Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Republicans propose expansion of 529 college savings plans

I guess by now everyone has heard about Obama’s plan to eliminate college savings plans.

The left-leaning New York Times reported on it:

President Obama is proposing a radical change to the 529 college savings plans held by millions of families, which would require those who use them to rethink their approach to college savings.

As part of his plan to simplify the tax code and help the middle class, one of the 529 plan’s most attractive benefits would be eliminated: Money could no longer be withdrawn tax-free. (The new rules would apply only to new contributions.)

The accounts, many of which are run by the states, allow people to make contributions that grow tax-free. The money can be withdrawn without the paying of capital gains taxes as long as the proceeds are used for education expenses. Many states provide state income tax deductions for contributions as well.

The proposal has now been withdrawn after a huge uproar. The real question is, why would he propose such a stupid thing?

First, it’s important to understand that government raises the cost of higher education with subsidies, which the Democrats favor:

A new study by Dennis Epple, Richard Romano, Sinan Sarpca and Holger Sieg for the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that the impact of these aid programs is clearly different from what federal policy makers intended. “We show that private colleges game the federal financial aid system,” they conclude. Every dollar in new financial aid to students leads to about 40 cents less spent by the colleges on institutional financial aid — so students benefit far less than federal policy makers intended.

In 1987, Secretary of Education William Bennett argued that more federal aid leads to higher tuitions, enabling schools to increase spending. This seems broadly consistent with the latest research results. The net attendance impact of these federal programs, according to the study for NBER, is “modest.” In short, these programs haven’t substantially spurred student access to colleges, all the while burdening taxpayers and student borrowers.

The ballooning federal aid increases schools’ spending. The researchers don’t analyze changes in university spending, but an examination of other evidence suggests that money isn’t going primarily into improving instruction. Colleges have gone on a building spree (financed in part by amassing large debt — more than $220 billion at schools whose bonds are rated by Moody’s alone), and pay and perquisites for top university administrators has risen sharply.

The Democrats already want higher education to be out of reach – that’s why they keep increasing subsidies. So, eliminating college savings plans is in line with this goal of putting higher education out of reach. It’s another way to cause people to have fewer children, something that Democrats are very passionate about. After all, if you can’t pay for higher education for four kids, you’ll only have two. Democrats have this terrible fear of over-population, and it drives a lot of their policies, including abortion.

But that’s not all – there’s another reason to stop people from saving for college.

Second, it stops people from saving their own money:

Megan McArdle suggests, quite reasonably, that this is a desperate move by those who need to finance ever bigger government and are simply going where the money is: the vast American middle class. You can understand why the champions of big government would be slavering over the very thing that defines the middle class, its savings. As she points out, 529s are not the first target. There have already been trial balloons about raiding 401(k)s and IRAs. The truly committed leftist looks upon our private savings as a vast reserve of capital unfairly withheld from its proper function of servicing the needs of the state.

I think that’s the real explanation. This is not so much a rational calculation about how to finance the behemoth state. This is an admission by a man who has no more election campaigns to run, and therefore no pragmatic constraints, about his real outlook and real preferences. A president who just a few weeks ago hailed the triumph of a supposed “middle-class economics” is revealing his hatred and contempt for the middle class.

Republicans would like to see people saving more and more money so that they are less and less dependent on the government. This is because the more independent you are, the more fre you are – and Republicans are for personal liberty.

This is GOP Congressman Lynn Jenkins:

Kansas Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins

Kansas Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins

Here is her Republican response to Obama’s proposal to eliminate 529s:

Good morning. I’m Lynn Jenkins, Congresswoman from the Second District of Kansas and Vice-Chair of the House Republican Conference.

This is the time of year when high school seniors are putting the final touches on their college applications. That means it’s also the time when families are preparing to start paying for that education — whether it’s a 4-year college, community college, or a technical school. (Scroll down for video of these remarks.)

As a parent with two children in college, I know this can be one of the most rewarding, and at the same time challenging, aspects of being a parent — particularly at a time when costs are going up while wages stay about the same. All told, Americans now owe more than $1 trillion in student loan debt.

