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Getting an Academic Job, Part II
By Anonymous

My previous post on this subject addressed the process for submitting applications for jobs. This post will address one of the most important aspects of what to do once you have landed an interview. Many of these suggestions might appear obvious or common sense, but they bear repeating. Over the past four years, I have participated on a number of hiring committees at my institution for positions in a variety of disciplines. Although most candidates comported themselves quite well, there were several who committed grave blunders that eliminated their chances of being hired. Above all, the lesson to be learned before going into an interview is BE PREPARED.

A surprising number of candidates have come to our campus uninformed about our institution. As a small liberal arts college, Carthage College emphasizes teaching. Our institution values and rewards research, but the administration is much more likely to acknowledge good teaching than it is a rigorous research agenda. I have been disappointed with the number of candidates who seem ignorant of this basic detail about our school, despite the fact that our web site and promotional materials make this obvious. A few recent candidates have seemed genuinely surprised and frustrated to learn that we require a 3-3 teaching load.

Although our college web site presents a lot of information about the institution, do not remain satisfied with a basic web search. As I said in a previous post, consider making some calls. Staff, students, and alumni can be valuable sources of information about an institution. Think about calling the institution’s library or Dean of Students Office. Simply ask the people there about what the culture is like on the campus, how they regard the administration, what is the relationship between the college and community, and what they think about the quality of the faculty. However, you must be judicious about how you go about this. It is probably not a good idea to call administrators or faculty, unless you know them personally. The reason is because these people might serve on the hiring committee or have influence in the final hiring decision. Moreover, faculty are an especially gossipy lot and you never know what the relationship is between the person to whom you are speaking and someone on the hiring committee.

In addition, you should thoroughly investigate the department that is interviewing you. Be familiar with the publications and general careers of as many people in the department as possible. Acquaint yourself with details about the history, the size, the reputation on campus, the standards, and the goals of the department. It is vital that you make yourself aware of what the department will expect from you. Certainly you want to impress a department that you are a special person, but it is more important for you to convince the department that you can do the job they want done. Remember, they wrote the job description with their own purpose and goals in mind. Generally speaking hiring committees are trying to fill the purpose and goals outlined in the job description; they are not necessarily trying to hire the “best person ever.”

Thus, you should keep in mind the job description. It might be counterproductive to stress your excellent teaching without mention of your research agenda, especially if the institution demands a rigorous publication schedule. Conversely, don’t tout your bibliography, while you ignore your teaching philosophy, at a small teaching college. There are others, yet, that require a mixture of both research and teaching. The point is that you should know exactly what type of department is interviewing you.

Whether interviewing at a research or a teaching institution, the circumstances differ, but the principle remains the same. A colleague of mine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently sat on a hiring committee for a position in the History of Twentieth-century American politics. The job description asked that candidates not only demonstrate expertise in this area, but also that they exhibit the potential to produce high quality scholarship throughout their careers. The committee ended up offering the job to a Ph.D. candidate from Georgetown University over candidates from other Big 10 schools and the Ivy League. Why? The reason, according to my colleague, was that the Georgetown candidate came more prepared than the other candidates. The other candidates had certainly demonstrated impressive publication records, but they did not seem to know where they were going next. The Georgetown candidate came to the interview able to discuss the publications she currently had in progress as well coming with a detailed proposal about her future projects. Furthermore, these appeared to have been well thought out and germane to her current research. It is interesting to add that apparently teaching formed very little portion of the interview discussions.

Recently, a candidate at Carthage for a similarly described position won the job by taking a very different strategy. The winning candidate had academic credentials and a publication record that were much the same as the other candidates. However, what distinguished this candidate from the others was how informed he was. He had closely examined the course catalog and impressed our hiring committee that his teaching would complement those of the current faculty. Some of the other candidates seemed oblivious to the fact that their ideas for course creations duplicated or overlapped with the current faculty’s courses. Curiously, many candidates were surprised that they would be expected to teach introductory courses. The winning candidate came to the interview prepared to discuss not only how he would teach courses not currently offered, but more importantly how he would teach the introductory American History courses. The committee recognized the talents of all the interviewees, but this candidate stood out as highly informed.

Do your homework before you get there and you will impress them when you get there.

Ends, Means, and the Federal Budget Fight
By Anonymous

Over the last few weeks, newspapers across the country have been discussing the failure of the so-called supercommittee.  Congress established the body this summer to strike a bipartisan deal to reduce the federal budget deficit.  Its target was to slash spending by some $2 trillion over the next decade, and—here's the key—if the twelve committee members could not agree on these cuts by November 23, federal expenditures, including on defense, would be cut automatically by $1.2 trillion.  Predictably, the committee’s failure has prompted finger-pointing across the aisle, as Democrats and Republicans accuse each other of dogmatism and inflexibility in the negotiations.  Americans of both parties, especially Republicans, should be worried, because this experience suggests that the GOP’s approach to America’s fiscal crisis is fundamentally misguided.  To put it simply, the party has confused ends and means.   The committee’s failure also suggests that American political culture and institutions are growing more dysfunctional, which raises grave concerns about the government’s ability to face up to problems that cannot be ignored for much longer.

