Category: Economics

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
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bitcoin-deadLast year I wrote a series of blog posts about what Christians should know about Bitcoin. In response, one astute reader pointed out an odd juxtaposition: my conclusion seemed to imply that Christians should avoid Bitcoin “at all cost” and yet the Acton Institute accepts donations in Bitcoin. “I really want to know the rationale behind this,” he said.

Well, the rationale is easy enough to explain: Not everyone at Acton agrees with me. Like other nerds who have an interest in the intersection of economics, liberty, and technology, many of us at Acton disagree about the merits of Bitcoin. (I’d offer to place a gentleman’s wager on the future of the crypto-currency, but they’d want to bet using Bitcoin. Either way – whether it increased in value or went defunct – I’d end up the loser.)

Opinions are still divided, but the evidence that Bitcoin is doomed to failure piles up almost every day. Over the 8 month span from October 2010 to June 2011, the market value of Bitcoins skyrocketed 9667-fold from a value of $0.06 to $29. Later, when I wrote my series last April, a single Bitcoin was worth less than $100. Today, it is worth $660, and that’s after falling from a high of $1,100 in November 2013. A currency that can fluctuate from $0.06 to $1,110 in a three-year period is not a currency – it’s a speculative bubble.

Of course, we Bitcoin doomsayers have been waiting for the bubble to pop for some time now. We also tend to think that every new drop is a sign of it’s impending doom. Fellow naysayer Jonathan Last is sure, this time, that the end of Bitcoin is near:
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In an excerpt from the splendid PovertyCure series, Michael Fairbanks offers a helpful bit on why our attitudes about competition matter for economic development:

I can predict the future of a developing nation better than any IMF team of economists by asking one question: “Do you believe in competition?” When I go to Venezuela and I say, “do you believe in competition?,” they say “competition means the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” They say “competition is the unnecessary duplication of effort because you have two firms doing the same thing.” They say “competition is a quaint North American concept that doesn’t apply here.”

But when I go to Silicon Valley and I say,“What do you think about the word competition?,” they say, “Well, I love competition, because even when I lose, I learn something. And my success is due to the fact that I speeded up my failures, and the only way to fail was to compete, and figure out where I wasn’t good enough.”

As Hayek put it, competition is a discovery procedure. If we neglect, distort, or downplay that process, we can expect the outcomes of discovery — the fruits of our sacrifice and service — to digress accordingly.

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protestOffering yet another contribution to a series of recent discussions about the religious liberties of bakers, florists, and photographers, Jonathan Merritt has a piece at The Atlantic warning that the type of protections Christians were fighting for in Arizona “could come back to hurt the faithful.”

“These prophets of doom only acknowledge one side of the slope,” Merritt writes. “They fail to consider how these laws could be used against members of their own communities. If you are able to discriminate against others on the basis of religious conviction, others must be allowed to do the same when you are on the other side of the counter.”

Merritt sets things up with the following hypothetical:

“I’d like to purchase a wedding cake,” the glowing young woman says as she clutches the arm of her soon-to-be husband. “We’re getting married at the Baptist church downtown this coming spring.”

“I’m sorry, madam, but I’m not going to be able to help you,” the clerk replies without expression.

“Why not?” the bewildered bride asks.

“Because you are Christians. I am Unitarian and disapprove of your belief that everyone except those within your religion are damned to eternal hell. Your church’s teachings conflict with my religious beliefs. I’m sorry.”

Would conservative Christians support this storeowner’s actions? (more…)

From The Independent:

He leads a company that some would consider the epitome of ruthless global capitalism. But Apple chief executive Tim Cook has shocked some in the US with an impassioned attack on the single-minded pursuit of profit – and a direct appeal to climate-change deniers not to buy shares in his firm.

Eyewitnesses said Cook, who succeeded Steve Jobs as boss of the technology giant in 2011, was visibly angry as he took on a group of right-wing investors during a question-and-answer session at a shareholders’ meeting.

And what were these (presumably) egregious and inappropriate questions levied by the “right-wing investors”?

Responding to calls from the National Centre for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), a conservative think tank and investor, for Apple to refrain from putting money in green energy projects that were not profitable, he shot back that Apple did “a lot of things for reasons besides profit motive”.  The chief executive added: “We want to leave the world better than we found it.”

Addressing he NCPPR representative directly, he said: “If you want me to do things only for ROI [return on investment] reasons, you should get out of this stock.”

So some Apple investors were concerned that the company might be throwing good money after bad (but socially chic) investments into green energy, and that is what set off the CEO of one of the world’s largest companies? Really? (more…)

After a week filled with heated media discussions on religious liberty, Mollie Hemingway provides a devastating critique of how, legislation aside, our media and culture appear bent on diluting and distorting a freedom foundational to all else.

The piece is striking and sweeping, deeply disturbing and yet, for those of us in the trenches, somewhat cathartic in its clarity. Whether politics is downstream or upstream from culture, it appears rather clear that this battle is not a figment of our imaginations. Back and forth and back again.

I encourage you to read the whole piece, but her concluding paragraphs helpfully crystalize why, regardless of your political perspective, your religious beliefs, or your personal position within the social and economic order, diminishing religious liberty will result in road-blocks aplenty on the path to human flourishing:

Religious liberty is a deeply radical concept. It was at this country’s founding and it hasn’t become less so. Preserving it has always been a full-time battle. But it’s important, because religion is at the core of people’s identity. A government that tramples religious liberty is not a government that protects economic freedom. It’s certainly not a government that protects conscience rights. A government that tramples religious liberty does not have expansive press freedoms. Can you think of one country with a narrow view of religious liberty but an expansive view of economic freedom, freedom of association, press freedoms or free speech rights? One? (more…)

On Monday, I linked a podcast that Ancient Faith Radio host Kevin Allen did with Metropolitan Antony, primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States, about the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine. Allen has followed up with another interview, this one with Ukraine expert James Jatras, a former U.S. diplomat, U.S. Senate staffer and a member of the American Institute of Ukraine. Jatras talks about a number of issues, including the legal basis — or lack thereof — of the current government in power, deep seated government corruption on all sides, the prospect for elections, Church-State relations, and insights into Ukraine’s trade relations with both the West and Russia. The current situation, he warns, is fraught with risks on all sides.

