Category: Economic Freedom

amazon-workersLiberal and conservative, right and left, red state and blue state—there are dozens, if not hundreds of ways to divide political and economic lines. But one of the most helpful ways of understanding such differences is recognizing the divide between advocates of proximate justice and absolute justice.

Several years ago Steven Garber wrote an essay in which he explained the concept of “proximate justice”:

Proximate justice realizes that something is better than nothing. It allows us to make peace with some justice, some mercy, all the while realizing that it will only be in the new heaven and new earth that we find all our longings finally fulfilled, that we will see all of God’s demands finally met. It is only then and there we will see all of the conditions for human flourishing finally in place, socially, economically, and politically.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from proximate justice is absolute justice, the idea that we should never settle for “some” justice but must always seek, as a matter of duty, the maximal amount of justice.

The primary appeal of absolute justice is its purity. Why align with compromisers and those who are satisfied with “good enough” when you can fight for full justice? Being satisfied with proximate justice sounds more like an excuse to do less rather than a principled position.

The primary appeal of proximate justice is its realism. Since absolute justice is not attainable this side of the new heaven and new earth, settling for less is the best we can ever expect. When absolute justice is our standard we can even end up allowing injustice to continue and flourish.

Those in the absolute justice camp accuse the other side of being cynical, insensitive, and willing to compromise with evil, while advocates of proximate justice claim their ideological rivals are utopian, self-centered, and likely to do as much harm as good.

A more thorough examination of each side will have to wait for another day and another article. (As you can probably tell, though, I’m firmly on the side of proximate justice.) I only mention the two views because I want to show how the idea of proximate and absolute justice relates to employment and can help us understand the recent kerfuffle over the working conditions at Amazon.
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trade21Many conservatives exhibit a peculiar tendency to be pro-liberty when it comes to business, trade, and wages, but protectionist when it comes to the economic effects of immigration.

It’s an odd disconnect, and yet, as we’ve begun to see with figures like Donald Trump and Rick Santorum, one side is bound to eventually give way. They’ll gush about the glories of competition, but the second immigration gets brought up, they seem to defer to labor-union talking points from ages past.

When pressed on this in a recent podcast, immigration protectionist Mark Krikorian argued that the difference is that immigrants are people not products, and thus they make things a bit more problematic. It’s more complicated and disruptive, he argues, when you’re dealing with actual people who have diverse and ever-shifting dreams. (more…)

amazon-workIn the movie Annie Hall, Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) tells an old joke about two elderly women having dinner at a Catskill mountain resort. One of them says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”

Alvy says that’s essentially how he feels about life: it’s full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly. Many people seem to have a similar complaint after reading the recent New York Times exposé about Amazon.com: The company is a terrible place to work, and it’s almost impossible to get or keep a job there.

The article certainly makes Amazon sound like a brutal place to work. As one former employee says, “Amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves.” In the third paragraph the Times claims,

At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are “unreasonably high.” The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others.

Many people will read that and be horrified while others will shrug and say, “Sounds a lot like the company I work for.” There are also those who question the accuracy and fairness of the article (Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, also owns the Washington Post, a primary competitor of the New York Times). One current employee even explains in detail what the story gets wrong.

I don’t want to bash or defend Amazon. But I do think it is worth asking why, if the company is so horrible, are people beating down Amazon’s door to work there?
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Okay, maybe this needs a license...

Okay, maybe this needs a license…

EMTs have incredibly difficult and stressful jobs. They may go long stretches with little to do, and then be suddenly very busy, very fast. They need to know how to calm down a child with a broken arm, treat a woman pinned in a truck in a massive interstate pileup during a snowstorm, and deal with a potential elderly stroke victim. They are like an ER on wheels. In rural communities, they are a lifeline between people in their communities and the hospital that may be hours away.

Now, I don’t want to belittle interior designers. I imagine it can be stressful dealing with clients who keep changing their minds, keeping under budget on big jobs and knowing the difference between toile, sateen and silk when choosing curtains. But interior designers aren’t typically involved in saving lives. (Unless it’s something like, “Thank goodness! You got my wife’s chaise lounge reupholstered before her birthday party – you’re a lifesaver!”)

So, why is it easier to become an EMT than an interior designer? That’s the question posed by Jared Meyer and Savannah Saunders. It seems that the state of Florida is blaming interior designers for 88,000 deaths per year. They need oversight. They need regulation. They need big government. (more…)

A conference held in Washington earlier this month sought to forge relationships between leaders of secular and faith-based groups working to alleviate poverty.

Representatives from the World Bank Group, the German/British/US government development agencies, the GHR Foundation, World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, Islamic Relief USA, American Jewish World Service, McKinsey & Company, and more gathered for the occasion. The Lancet, a leading medical journal, published an issue on the role of religion and faith-based development organizations in global health and released it at the conference.

It’s exciting to see secular organizations acknowledge the unique potential of religious groups to enact successful initiatives in developing nations. However, Acton’s previous research on the divergent development and world health strategies of secular and religious groups suggests that a successful merger will require more organic, bottom-up approaches than what the biggest development powerhouses are used to.

The shared goal to end extreme poverty and promote sustainable development is admirable, and it’s an important basis for building common ground among groups. But good intentions aren’t enough. Many of the largest secular development organizations, such as the World Bank, tend to adopt approaches that fall under the category of “social engineering,” coordinating and launching initiatives that are fundamentally at odds with religious groups’ insistence on the dignity and powerful potential of each individual. (more…)

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, in an article for www.mlive.com, discussed the recent charter expiration of the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) and how that is a good first-step toward reducing the corporate welfare and crony capitalism that has infected American politics and economics:

If a man swipes your wallet, he’s a thief. We don’t ask whether the pickpocket ultimately spent the cash on a worthy cause. Yet, supporters of corporate welfare would have you believe that as long as the companies receiving welfare prosper, you shouldn’t care that the government snatched your money to make it happen.

