Category: Business and Society

Two Acton scholars, Andrew Yuengert and Fr. Paul Hartmann, were interviewed on “The World Over” (EWTN Studios) last Friday, April 28, about the Catholic response to immigration rights. Yuengert, author of the Acton monograph “Inhabiting the Land,” emphasizes the dignity of the human person as a foundation for looking at the issues surrounding immigration. Yuengert says that the “right to migrate” is not an absolute right, but to prevent people from assisting immigrants in need is immoral. Immigrants come because they want to work. They generally find positions as low-wage laborers, and tend to send large amounts of money home to poorer nations. The economic burdens that immigrant workers place on the United States are relatively small, although those burdens tend to fall heavily on specific regions, most noticeably on southern California. Yuengert says that the burdens themselves do not justify new restrictions on immigration although, viewed from an economic perspective, the nation could probably adjust to a massive loss of immigrant labor.

Fr. Hartmann reiterates the necessity of being allowed to provide charity to those in need. It becomes a major problem, however, if laws exist which make it a crime to extend a helping hand to immigrants and their families. The Church should oppose such laws, he says. What’s more, Christians have a moral obligation to “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked,” without prejudice.

Anthony Bradley, a research fellow at the Acton Institute, was interviewed on “Heartland with John Kasich” on Fox News last Saturday. He was talking about the need for a “hero to emerge” from the Duke lacrosse team in the wake of a sexual assault scandal. Bradley emphasizes the need for moral leadership in the United States as a whole and why we should discourage markets from promoting the dehumanization of women.

Bradley earned quite a bit of attention after writing a commentary last Wednesday bringing attention to what he calls the “cowardly and dehumanizing … commoditized sex-for-sale industry.” Bradley asserts that the United States, as a nation, should be “outraged that two adult women subjected themselves to voyeuristic, live pornography” in the first place.

Court TV Morning, a radio show aired on Sirius satellite network (Channel 110), has also invited Anthony Bradley to discuss his Duke lacrosse commentary on Wednesday, May 3, at 7:15 a.m. Eastern time.

For more information read Anthony’s commentary, “Wanted: A Duke Lacrosse Team Hero.”

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Where in the world would you pay $145,750 for a roll of toilet paper? According to an article in the New York Times, inflation in Zimbabwe is soaring higher than ever — about 900 percent since President Mugabe began seizing land from wealthy landowners in 2000. And inflation is climbing at unparalleled rates.

What problems result from such rampant inflation? If inflation is climbing daily and you have $100 one day, it might be worth only $90 the next. People are spending any money that they have because whatever they buy will hold value better than cash. No money is being saved because the annual interest rates are between 4-10 percent; much less than the rates of inflation. And the government seems to think that printing more money will solve these problems.

These problems “began” when Mugabe started seizing land from wealthy white farmers in an attempt to redistribute the wealth among the native Zimbabwean population. The result, intentional or not, was that foreign investment was scared off for good. Zimbabwe’s now “solo” economy began to flounder with a lack of goods entering the market.

Let’s recap. Zimbabwe faces economic crisis (rated as a repressed economy by the Heritage Foundation, just above Burma, Iran, and North Korea) due to massive seizing of wealth and attempts at redistribution, restriction of free international trade, lack of foreign investment, and over-printing of new monies. What do you think would solve most of Zimbabwe’s economic problems? Perhaps some human dignity, some free trade, and a little less government involvement!

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, May 1, 2006

You may have heard about the debate in Washington that erupted late last week, as Senate Democrats and Republicans sought ways to respond to rising gas prices. According to Marketplace’s Hillary Wikai, the majority Republicans settled on “a $100 gas-tax rebate to be paid for by drilling in Alaska’s Wildlife Refuge.”

Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow proposed “a $500 rebate but pay for it by cutting the tax breaks for oil companies.” She said, “We should instead put that money back in the pockets of the people paying the high gas prices.” But one other Democratic plan was to stop taking that money from the people in the first place, at least temporarily.

The NYT reports that “Democrats were pushing for a 60-day suspension of the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents a gallon, and the Senate Republican leadership settled on the rebate.” The short-term nature of the proposed solutions lead many to suspect that any of the proposed moves are simply pandering to the voters in an important election year.

