Category: Business and Society

Remember: when you recieve a “free” service from the government, it’s not actually free. You’re paying for that service through your taxes. And when the government sets up a monopoly in an area like health care, it’s probably going to end up being more expensive and cheaper at the same time – more expensive because people are less likely to use a “free” service prudently, and cheaper because the overuse of the service will force officials to impose major restraints on the program in order to aviod complete financial disaster, thereby reducing the amount and quality of services available to consumers. Anthony Dick provides an overview of Canada’s situation today on National Review Online:

Canada’s universal-health-care system has long been a darling of the nanny-state Left. Its stated purpose, jealously touted by swooning cohorts of compassion from coast to coast, is to provide free and equal health care for all, regardless of ability to pay.

In practice, sadly, this high-minded endeavor has hit a few snags. The pesky fetters of reality have imposed stingy budget constraints on the enterprise, while the promise of free service for all has increased the demand for treatment. The Canadian government has thus struggled to treat more patients while spending as sparingly as possible on each of them, causing waiting lists to swell and the quality of care to sag. Not helping matters have been some medical professionals, who have fled the public system in search of better compensation. With shaking heads and sullen spirits, everyone involved agrees: It’s just not fair.

There is hope, however, thanks to the legal efforts of Jacques Chaoulli, a 53-year-old French Canadian physician. As they say, read the whole thing.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, December 19, 2005
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Fast Company Now is reporting that “for the first time, customer satisfaction with federal agency Websites has surpassed offline government services,” according to an American Customer Satisfaction Index report.

What is especially noteworthy, however, is that online private sector services consistently rank higher in satisfaction than their governmental counterparts. “Where the gap between offline public and private services has narrowed, the report said, e-government is trailing far behind the private sector online. That, said ACSI chief Claes Fornell, shows room for improvement: ‘They still have ground to close,’ he said.”

Update: In case you were wondering, FEMA’s ratings were dragging down the aggregate federal number a bit. The two divisions of FEMA’s that were rated by the ACSI were its “Flood Map Store” and the “Mitigation Division website”, which scored 70 and 65 respectively (out of 100). The overall governmental average was 71.3.

The Acton debate on the relationship has featured blog posts on Rodney Stark and David Brooks’s column on Starks.

Amy Welborn’s site has more in these two posts (here and here), with a somewhat lively debate in the comments sections.

Several of the comments regard Max Weber’s thesis on the Protestant work ethic and capitalism, and reveal a misunderstanding of what makes for economic growth in Ireland and the lack of it in Latin America.

It’s pretty obvious there are few Actonites or economists taking place in the debate over at Amy Welborn’s. If they had been reading the Journal of Markets and Morality, they could have saved themselves a lot of time.

Jordan Ballor’s recent post on “Christian Reason and the Spirit of Capitalism” hit onto something big.

In today’s New York Times, op-ed columnist David Brooks weighs in with a piece entitled “The Holy Capitalists”. (Once again, the Times has blocked access to non-subscribers. If you aren’t a subscriber, buy today’s Times just to read this column – it’s worth it.)

Brooks calls the debate over the foundations of success the most important in the social sciences today and praises Rodney Stark’s book “The Victory of Reason” for its unconventional take on Western progress.

“Religion didn’t stifle economic and scientific ideas – it nurtured them. […] Catholic theology had taught [European scientists and economists] that God had created the universe according to universal laws that reason could discover.”

He concludes, “Ideas and culture drive civilizations. The Catholic Church nutured one of the most impressive economic takeoffs in human history. Today, as Catholicism spreads in Africa and China, it’s important to understand the beliefs that encourage people to work hard and grow rich.”

Some of these themes can be found in Pope Benedict XVI’s recent World Day of Peace Message (albeit in less provocative language). And they are also of great interest to the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, headed by Prof. Mary Ann Glendon.

Maybe this discussion will be joined on the letters page of the “newpaper of record”. And maybe the Times will even allow non-subscribers to take part.

