Just Say No! (To Primates)

In a brilliant move of solidarity with the victim of the recent chimpanzee attack, the U.S. House of Representatives, rather than focusing on important issues, passed a bill that would make it illegal for private persons to own primates – not just apes but all primates (e.g., lemers and monkeys). I believe the bill technically only forbids selling primates across state lines, but that would in practicality ban all private primate ownership. Such dangerous creatures as pygmy marmosets would be outlawed (this particular one might be outlawed already if it is an endangered creature but my point remains the same). Just look at that thing – it probably has laser beams that shoot from its eyes; it’s just deceptively cute – it might kill you with cuteness overload.

This whole bill is ludicrous. Now, I don’t think most people should own primates – they require a lot of care and space and money (but so do kids) but if someone can afford it and provide good care, why shouldn’t they be able to own one?

Our government just keeps finding new ways to regulate us to death. Pretty soon our houses will be built exclusively from red tape. We’ll have Frosted Red Tape Flakes for breakfast, and red tape for toilet paper. Our government is becoming oppressive (some would argue that they have been for a long time but compared to most other governments around the world, the U.S. government is not very oppressive).

How many primate attacks are there every year in the U.S.? How big of a problem is this? Our legislators are spending our tax dollars and their time trying to protect us from the dangers of primates? The next thing that will happen is outlawing cars because they can be so dangerous. Then they’ll outlaw the sun because it gives people cancer. We can ride this slippery slope all the way down. We might as well outlaw all people because people can hurt others. Maybe robots should rule the earth and keep a few humans in carefully controlled cages for observation.

I don’t deny that primates can be dangerous. They are strong and can carry diseases but if someone wants to own one and can care for it – let him own a primate (even a gorilla if they have the space and money for it). The legislation is silly. Then again, maybe the ban is good. It might just prevent something like this from occuring many years in the future.planet_of_the_apes

Keynesian Economics is Not the Answer

John Maynard Keynes was a British economist who is most famous proposing what is commonly called today deficit spending. That’s only a portion of his theory but it captures the gist of it. He particularly thought government deficit spending was necessary in times of economic turmoil in order to stabilize the economy. His ideas were first put into practice in a significant way during the Great Depression – although some people argue that FDR didn’t do enough to stimulate the economy (i.e., he should have pushed for more spending). There is some merit to this idea. The Great Depression really did not end until WWII and all the government money being spent on building war machines, training and supporting soldiers, etc. On the surface it looks like massive government spending was what fixed the economy. That may be.

However, it also started an era (that has not ended since – there were short periods of time when Keynesian economics was not popular with governments but many of the underlying principles were never rejected) of big government and governmental intrusion into the “normal” workings of capitalism and the free market. As the markets thrived, people spent more money, acquiring more possessions. Governments and businesses followed suit. The U.S. enjoyed relative prosperity between the years of 1945 and 2000 (I could even argue it to 2007). There were some rough stretches in the late 70s and in the 80s but generally the economy was quite good. The Korean and Vietnam conflicts did not significantly interrupt the economy. Neither has any war since (although the latest Iraq War certainly did not help the budget).

The problem with Keynesian economics is that no one reverses the intervention. Governments spend more to stimulate the economy then never (or very rarely) cut back. The other problem is that individuals also deficit spend in the acquisition of more goods. Wants become needs and the deleterious cycle of borrowing and spending then borrowing to repay spending takes on a life of its own. In short, both governments and citizens overspend, which is an unsustainable path. I believe much of our current economic crisis stems from such wasteful deficit spending on an individual and governmental level. I think that Keynesian economic policies were one of the instigators of the current economic turmoil. It just took many years for it to develop again.

That’s why I don’t believe that having the government jump in to stimulate the economy is the right path, especially now that the most conservative estimate of the cost of the economic stimulus is $1.2 trillion (other estimates put the cost at around $2 trillion)! Sure, it will help the economy in the short term. It will probably even help the economy for much of our lifetimes. However, I think it “fixes” the economy at the expense of our children’s security. At some point the government cannot jump in and fix the economy any more because it is the economy. Just as communism was shown to be economically unsustainable, Keynesian economics is also unsustainable (unless it is applied topically then removed when the crisis is over, to use a bit of medical terminology; even then I don’t think it is the best approach). Keynesian economics is not socialism but it does have socialist inspiration. I’m not using an association fallacy (i.e., guilt by association) to equate Keynesian economics with communism or socialism (i.e., Keynesian economics = communism = bad; this is not true) – that’s not my point. I’m merely pointing out that at least the communist variation of socialism was shown to be unsustainable. Governments that strictly follow Keynesian economics could end up in an unsustainable state (as I said before, there would be no more room in which to maneuver).

