Category: Economic Freedom

Photography by Larry D. Moore

Today marks the 20th birthday of the Nintendo 64 (N64) gaming console. Don Reisinger offered a great tribute at Fortune:

On this day in Japan 20 years ago, Nintendo introduced the gaming system, among the first consoles to create realistic-looking 3D worlds filled with monsters, soldiers, and blood. It’s standard game design today, but at that point, it was new and exciting.

Before the Nintendo 64’s launch, gamers were largely forced into games with pixelated graphics and basic gameplay that required scrolling around a screen and solving basic puzzles. The Nintendo 64, which notched more than 30 million units sold over its lifetime, was a sign of bigger and better things to come.

Yet he notes that it wasn’t the most successful console at the time:

If sales are the sole guide of success, the Nintendo 64 was a middling performer. The nearly 33 million units it sold is notably lower than the 62 million Nintendo Entertainment Systems sold and the 49 million Super Nintendo Entertainment Systems the company sold.

While the Nintendo 64’s sales were more than the Sega Saturn, which could only muster 9 million unit sales over its lifetime, Sony sold 102.5 million PlayStation units while competing with the Nintendo 64.

There are a lot of things that Nintendo tried with the N64 that didn’t really work in their favor. But Nintendo’s willingness to take such risks, and their general product differentiation (for example, their massively successful Pokémon series debuted just one year earlier for Nintendo’s Game Boy handheld console, spawning a cartoon and a card game) make it an outstanding example in the long run … not only economically, but (metaphorically) spiritually as well. (more…)

necessary-sufficientTo be a champion of free markets is to be misunderstood. This is doubly true for free market advocates who are Christian. It’s an unfortunate reality that many of us have simply come to accept as inevitable.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t attempt to clear up misunderstandings when we can. So let me attempt to clear up one of the most notorious misunderstandings: Few advocates of free markets (and none who are Christian) believe that free markets are a sufficient condition for human flourishing. We believe they are a necessary condition, but they alone are not sufficient.

Economist Donald J. Boudreaux (who, for what it’s worth, is not a Christian) explains:
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There’s been a lot of discussion leading up to the planned Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete this month. As is typical of councils in the history of the Church, so far it’s a mess, and it hasn’t even happened yet.

In what has been described as an act of self-marginalization by Bulgarian Orthodox scholar Smilen Markov, it looks like the Bulgarian Patriarchate has already backed out.

Antioch has a laundry list of grievances.

The OCA, which might not even technically be invited in the first place, has issued a statement.

And further statements from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Georgian Patriarchate, and others can be found.

No need to review the contents as the point is simply to note that, once again, the council is already a mess.

Officially, I should be calling it the “Great and Holy” council, but I’m not holding my breath on that one. That’s not out of cynicism (well, not entirely) but due to the record of history and the science of economics. (more…)

At the Catholic Workd Report, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg observes that, as populist regimes implode across Latin America, it’s unclear that the Catholic Church in the age of Francis is well-equipped to cope with whatever comes next.

Since Pope Francis often states that realities are more important than ideas, let’s recall some basic realities about presidents Correa and Morales. Both are professed admirers of Chávez and committed to what Correa calls “socialism of the 21st century” or what Morales describes as “communitarian socialism.”

Both men have also followed the classic populist playbook. This involves (1) dismantling constitutional restraints on power; (2) blaming their nations’ problems on foreigners and foreign interests; (3) following a political logic of internal confrontation with those designated as “enemies of the people”; (4) fostering a cult of personality around a charismatic leader; and (5) creating large constituencies of supporters through disbursement of state largesse. The result has not only been political oppression. The economies of Bolivia and Ecuador are now formally classified as “repressed” in the 2016 Index of Economic Freedom. That means they are among the least free, most corrupt, and statist in the world.

The fact, however, that Correa and Morales were invited to speak at a conference at the Holy See reflects the Church’s ambiguous relationship with left-populist movements and governments in recent years. The Venezuelan bishops’ willingness, for instance, to name and shame a populist regime so directly for its destructive policies is the exception rather than the rule.

Read “Pope Francis, Populism, and the Agony of Latin America” by Samuel Gregg at the Catholic World Report.

Today at The Stream, I examine the dissonance between the goals of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and his recommended means:

[W]hile Sanders’ goals may seem comparable to Scandinavia, there’s little Nordic about his means. It all reminds me of a quip from the Russian Orthodox philosopher S. L. Frank, a refugee from the brutality of actual, Soviet socialism. “The leaders of the French Revolution desired to attain liberty, equality, fraternity, and the kingdom of truth and reason, but they actually created a bourgeois order. And this is the way it usually is in history,” Frank wrote. Sanders wants Scandinavia, but his policies would put us on a track more in line with Argentina or Greece. Good intentions are not enough.

Sure, Sanders is nicer than Trump, for example, and there are real differences between them. Sanders rails against the evils of America’s “millionaires and billionaires.” Trump is one.

But Sanders’ brand of politics still amounts to populist demagoguery, still ultimately appealing to the worst in us. It is to our great shame that we now have no major candidate who consistently appeals to the best. In the meantime, we’d do well to resist such polarizing demagoguery in whatever form it takes.

Read my full article, “Sorry Bernie: Scandinavia Isn’t Socialist,” at The Stream here and see the rundown on why Sanders’ policies wouldn’t get us what Nordic countries have.

venezuela-food-shortagesThe Venezuelan economy is buckling under the weight of its severe socialist policies, and even as its president admits to a nationwide economic emergency, the government continues to affirm the drivers behind the collapse, blaming low oil prices and global capitalism instead.

This was supposed to be the dawn of “21st-century socialism,” as the late President Hugo Chavez proclaimed over 10 years ago, complete with the right tweaks and upgrades to its materialistic, mechanistic approach to the human person. “We have assumed the commitment to direct the Bolivarian Revolution towards socialism,” he said, “and to contribute to the socialist path, with a new socialism…which is based in solidarity, in fraternity, in love, in justice, in liberty, and in equality.”

Alas, with a shrinking economy, booming inflation, violent outbreaks, and empty food shelves, “21st-century socialism” is feeling mighty nostalgic in all the wrong ways.

In the years before Chavez, the country was in better shape than much of the continent. Now, thanks to the temptations of centralized power, the arrogance of centralized planners, and a series of faux upgrades to age-old bad ideas, the nation is crumbling. The oil prices simply served as the messenger. (more…)

I want to be very clear from the outset that moral concerns surrounding transgender identity are not unimportant. But in the likely event that we don’t come to any national consensus on that question any time soon, it is important not to overlook other moral and social concerns that are far more pressing. In particular, there are legitimate concerns regarding safety and privacy, no matter which side one favors, but resorting to the force of law will leave some real victims vulnerable.

On the one hand, the Anti-Violence Project’s 2014 Report on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Hate Violence found that compared to violence among the general population, “Transgender women [i.e. biologically male] survivors were 1.6 times more likely to experience physical violence and 1.6 times more likely to experience sexual violence, when compared with other survivors.” I have seen headlines connecting this violence with restroom use in the past, but now that the issue has become politicized those stories are harder to locate. In any case, privacy and safety are real and major concerns for many. We should not be indifferent to this.

On the other hand, according to the CDC,

  • Nearly 1 in 5 (18.3%) women and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) reported experiencing rape at some time in their lives.
  • Approximately 1 in 20 women and men (5.6% and 5.3%, respectively) experienced sexual violence other than rape….

Again, privacy and safety are real and major concerns here. We should not be indifferent. (more…)