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
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In a new Acton Commentary, Anthony Bradley examines a new report from the Fraser Institute that measures economic freedom in Arab countries, an important indicator for cultures that are in many places still struggling to lift their people out of poverty. In discussing the report, Bradley says, “As history demonstrates, individuals or families having freedom to determine their own economic destiny liberates them from government dependence and long-term dependence on charity.”

Read the full commentary here.

A newly published letter by Narnia creator C.S. Lewis shows his distaste for Disney “vulgarity” and his fear of seeing fictional animal characters transformed into cartoonish buffoons. Jordan Ballor, in a new Acton commentary, explores how Lewis might have felt about the new Disney film of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Ballor looks at Lewis’ dislike of animatronic, or costumed people acting the parts of animals, as well as his feelings towards Walt Disney’s “vulgarity.” Dispensing with Lewis’ objections to animatronics as an argument based on obsolete technology, Ballor focuses most of his thoughts on the larger picture of a gravely depraved movie industry, and how Christians should discern, practice restraint, and strive to infiltrate the industry to use it to create family friendly and edifying films.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
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In an not-so-subtle take-off of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice franchise, ExperiencePoint has come up with a fun interactive game to challenge your event-planning and management skills. The background:

Inspired by his favorite reality programs, Santa Claus invited eight elves to the North Pole for the purpose of selecting one as his new protégé. Through a series of rigorous holiday competitions, Santa has whittled down the group to the final two candidates – congratulations, you’re one of them! Now you must manage a rag-tag team of previous cast-offs in one final competition. Succeed, and you will have earned the coveted position of “Santa’s Little Helper”.

Check the game out, it’s called Santa’s Little Helper. Fun times.

I became Santa’s Little Helper on the first try!

HT: LifeHacker

Roger Cohen’s column in today’s International Herald Tribune slams the French economic system by telling the story of Rachid Ech Chetouani, a young French Muslim.

(Unfortunately, the column is behind the New York Times Select firewall and available only to subscribers. Isn’t it ironic that the Times can write such moving pieces about social exclusion while practicing it at the very same time?)

Chetouani has been to China and North America, so he has some alternative economic systems for comparison purposes.

Speaking of China: “It’s seething, it never stops, it’s full of pitiless people emerging from hard times,” he said. “There are no cafés! They don’t have time for that. Everyone’s out to make it.”

“The difference in North America is that it’s competence that counts,” he said. “Nobody’s interested in where you came from as long as you can bring them money. Here [in France], the system is based more on knowing the right people.”

France’s problems apply to the European social model as a whole, with its high level of taxes and regulations to ensure high levels of supposedly more humane social protection. But where does that leave young people like Chetouani who are intelligent and willing to work hard, yet somehow trapped outside the system?

He remarks with not a little bitterness, “I’m for a society of winners. France doesn’t like winners. When you make it, you hide it. One question nobody seems able to answer is: If the French economic model is so great, how come nobody copies it?”

A very good question in search of an answer throughout large parts of Europe.

Blog author: kjayabalan
Monday, December 12, 2005
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New Perspectives Quarterly has a great interview with Milton Friedman, who at 93 years of age still exhibits more economic clarity than whole academic faculties and episcopal justice and peace commissions.

Milton Friedman,
Senior Research Fellow,
Hoover Institution

Some of Friedman’s gems:

– On how European economies can get back on track: “They all ought to imitate Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan; free markets in short.”

– On the European social model as a third way between capitalism and socialism: “I don’t think there is a third way. But it is true that a competitive market is not the whole of society. A great deal depends on the qualities of the population and the nation in how they organize the non-market aspects of society.”

– On the Chinese market-Leninist approach: “Political freedom will ultimately break out of its shackles. Tiananmen Square was only the first episode. It is headed for a series of Tiananmen Squares. It cannot continue to develop privately and at the same time maintain their authoritarian character politically. They are headed for a clash. Sooner or later, one or the other will give. If they don’t free up the political side, their economic growth will come to an end — while they are still at a very low level.”