Indeed, Congress has good reason to distract us from the reality of the situation. As Benjamin Zycher comments (text here), “Oil industry earnings per gallon were about 19 cents in 2005, and have increased to about 23 cents more recently. Federal and state taxes per gallon of gasoline average 46 cents. And so by all means, yes: Let’s have a debate about who is profiteering from the gasoline market.”

Of the two options, clearly suspension of the tax is preferable to filtering money through the government bureaucracy and letting it trickle back to taxpayers. But why make it temporary? If Congress really wants to address the rising price of oil over the long-term, the only thing it can really do is act on what it directly controls. Congress doesn’t control supply and demand, but it does control how much it adds in taxes to the price per gallon. Why not cut or suspend the federal gas tax indefinitely? States could do the same, by the way.

Here are some of the reasons that even the 60-day relief plan was tanked, given by Congressional staffers:

Those leaders and Finance Committee aides said many Republicans opposed the Democratic plan because they feared that oil companies, which pay the gas tax, would not pass savings on to the public, or that the laws of supply and demand would push the price up again.

There was also the probable opposition of House Republicans, who have been reluctant to jeopardize the flow of the gas tax revenue to the highway trust fund that underwrites road and bridge projects.

“Our folks thought it might amount to nothing for consumers,” said one aide who was granted anonymity to discuss internal leadership deliberations.

The first excuse is really just quite lame. If increasing demand raises the prices further, they would still be lower than they would be if the 18.4 cent tax were still in place. The second paragraph really tells the tale. If Americans are addicted to oil, maybe politicians are addicted to taxes.

Instead of being worried that the move might “amount to nothing for consumers,” the politicians are clearly more worried that any move to cut taxes would “amount to nothing” in terms of spendable tax revenue.

Placing limits on the levels of government taxation of gasoline would be a much more substantial and effective move than attempts to set price controls, as advocated in an online petition introduced by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm.

According to MichiganGasPrices.com, Michigan gets nearly 20 cents (19.875) in tax revenue per gallon of gasoline sold, and this figure does not include the additional 6% sales tax that is tacked on.

Government leaders should never forget that they are entirely dependent on the productivity and labor of the nation’s citizens for their budgets. Their task is to responsibly and faithfully administer those funds, acting as stewards on behalf of the tax-payers. Attempts to point the blame for rising gas prices solely on oil companies, without acknowledging the basic role of rising demand and high levels of government taxation, is irresponsible and disingenuous.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Duke University is embroiled in a sensational scandal involving its lacrosse team and allegations of sexual assault of a stripper at a wild party. But, as Anthony Bradley points out, the case is really symptomatic of a much larger problem in American society. “Why is there no national outrage about the fact that two adult women subjected themselves to voyeuristic, live pornography?” he asks. “What kind of men do we raise in America that they would even want to hire a stripper?”

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, April 13, 2006

When I was in college, living in the dorms, friends of mine would play a game called bigger and better. In this game, they would take an object–something that they owned–and trade it up for something that was worth a bit more to them, but worth a bit less to the person that they were trading with.

This is a perfect example of a market economy. You have something that you can trade, somebody else has something that they can trade, and both parties are better off for the transaction. My friends could go out with a pen and come home with a couch for the dorm. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t always this successful. It usually involved a little bit of time, but it made for a fun Saturday afternoon.

Then I found this website, a blog, where a man documents his game of bigger-and-better. He started out with a little red paper-clip. Right now he’s looking to trade one year in Phoenix (which includes one year free rent in the heart of downtown Phoenix. [If needed, the apartment can also come fully furnished] and roundtrip airfare for two from any major airport in North America) for something bigger-and-better. His goal is to own a house at the end of his game.

A small example of how having something of little value to yourself doesn’t mean that you can’t leverage what you have on the market to find something of greater value to yourself.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 13, 2006

An op-ed earlier this week in the New York Times examines the emphasis and attention that has been placed on the influx of low-wage immigrants to the United States. According to Steven Clemons and Michael Lind, “Congress seems to believe that while the United States must be protected from an invasion of educated, bright and ambitious foreign college students, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs, we can never have too many low-wage fruit-pickers and dishwashers.”

They base this conclusion on many of the measures and stipulations that have been put forth in the varieties of proposals, bills, and amendments flowing out of the latest discussions over immigration reform. “While the United States perversely tries to corner the market in uneducated hotel maids and tomato harvesters, other industrial democracies are reshaping their immigration policies to invite the skilled immigrants that we turn away,” they write.

