part series on various topics and I would love to have you check them out/subscribe. Here’s the introduction, explaining my project, and my first article on Immigration.

What I like about RJ is his desire to spark conversations by engaging different viewpoints, while remaining rooted in his faith. He just did a podcast with liberal comedian, Adam Carolla; feel free to check it out.

CSD

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Interesting feature from The New York Times Magazine:

For the 10th consecutive December, the magazine has chosen to look back on the past year through a distinctive prism: ideas.  Our digest of short entries refracts the light beam of human inspiration, breaking it up into its constituent colors — innovations and insights from a spectrum of fields, including economics, biology, engineering, medicine, literature, sports, music and, of course, raw-meat clothing. Happy thinking!

R. Card Hyatt

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I found this picture in the newest Time-Wasting-Social-Media-Offspring I’ve StumbledUpon, and was intrigued:

Whether or not you agree with the accuracy of the delineations, it does present a valuable platform for discussions about the various elements of our lives and where our priorities lie.

When I initially registered to vote, I selected the “Independent” box because my mother is a Democrat and my father is a Republican and I preferred to avoid taking sides.  However, the more informed I become,  I am more and more uncomfortable with the (usually) two alternatives presented to me: Do I have to love tradition or pursue progress? Are free trade and fair trade necessarily at odds? Can I be simultaneously self-reliant and fulfilled? What if I believe there is a time for war and a time for peace?

To look at one issue a little more closely, I prefer less power given to “government” and more reserved for the people, because I believe the focus of God’s movement has switched from the Institution/Nation (i.e. Israel) to the Individual.  There is little room for virtue in a heavily legislated society.  For example, by paying my taxes I may be helping feed the poor through government-sponsored programs, but I don’t think I get to take credit for “looking after the orphans and widows in distress.”  I may be considered good for obeying the laws of the land and “giving unto Caesar”, but that seems a paler virtue by comparison.  At the same time, I recognize that Christians have dropped the ball on this one, and the government has tried to create a safety net for the people we’ve let down.  But I dislike the impersonal nature of the system; not only does it allow for greater fraud, but it seems a self-perpetuating charity — giving people a fish instead of teaching them how to fish.  I don’t blame the government for the “state of welfare,” I blame the Church. I blame myself. Until I’m willing to take a homeless soul under my own roof, I can’t accuse the people who are trying to build shanties of constructing them poorly.

I sense a lot of anger every time politics is brought up, whether in personal conversations or behind the doors of the Capitol. There are a lot of  pointed fingers and very little public confession.  I am sick and tired of my Christian brothers and sisters thoughtlessly sitting on party-lines.

What if we took the time to truly listen to one another?  What if we chose Purple?

C.S. Doemner

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My mental run-up to the fourth this year has been violent.  I’ve been immersing myself in South and Central American literature– which has necessitated research into the myriad of revolutions, dictators, and the general political instability of the region in the past century.  Then, my summertime re-reading of the Bible has had me in the annuals of the kings (1 & 2 Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, etc.) for the last week.  Death, destruction, victory, and defeat.  The rise and fall of nations and families.  And finally, yesterday’s sermon at Grace was on Sennacherib’s approach to the walls of Jerusalem.

So much war.

My lack of personal contact with warfare can lead me to believe that I live in a peaceful world.  The litany of thankfulness (for our peaceful land) that is repeated on a day like the fourth of July can make me forget that we still fight, that the world fights, that we live in an age of wars and rumors of wars.  My insulation from the discomfort and danger of war should not be taken for granted.

CTH and I spent the afternoon at Joyous Gard, enjoying friends, fresh corn, steaks, etc.  We watched the neighborhood’s fireworks extravaganzas (it so happens that those several surrounding houses spend quite a lot of money on not-so-legal fireworks) from the roof.  There is nothing quite like enjoying the colorful explosions right over your head, sitting on the roof with glasses in hand …

Fireworks, with their mimicry of bombs, always make me a little uncomfortable.  Why do we celebrate freedom with a shadow of destruction?  We do we love explosions and and the building of fires?

R. Card Hyatt

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The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius — Latin for Swifter, Higher, Stronger.

Does anyone else, in light of recent events, see the inevitable dilemma this motto creates?

The words are comparatives. It’s unattainable. Unlike excellence, which might theoretically be achieved, by choosing the comparative form Baron de Coubertin condemned athletes to a perpetual striving, even when they come to the very end of themselves. It elevates progress above other values, like safety. How swift… how high… how strong… is Enough?

