Category: Business and Society

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, June 5, 2013

trip_hurdles_400_clrOne of the most basic concepts in economics and business is marginal or incremental cost, the additional cost needed to produce or purchase one more unit of a good or service. For example, if a business can produce 100 widgets at a total cost of $5,000 and 101 widgets for $5,500, the marginal cost of the 151st unit is $500. At that rate, the company has a disincentive to produce more than 100 widgets since the cost rises sharply (an average additional cost of $4.45 per widget).

The same principle applies to the cost of labor. Imagine a worker who makes $16 an hour for 29 hours per week but whose incremental cost for the 30th hour of work each week rises to $112.15. For the 29 hours of labor, the cost is $464 while for 30 the cost is $576.15. That sharp increase would prevent many employers from hiring workers for more than 29 hours per week.

According to Jed Graham at Investor’s Business Daily, that is exactly what effect Obamacare will have on wages.
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Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, has a column in the latest issue of Legatus magazine. In it, he recognizes the accomplishments and Catholic faith of one of America’s Founding Fathers, Charles Carroll. Carroll, the only Catholic signer charles carrollof the Declaration of Independence, was an established businessman, and signing the Declaration was a risky move. It literally put his entire fortune at risk.

Carroll’s commercial interests extended far beyond those of the typical Marylander of his time. They ranged from grain products to livestock, small cloth factories, building crafts, cattle, mills, orchards, land speculation, and iron production. As well as investing in domestic and European markets, Carroll was in the business of making loans, charging market interest rates. He even authored a document defending the legality and morality of compound interest. And, it should be said, a portion of Carroll’s assets consisted of slaves.

Carroll’s commercial success did not mean, however, that what he often called the “habit of business” became suffocating for him. He would have thoroughly agreed with Calvin Coolidge that “the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence.”

Gregg also points out that Carroll had a sense that “the life of business was itself one full of potential nobility and purpose…” Carroll believed that order and discipline, in business and in life, made one’s life fruitful.

Read “Catholic Founder, Catholic businessman” at Legatus Magazine.

According to the 2013 Mackinac Policy Conference, Michigan’s three largest universities (Michigan State, University of Michigan and Wayne State) are producing entrepreneurs at twice the national average. According to Michael Wayland, the report included:

…responses from more than 40,000 of the 1.2 million alumni of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University. The responses revealed that more than 19 percent of the alumni surveyed have started a company, and some have created more than one.

The study suggests a significant number of alumni are starting their own businesses, and more than 50 percent of those businesses are here in Michigan, contributing to our state’s economic prosperity,” said URC [University Research Corridor] Executive Director Jeff Mason in a statement. “The URC is committed to supplying the tools that can lead to new companies and more jobs.” (more…)

catholic-university-bschoolEarlier this year, the Catholic University of America announced the creation of a School of Business and Economics that will be “distinctively Catholic.” The new school offers a model based on Catholic social doctrine and the natural law that is unlike theories prevalent at most leading business schools. “Business schools focus on teaching commercial skills and rules of ethics, but they neglect the importance of character,” says Andrew Abela, the school’s dean and Acton’s 2009 Novak Award Recipient. “Our distinctive idea is to bring the rich resources of the Catholic intellectual tradition and the natural law to bear upon business and economics.

I recently spoke with Dr. Abela about the new program, what makes a Catholic approach different, and what it means for business and economics to be “people-centered”:

Why is it so rare for Catholic colleges and universities to take a “distinctively Catholic” approach on subjects like business and economics?

I think there are several possible reasons for this. First, the business and economics education at many Catholic universities tends to mirror that of non-religious universities in that it focuses on knowledge, not on will. But this is not enough. We have to cultivate our students in virtue, which needs the formation of both the intellect and the will. It’s not enough for students to know the good, they have to do the good, and even to love the good. Second, as you know much of higher education suffers from political correctness, and faculty are thus reluctant to commit to any one approach to ethics. Students end up being taught several (frequently conflicting) theories of ethics, with the result that they graduate as sophisticated relativists. Finally, faculty are committed to existing business and economics theories, and it is hard to reconcile these theories, which claim to be morally neutral, with the Catholic intellectual tradition, which holds that all human action has a moral dimension.

Why are you creating a new School of Business & Economics now – does the world really need another business school? And why a School of Business and Economics?
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About a decade ago I joined a couple of other semi-clueless entrepreneurs in starting a regional newspaper in East Texas. Although I had always been a praying man, I found a lot more to pray about while starting a business: praying we’d make payroll, praying we’d find advertisers, praying the newspaper industry wouldn’t collapse before our next edition, etc.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone. According to information recently published by the Association of Religion Data Services, U.S. entrepreneurs pray more, meditate more and are more likely to believe in “a God” and attend a religious congregation than non-entrepreneurs:

The ARDA release published last month, draws on data from the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey which shows that people who have started or were starting a new business were more likely to believe in a God who personally cared for them. They also meditated and prayed more frequently than non-entrepreneurs.

“For entrepreneurs, business ventures may provide a ready list of concerns voiced to a God they believe is listening,” Baylor researchers Kevin Dougherty, Mitchell Neubert, and Jenna Griebel and Jerry Park noted.