And so in the new Congress, Republicans are working to lower costs for middle-class families and empower folks with bottom-up solutions that help prepare you for the future.

That’s why, this week, I introduced a bipartisan plan to expand popular 529 college savings accounts.

As you know, these 529 plans were created to help middle-class families save and plan for college. Many parents open them not long after their children are born. And ever since Congress allowed folks to withdraw from these accounts tax-free for college expenses, 1 million account holders have turned into 12 million.

Unfortunately, instead of expanding 529s, the president recently proposed raising taxes on college savings. If implemented his scheme would have turned back the clock on middle-class families, and taken money from your savings to pay for more government. This would have discouraged families from using 529s, meaning less savings, more debt, and more government dependence.

This proposal increases middle-class independence from the government, and makes people more free to work, earn, save and chart their own course. It’s different from the Democrat proposals which increase dependence on government and reduces liberty.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , ,

Should Christians be committed to small government conservatism?

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.

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 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. There is no one reading F.A. Hayek and Thomas Sowell in Europe, and there are not that many people reading them here at home either.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , ,

T-shirt company forced to print gay pride t-shirts and attend diversity training

From Kentucky.com.

Excerpt:

Hands On Originals discriminated against the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization of Lexington when it refused to print the group’s Lexington Pride Festival T-shirts in 2012, according to a hearing officer in the case.

Greg Munson issued his decision Monday. The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission released it Tuesday morning.

“The evidence of record shows that the respondent discriminated against GLSO because of its members’ actual or imputed sexual orientation by refusing to print and sell to them the official shirts for the 2012 Lexington Pride Festival.”

Munson wrote that the application of the Fairness Ordinance did not violate the T-shirt vendor’s right to free speech and the free exercise of religion. The Human Rights Commission found in 2012 that Hands On Originals violated the city’s fairness ordinance, which prohibits businesses open to the public from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation.

Alliance Defending Freedom defended the business, and here was their line of argument:

“No one should be forced by the government — or by another citizen — to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jim Campbell, who argued before the hearing examiner on behalf of Hands On Originals on June 19.

“Blaine (Adamson, of Hands On Originals) declined the request to print the shirts not because of any characteristic of the people who asked for them, but because of the message that the shirts would communicate.”

In the statement, Hands On Originals’ co-counsel Bryan Beauman, with the Lexington firm of Sturgill, Turner, Barker and Moloney, said, “No one wants to live in that kind of America — a place where people who identify as homosexual are forced to promote the Westboro Baptists and where printers with sincere religious convictions are forced to promote the message of the GLSO. … In America, we don’t force people to express messages that are contrary to their convictions.”

In cases like this, the Human Rights Commissions will try to drag the trial out for as long as possible, in order to send an intimidating messages to minorities they want to discriminate against and coerce. This case went on for two years, and probably cost a lot of money to defend. In Canada, Ezra Levant’s case went 2 years and also cost $100,000. The goal here is to use the legal system as a form of terrorist action, to intimidate anyone who disagrees with the secular left. And it works.

If you are looking for something to do with your life, becoming an ADF attorney or supporter is probably a very good option.

Do you think that intimidation like this is uncommon? Well, I’ve blogged about things like before – e.g. – getting Frank Turek fired, forcing out Brendan Eich at Mozilla, expelling students from university, discriminating against foster parents,violence at student demonstrations, coercing Christian businesses, leaking the names of pro-marriage donors,closing down adoption agenciesthreatening teachers with termination, terminating police chaplainsvandalizing businessesvandalizing churches, or actually being convicted of committing domestic terrorism by attacking the Family Research Council building with guns. So sometimes it’s coercion, and sometimes it’s vandalism and sometimes it’s domestic terrorism. It depends on how extreme the gay activist is in his views.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jerry Walls lectures on objections to Reformed theology (Calvinism)

WARNING: This lecture is a very sharp and pointed critique of Calvinist theology. Viewer discretion is advised. 

