Category: Business and Society

Western Europeans often talk about the homogeneity of American politics and how the parties hardly differ from one another. One reason why Europeans believe this is because they often pay attention to US politics only during a presidential campaign, so they do have some justification. But while their opinion is understandable not only does it fail to reflect the real difference between the left and the right in America; it obscures the homogeneity of Western European political life.

What is interesting about the Western European perspective is that despite a multitude of parties all over the EU, the major ones are all more or less the same: left leaning, big government, egalitarian and morally relativist. There is a lot of noise, but no real serious diversity. Most of them are less distinct from each other than they are from conservatives in the US. In how many countries in Western Europe does there exist real debate about the welfare state, free market solutions to poverty, labor laws, the importance of the family, and the morality of abortion. Issues that are of central importance to many Americans are looked at as unsophisticated by a great many Europeans.

European parties are great in number, but almost none of them support a free economy, minimal government involvement, and strong and vibrant families and churches. If the Europeans want real diversity of thought they should begin to question the social democratic welfare-state model. So far this is usually only done by parties such as the greens or the communists who argue for even more government involvement.

The social democratic welfare state is failing and has sapped the cultural and spiritual energy of Western Europe. Unemployment is high, economic growth stagnant, and the elderly of tomorrow may find themselves out in the cold. They won’t have any children to help them and the government will not be able to take care of them because the dwindling population won’t be able to fund the welfare state. Maybe what the Europeans need in their political life is real diversity: a party that advocates personal responsibility, strong families, free markets, and a culture of life. That would be novel.

For a quick overview of the current state of appreciation for economics and capitalism among various ‘academics,’ see the newly inaugurated e-journal Fast Capitalism. It might as well be subtitled: Marxism, Alive and Well. Most of the contributors to the first issue are in sociology, communications, or political science. Here’s a sampling:

In “Beyond Beltway and Bible Belt: Re-imagining the Democratic Party and the American Left,” Ben Agger, who teaches sociology and humanities at the University of Texas at Arlington, writes, “Electoral politics now matter. George W. Bush, Jr. and his evangelical-Christian supporters have seen to that. Bush threatens to undo the welfare state, roll back civil liberties (and block new ones), and isolate the United States from the rest of the world. His foreign policy is an admixture of isolationism and unilateral adventurism. Homeland Security, his contribution to our political lexicon, has a Nazi-era resonance. Gays, lesbians, foreigners, liberals, the left have been demonized by a supposedly literal interpretation of the Bible, which drives the Christian right, Bush’s base of support. This has the makings of fascism.” One other tidbit: “FDR’s welfare state, while not perfect, significantly buffered the ravages of capitalism for those without jobs and without hope.” Also check out the planks in his “agenda for American social democracy,” which include “economic restructuring,” in which “the Democratic Party must take the lead in reconceptualizing the United Nations not only as an international police force but as an agent of the redistribution of capital.”

See also Charles Lemert, Andrus Professor of Sociology at Wesleyan University, who is self-described as “once a minister, still a student of theology, seldom a church-goer.” He writes an encomium to Reinhold Neibuhr, praising him for, among other things, opposing the Ford auto company in the early 20th century. “Though called to serve a traditional, declining urban congregation, Niebuhr, still in his twenties, quickly engaged himself on the side of industrial workers in a city where automobile manufacturing ruled by the hand of Henry Ford who presented himself as the patron saint of economic justice in the offer of then higher wages. Thus began Fordism, born not of fairness, but of greed for efficient production. The higher wages famously broke Marx’s rule on the suppression of labor costs as the key to the extraction of surplus value. But the break was only apparent. The wages were taken back in the purchase of the automobiles labor produced—thereby doubly exploiting the laborer,” he writes.

And don’t miss “Politics and Self in the Age of Digital Re(pro)ducibility,” by Robert W. Williams, who teaches Political Science at Bennett College in North Carolina. His claim, explicitly made within “the Marxist tradition,” is that “there is a dialectic of in/dividuality present in the conjuncture of globalizing capitalism and liberal-democratic policies. The relationships that reduce us as separate selves to digitally mediated signifiers and that “reproduce” those signifiers as dividuals also provide the potential for resistance against the oppressions resulting from digital re(pro)ducibility.”