“Will they be able to hold elections?” he asks. “Will violence break out in other parts of the country? Let’s hope not. I think ultimately a lot of this may be decided by the economy … Whom do you even send the aid to in Ukraine? I don’t think there will be much aid coming to Ukriane from the West. At some point they’re going to turn back toward Russia.”

Jatras continued: “I think somehow, the Europeans especially, and the Russians need to work out some understanding between themselves and … see if they can help promote reconciliation among Ukrainians. And that’s going to be a very tall order.”

Listen to “Ukraine – Another Perspective” on Ancient Faith Radio.

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, February 27, 2014
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Fracking_Graphic_t670Fracking is a slang term for hydraulic fracturing, a procedure of creating fractures in rocks and rock formations by injecting fluid into cracks to force them further open. The larger fissures allow more oil and gas to flow out of the formation and into the wellbore, from where it can be extracted. Fracking has resulted in many oil and gas wells attaining a state of economic viability, due to the level of extraction that can be reached.

Fracking has been around since the end of World War II, but it was only in the last decade or so that the economic incentives helped to make it more common practice. The result has been an increase in oil production — and an increase in controversy.

Gasland, a 2010 documentary, and Promised Land, a 2012 feature film starring Matt Damon, helped to turn public opinion against the process. The information in those films has been effectively rebutted, but the damage has already been done. According to a 2013 University of Texas poll, 41 percent of Americans oppose fracking.
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facebook_ad_large_1On-demand ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft are on the rise, allowing smartphone users to request cab drivers with the touch of a button. But though the services are popular with consumers and drivers alike, they’re finding less favor among their taxi-company competitors and the unions and government bureaucrats who protect them.

Calling for increased regulation, entrance fees, and insurance requirements, competitors are grappling to retain their privileged, insulated status. In Miami-Dade County, an area with particularly onerous restrictions and regulations, Diego Feliciano, president of the South Florida Taxicab Association, argues that the change is bound to “ruin the very thing it’s trying to improve,” all because it threatens the fat cats who pay his salary, and who can afford to jump through the regulatory hoops. “When looking at new technologies,” he writes, “we must also be sure people’s basic civil rights and the safety of the riding public are protected.”

Bringing these petty municipal battles into the limelight, actor Ashton Kutcher, an early investor in Uber, recently appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, decrying “antiquated legislation,” “old-school monopolies,” and “old-school governments” who continue to stand in the way of innovation and consumer demand. In areas like Miami, Kutcher says, there is a “Mafioso mentality” against letting the “new guys” in.

Indeed, as Miami’s Feliciano aptly demonstrates, the protectionist mindset only sees what is, viewing economic activity in static and self-centered terms, and failing to recognize or value the type of opportunity and possibility that comes with increased freedom and ownership. Feliciano claims that he’s interested in “safety” and “basic civil rights,” but the only folks being protected are those with power and pocketbooks. (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Monday, February 24, 2014
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Today at Red River Orthodox, I offer a brief introduction to the liberal tradition for Orthodox Christians living in the West:

Liberalism, historically, is a broad intellectual tradition including a large and disparate group of thinkers. The epistemological differences between John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant do not stop them all from being liberals. In economics the range extends from Friedrich Hayek to John Maynard Keynes. In political philosophy, from John Rawls to Robert Nozick. For that matter, both the American and French Revolutions have liberal foundations, though often (and rightly) contrasted.

I conclude by encouraging a more nuanced engagement with the West than is sometimes the case in the East:

[F]or a responsible, “liberal engagement” with the West from an Orthodox Christian perspective, it will not do to dismiss anything we don’t like as Western and liberal and, therefore, wrong. As Solzhenitsyn put [it], “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” And if that is true, then both East and West, including Western liberalism, have plenty of good and evil to go around.

How might Orthodox Christians better evaluate one of the many liberalisms that make up the water in which we swim in the West today?

To give an example, I would positively recommend to my fellow Orthodox Christians the German ordoliberal school of economic thought for the following reasons: (more…)

Ukrainian priest/monks from Kiev stand between protesters and soldiers during recent protests, acting as peacemakers.

Ukrainian priest/monks from Kiev stand between protesters and soldiers during recent demonstrations, acting as peacemakers.

This weekend on Ancient Faith Radio, host Kevin Allen interviewed Metropolitan Antony, primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States about the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine. The bishop offered very good insights into the religious, cultural and political factors at play now in the Ukraine, carefully pointing out that the situation is very fluid and subject to change almost by the hour.

Allen asked the bishop what role the Orthodox and Greek-Catholic churches should play in this crisis going forward.

The Churches have an “enormous” role and indeed a “primary” role, Metropolitan Antony said. He continued:

We have all along, and so have all the churches in Ukraine have called upon those involved to remember the dignity of the human being, to remember the sanctity of life throughout this whole conflict. The Church and the clergy will be required to refrain from participation in any kind of political maneuvering or machinations, and to simply preach the word of God, and preach the love of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to overcome the difficulties first and then to begin the process of forgiveness, because this is a process that I believe will go on for some time to come. (more…)