Category: Business and Society

Blog author: jballor
Monday, October 17, 2005
By

On the heels of a proposed city-wide tax on quickservice restaurants in Detroit, a state bill has been introduced in the Michigan House to implement a 2% tax on fast-food establishments. The “Fast-Food Restaurant and Food Service Tax Act” (HB 4804) would apply only to cities with a population over 750,000…and to the best of my knowledge the city of Detroit is the only one in the state that meets that criterion.

A key provision of the bill in its current form: “The treasurer shall remit, upon appropriation, all proceeds in the fund to the eligible city from which the proceeds were collected.” Given the negative reaction to Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s proposed fast-food tax of 2%, this House Bill seems to be a way to circumvent the city’s own policy-making mechanisms. If the people of Detroit decide for themselves they don’t want such a tax, it seems unjust for the state to impose it upon them. The House Fiscal Agency does note, “The city council would also have to approve, by resolution, the imposition of the tax,” but resorting to a state bill seems to be a back-door way of achieving the tax hike.

In any case, it looks like one way or another Mayor Kilpatrick is committed to getting his tax increase. And if the city ever passed its own measure in addition to the state bill, fast-food restaurants in Detroit would be subject to an additional 4%. These sniggling little tax increases can add up quickly.

My take on the fast-food tax is available here.

Economic reality is finally catching up with the big American automakers and their suppliers, as noted by Thomas Bray in Wednesday’s Detroit News:

Around Detroit, the bankruptcy of giant auto parts maker Delphi Corp. is seen as a precursor of what’s in store for the entire American auto industry. More fundamentally, it confirms the bankruptcy of the industrial welfare state.

The powers of denial ensure it may be some time before our politicians, unions and even corporate leaders catch up to that fact. Exhibit A was the knee-jerk rant by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who pronounced herself “angry” at Delphi. She then went on to blame the usual catalog of left-wing villains: “globalization,” “outsourcing,” “upper management,” “lack of support from Washington for the industries that made our country great” and “so-called free trade.”

Oh yes, and not enough government spending on health care.

I must pause here to note that Governor Granholm seems to be of two minds on the issue of globalization. Sure, international trade and investment are great when German and Japanese corporations partner to open a new engine plant in your state, or when you go on a trade mission to Japan in order to urge Japanese companies to outsource their jobs to… (ahem) …”invest in Michigan.” But when Delphi feels the heat of international competition? Well, that’s another story.

But I’ve gotten off-topic. Returning to Bray’s article, we see that all of the reasons listed by Granholm for Delphi’s struggles lose their punch when faced with cold, hard reality:

But no amount of foot-stamping is likely to change facts. Among them: Delphi’s 33,000 unionized workers in the United States, like those of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, still earn far above the national average in wages and benefits long after it was clear that this was no longer sustainable.

Touché.

Bray closes with an observation that we would do well to take to heart:

Globalization isn’t the enemy. It’s simply the messenger, exposing the rotten structure of the industrial welfare state for what it is, a lumbering dinosaur that can’t see 20 feet ahead of itself. Like the broader welfare state, to which it is so closely tied through labor, tax and other laws, the industrial welfare state of the 20th century is badly overdue for a rethinking.

Related: Suspension of Davis-Bacon Act in hurricaine-ravaged areas leads to higher wages for workers.

A man’s home is his castle, unless of course government officials need his property for a new strip mall or a hotel. Since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court dramatically expanded government’s eminent domain powers, some three dozen states have formulated measures to protect property owners from the Kelo v. New London ruling. Sam Gregg looks at the potential Kelo has to “violate basic norms of justice concerning property.”

Read the full commentary here.

In between dire warnings from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) about the evil neo-liberal economic order and calls for more money from its member denominations, this gem arrived today via Ecumenical News International:

Church bank says its loans are at forefront of anti-poverty fight

Utrecht (ENI). Thirty years after its launch, a church-backed international development bank says it has become a world leader in providing resources for small loans for poor people to set up in business. The Netherlands-based Oikocredit agency announced it had approved record funding in the first nine months of the year for what is called the microfinance sector, which among other things offers small microcredit loans to cash-strapped borrowers.

According to its website, “Oikocredit believes that poor people can build themselves a better life, if only given the chance, if only given credit.” Beyond the cliches and PC buzzwords, there’s some clear economic thinking going on here.

“Throughout our years of operations, Oikocredit has proven that small poor entrepreneurs, cooperatives and others in developing countries are credit-worthy partners indeed. In fact, the demand for loans offered by Oikocredit steadily increases as the effectiveness of this credit for development is broadly recognised. Thus our loans are directed at groups: cooperatives of small-scale coffee farmers, for instance, who need their own coffee mill for increased income. Or microfinance institutions that split up our loans into thousands of small loans to very poor people.”

It’s not perfect, but its a far sight better than many other half-brained church schemes to “end poverty now.”

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
By

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
By

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
By

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.
(more…)

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
By

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.