How Supreme Court ruling supports integrity, tolerance

Hobby Lobby in Stow, Ohio. (Photo: DangApricot via Wikimedia Commons)

Hobby Lobby in Stow, Ohio.

“Americans need to understand that religious liberty is good for the nation; it’s not just a form of right-wing special pleading,” writes Rachel Lu today in The Federalist. Her article gives the reader “3 ways of promoting religious freedom to your liberally inclined friends and relatives.”

It’s a great explanation of the principles behind the Supreme Court decision that can also help clarify in your own mind just why “[t]he Hobby Lobby decision is a win for personal integrity, cultural diversity, and tolerance”:

Sometimes deep and serious commitments run up against each other, as, for example, when one person’s family commitments conflict with another’s religious beliefs. Those are the hard cases, and we have to sort them out as well as we can. But it’s very hard to argue that anyone’s personal integrity is deeply threatened by an employer’s refusal to pay for their contraceptives. …

[M]odesty gives us an additional reason to be wary of curtailing religious practice. Wise people recognize it’s bad to fool around with things you don’t understand.

Great religious faiths offer their followers a complex and comprehensive metaphysical and moral outlook. It’s extremely difficult to judge from the outside how a given belief or practice fits into that wider perspective. The best policy, therefore, is to respect religious groups’ claims of conscience so far as circumstances allow.

Click here to read the rest of this piece at The Federalist.

Economic forecast: optimism or doom and gloom?

Reymerswaele_Two_tax_collectorsThe federal Commerce Department announced recently that growth of the U.S. economy was “near zero,” as reported by some media outlets. Growth was estimated at 0.1 percent, a pitiful rate that comes after several years of sluggish economic recovery from the most recent recession.

As reported, the reasons given for the stagnant economy include “an unusually cold and disruptive winter, coupled with tumbling exports.” Yet some economists remain optimistic that this year “will be the year the recovery from the Great Recession finally achieves the robust growth that’s needed to accelerate hiring and reduce still-high unemployment.”

In this context, scholarly economist John H. Makin at the American Enterprise Institute published an article titled “The limp recovery, five years on>” that seeks to explain the current “feeble expansion” and project its prospects for growth in the next year. His prognostications are decidedly less optimistic than those reported in various news outlets.

Makin (see his bio and impressive credentials here) reports that the current recovery “has been considerably below average when compared to post-World War II recoveries.” Only in two quarters has growth been above average since June 2009. He gives several reasons for this.

One is weak growth in business investment due to investor uncertainty, driven by the financial crisis and massing changes in federal regulation from the Obama administration, weak growth in consumer demand, and slowing levels of inflation. A second reason is the slow growth of household spending, which is attributed in part to the fact that “it has required seven full years for households to regain levels of net worth last seen in 2007,” leaving households cautious about spending money.

Subsequently, according to Makin, “the recent expansion has been characterized by especially weak growth of employment and persistence of high unemployment, notwithstanding some progress over the past year.” This problem has been compounded by the fact that “labor-saving technologies [have reduced] the need for labor in the production process,” such as “the ability to use smartphones and tablets to manage communication and scheduling without a human assistant.” Interestingly, Mr. Makin ties this to income inequality: “[T]he result has been a shift in income distribution away from labor and toward capital during much of this expansion.”

Makin predicts a gloomy outlook for the economy over the next year, but concludes with a prescription. “Something additional is needed to sustain a stronger recovery in the United States – leadership.” That leadership includes pushing to reform federal welfare, taxes and regulations (such as those created under the auspices of Obamacare) to make work more financially rewarding for employees and creating new jobs less costly for employers. It also includes reforming things like the education system in ways that make it more possible, and I might add more affordable, for individuals to climb the economic ladder.

Makin’s article is a good one for anyone interested in the economy and where it is likely headed in the near future. For my part, I wonder whether the Obama administration has the maturity and statesmanship to support reforms that amount to a tacit admission that its policies have been economically harmful to individuals, families, and businesses. But there’s always hope.

