Category: Business and Society

Things are looking grim for the rule of law in Bolivia. An article in today’s Washington Post outlines the growing conflict between the minority of Bolivians who own land and the landless majority. As Monte Reel writes in “Two Views of Justice Fuel Bolivian Land Battle,” this month the Bolivian government, under the direction of the “agrarian revolution” of president Evo Morales, “began a project to shuffle ownership rights affecting 20 percent of its land area, giving most of it to the poor. And tensions are starting to boil.”

Choei Yara, a Japanese immigrant to Bolivia whose family has lived there since the end of World War II, says, “No one respects private property anymore, not even the government.” Groups of landless Bolivians are constantly threatening to forcibly take posession of private lands, and Morales’ policies have only encouraged them.

“Emboldened by the recent government announcements,” the landless “are taking over more properties on their own, without government approval,” writes Reel. The rationale is simple for those who live in poverty:

“God created the resource of land,” said Luciano Winchaca, a local campesino advocate who has helped the Landless Movement with its quest for land. “It should be divided equally for everyone, not be given to somebody because they speak better Spanish or come from a certain family. We all have the same rights. These people don’t understand the will of God.”

But how about this for God’s will? “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15 NIV).

To be sure there are real and dire problems of poverty in Bolivia. But the class warfare and rhetoric of socialist revolution advocated by Morales and his ideological partner Hugo Chavez, in the name of God’s will, can only exacerbate the situation and undermine the legitimate functions of government: to justly administer the rule of law and to safeguard private property.

As we can see in the case of Bolivia, when these roles are ignored and subverted by the government, anarchy ensues. Yara knows this all too well, as “now about 50 members of the group, the Landless Movement, are occupying about one-fourth of his property. They keep telling him they’ll take more soon, he said, and they promise bodily harm if he doesn’t let them have it.”

Mark Cuban, billionaire and owner of the NBA franchise in Dallas, announced that he is “starting a website that focuses on uncovering corporate crime.” He continues, outlining the business model for the site: “I have every intention of trading on the information uncover[ed], and disclosing exactly what i do. The ultimate transparency.”

Another of Cuban’s ventures, HDNet, the first all high-definition TV network, is “talking to Dan Rather and we hope to do a deal where he produces a show that uncovers news. Information with a payoff.” Perhaps some of the news Rather uncovers will be of interest to the Cuban corporate corruption site.

Cuban defends his decision to trade on the corruption and crime information: “You may not like that I will trade on information we uncover and then publish it. I think reporting what we find is better than not reporting it. If we can uncover fraud. Thats a good thing. That profiting on the information we find is the smart thing to do. It beats the hell out of trying to remake the site every year to maximize advertising or subscriptions. It changes the newsenomics, which need to be changed.”

One conceptual difficulty I see is that for Cuban to “trade on” the information he gets, he’ll already have to own shares of stock in the affected company. Indeed, to trade on the news seems to mean that he’ll only be selling. That is, unless the news he breaks is in some cases about the lack of corporate crime in a case where it is suspected…then he could buy, I suppose.

In any case, Cuban’s plan certainly takes the idea of investment research to a whole new level.

Updated Update: Chris Roush gives an overview of Cuban’s plans as well as the site name, ShareSleuth.com, and links to a reaction from former BusinessWeek reporter Gary Weiss.

TCS Daily writer Larry E. Ribstein, a law professor at the University of Illinois College of Law, writes about the Cuban plan and confirms that “presumably this means that he will sell ‘short’ the stocks the journal investigates, and then buy them after the revelations puncture the price.”

Radley Balko, blogging at Cato@Liberty (he also blogs at The Agitator), writes about the creeping campaign in Washington state to crack down on internet gambling. A new law would impose “up to a five-year prison term for people who gamble online,” but since passage has also been used to “to go after people who merely write about gambling.” Citing an editorial in the Seattle Times, the law prohibits not only online betting but also transmitting “gambling information.”

The legitimacy of the state government’s efforts against gambling are undermined by the fact that Washington state itself runs and promotes a lottery: “It’s good to play.” The motives of the government are clearly mixed…gambling is acceptable but only if sanctioned and promoted by and enriching to the state. It’s when gambling dollars flow out of the state’s borders, or anywhere other than the state’s coffers, that the activity becomes truly troublesome to the politicians.

I’ve written more about the hypocrisy of state-run lotteries and casinos, now combined with other anti-gambling measures, here, here, and here.

“Amtrak officials seem to be working hard to patch up the older parts of the system. But recent delays serve as only the latest reminder that Amtrak’s problems are not bad management so much as stingy government. With gas prices up and airplanes overloaded, the nation’s leaders should be trying to figure out why this advanced nation does not have a more advanced passenger rail system.” Thus says an editorial in today’s NYT, blaming the lack of government subsidy for the woes of the US train system.

It doesn’t seem to occur to the editorial writer that the current situation may in fact be the result of the railway system’s historic dependence on the government, which has fostered the inability to run competitively, independently, and efficiently. To me this sounds like the lament when any other government program fails: “But we didn’t have enough funding!”

I do know that booking travel on an Amtrak train can often be more expensive than flying by plane to the same destination. If a slower, more expensive form of transportation is what government subsidization gets you, no thanks.

The Vatican recently concluded a conference on corruption (insert joke about ‘knowing whereof they speak’). It was an impressive array of speakers, including World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, and many sensible things were said. But one is tempted to respond, “That’s all well and good; but what is anybody *doing* about it?”

Which is why it’s encouraging to see, coincidentally, another story on the same day, detailing the grassroots efforts of Catholic schools in Cameroon to nip corruption in the bud.

Seven years after the United Nations assumed control of the Serb province of Kosovo, talks are underway about its future. Orthodox Church leaders for the minority Serb population, which has been subject to attacks for years by Muslim extremists, are hoping to forestall mounting pressure to establish an independent state. Is the Church headed for extinction in Kosovo?

Read the complete commentary here.

“As we look at how the immigration debate is unfolding, there are reasons to be concerned about the rule of law,” Jennifer Roback Morse writes. “The mass demonstrations of the past weeks reveal a much more sinister development: the arrival of French-style street politics in America.”

Read the complete commentary here.

For some reason, I get the impression that both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the editorial board of the NYT need a lesson in the birds and the bees.

The NYT criticizes Putin’s plan to address falling population levels in Russia “with a wide range of subsidies and financial incentives, along with improved health care, a crackdown on illicit alcohol, improved road safety and the like.”

Thankfully for the future of humanity, the NYT has a different suggestion: “Perhaps another approach would be to see whether the population could be increased through improved democratic institutions.”

I hate to have to point this out, but populations don’t increase through government programs, policies, or “improved democratic institutions.” They increase as the aggregate result of the successful procreative acts of human beings as blessed by God.

The Times suggests that if Russian citizens were to “share in the country’s governance, riches, debates and dreams, maybe the drinking and poverty would give way to larger families.” The NYT doesn’t seem to realize that countries with “democratic institutions” that function perfectly well, at least according to the Times’ definition (such as in the rest of Europe), also face demographic declines.

What we have here is a spiritual problem that requires a spiritual solution. Yes, material factors can contribute to the aggravation or the relief of the issue, but alone they cannot be the solution.

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'” (Genesis 1:28 NIV)

Many are alarmed as Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia veer toward leftist class-struggle politics and socialist economic policies. But, as Sam Gregg points out, the potent combination of state-authoritarianism, populism, nationalism and xenophobia — or “corporatism” — seen today in Latin America was also present in European fascist governments in the 1930s, and later during the regime of Argentina’s Juan Peron. One encouraging sign: Catholic leaders are now speaking out against this corporatist agenda.

Read the complete commentary here.

As the immigration debate continues, commentators dig deeper in the search for the “sources of the problem.” Many have rightly pointed out that a healthier Mexican economy would alleviate the need that spurs many Mexicans to seek financial recourse across the border. Whatever one’s views on the current debate, we ought to be able to agree that a more prosperous Mexico would be beneficial for everyone. But then others have correctly noted that talk about the Mexican economy is really a diversion from the US immigration reform issue: We need to figure out what to do about the large number of illegal immigrants currently here regardless of what happens in the Mexican economy.

Nonetheless, for anyone concerned about Mexicans, Americans, and Mexican-Americans, the issue of the Mexican economy is an important one. And on that issue, William P. Kucewicz offers a helpful analysis at NRO. I wanted to focus on one extraordinary line at the end of the piece:

Another analysis found Mexico’s level of government corruption has the same negative effect on inward foreign direct investment as raising the marginal tax rate by 42 percentage points.

Sam Gregg and Osvaldo Schenone wrote a while back about the pernicious effects of corruption in their contribution to Acton’s Christian Social Thought Series. Kucewicz’s citation above dramatically illustrates the impact that moral turpitude can have on economic wellbeing. No single magic bullet can bring prosperity to Mexico or anywhere else, of course. But any progress down that road will have to involve coming to terms with corruption, the long arm of which erodes the common good in diverse and significant ways—among them compelling migrants to leave their homelands.