HT: The Blogora

Blog author: jspalink
Thursday, February 9, 2006
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On January 21, 2006, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love in a Hook-up World and a Senior Fellow in Economics at the Acton Institute, gave this lecture at the Centesimus Annus Conference in Rome. Dr. Morse talks about the failure of the European welfare state to sustain economy and the demographic implications resulting from the “marginalization of the family.” Dr. Morse covers quite a bit of ground in this lecture, beginning with a critique of the evidence of a failing “European Social Model” and following up with the “Catholic alternative.”

A summarized version of the speech is available as an Acton Commentary, while an MP3 version of the speech can be downloaded here, or via or Acton’s podcast.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, February 9, 2006
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In this season of taxation, it is refreshing to consider strategies for lowering taxes and making governments more efficient. London’s Institute of Economic Affairs recently published a fascinating monograph by Richard Teather, The Benefits of Tax Competition. It’s available for download here.

Teather examines from various angles the issue of tax competition among nations—that is, the practice of national governments’ lowering taxes for the purpose of attracting foreign companies and fostering and retaining domestic ones. He reviews the relevant existing research, analyzes the evidence, and concludes that the objections don’t hold water and that tax competition is, all in all, a good thing.

It is worth noting that the same principle applies intranationally. I recently heard a speech by a candidate for governor of Ohio who has made the state’s oppressive tax structure the centerpiece of his campaign. He tells of a humorous conversation with an Indiana state official who posits as the main cause of that state’s economic vibrancy, “Ohio’s dumb policies.” In other words, talented young people, entrepreneurs, and existing businesses are all fleeing Ohio for environments more conducive to prosperity–like Indiana.

If you’d like to see how your state’s taxes compare with others around the country, check out this informative map provided by the Tax Foundation.

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
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With the publication of Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI is warning that an all-encompassing government would be unable to provide the one thing that people really need — loving, personal concern. Sam Gregg sees parallels between Benedict’s new encyclical and Tocqueville’s 19th century understanding of the autonomous, social associations that gave America its dynamic character and limited government power.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
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Here’s a convincing op-ed piece by William Romanowski, who teaches film studies at Calvin College, “Missing the big picture.” He writes in USAToday about the ambivalent impact of the upswing of religiously-oriented movies coming from Hollywood. “Were more evangelicals to think about movies in terms of their faith beliefs, they would actually have an opportunity to not only buy tickets, but also to begin to shape the entertainment industry,” he writes.

But how evangelicals (broadly defined) attempt to shape the industry is important as well: “The best motion pictures transform the real world into an imaginary one with ideals, values, attitudes and assumptions woven into characterizations and storylines.”

“Evangelicals can influence Hollywood when they think of the cinema as an arena for cultural discourse but not a place for converting members of that culture to a specific Christian orientation. In other words, evangelicals’ goal for the movie industry should be to encourage discourse, not merely evangelizing,” he concludes. He cites Million Dollar Baby, Syriana, and A History of Violence as examples of films with moral complexity and texture that can precipitate important discussions about issues like social violence, politics, and euthanasia.

These aren’t normally the kinds of films that are considered “family friendly,” but Romanowski makes the case that they can be considered as important touchstones for salient religious conversation.

HT: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Religion News

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
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What might a big city Wal-Mart look like? Until now, such a question was only answerable through some imaginative speculation.

Wal-Mart has announced plans to open the first store within Chicago’s city limits in the Austin neighborhood this summer. The 145,000-square-foot facility will also be the first to have what is called a “green roof,” 67,000 square foot “covered like a rug with flowering, cactus-like plants that live in cold weather.”

The roof is designed by Roof-scapes, Inc. of Philadelphia and will “have only 3 inches of soil, no irrigation system and will be designed to reduce rainfall runoff and, in conjunction with other green roofs, lower the city’s air temperature,” according to Charlie Miller, a Roof-scapes spokesman.

But perhaps even more interesting than what the store will look like on the outside is what will be missing from the inside. According to the Sun-Times,

will have no full-line grocery store, a concession Wal-Mart made to the City Council, which feared Wal-Mart would undersell smaller grocery stores and put them out of business. Wal-Mart will sell a limited amount of non-perishable, frozen and refrigerated food in addition to clothing, electronics, jewelry and household goods, but will sell no fresh fruit or produce. Those restrictions were necessary to win City Council approval of a zoning change to clear the way for Chicago’s first Wal-Mart.

