Consumers' Sense of Inflation
Some weeks ago, at lunch with some friends, one of them was
complaining about the absence this year of a cost-of-living increase in Social
Security benefits. Indeed, that feels
irritating, and, more, for people who have their Medicare Part D premiums
deducted from their checks, their net benefit will actually go down a little.
The complainer at our lunch table further asserted that the
government “manages” the consumer price index so it can avoid the benefit
increase. Fortunately, the meal-time conversation then
shifted to more pleasant topics, but her comments registered with me as
something to talk about here. This is
especially the case because it seems people also have a sense that there’s more
inflation in general than the official numbers seem to show, making them
believe that the purchasing power of whatever their income, whether retirement
benefits or actual earnings from jobs, is being squeezed. Maybe it is . . . .
In the 12-months through November, the consumer price index
(CPI) was up a mere 0.5%. And in the
period ended in September, which determines the following January’s Social
Security “cost of living” increase, the CPI was flat: it did not increase. And as our accompanying graph shows, that had
been true in most months of 2015. Thus,
according to this measure, there was no inflation.
The CPI Comes from Thousands of Items and Thousands of
Stores and Service Providers
It's important to know that the government does not, in
fact, “manage” these consumer price index data.
They are collected in great detail, according to huge surveys that ask
about what people buy and where they buy it.
Then, every month, employees of
the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) visit thousands of stores, service
businesses, apartment management offices, doctors offices and hospitals, among
other outlets, to collect price information on carefully specified items; these
items currently number some 80,000 every month.
The businesses they visit are selected from among those
specified in an occasional “Point of Purchase” survey also conducted by the BLS
from about 14,500 families. The items themselves
come from the “Consumer Expenditure Survey”, which collects information on what
people buy; if you happen to be a participant in these surveys or you know someone
who is, thank them for their help. Some
of them, 7,000 of them, have kept a diary of every single purchase they have
made over a two-week period, and another 7,000 have answered detailed questions
in a quarterly interview. Altogether, in
a recent two-year period, 28,000 diaries were consulted, along with 60,000
Finally, when the current prices are collected, they are
examined by BLS specialists who check to make sure the specifications for an
item have been followed as closely as possible so quality changes are not
factored in – for instance, the “car” is the same make and model with the same
features as the one last month. All
these BLS survey-takers and fact-checkers are civil servants, not political
If the CPI Is Flat, Why Might People Think There’s Inflation?
If you think, contrary to these carefully compiled
government data, that there is in fact “inflation”, you are hardly alone. A couple of private surveys agree: the
Conference Board’s monthly Consumer Confidence Survey shows that its 5,000
participants estimate that the CPI is running up at about a 5% rate and has
been for some time. A smaller poll of
1,200 nationwide taken for the New York Federal Reserve Bank indicates that
people think the CPI will go up 2.6% in the next year. Both of these exceed the growth in weekly
earnings also compiled by the BLS. From
December 2014 to December 2015, these wages for non-management workers were up
2.1%, less than either private survey inflation estimate. So workers’ pay as well as Social Security
benefits can seem inadequate to keep up.
We tried to figure out how this discrepancy might have developed;
how might people feel there is more inflation than there really is? We identified two factors.
One is that people’s inflationary expectations vary by age
and income. In the New York Fed’s
survey, participants over age 60 see a 3% advance in the CPI over the next
year, while those between 40 and 60 look for 2.4% and those under 40, 2%. Big difference. Income matters, too: people with incomes over $50,000 expect about
2.4%, while those whose incomes are under $50,000 believe inflation will be
2.9%. So if someone is better able to
absorb price increases, they are less worried about higher inflation. While there are just 2-1/2 years’ worth of
responses in this survey, this relationship has pretty much held throughout.
The other factor that stood out concerns energy prices. We all know that gasoline has been much cheaper
throughout the last year than it was through 2014. That and other energy items, such as
electricity, turn out to be the main force slowing the overall CPI. Excluding energy, the CPI was up 1.9% in
November from a year ago, compared with the mere 0.5% rise in the total
index. So clearly, there were a bunch of
items whose prices rose noticeably.
The most visible of these include rents and homeownership
costs, up 3.6% and 3.1% in November from November 2014. The demon health insurance rose 3.6%,
medicines were up 2.7% and dentists – which
many people pay out-of-pocket – 2.8%. Local public transit fares were up 2.5%, boys’
clothes 3.6%, infants and toddlers’ clothes 4.9%, certain fresh vegetables 4.1%
and restaurant meals 2.5%.
Clearly many other items either fell or rose much more
moderately, for instance, prices of women’s clothes fell 2.7% and shoes and
boots fell 0.5%. But the increases in such
basic items as rent, transit fares and medicines can give the subjective
impression of more general upward price pressures. And people can easily extrapolate this
impression into a forecast that more widespread inflation will return,
rendering their limited earnings even less adequate.
An Inflation Outlook for the Year Ahead
We checked out some economists’ forecasts of inflation for
2016. Their projections are not as high
as the consumer surveys, but they do look for some inflation. The National Association for Business
Economics survey published in early December shows the CPI up 2.0%. Another composite, the Survey of Professional
Forecasters, compiled by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank, also has 2.0%,
while the Federal Reserve Board’s compilation of its officials’ forecasts shows
a slightly different inflation measure at 1.6%.
These numbers are close to the recent pace that excludes the drop in
energy prices. What this suggests is that if people’s
earnings are up 2.0% next year, they can “keep up” with inflation, and maybe
after a few more months, they will feel better about the adequacy of their
paychecks. But Social Security
beneficiaries – and government workers whose pay is also tied to the CPI – are
still stuck until early 2017. Just know
that the price index data are carefully and objectively collected and
combined. The government did not push
the numbers down deliberately to try to save itself money.