The two parties have offered sharply different explanations for the committee’s failure.  Republicans complain that the Democrats refused to consider major cuts to social programs like Medicare and Social Security.  The Democrats were not “willing to put a proposal on the table that actually solves the problems,” said committee co-chair Jeb Hensarling.  For their part, the Democrats insist that Republicans’ outright refusal to consider raising taxes (even by allowing the Bush administration’s income tax cuts to expire) was the main impasse.  Some Democrats have suggested that the Republican committee members were in the thrall of Grover Norquist’s lobby group Americans for Tax Reform, which staunchly opposes tax increases in any form and whose Taxpayer Protection Pledge has been signed by 238 members of the House and 41 members of the Senate.  

We should set aside any speculation or conspiracy theories about the alleged influence of any lobby group over elected officials’ views.  But the GOP’s categorical refusal to consider raising taxes is dangerous regardless of the motives behind it.  By eschewing pragmatism, it threatens to bring the country to the brink of fiscal crisis for the sake of an article of faith.  This situation is all the worse because this faith is non-falsifiable, insisting—regardless of evidence pro or con—that lower taxes always yield higher economic growth.

No responsible politician or economist would suggest that taxes are ends in themselves. No government (at least in the Western world) has an interest in taking money from its citizens for its own sake.  But taxes are necessary to fund government programs.  They are a means to an end.  A truism this obvious should not need pointing out.  The rhetoric of House and Senate Republicans suggests, however, a belief that taxes are not a necessary evil but an evil full stop.  Only if one starts from this premise can one argue that taxes should never rise no matter what the circumstances.  Consider, however, where this argument leads. If the only acceptable course of action in any circumstance is to cut federal spending and, presumably, to reduce taxes as much as possible, the federal budget will always shrink and, along with it, the ability of the federal government to act in the common interest of all Americans—whether that common interest is national defense or the regulation of new prescription medicines. 

One may well argue that the federal government in its current form is too intrusive, too large, and does too many things that ought to be left to the free market or to the states.  The longstanding American impulse to keep government spending in check was an important ingredient in the country’s growth during the 20th century.  But it is one thing to make a reasoned argument about paring back particular federal functions and something quite different to take as a point of doctrine that taxes and federal spending are per se undesirable and should be reduced no matter what.  To take this latter position conflates what the federal government ought to do with how it ought to do it.  It erases any meaningful distinction between ends and means and, in so doing, discredits the whole notion of federal action and thereby the federal government itself.

This is not to say that the Democrats or the Obama administration are in the right about federal spending.  But it does mean that the Republican party’s approach to the budget fight, no matter how much electoral sense it might make, places partisan interest ahead of the national interest and thereby does a disservice to American voters and corrodes the effectiveness of the institutions of the federal government.  Unlike the current situation in Greece or, for that matter, Italy, the United States has not yet reached a point of mortal fiscal crisis.  But Congressional Republicans’ refusal to compromise, which is based on dogmatism rather than pragmatism, means that the country runs the risk of facing a crisis not unlike the one now roiling Europe. Crises cannot be solved by compromises, half-measures, and muddling through—as the EU’s leaders are now learning to their chagrin.  Swift and decisive action is necessary.  In a security crisis, the president has to keep every military option on the table.   It would be outrageous for him to say, “I will do anything to defend American security, except consider the use of X or Y.”  It is no different in a fiscal crisis: the federal government needs to have all options on the table in order to solve a problem that goes to the heart of the country’s national interest.

Even more seriously, the supercommittee debacle raises grave doubts about the federal government’s ability to deal with the crisis that will come sooner or later in the absence of serious action.  Shortly after taking office, David Cameron’s coalition government in the UK moved swiftly to initiate drastic budget cuts.  Its parliamentary majority enabled it to act decisively and with minimal interference by the opposition.  The same thing has been true in other parliamentary systems, even in the crisis-torn countries of continental Europe.  But the American federal government’s division of powers makes, by design, swift action in domestic affairs impossible.  If the last three years have taught us anything however, it is that financial crises can appear just as unexpectedly as military crises.  But whereas the government can act swiftly to address military threats, the same is not true for financial threats.  