I don’t know that I would have recognized this trend had it not been for an article I recently read by Bob Goudzwaard called “Economic Growth: Is more always better?” reprinted in Steve Rundle’s book Economic Justice in a flat world: Christian perspectives on globalization. In the article, Goudzwaard points out that in the Old Testament, economic mandates addressed the “inputs” rather than the “outputs”. In other words, God cared about the people, the land and justice and let the Gross Domestic Product take care of itself. Who’s to say if ancient Israelites actually put this into practice? What matters, I think, is that the principles are not limited to early Mediterranean agrarian societies. Imagine how much healthier we would be as a family/nation/world if we focused on nurturing our labor force, protecting our environment and advocating justice in our capital markets and let production fall where it may?

The trouble is that managing inputs is difficult to measure and it’s values-based, meaning it would be very difficult for politicians to agree upon the standards and even then, success would be nearly impossible to quantify.

The other trouble is that the world is moving at warp speed into a integrated global financial system which is pitting not just nations, but individuals head-to-head against peers from all over the world, creating cutthroat competition with razor thin margins and timetables that are measured in seconds. In this environment, the mere mention of values beyond Efficiency and Growth are suspicious as Unpatriotic.

What does this have to do with the Vancouver Olympics, you may be wondering. Well, my hypothesis is that if we keep our current political motto of Faster, Bigger, Smarter, Nodar Kumaritashvili won’t be the only casualty making headlines.

Although I believe the principles of maintaining human dignity, caring for the environment, and justice in our financial dealings are universal, the “living out” must be very localized, based on many factors, not the least of which will be culture.

What it comes down to is volitional restraint. By choosing to prioritize good stewardship of our labor force, environment, and capital, the United States might put itself at a competitive disadvantage. We might not have the biggest corporations or the highest national income… Scary thought: We might not be able to afford the world’s largest standing army. This is where the rubber meets the road. In a battle of ethics, which one trumps? On one hand you have justice and stewardship; on the other, wealth creation and security. All four are good and important values. Is there a way to maximize the benefits and minimize the risk?

I return to the emphasis on volitional restraint. Goudzwaard uses the analogy of a tree. An apple tree grows vertically for a season, then stops, and directs its energies towards production and reproduction, making leaves, flowers, fruit. If the apple tree decided it wanted to be a sequoia, and kept pushing itself higher and higher, it would never fulfill its purpose as an apple tree. We would have no shade, no way to climb branches, no fragrance, no apples. So the tree, by utilizing restraint in one area, grows in a more meaningful way.

However, if someone got a hold of this principle and decided to help the apple tree by planting it under a ceiling, so that it could grow so far and no farther, one of the two things would happen. Either the tree would find a way to grow around the ceiling, or it would be stunted and the desired result would be forfeited.

I see the same principle at work in economics. Planned economies don’t work. They just don’t. No politician or think-tank will ever be able to mandate a cohesive, sustainable solution for our ever-increasingly-complex system. People will either go around the regulations or be stunted. So, within a free market, how do we make sure people, oceans, and monies are managed in a just way?

Voluntary restraint.

There is a so-called “Soda Tax” being proposed to help fund healthcare reform. The idea is that by adding a 1 cent tax for every teaspoon of sugar in certain beverages, companies will add less and consumers will consume less sugar, which should improve our national bill of health.

Unfortunately, this tax would reduce beverage companies’ profit, reduce consumer buying power, and put pressure on the sugar industry (which could have foreign policy implications).

Now, I’m not saying that Americans shouldn’t consume less sugar. In fact, with a son who has three diabetic grandparents, I am keen on reducing sugar intake. BUT! I don’t think it’s the role of the government to legislate nutritional values. Instead, I would like to see consumers take the initiative, clamoring for reduced sugar in beverages. I would like to see companies limiting the amount of sugar they include, so that one can of soda doesn’t exceed an average human’s daily value of sugar. I would like to see voluntary restraint in accordance with the values of health and consideration of others’ wellbeing.

Naive? Perhaps. Idealistic? Certainly. Difficult to effect? Surely. In fact, I’m not sure how one goes about changing the value system of a culture which celebrates excess into one which celebrates moderation. Art, probably. Education, perhaps. However it works out, it will have to be on a individual by individual basis. People thinking critically about what really matters and making sacrificial decisions to live with integrity.

So far as mottoes go, I’m still a fan of the Good, the True and the Beautiful.