– On the prospects of freedom in the 21st century: “The world as a whole has more or less embraced freedom. Socialism, in the traditional sense, meant government ownership and operation of the means of production. Outside of North Korea and a couple of other spots, no one in the world today would define socialism that way. That will never come back. The fall of the Berlin Wall did more for the progress of freedom than all of the books written by myself or Hayek or others. […] This free-market base will likely expand from there by example to others not so free. Everyone, everywhere, now understands that the road to success for underdeveloped countries is freer markets and globalization.”

Read the whole thing.

(HT: Political Theory Daily Review)

Here’s a far-ranging essay that has a central thesis which is quite possibly fatally flawed but still touches on some very important points: “A series of developments, in which reason won the day, gave unique shape to Western culture and institutions. And the most important of those victories occurred within Christianity. While the other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guides to religious truth.”

In “How Christianity (and Capitalism) Led to Science,” Baylor University Professor Rodney Stark examines the role that Christianity, especially rational Christianity, played in the flowering of Western civilization. Stark points out the flaw in Max Weber’s thesis that capitalism was founded on the Protestant work ethic (“the rise of capitalism in Europe preceded the Reformation by centuries”).

Stated elsewhere, Stark’s modified thesis is this: “But, if one digs deeper, it becomes clear that the truly fundamental basis not only for capitalism, but for the rise of the West, was an extraordinary faith in reason.” This “faith in reason” was most importantly manifest in Christianity, which, according to Stark, held a consistent dominant view from the church fathers, through the Middle Ages, and up through the Reformation and the Enlightenment. Quotes from Augustine and Tertullian are used to shore up his claim that “from early days, the church fathers taught that reason was the supreme gift from God and the means to progressively increase understanding of Scripture and revelation.”

Stark does debunk many pervasive myths in addition to the Weber thesis, such as that the supremacy of the West was based on the secularization and “overcoming” of religious barriers to progress. “Nonsense,” he writes. “The success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians.” Stark also exposes “the incredible fiction that, from the fall of Rome until about the 15th century, Europe was submerged in the Dark Ages — centuries of ignorance, superstition, and misery — from which it was suddenly, almost miraculously, rescued; first by the Renaissance and then by the Enlightenment.”

Still, Stark’s depiction of the role of reason in the great history of Christian theology is rather markedly simplistic. There are a great many strands of different approaches to the relationship between faith and reason, and not all of them can be disposed of simply by juxtaposing “mystery” and “reason.” Augustine’s view of reason seems particularly distorted by Stark.

Stark makes no distinction between the rational Christianity of the Enlightenment, for example, and the view of reason in Christianity in the dominant Augustinian traditions in the Middle Ages and Reformation. One key aspect that is overlooked is the Christian regard not just for reason in general, but with the reason of regenerate Christians, as opposed to the fallen reason exercised by the unregenerate.

It may well be, in fact, that “the truly fundamental basis not only for capitalism, but for the rise of the West, was an extraordinary faith in reason,” but from this it does not follow that there is a unanimous Christian approach to reason throughout church history, or that the modern scientific age was not ushered in by an increasing emphasis on reason and rationality as external norms for Christian theology (something quite foreign to most premodern approaches to theology).

All in all, Stark’s piece is a valuable one, but should be approached with some critical caution. He is at his strongest when debunking myths about the rise of capitalism and doing good economic history and analysis: “Tyranny makes a few people richer; capitalism can make everyone richer.” He does a good job of tracing interest in science and technology to a general Christian regard for human reason. He stumbles, however, in his depiction of reason in relation to the enterprise of Christian theology. Stark’s contention that a univocal “faith in reason” existed throughout the last 2,000 years of Christian theology falls flat.

Update: A discussion of this piece is developing over at Mere Comments.