The moral implications of cronyism are abundant. As public/private partnerships expand, the market system slowly transforms from free enterprise and competition driven by market forces to government control of who succeeds and fails based on loans or bailouts to favored groups and corporations. In an interview with the Acton Institute’s Religion & Liberty, Peter Schweizer discussed how cronyism is creating a moral crisis and how it is affecting the poor:

Our poverty programs get distorted by crony corporations. Just look at how the food stamp program has expanded over the years. Initially, it was a safety net to provide basic provisions, and most people agree basic safety nets are needed. The problem is that when the government started throwing around billions of dollars, the snack food and soft drink industry saw dollar signs. So they lobbied and got the regulations changed so that snack food and sodas are now covered by government assistance. It’s now a $10 billion industry for soft drink companies. Then it got expanded to include convenience stores, and now you’ve got the fast food industry lobbying lawmakers to let people use EBT cards at fast food establishments.

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I believe that greatness, if defined by power, economic and cultural influence, requires us to acknowledge that the United States of America was once the greatest country in the world. However, as it ceases to lead the world in these areas – as one survey after another shows – and other countries take its place, it can no longer be considered the greatest. If we change our definition of “greatest” however, America might still be great.

I believe we need a new definition of greatness. Americans are known throughout the globe for patriotism, and this is not something of which to be ashamed. The United States, in its mere 239 years of existence, has built great things, has explored vast areas, has developed nothings into somethings, and has undeniably made enormous impacts on the world. Unfortunately, many Americans have taken this to the extreme, perhaps subconsciously, and have concluded that that is the end of the story. America is the best. Period.

This mentality has often bothered me. I was born and raised in Japan, reached adulthood in the States, and am currently living in Lithuania. I have been to almost 30 countries. Many people are stunned when I say that I do not plan on living my entire life in the United States. Many are taken aback by the fact that my love of culture and travel surpasses my patriotism for the country of my nationality, in my case, the United States.

This is a common exchange with people I meet throughout the world; which is what sparked my interest in this blog post. Where should my loyalties lie? And where do others’? Is it where we are from, or where we want to be? No matter how much love one has for their country, I think everyone would agree that no place is perfect. But what makes a country great? (more…)

jeb

During a recent interview, presidential candidate Jeb Bush outlined his economic plan, which included a goal of achieving 4 percent economic growth.

As for how we might achieve that growth, Bush went on to commit a grave and sinful error, daring imply that Americans might need to work a bit harder:

My aspiration for the country — and I believe we can achieve it — is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see,” he told the newspaper. “Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.

The pundits descended, the trolls ignited, and the competing politicians proceeded to pounce, including his chief rival, Hillary Clinton, who tweeted: “Anyone who believes Americans aren’t working hard enough hasn’t met enough American workers.” The media followed in turn, running numerous stories on the “real” barriers to economic growth: economic inequality, low wages, and — my personal least-favorite — a lack of “good jobs.” (more…)

Today at the Library of Law & Liberty, I examine Pope Francis’s recent speech in Bolivia, in which he calls for “an economy where human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life.”

I have no objection to that, but what he seems to miss is that the very policies he criticizes all characterize those countries in the world that most closely resemble his goal. I write,

So what stands in the way, according to the pontiff?—“corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.” Really?

Business, credit, trade, and fiscal responsibility are marks of healthy economies, not the problem, popular as it may be to denounce them. Indeed, these are also marks of economies that effectively care for “Mother Earth,” whose plight the Pope claims “the most important [task] facing us today.” That’s right, more important than the plight of the poor, to His Holiness, is the plight of trees, water, and lower animals.

That moral confusion aside, is there any way we could study what policies correlate with the Pope’s laudable goals? As it turns out, there is. The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) ranks countries based upon an aggregate rating of economic growth, care for the environment, and health and living conditions—precisely the measures the Pope seems to care most about. Yet of the top 20 countries on the most recent HDI ranking, 18 also rank as “free” or “mostly free” on the most recent Heritage Index of Economic Freedom.

Read my full article, “Show Me the Way to Poverty,” here.

VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCEPope Francis has said that he’s generally “allergic” to financial matters. Yet that hasn’t stopped him from criticizing capitalism and suggesting radical changes for a global economic order. During his recent trip to Latin America, the pontiff has been especially denunciatory, saying the unfettered pursuit of money is “the dung of the devil.”

Not surprisingly, many critics have complained that Francis is presenting a distorted, incomplete, and naive view of capitalism. To his credit, the pontiff has vowed to consider these reactions before his trip the U.S. this September. “I heard that there were some criticisms from the United States. I must begin studying these criticisms, no?” he said. “Then we shall dialogue about them.”

It’s encouraging to hear Pope Francis say he’s interested in dialogue on the topic. Naturally, since we share many of the same values and concerns, an ideal partner in such discussion would be the Acton Institute. As Acton co-founder Rev. Robert Sirico has said,

From the inception of the Acton Institute . . . we have always been concerned that economic education–a real understanding of how a market functions–will first and foremost help the most vulnerable, so we’ve done various things over the years to attempt to demonstrate or teach or model that for people.

If the pope is interested, we even have a branch in Rome—Istituto Acton—that he can visit. It’s a mere 20 minute walk from Vatican City or about 5 minutes by mini-popemobile. We’d also be willing to send him any resources he might find useful, such as our PovertyCure DVD series or Rev. Sirico’s book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy.

In the meantime, though, I think Pope Francis could gain a lot of insight by simply pondering these three points:

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