Category: Business and Society

Could the early socialists have envisioned an organization such as Wal-Mart or predicted the thousands of jobs created by such a firm? In this week’s Acton Commentary, Rev. Robert A. Sirico examines the “common good” and free markets in this excerpt from a recent speech at the first annual Free Market Forum, sponsored by Hillsdale College’s Center for the Study of Monetary Systems and Free Enterprise.

Read the entire commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, April 26, 2007
By

Biotech giant Monsanto has added its considerable influence to the push to restrict or ban labeling of dairy products as free from added rBST, a hormone commonly used to induce cows to produce more milk.

Christopher Wanjek, a columnist at LiveScience.com, reports that Monsanto thinks that such advertising practice “scares consumers into thinking there’s something unhealthy about its human-made recombinant bovine growth hormone.”

As I related earlier this year, Julianne Malveaux headlined a similar campaign against such labeling. The claim is that the labeling is deceiving people into buying something more expensive that doesn’t have any added safety. From the perspective of Malveaux and Monsanto, companies that use “no rBST” labeling are profiting from fear-mongering. (Fellow HuffPost blogger and progressive Kerry Trueman lambasts Monsanto here. No surprise that Trueman picks on a “multinational biotech behemoth” like Monsanto rather than Julianne Malveaux and the National Organization for African Americans in Housing.)

But as Wanjek’s (and Trueman’s) piece points out, the potential harm to humans caused by added rBST hormones isn’t the only relevant factor: “For animal welfare reasons alone, consumers have the right to know how their milk is produced.”

The ultimate in natural milk is of course untreated, unpasteurized, straight-from-the-udder, “raw” milk. The FDA and various local and regional governments have been cracking down on the sale of raw milk, arguing that the threats to consumer safety necessitate such harsh action.

Perhaps the most famous case recently came to media attention last year when an Amish farmer got into trouble over violations of a milk ordinance. Arlie Stutzman was busted in a raw milk sting operation, but claimed that his religious beliefs required him to share the milk he produces with others.

“While I can and I have food, I’ll share it,” said Stutzman. But a spokeswoman from the Ohio Department of Agriculture said, “You can’t just give milk away to someone other than yourself. It’s a violation of the law.”

That seems like a classic case of the government overstepping its boundaries and insinuating itself into a relationship characterized by free exchange and association. From Stutzman’s perspective, he’s simply fulfilling his divinely ordained responsibility to be a productive and obedient servant of God, helping others by the fruit of his labor.

Maybe Stutzman should have to disclose in some fashion, perhaps via a sign or a label, that his milk is raw, just in case some unsuspecting and rather silly city slicker should unwittingly buy milk from him thinking that it is treated.

But that’s precisely the sort of disclosure about the source and production of the milk that Malveaux and Monsanto want to prevent companies like Land O’Lakes and Stonyfield Farm from making. To be fair, Stonyfield isn’t in an any more admirable position, since it (contra Monsanto) wants the FDA “to immediately withdraw approval of rBST.”

The FDA shouldn’t be siding with major milk producers to squash competition from Amish farmers. And neither should it be taking sides in corporate marketing disputes about the merits of using or not using rBST. Let the customers have the information and decide for themselves.

Anthony Bradley looks at America’s children of privilege and the influences that have put so many of them into crisis. “There is mounting evidence that we are faced with a new reality in America: educated, middle-class kids represent a new ‘at risk’ group, as both perpetrators and victims of peer-related violence,” Bradley writes.

Read the rest of Bradley’s commentary here.

Despite strong overall growth, a number of internal problems, including excessive regulation, continue to limit wealth creation throughout Latin America, reports Samuel Gregg. The regulations Dr. Gregg examines include those on starting a business and on banking.

Dr. Gregg explains that while it takes as few as 5 days to file the appropriate paper work to start a business in the United States, it takes an average of 152 days in Brazil. Dr. Gregg states that there are fewer loopholes to starting a business in Iran, than in most of Latin America.

Dr. Gregg also examines, in detail, some of the legacy economic laws that exist in much of Latin America, which regulate banking. These laws, intended to protect people from unjust interest rates, often hurt the people best in the position to increase the economic prosperity of Latin America – namely first-time entrepreneurs who are will to take risks to gain the capital needed into order to create wealth. Dr. Gregg argues that removing some of the regulations mandating interest-rate ceilings would benefit Latin American much more than it helps to protect it.

