Category: Poverty

Blog author: abradley
Thursday, December 29, 2016
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On December 27, 2016, at the age of 86, Thomas Sowell published his last column. After publishing dozens of books and hundreds of columns, Dr. Sowell’s retirement may mark the beginning of the end of an era of black intellectuals who were champions of political and economic liberty. Other black scholars like Walter Williams, W.B. Allen, and Shelby Steele are all in the 70s or 80s and there does not seem to be a cadre of like-minded black scholars in their wake.
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Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
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As protests for a $15-per-hour minimum wage continue to rage across the country, cities like Seattle and states like California and New York have already begun to adopt such schemes.

But alas, prices are not play things, and such measures are bound to reap a range of deleterious effects, from raised consumer prices to increased unemployment to reduced working hours to outright business closures. Contrary to the popular narrative, those consequences tend to hit small businesses and less-skilled workers first and hardest.

With the recent laws, the destruction has already begun. To illustrate the damage thus far, the Employment Policies Institute (EPI) is cataloging hundreds of stories on its Faces of $15 website, including a range of videos highlighting the frustrations and responses of business owners, employees, and faithful customers alike.

In the following 5 case studies, we see but a glimpse of the minimum wage’s cramping effect on human enterprise, creative service, and economic diversity.

1. Abbot’s Cellar

For Abbot’s Cellar, a newly founded restaurant in San Francisco, the recent wage hike made their start-up model unfeasible, even despite tremendous initial success. “How are businesses that have practically no margins as is – mom and pops, small businesses – how are they supposed to just absorb that?” asks Nat Cutler, one of the owners.

“San Francisco is a city that seems like it’s supposed to be built on a Bohemian, small-business, mom-and-pop-type vibe,” he continues. “That’s the culture of the city. I worry that the type of change that’s happening is going to take away from the great culture that was here…I wish a little more thought would be put into the long-term impact.” (more…)

Although the Cuban people continue to suffer and struggle under the weight of communist rule, many have been encouraged by even the slightest of Raul Castro’s incremental changes toward private businesses.

Out of a total population of roughly 11 million, the number of self-employed Cubans rose from 150,000 to 500,000 between 2010 and 2015. The state still controls the press, the internet, and most of the “formal” economy, but a small portion of the Cuban population is finally gaining the freedom to innovate and create on their own.

To explore that shift firsthand, entrepreneur and investor Marcus Lemonis recently visited the country to film a special edition of CNBC’s The Profit — walking the streets of Havana and talking one-on-one with the country’s “pioneers of capitalism.”

“Walking around the old city, I saw a place full of life, energized by the changes,” Lemonis says. “Instead of working for the State, thousands of Cubans are now working for themselves…A taste of capitalism has helped, but it’s just a taste.” (more…)

Photo courtesy of Harvard Business Review

Photo courtesy of Harvard Business Review

Tim Sullivan, editorial director of Harvard Business Review Press, took a look at how difficult it actually is for philanthropists to give their money away and focused on the case of Paul English, founder of kayak.com. In a Harvard Business Review article titled “The Philanthropist’s Burden” in the December issue, Sullivan talks about how, despite many causes to support, the real trick is to find the most effective organizations. He uses the Acton Institute Poverty, Inc. documentary to show how nonprofits, governments, and socially conscience businesses in the global foreign aid industry have often done more harm than good.  He says this:

English did have other options. He could have decided to donate a significant sum to some well-established charity organization, one that appears to be doing God’s work in eradicating global poverty. But even in that direction lie hidden dangers, exposed by a 2014 documentary, Poverty, Inc., that explores the equilibrium that the international aid community and social entrepreneurship have created in the developing world. Director Michael Matheson Miller reviews the situation in Haiti in particular and in some sub-Saharan African countries, and finds that the perfectly legitimate desire to help, which often manifests itself in the form of cash and in-kind donations, keeps the developing world in its developing state. Gifts from individual philanthropists, nonprofits, governments, and socially conscious businesses have created a state of dependence. When a country is awash in free money, free clothes, and free food from the developed world, it’s nearly impossible for local farmers and entrepreneurs, even formerly successful ones, to compete. Industry dries up, but the residents can’t always rely on specific kinds of aid, since it’s inconsistently delivered.

