Category: Business and Society

This interview with Charles Sandmel, a veteran of the municipal bond market, gives us some insights into current trends in the ethical investing movement. Some key points:

  • The leading market sectors over the last few years are in areas that “most of them [ethical investors] avoid, such as energy.”

  • Ethical investors don’t buy “Big Oil because of the pollution problems.”
  • Examples of ethical investments: wind turbine farms and facilities.
  • Examples of unethical investments: government bonds for nations with standing armies.
  • Sandmel likes bond funds for ethical investors because “going to the companies that are borrowing gives you a much greater chance to engage them on your social issues than simply buying their stock.”

Mark Cuban, billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, opines on his blog about the difference between “investing” and “speculating.” He says, “The difference between the two is very simple. If you spend the money and the only way you can earn a return on that money is by selling whatever it is you have purchased. You are speculating.”

With respect to buying bonds, Cuban writes:

If you give your money to a mutual fund or hedge fund that puts money into public stocks and bonds, that’s super speculation.

Why Super Speculation? Because there is a 99 pct certainty that you are 3rd in line to get paid with whatever earnings the fund generates with your money.

First the fund itself has to get paid. They take money off the top.

Then the person who makes the investment decision has to be concerned about keeping their job. You see if the fund doesn’t outperform its peers or comp indexes, then the person who is responsible for the fund is out of a job.

Do you think that person cares more about putting a roof over his family’s head or you? Which means when push comes to shove, unless there are strict limitations, that fund manager is going to take the chances necessary to outperform his comps. And I can tell you that its par for the course to “go down swinging” than it is to take a called 3rd strike. Meaning, they risk your capital in hopes of keeping their jobs if that’s the only way to keep their jobs.

For Cuban, the “the problem is when the balance between the two shifts from heavy in investing to heavy in speculation.” This is because an emphasis on the former, “when money goes to create commerce, that’s capitalism at its best. Money going to smart people to do smart things. If it has good results, everyone makes money. The economy grows. Expectations are based on the prosperity of the company, typically over a longer term. New ideas create new wealth. It’s not a zero sum game. It can be an everyone wins game.”

But when there’s an emphasis on the latter, and while “speculation isn’t a bad thing. It can serve many purposes,” even so “it primarily just results in redistribution of wealth. If I speculate better than you, even if you are investing in apples and me in oranges, then its just a contest to see who does a better job. The winner gets the cash. Across all the different levels of speculation, the trillions of dollars, its a zero sum game.”

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, October 5, 2005
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Check out this exchange, involving Tony Blankley from The Washington Times, Pat Buchanan of MSNBC, and Eleanor Clift of Newseek, from last week’s McLaughlin Group about President Bush’s call for people to conserve gasoline in their daily activities:

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make a quick point. Free-market prices maintain equilibrium of supply and demand. Let the price go up. People will make individual decisions.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

MR. BLANKLEY: And they will cut back. They did when the prices went up. Some did; some didn’t. The idea of hortatory calls for conservation never work.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, they are all buying Eleanor Clift Priuses and they’re not buying my Navigators anymore.

MS. CLIFT: Right. (Laughs.)

MR. BUCHANAN: The market is working. People will not drive when the price goes up —

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you agree —

MR. BUCHANAN: — but they’ll put investment and money into oil.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, October 3, 2005
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Two stats featured in this month’s Go Figure section of Christianity Today:

17: Percentage of the top 50 Fortune 500 corporations’ foundations whose policies prohibit their giving to faith-based groups.

57: Percentage of corporations that mention faith-based organizations and will not match employee contributions to them.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 30, 2005
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Why review a television show that never completed even its first season nearly three years ago? The confluence of events and circumstances that resulted in the cancellation of the Fox show Firefly in 2002 has done little to destroy the resiliency of the Firefly phenomenon. While only 14 episodes were ever made, and only 11 of those ever shown, once the complete series of Firefly came out on DVD, it topped sales at Amazon for months (it’s currently ranked #7). Fans of the show around the country host parties to watch the complete series with their friends. And today a full-length movie debuts in theaters, bringing the resurrection of the Firefly franchise full-circle.

Just what is it about this show that has made it such a phenomenon? It’s one part western, one part space opera, and one part action-adventure, a creation of Joss Whedon, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. Others have commented on the show’s libertarian themes, but in the final analysis I think these claims are somewhat overblown. While libertarian emphases are clearly present, contract ultimately is not king.
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In 1969 Charles Manson and his gang set out to ignite a race war that pitted the wealthy white establishment against underprivileged blacks. The apocalyptic battle would be called “Helter Skelter,” after the Beatles’ song written by Paul McCartney. The white Manson reasoned that America’s angry black population would eventually win this war; at which time he and his group would emerge from their Mojave Desert hideout to assume leadership over what he perceived to be an inferior race.

