Category Archives: Commentary

Do unemployment benefits discourage people from working?

I noticed that the latest jobs report showed that the percentage of work-eligible Americans working was at a 38-year-low.

CNS News reports:

A record 93,626,000 Americans 16 or older did not participate in the nation’s labor force in June, as the labor force participation rate dropped to 62.6 percent, a 38-year low, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In June, according to BLS, the nation’s civilian noninstitutional population, consisting of all people 16 or older who were not in the military or an institution, hit 250,663,000. Of those, 157,037,000 participated in the labor force by either holding a job or actively seeking one.

Now, let me ask you this. Does paying people to not work cause more people to not work? It seems to me that whatever you subsidize, you get more of, and whatever you tax, you get less of.

Now look at this article from the radically-leftist New York Times.

It says:

Before this recession, most economists probably thought that some amount of unemployment benefits were just and compassionate, and offered a sense of security even to people who were lucky enough to retain their jobs, despite the fact that the program would raise unemployment rates and reduce both employment and economic output.

In other words, unemployment benefits shrink the economy to some degree, but shrinking the economy a bit may be a price worth paying.

Unemployment benefits were thought to reduce employment and output because, by definition, working people were ineligible for the benefits. In particular, an unemployed person who finds and starts a new job, or returns to working at his previous job, is supposed to give up his unemployment benefits. Economists had found that a large fraction of unemployed people delay going back to work solely because the unemployment insurance program was paying them for not working.

Here’s a new study explaining how the “generosity” of the big government Democrat Party actually encourages people to avoid working, and to remain dependent on the government for their “income”.

A study published by two labor economists, Stepan Jurajda and Frederick J. Tannery, looked at employment histories for unemployment insurance recipients in Pittsburgh in the early 1980s. Unemployment rates got quite high in Pittsburgh in those days, reaching 16 percent at one point, and staying over 10 percent for two and a half years.

The chart below summarizes their findings for Pittsburgh.

The chart displays the fraction of persons (in Pittsburgh) receiving unemployment benefits who began working again, as a function of the number of weeks until their unemployment benefits were scheduled to be exhausted. For example, a “hazard” value of “0.04″ for week “-14″ means that, among unemployed persons with 14 weeks remaining until their benefit exhaustion date, 4 percent of them either began working a new job or returned to their previous job.

The chart:

Unemployment offers a disincentive to find work
Unemployment benefits offer a disincentive for Americans to find work

The most troubling thing about this is what is not said in the chart or the study – think about the children growing up in these households where their parents, especially the fathers, are not working. What are they learning about self-sufficiency and the role of government? They are the ones who we are going to task with paying for our lavish entitlement programs in the future. Are people who think that dependency on government is normal being trained to pay for the exploding costs of Social Security and Medicare?

Should Christians seek to help the poor by growing a secular government?

I found a paper (PDF) on the University of Washington web site that makes the case for why Christians ought to care about more than just social issues when it comes to politics and elections.

Here’s the abstract:

What accounts for cross-national variation in religiosity as measured by church attendance and non-religious rates? Examining answers from both secularization theory and the religious economy perspective, we assert that cross-national variation in religious participation is a function of government welfare spending and provide a theory that links macro-sociological outcomes with individual rationality. Churches historically have provided social welfare. As governments gradually assume many of these welfare functions, individuals with elastic preferences for spiritual goods will reduce their level of participation since the desired welfare goods can be obtained from secular sources. Cross-national data on welfare spending and religious participation show a strong negative relationship between these two variables after controlling for other aspects of modernization.

Here’s the conclusion:

It is quite apparent that there is a strong statistical relationship between state social welfare spending and religious participation and religiosity. Countries with higher levels of per capita welfare have a proclivity for less religious participation and tend to have higher percentages of non-religious individuals. People living in countries with high social welfare spending per capita even have less of a tendency to take comfort in religion, perhaps knowing that the state is there to help them in times of crisis.34 As laid out in the theory above, there is likely a substitution effect for some individuals between state-provided services and religious services. Religion will still be there to serve the spiritual needs of people seeking answers to the philosophic mysteries of life, but those who value those spiritual goods less than the tangible welfare benefits churches provide will be less likely to participate in religious services once secular substitutes become available. Given that religious practice and values are often passed down from generation to generation, the weakening of practice in one generation will likely translate into weaker practice in subsequent generations. Does this mean that secularization theory is correct in its prediction that religion will gradually fade away? Doubtful. Realizing that there is still a yearning among many people to understand the mysteries of life, religion is not likely to dissipate at any time soon. Government simply cannot offer credible substitutes for these less tangible, supernatural goods. The explosion in spirituality once religion was made legal in former Soviet bloc countries lends credence to this assertion (Greeley 1994). As religious markets become more deregulated in various parts of the world, it is likely that new religious movements will take advantage of increased liberty and discover ways to expand.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons from the findings above is that the religiosity of a society is not simply determined by sociological factors. Government policy can play an important role in shaping the religiosity of a nation. Policies aimed at regulating the activities of religious organizations — from tax laws to zoning regulations — have important effects on the firms that supply religious goods and services. Many of these policies are designed consciously to promote or inhibit religious practice. Alternatively, welfare policy has been shown here to unintentionally affect the demand for religious services, likely over the course of generations. And, finally, since an extensive welfare state is considered by many to be a hallmark of modernized societies, the microfoundational analysis presented above provides a way of incorporating a component part of the secularization thesis (which relies heavily on notions of modernization) into the religious economy perspective.