That’s not to condemn any person or organization with good intentions—the filmmakers are very careful on this point. No one is ungracious about the aid offered. But the single most important message to come out of Poverty, Inc. is from aid recipients themselves: Stop. Stop giving us free stuff and help us figure out how to build sustainable businesses that will have positive and long-lasting impact on our communities. The free shoes sure were nice for a while, but we’d really like to build our own shoe factories instead.

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Blog author: KHanby
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
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“An underlying theme in basic economics says, ‘offering a product for free can destroy the local economy’” writes Luis Miranda.  Miranda recently watched Poverty, Inc and since seeing the award winning Acton Institute documentary he has shared some of its lessons in an article at The Indian Economist.  He begins by explaining how often times aid can harm its recipient more than help them.

A farmer in Rwanda goes out of business because he cannot compete against an American church sending free eggs to feed starving Rwandans. A rice grower in Haiti stops growing rice because he is unable to compete against very cheap rice coming from rich farmers in the US who receive huge subsidies. A local cobbler goes out of business in Africa when TOMS shoes land up in the village and are distributed for free.

In all these cases, the donors had honest intentions. The American church wanted to feed starving people in Rwanda. The US government wanted to feed the disaster-stricken Haitians. Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS, genuinely wanted to help Africans who did not have proper footwear.

Miranda continues to share key takeaways from Poverty, Inc.  Next he shares how although aid can appear to be effective in the short term, it can create negative effects in the long term. (more…)

Today at Mere Orthodoxy, I argue that

the duty of the Christian statesman (or stateswoman) to the poor requires defending human rights, supplying urgent needs, reducing barriers to market entry, and guaranteeing access to the institutions of justice, seeking realistic, gradual reform as possible and prudent.

Of particular interest to readers of the PowerBlog, I dedicate substantial space to explaining and advocating for free markets:

Jobs are what the poor need, and jobs are created by businesses. People settle for bad jobs only when good ones aren’t available. Thus, eliminating barriers to market entry ought to be of primary concern to the Christian statesman, combatting the unjust inequality created by closed markets. Barriers to entry include onerous occupational licensing and patent laws, high corporate taxes, zoning laws, overregulation, and subsidies. These things close markets to new competitors because, even though it might seem against their interest (except for subsidies), large, established firms are more likely to benefit from them and lobby for them (which is called rent seeking)….

In free markets, properly understood, these barriers are kept to a minimum, increasing competition and wealth creation. The more businesses there are looking for workers, the more demand there is for labor. Thus, not only will there be more jobs, but wages will be higher as well. It should be no surprise that the decline in American entrepreneurship has coincided with wage stagnation. Beyond wages, an additional benefit of increased competition is that it also drives down the price of consumer goods, thus lowering the cost of living for everyone as well. Free markets help the poor—and everyone else—in terms of production (labor), distribution (wages), and consumption (lower cost of living).

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sweatshop-workersA recent study of Ethiopian workers released last week by the US National Bureau of Economics Research found “sweatshops” were unpleasant, risky, and paid even less than self-employment in the informal sector. But, the researchers also found, countries were still better off than not having those jobs at all. As Michael J. Coren of Quartz writes,

By encouraging mass hiring in the economy, even low-wage factories could lift everyone’s wages. Fewer desperate workers competing for jobs meant employers must pay more for labor, argue economists Chris Blattman of the University of Chicago and Stefan Dercon of Oxford University in the latest study. But countries could ensure those factories treated their workers more fairly, and remove barriers for entrepreneurs building their businesses.

“More manufacturing firms is a good thing,” said Blattman in an interview. “This is going to happen. This is the development process in most countries. We shouldn’t sugar coat it.”

I think that’s the right approach: Don’t “sugar coat” the hardships such work entails—but don’t ban sweatshops either.

A “sweatshop” is the pejorative term for a workplace that has working conditions those of us in the West deem socially unacceptable. Because of Western laws and norms, sweatshops are now found mostly in developing countries.

To understand the defense of sweatshops requires recognizing that it is not a defense of deplorable living or working conditions. In fact, a moral defense of sweatshops is based on limiting or ending deplorable living or working conditions. The disagreement centers around how we go about that task of pursuing justice.
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