Now, I don’t think a completely hands-off approach is necessarily the best way to help the economy but we should start with less intervention, less government, and less deficit spending. If we as people and if the government all lived within our means, that would be a major step towards fixing the economic problems of our nation and of our world.

Religious Values and Public Policy, Part 5

Continuing Dallin H. Oaks’ speech:

Perhaps the root fear of those who object to official church participation in political debates is power: They fear that believers will choose to follow the directions or counsel of their religious leaders. Those who have this fear should remember the celebrated maxim of Jefferson: “Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” 9 Some may believe that reason is not free when religious leaders have spoken, but I doubt that any religious leader in twentieth-century America has such a grip on followers that they cannot make a reasoned choice in the privacy of the voting booth. In fact, I have a hard time believing that the teachings of religions or churches deprive their adherents of any more autonomy in exerting the rights of citizenship than the teachings and practices of labor unions, civil rights groups, environmental organizations, political parties, or any other membership group in our society.

I submit that religious leaders should have at least as many privileges as any other leaders, and that churches should stand on at least as strong a footing as any other corporation when they enter the public square to participate in public policy debates. The precious constitutional right of petition does not exclude any individual or any group. The same is true of freedom of speech and the press. When religion has a special constitutional right to its free exercise, religious leaders and churches should have more freedom than other persons and organizations, not less.

If churches and church leaders should have full rights to participate in public policy debates, should there be any limits on such participation?

Of course there are limits that apply specially to churches and church officials, as manifest in the United States Constitution’s prohibition against Congress’s making any law respecting an establishment of religion. Some linkages between churches and governments are obviously illegitimate. It would clearly violate this prohibition if a church or church official were to exercise government power or dictate government policies or direct the action of government officials independent of legal procedures or political processes.

Fundamentally, I submit that there is no persuasive objection in law or principle to a church or church leader taking a position on any legislative matter, if it or he or she chooses to do so.

Now, relative to church participation in public debate, when churches or church leaders choose to enter the public sector to engage in debate on a matter of public policy, they should be admitted to the debate and they should expect to participate in it on the same basis as all other participants. In other words, if churches or church leaders choose to oppose or favor a particular piece of legislation, their opinions should be received on the same basis as the opinions offered by other knowledgeable organizations or persons, and they should be considered on their merits.

By the same token, churches and church leaders should expect the same broad latitude of discussion of their views that conventionally applies to everyone else’s participation in public policy debates. A church can claim access to higher authority on moral questions, but its opinions on the application of those moral questions to specific legislation will inevitably be challenged by and measured against secular-based legislative or political judgments. As James E. Wood observed, “While denunciations of injustice, racism, sexism, and nationalism may be clearly rooted in one’s religious faith, their political applications to legislative remedy and public policy are by no means always clear.” 10

Finally, if church leaders were also to exhibit openness and tolerance of opposing views, they would help to overcome the suspicion and resentment sometimes directed toward church or church-leader participation in public debate.

In summary, I have pointed out that many U.S. laws are based on the absolute moral values most Americans affirm, and I have suggested that it cannot be otherwise. I have contended that religious-based values are just as legitimate a basis for political action as any other values. And I have argued that churches and church leaders should be able to participate in public policy debates on the same basis as other persons and organizations, favoring or opposing specific legislative proposals or candidates if they choose to do so.

Politicians sometimes seek to use religion for political purposes, and they sometimes even seek to manipulate churches or church leaders. Ultimately this is always self-defeating. Whenever a church (or a church leader) becomes a pawn or servant of government or a political leader, it loses its status and the credibility it needs to perform its religious mission.