Have you ever heard a sermon that addresses the size of government and individual liberty and prosperity? I haven’t. You’d have to be reading Christian scholars like Wayne Grudem or Jay Richards to find that. The typical church you attend either praises big government or says nothing about it. After all, we can keep making withdrawals on the liberties we have right now without ever worrying about having to make any deposits, right? Everything will be fine, and it’s easier not to have to think about what’s down the road to serfdom, so long as the scenery is nice for us right now. Religion is primarily about comfort, not truth. Right?

The funny thing is that when I talk to most Christians about this, especially non-Americans, they simply don’t have the knowledge of economics to understand how big government affects liberty, prosperity and security. Few of my international friends read people like F.A. Hayek and Thomas Sowell, and there are not that many people reading them here at home, either. Maybe we should be, though.

The Fourth of July reminds us to fight for liberty

This is called a Gadsen flag.
This is called a Gadsen flag.

John Zmirak is my favorite writer on The Stream. Here’s his 4th of July post.

He writes:

The Fourth of July is a time for celebration, but it’s also a time to recommit ourselves to champion those American principles, and to remember that those principles stand over against some very particular evils:

  • Arbitrary seizure and use of private property by the state in the name of the “common good.”
  • A corrupt bargain between the government and religion, with funds and favors flowing to the churches that toe the government line, and taxes and bans restricting the free exercise of religion.
  • Government micromanagement of the economy, with politically connected companies exploiting their crony connections to legislators and restricting the freedom of commerce.
  • Paternalistic government, which saw the common man as a hapless sheep, to be herded and sheared by elites.
  • The concentration of power in a single, national government that bullied colonies, cities and villages, imposing a single uniform policy on a diverse and various country.

Each of these things our forefathers denounced, defied and defeated. Each generation of Americans has had to re-fight the American Revolution in one way or another, hefting the leaden weight of our fallen wills that drags us down toward vice and tyranny. Ben Franklin, when asked what manner of government the infant Constitution offered, said, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Like each fresh crop of Americans before us, we find republic-keeping a bold and arduous duty. Sometimes we keep it safe in wars, at other times we keep it back from the brink of a cliff. And now we keep our republic faithful to its principles by resisting it, by refusing to obey unjust laws that betray our nation’s honor.

I think the general consensus among my friends about how to respond to the threats from the secular left is to act according to your conscience and be willing to go to jail. Then talk about what happened to you. And in the meantime, while you are not yet in jail, take the opportunity to get an alias and speak out. Studying is important so that you can learn how to speak intelligently about the issues we face. Right now, the left is winning because they speak in emotional, irrational ways. If we can articulate the reasons for our views, with evidence, that helps people to remember what liberty is and why our Founders fought for it.

I keep seeing statements about the problems we are likely to face from so many writers, and every time I see them, I think of this one Christian woman I knew long ago who told me that my speaking accurately about this threats “scared her”, and that the right response was to not be scared. Every time I asked her which fear scared her, she would not name one. So I started explaining them to her and she said that she didn’t want to hear the details. Well, surprise! Our respected conservative leaders are now joining me in being scared, and because they know the details.

John Zmirak says:

This is not the easiest time to be an American Christian, or a Christian American. The core elements of our creed are under attack from without and within, while our nation’s civic religion has been rewritten by the Supreme Court to exclude every orthodox Christian. A cabal of radicals has gained control of the government. They wish to control all our churches, and find willing collaborators in all too many pulpits. Has the American Revolution been reversed and replaced with the French Revolution?

Unless Christians stand up, unite and fight, this may be one of the last Fourths of July we can celebrate as full citizens, and the last election in which we have any meaningful voice. If the federal government moves on to punitively taxing Christian churches, how fitting would it be for us to raise the red, white and blue and shoot off fireworks to honor that government? We might be forced instead to mourn our vanished republic.