The worst tragedy of the ongoing economic crisis would not be a rise in yields on American bonds, or a further downgrade in the country’s creditworthiness.  It would be the erosion of citizens’ faith in the government’s ability to deal with problems that threaten the foundations of the country’s prosperity.  In a crisis, dogmas are unaffordable luxuries.  Pragmatism and a relentless focus on ends, not means, are the only viable principles of action.  American leaders since the Revolutionary War—including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Franklin Roosevelt—have demonstrated this point time and again.  It is therefore incumbent upon Congressional Republicans to demonstrate some ideological flexibility for the sake of the national interest.  With their pragmatism, they can restore citizens’ faith in their government’s ability to act and in America’s ability to deal with any problem that comes its way.

I Am Your Brother Joseph
By Anonymous

The full significance of Pope Benedict XVI’s controversial address at Regensburg in September 2006 has yet to be properly appreciated.  The pontiff’s main theme, a stirring call for the re-Hellenization of the West, was drowned out by a nearly unanimous chorus of criticism.  Ironically, Western academics were so carried away by shallow outrage on behalf of the ‘Other’ that they inadvertently illustrated the pope’s point regarding the breakdown of speech and rationality.  Their unwillingness to appreciate the deep connection between Greek Reason and Hebrew Revelation that constitutes the very basis of our intellectual tradition strongly suggests that many academics and believers are at least dangerously unaware of, and perhaps even consciously hostile to, their own origins. Yet Joseph Ratzinger’s winged words point the way toward the recovery of a richer understanding of both reason and revelation.  It is just such an intellectual and spiritual renaissance that is badly needed today.

This address was delivered by a former academic of notable eminence, arguably the most erudite occupant of the papacy, to an audience of former colleagues at the University of Regensburg.  However, as the title of this posting suggests, the relationship between the speaker and his fellow intellectuals has not always been marked by serenity or amicability.  Indeed, the story of Joseph, sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers, provides an apt analogy.  After rising to distinction in the service of the Pharaoh, Joseph, as the viceroy of Egypt, meted out rough justice to his brothers when later events placed them at his mercy.  The words “I am your brother Joseph” convey more than Joseph’s easy triumph over his hapless siblings. Neither do Joseph’s words indicate merely a magnanimous desire to show his undeserving brothers love and mercy.  The true beauty of the passage lies in Joseph’s sudden, belated recollection that he is their brother-Israelite and not only a prince of Egypt.  Just like Joseph and his brothers, the Church and the University must see that they stand and fall together.

The Regensburg Address acknowledged that since Greek philosophy played a necessary and indispensable role in the transmission of the glad tidings of the Christian Logos to the Gentile world, reason is an essential aspect of the church.  The pope clearly distinguishes between the ongoing exegetical activity of reason rightly understood and the stridently anti-intellectual approach of various fundamentalist Islamic and Christian sects.  But he also subtly clarifies the proper role of reason in a way that may help Western humanism to recover the moral and intellectual high ground from the unholy trinity of materialism, libertarianism, and positivism animating today’s technological juggernaut, the hideous strength of which is threatening the integrity of human society and gravely jeopardizing the frail life-world of our planet.  Benedict shows us that far from being the implacable foe of reason, science, and progress, Christianity rightly understood provides the only possible basis for the true flourishing of human civilization.

From the beginning of the address, Pope Benedict emphasizes the connections between speech, reason, and the university, making of Joseph’s coat of many colors a seamless garment.  He talks of “the genuine experience of universitas” and fondly describes a context of “lived experience” in which members of many different faculties would have “lively exchanges” despite their many different specializations because of their “basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason” (#4).  Benedict takes especial pride in the fact that believers and non-believers alike are able to “raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith” (#7).  It is clear that he does not regard principled faith per se as an obstacle to rational dialogue between persons of different faith traditions.

Reason somehow serves as the overarching horizon under which widely varying accounts of the mysterious structure of reality can be seriously compared and fruitfully studied.  Light plays a similar role in Plato’s Republic, serving as the gratuitously given permanent condition for many persons gaining and sharing knowledge of a common intelligible object.  Indeed, speech itself has to obey certain fundamental preconditions or a priori categories that rule its proper functioning in the common reality.  In other words, the power of articulate human discourse presupposes the abiding existence of readily perceivable ratios of order, harmony, and regularity in the world.  Since the ultimate origins of these phenomena are mysterious, there is ample room for thoughtful, reverent speculation about the various sacred accounts given concerning them.

This implicit recognition that the light of reason serves as a universal revelation is the basis for the pope’s indirect condemnation of voluntaristic theology in general and radical Islam in particular; this very obliqueness presupposes enduring commonalities that make it possible for fruitful analogies to be drawn in many different directions.  However, just as many of the great Athenian tragedies, though ostensibly about ancient Thebes or the Trojan War, were really about contemporary Athens and the Peloponnesian War, Islamic Fundamentalism is only a stalking horse for a far more insidious and potent threat to human rationality and dignity, one emanating from within the West itself.

Quoting the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, the pope rejects the use of violence in the name of God in language strongly reminiscent of 1 Chronicles 11, where David refused to drink water that had been obtained for him at the cost of many lives, saying that he would not drink of the blood of brave men who had risked themselves to bring him water.  The emperor, after having firmly stated that God “is not pleased by blood,” goes on to say that: “not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature.”  This is because “Faith is born of the soul, not the body.  Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and reason properly, without violence and threats” (#13).

Wedding belief in God to rational speech, Pope Benedict simply but pointedly draws our attention to this essential aspect of Christianity.

History Matters--But Does Your Teaching Matter?
By Anonymous

The relevance of a core curriculum in today’s university is a familiar debate on college campuses.[1]  If a core is maintained, the looming question then is what should be included. It seems obvious that history is an integral part of this but many departments are expected to defend their subject matter and justify their existence.

Great leaders and philosophers have referred to history as “the stratified record upon which we set our feet”, “a great volume” unrolled “for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind.”  Indeed, as G.K. Chesterton wrote, “we can be almost certain of being wrong about the future, if we are wrong about the past.”  This is not to assume that we can somehow develop a “mastery over the present and guarantee future success” as Professor Ron Granieri cautions, but it provides a starting point, a comparison, an understanding.[2]

Every morning as I walk down the hall to my office, I glance at a C.S. Lewis quote my colleague has posted on his door, “We need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.”[3]  Well-known colonial historian Jack Greene echoes Lewis’s sentiment in an early 2011 interview, “I’ve always thought that the function of historical studies generally was to create critical citizens and to give them a sense of skepticism about received wisdom.”[4] Eschewing naivetés, generating perspective and understanding, and developing an analytical mind, the study of history is necessary.

And, as Professor Wilfred McClay writes in A Student’s Guide to U.S. History, one should study American history for “the simple fact that it is one’s own. To understand the history of one’s own country, even when one feels oneself to be more or less detached from it, is to gain insight into who one is, and into some basic elements of one’s makeup. At a minimum, this will result in a rewarding sense of rich historical background that serves to frame and amplify one’s own experience” but can also “unlock the hidden sources of certain ideas, dispositions, and habits in us, by showing us their rootedness in people and events that came before us.” One needs to be careful not to limit the study of history for one’s “exploration of self-consciousness” or to fracture their country’s history into personalized tales, “my history is America’s history.” Instead, it should be, as McClay references Plato, a vehicle to “usher us out of the mental caverns into which we are born, and into the light of a real public world.” To provide us “a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity.”[5]

The recent publication Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education offers twenty- two chapters/arguments for civic education, an integral part being the teaching of American history, specifically the founding.[6] In its preface, David Feith recounts the familiar story of Benjamin Franklin leaving Independence Hall and being asked by a woman on the street “what kind of a government the convention delegates had given the people, Franklin is said to have replied: ‘A republic, madam—if you can keep it.” Feith correctly asserts that Franklin’s response was sober, not celebratory.  The twenty-two chapters that follow argue for civic education to ensure the stability of the republic.

I could go on—with many more books, quotes, anecdotes and statistics (because we know they’re out there).[7] But, to be honest, I’m quite overwhelmed as it is.  What plagues my mind is not how I am going to convince the administration that history matters or what the implications may be with its absence. [This is easy because it is fairly abstract]  Instead, I’m concerned that my teaching, my syllabus, my assigned readings, my day-to-day strategy (especially in those required core courses) is not living up to my argument for its presence.  Do students leave my classroom grasping the importance of the subject? What should the teaching of American history at the college-level look like? Are certain approaches better than others to achieve these lofty goals?

[2]Dr. Ronald Granieri, “History, Mastery, Utility: Or, the Public Responsibility of Historians,”

[3]C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time,” in The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperCollins, 1949/2001), 58-9.

[4]“Two of America’s Leading Historians Discuss the State of Historical Study on Campus”,

[5]Dr. Wilfred M. McClay, A Student’s Guide to U.S. History, (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2009), 31-35.

[6]David Feith, ed., Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2011).

[7]In the Wall Street Journal article “Don’t Know Much About History,” historian David McCullough recalls a young undergraduate student from “a very good university in the Midwest” approaching him after his talk and thanking him for coming. She then admitted, “Until I heard your talk this morning, I never realized the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast.”

Economic Prosperity and The Natural Family
By Anonymous

At the Summer Institute this year we were privileged to meet and hear presentations from a group of economists whose work connects (or re-connects?) economic prosperity to natural justice.  Economists Sophia Aguirre, Jennifer Roback Morse and John Mueller all addressed the economic consequences of maintaining the traditional family’s integrity. 

Their common position was that the protection of marriage and its issue, the natural family, is a necessary condition to generating widespread prosperity.  Therefore, policy attempting to affirm preconditions of economic prosperity must take into account the moral standing of the natural family.

Explicit or implicit in their position is the claim that the net long-term economic productivity of the family unit is greatest when cohabiting biological parents coordinate and invest a greater share of their time in the upbringing of the children, rather than using their time to maximize the short-term income from both adult parents working outside the home.  This claim assumes that the quantum of income lost over the short-term is exceeded by the greater economic productivity of these children when they reach adulthood. 

Both parents could work outside the home for greater short-term family income, and could use their greater income, rather than their own time, to provide for substitute child-rearing.  Another alternative might be that the government provides resources in substitution for the parents’ greater time-investment in the children’s upbringing.  Either the greater income from both working parents or government-provided resources could be used to indirectly provide for the upbringing of children.  One can imagine other alternatives.  If the biological parents do not live together with the children, one can imagine a best-case scenario in which the parents coordinate their economic lives with the result that one parent can provide the time-investment in the children.

If it is true that the natural family unit’s long-term economic productivity is maximized by both biological parents living together with their children and by the parents choosing to maximize their available investment of their time in raising the children, then the right public policy should be obvious to a government interested in supporting conditions that maximize collective prosperity.  The government should be interested in protecting marriage and its issue, the natural family in the first place; and second, encouraging those parents to sacrifice short-term income for biological parent-provided upbringing.

But does this family model produce what is claimed?  How do we measure this?

Though, for some of us, common sense and experience might seem to sufficiently validate the claim here outlined, our society seems less easily convinced.  We need empirical proofs.  I am a political scientist and do not know to what extent economists have studied the natural family unit compared with other family models.  My guess is that contemporary economists (apart from our visitors at the Summer Institute) have not taken a great interest in this subject.  However, the implications to government’s economic and social policy are potentially explosive if more studies empirically prove what the protection of the natural family does economically produce.

I have encountered one real-world example that does seem to contribute empirical evidence supporting the claim.  This example might lend itself well to a formal study.

In all American K-12 school districts, spending on education is usually standardized around a particular metric, educational spending on each student per year.  This number incorporates all funds (local, state and federal) received by the school district for each year, and divides that number by the average daily attendance of students in that district.  Per student per year K-12 spending measurements for each state and for each school district are easily located.

The national average of per student per year spending is around $10,000.  However, per student per year K-12 spending is highest where test results and high school graduation rates tend to be lowest.  Urban school districts, for example, spend around double the national average, but tests results and graduation rates are infamously low and have remained so, while spending in those school districts has increased, often due to more infusions of federal dollars. 

In contrast, Utah has historically spent well below the national average but usually ranks among the top performing states measured by test results and graduation rates.  The latest statistics show that the state spends around 63% of the national average, which amounts to less than half of what many urban school districts spend.

What gives? 

My hypothesis would be that the difference is explained by the different rates of children raised by cohabiting biological parents.  Utah maintains one of the lowest divorce rates in the nation.  Urban school districts, where K-12 spending is highest but test results and graduation rates are lowest, are reputedly located where children are least likely to be raised by both cohabiting biological parents.

If these correlations are established the results may substantiate this general conclusion: that public spending – even to this astonishing degree – cannot compensate for the time investment of married biological parents in the upbringing of children.  Government may do what it will to provide resources in support of ‘other’ family structures, but these funds and efforts will be futile in comparison to what intact families provide. 

It is often asserted that adult economic success depends upon educational success.  If educational success depends upon parental time investment, irrespective of government-provided resources then the government ought to pursue a policy of protecting the nuclear family and encouraging families to sacrifice increased income in the present in exchange for raising their children.  This is a question then, of not only what is morally right, but also is a question of what is in the interest of our long-term, general prosperity.

Economic Freedom of North America 2011
By Nathan Ashby

On November 22, 2011 the Economic Freedom of North America 2011 report published by the Fraser Institute was released. This report I co-authored with a graduate student here at the University of Texas at El Paso, Avilia Bueno, and Fred McMahon of the Fraser Institute. This report measures economic freedom for the fifty U.S. states and for ten Canadian provinces (measures are also included for thirty two Mexican states, but these measures are not comparable to the U.S. and Canada). The report is the seventh edition. You can look through the report to see the methodology that we use as well as how your state(s) of interest rank compared to other states. The data used to calculate the scores for the report are also provided online in excel format.

Economic freedom is the freedom to benefit from voluntary exchanges without significant interference by the government. The Economic Freedom of North America attempts to measure economic freedom similar to the Economic Freedom of the World which measures country level economic freedom and is also published by the Fraser Institute. The project resulted from years of conferences where scholars including three Nobel Laureates (Milton Friedman, Douglass North, and Gary Becker) discussed what should be included in such an index in order to determine the proper methdology before data were actually gathered. It was determined that economic freedom should be meaured in five major areas: Size of Government, Property Rights and Legal Structure, Sound Money, Trade Freedom, and Regulation Freedom. At the subnational level, we try and follow these recommendations although we excluded sound money and trade freedom since these are not actually determined at the state level. We are also not able to include many of the measures which are available at the nationally level but are not provided at the subnational level.

