D. Eric Schansberg, an Acton adjunct scholar, takes a look at the Social Security system, and concludes that “policymakers should address the oppressive taxes that Social Security imposes on the working poor, its pathetic rate of return, and inequities in its payouts.”
Can the new Batman movie provide moral lessons on business ethics and philanthropy? Ben Sikma writes that the film affirms “the value of traditional institutions more generally, such as the family, rule of law, and private ownership of the means of production.”
Recent news about debt relief for poor African nations might give the impression that governmental corruption, inefficiency, and irresponsibility are unique to developing countries. This is simply not so.
Take, for example, the situation of the United States government. As of June 14, 2005, the total outstanding U.S. public debt is $7,804,534,405,437.48. That amounts to a share of debt for each U.S. citizen of just over $26,000.
The Wall Street Journal editorializes today on the latest thuggish brutality from one of Africa’s saddest stories – Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe (subscription required):
One of Africa’s poorest countries, Zimbabwe, is suffering through a brutal forced relocation reminiscent of the Khmer Rouge’s “ruralization.” Hundreds of thousands of people in and around the capital, Harare, have been evicted from their homes, which are then bulldozed under the order of dictator Robert Mugabe, the poster child for Africa’s governance problem.
The United Nations says that in less than four weeks at least 200,000 people have been displaced; other estimates are closer to one million. On one night alone, May 26, more than 10,000 people in a north Harare community called Hatcliffe Extension reportedly lost their homes.
Zimbabwe is probably the worst example of the type of corruption that keeps African economies from developing and turns well-intentioned foriegn aid into an expensive failure. Robert Mugabe seems to be uniquely gifted in the dark arts of corruption and brutality:
Mr. Mugabe is the same leader whose theft of land from white farmers nearly pushed his once-thriving nation into famine. He calls this latest exercise in social engineering “Operation Murambatsvina,” or “Drive Out the Rubbish.” And it’s not only residents who are being shooed away: Street vendors are also banished, even though most Zimbabweans are out of work.
Cleaning up urban blight is not Mr. Mugabe’s real objective, however. By sub-Saharan African standards, many of the condemned dwellings were more than adequate. The evictees’ crime was living in areas that are increasingly opposed to Mr. Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party, an unacceptable challenge to the man who has misruled Zimbabwe for 25 years. The cash-strapped government also wants to reduce the size of the black market — the only part of the country’s economy that still functions with some efficiency.
If only the barbarism of the Mugabe government could be put aside, Zimbabwe could be the breadbasket of Africa. Unfortunately, the same sort of situation plays itself out on a smaller scale across the heart of Africa. Those who call for vast increases in the amount of government to government aid for Africa need to keep this fact in mind: until a solid foundation of civil society is built and corruption is greatly reduced, increasing aid to African governments will probably not help. Indeed, it will be like building a house on the sand – foolishness.
For more information on the tragedy unfolding in Zimbabwe, be sure to check out the This is Zimbabwe blog.
Update: New link for This is Zimbabwe here.
In an informative interview via Christianity Today’s Money&Faith.net, Dan Miller gives good guidance for people to become entrepreneurs. He’s a big proponent of the side business, which could take as little as 5 hours per week. He says,
Wealth isn’t earned by the hour. It’s made with ideas. We tend to associate income earned with hours worked in the traditional workplace. The person who’s making $8 an hour wants to make $10. The person who’s making $10 wants to make $15. But if they really want to change their financial situation dramatically, it has nothing to do with how many dollars they make per hour. It has to do with how they develop an idea.
But part of what Miller is talking about is the finding of one’s vocation within these side projects. Many people start out with a side business, which they enjoy so much and are so productive doing that the side business becomes their main work. A good part of what Miller does is ask people the right questions, to make them really think about what they want to be doing in life.
A Dove Foundation report released this week shows a link between family-friendly movies and profitability. "One comes away from the Dove report with a sense that the movie industry is beginning to recognize a profit opportunity in producing more morally robust movies," writes Rev. Robert A. Sirico.
The Dove Foundation report is available here (PDF).
