Category: Business and Society

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 24, 2014

cittfcSpeaking of Thomas Piketty, here’s a very helpful and revealing interview with Matthew Yglesias, “Thomas Piketty doesn’t hate capitalism: He just wants to fix it.” (HT: PEG)

A few highlights with some comment:

On the need for a historical perspective in economics:

Thomas Piketty: … It’s not only economists’ fault. Historians and sociologists are too often are leaving the study of economic issues to economists. Sometimes nobody does it.
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This past Saturday, I attended the Alleviating Poverty Through Entrepreneurship (APTE) 2014 summit. APTE is a student group at OSU in Columbus, OH, and they put together a wonderful cast of ten speakers on the subject of the future of social entrepreneurship. With seven pages of notes (front and back), I unfortunately cannot cover every detail of the conference, but instead I will briefly focus on a theme that recurred throughout the afternoon: private, often for-profit, solutions to public service problems facing the poor.

APTE brought together an impressive lineup of speakers for two rounds of individual presenters, followed by a Twitter Q&A, with a panel discussion on the city of Detroit in between the two groups: (more…)

David and Charles Koch

David and Charles Koch

Given the press the Koch brothers (David and Charles) get, one would expect to see a photo of them sporting devil’s horns with blood dripping from their fangs. Here are just a few examples:

They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. [The New Yorker]

Today, the Kochs are being watched as a prime example of the corporate takeover of government. [Greenpeace]

[W]hen Barack Obama became president, the Kochs, like a lot of right-wingers, flipped out. They threw their weight behind a stealth campaign to turn back the president’s “socialist” agenda… [Rolling Stone]

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Blog author: abradley
posted by on Friday, March 14, 2014

Untitled 4As much as progressives balk at the “imposition” of religious morality and the church in public and social spaces, secular humanism’s moral relativism is not working in America and continues to leave children vulnerable to profound evil. For example, the Urban Institute recently released a report on the economy of America’s sex industry — and the numbers are astounding.

The Urban Institute’s study investigated the scale of the underground commercial sex economy (UCSE) in eight major US cities — Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, Seattle, San Diego, and Washington, DC. Across cities, the UCSE’s worth was estimated between $39.9 and $290 million in 2007, but decreased since 2003 in all but two cities. In the study, interviews with pimps, traffickers, sex workers, child pornographers, and law enforcement revealed the dynamics central to the underground commercial sex trade.

Here are some of the key findings regarding those who manage the sex economy:
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, March 13, 2014

Mark Tooley of IRD highlights a talk by Michael Novak, “Jesus Was a Small Businessman.” Speaking to students at the Catholic University of America, Novak observed:

When he was the age of most of you in this room, then, Jesus was helping run a small business. There on a hillside in Nazareth, he found the freedom to be creative, to measure exactly, and to make beautiful wood-pieces. Here he was able to serve others, even to please them by the quality of his work. Here he helped his family earn its own way. Creativity, exactitude, quality, beauty, service to others, independence – this was the substance of his daily life. In preparation for all that was to come.

Novak’s claims about Jesus being a small businessman may be a bit provocative, as Tooley puts it, but hopefully in a positive sense of provoking greater considered reflection.

John Everett Millais - Christ in the House of His Parents (`The Carpenter's Shop') - Google Art Project

Indeed, Novak’s claims have a clear precedent in CST, as in Laborem Exercens section 26, titled “Christ, the Man of Work,” which reads in part: “For Jesus not only proclaimed but first and foremost fulfilled by his deeds the ‘gospel’, the word of eternal Wisdom, that had been entrusted to him. Therefore this was also ‘the gospel of work’, because he who proclaimed it was himself a man of work, a craftsman like Joseph of Nazareth.”

You can read the whole text of Novak’s address, “For Catholics, the Vocation of Business is the Main Hope for the World’s Poor,” given at CUA this past January.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, March 4, 2014

IKEA-Refugee-Shelter3When looking for solutions to humanity’s problems, conservatives and libertarians tend to prefer turning first to free markets rather than government. The reason for such a preference is often misunderstood, and can be difficult to explain since it appears paradoxical: free markets are often better at serving human needs than governments because free markets make it easier to fail.

As Arnold Kling explains, the best way to deal with failure depends on the institution. An individual needs to fail with a fallback position, a small startup firm needs to fail quickly, and a large, established firm needs to fail gracefully. But government, says Kling, cannot do any of these things well.

Of the many things that governments do poorly, failing is probably the worst. That is why governments rarely produces significant innovations. To produce innovative ideas, products, processes, or services requires testing what works and adjusting what doesn’t until you find the right formula. In a free market, the actions of consumers provide a signal to individuals and firms that they are doing well – or that they are failing.