For the first time since the report was released, Alberta, a Canadian province leads all states and provinces followed by Delaware and Texas. The least free states are West Virginia and New Mexico. While Canadian provinces have always been clustered at the bottom (with the exception of Alberta), this report demonstrates that many have surpassed U.S states in recent years.

What is the cause of this? The index basically measures three main areas of economic freedom: Size of government, tax freedom, and labor market freedom. Which area do you think the United States has weakened in recent years? The cause of the relative loss in freedom in the United States is due to an increase in the size of government due to significant increases in government spending in recent years. Our data only measures up to 2009 and fails to include all of the increased spending that resulted from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. So in actuality, U.S. states should have dropped by more relative to Canadian provinces.

Why do these changes matter? Certainly, some may see these changes as a good thing. If you consider an increased role of the government as a good thing, this is a positive. If you would like to see a higher tax burden in this country, this is a positive. If you feel that government should highly regulate wage rates and deprive individuals of the right to choose whether or not they want to join a union, you would see this change as a good thing. However, as our report and many empirical studies have demonstrated, economic freedom has been an important driver of our economic success over the last three decades. Historical economists would argue that limited government in the United States has been the cause of prosperity in the United States and American exceptionalism. Detractors might agree with these arguments while saying that these benefits are accumulated by a select few while leaving a significant amount of the population behind. In other words, economic freedom leads to more unequal distribution of income and leaves the poor behind. Within the United States there is poor evidence of this allegation according to our data. In fact, if we compare our data with data on income distribution constructed by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, it appears that if anything the gap is actually larger in the least free states. The least free states between 1981 and 2005 have a higher top-to-bottom income ratio than the most free states during this period (I use these years since the Economic Policy Institute data is last available for the year 2005). Greater economic freedom leads to greater economic opportunities for Americans and as the size and scope of government increases, the ability of the economy to grow and provide opportunities for future generations will diminish.

Unless social security and other entitlements can be reformed in order to lessen the burden on future generations while constraining the growth of government in other areas, the U.S. states will likely have a stagnant future. Hopefully, policymakers can realize this problem and deal with it in a timely manner.

A Vote for Gingrich is a Vote for Obama
By Dr. B. Jeffrey Reno

Newt Gingrich is having a good November in 2011.  His strong performances in a number of debates and his recent ascent in the polls coincide with the announcement that he has secured the coveted endorsement of the Manchester Union Leader.  Even Bill Clinton has lauded Gingrich’s success of late.  All of this adds up to greater success in the fundraising department, and it would all be good news, for Newt personally and for the GOP, were it not for one simple fact: Newt Gingrich cannot win in 2012.

Republicans have good reason to like Newt as a conservative intellectual.  He is clearly smart and has a great talent for strategy.  His Contract with America contained the platform that produced the first Republican majority in the House in forty years.  He is a passionate speaker and tireless campaigner, all of which combine to make him a formidable candidate.

Unfortunately, his tenure as Speaker makes one wish Newt had been as effective at governing as he was at campaigning.  Welfare reform was a solid accomplishment, but Newt followed it up with a series of missed opportunities and squandered political capital.  He allowed a 1995 government shutdown that was short on principle and long on negative consequences for Republicans as it helped to secure Clinton’s reelection and set the pace for the eroding GOP House majority.  His decision to launch impeachment proceedings against Clinton, knowing the President would prevail in the Senate, amounted to nothing more than a national distraction.  Finally, he had to resign in shame after the stories of his own womanizing became public.

However, the past is not Newt’s only baggage.  It is actually his present that concerns me more.  He is, for example, unacceptably weak on the housing finance issue.  Obama, with ties to sleazy Fannie Mae executive, Franklin Raines, should be vulnerable.  John McCain was unable to exploit the issue in 2008 because he had received too much money from Fannie and desperately wanted the electorate not to recall his own banking scandal as a member of the Keating Five.  Gingrich can’t exploit the issue either because he earned over $1.6 million as a consultant to Freddie Mac after leaving Congress.

That brings us to Bill Clinton’s recent comments.  The former President said of Gingrich, “He’s articulate and he tries to think of a conservative version of an idea that will solve a legitimate problem.”   In the same statement, Clinton went on to suggest that Gingrich’s candidacy would be attractive to independent voters.  This is curious because independents have never really liked Newt, and there is little reason to believe they will start now.  Indeed, the more independents get to know him, the less they will like him.  As a nominee, the media will portray Gingrich as a conservative crank, and that is how self-proclaimed moderates and independents will see him (even if unfairly).  His skills as a campaigner and communicator may help him slightly, but the damage will be done.  At the end of the day, Newt is simply not right for them.  

