Jubilees

Ben Holland writes on the ancient practice of jubilees and debt forgiveness:

In ancient Babylon, a newly enthroned king would declare a jubilee, wiping out the population’s debts. In modern America, a faint echo of that idea — call it jubilee-lite — is catching on.

Support for write-offs has been driven by Democratic presidential candidates. Elizabeth Warren says she’d cancel most of the $1.6 trillion in U.S. student loans. Bernie Sanders would go further -– erasing the whole lot, as well as $81 billion in medical debt.

But it’s coming from other directions too. In October, one of the Trump administration’s senior student-loan officials resigned, calling for wholesale write-offs and describing the American way of paying for higher education as “nuts.’’

Real-estate firm Zillow cites medical and college liabilities as major hurdles for would-be renters and home buyers. Moody’s Investors Service listed the headwinds from student debt -– less consumption and investment, more inequality — and said forgiveness would boost the economy like a tax cut.

While the current debate centers on college costs, long-run numbers show how debt has spread through the economy. The U.S. relies on consumer spending for growth -– but it hasn’t been delivering significantly higher wages. Household borrowing has filled the gap, with low interest rates making it affordable.

And that’s not unique to America. Steadily growing debts of one kind or another are weighing on economies all over the world.

The idea that debt can grow faster than the ability to repay, until it unbalances a society, was well understood thousands of years ago, according to Michael Hudson, an economist and historian.

Last year Hudson published “And Forgive Them Their Debts,’’ a study of the ancient Near East where the tradition known as a “jubilee” — wiping the debt-slate clean — has its roots. He describes how the practice spread through civilizations including Sumer and Babylon, and came to play an important role in the Bible and Jewish law.

Rulers weren’t motivated by charity, Hudson says. They were being pragmatic — trying to make sure that citizens could meet their own needs and contribute to public projects, instead of just laboring to pay creditors. And it worked, he says. “Societies that canceled the debts enjoyed stable growth for thousands of years.’’

Forgiveness was good for the economy, would be a modern way of putting it.

I’m reading Chuck Marohn’s “Strong Towns” right now, and he makes the case for both incremental reforms in our communities. But he also points out the impossibility of the present financial commitments of our cities and towns, citing the example of Ferguson, wherein approx. $800,000/year has been spent on paying creditors, and approx. $25,000 was spent repairing sidewalks.

We’re going to need some form of jubilee, and how we come to accept that is going to be less about partisanship than it will be about sober, political reality. At present, neither those of us in suburban HOAs nor those of us in hollowed out city neighborhoods can properly pay for the services we require. We can either embrace reforms now or have them thrust upon us.

Stars and Christmas lights

After a Christmas party in Bethesda/Rockville on Saturday night, I left around 10pm for State College in order to get into town for the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s Sunday board meeting, the meeting of the year.

I opted for the slightly longer but more scenic/rural route, which is great even at night. I stopped for a few minutes off a side road in Franklin County, near the little town of Lemasters, Pennsylvania, because you could night sky was very visible. It was also nearly totally silent, and I tried to capture the sound of silence.

I got into State College past 1am and walked down Allen Street to take in the Christmas lights before heading to sleep. After the Mount Nittany Conservancy meeting and a few brief errands, I hit the road back to Washington on Sunday around noon.

Our Lady’s Chapel

I’m fortunate to be able to look out onto the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle from my office. I’m also fortunate to be able to get to Mass there frequently. And the Cathedral is home to Our Lady’s Chapel, which I find to be one of the most spiritually powerful places in Washington. I thought I would share this since it’s the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception:

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Here’s the history the Cathedral offers for Our Lady’s Chapel:

…the last of the original chapels to be completed, and was dedicated in 1936. It features a new sculpture of the Virgin crafted by Washington artist Gordon Kray in 1984 to replace the original that was severely damaged. It depicts Mary as a caring mother reaching down to fallen humanity and pointing to her ascended Son.

And here’s what the Cathedral shares today:

“The feast of the pure and sinless Conception of the Virgin Mary, which is a fundamental preparation for the Lord’s coming into the world, harmonizes perfectly with many of the salient themes of Advent. This feast also makes references to the long messianic waiting for the Saviour’s birth and recalls events and prophecies from the Old Testament, which also are used in the Liturgy of Advent.” —Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, 102

‘We have a lot of heart’

I spent yesterday morning at the Catholic Information Center for Leonine Forum’s Advent Recollection with Fr. Charles Trulloles. As that concluded, a friend of nearly 20 years stopped in and we caught up nearby at Daily Grill.

We went to Archbishop Wood together in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and we talked briefly about our alma mater’s latest state championship:

Trailing by three points in the PIAA Class 5A state title game with eight seconds to play and the ball on Cheltenham’s 3-yard line, Archbishop Wood second-year coach Kyle Adkins didn’t hesitate.

