Category: Economics

lonely-workerWhen it comes to free trade, critics insist that it hurts the American worker — kicking them while they’re down and slowly eroding the communal fabric of mom-and-pops, longstanding trades, and factory towns. Whether it comes from a politician, labor union, or corporate crony, the messaging is always the same: Ignore the long-term positive effects, and focus on the Capitalist’s conquest of the Other.

Trouble is, the basic logic of such thought leads straight back to the Self.

I recently made this point as it pertains to immigration, arguing that such notions of narrow self-preservation give way to our basest instincts and are bad for society as a whole. But it’s worth considering a bit more broadly, as well. For if the point is to defend the Small and the Local for the sake of The Great and Enduring Bubble of American Industry, at what point is this community of workers too big, too specialized, and too diversified for its own countrymen?

At what point are the Texans getting “unfair” growth compared to the Californians, or the Californians compared to the Oklahomians? If this is all as dim and zero-sum as we’re led to believe, what must we do to prevent our fellow productive citizens from harming their fellow countrymen via innovation and hard work? What bleak, self-centered reality dwells at the end of such logic? (more…)

immigrationAs the number of Republicans vying for the presidency reaches new levels of absurdity, candidates are scrambling to affirm their conservative bona fides. If you can stomach the pandering, it’s a good time to explore the ideas bouncing around the movement, and when necessary, prune off the poisonous limbs.

Alas, for all of its typical promotions of free enterprise, free trade, and individual liberty, the modern conservative movement retains a peculiar and ever-growing faction of folks who harbor anti-immigration sentiments that contradict and discredit their otherwise noble views. For these, opposing immigration is not about border control, national security, or the rule of law (topics for another day), but about “protecting American jobs” and “protecting the American worker.”

Consider the recent shift of Scott Walker. Once a supporter of legal immigration, Walker now says that immigration hurts the American worker, and that “the next president and the next Congress need to make decisions about a legal immigration system that’s based on, first and foremost, protecting American workers and American wages.” Or Rick Santorum, who has made no bones about his bid for the protectionist bloc. “American workers deserve a shot at [good] jobs,” he said. “Over the last 20 years, we have brought into this country, legally and illegally, 35 million mostly unskilled workers. And the result, over that same period of time, workers’ wages and family incomes have flatlined.” (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, June 4, 2015
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Last year Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard, published the intriguing book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. While some of his assumptions and conclusions about the overall decline of violence are questionable, he does seem to be correct about the decline of warfare over the past several decades. Consider this chart, produced by Vox, which shows the decline in deaths attributed to war since the 1940s.

battle-deaths

Human nature doesn’t change. With every generation of humanity come the same human problems, such as violence and war. So what accounts for the decline?

Along with violence, another aspect of human nature is that, as economists would say, we respond to incentives. So while we can’t change the violent nature of humanity, we can sometimes change the incentives to promote peace among nations. In an interview with Vox’s Zack Beauchamp, Pinker explains that some of the decline in war over the past 60 years has been the economic incentives associated with free enterprise:
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ehrlichIn a new mini-documentary, the New York Times kindly confirms what we already know about Paul Ehrlich. His predictions about overpopulation have been astoundingly wrong, and his views about humanity are no less perverse.

Author of the famous panic manifesto, Population Bomb, Ehrlich made a name for himself by predicting mass starvation and catastrophe due to over-population. If left to our own devices, Ehrlich argued, we unruly beasts will feast and gorge and reproduce ourselves into an oblivion. His solution? Targeted starvation, abortion, and sterilization of the “selfish” and unenlightened. If the Earth is to endure, we must pay the price for humanity’s ultimate transgression: existence.

The documentary summarizes these views quite well, and includes a series of striking interviews with former disciples who have since rejected his theories. As for Ehrlich, he remains steadfast in his doubts about human value and possibility. “My language would be even more apocalyptic today,” he says. (more…)

globe-fabricIn Leonard Reed’s famous essay, “I, Pencil,” he highlights the extensive cooperation and collaboration involved in the assembly of a simple pencil — complex coordination that is quite miraculously uncoordinated.

Reed’s main takeaway is that, rather than try to stifle or control these creative energies, we ought to “organize society to act in harmony with this lesson,” permitting “these creative know-hows to freely flow.” In doing so, he concludes, we will continue to see such testimonies manifest — evidence for a faith “as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.”

In his book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster explores the theological aspect of this phenomenon, noting God’s grand design in these webs of service and exchange. For DeKoster, this “practical faith” points rather clearly to a Creator, and when we recognize it, we begin to see how His purposes might manifest through our work in ways out of our immediate control or humanistic intent.

Echoing Reed’s essay, DeKoster refers to this web of exchange as the “fabric of civilization,” stitched together with the “countless tiny threads” of human work, each dependent on the other, but each mysteriously guided by an independent source. (more…)

pentecost12Pentecost Sunday: The Holy Spirit comes with tongues of fire and an “incendiary community” is empowered for mission.

Pentecost is not the birth of the church. The church is conceived in the words and works of Jesus as he gathers followers and promises, “If any one is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believers in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-39)

The church is born when our Resurrected Lord appears to the fearful disciples and breathes new life into them and sends them out in mission (John 20:21-23).

There was one more moment to come in this drama of unveiling a missional people reflecting the manifold wisdom of God: empowerment for witness and the formation of heterogeneous communities of faith, hope, and love (Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:8). (more…)

no-job-openings-signMany of the current debates about minimum wage revolve around whether such laws increase unemployment. Such disputes often make it appear that there is a lack of consensus on the issue when, in fact, there is broad-based agreement. For example there are two groups who clearly understand the connection between government-mandated wage floors and unemployment of low-skilled workers: right-leaning economists and left-leaning politicians.

Conservative and libertarian economists are frequently vocal in their opposition to the minimum wage because they know it decreases employment. Left-leaning politicians, however, are less likely to admit the connection but show by their actions that the increases will harm employment. That is why every minimum wage hike proposed by localities has been designed to be phased-in gradually over several years rather than being raised immediately: Seattle’s $15 per hour minimum wage won’t take effect until 2017, 2018, 2019 or 2021 depending on the size and type of employer, Los Angeles’s $15 per hour minimum wage won’t take full effect until 2020, and San Francisco’s $15 per hour minimum wage won’t be in effect until 2017.

If the minimum wage benefits the poor, then why not, as Bryan Caplan asks, just immediately impose the minimum wage you actually want? The reason, Caplan explains, is that local governments want to hide the disemployment effect:
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