Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Wish

This may portend good news for those of you who consumed too much alcohol in your youth or who may be planning to imbibe more than you should tonight:

The apocryphal tale that you can't grow new brain cells just isn't true. Neurons continue to grow and change beyond the first years of development and well into adulthood, according to a new study. The finding challenges the traditional belief that adult brain cells, or neurons, are largely static and unable to change their structures in response to new experiences.

In any event, Bill and I wish all our readers a happy, fulfilling, and spiritually prosperous 2006. And please don't count on your brain cells being able to regenerate themselves if you have a few too many tonight.

Surprising Verdict

This will surprise you, perhaps:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit unanimously affirmed the decision of a U.S. district court judge in Kentucky, upholding Mercer County, Kentucky's inclusion of the Ten Commandments in the display of historical documents in the county courthouse. The unanimous decision rejected the ACLU's arguments that the display violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In fact, in writing for the court, the circuit justice specifically rejected the ACLU's claims, noting that the ACLU's "repeated reference to the separation of church and state has grown tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state." The court went on to say that a reasonable person viewing Mercer County's display would appreciate "the role religion has played in our governmental institutions and finds it historically appropriate and traditionally acceptable for a state to include religious reference influences, even in the form of sacred text, in honoring American traditions."

This represents a huge victory for the people of Mercer County and Kentucky generally. For far too long, these counties have been lectured like school children by those in the ACLU and elsewhere who claim to know what the people's Constitution really means. What the Sixth Circuit has said is that people have a better grasp on the real meaning of the Constitution than most courts do. The court also recognized that the Constitution does not require that we strip the public square of all vestiges of religious heritage and traditions. This is by far the most significant Ten Commandments victory since the Supreme Court's decision to allow a display to stand in Texas. In light of the decision of the Supreme Court striking down McCreary County's display, which was identical to this one, this bodes well for us in future cases.

...It is quite likely that this case will be appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

It seems plain to almost everyone except lawyers that the framers of the Constitution did not intend to expunge religion from public life but rather to prevent the government from establishing a national church. It will be interesting, if the case is appealed, to see how the Court will rule with Samuel Alito seated on it. Alito should be confirmed by the end of January and his presence on the bench may precipitate a shift toward sanity in the Court's rulings on church/state separation.

Best Economic News of 2005

Arnold Kling at Tech Central Station claims that the best indicator of economic health is a nation's productivity, and by that measure we're doing pretty well. He concludes with these observations:

In a recent TCS interview, Robert Fogel suggested that productivity growth of 2 percent per year would be sufficient to ensure the soundness of Social Security. With three percent productivity growth, even Medicare may be sound.

In The Great Race, I argued that our economic future boils down to two trends. Moore's Law is raising productivity, helping to increase the size of the economy relative to government spending. On the other hand, Medicare is growing, which tends to increase government spending relative to the size of the economy.

In the 2-1/2 years since I wrote that essay, nothing has been done to slow the growth of Medicare. However, if the economy can sustain or increase its rate of productivity growth, the long-term outlook may be reasonably good. We are headed for the scenario that I called "affordable welfare state," meaning that the lavish benefits that we have promised ourselves when we get older will require relatively modest increases in tax rates. Tax revenues will be high because incomes and payrolls will be high.

The politicians have done nothing to slow the growth of entitlements. The mainstream media have totally missed the most important economic news of the early 21st century, which is the strong productivity growth. The state of the economy in 2005 is that it is performing well in spite of both the pols and the pundits.

Almost makes one think that the millenium is right around the corner.