If a company is failing, they have an incentive to adjust — and are pressured by competitors to adjust quickly — in order to give the customer what they need. They are often faced with a brutal, binary choice: innovate or fail. Government agencies, in contrast, tend to lack such feedback mechanisms and the ability to adjust quickly precisely because they have a low fear of failure. Even if they are unable to innovate and serve the needs of their “customers” they will likely stay in business due to bureaucratic inertia.
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, March 3, 2014

“Most CEOs now spray the word ‘innovation’ as if it were an air freshener,” says Dennis Berman in the Wall Street Journal, “A little spritz can’t hurt.” A prime example, notes Berman, is what Kellogg’s CEO John Bryant described as one of their company’s most important “innovations”: a peanut butter Pop-Tart.

Most of us would probably agree that a new flavor of breakfast pastry isn’t as innovative as, say, the iPhone. But how do we know? What exactly is innovation?

As David Brier explains, innovation is about “seeing and connecting the dots.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, February 13, 2014
"I don't build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build!"

“I don’t build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build!”

At Slate Miya Tokumitsu writes that the motto “Do What You Love” really functions as a kind of capitalism-supporting opiate: “In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, DWYL is, in fact, the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism.” While Tokumitsu singles out Steve Jobs, perhaps Howard Roark might agree.

If that’s true (and it is more than debatable), then this Think Progress piece which touts the Affordable Care Act as a liberation of workers to do what they love ends up being a funny kind of justification for the capitalistic status quo: “People need to work, sure, but that doesn’t justify forcing people to do a particular kind of work — one they wouldn’t choose to do otherwise — at the pain of bad health.”

The problem with these perspectives, and they both represent ends of a continuum, is that work isn’t either all about you or all about someone else (society, your boss, lords of capital, our elected royalty, and so on). Work is something that concerns both us and others; it has a subjective and an objective aspect that must be balanced.

The reality is that a flourishing society needs people working at occupations all across the spectrum, from more subjectively and inwardly focused artistic, creative, entrepreneurial, and inventive types to those who are working primarily with the service of others in mind, whether to provide for their families or to do the dirty work necessary for others to thrive. But all occupations need to have some element of both the subjective and the objective element, even if the ratio is somewhat different in each individual case.

Even so, the best way to balance these horizontal concerns, I argue today at Think Christian, is by triangulating them vertically, to add attention about God’s divine call into the mix. That gets us beyond, I think, “the conflict that inevitably follows the calculation of labor against capital, dog against dog, me against you.”

shovel_and_dirt_No2Why do liberal and conservative evangelicals tend to disagree so often about economic issues? This is the fourth in a series of posts that addresses that question by examining 12 principles that generally drive the thinking of conservative evangelicals when it comes to economics. The first in the series can be found here; Part 2 can be found here; and Part 3 can be found hereA PDF/text version of the entire series can be found here.

9. Social mobility — specifically getting people out of poverty — is infinitely more important than income inequality.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama signaled that income inequality will be his domestic focus during the remainder of his term in office. The fact that the president considers income inequality, rather than employment or economic growth, to be the most important economic issue is peculiar, though not really surprising. For the past few years the political and cultural elites have become obsessed with the issue.

That was not always the case. In 1990, a Nobel-winning economist wrote:

One reason that action to limit growing income inequality in the United States is difficult is that the growth in inequality is not a simple picture. Old-line leftists, if there are any left, would like to make it a single story–the rich becoming richer by exploiting the poor. But that’s just not a reasonable picture of America in the 1980s. For one thing, most of our very poor don’t work, which makes it hard to exploit them. For another, the poor had so little to start with that the dollar value of the gains of the rich dwarfs that of the losses of the poor.

The economist who wrote that was none other than Paul Krugman, who more recently said, “the president was right. Inequality is, indeed, the defining challenge of our time.”

The reason for Krugman’s change of opinion has less to do with economics than with political partisanship. In the apparent absence of other real economic problems, some progressives have decided to allow covetousness to drive their political agenda.
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, February 3, 2014

will work for foodThere is no reason to assume that the preferential option for the poor is somehow a preferential option for big government, says Acton research director Samuel Gregg. Gregg writes that lifting people out of poverty — and not just material poverty but also moral and spiritual poverty — does not necessarily mean that the most effective action is to implement yet another welfare program:

What does living out the option for the poor mean in practice? We must engage in works of charity — those activities that often address specific dimensions of poverty in ways that no state program ever could. And this means giving of our time, energy, and human and monetary capital in ways that bring Christ’s light into some of the darkest places on earth.

Yet this does not mean that Catholics are required to give something to everything, or even that Catholics must give away everything they own. As Fr. James Schall, SJ, writes, “If we take all the existing world wealth and simply distribute it, what would happen? It would quickly disappear; all would be poor.” Put another way, living out the option for the poor may well involve those people with a talent for creating wealth doing precisely that.

Read more . . .