According to a 2003 project by the Center for Cultural Understanding and Change, the Austin community had a median income of $33,633 in 2000, but “because it is so large, it has pockets of growing wealth, as well as signs of continuing poverty. ‘It’s interesting,’ described an Austin resident, “you’ve got the rich people and the poor people around here.'”

The City Council, in its wisdom, decided that there is a certain price level that groceries shouldn’t go under (in the interests of the community, of course).

What happened to consumer freedom? No one is forced to patronize Wal-Mart…the residents could willingly pay more at the smaller grocery stores if that’s what they wanted. They might well value cheaper produce more than they do intimate neighborhood stores.

Indeed, I suspect that the poorer residents of the neighborhood might rather spend their hard-earned money getting more for less at Wal-Mart. But that choice won’t be available in Chicago, at least not yet, thanks to the special interests of the Chicago City Council. (Thanks to John Powers for the tip.)

Blog author: jballor
Friday, February 3, 2006
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More from the State of the Union:

“…the number of children born to teenage mothers has been falling for a dozen years in a row.”

That’s a good thing. But there’s still a marriage crisis, and part of it is related to birth rates among unmarried women: Births to unmarried mothers reached a record high of almost 1.5 million and made up 35.7% of all births in 2004. Unmarried births made up the majority of Black (69.2%) and American Indian (62.3%) births, nearly half (46.4%) of Hispanic births, and 23.5% of Caucasian births. Source: Marketing to Women (Kaplan, 2006), p.3.

This phenomenon of course has many social effects, not the least of which is the increase of children born into poverty. More from the NYT on marriage and birth rates here.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, January 27, 2006
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A number of bloggers have expressed grave concerns over Google’s decision to accomodate the demands of the communist government in its web search offerings in China.

David Mills at Mere Comments writes that Google is “serving a brutal government and helping it oppress its people, even if its service will prove only partially effective.” He complains that Google’s motives are purely pecuniary, and that the company is only acceding to the government’s wishes because “If it didn’t help the Chinese government oppress its people, it wouldn’t make much money in China.” Mills notes that Google is following Microsoft and Yahoo search engines in making these concessions

It seems a pretty easy judgment to make: Google is selling out. My first instinct is to agree and throw my lot in with those condemning Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Google executives have described it as a “difficult decision.” But Mills writes, “There is no ethical dilemma, because they do not have to do business in China at all.”

But this is the point at which such judgments themselves are rather simplistic and superficial. First of all, Google does have a responsibility to its shareholders to seek out new areas of profitability, and the most populous nation on the planet can hardly be overlooked.

The fact is that the people of mainland China are living under a repressive regime. The lack of such fundamental rights as free expression and speech are completely alien to us in the West, and so we react strongly when we hear about censorship and denial of human rights abroad.

But the question then becomes, “What is the best way to move China toward economic, political, and religious freedom?” It has long been assumed by proponents of liberal democracies that these three aspects of freedom are inextricably linked. If you truly have one, then you truly have all three. That position is being put to the test in China and other countries, which are seeking to liberalize elements of the economic and business sectors without substantially altering their hold on religious and political freedoms.
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Blog author: jballor
Thursday, January 26, 2006
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If you’re like most Americans, the answer is probably “No.” Faced with loss of market share and declining revenues, Ford announced a restructuring plan that would cut nearly a quarter of its workforce and close 14 plants over the next six years. The moves are intended to bring the auto giant back to profitability by 2008.

What has caused the competitiveness of Ford to plummet? It’s part of the larger trend among American automakers. Ford’s “Way Forward” plan was preceded by GM’s flirtation with a “cloud of bankruptcy” and was followed by DaimlerChrysler’s announcement of layoffs (many of which would be in Germany).

NBC Nightly News featured a story on the U.S. auto industry’s woes on Tuesday night (Netcast available here). Patriotism is being replaced by pragmatism, says NBC’s Anne Thompson.

MSNBC’s Roland Jones writes, “Like its U.S. rival GM, Ford has struggled in recent years with a loss in U.S. market share to Asian rivals, a decline in sales of its large SUVs because of higher gasoline prices and a crippling healthcare bill and pension costs for its U.S. workforce and retirees.”
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