Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, August 28, 2014

lego-people“Can you explain that important economic concept using Legos?”

Apparently, someone must have said that to Richard Reeves, an economist at the Brookings Institution economist, because he’s made a brief video using Legos to visualize social mobility.

There are two reasons I really appreciate this video. First, I love to see important economic issues explained in an accessible and entertaining manner. Second, as I’ve repeatedly said to anyone who will listen, social mobility — specifically getting people out of poverty — is infinitely more important than focusing income inequality, a topic that gets far too much attention nowadays.

The one drawback to the video is that it’s far too pessimistic. Yes, social mobility is still a huge problem. But the video makes clear, that social mobility is possible for almost all people. That has not been true for most of human history and it is not true in most parts of the world today.

Also, I am far less concerned with whether a person can go from the bottom quintile to the top as I am with going from the bottom quintile to the middle. Like many Americans, I was born in the bottom quintile and worked my way to the middle quintiles. The fact that I’m unlikely to ever join the top quintile is of absolutely no importance to may life. None at all. What we should care about is whether people can get out of poverty and flourish economically, not whether they can join Beyonce and Jay-Z in the billionaire’s club.

But those quibbles aside, I’m grateful this video is helping to spread the message about the importance of social mobility.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, August 28, 2014

Accra Confession 2004The Accra Confession, a document arising out of the Reformed ecumenical movement, was promulgated ten years ago. At the time, Rev. Jerry Zandstra and I wrote with some rather harsh criticisms of the document.

In the meanwhile, the original group that organized the Accra Confession, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, merged with a smaller ecumenical group, the Reformed Ecumenical Council, to create the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). At the Uniting General Council held at Calvin College in 2010, where the status of the Accra Confession for the new movement was to be determined, the Acton Institute distributed a packet of material, including a book-length engagement with the Accra Confession and the larger mainline ecumenical movement’s economic witness.

In Ecumenical Babel I devote a full chapter to the Accra Confession as perhaps the most imbalanced and skewed of all the mainline ecumenical documents on economic justice. For other critical engagements of the Accra Confession, I recommend Stan du Plessis, “How Can You Be a Christian and an Economist? The Meaning of the Accra Declaration for Today,” and Roland Hoksbergen, “The Global Economy, Injustice, and the Church: On Being Reformed in Today’s World.”

There are a number of celebratory posts recognizing the anniversary of the confession at places like Ecclesio, and for a critical engagement of Ecumenical Babel you can read an essay by Christopher Dorn in Perspectives. (Ecumenical Babel was also reviewed for CommentCalvin Theological Journal, Journal of Markets & MoralityJournal of Interdisciplinary Studies, and Journal of Ecumenical Studies. I respond at some length to Dorn’s essay in my latest book, Get Your Hands Dirty.)

The World Communion of Reformed Churches purports to represent 80 million Christians of 229 member denominations in 108 countries. An ecumenical group of this significance and diversity can do better than the Accra Confession in its social witness, and after ten years, it must do better.

This summer during Acton University, I had the opportunity to be part of a recording for Moody Radio’s Up for Debate program, which has just recently been posted online. The subject for discussion was “Can Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical Christians Learn from Each Other?”

The participants were Jay Richards (Roman Catholic), Distinguished Fellow of the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics and a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, John Stonestreet (Evangelical), Fellow of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and me (Orthodox), an Acton research associate and assistant editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality.

In answer to the question of the show, the short answer that we all seemed to come to was, yes, we do have a lot to learn from one another. Our talk ranged from issues of Scripture and the Tradition of the Church to the current discussion in the public square over same-sex marriage.

Head over to Moody Radio to listen to the program here.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Zero Tolerance? Zero Common Sense
Susan E. Wills, Aleteia

You know the public school system is in trouble when a kindergartener is suspended for talking about her Hello Kitty bubble blower gun.

In Thailand’s Surrogacy Industry, Profit and a Moral Quagmire
Thomas Fuller, New York Times

The baby boomlet here was just one of several bizarre and often ethically charged iterations of Thailand’s freewheeling venture into what detractors call the womb rental business, an unguided experiment that the country’s military government now says it is planning to end.

Why Your City or Town Could Be the Next Step for Right-to-Work
James Sherk & Andrew Kloster, The Corner

Should workers have to pay union dues to keep their job? Unions think so — their contracts require companies to fire workers who do not pay up. Fortunately, many states have passed “right-to-work” (RTW) laws that prohibit this coercion.

How Faith, Work, and Economics Transformed Milwaukee
Lauren Carl, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

As Woodson demonstrated in Milwaukee, CNE goes into an area like a “Geiger counter” and identifies grassroots leaders, people with strengths who are already present in these areas.

girl bitting appleThe opening paragraphs of latest issue of Stanford University’s Pathways magazine contains an eye-opening claim: in any given month of 2011, 1.65 million U.S. households with children were living on less than $2 per person, per day.

That sounds horrific, and it is: horrifically misleading.

Once you dig deeper you find that what they mean is “households living on $2 or less in cash income per person per day.” The reason it is misleading is because, as a savvy economist might say, you don’t eat income.

What we mean (or should mean) when we say “living on” is consumption. In economics, consumption is the use of goods and services by households.