The Conference Board is a nonprofit organization that
studies and advises businesses in leadership issues, the economic and
regulatory environment and human capital topics. It conducts conferences and publishes articles
on these topics. Its consumer confidence
survey dates from 1967. https://www.conference-board.org/data/consumerconfidence.cfm
The Survey of Consumer Expectations from the New York
Federal Reserve Bank is new, just from June 2013. It is conducted by The Demand Institute, an
organization operated by The Conference Board and Nielsen. One of the New York Fed’s motivations,
besides compiling the basic information, is to provide additional background
information for monetary policy decision-making. https://www.newyorkfed.org/microeconomics/sceIndex/index.html
Alcohol and Families
Following our article last month on alcoholism, our good reader
Lynn pointed out that we had missed an important dimension of that issue,
family relationships and alcohol. This
is, in fact, a multi-dimensional dimension and well worth our attention.
Basic, Readable Information on Alcohol
Before we move into that, we do want to give you a couple of
helpful links to general information about drinking and alcohol problems.
We buried a reference in our previous piece to a treatment
guide from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. It is clearly written and meant give basic
information about recognizing the extent of a drinking problem and the various
ways to seek help. It's called "Treatment
for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help".
the guide here: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Treatment/treatment.htm
can read it online or download a print "pdf" version.
Also we came across
another NIAAA brochure on drinking itself, "Rethinking Drinking:
Alcohol and Your Health"
basic stuff on quantities, calorie counts, even an "alcohol budget",
that is, the amount of weekly spending.
And resources if you decide you have a problem you need help with. Find this guide here: http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/
Now to our topic at hand on families. You may have noticed in our previous article that
the symptoms of an alcohol use disorder ("AUD") are not necessarily
physical. They also include mental or
emotional conditions, such as depression, trouble with concentration on work,
school or other activities, a need to drink more to achieve the same pleasurable
feeling, forgoing other pleasurable activities in order to have time to drink
more, and so on.
With issues like these resulting from excessive alcohol
consumption, it would come as no surprise that family relationships and
friendships face extra complications when drinking is involved. Two kinds of reactions take place among other
people in a home or with close relatives who have AUDs. First, those people have greater probability
of incurring an AUD themselves, and second, they also have emotional challenges
getting along with family members and with associates outside the family.
Alcoholism Increases Children's Likelihood of Drinking
To begin, here are some numbers. In the 2001-2002 NIAAA survey we cited last
time, a surprising number, 52%, of the total adult population had some family history
of alcohol use disorders. This includes
the immediate family as well as grandparents and aunts and uncles. The chances an individual in a particular
family will develop an AUD themselves depend on how extensive the alcoholism
already is in the family. When there is no family history of alcoholism,
someone's chances of having had a drinking problem in the last year are just
9%. But if any close relatives
experience alcoholism, the chances go to 16%, that is, nearly twice as
high. Further, if a parent is an
alcoholic, chances a child will be one are 19%.
We do caution that various surveys give various results on these
numbers; we chose this one because the number of people surveyed was so very
large; 43,093 people actually participated.
And the question here pertains only to the last year before the survey; the
results would be higher if a total lifetime were considered. The point is that the frequency of alcoholism
is remarkably affected by alcoholic situations already in the family.
One specific chain of causation we explored is the age at
which the young people in a household begin to drink. If there's no family history of AUD, the
median age at which someone begins to drink is around 19 years. But if there's any family history, this drops
by at least a year or perhaps two to 17 or a bit younger. The public data we found aren't precise
enough to be more specific. But what is
clear is that the younger someone begins to drink, the greater are the
prospects that they will themselves have AUD and/or various psychological
conditions. If someone started drinking
at ages 18 to 20, chances they have an AUD are just under 11%. But if they started drinking in the 15 to
17-year age range, this doubles to 22%.
So drinking problems in a family reduce the age at which the children
begin to drink and that increases the chances that they will at some point develop
their own alcohol issues.
Psychological Problems from Alcoholism in Your Family
Reader Lynn comments that a family history of alcoholism is
really difficult for a child, and professional research backs this up. Besides the drinking tendency itself, Lynn
points out that many children of alcoholics are subject to any number of
emotional and psychological conditions.
They never learn good coping skills for facing ordinary life situations
because they don't face life in an ordinary way.
As Lynn's comments and a handy summary from a professional
association explain, a number of detrimental factors come into play: daily routines are shuffled constantly,
children feel guilt, anxiety, embarrassment, confusion, anger and
depression. They don't know how to build
close relationships with other people, much less raise children of their own in
a constructive way. They might fail in
school, commit various delinquent acts and take huge risks, because they simply
don't know basic ways to live positively.
And, of course, as we have already alluded, the coping mechanism they do
learn is drinking or drug abuse, which they tend to fall back on much more than
the population as a whole. See
"Facts for Families: No. 17 Children of Alcoholics" from the American
Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry; go here: http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-Of-Alcoholics-017.aspx
Support Groups for Families
This is all tough stuff.
It's important for people to know they're not alone in dealing with
these situations; the support of others who grapple with these issues is
helpful, as well as professional care.
Alcoholics themselves can, of course, go to Alcoholics Anonymous. For family members, whom we emphasize here, there
are two groups we know of and call to your attention: Al-Anon and ACoA. Al-Anon – and its partner, Alateen – is
specifically intended for "families and friends of problem drinkers",
to quote the website, http://www.al-anon.org/
. Meetings, sponsor relationships and
literature all work to ease the tension family members and good friends feel
when constantly surrounded by the alcohol issue.
