Category: Business and Society

Blog author: jballor
Monday, September 17, 2007
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Here’s a justly famous quote from C. S. Lewis on why the danger posed by a nanny government can be much more oppressive than that posed by the consolidation of economic power:

Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

That’s taken from his essay, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” and it speaks well to the difference between political and economic power. While Lewis is writing within the context of government power in the administration of criminal justice, just think about how perceptive Lewis’ observation is when applied to the ever-expanding reach government regulation via so-called “sin” taxes.

Progressives are right to be concerned about the conflation of those two sorts of power, but I think they are wrong to be reflexively more suspicious of economic power than political power.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
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In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine the (non)necessity of promoting a democratic government in post-invasion Iraq. I haven’t written much on Iraq in this or any other venue, for a number of reasons. But this piece is one that I’ve been waiting to write for a long time, and was really only waiting for the proper occasion. That prompting came a few weeks ago when U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra from Holland, MI said, “The mission for us is not to establish a democracy in Iraq, but to make the region secure and stable.”

This piece appeared earlier in the Orange County Register, “Iraq: Democracy not required,” which garnered this response, “Democracy without liberty? I think not” (see also the 2003 Acton Commentary, “Success in Iraq: Guaranteed Property Rights as a Precondition for Democracy”).

Here are some links that have been floating around my inbox that are related to some of the points brought up in this week’s commentary. First and most directly relevant, from Christianity Today, “Bush’s ‘Theological Perspective.'”

Next, here is a link to an H-Net review of a recent book on civil society in post-war Germany, particularly the “Heidelberg Action Group,” whose founding manifesto “challenged socialist ideologies that stressed the role of a strong state and the primacy of national interest. They envisioned a form of socialism focused upon the realization of individual freedom and the creation of autonomous and self-reliant persons.”

And finally I’d like to point you to a review in the Claremont Review of Books by Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett on a book that argues for a greater “democratization” of the American constitution. It may come as a surprise to some, but our Constitution was initially and still remains to a large extent “counter-majoritarian.”

And related to foreign policy in particular, Barnett notes the curiousity that “It has become de rigueur among American constitutional law scholars to refrain from recommending our particular form of government to others when advocating democracy around the world. While most Americans prefer the safety of our counter-majoritarian Constitution, our constitutional ‘experts’ are happy to urge others to live the truly majoritarian ideal. Now Sandy Levinson is urging Americans as well to adopt a more majoritarian constitution. But maybe the time has come instead to let the rest of the world in on our little secret.”

Update: See “The Ottoman Swede,” by Roger Cohen, which says in part, “distinct peoples forcefully gathered into a dictatorial state will react in the first instance to liberty by trying to get free of each other rather than trying to imagine a liberal democracy,” and “The Road to Partition,” by David Brooks. See also these two Marketplace pieces (here and here) with the normally rather disagreeable Robert Reich, discussing in part his new book Supercapitalism.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, September 10, 2007
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Some notes from a talk by Sally E. Stuart, author of The Christian Writers Market Guide:

  • Publisher blogs are increasingly prevalent (for example, IVP).

  • Authors are sometimes expected to provide fully developed marketing plans.
  • “Secular” has become a pejorative term, now the preferred term is “General.”
  • There is a move toward digital publication and dissemination, due to competition, postage, printing costs.
  • Christian booksellers are facing stiff competition with decreasing margins, in part because Christian books are becoming popular in mainstream outlets like Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Wal-Mart.
  • Only 44% of Protestants read Christian magazines, which themselves only make up 21% of the magazine reading of the average Protestant.
  • Christian publishing is the only publishing segment that has been growing in recent years (it is roughly 5-10 percent of the overall market).
Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 7, 2007
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This week’s commentary by Anthony Bradley, “Obviously, Sports Do Not Build Character,” (along with our poll question) made me think of the series of articles appearing in the current issue of Christianity Today, which included a cover story on the NFL and an editorial addressing faith and the NBA.

And that made me think of this parody (HT: the evangelical outpost):



Update: See also the new “Centre for the Study of Sport and Spirituality.”

Do you ever walk into a business and see a license on the wall and wonder if that specific industry really needs to be licensed by the state? I know I have thought that, if just a few times. John Fund of the Wall Street Journal looks at how licensing laws hinders low prices and competition in the marketplace. In a piece titled, License to Kill Jobs, Fund also explains how over regulation has stymied job growth and the ability of new entrepreneurs to become more self reliant.

Fund also notes in his column:

In the 1950s, only about 4.5% of jobs required a license to work. Today, that proportion is more than 20%. Many of the jobs that require a government stamp of approval don’t involve health or safety. Depending on the state, you need a license to be a hair braider, florist, auctioneer, interior designer or even fortune-teller.

The cost of the education for the license also hurts those who may have the necessary skills but can’t afford to meet all the requirements. Furthermore, sometimes the licensing requirements have little to do with the relevancy of the actual work performed. Another aspect Fund looks at is the arbitrary nature and requirements from state licensing, compiled by a major study by the Reason Foundation. California requires 177 specific business types to be licensed, while Missouri requires only 41. The “Live Free or Die” state of New Hampshire, requires a walloping 130 licenses for specific businesses types.