“We try a pass and if it’s not there we throw it out of the end zone and kick the field goal and go to overtime,” Adkins said. “We knew we could execute the play and it worked out for us.” …

Junior quarterback Max Keller found junior running back Cardel Pigford in the middle of the end zone for the winning score to give the Vikings a 19-15 win over neighboring Cheltenham in a wildly exciting state final at Hersheypark Stadium.

“We called the slant to Cardel and I knew he would catch it,” Keller said. “He and I have been playing football together since ninth grade and I knew he would be in the right spot.

“We only sent one guy out — everybody else was blocking — and I saw him come open and he made the catch. It was just an unbelievable way to end the game and win the state championship.” …

The state title was the Vikings’ third in the last four seasons and sixth since joining the PIAA in 2008.

“We don’t have the talent that a lot of the past state championship teams had, but we have a lot of heart,” Wood junior running back Kaelin Costello said. “There is no quit in anybody on this team and we knew what we had to do at the end of the game.”

What the Vikings (11-3) had to do was score because the Panthers, winners of 12 straight coming in, had taken their first lead of the game at 15-12 with four minutes left in regulation.

Archbishop Wood, which had two timeouts remaining, started from its own 35 after the ensuing kickoff and did what it had done all night — give the ball to Costello.

And he delivered.

Archbishop Wood was not a football powerhouse when we were there. It’s been great to watch the development of the program over the past 10-15 years.

‘The biggest issue will be population collapse’

Maureen Malloy Ferguson writes on anti-natalism, the idea that having children is to be avoided or minimized as much as possible:

Ever since the Garden of Eden, we have been told to be fruitful and multiply. Affirmation of this commandment is now coming from the strangest places.

The quirky futurist Elon Musk recently issued a dire warning. “Most people think we have too many people on the planet, but actually, this is an outdated view … The biggest issue in 20 years will be population collapse. Not explosion. Collapse.”

The New York Times normally devotes considerable ink to the supposed problem of overpopulation, but is now sounding the alarm about declining fertility in a fascinating article headlined “The End of Babies”. Demographers agree that global fertility rates will fall below replacement levels by 2070, a dramatic prediction with devastating implications.

What, then, is to be done? A simple and beautiful place to start is to contemplate the wisdom of Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.” …

Newlyweds today often seem somewhat startled at the mention of babies, as if children are a separate endeavour to be considered after many other milestones are met. Jack Ma, the visionary co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba (double the size of Amazon), tells employees: “Marriage is not for the purpose of accumulating wealth, not for buying a house, not for buying a car, but for having a baby together … Have more children!” …

I’ve taught in these Pre-Cana programmes for years, and there is surprising receptivity to the Church’s vision for marriage and family. It is often the first time couples hear that children don’t need to be planned like a business plan. Sometimes the best things in life are surprises. Joys are multiplied in large families, and the sorrows are shared with more loving hearts. Studies show that having sisters and brothers makes you a better person (middle children – known for being peacemakers – are an endangered species). You will never regret the children you have, but it is common to regret the children you never had. It is good to say yes to God when He wants to give you a gift.

“You will never regret the children you have, but it is common to regret the children you never had.”

The dynamic of friendship

I think the first snow of the season in Washington last year happened in roughly mid-November. No snow to be seen yet, and this week has been generally gorgeous—here’s a scene from earlier in the week, paired with something from David Whyte on friendship that Tim Ferriss highlighted in his “5-Bullet Friday” newsletter:

“The dynamic of friendship is almost always underestimated as a constant force in human life: a diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on a professional identity, of forgetting who will be there when our armored personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in even the most average existence. …

But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self; the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”

Supermajorities in favor of common sense

Michael New writes on our recent Americans United for Life/YouGov national poll:

Last month, the pro-life group Americans United for Life (AUL) released the results of a survey on abortion clinic regulations commissioned through YouGov. The results indicated that super-majorities of Americans favor common sense regulations abortion facilities.

Specifically, it found that 75 percent of respondents think that abortion doctors should be held to the same medical standards as any other physicians.  Similarly, the poll also found that 70 percent want to hold abortion facilities to the same standards as hospitals. Finally, the results indicate that 78 percent of respondents believe physicians performing abortions should be able to transfer patients directly to emergency rooms.

These new polling results are welcome addition to the ongoing national debate over sanctity of life issues. While there is probably more polling data on abortion than any other public policy issue – many specific abortion policy questions have often received little attention from pollsters or survey research firms. …

This October, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear June Medical Services v. Gee,  a case involving the constitutionality of a Louisiana law which requires that any doctor performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. This will certainly increase the salience of health and safety regulations for abortion clinics in the coming months.

Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence that Supreme Court decisions about morality policy issues are often sensitive to public attitudes. As such, AUL should be commended for commissioning this poll, which demonstrates that regulations of abortion clinics enjoy widespread public support.