"ACoA" stands for Adult Children
of Alcoholics, found at www.adultchildren.org
. This organization is also based on the
"12 Steps" and includes, literally, adult children: people who are now adults out in the world
and who grew up in families where there were alcohol problems, or similar
issues that cause dysfunction. While we
had heard of ACoA, it is another resource offered to us by Reader Lynn. She highlights again that these people have
grown up without developing constructive approaches to problem solving; ACoA
gives them a chance to talk to others who must now also feel their way forward
against the same background. These
groups are a huge help. Both websites
help you locate meetings in your own vicinity.
That big survey of alcohol use is the National Epidemiologic
Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions ("NESARC"). Find an introduction on the website of the
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh29-2/74-78.htm
. Extensive data tables are available
and much scholarly work has examined many facets of the survey. Many of the same people were re-interviewed
three years later, giving some notions of changes in their habits. And then a whole new survey was done in
2012-13, which those results just now beginning to be published.
The federal government is hardly the only party to conduct surveys
about this issue. Reader Lynn recommends
a piece with the striking title, "This surprising factor can make people
4,600 percent more prone to addiction".
It's from the "Raw Story" website, found here: http://www.rawstory.com/2015/05/this-surprising-factor-can-make-people-4600-percent-more-prone-to-addiction/
and talks – logically enough these days – about Whitney Houston and her
daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown. The
survey work described there, known as Adverse Childhood Experiences
("ACE"), is by Kaiser Permanente in California; they initially talked to 17,000 people just in the San Diego area alone.
ACE work is now done in many state government surveys of drug problems,
as well as alcohol.
Labels: American Society, Health Care and Pensions
Alcohol Problems and Getting Help
Readers who follow developments in the Episcopal Church may
know that resolutions were passed at the recent General Convention calling our
attention to the role of alcohol in the church and among its clergy and people.
This is certainly enough on its own to elicit commentary
from us. But we were in fact already
checking out issues on alcohol that we might explore in a Ways of the World
and the General Convention resolutions only add to the timeliness. Perhaps our information here can serve as one
small step in discussion within the church that carries out the mandate of the
resolutions calling for all of us to give attention and action to the impact of
alcohol in our lives.
We had previously been working on this topic for two reasons. First, we had lately become acquainted with
the Right Rev. Chilton Knudsen, current Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Long
Island. She visited our home parish, St.
Ann and the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn, to conduct the ordination of our deacon into
the priesthood. This indeed took place
on June 13 and was a very exciting celebration.
But Bishop Knudsen is about to leave Long Island and move to Maryland; beginning
in the fall, she will minister there to people and clergy left quite troubled
after their now-former Suffragan Bishop (a kind of associate) was involved in a
car accident while driving under the influence of alcohol. A young bicyclist was killed. Bishop Knudsen is a strong advocate of
recovery programs and a very good, compassionate person to work with the
heartbroken people of Maryland at this sensitive time. Meeting her just when her move was being
announced thus brought this tragedy closer to home for us.
Secondly, just over a month ago, results of a brand new government
study of alcohol and alcohol use disorders were published on a major AMA
journal website. The work, which we
learned about in a brief New York Times
feature, presents a
substantial body of information on the scope and treatment of alcoholism. Its major conclusion is that, regardless of
the type of treatment, only a modest fraction of people with alcohol use
disorders seek out any treatment in the first place. There remains so much stigma that people
continue to hide their situation from themselves and others, so that it
continues to plague them, their lives and their companions. This study, like the General Convention
resolutions, urges us to bring this problem out into the open and work on it;
it can be managed with constructive effort.
We'll try to do at least a little of that here.
The government study provides important background. It comes out of a nation-wide survey taken in
2012 and 2013 of more than 36,000 people over age 18. It shows that during the 12 months before the
survey, 13.9% of this adult population experienced some kind of drinking
problem and 29.1% had experienced such a problem sometime in their lives. Recalibrated to the total civilian
population, this is equivalent to 33 million in the last year and 68.5 million
during their lifetimes. It is all
clearly worth talking about.
What is a "drinking problem"?
"Drinking problem" is our phrase. It has only partly to do with the total
amount of drinking and is also concerned with symptoms that arise as a
result. In terms of drinking amounts
alone, lots of people do it; in this survey, some 71% of respondents had done
some drinking in the past year, including beer, wine and liquor. Of those who drink, nearly 40% had occasions
when they consumed 5 drinks in a single day, and almost 10% of those who drink
had 5 drinks in a day at least once a week.
Alcohol affects people differently, of course, and even
moderate drinkers can show reactive symptoms.
They may repeat prolonged drinking sets and suffer the attendant
hangovers; the drinking may interfere repeatedly with other activities,
including job, school or family relations; the people may believe they can take
undue risks while or right after drinking, which might include driving,
swimming, or unsafe sex; they may feel repeated cravings or believe they need
to drink more before any desired effect is felt. Alcohol use disorders are defined as the occurrence
of two or more of these reactions, out of a total of 11. Two to three conditions constitute a
"mild" alcohol use disorder ("AUD"), four or five make a
"moderate" AUD and six or more, a "severe" AUD. The phrase
"alcohol use disorder" is in fact a medical term and comes
from the latest American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders
, known as DSM-5
; so these people have a
Over the 12 months before the survey, 7.3% of the population
had "mild" AUD, 3.2% "moderate" and 3.4% "severe,"
bringing the total to 13.9%, or the 33 million people we mentioned before. The mean age at onset for these disorders was
26.2 years, that is, pretty young. The
share of 18-29 year-olds with an AUD was 26.0%, while among 30-44-year-olds, it
was 16.2%, and 10.0% of 45-64-year-olds.