Ben Shapiro says:

With God safely shunted to the side in favor of Justice Kennedy, the next step in the gay rights movement will be the smashing of idolators — namely, those who cling to their religion and church in spite of Justice Kennedy’s New New Testament. Leftists have already moved to ban nonprofit status for religious institutions that refuse to acknowledge same-sex marriages; leftists have already sued into oblivion religious business owners who refuse to participate in same-sex weddings. It will not stop there. Religious schools will be targeted. Then, so will homeschooling programs. The secular religion of the left has been set free to pursue its own crusade against the infidel.

Matt Walsh says:

I believe strongly that real persecution awaits us down the road. I think my children will face hostility and opposition and maybe even violence on a level I haven’t yet seen. We are heading into very challenging times, but if we keep our families together and our hearts with God, we’ll be OK. No matter what happens, we’ll be OK. And, by extension, if we pour ourselves into our families and into our faith, we might be able to rescue this culture and this country from the clutches of progressive annihilation. It won’t happen quickly, and I don’t know if it will happen at all, but I know there’s a chance. America is not lost completely. Not yet.

Dennis Prager says:

Moreover, the war to replace God, Judeo-Christian values and the Bible as moral guides is far from over. What will this lead to?

Here are three likely scenarios:

1. Becoming more and more like Western Europe, which has more or less created the first godless and religion-less societies in history. Among the consequences are less marriage and the birth of far fewer children.

2. More and more ostracizing — eventually outlawing — of religious Jews and Christians, clergy, and institutions that refuse to perform same-sex weddings.

3. An America increasingly guided by people’s hearts.

If you trust the human heart, you should feel confident about the future. If you don’t, you should be scared.

You should be scared. I am scared. And yet Dennis Prager is not about to stop fighting, and neither am I. In fact, I am better equipped to fight this intellectually and financially than many of my other friends who are not scared. It’s not wrong to be scared when there really is a threat, and usually, the people who study these things more have more a more accurate view than the people who just feel confident. Blind confidence is stupid – it’s a mental disorder to be blindly optimistic in the face of a threat. Invoking spiritual language to dismiss a legitimate threat is ineffective, and therefore unwise. The right thing to do is to see the reality and then engage it and defeat it. I have been blogging about the threat to religious liberty since this blog started in 2009, and it was one of my 3 arguments in my post arguing against same-sex marriage in June 2011.

This is not the time for us to be thinking of fun and thrills. We have work to do.

Happy Independence Day 2015!

The Stars and Stripes
The Stars and Stripes

The Declaration of Independence

Here’s the complete text of the Declaration of Independence here.

And now let’s take a look at an article at The Federalist which talks about what the Declaration of Independence tells us about the character of America.

It says:

The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, was “intended to be an expression of the American mind.” Although not intended as such, it was also an expression of the American character. Woven throughout the text are insights into the minds and virtues of those Lincoln called the “once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors” who fought for the independence we still enjoy.

This aspect of the Declaration of Independence receives scant attention from scholars and citizens, yet it must be understood. The theory of government elaborated in that text presupposes the existence of citizens who know how to govern themselves and are willing to assert their rights. The American character is the unstated premise of the argument, without which the theory, though still true, doesn’t work in practice.

So, what’s the American character?

What sets us Americans apart is that we do not merely declare for liberty. We staunchly stand for it. To be an American is not only to know that you are born free, it is to have the courage to defend your freedom. This admirable aspect of the American character is evident in the fifth grievance the Declaration levels against the king.

It reads: “He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing, with manly firmness, his invasions on the rights of the people.” The king acted as monarchs are wont to do. Our forefathers, although they were subjects, did not take his abuses passively. They resisted—with manly firmness.

Today, King George III is long gone. Our representative houses are no longer dissolved at will (although they have unconstitutionally been declared to be in recess). Our rights, however, are still encroached upon, whether by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the Environmental Protection Agency. Thankfully, courageous Americans still push back, like the Green family, who challenged Obamacare’s abortifacient mandate, or the Sacketts, who fought the EPA’s effective seizure of their property.

No charter of liberties or Constitution—not even one handed down by God himself—could ever, on its own, protect the rights of the people. James Madison, the father of our own Constitution, was not so foolish as to place his trust in mere “parchment barriers against the encroaching spirit of power.”

In Federalist No. 57, Madison takes up the question of “what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society?” His answer: “the genius of the whole system; the nature of just and constitutional laws; and above all, the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America—a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.”

