Category: Business and Society

Dr. Mart Laar, former prime minister of Estonia, discusses the relevance for the papal encyclical Centesimus Annus for Europe today. “The message of Centesimus Annus is not a message of left or right. It is a universal message of hope. We can see these same ideas in most groups working on the future of Europe. The only problem is in finding political leaders ready to implement them in reality,” he writes.

Read Dr. Mart Laar’s full commentary here.

Read about Racine, Wisconsin in the New York Times, “On Lake Michigan, a Global Village,” by Steve Lohr. Gary Becker is mayor of Racine, and according to the article, “Racine’s future, Mr. Becker believes, lies in forging stronger links with the regional economy and global markets. Reinvention can be unnerving, he acknowledges, but he says it is his hometown’s best shot at prosperity and progress.”

“In the past, Racine was a self-contained economy,” Becker said. “But that is not an option anymore.” A key observation is that “in a world where new technologies can quickly upend an industry and China and India loom large on the economic horizon, nobody knows exactly which businesses and skills will prove to be winners.” That’s one reason that government programs to promote specific types of research as the “next big thing” are ill-advised.

The current and previous administrations of the state of Michigan, for example, have decided that life sciences, alternative energy, advanced automotive, manufacturing and materials, and homeland security and defense are “the four competitive-edge technologies” that should receive government subsidy.

The NYT article highlights the work of Olatoye Baiyewu, a Nigerian immigrant who “runs a program to train young, inner-city men as apprentices to electricians, plumbers, carpenters and cement masons.”

A host of Christian and secular commentators have trumpeted the similarities between Superman and Jesus Christ in light of the forthcoming movie, Superman Returns.

Many Christians embraced the Superman hero when a trailer for the new movie was released using the words of Superman’s father Jor-El, voiced by Marlon Brando: “Even though you’ve been raised as a human being you’re not one of them. They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I sent them you… my only son.”

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I point instead to the fundamental differences between the two. I am concerned that Christians are being unwittingly exploited by Hollywood spin doctors: “Christians risk undermining our own influence when we simply latch on to the pop icon of the moment in undiscerning and uncritical ways.”

In an interview with CT Movies this week, Superman Returns director Bryan Singer acknowledges the intentionality of the spiritual allegories for Superman, “Christ being a natural one, because Superman’s a savior. And even more so in my film, because he’s gone for a period of time, and then he returns. For me to say that those messianic images don’t exist in the movie would be absurd.”

Read the full commentary here (cross-posted to

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, June 22, 2006

“I’m not in any way a violent person, but I enjoy getting out there and fighting when I can.”

–Blake Cater, 22, of Burlington, NC, who videotapes backyard fights with his friends and broadcasts them on the web.

More on Cater and the amateur fighting video phenomenon from today’s Washington Post, “On the Web, Punch and Click,” by Paul Farhi.

Also check out a related commentary of mine, “Our Slap-Happy Slide into Techno-Violence,” in which I argue, “The market must be supported and bounded by moral norms, guides for appropriate conduct and behavior. Where the market brings people into contact and relationship, it will also reflect the disruption of sin in the human community. So when the culture supports and promotes violence, it should be no surprise that the market efficiently distributes products that reflect this corruption. The two mutually reinforce one another, sending things into a degenerating spiral of violence.”

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

“Be fruitful and multiply,” the Book of Genesis commands. Unfortunately, many modern nations are on the opposite track. Once worried about a phony “population bomb,” countries as diverse as Russia and South Korea are now wondering if they will shrink into irrelevance. Kevin Schmiesing looks at the cultural, religious and economic forces that produce healthy, hopeful societies.

Read Kevin’s commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Jack Black stars as the title character in this campy salute to Lucha Libre, or freestyle wrestling, a hallmark of popular Latin culture. In Nacho Libre, Black’s character begins as the lowly Ignacio, an orphan who grew up at a Catholic mission, and who has now become one of the mission brothers. Ever since his youth, Ignacio has dreamed of becoming a luchador, a flamboyant and famous wrestler.

Instead, Ignacio serves at the mission, caring for a new generation of needy orphans. When Sister Encarnación (Ana de la Reguera) arrives to be the orphans’ new teacher, Ignacio has even more incentive to become successful and wealthy so that he can impress the attractive young nun. Thus, Ignacio’s motives are not entirely pure, and indeed, he must keep his burgeoning young wrestling career a secret, because Lucha Libre is condemned by the Catholic mission.