For at least the first few years of our lives (i.e., when we’re children), most of us have no incomes at all. So how do we keep from starving? Because what we “live on” (our share of consumption) is paid for by someone else’s income, usually our parents. Americans in extreme poverty are also able to consume using someone else’s income: their fellow taxpayers. This is why the poor can have near zero income and still have access to many of the goods and services, such as housing and food, required for survival.

As Jordan Weissmann notes, the Stanford article “ignored all non-cash safety net benefits.”
(more…)

scarjoDespite my esteemed background in high school drama (I starred in several productions), I don’t critique acting, except over the water cooler. I don’t have a clue what it takes to make a movie, let alone make a movie well. I assume Scarlett Johansson does, as she’s made a number of them. But clearly, Ms. Johansson doesn’t do so well with logic.

Ms. Johansson has designed t-shirts for Planned Parenthood. The hot pink t’s feature a cartoon male on the front, along with “Hey Politicians! The 1950s called…”; the back reads, “They want their sexism back!” Ms. Johansson stated her reason for wanting to be part of this project:

When I heard that some politicians were cheering the Supreme Court’s decision to give bosses the right to interfere in our access to birth control, I thought I had woken up in another decade,” explained Johansson in a statement.

“Like many of my friends, I was appalled by the thought of men taking away women’s ability to make our own personal health care decisions,” she added.

(more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Sic semper tyrannis, eh?

Sic semper tyrannis, eh?

The Burger King acquisition of Tim Hortons and the resulting plans to move the corporate headquarters under the taxing authority of the Canadian government is being derided by some as unpatriotic.

This is the latest in a long string of similar phenomena over the last decade or so, as we see patriotic loyalty (or the lack thereof) becoming a political issue in the context of offshoring, globalization, outsourcing, and so on.

A response to the charge of being unpatriotic would seem to me to require at least two points.

First, the responsibilities of a business owner, CEO, or corporate board are different than those of a government politician. They have different loyalties, so to speak. So to judge the one by the standards of the other is an exercise in missing the point.

Second, I would respond with a query along these lines: Which is more unpatriotic, a greater disservice to a nation, for someone to be involved in: moving a business from one country to another or making the tax environment in a country inhospitable to businesses?

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles is a 7-part series from the Acton Institute that seeks to examine the bigger picture of Christianity’s role in culture, society, and the world. Today you can watch episode 3, The Economy of Creative Service for free all day today at premiere.flannel.org.

Below is the trailer for episode 3.

Earlier this month, I wrote a two part article for the Library of Law & Liberty, critiquing the uncritical condemnation of income inequality by world religious leaders.

In part 1, I pointed out that “while the Pope, the Patriarch, the Dalai Lama, and others are right about the increase in [global income] inequality, they are wrong to conclude that this causes global poverty—the latter is demonstrably on the decline. And that, I would add, is a good thing.”

F. A. Hayek

In part 2, drawing on the work of F. A. Hayek, I noted, “As societies learn to use their resources ‘more effectively and for new purposes,’ the cost of manufacturing luxury goods decreases, making them affordable to new markets of the middle class and, eventually, even for the poor.” I continue, “Such inequality not only accompanies the very economic progress that lifts the poor out of poverty, it is one essential factor that makes that progress possible.”

We may add to this two more ways in which focusing solely on income inequality can be misleading from article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Nicholas Eberstadt: increased equality in lifespan and education. He writes,

Given the close correspondence between life expectancy and the Gini index for age at death, we can be confident that the world-wide explosion in life expectancy over the past century has been accompanied by a monumental narrowing of world-wide differences in length of life. When a population’s life expectancy rises from 30 to 70, the Gini index drops by almost two-thirds—from well over 0.5 to well under 0.2.

This survival revolution—and the narrowing of inequalities in humanity’s life chances—is an epochal advance in the human condition. Since healthy life expectancy seems to track closely with overall life expectancy, a revolutionary reduction in health inequality may also have occurred over the past century. Improvements in global mortality for the poor have contributed to the very “economic inequality” so many now decry. This is another reason such measures can be deceiving.

The spread and distribution of education has had a similar impact. In 1950 roughly half of the world’s adults—and the overwhelming majority of the men and women from low-income regions—had never been exposed to schooling. By 2010 unschooled men and women 15 and older account for a mere one-seventh of the world’s adults, and about one-in-six from developing areas. (more…)

Broken_Toys_by_FaryndreynMaybe you’ve heard of the “Dark Web,” but aren’t sure exactly what it is. Maybe you don’t know anything about the Dark Web. Let’s begin by saying it’s aptly named. And as dark as it is, we need to know about it.

The term “Dark Web” (or Dark Internet) refers to areas of the Internet that are no longer accessible, or that have “gone dark” – i.e. dead ends. This happens when Internet routers stop referencing parts of the Internet, either because old addresses have become compromised by malware, or simply because the routers have forgotten where to access these areas…The Dark Web is therefore fundamentally different than the Deep Web in that the Dark Web cannot be accessed, period. The term “Deep Web,” refers to the “deeper” parts of the web that are accessible, but are considered hard to find because they are not indexed by regular search engines. (more…)