Legislature supports public-lands transfer with ‘what next’ bills

Sutherland-Self-Govt-LogoThe Utah Legislature adjourned this month with a nice package of bills to support the state’s Transfer of Public Lands (TPLA) initiative. Since they’ve already passed a bill demanding transfer, the next step is to address what happens to the lands when that transfer occurs.

Other states contemplating a TPLA-like effort can front-load some of the debate and address the concerns of many potential detractors by including some or all of these “next step” bills in their initial package. The idea is to demonstrate that this isn’t an industry grab or an effort to develop every federal acre out there, but rather to responsibly manage these lands in a way that balances responsible conservation with betterment of the human condition. This means that some lands will remain (or become) preservation areas, some will be economically developed, and most will probably see some of each of those things since they’re rarely mutually exclusive.

Here are the Utah bills (with links) that I think most directly address the “what next” issue and show good faith in future management plans. …

Click here to read the rest of this post at at Sutherland’s Center for Self-Government in the West.

Cash for Clunkers: Why it was a flop

A "death row" of Cash for Clunkers cars.

A “death row” of Cash for Clunkers cars.

Cash for Clunkers may be the poster child for how it seems to be bad news anytime everyone in Washington, D.C., agrees on something. It was proposed in the midst of the flurry of stimulus programs during 2009, and sailed through both houses of Congress largely because it appealed to a variety of groups – it was supposed to boost U.S. car companies, create jobs, and reduce greenhouse gases. It was a politician’s dream bill, and it was a total flop.

The idea was to have the government give people up to $4,500 to trade in their old car for a new, more fuel-efficient one. Congress set aside $1 billion when the program began July 1, and within weeks upped the amount to $2.85 billion. When the program ended that August, the U.S. Transportation Secretary called it “wildly successful.”

Today, after a few years to study Cash for Clunkers’ impact, we know it was anything but a success. Multiple organizations across the political spectrum have found the environmental impact to be negligible, the paltry 3,000 jobs created cost more than $1 million each, and the cars sold would have been sold anyway. That’s $3 billion of deficit spending that accomplished basically nothing.

So what can we learn from this fiasco? First, government stimulus spending rarely stimulates. Second, note how many interest groups, think tanks, and economic advisors advocated for this program and promised its success. The White House’s Council of Economic Advisors predicted Cash for Clunkers would create 70,000 jobs, but when the final tally was counted it created less than 5 percent of that total. Cash for Clunkers perfectly demonstrates what economist F.A. Hayek meant when he said,

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

The lesson to be learned is, when the next can’t-miss, no-brainer economic stimulus policy comes out of Washington D.C., let’s remember how many times we’ve been sold Cash for Clunker programs, and let’s not be fooled again.

 

A bitter harvest for Obama voters

October_15,_The_grape_sun-wilting_on_the_plantStephen Moore, a member of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, recently wrote an article highlighting a troubling irony: Those who most ardently supported President Obama have suffered the most during his presidency. Young voters, single women, those with less formal education, and blacks and Hispanics voted for Obama by wide margins in the 2012 election. The chart below summarizes the statistics cited by Moore.

 

Demographic Group

% voting for Obama in 2012

Income change since Obama “recovery” began in June 2009

(-4.4% nationally)

July 2013 Unemployment Rate

(7.4% nationally)

Young voters

60%

-9.6% (<25 y.o.)

23.7% (teens)

Single women

67%

-7%

11% (via NY Times)

High-school diploma or less

64%

-6.9% for less than high school diploma

-9.3% for only high school diploma

11%

Blacks

93%

-10.9%

12.6%

Hispanics

71%

-4.5%

9.4%

 

Moore contrasts these numbers with the progress made by various demographic groups during the Reagan and Clinton years:

This is a stunning reversal of the progress for these groups during the expansions of the 1980s and 1990s, and even through the start of the 2008 recession. Census data reveal that from 1981-2008 the biggest income gains were for black women, 81%; followed by white women, 67%; followed by black men, 31%; and white males at 8%.

None of this should be surprising. The power of the free market benefits all with increased economic activity, employment and wages.

A government that, instead, produces ineffective stimulus actions; the unprecedented bloat and inefficiency of Obamacare; restricted energy and job development in the name of extreme environmentalism; harmful and excessive business regulations; and uncertain tax policy results in the present situation. High unemployment as the new normal. The looming crush of Obamacare. Lower wages. Stagnant business development.

The bitter reality: Those most helpful in re-electing President Obama have been hurt the most by his policy decisions.

The consent of the governed (or, who's in charge and why)

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Where do governments get their power? The consent of the governed, according to Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson used the Declaration of Independence to make the case to the world that the British government was tyrannical, listing the grievances which proved the British crown’s loss of American popular consent.

Consent is the foundation upon which representative government rests. Our elected officials have a responsibility to protect the dignity of the office they hold. Often politics becomes about the popularity and personality of the person, rather than the service to the people that the office requires.

Learn more from our new page here at Utah Citizen Network.

Also check out this Slate article on just how young America’s revolutionaries were when they made history in 1176. (Jefferson was 33.)

Infographic: Utah ranks favorably in tax and spending growth

Utah has rightly been recognized as one of the best managed states in the nation, primarily due to its conservative approach to fiscal policy. Two recently published infographics from the Tax Foundation highlight what this looks like.

The first is a map ranking the 50 states based on the rate of growth in state government spending between 2001 and 2011, adjusted for inflation and population growth. As the map shows, state government direct spending, per person, in Utah grew 20.9 percent over that decade, good for 41st highest – or more properly, 10th lowest – in the nation.

image001

 

Read more

Spending $24,696 per minute: The 2013-14 Utah State Budget

Spending Clock

In 41 hours, the Utah state spending has already burned through nearly $61 million of the state budget.

With the dawning of Utah’s new fiscal year, we’ve reset our state spending clock to show you, real time, how quickly the state spends our tax dollars. We understand governments have a legitimate and vital role to play in our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. And we also understand the inherent and insidious “spending bias” created by the very nature of our political system.

That system is built to collect tax dollars from taxpayers to “solve” apparent “needs” in the service of the common good. The desires that drive this system are human. Legislators perceive a public need and determine resources to try to solve that need. The issue, of course, is that those resources aren’t created by government. They are created by we, the people. Those resources are otherwise sacred.

What elected officials do with these resources comes, rightly so, with increased scrutiny.

The idea of civil society within a democratic republic is that government provides an ordered framework for a free society to thrive and flourish, and lets the people voluntarily do what they do best: deliver the highest quality of life ever known to mankind. This is a very symbiotic relationship. Unfortunately, governments can turn toxic, hurting their citizens through excessive regulations, overly burdensome taxes, market manipulation, cronyism, preferential tax breaks and government competition with private enterprise. Read more

Why Utah should celebrate being 51st

Construction_BlueprintWhen you read the term “economic security,” what do you think of? The likelihood that you’ll be able to find and keep good employment that will provide for your family? If so, then Utah is a great state to live. We’re tied for the fifth-lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 4.7 percent. Many macroeconomists state that “full employment” or “natural unemployment” is around 3 percent, so in effect we live in a state that has almost no actual unemployment. That’s pretty impressive economic security.

Or, when you hear the term “economic security,” do you think of how much the state is willing to do for you? This would be such things as unemployment insurance, TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and Medicaid eligibility. If that is what economic security means to you, then Utah is the last place you’d want to live, according to a new report by a group called WOW (Wider Opportunities for Women). The Beehive State ranks dead last with a grade of D-plus for “economic security,” 51st when compared with all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Tip of the hat to Utah Policy for drawing attention to the report.

Where would you rather live? In a state tied for fifth lowest unemployment rate, rated tops as the best state for future livability and ranked first by Forbes as “The Best State for Business and Careers” three years running? Or in a state with individuals and families so needy that your state leads the country in providing various forms of economic welfare?

And by the way, it’s no coincidence that Utah ranks so poorly in the latter and so well in the former. Free market incentives always work more effectively than government redistribution of wealth. The irony is that big-government advocates are so often hurting those they are trying to help in the name of compassion. We do need a safety net – misfortune can happen to any of us – but the most compassionate thing we can do is create an economic environment that actually leads to meaningful and dignified employment, because that will always lead to a higher quality of life than any other alternative.