Category: Public Policy

Cash RegistersThere’s an intriguing piece in the NYT from last month by Hiroko Tabuchi that explores some of the challenges facing traditional retailers (HT: Sarah Pulliam Bailey), “Stores Suffer From a Shift of Behavior in Buyers.”

Department stores like Macy’s and Kohl’s seem to be losing out on the rebound in consumer spending. “Department stores made up one of just two categories tracked by the Commerce Department where spending declined, the latest in a choppy performance from them this year. Spending at electronics and appliance stores also fell 1.2 percent in July,” writes Tabuchi.

One major explanation offered by Tabuchi’s sources is that this part of a larger paradigm shift in American consumer attitude. “The religion of consumption has proven to be unfulfilling,” says Richard E. Jaffe, a retailing analyst, “The ‘pile it high and watch it fly’ mentality at department stores no longer works.”

Blog author: dpahman
Thursday, September 24, 2015

Today at the Library of Law and Liberty, I take a cue from probablist Nassim Nicholas Taleb and call for the commemoration of a National Entrepreneurs Day:

One has been proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives, and probabilist Nassim Taleb has given us a fully developed argument as to why we should have one. I second the motion. In Antifragile, his 2012 book, Taleb confesses that he is “an ingrate toward the man whose overconfidence caused him to open a restaurant and fail, enjoying my nice meal while he is probably eating canned tuna.”

This lack of gratitude is a moral failing of all of us in modern society, says Taleb. Hence his idea:

In order to progress, modern society should be treating ruined entrepreneurs in the same way we honor dead soldiers, perhaps not with as much honor, but using the exact same logic. . . . For there is no such thing as a failed soldier, dead or alive (unless he acted in a cowardly manner)—likewise, there is no such thing as a failed entrepreneur or failed scientific researcher.


RS cover from 2014

RS cover from 2014

On Sept. 10, Rolling Stone magazine published a long article titled “Pope Francis’ American Crusade — The pope takes on climate change, poverty and conservative U.S. clerics.” From the title alone you could tell where this was headed. Predictably, the magazine asserted that “deeply alarmed by the power of Francis’ message, an entire network of -right-wing Catholic organizations has been increasingly willing to push back against the Vatican.” In ticking off members of this “network” it said this about the Acton Institute and yours truly:

Then there’s the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, which is run by a Catholic priest named Robert Sirico — he’s the brother of actor Tony Sirico, best known for his portrayal of Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos — and hosts forums with titles like “Government: Less Is More.” Sirico recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal attacking “Laudato Si'” for its “decided bias against the free market and suggestions that poverty is the result of a globalized economy,” though he failed to disclose the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations Acton has received from extraction-industry giants such as Exxon Mobil and the Koch family.

I wrote a response to this article and sent it to Rolling Stone editors but they, not surprisingly, declined to publish it. Here it is in full:

To the Editor:

News Flash! Admitted pro-market think tank accepts donations from pro-market supporters. (“Pope Francis’ American Crusade — The pope takes on climate change, poverty and conservative U.S. clerics,” Sept. 10).

Of course this revelation is presented in Mr. Mark Benelli’s – what was it, op-ed, news analysis, hit piece? – as something far more sinister, implying, but not saying, that somehow The Acton Institute is controlled by the dark financial interests of evil capitalists, instead of the reality that (1) we hold to a position and (2) we invite others who hold to the same or similar positions to support us.

The deeper journalistic problem with this piece is its sheer superficiality in understanding Catholicism or what the Acton Institute (which, incidentally, is an ecumenical organization that works with people ranging from like-minded Evangelicals to observant Jews) does. This is understandable given that Mr. Benelli relies to a great extent for his research on the hyperbole from the fainting couch of one M.S. Winters who writes a breathless blog for the Rolling Stone of Catholic journalism, the National Catholic Reporter. (more…)

I have some brief thoughts up at Think Christian today about Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the United States. Instead of worrying about policy proposals that many are hoping Francis will address directly, or will at least provide an excuse for them to bring up, I focus on the power of the image of the Roman pontiff ascending the steps of Capitol Hill.

United States Capitol west front edit2“When the pope speaks in Congress, religion has undeniably entered the public square,” I write.

Now I have had my disputes with how churches and religious leaders have often brought to bear their faith in the public square, particularly in political lobbying efforts (see here most recently and here for a book-length treatment). Even where I disagree with Catholic Social Teaching, however, I think the world is a better place for having such a robust and vibrant tradition.

So if the alternative is a naked public square, to use Richard John Neuhaus’ phrase, then we have to recognize that the sometimes imprudent, problematic, or otherwise troubling politicization of the Christian faith is a risk preferable to a public square devoid of the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. I expect Francis to be just that kind of prophetic witness on his trip here and I look forward to hearing what he has to say.

bt-resourcesThe very first command God gave to humanity was to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Overall, I’d say we’re doing a pretty good job on that “increase the number” since we currently have over 7.3 billion people on the planet. Where we fall short of keeping the command is in the “subdue it” part.

As the ESV Study Bible explains,

Here the idea is that the man and woman are to make the earth’s resources beneficial for themselves, which implies they would investigate and develop the earth’s resources to make them useful for human beings generally. This command provides a foundation for wise scientific and technological development . . .

Innovations in agriculture have helped make it possible to feed more people using fewer resources, especially farm land. But there may be cultural innovation that could help just as significant: Overcoming the aversion Westerners have to eating bugs.

In the West we mainly get our protein from livestock, such as cattle and chicken. Cows taste great but they are extremely resource-intensive: it takes about 18-22 months and two acres of land for each cow, and one pound of steak requires 1,800 gallons of water. That makes it difficult to rely on them as a protein source for a growing population.

In contrast, “minilivestock”, such as crickets, require much fewer resources: Every six weeks, you can harvest 55-65 pounds of cricket meat from a 4 x 8-foot pen, and one pound of cricket protein requires only one gallon of water.

Pope Francis recently declared September 1 as the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, an annual day of prayer begun by the Orthodox Church in 1989.

In conjunction with the event, Catholic Relief Services and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have released “Care for God’s Creation,” the first of a seven-part video series on Catholic social teaching.

(Via: Crux)

What is the difference between paying a tax and donating to a charity? Is it moral to force others to give to the cause of your choice? Is it moral for the government to force others to give to the cause of your choice?

Rob Gressis, a professor of philosophy, went on campus at California State University – Northridge, to ask students those questions.

You can see an extended version of the video here.

Highly recommended reading today comes from Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal. His essay, “The Green Scare Problem,” rebuts environmentalist Cassandras from Rachel Carson to the present day, exposing the rampant hyperbole ecological warriors employ to sell their global warming and anti-genetically modified organism policies to an unsuspecting public. Ridley goes even further to show how these policies harm the world’s poorest.

Ridley begins by quoting President Obama, who reduces the opposition of his climate-change agenda as nothing more than the “same stale arguments.” Ridley’s response is priceless:

The trouble is, we’ve heard his stale argument before, too: that we’re doomed if we don’t do what the environmental pressure groups tell us, and saved if we do. And it has frequently turned out to be really bad advice.

Making dire predictions is what environmental groups do for a living, and it’s a competitive market, so they exaggerate. Virtually every environmental threat of the past few decades has been greatly exaggerated at some point. Pesticides were not causing a cancer epidemic, as Rachel Carson claimed in her 1962 book “Silent Spring”; acid rain was not devastating German forests, as the Green Party in that country said in the 1980s; the ozone hole was not making rabbits and salmon blind, as Al Gore warned in the 1990s. Yet taking precautionary action against pesticides, acid rain and ozone thinning proved manageable, so maybe not much harm was done.


Mock-01 (2)_Front OnlyCreation and the Heart of Man, the first volume of Acton’s Orthodox Christian Social Thought monograph series, is now available for pre-order on Logos Bible Software. Those who pre-order can get the book at a discounted price.

In addition, the Logos edition is able to offer some unique features:

In the Logos edition, this volume is enhanced by amazing functionality. Important terms link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. Perform powerful searches to find exactly what you’re looking for. Take the discussion with you using tablet and mobile apps. With Logos Bible Software, the most efficient and comprehensive research tools are in one place, so you get the most out of your study.

Sign up for Creation and the Heart of Man on Logos here.

EA-Logo-redbgYou may have noticed over the past couple of years that effective altruism has become the hot new trend/buzzword in philanthropy. As the Centre for Effective Altruism explains,

Effective Altruism is a growing social movement that combines both the heart and the head: compassion guided by data and reason. It’s about dedicating a significant part of one’s life to improving the world and rigorously asking the question, “Of all the possible ways to make a difference, how can I make the greatest difference?”

As a broad concept, effective altruism is a refreshing change from the all-too-common strand of charity that puts more emphasis on good intentions than effectiveness. Rather than a consumer-driven, feelings-based approach to philanthropic activity (think: TOMS Shoes’ “buy one, give one” model), effective altruism (EA) tends to rely on evidence to maximize individual impact on solving problems.

For example, some EA advocates choose to use their skills to get a high-paying job rather than work directly for a non-proift or charity. The thinking is that instead of earning $25,000 a year working for Oxfam you can earn $100,000 on Wall Street, live on $25K a year, and donate $75,000 to hire other workers. Doing that allows an individual to triple their contribution to the solution.

In general, this is likely to be a much better angle than pure do-goodism (though as Anne Bradley and Jay W. Richards explain, enterprise is the most effective altruism). But this approach can become less effective and even hindered by a person’s worldview beliefs, such as what a person believes about the “end times.”