Worth Reading - 12/8

1. One man got frustrated with being hounded by debt collectors for debts he never incurred, this long-form story is about his quest to bring a fraud to justice.

Therrien had been caught up in a fraud known as phantom debt, where millions of Americans are hassled to pay back money they don’t owe. The concept is centuries old: Inmates of a New York debtors’ prison joked about it as early as 1800, in a newspaper they published called Forlorn Hope. But systematic schemes to collect on fake debts started only about five years ago. It begins when someone scoops up troves of personal information that are available cheaply online—old loan applications, long-expired obligations, data from hacked accounts—and reformats it to look like a list of debts. Then they make deals with unscrupulous collectors who will demand repayment of the fictitious bills. Their targets are often poor and likely to already be getting confusing calls about other loans. The harassment usually doesn’t work, but some marks are convinced that because the collectors know so much, the debt must be real.

The problem is as simple as it is intractable. In 2012 a call center in India was busted for making 8 million calls in eight months to collect made-up bills. The Federal Trade Commission has since broken up at least 13 similar scams. In most cases, regulators weren’t able to identify the original perpetrators because the data files had been sold and repackaged so many times. Victims have essentially no recourse to do anything but take the abuse.

2. There is something between Randian individualism and the smothering statism of socialism. John Mark Reynolds writes about muddling through a middle path:

Instead, we must always remember: statism kills, radical individualism kills. We say no to Nimrod’s statism and Cain’s individualism. Why? Injustice can take place in systems, such as state sponsored segregation in the South of the USA, or from individuals as when the robber barons built factories that were unsafe and harmed workers. American Christians must reject radical individualism, we are part of a community, but also statism.

We refuse to say “I am Lord” or “Caesar is Lord.” If every man is Caesar, then we have simply multiplied tyrants. If we put all power in a state Caesar, then we have created anti-Christ.

Different eras have provoked different responses from Christians due to different needs. We have absolute moral principles (or should!), but can be flexible in applying them. American Christians have gotten this mostly right with the horrific exception of race.

3. Joe Carter wrestles with the major problem of the bi-partisan smuttiness of politics that is leading some people to attempt to justify the unjustifiable. He outlines a non-partisan solution to the Roy Moore problem:

If you want to see the future of Christian conservative politics you need to know about Wesley Goodman.

Goodman is a married, 33-year-old “family-values conservative” elected to the Ohio legislature last year. He had previously worked as an aide for a conservative congressman, and served as managing director for the Conservative Action Project and a member of the Council for National Policy, two organizations that serve as alliances of economic, social, and national-security conservatives.*

Earlier this month Goodman resigned from the legislature after he was caught engaging in “inappropriate behavior” (i.e., sexual behavior) with a man at his office. And it doesn’t seem to have been an isolated occurrence. Goodman had reportedly “exchanged salacious texts and emails with gay men he met on Capitol Hill, and sent sexually suggestive messages to young men he met through conservative circles who were too intimidated to publicly complain.”

One young man did complain, though. Two years ago Goodman allegedly invited an 18-year-old college student to his hotel room and attempted to sexually assault the teenager. The young man’s parents notified Goodman’s boss, the head of the Council for National Policy (CNP), who promised to take action. Goodman was dismissed from the CNP two months later, but when he ran for public office the pro-family Christian leaders never notified the people of Ohio they might be electing a sexual predator.

4. An informative post about the coming population problem because of a rapidly declining birthrate:

We are now in our 3rd-most-rapid period of fertility decline on record, after the 1920s drop and then the post-baby-boom decline. I expect that by 2018 or 2019, the U.S. will hit it’s lowest total fertility rate ever.

Guys this is dire stuff. But I want to zoom in on 2017 and elucidate just how crazy 2017 really is. Yes, the rate of decline was sharp, but it was also broad-based. Here’s a graph of every state’s 12-month lagged general fertility rate from 2007 to 2017. This metric makes some very basic controls for demographic composition, but is not as tightly-controlled as the total fertility rate, so is still somewhat impacted by age composition.

5. Michael Bird and Bruce Ashford had a discussion about the Benedict Option. It's worth the time if you have a while to digest it: