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Wonk! if you love policy

New titles break the mold of morality-based policy analysis

Good policy books by Christians are distressingly rare. Those written from a self-consciously Christian perspective all too often demonstrate a dismal understanding of economic realities and practical politics. (An important exception, recently cited by George Grant, is David Hall's Savior or Servant?, from the Kuyper Institute in Oak Ridge, Tenn.) Pure policy books, in contrast, rarely acknowledge the possibility, let alone relevance, of a larger moral order.

Breaking this mold is economist D. Eric Schansberg's Poor Policy. Mr. Schansberg is unafraid to acknowledge his Christian faith; at the same time, he brings intellectually rigorous analysis to bear on public policy issues. The result is one of the best practical discussions available of the twin problems of poverty and the war on poverty. Why care, he asks? Because of the disastrous impact of current government policy on ordinary taxpayers and especially the poor.

His book sweeps across issues--education, housing, minimum wage, and welfare--and yields the inescapable conclusion that perverse and foolish government policies are causing more harm than good. Some of his conclusions, such as his criticism of drug prohibition, will prove controversial. But all are well-argued and illustrate the dangers of relying on the state to solve problems that are, at base, moral and spiritual.

Another contrarian look at government efforts to "help" people is Garry Ottosen's and Douglas Thompson's Reducing Unemployment. It is hard to find a politician today who does not campaign on behalf of "jobs," and seemingly for good reason. The two economists estimate that unnecessary unemployment costs the nation at least $400 billion annually. From what does so much unemployment stem? They build a compelling case that massive increases in regulation during what they call the "Social Regulation Era," running from 1964-1980, dramatically raised the cost of job creation and thus reduced the number of jobs. The only answer, then, is to reduce and rationalize regulation--by, for instance, insisting that government agencies employ cost-benefit analysis, set priorities, and explore less expensive alternatives before imposing new mandates on the economy.

Business does more than just provide jobs. In The Heroic Enterprise, John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, N.C., contends "businesses can and do serve society through the pursuit of excellence, worker performance, competitiveness, innovation, and profit." He fills his book with practical examples of how companies help not only their workers and customers, but other members of society as well: firms like 3M, Westinghouse, Dow Chemical, Forestland Group LLC, and Bristol-Myers-Squibb, which have developed means to better conserve natural resources; and enterprises like Rosendin Electric, Subaru-Isuzu, AT&T, and Coca-Cola, which have promoted employee safety.

His point is not that no company performs badly--after all, businessmen are no less fallen than the rest of us--but that the real social responsibility of business is in "upholding and defending the principles of voluntary exchange, free markets, and societal division of labor on which their existence is predicated."

Finally, two provocative essay collections deserve attention. One comes from Don Feder, a columnist for the Boston Herald. In Who's Afraid of the Religious Right?, Mr. Feder speaks as a Jew in defense of traditional moral values and the Christian activists who seek to protect them. Also worth reading is David Frum's What's Right. The Manhattan Institute's Mr. Frum, in contrast to Mr. Feder, has no enthusiasm for the religious right. But his policy judgments are usually sound and his opinions deserve to be taken seriously.