So Clinton’s remarks are strange: He knows that Gingrich will not attract Independents in the manner implied by his public comment.  Clinton’s remarks only make sense if we remember never to take what he says at face value.  The true meaning of Clintonspeak translated into English is this: If Newt Gingrich continues to do well in the polls, he will draw New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg into the race.  Bloomberg will siphon votes disproportionately from the right-leaning independents, and Barack Obama will win reelection with the same kind of plurality that Clinton had—twice. 

Gingrich might win North Carolina and Virginia back for GOP, but he loses every other state that voted for Obama in 2008.   If Bloomberg enters the race and takes around 15% of the popular vote (assuming he can do at least as well as Perot in 1992), Obama can win with 40% in several key states (particularly Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Missouri)—all states Obama stands to lose to in a two-person race.  In the end, a slightly crippled Obama limps to a second term with a plurality victory in popular vote and narrow electoral college win.

Newt Gingrich is having a good November in 2011.  However, if the GOP wants to have a good November in 2012, if it cares more about removing Obama than preserving ideological purity, Republicans must resist the temptation to nominate Newt Gingrich.  Conservatives are correct to forgive him for his past.  Nevertheless, the past is only one of Newt’s problems.  The larger problem is the present: he just can’t win.

Why America is Exceptional
By Gerson Moreno-Riano

The greatness of a country is not based on the opinion of its citizens.  Rather, the greatness of a country is based on the nobility of its origins.

In one of the most recent surveys of the Pew Research Center less than half of Americans believe that America is exceptional.  This has led some to suggest that the United States is becoming more European in this regard.  We are following, some argue, the footsteps of such countries like Britain, France, Germany, and Spain who once believed in their exceptional character but are now convinced they are no better than anyone else.  This may be true of our European friends.  It is not true of America.

America’s exceptionalism is rooted first and foremost in the religious character of its founding.  America is great because it began as a pursuit of the divine, a pursuit codified in the great principle of liberty of conscience.  America was birthed as a nation in which worship of and reverence toward God was central to its identity.

America’s exceptionalism is also rooted in the humane character of its founding.  America is great due to its commitment to human dignity, a conviction that all human beings are equal and worthy of respect and rights given their divine origins.  America began as a nation in which esteem for the individual was central to its existence.

America’s exceptionalism is also rooted in the innovative character of its founding.  America is great given its openness to creative experimentation, a process in which tradition and the untried are blended for creative solutions to serious problems.  America started as one of the greatest and most innovative experiments in human history.

If most of America’s citizens no longer believe in its exceptionalism, it is because they are either ignorant of its noble origins or are unable to embody them.  The problem is not with America itself.  Rather, the problem is with the character of its citizens and leaders.  We, Americans, have abandoned the noble beginnings of our country in pursuit of other less than noble principles.  We have become irreverent, destructively individualistic, and unimaginative.  Perhaps we no longer believe America is exceptional because we look at ourselves in the mirror.

America has been and always will be exceptional.  It is time for us, its citizens, to catch up to it.

Veritas in Caritate
By Anonymous

I’ve been thinking recently about the uses and abuses of the new media, and how we can best use these new technologies in a virtuous way that builds up, rather than tears down, our culture. 

In the Western philosophical and theological tradition, concern for the reputation of another person has always been important. Some ground it in human dignity and a categorical imperative, others in the imago Dei and the demands of neighbor-love. As children we were probably taught not to gossip or to speak badly of others—even when what we might say was true. To reveal the faults of others, without necessary reason, was considered vicious. It not only harmed the good name of the other, but it damaged our own character as we failed to respect the personal dignity of others, as we failed to love others.[i]

It can take a lifetime to rightfully build up one’s good name. And a few thoughtless comments by a third party can easily undue this in an irreparable way. I’m sure we’ve all done things—privately and publicly—that we wouldn’t want a larger audience to know about. 

This has always been an issue for journalists. When you discover damaging information about someone, how far do you go to make sure it’s accurate, and, even if accurate, how much do you reveal? Editors frequently played a mediating role in helping to ensure some thought was given before rashly exposing too much. 

New media provide us with unprecedented abilities to share information with others, not only our own thoughts about others, but direct recordings of others—frequently of others behaving badly. It’s led me to a series of questions: 

When should we share embarrassing audio or video recordings we’ve made or obtained of other people? 

When should we set out to bait people, egg them on, secretly record them, and then share that recording with a broader world? 

Undoubtedly there are times when we need to expose fraud and corruption, especially with public officials, but what are the limits? And what about private citizens? 

