Friday, April 16, 2010

10 Most Personally Influential Books

This meme has been going around the blogosphere for a while, and I thought I would take my own shot at it. These are not my favorite books, but, as the title indicates, they are those that have had the most impact on the way that I view the world. I am putting them in the order that I read them.

1. The Bible -- okay, I realize this one is obvious.

2. Solzhenitsyn, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" -- I read this in high school. It reinforced my beliefs regarding the cruelty of Soviet communism and and led me to read other works by Solzhenitsyn, including his great Harvard commencement speech, "A World Split Apart," and "The Gulag Archipelago." "Cancer Ward," a fictional account of life in a Soviet institution, stands as the most depressing book I have ever read.

3. Plato, "The Republic" -- I did not realize the value of this work when I read it in college, but it has provided me with a philosophical framework for opposing the raw naturalism that dominates modern academia.

4. Handlin, "Truth in History" -- gave me an appreciation for the issues of objectivity and ideology in academia. Handlin, a professor of history at Harvard, was -- correctly, I think -- a bitter critic of The New History.

5. Packer, "Knowing God" -- this is one of the few books that I have read multiple times. Packer writes in a way, all too rare, that both stretches the mind and fires the heart. His "Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God" and "Keep in Step with the Spirit" have also been influential.

6. Manchester, "The Last Lion: Alone" -- this marvelous biography of Winston Churchill inspired me by its portrayal of Churchill during his years as a back bencher enduring scorn by the more enlightened who were sure that Hitler could be reasoned with.

7. Marsden, "Fundamentalism and American Culture" -- this historical work on the emergence of fundamentalism between the years 1875 - 1925 was intensely important to me, as it helped me appreciate the differences between conservative American Christianity, as it emerged in the 20th century, and other manifestations of conservative Christianity that had come before it. In particular, the book helped me to identify -- and ultimately reject -- the separatist mentality that had characterized my own religious upbringing. Christians have a responsibility to engage culture, not merely separate from it.

8. Johnson, "Intellectuals," and Henry, "In Defense of Elitism." I read these two works around the same time, and they provided a nice balance. In the former, historian Paul Johnson weighs the qualifications of leading western intellectuals to lead, and he finds them wanting. In the latter, cultural critic William Henry III opposes the kind of radical egalitarianism that celebrates mediocrity. I have enjoyed other works by Johnson, including "The Birth of the Modern" and "Modern Times."

9. Dickens, "A Tale of Two Cities" -- this was the first book I took up after deciding I needed to read more classic literature, and it re-enforced that decision. This remained for years my favorite work of fiction -- until I read "David Copperfield."

10. Horton, "Beyond Culture Wars" -- Horton writes that America is not a battle field; it is a mission field. Engagement, not coercion, should characterize the Christian's relationship with culture.

I will probably think of other books that should have been included as soon as I hit the "publish post" button.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Death of Tax Cuts as a Political Issue

For decades, Republicans have consistently pushed the idea of cutting tax rates as a major national campaign issue. While Republicans can continue to insist on holding the line on taxes while working toward spending cuts and meaningful entitlement reform, I fear that cutting taxes no longer exists as a serious policy issue. It was mortally wounded by the Bush administration, in concert with a Republican Congress, with final execution being accomplished by President Obama and a Democratic Congress.

Here's why:

Tax cutting has always created short-term deficits, but fiscally responsible people could still advocate them for two reasons: 1) Tax cuts would generate economic growth, with the long term result that tax revenues would increase and eventually eliminate the deficit at the lower rate; and 2) Tax cuts served as a means of starving the beast. The natural tendency is for government to expand, so the government will always be seeking more revenue. Cutting taxes is a means of controlling the size of government.

But the beast will no longer be starved. The political class, both Republican and Democrat, over the last decade have exercised unprecedented recklessness with regard to the mismatch between revenue and spending. Huge new spending programs -- Medicare Part D and the Iraq War under President Bush and Health Care Reform and a variety of other spending programs under President Obama -- have been adopted without revenue streams to pay for them that any serious person finds credible, in spite of historic deficits and an impending entitlement crisis. Regarding that entitlement crisis, those issues have been kicked down the road for so many years that resolving them will be painful, and our political class has shown no willingness to make politically difficult decisions -- either in the form of entitlement reductions or spending increases.

No doubt, Republicans will reflexively continue to call for tax cuts -- and if that results in holding the line on taxes while focusing on spending reforms, then that will be a good thing. However, the issue of cutting taxes is dead. The structural, long term spending issues that the country now faces require serious leadership from both parties. One wonders where we will find it in the current carnival of clowns.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Obama Administration Backs PayDay Loan Industry

Putting to rest rumors that Tennessee Senator Bob Corker was responsible, a senior official confirmed today that the Obama administration was responsible for efforts to add special protections for payday loan companies to financial regulation legislation working its way through the Senate. The official explained that due to the burgeoning federal deficit, it was important to maintain the viability of payday and title loan companies in case the government requires them as lenders of last resort.

"We need an option if the Chinese stop buying our bonds," the official explained.

Asked for comment, President Obama stated that the time for talking was over and referred any questions to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was last seen shortly after the inauguration. An angry Press Secretary Robert Gibbs chastised reporters raising the question, referring to the question as "old news" being revived as "Republican talking points."

While it is unclear how exactly the program would work, a Treasury Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed out that many of these businesses would loan cash in exchange for holding a vehicle title. "We believe that Air Force 1 might have some value," he explained.