Even if you notice that this share goes down with age, it's still
unnerving that 10% of upper-middle-age people have had an identifiable
"drinking problem" in the last year.
Over their whole adult lifetimes, 37% of 18-29-year-olds have had a
problem, 34.4% of 30-44-year-olds and 28.2% of 45-64-year-olds.
If this is a medical situation, do people seek treatment for
it? Unfortunately, not a lot. Of the people with an AUD over the past year,
just – just – 7.7% of them have sought help.
Now, maybe you could say that it could take longer than a year to
realize there is something amiss that needs treatment. Sure enough, in the survey, the mean age for
seeking help was 29.4 years, that is, three years after the mean age of onset
of AUD. However, the survey still shows
that for people with AUD sometime during their lives, only 19.8% have sought
This "help" comes in lots of forms. By far the most prevalent is AA or other
12-step-type approach, in which 15.4% of those with AUD participate. The next most frequent are rehab programs,
9.1%, followed by physicians or other health-care professionals, 8.7%. The doctors often prescribe a drug called naltrexone
hydrochloride, as well as at least two other widely used medications. Some doctors also use something called
"12-step facilitation." Various
cognitive-behavioral therapies also help.
It's important to be clear that these treatments do
help. Apparently the current survey
results do not cover effectiveness of treatment, but other previous surveys do
report on it. Thus the authors of the
report we have been citing here make this statement: ". . . participation in 12-step groups
increases the likelihood of recovery, consistent with randomized clinical
trials testing the efficacy of 12-step facilitation administered by health care
practitioners. Reviews . . . of
randomized trials involving thousands of patients have demonstrated the
efficacy of brief screening and intervention in primary care settings among
individuals whose alcohol problems are not yet severe." This discussion goes on to comment on the
effectiveness of other treatment forms, including the medications we mentioned
above. In one of the previous surveys of
this type, people were interviewed in two rounds, three years apart, and asked
in the second round about the extent of any recovery. Results there showed in particular that
attending a 12-step program was distinctly helpful and that it enhanced the
outcomes of other treatment programs.
Why People Don't Get Help
This latest survey asks people who didn't go for help, why
that was. A list of 29 reasons was
provided, and people could mark all that applied. Here are some of the most frequently chosen
answers, shown as a percentage of people who had thought about going for help,
but never did:
should be strong enough to this handle alone 37.5%
Thought it would
get better by itself 33.8%
Stopped on my own
or with family help 26.4%
Didn't think it
was serious enough 23.3%
Too embarrassed to
talk about it 23.2%
Didn't want to go 23.1%
Much less frequently chosen reasons include not knowing
where to go or lacking insurance coverage.
A few respondents mention lack of child care, even as others fear that
their children will be taken from them if they go for help. Do note that about a quarter of these people
who didn't get help were in fact able to solve the problem by themselves. But this means that three-quarters of them
couldn't or didn't.
So indeed, we all have a ways to go in education and
Other Conditions Can Complicate
We've not mentioned another major issue called
problems often accompany other illnesses and the two or more conditions work
together. PTSD, identifiable personality
disorders, prolonged depression, drug-abuse and nicotine disorders, among
others, are found, complicating the treatment and recovery of people with
AUDs. These added conditions make it all
the more important to address the subjective concerns, like those listed above,
of people who have "drinking problems" but don't seek help.
Finally, we want to mention AA again. An article in the April issue of The
asserts that AA has not been medically proven to be effective,
and that writer is critical of the weight given to it as the primary approach
to treating AUD. We are hardly in a
position to take an informed position on this topic. We do know a number of people who are active
in another 12-step program and that has certainly worked for them, many of them
for many years. You probably know such
people as well. It is the case that it's
hard to conduct scientific, controlled studies of the effectiveness of these
programs due to their voluntary and anonymous nature. What we see in the studies we looked at here
is that AA is by far the most widely used source of help and that earlier
survey work showed clearly that AA enhanced the recovery prospects of other
treatments. A major point to be made is
that there are a number of treatment formats and people can certainly try more
than one at any given time. That earlier
survey work also noted that belonging to a religious community is constructive
in facing an alcohol problem. Participating
in a community of caring people and regular attendance at services are indeed
We could have broken the text with numerous footnotes
throughout, but the material is already complex enough not to break the
sentences with the source designation. So here are the sources. We call your special attention to the NIAAA treatment guide, the fifth item below
The "current survey" is the National Epidemiologic
Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions III, often called NESARC-III,
conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) of
the National Institutes of Health. The
survey was taken from April 2012 through June 2013.
The main report of results:
Bridget F. Grant, PhD, Risé
B. Goldstein, PhD, MPH, and co-authors, "Epidemiology of DSM-5
Alcohol Use Disorder". JAMA Psychiatry
. Published June 3, 2015. This article is free to the public; no
subscription is necessary to access it, though a simple account identifier must
be devised and registered to download the pdf.
The New York Times
reference is "Problem Drinking Affects 33 Million Adults, Study
Finds". The New York Times
3, 2015. http://nyti.ms/1JqkdG6
. Accessed July 17, 2015.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has a
treatment guide. One early section of it
is a quite readable list of the "Signs of an Alcohol Problem". Find this guide at http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Treatment/treatment.htm
. A 20-page pdf "Print Version" can be
accessed right by the title. The list of symptoms is given on page 3, and the entire guide looks quite helpful.
The "prior survey" we mentioned is NESARC, taken
in 2001-2002, with follow-up interviews of many of the same people in
2004-2005. Information from it on
recovery prospects is reported in Deborah A. Dawson, Risé
B. Goldstein and others, "Correlates of Recovery from Alcohol
Dependence: A Prospective Study Over a 3-Year Follow-Up Interval". Alcohol Clinical & Experimental
Vol. 36, No. 7, July
2012. Pp 1268-1277.
Labels: American Society, Episcopal Church, Health Care and Pensions
Magna Carta and America
Our annual July 4 commentaries on the American Revolution
seek to highlight the role of common people in the Revolutionary process: women who refused to buy household goods
imported from Britain, a local blacksmith in western Massachusetts who led an
early sit-in-type revolt against British authorities in that region, lay people
who discovered they could preach during the associated Great Awakening period.
This year, 2015, marks the 800th
the Magna Carta and that event has a link with common people and contributes to
the American Revolution. Thus, it can be
our topic for this year's Revolution article.
The agreement between King John and a group of barons was sealed on June
15; this very first document was a group of "Articles of the Barons". It was recast and publicized on June 19 as
"Magna Carta", the Great Charter.
Just last Monday, June 15, 2015, there was a special commemoration at
Runnymede, and you have also perhaps read articles about the document which
have already appeared in major press outlets.
Obviously, I am not a historian, but on such a propitious occasion, I would
offer some thoughts.
Some of these current commentaries want us to downplay the
role of Magna Carta, and writers of those might take issue that I link the document
to "common people". Those
critics are in fact correct: we cannot
say that Magna Carta marked the foundation of democracy, nor that it represented
a granting of freedom to "common people". Not at all.
What it did was exact from a ruler an official statement that the
position of ruler was itself subject to expressed laws, that the actions of the
ruler could not be arbitrary and that the ruler could not impose indiscriminate
demands or fees on those ruled. In the
very beginning on June 15, 1215, the document applied to "any baron",
an elite group, to be sure. But the
scope widened immediately: just days later, on June 19, this became "any
freeman". While broader than
just the 40 barons, the group "freemen" was still not very large; the
vast majority of people came under various conditions of feudal servitude. Then, in the 1350s, during the reign of
Edward III, "Six Statutes" were enacted by Parliament that included
the phrasing "no man of what Estate or Condition that he be, shall be put
out of Land or Tenement, nor taken nor imprisoned, nor disinherited, nor put to
Death, without being brought in Answer by due Process of the Law." Thus, virtually everyone would now benefit,
and even common people had rights that had to be respected by rulers.
There's another important phrase in that quote, of
course: "due Process of the
Law". While those exact words are
not in Magna Carta, the concept is. In Article
39, it says, "No free man will be taken or imprisoned or disseised or
outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor shall we go or send against him,
save by the lawful judgement of his peers and by the law of the
land." So here is the invention of
"due process". Article 40
further exerts a "rule of law": "To no one shall we sell, to no
one shall we deny or delay right or justice." Defendants can't get off by paying a bribe,
nor can anyone be held because they can't pay one. Note that from the beginning, from Magna
Carta itself, such even-handed dispensing of justice applied to everyone, with no
restriction to "barons" or "freemen".
There is at least one other major item in Magna Carta. The barons were upset with King John because
of the sudden and arbitrary imposition of "aids" and the high rates
of "scutage" he demanded.
Scutage is a fee a baron could pay instead of providing military
service. John spent lots of money, but
he lost lands and other resources in his conduct of various wars and
battles. The barons wanted some
protection from his consequently exorbitant takings. Thus, Article 12 reads, "No scutage or
aid is to be levied in our realm except by the common counsel of our
realm." And Article 14 goes on to
outline how representatives of the realm would be chosen for and given adequate
notice of meetings to design the required funding orders. This part was not particularly democratic in construct,
but it still formulated the operation of "no taxation without
Colonists arrived in North America carrying these rights
with them. In writing. Every one of the 13 colonies was organized as
a "company" granted land and legal right by the Crown. This was implemented through a
"charter". The charters
included clauses with some phrase granting due process of law. And more explicitly, they included statements
that the settlers and their descendants were entitled to the ancient rights of
English people. The charter of the
Virginia company was quite explicit: The emigrants and their children
"shall have and enjoy Liberties, Franchises, Immunities, . . . as if they
had been abiding and born, within our Realm of England." In Massachusetts Bay in 1629, the Charter
said settlers would "have and enjoy all liberties and immunities of free
and naturall subjects . . . as yf they and everie one them were borne within
the Realm of England." These
Charters thus granted the rights of English citizens to the colonists, and they
also established the practice of written constitutions.
American colonists' reliance on Magna Carta is easily
illustrated in a statement that Ben Franklin made to Parliament during the
wrangle over the Stamp Act. Franklin, a
representative for Massachusetts in the Royal Court in London, "was hauled
in front of Parliament and asked on what basis he called for the repeal of the
Stamp Act. The colonists, he answered,
could not 'be taxed but by their common consent [. . . based on their rights]
as Englishmen as declared by Magna Carta.'"
Several contemporary writers indeed point out that the Magna
Carta seems more revered in the U.S. than in Britain. One in particular is a British member of the
European Parliament, Daniel Hannan. In a
recent Wall Street Journal
article, he says, “Magna Carta has
always been a bigger deal in the U.S.”
He explains that the site at Runnymede went unmarked until 1957, and
when a memorial stone was finally erected, it was the American Bar Association
who sponsored it.
A New York Times
writer, Sarah Lyall,
highlights further the longstanding importance of the Magna Carta here. Just last month, she explains, the Supreme Court
cited Article 40 in one of its own decisions, on judicial integrity: “Upholding a Florida law that forbids judges
to solicit campaign contributions, Chief Justice Roberts … wrote: ‘This
principle dates back at least eight centuries to Magna Carta.’” Lyall further quotes William Hubbard, current
president of the American Bar Association: “The idea that the law comes from
the people, and it’s not the law of the king, is fundamental.”
Thus, while governments changed and revolutions occurred in
England and in America, the principles set forth in Magna Carta not only live
on but assist in our government and in protection of common people to this
day. Lyall quotes Hubbard in conclusion,
“To think that those principles have survived 800 years gives me great hope for
 All quotations of actual paragraphs of the Magna Carta
come from Nicholas Vincent: Magna Carta: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2012. Pages
111 to 124. There are 63 paragraphs in
the original document, one of which, number 35, actually establishes a standard
size for a glass of wine, "namely the London quarter," and also
standard measures of cloth.
 Sarah Lyall.
“Magna Carta, Still Posing a Challenge at 800.” The New York Times. June 14, 2015. http://nyti.ms/1QYLYGs.
Labels: American Society
Prayers after the Shootings in the South Carolina Church
A week ago, a young man shot nine African-American people in cold blood in a church in Charlston, South Carolina. We interrupted work we were doing to send an email to Ways-of-the-World readers. As the funerals for these dear people are about to begin, we post much of the text of that email here. Note that this was written just as people were first hearing about this awful act.
My own Bishop, Lawrence Provenzano of the Diocese of Long Island, has responded immediately, and I write just now to share his message with you all.
"From the Office of the Bishop:
The BBC reported this morning at 8 am, EDT [June 17], that "Nine people have been shot dead at a historic African-American Church in Charleston, SC, and a hunt is under way for a white gunman.
Police described the attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church as a 'hate crime.'
They issued surveillance images of the suspect and said he had sat in the church for an hour before opening fire.
Bishop Provenzano sends the following Pastoral Message to the clergy and members of the Diocese of Long Island:
Prayer. Deep, deep, soul-stirring prayer for the victims, their families, their church community, the city of Charleston, and for this nation!
Words can no longer suffice for the senseless hatred of this sinful act. Prayer and the witness of prayer by God's people must be our response.
I call upon our Diocese to pray with each other across parish lines, and neighborhood lines, and county lines.
Hold each other in prayer and witness to the unity in Christ we profess.
This is our response to hatred and sin.
The Right Reverend Lawrence C. Provenzano
Also included in that message is a note from the Brooklyn Borough President's office, which contains the information that among the dead is the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator.
May Rev. Pinckney and all those killed rest in peace. May light perpetual shine upon them.
As we write this afternoon, June 24, Rev. Pinckney lies in state in the South Carolina Capitol Building.
Labels: American Society, Episcopal Church, People, Prayer
Earth Day and the Industrial Revolution in 3 Graphs
Day. Or it was three days ago. But what we write is still relevant to the
season. In any event, why would we begin
with a picture of world population growth?
Well, the number of people on Earth should have an obvious connection to
Earth Day. But the key to the immediate connection
we want to highlight is the blue line in the graph showing the beginning of the
Industrial Revolution. A neighbor of
mine, a gentleman who's fairly in-the-know about economic issues, stopped me on
the street the other day to ask if I understood how much difference the
Industrial Revolution made to the world's population. He had just learned this, he explained, in an
online course he had taken, and he was stunned.
So I figure if Steve is stunned, maybe some of you are too. So here's some of the story and why we pay
particular attention on Earth Day. It's
not just the numbers of people, but their standards of living that matter.
The key is
the bend in line. The world's
population was basically flat from the year 1 A.D. to 500 A.D. at about 200
million people; estimates show that by 1000 A.D., it was still no more than
250-300 million. Population reached
about 500 million by 1500 and 1 billion in 1800. Now, just 215 years later, there are about
7.2 billion people. The addition of the
last half of that, 3.6 billion, has taken only 45 years. So clearly some very dramatic things happened
around and after 1800.
think of the Industrial Revolution in terms of the cotton gin and other
machinery, but advances in health care and public facilities are also
important. As examples, Edward Jenner's
small pox vaccine came in 1798. John
Wilkinson, an Englishman, developed the iron pipe that made a new water supply
system in Paris in 1786. John Snow realized in 1854 that contaminated
water could contribute to the spread of cholera. Before this period, life expectancy at birth
hovered around 24 years in the medieval period and got to 35 in England by the
Century. By 1900, it
reached the late-40s and was about 80 years in 2010. In other words, death rates declined
markedly. This is so all over the world.
At the same
time, birth rates have also declined.
This latter factor has been pronounced enough that population growth
rates have actually moderated in recent decades. Big as the numbers are, they are no longer
Lucas, a consulting economist to the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, has
written about these birth and death rate trends. As the Industrial Revolution took place,
along with accompanying gains in agricultural output and the improvements to
health, population did expand dramatically.
The gains in production supported the population growth. Thomas Malthus and other economists of his
day – around 1800 – began to fear that this population growth trend would
consume much of the earth's resources, leading to increased poverty. While there is quite justified concern over
that eventuality, Lucas offers some mitigating notions.
outset of the industrial and agricultural revolutions during the 18th
Century, most of society was agricultural, and as farmers obtained larger
yields for their crops and had healthier animals, they used their increased
income to enlarge their families, so they could produce bigger crops still. Living standards – income per person – thus
didn't change much at first. From 1700
to 1820, world GDP firmed from 0.2% growth per year to about 0.5%. But population had almost the same movement,
so each person was associated with about $665 worth of output in 1820, only mildly
larger than the $596 in 1600.
around 1820, that relationship shifted.
Those health improvements we mentioned before, clean water and similar improvements
to sewage disposal, made conditions much better in cities and people began
moving to them and doing more industrial work.
This coincided with diminishing birth rates, enough so that total production
gains were associated with more production per person; by 1900, that had nearly
doubled to $1,260. By 2008, the latest
year for which we have this specific calculation, world output per person was
just over $7,600, as seen here.
writing about all this because it's Earth Day.