Churches or their leaders can also be the aggressors in the pursuit of intimacy with government. The probable results of this excess have been ably described as “the seduction of the churches to political arrogance and political innocence or even the politicizing of moral absolutes.” 11

The relationship in the world between church and state and between church leaders and politicians should be respectful and distant, as befits two parties who need one another but share the realization that a relationship too close can deprive a pluralistic government of its legitimacy and a divine church of its spiritual mission. Despite that desirable distance, government need not be hostile to religion or pretend to ignore God.

That concludes Dallin H. Oaks talk on religious values and public policy. Original Source.

A Plea for a Return of Fiscal Responsibility

I’ve written a number of posts focusing mainly on Republicans and conservative ideals and haven’t written much recently about Democrats or liberal ideals. While I’ve never downplayed my conservative beliefs, when I started this blog (back when it was hosted by Blogger) it was intended to be a fairly balanced look at U.S. politics. I’ve drifted away from that some because I felt the need to share my conservative voice with others, even if few read my blog. I’m an open critic of the Bush administration’s fiscal policies. I know Pres. Bush inherited an economy in a recession that was quickly struck by the horror of 9-11. The economy faltered but then grew stronger; it was strong for a few years and recently turned downwards. I do not believe we are in a recession and I agree with John McCain that the fundamentals of the economy (e.g., businesses, innovation, hard work, etc.) are still strong.

We are passing through some hard times (I’m not trying to minimize any individual suffering but we are in a nation with hundreds of millions of people) but so far it has not been anything serious. Gas prices are high but I believe that high gas prices are a blessing – they lead to the development of alternative potentially cheaper and more environmentally-friendly technologies. The stock market has been volatile but stock markets always are. My mutual fund hasn’t been performing well over the past year but this particular fund is a long-term investment (it did quite well the previous year) and stock markets always go up over time given enough time.

I don’t believe that U.S. presidents have that much influence on the economy – they certainly have some but in reality it’s pretty limited. Congress probably has a little more influence on the economy but still pretty limited. However, I’m still pretty disgusted by all the deficit spending our nation is doing (again, you can’t put all the blame on Pres. Bush; after all, Congress has to actually set all the spending, the President just approves it; further, there are fewer tax revenues when the economy isn’t as strong, which also affects the deficit). What happened to good old fiscal conservatism? Where are the politicians who believe we shouldn’t spend more than we earn, except in emergencies? Many states run just fine and have budget surpluses. Granted, states receive a lot of money from the federal government but the problem is out-of-control spending in general. We are a consumerist society. We have to have the latest and greatest now! Our government seems to think that we have to try and fund as much as we can, after all, each of us is entitled to handouts from the government.

The recent economic woes have little to do with the government; they stem largely from from our entitlement society. People expect a lot from the government (we should all expect a lot of the government, just not from); many expect too much. We also feel entitled to our individual rights over individual and social responsibility. This leads to excessive consumption by society as a whole, which is also reflected in governmental spending. If we can’t control our spending, how can we expect our government to control its spending? I’m not completely opposed to “big government”; our world is very complex today, much more complex than when the country was founded. The government has to be more involved than it was in the past. However, if our spending is higher than our income, we must curtail our spending. I’m aware that many economists feel that keeping a deficit is necessary for healthy economic growth and that balanced budgets hold us back from growth potential; however, we’ve been increasing our federal deficit and national debt for so long that we have to get it under control. I’m not an advocate of raising taxes, especially when the government wastes so much money. You never solve a problem like our government has by throwing more money at it. This means that the only way to eliminate our deficit and national debt is to seriously reduce our spending. It’s painful – no one likes having their money taken away. It’s not an easy job because people would complain and lobby against the spending cuts. Most people who want the government to reduce spending don’t want the government to take away their money.

The easiest way to start is to eliminate redundancies and close loopholes. Simplifying and streamlining the tax codes and process would immediately produce sizable benefits. We should eliminate many of the farm subsidies, for example. Right now the government is like a massive, largely mismanaged company. Departments need to be modernized and streamlined. Consultants need to be pulled in to help with the process. The government needs to be treated more like a corporation (I’m not saying it should be a corporation, it just needs to be managed more like one). We need to elect officials who have the guts to tackle the economic problems of the government.

Protecting Conscience, Property, and Life

I read this today and thought it fitting during this election season as we decide for whom we will vote.

“No government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life. All governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign. Religion is instituted of God; and…men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but…human law [does not have] a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion;…the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.” – Joseph Smith