Over the last several years—with the Borat and Ali G videos, and now with the roving cameramen at the Tea Party and OWS gatherings—I think we’ve shown some misjudgment, some coarseness in our use of media. I don’t find much of it to be edifying, or respectful, or charitable. Much of it seems to ignore the dignity of the people being filmed (some of whom may be suffering mental disease), and intentionally sets out to embarrass them, to get people to say ridiculous things, so that we can then post a link on Drudge, e-mail it around, and have a good laugh at someone else’s expense. 

And that worries me about not only the producers but the consumers of new media. What does it mean about me if I regularly laugh when I see these videos? If I take some delight in seeing my neighbors act foolishly? 

Whether from within a secular Kantian perspective where we shouldn’t use people to advance our own ends or instrumentalize their humanity, or from a Christian perspective in which we should love people and try to advance their own flourishing, I struggle to see how some of the new media treat its subjects as foci of worth. 

Two summers ago Pope Benedict released an encyclical titled Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). A central argument was that for charity to be authentic it had to be truthful (good intentions aren’t enough). I wonder about flipping the words around: Veritas in Caritate (Truth in Charity). Here the focus would be on getting the truth out, but to do so in a charitable way. 

It’s something that I struggle with, and that all of us as producers and consumers of new media might want to think about.

[i]To give two summary examples: The Westminster Catechism (Reformed Tradition) and the Baltimore Catechism (Catholic Tradition) both express concern for this under the general heading of the 8th/9thCommandment (different numbering for Reformed and Catholic). 


Question 144: What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?

Answer: The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things: Whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requires; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of: Whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report. 


Question 268: When does a person commit the sin of detraction?

Answer: A person commits the sin of detraction when, without a good reason, he makes known the hidden faults of another.

Brief Thoughts on Penn State and the Student Reaction
By Michael Schwarz

Apart from the grand jury presentment’s lurid details—so incomprehensible in nature and in scope that I’d advise against reading them if you haven’t done so already—the most disturbing aspect of the events that unfolded last week at Penn State University has to be the student reaction to the Board of Trustees’ decision to fire longtime head football coach Joe Paterno.  On Wednesday evening, November 9, after the Trustees announced that they had fired Paterno, thousands of PSU students took to the streets in protest.  A few hooligans overturned a news van.  Most simply chanted “We Want Joe!” in a show of support for their fallen coach.  Two days later an editorial in the student newspaper declared that Penn State’s on-field success in 2011—the Nittany Lions remain in contention for the Big Ten title—“should not be overshadowed” by the charges against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.  (Heaven forbid.)

Astonishingly, Paterno’s support was not confined to the PSU student body.  Here at Ashland I heard quite a few indignant students express outrage at the PSU Trustees’ decision.  “How could they fire Paterno for what Sandusky did?” one AU student asked me.  “After all, Paterno reported it to his athletic director.”

That such an observation would exonerate Paterno in the minds of an undergraduate perplexed me at the time, and I’m still not sure I quite understand it.  One of my colleagues in the History and Political Science Department suggested a possible explanation.  Our students, he said, are reared in a culture that deplores nothing so much as it deplores being judgmental.  That Paterno and at least six other adults effectively ignored evidence that a former Penn State football coach was also a reckless and violent child predator apparently isn’t enough to warrant harsh judgment.  Perhaps there’s some truth in my colleague’s observation.

For my part, I’m inclined to believe that an additional explanation for the sympathy many young people have shown Paterno lay in their still-underdeveloped reasoning skills.  “Paterno reported it to his athletic director,” they say.  Let’s think about what that means.  An assertion of this nature reveals a failure to discern between and among multiple facts of varying significance.  In this case, 1) an adult witness reported a child-rape, and 2) the alleged rape occurred on university property.  Now, only if one accepts fact #2 as the salient point could one possibly conclude that “Paterno reported it to his athletic director” means anything at all.  What if the witness had seen the rape occur at Sandusky’s home?  Would the witness have reported the crime to the university hierarchy, i.e. Coach Paterno, instead of the police?  Would Paterno then have taken the report to his AD?  The logic makes no sense (to say nothing of the moral choice involved), and yet some students managed to reason their way to the exceedingly legalistic conclusion that Paterno did all he needed to do. 

Another possible explanation for the outburst of Pro-Joe sympathy among students is that the simple act of reporting something to higher-ups perfectly fits the young person’s understanding of accountability.  We tell children, when they see something bad happening, that they should report it—to their parents, their teachers, their coaches, etc.  Didn’t Paterno do at least this much?  Didn’t he tell someone?  Isn’t that all we expect?

Despite having taught introductory-level college courses for more than ten years, I’m happy to say that on the whole I continue to have a high regard for the overwhelming majority of young people who come through my classes.  Their intelligence, their thoughtfulness, and their genuine appreciation for the pursuit of knowledge never fail to impress me.  Events such as those of the past week, however, remind me that young people do not arrive at our campuses with their characters formed.  They’re not all prepared to make reasoned judgments and moral choices from the moment they reach eighteen years of age.              

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