Lucha Libre, it seems, is seen as a form of idolatry, as the wrestlers seek only praise and wealth for themselves. Indeed, Ignacio’s interaction with the luchadores confirms this, as Ramses, who Ignacio acknowledges is “the best,” turns out to be a less than charitable figure.

But Ignacio will not be denied his destiny, and so he dons the persona of Nacho Libre once a week to wrestle with his tag team partner Esqueleto, well-played by Hຜtor Jiménez. The pair are rather inept wrestlers, but are such lovable losers that they become crowd favorites and are well-paid despite their incompetence. But this is not enough for Nacho, who has visions, perhaps delusions, of greatness. He wants to win.

Jack Black stars as Nacho Libre.

Ignacio’s desire to reach his own destiny can been seen as a response to his perceived calling in life, otherwise known as his vocation, an idea which has a rich tradition in Christian theology. Vocation is literally “a calling,” and it is clear that Ignacio’s desire to become a luchador has been deeply implanted with him since his youth.

The dramatic tension enters into the equation because of the Church’s disapproval of Ignacio’s dream profession. This speaks to the difficulty faced when a person is convinced of a calling that is in an industry that is wholly condemned by ecclesiastical authorities. To be sure, there are some professions in which it is impossible to be both a Christian and remain in that line of work. But perhaps, thinks Ignacio, wrestling is not one of them. He can see some clear good that luchadores might do, not the least of which is in providing hopeless orphans a positive role model.

Is Ignacio’s perceived calling merely his own vain self-seeking ambition or a legitimate vocation from God? In some ways, Ignacio’s efforts can be seen as done by one who seeks to reform the Church’s understanding of this worldly profession. In this way Ignacio/Nacho acts as a more mundane and contemporary analogue to the more famous reforms advocated by Martin Luther in the sixteenth-century. When Luther left the Augustinian monastery and the celibate priesthood, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it was a “return from the cloister to the world,” and “the worst blow the world had suffered since the early days of Christianity.” To be sure, Ignacio’s attempts at reform are far less dramatic and consequential, but we can see a parallel in the effort to carve out some validity for the Christian pursuit of a secular calling.

But it is only when Ignacio comes to the realization that his calling is not simply about his own edification but the service of others that he enjoys a measure of wrestling success. Ignacio’s epiphany seems to truly come home as he acts out a Jonah-like trek into the wilderness, constructing a makeshift shelter on the edge of the village after his wrestling exploits are exposed and he is ejected from the monastery (see Jonah 4:5).

This illustrates another truth about the Christian concept of vocation, in that this calling is in every case a calling to serve others rather than simply yourself. In this sense Bonhoeffer also writes, “Only in so far as the Christian’s secular calling is exercised in the following of Jesus does it receive from the gospel new sanction and justification.” At first Ignacio’s selfish ambitions overshadow his desire to do good for the orphans and the mission, but his calling to serve is finally affirmed by the Church when he makes it clear that he is intent on sacrificing and serving the best interests of the orphans.

Those viewers who are fans of Jack Black will not be disappointed, as the movie in large part serves as a vehicle for his brand of dynamic and madly physical comedic stylings. The film is directed by Jared Hess, made famous by his direction of the cult hit Napoleon Dynamite (2004). Nacho Libre shares some of the same quirkiness of dialogue as the previous film, although it is not quite so charming and entertaining the second time around. Some of the scenes do not noticeably advance the plot, and seem more like excuses for Jack Black to be entertaining than to fit seamlessly into the flow of the film.

Even so, Nacho Libre is an entertaining movie, although fans of Jack Black and those at least familiar with Lucha Libre will have much more to enjoy. In the end, Nacho Libre rates as not a quarter, nor a half, nor a full, but rather a three-quarter nelson (3 out of 4 arms).

This post has been crossposted to

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, June 20, 2006

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a year since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which seriously damaged the institution of property rights.

The Institute for Justice marks the occasion with a series of reports that contain bad news and good. The bad news is that Kelo does appear to have had a deleterious effect, emboldening local governments to seize private property at increasing rates. The good news is that Kelo backlash has resulted in a number of legislative attempts to curb eminent domain abuse.

HT: John J. Miller at The Corner on NRO

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,, 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.