The answer, say Clemons and Lind, is to model US immigration policy on the successful examples of other countries, that see highly-educated and motivated immigrants as a boon rather than a curse. Even so, the authors oppose the interests of skilled and educated immigrants against those of the unskilled and uneducated. In doing so, I think they go a bit too far.

It is one thing to say that the influx of competitive, driven, educated, and skilled immigrants has not received enough positive attention in the current debate. Clemons and Lind are right on that score. As they write, “more talent means more innovation and opportunities for all, immigrant and native alike.”

They don’t think this holds true for unskilled immigrants however, and view them in a rather less positive light: “with the vast pool of poorly paid, ill-educated laborers already within our borders, we do not need a third of a million new ones a year.” But to make their case, I don’t think Clemons and Lind have to pit the skilled against the unskilled.

It is true that higher competition for low-wage jobs will have the tendency to lower wages, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be a powerful incentive for unskilled natives and immigrants alike to pursue new training and education to increase their standard of living. Being a line-worker at Subway is ideally not a career, but rather ought to be a transitional position and motivation for workers to increase the cost of their labor.

The Copenhagen Consensus of 2004 recommended policies that lower barriers to migration for skilled workers as a “fair” program, because they “were regarded as a desirable way to promote global welfare and to provide economic opportunities to people in developing countries.” The reason that the Consensus opposed guest-worker programs was not because low-skilled workers necessarily have a negative economic impact, but because they have a “tendency to discourage the assimilation of migrants,” by placing them in a social and economic position that is lower than natives.

Andrew Yuengert makes the case that there is a limited right to migrate in his monograph, Inhabiting the Land. The unskilled possess this right to no less of an extent than the skilled.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, April 12, 2006

In this week’s commentary, Jennifer Roback Morse takes a look at the socio-economic factors that influence the age at which young people aim to get married. Many are waiting. One reason why so many young people put off marriage unitl their late 20s or early 30s, says Morse, is that the cost of setting up an independant household is too high — unjustifiably high. Physically, humans are ready to reproduce in the mid-teens; financially, young people are not ready to be independent until their late 20s; the cost of housing and debt are often obstacles. During this waiting period — a time of sexual-economic tension — young people pick up many habits and expectations that are not compatible with maintaining a healthly marriage.

So, what can be done? Read Morse’s commentary to hear one approach to the problem.

On a related note – Zenit interviews Maggie Gallagher about the importance of a healthy marriage in the lives of children. In a nut-shell:

  • Marriage reduces the risk of poverty.
  • Fatherless households increase the risk of involvement in crime.
  • Marriage protects childrens’ physical and mental health.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Monday, April 10, 2006

It seems that it may be possible. An interesting article from yesterday’s International Herald Tribune:

Danielle Scache tries to avoid using the term “capitalism” in her economics class because it has negative connotations in France.

Instead, she teaches her high school students about the market economy, a slightly less controversial term she started using last year after a two-month internship at the dairy giant Danone. That was an experience that did away with more than one of her own prejudices, she said.

“I was surprised to see that people actually enjoyed working in a company,” said Scache, who is 59. “Some of them were more enthusiastic than many teachers I know.”

“You know,” she confided with a laugh, “in France we often think of companies, especially multinationals, as a place of constant conflict between employees and management.”

This view of bosses and workers as engaged in an endless, antagonistic tug-of-war goes some way toward explaining the two-month rebellion against a new labor law.

Read the whole thing for an interesting look into the state of economic education in France.

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Monday, April 10, 2006

French President Jacques Chirac has given in to the student protests in his country, protests that called for the removal of the First Employment Contract. This is a controversial new law giving employers greater freedom in whom they fire amongst under-26 employees. The law, as I am sure you’ve seen, sparked students protests for weeks.

Michael Miller in last Wednesday’s Acton News and Commentary addressed the deeper issue here: economic ignorance and moral apathy–I won’t repeat his analysis here. But here’s what I’d like to point out: what will fill in the vacuum.

The minister of employment, Jean-Louis Borloo, told Le Monde newspaper that the new plan will include increasing government subsidies to employers who hire people under 26 who face the biggest obstacles to finding jobs. He said the cost to the government in the second half of the year would be about $180 million.

From more economic freedom to subsidies. It is one thing to surrender to the protests and remove this law. It is quite something else to enact an (apparently) equal and (certainly) opposite policy. One wonders what will be the straw to break the Gallic camel’s economic back. Perhaps we should start a betting pool…