The AP passes along this story about the use of blogs by corporations and executives. Some of the good advice includes:
“Don’t go toward fake blogs. Don’t launch character blogs. Use a blog for what it’s for, transparency,” said Steve Rubel, vice president of client services at CooperKatz & Co., a New York PR firm.
He and other PR professionals can rattle off blogs gone wrong — usually “fake blogs” that stir up the ire of bloggers by hiding the fact that they are really ad campaigns, such as one McDonald’s posted in advance of a Super Bowl campaign about a Lincoln-shaped french fry.
Blogs that smack of press releases won’t do the job, Rubel said. He tells clients to see what’s out there about their company or industry, then decide whether they want to engage bloggers or even start their own blogs.
The story lists some corporate blogs, including Boeing and Sun Microsystems. I personally have found the Google blog to be very informative and useful. Google uses its blog to keep interested parties abreast of new and upcoming software programs and advances.
In this month’s issue of Esquire, Ken Kurson extols the virtues of Sanofi-Aventis, the world’s third largest pharmaceutical company. “A Drugmaker reborn” (subscription required) essentially describes why Kurson thinks Sanofi is a great investment, but between his praises of the company sits this tidbit:
And yet controlling costs is one of the things I like best about Sanofi. It’s why I believe in its strategy of growth through acquisition. And it’s why I think the merger with Aventis will be so effective.
There’s a small but chronically overperforming mutual-fund company called Mairs and Power. Based in Minnesota, it invests a disproportionate amount of its money in companies headquartered in its home state, like 3M. I once asked its founder how he maintained his excellent returns, especially when he was so overweighted in companies whose profits were dragged down by Minnesota’s high taxes. He explained that their high taxes were the exact reason he liked those companies: They had learned how to be lean enough to compete with their lower-taxed competitors, and that discipline carried over into every area of their business.
Sanofi has shown the same character, one of the unexpected benefits of socialism. By staring down France’s cuckoo labor situation and America’s tendency to sue everyone and spend itself silly on marketing, Sanofi has learned how to run a tight ship.
Kurson is essentially saying that companies that learn to thrive in situations adverse to economic success run more efficiently and compete better than companies that don’t face such difficulties. If necessity is the mother of invention, maybe efficiency is the key to economic survival.
I read an interesting article by Dan Griswold today in Cato’s Letter, a quarterly publication of the Cato Institute where Griswold is Director of the Center for Trade Policy Studies. Griswold’s article, "Faith, Commerce, and Freedom," traces the history of the distrust that many Christians feel towards capitalism — and the resulting push for big government to regulate. Griswold points out that William Blake, a British Christian poet (1757–1827) wrote a poem titled "Jerusalem" which, in turn, was turned into a hymn that reflects quite well this hostile view of industry. This is the poem with the well-known line: "And was Jerusalem builded here Among these dark Satanic mills." Griswold comments that what Blake describes as Satanic, a libertarian would view as progressive economy, providing jobs and opportunity, generating wealth, and producing a product useful to others.
Griswold proceeds to systematically walk through the problems that he sees in big government using scriptural examples and supportive theology. As an aside, lots of what he writes sounds like it could have come from the Acton Institute, with its emphasis on the moral framework for free markets. Griswold first presents common beliefs and values that, he argues, Christians and libertarians share. These include ideas such as the dignity of the human person, personal responsibility, objective moral standards, and the Acton principal of power corrupting. He presents short Biblical supports for property rights, civil law, welfare reform, family responsibilities, and charitable giving.
The rest of Griswold’s article walks through early Protestant thought about economy. Griswold shows how John Calvin encouraged people to understand their vocation as a gift from God to be embraced — working for God while at the same time avoiding "high living" and wasting money. Accumulated capital could be put to productive purposes. The importance here is placed upon living responsibly, not against trade and not against free markets.
The founding fathers also expressed these same views. Living responsibly is the underpinning for a limited government and a free economy. "The more people govern themselves and their own behavior," Griswold writes, "the less demand there will be for restraint from without." Larger government will only bring with it more problems. The answer is a push to return and retain objective moral standards upon which capitalism relies and which our country was built upon.
Read the article here (PDF).