Another interesting point Fund makes is the licensing requirements hurt the very consumers it’s meant to protect. Fund notes just a few of the facts from the Reason Foundation study:

The higher prices such licensing bodies impose for services can also hurt consumers by creating incentives to do dangerous jobs themselves. “Electrocution rates are higher in states with strict electrical licensing requirements, as more consumers risk performing their own electrical work,” the study notes. “Similarly, states with stricter dental licensing laws also have the highest incidence of poor dental hygiene.”

In the Wall Street Journal piece, the author also declares how in some instances the courts have stepped in and found some of the licensing requirements completely unnecessary, and additionally acts as a regulatory infringement on the right to earn a living. Fund also declares, “Some courts are even citing the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses in striking down protectionist government regulations.”

Which makes one wonder all the more: Are the over-zealous requirements and so called need for licensing helping the consumer or just perpetuating higher prices, and lack of competition, which can result in inferior products and service? Obviously licensing in some classes of business are needed. But does everybody, in say an interior design or the florist industry need to be licensed? There are large and powerful lobbying groups able to protect and strengthen certain businesses from more competition, but in some cases little help for newcomers trying to break into the market. In addition, we often overlook just how much the market can regulate itself.

It all reminds me a little bit about the stories you see in the news print and media about young children getting their lemonade stands shut down by bureaucratic governmental standards . Concerning the crackdown on lemonade stands, where are the “It’s For The Children” speeches when they are actually needed?

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
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To hear the NYT tell it (and Sojourners, for that matter), the family farm is facing severe threats. With no small degree of dramatic flourish, the NYT editorial linked above concludes:

For the past 75 years, America’s system of farm subsidies has unfortunately driven farming toward such concentration, and there’s no sign that the next farm bill will change that. The difference this time is that American farming is poised on the brink of true industrialization, creating a landscape driven by energy production and what is now called “biorefining.” What we may be witnessing is the beginning of the tragic moment in which the ownership of America’s farmland passes from the farmer to the industrial giants of energy and agricultural production.

If federal subsidies for corporate agribusiness is a threat to the family farm, then so is extensive FDA regulation of homegrown products and the morass of complex zoning regulations, telling people what they can sell, when they can sell, it and where they can sell it.

As my colleague Kevin Schmiesing wonders within a similar context, is the problem that the government just doesn’t quite have the right approach nailed down yet, or that the unintended consequences of government intervention into the market (in various ways) inevitably will screw things up (because, perhaps, special interests, whether corporate or individual, will always have an undue influence in the formation of policy)?

Sicko poster
This image haunts my darkest nightmares.

Time sure does fly. It’s been almost two years since I called Canada’s government-run health care system “The Sick Man of the Great White North” and wrote:

Canada’s system may be the gold standard for government-run health care, but only if you’re looking for a system that can’t provide essential medical services in a timely manner.

Sadly, nothing much has changed in the interceding time between that post and now. In fact, things are very much the same: Canadians still have a system that has an undeserved good reputation, and those on the left in America still hope to implement a Canadian-style system here in the United States. It was to that end that Michael Moore released his latest “documentary,” Sicko, which essentially serves as public relations for the pro-socialized health care camp.

The idea of “free,” government-provided health care is easy to like, because who doesn’t want everyone to have free health care? Unfortunately, it also seems that many people find that the major problems with socialized health care are easy to dismiss, because, well… who doesn’t want everyone to have free health care?

So it’s important for those of us who see this idea for what it is – a very bad one – continue to remind Americans that while socialized health care is no doubt well intentioned, good intentions are not enough:

Sickoholds the Canadian system out as a model for proponents of universal coverage where health care costs are lower and everyone has free care at the point of service. “While many proclaim Canada’s Medicare program to be one of the best in the world, or suggest it should be the model for reform in the United States,” says one of the Fraser Institute’s study authors, “the reality is that health spending in Canada outpaces that in most other developed nations that, like Canada, guarantee access to care regardless of ability to pay, and yet access to health care in this country lags that available in most of these other nations.”

Because health care is largely free in Canada, demand is likely to exceed supply. It’s just human nature. Thus, waiting lists become the principal way of rationing medical care and holding down spending. And after 16 years of tracking growing waiting lists, the Fraser Institute observes that the problem is probably not a temporary one that can be fixed with a little more money or time. They note that provinces with higher spending per capita do not experience shorter wait times.

Just as we saw in the old Soviet system with its long lines for food and basic services, government central planning does not efficiently match supply with demand. And human beings will always seek more of something that is free. As one free market advocate states, “Long waits and widespread denial of needed care are a permanent and necessary part of government-run systems.”

That link comes via Hugh Hewitt.

Incidentally, how do you think Sicko is doing? Perhaps I’m just out of the movie loop at the moment, but it seems to me to have been as close as Moore has come to an outright flop, at least in terms of media chatter generated for his pet issue.

More: Jordan Ballor passes along a link to the Scriptorium, which provides a solid analysis of what a proper Biblical position on universal health care would be:

Jesus was angered at moral teaching that emphasized outward conformity to rules without moral action flowing from a heart of compassion and virtue, even if such conformity produced good results. Now the state cannot show compassion in the arena of economic justice, because a necessary condition for compassion is that it is freely given and not coerced. The state forces people to conform to rules. It takes their money and gives it to others. But this is not the sort of compassion of which Jesus taught.

Well worth a read in full.