An Investment in the Future

The collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis last Wednesday has focused our attention on the subject of the transportation infrastructure in the U.S.  The real tragedy is that it takes incidents like this to do that.

The American Society of Civil Engineers routinely puts out its Infrastructure Report Card on the state of the "physical plant" that allows this country to physically function.  The grade is inevitably low.  Since so much depends on the state of the infrastructure, and considering the fact that virtually everyone comes in contact with it on a daily basis, the serious question is, "why has this been permitted?"  In the case of roads, the U.S. has not made a broad-based, major investment in the system since the completion of the Interstate system.

There are two interrelated reasons for this.

The first is that most of the budget of state and federal governments is committed to entitlements of one kind or another, i.e., direct payments or transfer of wealth.  This leaves little for what is referred to as "discretionary" spending, and transportation generally falls into that category.  Events such as this cast aspersions on the concept of transportation spending as discretionary, but that’s the way it’s done.

The second is that transportation, like education, is an investment in the future.  And it’s easier for people to send resources into the future if they’re sending children there.  But, with a declining birthrate, people are less likely to want to commit resources–to say nothing of the NIMBY reaction–to something they have no personal interest in.  It’s no accident that the development of the Interstate system corresponded with the Baby Boom, and its completion with the end of that boom.  Now it’s simply easier to transfer money for immediate use (entitlements) than to go through the long term pain of infrastructure development.

But the general productivity of our economic system depends upon its transportation system.  This is one place where public works can actually have a private return on the investment.  If the U.S. wants to remain the pre-eminent country on the planet, it can’t just rely on dollar hegemony to get the job done.  A crumbling transportation infrastructure will in the long run become a drag on the nation’s ability to compete, which in turn will affect the quality of life that Americans are obsessed with.

As I like to say on this blog, it’s our move.  We need to make it.

Morning Prayer in the BCP: A Model for Private Prayer?

The whole concept of using the Morning Prayer service from the Book of Common Prayer (as suggested by the Reformed Catholic blog) is an intriguing one.  A few comments are in order:

  1. The whole traditional Anglican liturgy is geared towards public celebration, as opposed to the "private" nature of many late Middle Ages Masses.  So some adaptations are definitely in order.
  2. The Reformed Catholic uses the 1662 book as he is in England; those of us in the "colonies" are probably more inclined to use the 1928 version.
  3. The private use of a selected prayer book means that one can use a traditional Anglican prayer book and bypass all of these newer liturgies.  I don’t see the point of modernisation.
  4. The simplest way to select a Psalm is to use the monthly schedule in the Psalter itself as laid out in both 1662 and 1928 books.  That way, it’s relatively simple to cover the Psalter over time, which is good for daily Bible reading practice.
  5. The lectionary and Collect are fairly straightforward, requiring a little advance work.  Later versions of the 1928 book use a lectionary that overwhelms you with choices, though.
  6. From a practical standpoint, the biggest plus with this procedure is that is forces a penitential rite up front.  A good balance to the triumphalism we have too much of these days.
  7. Those who are Pentecostal in inclination can both take in a liturgy that presents the promises of God ("a happy issue out of all their afflictions") and pray in the Spirit when the Spirit moves, not when someone else says so.

And don’t forget Evening Prayer!

Just Be Glad To Vote At All

The idiotic case of Jerry Rabinowitz suing Palm Beach County because same had the bad taste to use Emmanuel Catholic Church as a polling place is another example of a hypersensitive humanist forcing the waste of tax dollars to make him feel better about his convictions (or lack of them.)

Churches (and synagogues and mosques for that matter) are convenient polling places because their use is low when voting takes place in the U.S.  The County’s use of these is sensible.

It’s worthy of note that the running battle Ann Coulter has had with the County over where to vote is because she left one Palm Beach polling place (St. Edwards Catholic Church) and went to another (Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church.)

As far as the posters and signs are concerned, there are three possibilities:

  1. They can reinforce the convictions of those who agree with them.
  2. They can inspire those that don’t to anger.  But the best way to express that anger is to vote for others who are just as angry.
  3. They can be ignored.  Rest assured that even many who come to Mass ignore them.  Polls show that the convictions of Roman Catholics don’t vary that much from the general population, in spite of the exhortations of their church.

Back in the Soviet Union, there were propaganda posters everywhere.  Even in the dry cleaning establishments.  ("Better dry cleaning through Communism?")  But the posters didn’t prevent the collapse of the country.

The endless barrage of litigation such as this is a sign of the insecurity of the plaintiffs (and their supporters.)  The biggest surprise is that, in a stronghold of "God-hating liberalism" like South Florida, one judge actually dismissed this kind of litigation.

The Problem of Wage Compression

The decision by the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to stick with a 3% across the board pay increase for city employees as opposed to a $1.00/hour one was a sensible one.  But it brings up an issue common in labour relations, namely that of wage compression.

A quick summary of the facts: the Mayor had proposed the 3% increase.  But the trade union (the SEIU) had campaigned for the $1.00/hour increase, and it looked for a time that the City Council would go along with it.  But in the end the percentage increase prevailed.

The problem with what we used to call "cents an hour" increases (now $1) for everyone is that, over time, it produces wage compression.  As an example, consider a pay scale with the lowest wage $7/hour and the highest $14/hour.  The highest wage in this case is double the lowest.  If we apply a percentage increase each year (or whenever increases are applied,) the highest wave will remain double the lowest, and the increases all have the same relationship with whatever inflation rate is going at the time.

Now let’s consider three successive $1/hour increases.  The bottom wage is now $10/hour and the top $17/hour.   But now the top wage is only 1.7 times the lowest rather than 2 times the lowest.  Over time, with this type of increase, two things happen.

The first is that the lowest wage (unskilled or entry level) people end up above the market rate.  This not only discourages hiring people at this level, but it also encourages the company or government entity to contract out work at wage and benefit levels which are usually way below what the company or government entity would have paid if they had stuck with percentage increases.  So people eligible for work such as this end up being hurt.

The second result is that people at the highest job classifications end up underpaid, with wages either below market level, not keeping up with inflation, or both.  Those who can will seek work elsewhere, which over time will dilute the calibre of the work force.

Inequities in pay scales can and should be dealt with.  The City of Chattanooga has a study currently under way to try to remedy problems like this.  But trade unions traditionally hate to adjust pay scales because it creates division in the bargaining unit.  A flat rate increase is an easy way out for a union.  But in the long run the interests of both employer and employees are hurt by the practice.