What is the connection? As the
line in the above graph was moving definitively higher in the early 1960s, a
marine biologist named Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a book that grabbed everyone's attention about how
more people were using more of the earth's resources, much of that in an
ironically unhealthy way. For the first
time, many people came to understand that they could not just plow ahead
unconcerned about what they were doing to the earth and its environment. Would this new realization slow growth?
It took some
time, but progress in making the right use of the earth is taking place. Robert Lucas, in the material we reference
here, counters some environmental naysayers' arguments by highlighting the role
of technology. He points out that we
should use a theory of economic growth that embodies not just numbers of people
and amounts of consumption, but the application of technology, ingenuity and
prompted us to check out the amount of energy used in producing today's GDP compared
to some historical period. If GDP growth
just uses more and more energy resources, then the naysayers will be right;
succeeding generations of people will indeed be less well off because pure air,
clean water and all kinds of material resources will be scarcer for everyone.
found with some brief searching, is just 20 years' worth of information on
this. But it tells a positive, hopeful
story. Data from the World Bank show
that a fixed unit of energy would yield $5.40 of world GDP in 1990. By 2010, the same amount of energy made $7.20
1990, each dollar of GDP was associated with 0.5 kilogram of carbon emissions,
but in 2010, this had fallen to 0.4 kilogram.
Energy use per person has increased for the world as a whole, but this
is happening in middle income regions in Asia, the Middle East and northern
Africa, not in high income regions. In
fact, in many places per capita energy use has gone down; in the U.S., for
example, each person used 7,700 kilograms of energy in 1990, but just over
7,000 kilograms in 2011.
So perhaps Lucas
is correct. If we know and understand a
situation, we can quite probably find ways to deal with it. Thus, growth can continue to the extent that
we become more efficient in using energy, and we can even develop new energy
sources and/or improve the way we manage current sources. We can further reduce pollution without
severely restricting our general ways of life.
This isn't automatic, and we have to be mindful and deliberate in our
efforts, but we have a good shot at continuing to improve our lives and the
life of the Earth itself.
historical data on population and world GDP are based on Angus Maddison, The
World Economy: A Millennial Perspective.
Paris, France: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2001 and 2006. http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/development/the-world-economy_9789264022621-en. A pdf may be purchased or the book may be
read in an e-book format on that site.
Barnes & Noble and Amazon also have it available.
professor at the University of Groningen from 1978 to 1997 and a founder of the
Groningen Growth and Development Centre. He passed away in 2010. His data are recognized as the primary
compilation of long-term world-wide GDP and other economic and demographic
indicators; they are now maintained and made available in spreadsheets on a
site managed by his colleagues at that research center http://www.ggdc.net/maddison/oriindex.htm.
Data on the
relationship of energy to GDP, energy use per person and carbon emissions come
from the World Bank's World Development Indicators. The 2015 edition of these was published just
on April 14, 2015, and includes these energy data through 2011. See http://wdi.worldbank.org/table/3.6
"Energy production and use" and http://wdi.worldbank.org/table/3.8
"Energy dependency, efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions". Accessed April 24, 2015.
Labels: Economy, Environment, Science and Evolution, World
Businesses, Religion and the Law
freedom. We've learned during the last
ten days or so just how complex that notion can be. Enactment of a version of the Religious
Freedom Restoration Act – RFRA – in Indiana didn't bring praise from Indiana
churches, but instead outcries from the gay rights community that the law would
evoke discrimination of them in the Hoosier State. Elsewhere, on March 27, a woman in Richland,
Washington, had a summary judgment imposed on her by the State of Washington
because she would not, according to her Southern Baptist beliefs and practices,
furnish the flowers for the wedding of two men.
There are other examples and the whole controversy feels totally ironic
in this Easter Season. We want to go
through some of the history of the broader issues to understand them better; as
you know, I'm an economist, not a lawyer or historian, so I hope what follows
is as accurate as possible.
came to this land 395 years ago because they wanted to worship differently and
live by different rubrics than those required at that time by the Church of
England. One hundred and seventy-one
years later, in 1791, the concept that the people of the United States could
worship as they choose was written down officially in the Constitution's First
Amendment. Congress cannot
"establish" an official religion, nor can it "[prohibit] the
free exercise thereof". Indeed,
this is the first item in the First Amendment, ahead of freedoms of speech, of
the press, of association and petitioning the government.
In 1947, a
Supreme Court ruling extended the First Amendment applications of the
"establishment clause" from just federal government relations with
religions to those of state governments.
In that ruling, the State of New Jersey was allowed to pay for
transportation of children to parochial schools, under the logic that everyone
benefited when children could get to a school.
The payments from the state did not violate the
"establishment" provision of the Amendment; they were seen as
supporting the children, not the religion itself.
1990, the State of Oregon refused to give unemployment benefits to two Native
Americans because they had been fired for cause from their jobs at a drug
treatment center: they had smoked peyote in a religious ceremony. The Supreme Court agreed with Oregon, that
the use of the hallucinogenic drug was absolutely prohibited by state law. This case elicited an offsetting response
from the U.S. Congress in 1993, as it enacted the federal government's
"Religious Freedom Restoration Act" – RFRA. However, in 1997, after yet another Supreme
Court test, it was found that this law applied only to the federal
government, not to states. So state
legislatures began enacting their owns RFRAs; before the latest controversies,
19 states had these laws. The need for
such state laws apparently became more acute after the Hobby Lobby
ruling in 2014; this said that closely held
corporations as well as individuals, can assert religious rights. It, of course, pertained to the contraception
provisions in the Affordable Care Act.
