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Think tanks wrap-up

Oct. 24, 2002 at 3:08 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the first of two wrap-ups for October 23.


Institute for Public Accuracy

(The IPA is a nationwide consortium of policy researchers that seeks to broaden public discourse by gaining media access for experts whose perspectives are often overshadowed by major think tanks and other influential institutions.)

WASHINGTON -- The sniper: Perspectives on violence around the Beltway

-- M. J. Park, an educator and director of Little Friends for Peace, runs a "Peace Room" based in Washington, D.C.

"I've been working daily with my students at our Peace Room. There's a circle of fear that's increasing the awareness of bad people out there. The children are being deprived of their normal routine. It's more fear than anger, though they are beginning to be angry as they realize what this will mean for Halloween ... Our society acts as though it is horrified by the sniper, but there's a sniper video game that has as the object to kill as many people as possible. We send messages that anything is OK when you're out to make money or get power ... Children are seeing that they need a lot of things for the daily routine and there is no way to totally protect them. We need peace education. We have computer labs and all these other facilities, but we don't make enough room for peacemaking."

-- Rev. Graylan Hagler, Pastor at the Plymouth Congregational Church UCC in Washington, D.C., Hagler is participating in vigils tonight and tomorrow night with the theme "Faith Over Fear."

"We need the faith to face the difficulties and the violence before us. We have this proclivity toward violence in our society. What happens at a macro level is related to a micro level. We must have the fortitude to confront violence whether it takes place personally or globally. What we need to do is begin to reorder our priorities as a society as a whole. To my mind, there is a relationship between our wanting to invade Iraq and the violence around us. Violence filters down to our local existence."

-- Wilson Riles, principal of the new Social Justice High School in Oakland, Calif.

"We need to examine the availability of high-powered weapons, the culture of violence that we are immersed in. It's like a frog in water, if you heat it up gradually, it never jumps out. The violence is escalating to the extent that it is killing us."


The National Center for Policy Analysis

(The NCPA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research institute that seeks innovative private sector solutions to public policy problems.)

DALLAS, Tex.-- Democrats' Usual Approach Isn't Working This Year

by Bruce Bartlett

Optimistic projections about Republican prospects in the House and Senate on November 5 have Democrats almost hysterical with rage. They assumed that they would do well in this year's elections because historically, the party occupying the White House loses heavily in the first off-year elections after taking control.

But this year the pattern appears to be changing. Democratic leaders made a conscious decision not to put forward any sort of agenda because they were so sure that history was on their side. They didn't even bother to push the minimum wage to a vote -- normally an election year staple for Democrats. It was thought that there was no need to take the risk of alienating swing voters with Big Government solutions to all the nation's ills.

So issues like the minimum wage, prescription drugs, tax increases on the rich and the rest of the Democratic agenda were put on hold until after the election.

For months, the Democratic base has been complaining about the lack of red meat coming from their representatives in Washington. Press reports indicate that Democratic fundraising has suffered as a result. But, confident in their belief that the historical pattern would hold, Democratic leaders resisted demands to raise hot button issues. Thus, on Iraq, the Democratic strategy was not to oppose President Bush, but to get the issue over with as soon as possible.

Now, in the waning weeks of the election cycle, Democrats have awakened to the fact that their strategy is not working. The historical pattern does not appear to be holding. Campaign experts like Charlie Cook now say that Republicans will almost surely keep the House and have a good shot at retaking the Senate as well.

In a desperate effort to re-energize their base and prevent an all out Republican victory, Democrats are digging into their bag of tricks for every issue that ever worked for them in the past. We have already seen them frightening seniors with nonexistent threats that Social Security will be abolished. Now they are pushing economic scare stories as well. The race card will undoubtedly follow, as night follows day.

The most underhanded effort I have seen comes from a Democratic front group called American Family Values, which set up another front group called Mainstreet USA, that is running an utterly dishonest ad on television about Republican economic policies.

The premise of the ad is that every single bad thing that has happened in the economy since Jan. 20, 2001, is George W. Bush's fault. Lost jobs, falling incomes, rising poverty and corporate malfeasance are all due to the election of Bush, the ad implies. Presumably, none of these would have happened if Al Gore had won.

Much of the data in the ad is for 2001. However, any reasonable economist would say that virtually nothing that happens to the macro-economy in the first year of a president's term can be the result of his policies. Whatever happened last year, in terms of things like poverty and household incomes, was clearly in the cards, no matter who was elected in 2000.

As Bill Clinton's chief economist, Joseph Stiglitz, writes in this month's Atlantic Monthly: "It would be nice for us veterans of the Clinton Administration if we could simply blame mismanagement by President George W. Bush's economic team for this seemingly sudden turnaround in the economy, which coincided so closely with its taking charge. But although there has been mismanagement ...the economy was slipping into recession even before Bush took office."

