Category: Business and Society

dontstealLast week, Walmart announced that it distributed $3 million last year to charities in New York City. The giving included $1 million to the New York Women’s Foundation, which offers job training, and $30,000 to Bailey House, which distributes groceries to low-income residents.

Naturally, there was one group that was appalled by the charitable giving: local politicians.

More than half the members of the New York City Council sent a letter to Walmart demanding that it stop giving millions in charitable contributions to local groups in the city.

Twenty-six of the 51 members of the Council charged in the letter that the world’s biggest retailer’s support of local causes is a cynical ploy to enter the market here.

“We know how desperate you are to find a foothold in New York City to buy influence and support here,” says the letter, obtained by The Post and addressed to Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation.

“Stop spending your dangerous dollars in our city,” the testy letter demands. “That’s right: this is a cease-and-desist letter.”

For the sake of argument, let’s concede Walmart is trying to “buy influence and support” in New York City. Such activity is called “lobbying.” Are these NYC council members against lobbying? Will they soon be sending a cease-and-desist letter to their political contributors who are trying to “buy influence and support”?

There’s an old bumper sticker that reads, “Don’t Steal! The Government Hates Competition.” Maybe we need a new one that says, “Don’t Give to Charity! The Government Hates Competition.”

(Via: Hot Air)

Soup-NaziIn an article in the Journal of Markets & Morality, Ryan Langrill and Virgil Henry Storr examine “The Moral Meanings of Markets.” They argue that “traditional defenses of the morality of the market tend to inadequately articulate the moral meanings of markets.” Such defenses tend to argue from practical, even pragmatic or utilitarian, grounds.

But for Langrill and Storr, “markets depend on and promote virtue.” Evidence of this virtue in the marketplace, they argue, is that “consumers are often willing to pay a premium and workers are often willing to work at a discount in order to interact with honest, trustworthy, faithful, and even loving (i.e., charitable) brokers and merchants.”

A recent study seems to contradict this finding, however, noting that at least in some circumstances rude behavior by retail clerks increases sales. Today at Think Christian in “The Paradoxical Appeal of Rude Sales Clerks,” I explore these findings and put them within the broader context of what it might mean to “ration by rudeness.”

Read more: Ryan Langrill and Virgil Henry Storr, “The Moral Meanings of Markets,” Journal of Markets & Morality 15, no. 2 (Fall 2012): 347-362

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, April 24, 2014
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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
Friday, March 14, 2014
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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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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.

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
Monday, March 3, 2014
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“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
Thursday, February 13, 2014
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"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.”