The 56 men who signed our Declaration of Independence set the example for their fellow countrymen and for future generations. They did not simply proclaim the universal rights of man. They also pledged “to each other, our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” And they meant it. Twelve served as combat commanders during the Revolutionary War. Five were captured and imprisoned by the British. Seventeen lost part of their fortunes.

America is not a country for servile men and women. We not only have a right to be free, but a duty to be free. For “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.” Free as we are, we have no liberty to choose despotism—even if it is sugarcoated, as it is today, with material comfort and license.

[…]Two centuries later, the American character endures, battered and bruised though it may be. It has been corroded by the Progressive faith in government, the sixties ethos of “if it feels good, do it,” and the mindlessness and vulgarity of pop culture. But we can still readily discern among many Americans the habits of mind and the virtues of a free people. For this, we should be grateful on this Fourth of July.

To love liberty means to be willing to stand up for liberty, and that can mean something as simple as 1) not voting for bigger government just because they are handing out money to you and 2) not voting for bigger government because they are letting you do immoral things.

Standing up for liberty means standing up for your own personal responsibility. It means looking primarily to yourself for earning a living. It means choosing to behave morally so that you don’t create a situation where you need the government to bail you out of your own immoral decisions with someone else’s money.

The drowning stranger illustration challenges atheistic morality

Learning about right and wrong, good and evil
Learning about right and wrong, good and evil

This is by Matt from Well Spent Journey blog.

Excerpt:

Here’s a thought experiment.

_____

Imagine that you’re a healthy, athletic, 20-year-old male. It’s the morning after a thunderstorm, and you’re standing on the banks of a flooded, violently churning river.

You notice an object floating downstream.

As it moves closer, you suddenly realize that this object is a person. The head breaks the surface, and you see a panic-stricken elderly woman gasping for air. You’ve never met her before, but vaguely recognize her as an impoverished widow from a neighboring village.

You look around for help, but there’s no one in sight. You have only seconds to decide whether or not to jump in after her – recognizing that doing so will put your own life in significant peril.

_____

Is it rational for you to risk your life to save this stranger? Is it morally good to do so?

For the Christian, both of these questions can be answered with an emphatic “yes”.

The Christian is called to emulate the example set forth by Jesus, who not only risked, but sacrificed his life for the sake of others. The Christian believes that the soul is eternal, and that one’s existence doesn’t come to an abrupt end with death.  Additionally, he can point to the examples of countless Christian martyrs who have willingly sacrificed their own lives.

For the secular humanist, the answers to these questions are much more subjective. When I previously asked 23 self-identifying atheists, “Is it rational for you to risk your life to save a stranger?” only 4 of them responded with an unqualified “yes”.

Biologically speaking, the young man in our scenario has nothing to gain by jumping after the drowning woman. Since she’s poor and elderly, there are no conceivable financial or reproductive advantages involved. Evolutionary biologists often speak of “benefit to the tribe” as a motivation for self-sacrifice…yet the young man’s community would certainly place greater practical value on his life than that of a widow from a neighboring village.

Secular humanists argue that people are capable of making ethical decisions without any deity to serve as Moral Lawgiver. On a day-to-day basis, this is undeniably true. We all have non-religious friends and neighbors who live extremely moral and admirable lives.

In the scenario above, however, secular ethics break down. The secular humanist might recognize, intuitively, that diving into the river is a morally good action. But he has no rational basis for saying so. The young man’s decision is between empathy for a stranger (on the one hand) and utilitarian self-interest & community-interest (on the other).

In the end, there can be no binding moral imperatives in the absence of a Moral Lawgiver. If the young man decides to sit back and watch the woman drown, the secular humanist cannot criticize him. He’s only acting rationally.

When I read this, I was of one of the questions from one of my earliest posts, where I list a dozen interview questions to ask atheists. His question is very much like one of my questions. You may like the others in my list, as well.

It seems to me that on atheism, the only answer you can give for why you would do the right thing is “because it makes me happy”. And as we see with abortion – 56 million unborn children dead – it very often doesn’t make atheists happy to save someone else’s life. Not if it means any infringement on their own happiness. Every time an atheist votes Democrat, they are voting to declare that people who get in their way should not be saved. And atheists (the “nones”, anyway) are one of the largest Democrat voting blocs. According to the 2012 Secular Census, 97% of secularists deny that unborn children have a right to life. And the 2013 Gallup poll found that “nones”, people with no religion, are most likely to be pro-abortion. (Note that “nones” are not necessarily atheists, they may have some beliefs, but they are not observant). It’s not rational to inconvenience yourself to save others on atheism. You have one life to live, be happy, survival of the fittest.