In Protestant Christianity, there is a division between people who accept Calvinist doctrines and those who don’t. Both groups think that the other group are genuine Christians, but the debate has more to do with the human free will, human responsibility and who God loves.

About Dr. Jerry Walls:

  • BA in Religion and Philosophy, Houghton College
  • MDiv, Princeton Seminary
  • STM, Yale Divinity School
  • PhD in Philosophy, Notre Dame

He is a professor at Houston Baptist University. You can find a more detailed profile here.

Dr. Walls is Protestant (like me). He is a substance dualist (like me). And he believes in a real eternal Hell (like me). And he is very, very assertive. Definitely no confidence problems here. And you’re not going to have a problem keeping your attention on this lecture!

Note that I do not agree with or endorse Dr. Walls on all of his views.

Here’s the lecture: (64 minutes)

The MP3 file is here.

Summary:

  • What are the main doctrines of Calvinism? (TULIP)
  • A look at the Westminster Confession
  • The nature of freedom and free will
  • Calvinist doctrine of freedom: compatibilism
  • The implications of compatibilism
  • Who determines what each person will desire on Calvinism?
  • Who does God love on Calvinism?
  • The law of non-contradiction
  • Does God make a genuine offer of salvation to all people on Calvinism?
  • Does God love “the elect” differently than the “non-elect” on Calvinism?

He quotes at least a half-dozen Calvinist theologians in this lecture, including John Piper, J.I. Packer and D.A. Carson. And he also mentions 3 videos at the end of the lecture where he goes over specific Bible verses that seem to support Calvinism (part 4, part 5, part 6 are the ones he mentioned).

This lecture is very strong stuff, and I think that he could have been nicer when presenting it, but he hit on every single objection that I have to Calvinism, and he worked through my reasoning too! So I really liked that he validated all of my concerns about Calvinism. I’m not as bothered about the problems with Calvinism as he is, though. I don’t think it’s a big divisive issue. I almost always read Calvinist theologians when I am reading theology. I just conjoin Calvinism with middle knowledge and resistible grace, and it’s fine. Calvinists are some of the best theologians, they are just wrong on the things he discusses in his lecture.

You may also be interested in these debates on salvation between a Calvinist and a non-Calvinist.

Filed under: Videos, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Happy Independence Day 2014!

The Stars and Stripes

The Stars and Stripes

The Declaration of Independence

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

The best book to read about the Revolutionary War is David McCullough’s “1776”, which I highly recommend. The audio book version is awesome.

George Washington and the American Revolution

Washington Crossing the Delaware
Washington Crossing the Delaware

To really understand the founding of the United States, you should read about the story of Washington crossing the Delaware. At this point in the Revolutionary War, the British commanders had achieved a stunning series of victories against the Americans. They had even sent word home to the King that the war was over, and that the Americans would be forced to surrender. But Washington did not give up. He attacked the British forces and took them by surprise – and he won the Battle of Trenton! That was the turning point of the war. There almost never was a United States of America – that’s how close the revolution came to failing.

Ronald Reagan vision of America

Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan

Here is a portion of Ronald Reagan’s farewell speech:

Excerpt:

I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.

And how stand the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that; after two hundred years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

This is no ordinary nation. But we need to be vigilant to make sure we don’t drift away from the vision of the Founders.

United States Air Force

United States Air Force

The Star Spangled Banner

Lyrics:

“Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

America the Beautiful

Lyrics:

“O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!

O beautiful for pilgrims feet,
Whose stem impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through
wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!

O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife
When once and twice,
for man’s avail
Men lavished precious life!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!”

Here is my favorite version of America the Beautiful, sung by Ray Charles.

Remember to be grateful for the Founding Fathers, and other patriots, who risked everything for liberty in the Revolutionary war. Be grateful to those men and women still fighting abroad to keep those freedoms safe from evil. And most of all, be grateful to God that America is still the beacon of liberty.

Happy Independence Day!

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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