Economist Paul Krugman, a deeply partisan Democrat, tried to add a some substance to the pathetic efforts of the Mainstreet USA folks in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. In his article, Krugman dredged up all the old canards from the 1980s about Republicans making the rich richer at the expense of average people.

It is true that the latest income data show an increase in total income going to those in the top 20 percent of households. But this was true during every year of the Clinton administration, without Krugman ever blaming it on Democrats.

Perhaps the silliest point in Krugman's screed is that the 1930s were the good old days, because income inequality fell sharply during that decade. He says it was due to the New Deal, but this is ridiculous. The cause of the "improvement" was the Great Depression, which decimated the incomes and wealth of almost everyone. Obviously, those who lost the most were those who had the most to lose. That is why incomes became more equal.

By the same logic, Krugman should be deliriously happy that we are in an economic slowdown, since that undoubtedly is equalizing incomes. And he should be jumping for joy that the stock market is down by $7 trillion, since this means that the rich are trillions of dollars poorer than they were two years ago. But it's hard to see how those among the poor and middle class are any better off as a result.

I think most voters are more sophisticated than Democrats think. They can only go to the same well so many times.

(Bruce Bartlett is a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.)


The Acton Institute

(The Acton Institute works to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles. Its goal is to help build prosperity and progress on a foundation of religious liberty, economic freedom, and personal moral responsibility.)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- The mystery and morality of markets-explained!

by Rev. Robert A. Sirico

A mother asks her son to run to the market for some bread. An investment banker asks a colleague how the bond market is doing. A manufacturer asks a consultant if there is a market for a certain new product. Given these different uses of the word, market, is there any wonder that people often misunderstand what is meant by "the market"?

Ronald Nash (professor of philosophy and theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida), in his book "Poverty and Wealth," defines the market as a "set of procedures or arrangements that prevail throughout a society that allows voluntary exchanges."

Put another way, according to Nash, "the market is the framework of customs and rules within which specific voluntary exchanges in specific markets take place." The market is not "a specific place or thing," nor is it "simply the collection of particular markets in which goods and services are exchanged." Rather, according to Nash, the thing we call "the market" is a "spontaneous and impersonal order within which individual human beings make economic choices."

Nash explains that the market is like an urban traffic pattern. Over time, a city develops, a traffic pattern emerges as drivers respond to the street grid, traffic lights, road signs, and the like. It is impersonal in that it applies to everyone equally, yet it is spontaneous in that it evolves out of a process of trial and error.

Further, "while the traffic pattern lays down rules, people still have a considerable degree of freedom as to how and where they will drive." In this way, it produces order, prevents harm, and allows for freedom.

The market functions in much the same way. Certain rules -- forbidding coercion, force, fraud, theft, and the like -- establish the context for economic transactions, and the market develops as people buy and sell within it.

A clear understanding of what is meant by a market economy is rarely grasped. The market, while possessing practical virtues, remains essentially morally neutral, and thus needs a broader moral framework in order to operate ethically. The term "the market" is really a metaphor; the network of exchange we call the market is, in reality, a process rooted in human action and choice, reflecting varied and subjective values possessed by market actors.

In this way, the market becomes a very potent tool for the diffusion of knowledge by communicating the real costs of goods and services. However, it would be a mistake to think of it as possessing an ethic in itself.

John Paul II expresses just such an understanding of the relationship between morals and markets in his encyclical letter Centesimus Annus. As he explains, "Economic activity, especially the activity of a market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical, or political vacuum" (no. 48).

In this manner, the pope affirms an "economic system that recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property, and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector," but he flatly rejects a "system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom ... the core of which is ethical and religious."

In other words, the free market, to remain fit for the human person, must be tempered by a just political order and a healthy culture.

It is essential for defenders of the free market to understand this link between culture and the market. The market does not function in a vacuum; it requires a legal, cultural, and social context. For example, many critics have warned against the danger of libertinism in a free-market society. In general, these critics are pointing out that we live in an age when everything is for sale, including many things -- such as the human body --that should not be.

This libertinism, however, does not arise out of the nature of the market but out of our particular cultural and historical situation. Thus, the apparent alliance between free markets and libertinism can be replaced with an alliance between free markets and an adequate philosophy of the human person -- one that considers the moral dimension and spiritual worth of human persons.

By definition, we cannot choose to live in a world without markets. But we can choose what kind of markets will develop. Will they be free or planned? Will they provide a context for virtue or opportunity for violence and corruption?

Answering such questions and striving to establish markets that are both free and virtuous are worthy tasks for all Christians concerned about the justice and righteousness of markets, politics, and culture.

(Rev. Robert A. Sirico is president of the Acton Institute.)

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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