Now comes columnist, radio host and Wayne State University journalism professor Jack Lessenberry with his own condescendingly racist and alarmingly Marxist version of Helter Skelter Redux. In the wake of the Hurricane Katrina natural disaster, Lessenberry wrote in Detroit’s Metro Times:

Today, most politicians are more willing to launch a war than try to help desperately poor Americans…. Wouldn’t it be hilarious, by the way, if Marxism turned out to be correct after all, if the world’s workers someday did rise up against people like the Bushes, who persist in acting just like imperialist pigs in Soviet propaganda? Things seldom work that neatly, or with such poetic justice.

Hilarious?

What prompted Lessenberry’s outrageous and irresponsible outburst? That, shockingly, New Orleans is among the nation’s most impoverished cities. It is also predominantly black. Readers can guess what logical leaps he makes from this. Readers may assume as well that Lessenberry ignores the billions of dollars spent on poverty programs, which have evolved into entitlement programs. Such programs have perpetuated poverty by enabling dysfunctional behaviors, eroding the family unit and stifling entrepreneurial spirit. Perhaps Lessenberry feels that a black-led Marxist overthrow of our current administration will better position elitist liberal whites to emerge for their ivory towers to create a more equitable system that robs from the rich to give to the poor.

Lessenberry would be better served by the Gospel of Luke, wherein Jesus emerges from 40 days in the desert to be tempted by Satan with the riches of the world. Resisting worldly temptation, Jesus goes to Nazareth, and reads to the synagogue from the book of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed….”

It hardly seems that replacing poverty with Marxism represents “liberty [for] those who are oppressed.” Lessenberry’s rant reads like a call for "Helter Skelter." Maybe he should refer to Luke for a deeper understanding of liberation.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
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Nigerian priest shot dead at checkpoint for ‘refusing to pay bribe’

Port Harcourt (ENI). The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) says that the Rev. Emmanuel Akpan was shot dead at a checkpoint manned by both police and army members for refusing to pay them a bribe. “Rev. Akpan was returning from Aba town when he was killed by police and military personnel at the checking point, over his refusal to give them bribe,” said the Rev. Bayo Odukoya in issuing a statement on behalf of the Niger Delta diocese of the Anglican Church.

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
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Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

Samuel Gregg writes on a recent BBC Radio listeners poll that ranked Karl Marx as the greatest philosopher in history. Gregg reflects on the evils and attrocities that are committed by the political heirs of Marx’ philosophy while commenting that the materialist view of Communism removes any possibility of fulfilling the two greatest commandments; loving God and loving our neighbors. Above all, Gregg wonders how people have forgotten what Marx stands for: “Why is Marxism’s red flag not treated with the same contempt rightly attached to the swastika?”

Gregg sees an inherent lack of value placed upon the human person as a result of Communism’s materialist ideology. He sums up Marx’ materialism, saying, “Everything has the same value and therefore no value. In this world, there is no difference between Mother Teresa’s work and that of a concentration camp guard. They share equally in a general irrelevance of everything and everyone.” This complete lack of value denies justice and makes morality irrelevant.

Much violence has been done in the name of philosophies and religions, including Christianity. The difference is that Christianity contains moral criteria according to which we can judge and condemn such activity on the part of Christians. Marxism never had and could never have such standards. For in Marxist philosophy, there is no place for love of God and love of neighbor. Perhaps that, above all, is what makes Marx so unworthy of contemporary admiration.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
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Check out this editorial from the current issue of Christianity Today, “Neighbor Love Inc.”

The editorial focuses on the importance of work and labor in the Christian life: “Business for the Christian is a form of neighbor-love, a way to fulfill the second Great Commandment.” The entrepreneurial calling is one that should be affirmed within a biblical framework by Christian leaders. CT recognizes that “the church has spent enormous energies on guiding our sexuality, but done little at the congregational level to give believers a developed understanding of the mandate to work.”

Rev. Robert Sirico is cited as one of the “Christian thinkers have been laying the foundation for responding to this need.”

Check out this piece by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, an Acton senior fellow, in which she argues “that marriage is the cornerstone of civil society. And the images of Katrina demonstrate this, if we are willing to see.”

It’s one thing to have a great government policy put in place with intention of seeking justice. It’s quite another to continue to promote policies whose unintended consequences hurt the most vulnerable populations.

Even though Iraq has the world’s third largest oil reserves, the lack of a reliable infrastructure, sabotage, and government-imposed price controls (oil is $.05 a gallon, a holdover from the Saddam Hussein regime) make gas for law-abiding citizens hard to come by.

These price controls result in forced government rationing. Now new regulations allow driving only on every other day, depending on your license plate number. Last Tuesday was the first day of the restrictions, and only cars ending with odd numbers were allowed on the streets of Baghdad.

Reuters reports on the effect that these policies are having on Iraq’s working classes, such as they are. Taxi driver Amir al-Hameeri, who did not take his car out on Tuesday, fearful of a fine equivalent to $20 if his even-numbered licence plate was spotted.

“It’s a ruthless decision against the poor,” he grumbled. “How can I feed my family now?”

This is a prime example of how policies which may have the best of intentions (affordable fuel for all Iraqis) that ignore the realities of the marketplace have adverse consequences. And as always, it is the poor among us who suffer the most.

Here’s an NPR story with more on how motorists are “beating the system” through black markets and other means.

HT: John Powers