Category: Economics

Blog author: bwalker
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
By

While it has been pointed out repeatedly by your writer and others in this space that Pope Francis’ Laudato Si contains much to recommend it for the beauty, compassion and depth of spirituality contained within, there remains much that is problematic. For example, there’s this:

At the same time we can note the rise of a false or superficial ecology which bolsters complacency and a cheerful recklessness. As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear. Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a license to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.

All this is consistent with Pope Francis’ warning that fossil fuels are contributing to climate change, but what he should be advocating for is energy abundance rather than this:

There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gasses can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.

Yet, how does the Pope reconcile his call for reduction of fossil-fuel use with his call for cleaner water and increased green space in the following quotes?

Here’s Pope Francis on water:
(more…)

John C. Kennedy III

John C. Kennedy III

In late September, the Wall Street Journal asked Catholic business leaders for their reaction to Pope Francis’ economic views in an article titled, “For Business, a Papal Pushback.” It ran with the teaser line: “Corporate leaders see merit in pope’s message, if not his broad-brush attack on capitalism.” Journal writer Scott Calvert interviewed Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg for his story. Gregg observed that Pope Francis had characterized market economies as generally exploitative. “He doesn’t seem to want to concede the sheer number of people who have escaped from poverty as a consequence of the opening up of global markets and the activities of business,” he said. “I know a lot of Catholic businessmen who are quite demoralized when they hear the pope talk about the daily reality in which they live.”

I recently had a chance to talk to John C. Kennedy III, a Roman Catholic Grand Rapids, Michigan, businessman and a board member of the Acton Institute, for his read of the Francis visit. Kennedy is president and CEO of Autocam Medical. Before that, he was president and CEO of Autocam Corporation, which he founded in 1988 and sold in 2014 (for PowerBlog coverage of Autocam’s legal pushback against the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to provide contraceptives and abortifacients go here). Beyond his business commitments, Kennedy devotes time to a number of organizations. He is a member of the Boards of NN, Inc., the parent company of Autocam Corporation, Grand Valley State University, Lacks Enterprises, Shape Corporation, the Van Andel Institute, and Advisory Board Member of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. Kennedy received his BA from the University of Detroit Mercy and his MBA from the University of Michigan.

Our exchange follows:

What was your reaction to the recent visit of Pope Francis to the United States?

Pope Francis’s visit was absolutely phenomenal. It really spoke to his leadership qualities. As a Catholic, I was proud of the leader of our church. The stamina of a 78-year-old man who went from morning to night every day, with beginning to end mass coverage, four or five times, was incredible. It’s just absolutely amazing to me. He did a great job. (more…)

“Globalization must do more than connect elites and big businesses that have the legal means to expand their markets, create capital, and increase their wealth.” –Hernando de Soto

6898950_7a0fd3b3d9_bWhen assessing the causes of the recent boom in global prosperity, economists and analysts will point much of their praise to the power of free trade and globalization, and rightly so.

But while these are important drivers, we mustn’t forget that many people remain disconnected from networks of productivity and “circles of exchange.” Despite wonderful expansions in international free trade, much of this has occurred between “outsiders,” with many partners still languishing due to a lack of internal free trade within their countries.

Much of this is due to an absence of basic property rights, as economist Hernando de Soto argues throughout his popular book, The Mystery of Capital. If the global poor don’t have the legal means or incentives to trade beyond families and small communities, so-called “globalization” will still leave plenty behind. (more…)

Whether derided as a devil of modern industry or hailed as a saint of modern philanthropy, oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller remains a controversial figure.

Although the reality of the man is surely complex, those who attack his legacy tend to indulge in more than a few historical errors and economic myths, painting him as a supreme symbol of all that is wrong with industrialization and capitalism. And yet, despite some troubling tactics and cronyist maneuvering, the man himself is a symbol of much that is good.

As historian Burt Folsom explains, the real picture has a bit more color and brightness. Contrary to his critics, Rockefeller’s empire prioritized ingenuity above indulgence, gift-giving above greed, and economic transformation above static consumerism.

Rockefeller’s special gift to the world? “Cheap kerosene,” says Folsom, and “cheap enough that anyone could buy it.” (more…)

Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg, writing for The American Spectator, looks at the telltale signs of a great civilization in decline.

Many of us think of civilizational failure in terms of a society’s inability to withstand sudden external encounters. The sun-worshiping human-sacrificing slave-owning Aztec world, for instance, quickly crumbled before Hernán Cortés, a handful of Spanish conquistadors, and his native allies, and, perhaps above all, European-borne diseases. Given enough violence, superior technology, and the will to use it, an entire culture can be seriously destabilized, if not swept aside. Yet ever since Edward Gibbon’s multi-volume Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, it’s been impossible to downplay the role of internal vicissitudes in facilitating civilizational degeneration.

More than one person, I suspect, has been wondering lately about this issue of civilizational decline with regard to the West. Whether it’s Planned Parenthood’s diabolical activities, America’s de facto capitulation to Iran, Western governments’ failure to eradicate the cancer that is ISIS, or the same governments’ general unwillingness to overhaul their dysfunctional welfare systems, it’s harder and harder to deny that something deeper is seriously awry.

Read “Fear and Loathing Stalk the West” in The American Spectator by Samuel Gregg.

The highly popular “buy-one, give-one” models — as epitomized by the popular TOMS Shoes brand — have long held the attention of Western do-gooders. It’s quick, it’s easy, and hey, people like the shoes. And let’s not forget the power of the Warm & Fuzzies.

Yet many are beginning to raise concerns about the actual impact of these activities. As Acton’s Michael Matheson Miller recently explained in an interview with Knowledge@Wharton, “The one-for-one model can undermine local producers. When you give free things, why would you buy local shoes?”

In the debut of his new smarty-pants comedy show, “Adam Ruins Everything,” Adam Conover chooses to set his sights on precisely this:

To their credit, TOMS Shoes has taken certain steps to reconsider its model, including a decision to “employ 100 Haitians and build a ‘responsible, sustainable’ shoe industry in Haiti.” But alas, by all public appearances, there is still a ways to go. (more…)

kickstarter1Several years ago, as a music student in college, I remember hearing constant complaints about “lack of funding for the arts.” Hardly a day would go by without a classmate or professor bemoaning the thin and fickle pockets of the bourgeoisie or Uncle Sam’s lack of artistic initiative.

Little did we know, a shake-up was already taking place, driven by a mysterious mix of newfound prosperity, entrepreneurial innovation, and the market forces behind it. The digital revolution was beginning to level the playing field and drain power from tanks and banks of all kinds, from the Hollywood execs with dollar signs in their eyes to the aesthetically enlightened cronies at the National Endowment for the Arts. Despite the many prophecies of a creative apocalypse, a bottom-up revolution was taking place.

Amid the sea of new technologies and tools that were soon to emerge — streaming music, streaming movies, ebook publishing — crowdfunding rose as a powerful path to creative independence: artistic, economic, and otherwise. Leading the pack is Kickstarter, with success stories abounding, from inventors to thespians to foodies to photographers, and with routine funding results that actually surpass the NEA. (more…)