C.S. Doemner

Olympic mottoThe Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius which is Latin for Swifter, Higher, Stronger.. is Citius, Altius, Fortius which is Latin for Swifter, Higher, Stronger

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For my global economics course, we were assigned an article by Alan Blinder from Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006. His thesis is that as information technology improves, developed nations will outsource their impersonal service jobs to the cheapest vendor (this practice is called “offshoring”) but will necessarily retain their personal services. This massive shift in labor will result in significant social changes which wealthier nations would do well to consider and prepare for now. What follows is my broad-brushed summary of his argument. – C.S. Doemner

Blinder contends we are entering the third Industrial Revolution.  The first and best-known Industrial Revolution was the 19th century migration of jobs from agriculture to manufacturing (a result of increased productivity in farming technology). The second was the 20th century shift from manufacturing to service industries (a result of increased productivity in manufacturing technologies). Although neither of these resulted in mass unemployment, nor the abolition of agriculture and manufacturing in rich countries, both resulted in massive social changes – how and where people lived, how they educated their children, organized their businesses, as well as how governments were formed and operated.

The “next” Industrial Revolution will be facilitated by technological advances in communications and transportation. Information will become the primary traded commodity. Unlike former distinctions between highly-educated/skilled labor and less-educated/skilled labor, the distinction will be made between personal and impersonal services, which don’t necessarily correspond to distinctions in education and skill. Personal services cannot be delivered electronically, or that are notably inferior when so delivered; personal, face-to-face contact is either imperative or highly desirable. Impersonal services can be delivered electronically over long distances with little or no degradation in quality.

As mentioned above, the distinction between personal and impersonal services is not directly tied to either education or skill – cab drivers will not be at risk, radiologists probably will be – but instead to how future technologies will affect particular industries. This makes it difficult to make predictions about how much of the labor market will be affected and how to take precautions against the oncoming “revolution.” Also, as impersonal jobs are offshored, wages and prices will drop; however, personal services’ wages and prices will increase.

William Baumol’s “cost disease” involves a rise of salaries in jobs that have experienced no increase of labor productivity in response to rising salaries in other jobs which did experience such labor productivity growth. The rise of wages in jobs without productivity gains is caused by the necessity to compete for employees with jobs that did experience gains and hence can naturally pay higher salaries. [See: Wikipedia] This means that personal service jobs will become more expensive over time. The only thing which might offset this trend is the number of workers who will be looking to transition out of impersonal service jobs into personal services. It must, otherwise the demand for these services will shrink also, leaving richer countries scrambling to make some major readjustments.

Blinder recommends several things for developed countries. First, they must avoid protectionist barriers against offshoring despite increased political pressure to do so. Second, they should specialize in the delivery of services where personal presence is either imperative or highly beneficial. Third, they must rethink how they educate children, since “more education” will not adequately address the problem. Emphasizing people-skills and creativity will be increasingly important. Young people making career choices will want to focus their attention towards occupations which require a face-to-face presence, are “high-touch”, are high trust, or are necessarily location-specific. Interpersonal skills (emotional intelligence) will become a more important quality for job-seekers to develop. Fourth, countries must improve their programs for trade adjustment assistance, which will provide a social safety net for transitioning laborers.

We are only beginning to see the tip of the offshoring iceberg whose implications will take decades to unfold, and it is difficult to make predictions when so many factors are involved. Perhaps this shift will result in less alienation and greater job satisfaction for citizens of rich countries. In any case, one can trust offshoring will prove to be much more than business as usual.

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The other day at the gym, while everyone else was watching CNN’s tribute to Michael Jackson, I was watching C-SPAN. It was more interesting.
A Democrat and Republican were duking out the details of the new health care bill. As far as I can tell, the purpose of the bill is to provide health care insurance to many Americans who cannot currently afford it.

The monthly premium was the point in contention. The Rep argued that at $65 per month, the program was insolvent — it would add $2 trillion dollars to the deficit over 75 years. The Dem replied that if the premium was raised to the proposed $85, they wouldn’t reached their target goal of 200 million participants; and besides, it was the Secretary’s job to make the plan solvent.

From my perspective, it seems they were quibbling over a basic business equation — at what price will we sell enough product to make a profit? Some basic market research should have settled the matter. But the pricetag is of little consequence when one considers the underlying principle: Is health care a right or a commodity? And either way, is it the government’s responsibility to provide it? (more…)

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