Read Dr. Gregg’s commentary here.

Blog author: jspalink
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
By

Grand Rapids seems to be establishing a precedent for private corporations and individuals stepping up to the plate in the face of budget cuts and financial difficulty. The most recent example is the announcement that all six city pools will be open this summer, rather than just three. That means that the Director of Parks and Recreation is now looking to fill 160 new jobs (including lifeguards and water safety instructors) to man the parks. Why, when Michigan is facing a severe budget crisis, are we opening all the swimming pools in the city? Because Roosevelt Tillman, a local business man, remembered the days when he used to spend all day at the pool during the summer wanted today’s children to experience the same thing.

This is not the first time that the local population has stepped in to save the day in the midst of a budget crisis. This winter La Salle Bank and Centennial Wireless in cooperation with the Grand Rapids Griffins Youth Foundation provided the necessary funds to keep the Rosa Park Skating Rink open to the public.

There are several advantages to both individuals and corporations that fund these parks. A person invests in something because they think its worth it – there is good chance of a positive return. A company may invest in order to increase awareness and costumer loyalty. There’s a good chance that I’ll be more likely to bank with LaSalle or get a cell phone plan with Centennial because I drive by people skating in the rink every evening on my way home from work.

A big thank you to the people and corporations who invest in Grand Rapids. Your contributions to this community will not be forgotten.

[UPDATE] Here is the story about the pools from the Grand Rapids Press.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, April 19, 2007
By

One of my favorite industries to criticize is the state-run lottery business.

Philosopher William F. Vallicella writes the following: “Your chances of a significant win are next-to-nil. But suppose you win, and suppose you manage to not have your life destroyed by your ‘good fortune.’ The winnings are arguably ill-gotten gains. The money was extracted via false advertising from ignorant rubes and is being transferred via a chance mechanism to someone who has done nothing to deserve it” (HT: the evangelical outpost).

One could of course argue that the winner did take the superficially meritorious action of risking a small amount of money for the potential for a huge reward. Lottery players do at least have to “opt-in.” Perhaps that’s the action that accrues some semblance of desert.

But then again, if Vallicella is right about the nature of the system and its state-sponsored advertising, in the larger sense participation in such a corrupt industry might overshadow any meritorious action.

Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that in modern life characterized by the lack of meaning,

One gambles with the future. Lotteries and gambling, which consume an inconceivable amount of money and often the daily bread of the worker, seek the improbable chance of luck in the future. The loss of past and future leaves life vacillating between the most brutish enjoyment of the moment and adventurous risk taking.

Add to those effects government sponsorship and promotion, and you have a pretty foul mix.

The John Locke Foundation recently published a report linking lotteries to high poverty and high unemployment in North Carolina counties. See the case of Jack Whittaker for someone whose ruin was occasioned by the influx of great wealth.

Even so, philosopher David Schmidtz expresses a way in which the “merit” of lotteries shouldn’t be accrued to the actions leading up to the windfall, but rather following it. Speaking of what he calls transitive reciprocity in his recent book, Elements of Justice, Schmidtz writes,

Having received an unearned windfall, we are in debt. The moral scales are out of balance. The canonical way to restore a measure of balance is to return the favor to our benefactor, as per symmetrical reciprocity. However, the canonical way is not the only way. Another way is to pass the favor on, as per transitive reciprocity. Transitive reciprocity is less about returning a favor and more about honoring it – doing justice to it. Passing the favor on may not repay an original benefactor, but it can be a way of giving thanks (83).

Schmidtz leaves us with a picture of the lottery winner as one who has inherited a responsibility to act in an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude, passing the favor on to others.

I like that.

Anthony Bradley revisits the case of the Duke lacrosse team, and finds that most everyone involved — including op-ed pundits — had something to learn from the scandal. “This case reminds us that broken, weak-willed women can easily be taken advantage of and can easily deceive,” he writes. “America was ‘called out’ as a culture more concerned about its kids’ achievements than their moral formation.”

Read the full commentary here.