We want to continue to do more polling like this, if for no other reason that the importance of documenting American attitudes on this issue—regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court ends up ruling in June Medical Services v. Gee next year.

State-level purity tests

Noah Brandt writes on the decision of the Democratic Attorneys General Association to make abortion on demand a litmus test for any future endorsements:

President Donald Trump likes to say he’s going to win so much, you’ll get tired of winning. Maybe Democrats have taken the president too literally.

The Democratic Attorneys General Association is leading the charge to excise all abortion moderates from the good graces of the party. It announced it will not endorse or assist any candidates who do not support unfettered abortion access.

While state AGs may not seem incredibly relevant, they are an important stepping stone toward governors’ mansions in many states. So, considering the Democrats’ weak bench for plausible candidates in red states, the decision not to compete for attorney general is significant. That is what national Democrats are doing by supporting only abortion absolutists in pro-life states — they are deciding not to compete. …

Consider this state-level purity test in light of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ recent reelection. In a time of increasing state polarization, it should have been a huge victory for the Democrats to retain the governor’s mansion in ruby-red Louisiana. But it wasn’t the Democratic Party that ultimately secured Edwards’ reelection.

What makes Edwards different from the sea of losing Democratic nominees in a myriad of red states? It doesn’t take a political scientist to figure it out. He won on the strength of his abortion position.

Edwards was running against a well-funded, if somewhat uninspiring, Republican challenger. Edwards won a tough race, exceeding expectations and clearly illustrating how a Democrat can win in a challenging atmosphere. And he did so by defying what is now the litmus test of another official organ of his party.

The imposition of this state-level purity tests for Democrats ensures that the national party will become less representative of American attitudes in many states. It will contribute to a growing rift between the roughly two-thirds of states that are broadly pro-life and the remaining states which aren’t simply permissive of practices that most Americans view as extreme, but are increasingly moving to enshrine as a publicly-funded right. Why would the Democratic Party want fewer leaders like Gov. John Bel Edwards in states they would otherwise certainly lose?

New political priorities

John Burtka IV joins a growing chorus in calling for Republicans to turn from their concern with the economic and return to the human person and the family:

It’s time for Republicans to think anew about the family. For the past thirty years a conscious decision was made to prioritize financialization, cronyism, and globalization over social cohesion and broad prosperity. If conservatives believe that family is the foundation for a healthy civilization, it’s time that they protect the institution from external forces unleashed not by creativity but by deliberate policy choices promoted by elites on Wall Street and in our nation’s capital.

Thanks in large part to stagnant middle class wages, burdensome student loan debt, and rising housing costs, family formation is being delayed, and the building block of our society is crumbling. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, fertility rates in most Western countries have dipped below the replacement level of 2.1 children per family. In approximately fifty years, there will be more people on the planet over the age of sixty-five than under the age of fifteen for the first time in recorded history. …

If social conservatism is to have a future in American politics, the Republican Party must become pro-life for the whole of life, and the most popular place to start would be to support paid family leave. Across party lines, 74 percent of Americans support paid family leave. Family policy is an area that is very important to the president’s daughter, Ivanka, and there are a growing number of Republicans in the Senate like Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Joni Ernst and Bill Cassidy who have introduced family leave proposals. Support for such policies is also picking up steam among conservative think tanks and publications like The Daily Caller, American Affairs, and the American Principles Project, as an appetite for a pro-worker, pro-family agenda grows on the Right.

Most importantly, implementing pro-family policy the right thing to do because it provides vital support needed for middle class families who have been suffering at the hands of market forces that have hollowed out our heartland and crushed the American dream. President Trump promised to end the forever wars in the Middle East and rebuild America. There is no more urgent place to start than by rebuilding the American family and the time to act is now.

Economic opportunity matters, but economics have become the sole measure of social health at the same that as the fracturing and fragmentation of family and community life have hollowed out so many parts of America. We need a shift in priorities.

Burtka touches on the experience of Hungary over the past decade, and on the reality that only conservatism provides a meaningful path forward for both human thriving and the protection and stewardship of the environment. We need a new Republican Party. And we need a New Democratic Party too, for that matter.

‘Santa’ means saint, and saints are real

I was raised believing in Santa Claus. It absolutely infused a spirit of wonder into the Christmas season. But in growing up, I’ve come to think it was the wrong sort of wonder—a rootless sort of wonder that was one part magic and one part consumerism, both of which obscure Christ as the key mover of Christmastime.

Fr. Thomas Petri and Dr. Chad Pecknold recently had an exchange on Twitter that made me think of this:

We put our shoes at Nativity, my grammar school, in the corridors for Saint Nicholas’s Feast Day. Dr. Pecknold responded as a part of that thread with what I think is a close to perfect approach toward raising children to experience the wonder of Advent and Christmastime, without the lie at the heart of our modern experience of it: