Category: Business and Society

Both my parents grew up in Detroit, and my childhood was filled with great trips to visit family for holidays and in the summer. The downtown Hudson’s store was always a destination. One of my aunts worked there, and it was the place to shop. Our trips always included a stop for a Sander’s hot fudge ice cream puff as well. My sisters and I played endless games on the stoop of my grandmother’s home, and a few miles away, rode bikes up and done sidewalks neighborhood sidewalks with our cousins.

That Detroit doesn’t exist anymore. What was once a thriving and beautiful Midwestern city is now a place struggling to remake itself. Harry Veryser, economist and professor at University of Detroit Mercy, has a few ideas as to how Detroit just might make a comeback, and why it ended up the way it is now.

 

RefuseServiceSignIn today’s Acton Commentary, “The Logic of Economic Discrimination,” I take up a small slice of the larger controversy and discussion surrounding religious liberty laws like the one passed recently in Indiana. My point, drawing out some of the implications of observations made by others, including Ryan Anderson and Shikha Dalmia, is that anti-discrimination boycotts depend on discrimination. Or as Dalmia puts it, “what is deeply ironic is that corporate America was able to wield its right not to do business (and boycott Indiana) by circumscribing the same right of Indiana businesses.”

Now there are lots of other angles and significant points to explore surrounding this enormously complex and important debate. Many have criticized the hypocrisy of corporations like Apple for doing business in places like China and Saudi Arabia even while they grandstand against Indiana. Others are now pointing to the actions of many in Silicon Valley, which despite the proclamations of support for social justice, have actually created huge inequalities. Tech centers like Silicon Valley are great, it seems, unless you are a woman, have a family, or are a blue-collar worker.

Indiana politicians, under massive scrutiny, have since moved to “clarify” the RFRA law that was passed, a move that has mollified some but not others. From the beginning, these conversations about religious liberty and economic rights have, in my view, insufficiently included sensitivity to considerations like freedom of association. Hopefully the larger context and interactions of contracts and rights, not merely “religious liberty” narrowly defined, can help broaden and mature the conversation.
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Rembrandt The Hundred Guilder Print.jpg

Rembrandt The Hundred Guilder Print” by Rembrandt – www.rijksmuseum.nl : Home : Info. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“No, those who labor and are heavy-laden do not all look the way Rembrandt drew them in his ‘Hundred Guilder’ picture—poverty-stricken, miserable, sick, leprous, ragged, with worn, furrowed faces. They are also found concealed behind happy-looking, youthful faces and brilliantly successful lives. There are people who feel utterly forsaken in the midst of high society, to whom everything in their lives seems stale and empty to the point of nausea, because they can sense that underneath it all, their souls are decaying and rotting away. There is no loneliness like that of the fortunate.”

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer

men-waiting-outside-soup-kitchenThe people of Seattle recently voted to put their poorest residents out of work by increasing the minimum wage to $15 over the next seven years. But wealthier residents may soon find out just how quickly it will affect them too. A number of area restaurants are already shutting down, and many others will soon closing their doors. As Anthony Anton, president and CEO of Washington Restaurant Association, says, “It’s not a political problem; it’s a math problem.”

[Anton] estimates that a common budget breakdown among sustaining Seattle restaurants so far has been the following: 36 percent of funds are devoted to labor, 30 percent to food costs and 30 percent go to everything else (all other operational costs). The remaining 4 percent has been the profit margin, and as a result, in a $700,000 restaurant, he estimates that the average restaurateur in Seattle has been making $28,000 a year.

With the minimum wage spike, however, he says that if restaurant owners made no changes, the labor cost in quick service restaurants would rise to 42 percent and in full service restaurants to 47 percent.

“Everyone is looking at the model right now, asking how do we do math?” he says. “Every operator I’m talking to is in panic mode, trying to figure out what the new world will look like.” Regarding amount of labor, at 14 employees, a Washington restaurant already averages three fewer workers than the national restaurant average (17 employees). Anton anticipates customers will definitely be tested with new menu prices and more. “Seattle is the first city in this thing and everyone’s watching, asking how is this going to change?”

You may have the smartest lawyers on retainer, the most-connected lobbyists on your payroll, and the most powerful politicians in your pocket, but it won’t help you change the law of unintended consequences. When you muck around and make changes to a complex system—such as labor pricing—you’re bound to create problems like the one’s Seattle’s restaurateurs will be facing. The law of unintended consequences always gets the final say.

If it were a matter of mere ignorance this new law might be excusable. If the supporters of the $15 minimum wage were able to honestly say, “We couldn’t have known raising the wage would put people out of work” we could let them off the hook. But they knew—or should have known—because it has been pointed out to them time and time again.
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lovely guinnessFor those so inclined, St. Patrick’s Day is a great day to enjoy a pint of Guinness. The legendary beer of Ireland has not only a rich taste, but a rich history.

Arthur Guinness was a brewer and entrepreneur in a time when clean drinking water was hard to find in Dublin. Alcoholic beverages were the norm. While alcohol is preferred to polluted water, it also has the unhealthy effects of drunkenness. Beer was deemed a healthier alternative to homemade concoctions and hard alcohol, and Arthur Guinness set about perfecting the ideal brew.

Guinness was also a man of God. One Sunday morning, while attending St. Patrick’s Cathedral with his family, Guinness heard John Wesley speak.

We do not know exactly what Wesley preached, but we can know a few things. Wesley would have called the congregation at St. Patrick’s to God, of course, but he also would have had a special message for men like Guinness. It was something he taught wherever he went. “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can,” he would have insisted. “Your wealth is evidence of a calling from God, so use your abundance for the good of mankind.” (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Friday, February 27, 2015
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Yesterday the FCC reclassified Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act, with additional provisions from Title III and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This was done for the purpose of ensuring net neutrality or open internet access, requiring ISPs to treat all data on the internet equally. Notably, yesterday’s Order also includes mobile broadband for the first time as well.

In a press release, the FCC claims,

Together Title II and Section 706 support clear rules of the road, providing the certainty needed for innovators and investors, and the competitive choices and freedom demanded by consumers, while not burdening broadband providers with anachronistic utility-style regulations such as rate regulation, tariffs or network sharing requirements.

I have expressed concerns in the past about the smattering of regulations available under Title II, far beyond what would be required for net neutrality. On the surface, the press release would seem to indicate that the recent Order was designed to attempt to prevent those further regulations from being available to the FCC: (more…)

The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America has published a new report on Orthodox Monastic Communities in the United States (here). The report contains a lot of great information (“great” for nerds like me, anyway), including a whole section entitled, “‘Monastic Economy:’ Ownership of Property and Sources of Income in US Orthodox Monasteries.”

According to the report,

In summary, the three most common sources of income in US Orthodox monasteries are:

  • Occasional private donations including bequests and offerings for performed sacraments (87% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income);

  • Sale of religious items (except candles) that are not produced by monastery (52% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income);

  • Production and sales of candles (24% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income).

Thus, after private donations, the top two sources of income are through commerce: 52% sales of items not produced by the monastery and 24% candles produced by the monastery. Income from other items produced by monasteries, such as books, devotional items, and food items, was also significant. Our Merciful Saviour Russian Orthodox Monastery in Washington state, for example, lists sales of their “monastery blend” coffee as their primary source of income.

This does not come as a surprise to me.

The most recent volume (vol. 8, 2014) published by the Sophia Institute, of which I am a fellow, includes a paper by me entitled, “Markets and Monasticism: A Survey & Appraisal of Eastern Christian Monastic Enterprise.” While my paper is not a comprehensive history, it does include a section on modern Orthodox monasteries in the United States.

I write, (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Monday, February 9, 2015
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There’s a good deal of new research that connects things like happiness and satisfaction to experiences rather than to material goods. If you want to be happy, the advice goes, buy experiences, not things. There’s some truth to this, of course, but the reality is a bit more complex. After all, don’t you also have “experiences” when you use “things”?

Disposal GenieIn fact, I want to take a moment to write a brief note of thanks for a little material item that has notably increased my life satisfaction. It’s a small thing, a piece of metal with a rubber flipper on the end. It’s technical name is the Danco 10051 Disposal Genie. A couple years ago I read a piece by Megan McArdle that focused on gift ideas, and she recommended the Disposal Genie. As she wrote, “If the Oxo vegetable peeler is the least romantic gift ever, the disposal genie is surely in second place. It’s basically a slightly better disposal blocker; it lets the stuff you want to go in the disposal (water, small bits of food) get in, while the cutlery stays safely in the sink. If you aren’t quite ready to stuff this in a stocking, think about stuffing it in your own disposal.”

I took her advice to heart and bought it for myself. And boy am I glad I did. Every time I’m washing dishes or cleaning the sink I enjoy at least a brief moment of appreciation for this little invention. Sure, “it’s basically a slightly better disposal blocker,” but that slight improvement is enough to give me an uptick in life satisfaction every time I use it.

So thank you, Megan McArdle, for recommending the Danco 10051 Disposal Genie, and thank you to Danco and all the people who worked to create this little miracle. I have been blessed by your work.

When is a ban not a ban? One answer might be when it is based on moral suasion rather than legal coercion. (I would also accept: When it’s a Target.)

In this piece over at the Federalist, Georgi Boorman takes up the prudence of a petition to get Target to remove smutty material and paraphernalia related to Fifty Shades from its shelves.

Boorman rightly points to the limitations of this kind of cultural posturing. Perhaps this petition illustrates more of a domination mentality than authentic cultural engagement, and Boorman’s right to offer many more hopeful options for engaging the kinds of cultural corruption that this case provides evidence of. I also tend to favor the more direct, personal, and relational methods of engagement to petitions, charters, public statements, and open letters, and there’s a lot of wisdom offered in Boorman’s piece.

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23692407_BG1To end the 2014 on an incredibly dehumanizing note, CBS aired an episode of Undercover Boss that stirred up protests from all walks of life. Undercover Boss is usually a wonderful program that allows CEOs to see what is happening on the ground in their companies and reward hard workers accordingly. However, this particular episode profiled Doug Guller, the CEO of Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill, who fired a bartender after she decided not to dehumanize herself by wearing a T-shirt instead of a bikini top on television and “rewarded” another employee for her loyalty by promising to pay for her breast enlargement surgery. (See videos below.)

The episode was so bad that Cosmopolitan released as scathing review saying, “what’s also crazy is that CBS aired all this as if it were good fun and zany reality TV, not horribly misogynistic workplace discrimination.” Writers like Rebecca Rose observed that Guller “has always been totally tone deaf about the sexism he enthusiastically promotes and frankly seems to enjoy having offending people with his business practices.”
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