Other small businesses now are relying on the federal RFRA as they argue
that their religious views mean they shouldn't provide goods and services for
same-sex weddings, but these and other religious practices may actually depend
on the existence of state-level RFRAs, which prompted Indiana and Arkansas to
want to pass them.
Friedman, writing in the Washington Post
last week, indicates that the surge of gay rights and rapidly spreading
legalization of gay marriage in particular in recent years has contributed to
the brouhaha over these two latest states' laws. Some states, including Washington, have
anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT persons that may trump the assertion
of religious rights. Indiana has limited
versions of anti-discrimination laws, while it appears that Arkansas has
over the Indiana and Arkansas laws, while unexpected, has in fact helped
improve the legislation and those legislatures have quickly passed statements
that try to make clear that their RFRA laws do not constitute license for
people and businesses to shunt aside associations and transactions with LGBT
seems to leave some business owners in a quandary. And me, too, actually. Let's go back to the florist in Richland,
Washington, Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene's Flowers. She seems stuck. The Washington State anti-discrimination law
is evidently quite clear that businesses engaged in "public
accommodation" cannot "[c]harge a different rate or offer different
terms and conditions of service" to groups of people designated in the
law, which include "sexual orientation or gender identity". But the Southern Baptist Convention, to which
Ms. Stutzman belongs, is one religious group that continues to oppose gay
marriage, along with the United Methodist Church, many American Baptist
churches, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Mormons and the Roman
Catholic Church, among others. Her
immediate response has been to stop providing flowers for all weddings, and
that would appear to satisfy the law's requirements of treating all customers
the same way. Otherwise, it would seem
that in order to follow strictly her belief in her own church's position, she
would even have to close or to move to a state where gay marriage is not [yet]
acceptable. Indeed, the hoopla in
Indiana over the pizzeria whose owner responded to a newspaper survey that it could
not furnish food for a gay wedding reception did cause it to close, although it
was set to reopen today and wound up being supported by huge donations to a totally
independent crowdfunding site – at least one of which donations came from a gay
woman who operates her own small business.
freedom is complex. It is impossible for
specific pieces of legislation to allow for all the divergent possibilities,
which, as we see, involve different Christian groups with different
interpretations of Scripture along with other religions' practices, amid the
shifting structures of secular society.
"Freedom of religion means freedom to hold an opinion or belief,
but not to take action in violation of social duties or subversive to good
order." "Thus, the right
to have religious beliefs is absolute, but the freedom to act on such beliefs
is not absolute." At least in
the United States of America, though, we do strive to do it right and to
encompass everyone's beliefs.
 City of Boerne v. Flores (1997) Cited in
Ashby Jones, op. cit.
Research Center, "Where Christian churches, other religions stand on gay
marriage," March 18, 2015, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/03/18/where-christian-churches-stand-on-gay-marriage/. For other background, also see http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/03/25/how-the-u-s-compares-with-the-rest-of-the-world-on-religious-restrictions/,
March 25, and http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/03/30/businesses-serving-same-sex-couples/,
March 30. All accessed April 7,
2015. The last item, survey results on
what people believe about whether business should be required to serve gay
couples shows a break in public sentiment of 49% for requiring them to do so
and 47% that businesses should be allowed to refuse such services. The text mentions two court cases, a baker in
Oregon and a photographer in New Mexico.
The text also shows a demographic breakdown of the survey results.
 Reynolds v. United States (1878). Cited in the Wikipedia article on the First
Amendment. See footnote 1 above.
Wikipedia article on the First Amendment.
See footnote 1 above.
Labels: American Society, Christianity, Government Policies
Toward Some Understanding of ISIS
We were inspired to plow through the lengthy piece in part
by the Obama Administration's care to avoid referring to ISIS as "radical
Islamists" or even religiously motivated. So the publication of some thoughtful
discussion defining the background and goals of ISIS looked to be helpful. And it does seem that fundamentalist Islam is
exactly what ISIS is about, according to Mr. Wood's commentary. The term "fundamentalist" is not
used here in any judgmental sense, but as a pure description of a group that
takes the Koran and the words of Muhammad quite literally.
Wood further describes that ISIS is concerned
mainly with a specific territory in Syria and Iraq, not with capturing or
destroying other parts of the world. So,
for instance, the Charlie Hebdo
attack in Paris in December was not an ISIS event, but apparently led by an al
Qaeda affiliate. Control over specific
territory is part of the definition of the caliphate ISIS believes it is, so
taking action in places far removed from that location is less important to
their mission. Eventually, spreading the
caliphate across the world is important, but only as an outward movement from
their present position.
State Department spokespeople have also suggested that the
most effective way to put down the evil of ISIS may well lie in social and
economic programs to promote the welfare of its people, to create job
opportunities for them perhaps. We would
agree with that to some extent. If the
populace of the ISIS region were prosperous, they might be less interested in
fighting against people they see as enemies.
However, Wood's material makes clear that economics is well down the
list of ISIS priorities. Its priorities
are better defined by religious rubrics and Sharia social arrangements. We'd guess that its adherents are genuinely less
interested in material prosperity and in devising projects to bring that about.
Finally, among the highlights we emphasize for you
here, Wood suggests that the Obama
Administration approach using air strikes and "proxy warfare" may
well be the best way to wear ISIS down.
A major armed invasion, rather than scaring them, could actually please
them: they believe an apocalypse is coming and a huge onrush of Western troops
might simply signal the start of that process.
We don't know enough to express reasoned opinions on these
views, but at least they now have some context and definition. If you have more elaborate thoughts, please
do share them. We ourselves are left,
this Lenten season, with a simple sentence that has been personal to us since
9/11: "Love your enemies and pray
for those who persecute you."