When times get tough, according to Dougherty, many entrepreneurs may find themselves strengthened by the belief “God is with them and interested in them and attends to their needs.”

Read more . . .

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, May 3, 2013

“Retirement as a cultural concept needs to go away.” So says Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry in a thought-provoking piece today over at Forbes.

I agree with the sentiment, in large part because good work never ends.

But as Gobry also illustrates, we need to rethink our conceptions of work as well as retirement, which for many is just another way of talking about the end of work.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, May 2, 2013

As Michael Novak observes in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, “A successful corporation is frequently based upon the principle of subsidiarity. According to this principle, concrete decisions must be made on the level closest to the concrete reality. Managers and workers need to trust the skills of their colleagues. A corporate strategy which overlooks this principle–and many do–falls prey to all the vices of a command economy, in which all orders come from above.”

According to a study by Melba J. Duncan in the Harvard Business Review, such delegation makes economic sense: “Generally speaking, work should be delegated to the lowest-cost employee who can do it well.”

A recent BusinessWeek article updates the case for executive assistants. Anyone who has had significant contact with corporate settings knows that the EAs are the ones who really get things done. But for such delegation to be effective and efficient, it must be empowering. As Duncan writes, “The most effective executives think deeply about the pieces of their workload that can be taken on—or restructured to be partially taken on—by the assistant.”

Even the “lowest-cost employee” has a stewardship responsibility.

Of course, delegation can go too far, too.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, April 29, 2013

“Anytime you are going to throw money up in the air,” says Abraham Carpenter Jr., a farmer in Grady, Arkansas, “you are going to have people acting crazy.” Although “throwing money up in the air” is increasingly one of the main functions of the federal government, Mr. Carpenter is referring to a specific case in which the Agriculture Department “opened the floodgates to fraud.”

The compensation effort sprang from a desire to redress what the government and a federal judge agreed was a painful legacy of bias against African-Americans by the Agriculture Department. But an examination by The New York Times shows that it became a runaway train, driven by racial politics, pressure from influential members of Congress and law firms that stand to gain more than $130 million in fees. In the past five years, it has grown to encompass a second group of African-Americans as well as Hispanic, female and Native American farmers. In all, more than 90,000 people have filed claims. The total cost could top $4.4 billion.

From the start, the claims process prompted allegations of widespread fraud and criticism that its very design encouraged people to lie: because relatively few records remained to verify accusations, claimants were not required to present documentary evidence that they had been unfairly treated or had even tried to farm. Agriculture Department reviewers found reams of suspicious claims, from nursery-school-age children and pockets of urban dwellers, sometimes in the same handwriting with nearly identical accounts of discrimination.

Yet those concerns were played down as the compensation effort grew. Though the government has started requiring more evidence to support some claims, even now people who say they were unfairly denied loans can collect up to $50,000 with little documentation.

Read more . . .

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Wednesday, April 17, 2013

New York City’s hipster and elitist class seem to believe that they should have some role in determining what business owners do with their property. Like hipsters and elitists around the country, New York’s cohort are banding together to protest companies that do not present the utopian vision for the neighbors where these elites dwell (most of whom are renters, by the way). There is much buzz in New York City right now because more and more national chains are setting up shop causing great consternation. In a recent AM New York newspaper story, readers get a sense of the angst:
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David Innes at World Magazine wrote a fascinating post about the nature of virtuous leaders. In discussions of what is necessary for employees to flourish at work, it is important to remember that the character of those in decision-making positions is vital for organizational productivity. Innes reminds us that the key feature of virtuous leaders is one of love. They love their employees properly and, by extension, create a life-giving work environment:

Emotionally intelligent leaders understand the relationship between emotional well-being and the capacity and motivation of people to labor for even the worthiest goals, whether individually or co-operatively. . . Transparency builds trust. No one suspects a hidden agenda because there isn’t one. Empathy is essential. A good leader senses the emotional tone of the workplace and can address discord before it deepens and spreads. Workers will be more effectively on task if they know the boss cares about them and believes their work to be valuable. He gives helpful performance reviews on his employees’ contributions. He’s a true team builder. He helps people understand and develop their strengths, and directs them to the work most suited to them. This helps him sympathize with the people he is managing. He will also foster a friendlier workplace among the employees. He’s a peacemaker. He knows he is not the sole repository of wisdom, vision, and insight. No one is. So he listens, consults, and collaborates.

Leaders who lack love create work environments that destroy trust in the long run. Once trust is lost, a manager’s ability to lead is irreparably compromised. When this happens, disaster ensues.

What, then, is the catalyst, for leadership disasters? It often comes as a consequence of teams and organizations being lead by narcissists. Researchers at Ohio State University have found that people who score high in narcissism tend to find themselves in leadership positions, especially when there are leadership voids in organizations. Narcissists are self-centered and hold exaggerated views about their talents and abilities while lacking empathy for others. Narcissists have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. They believe they are superior to others and, therefore, have little regard for other people’s feelings. When narcissists become leaders, in politics, business, schools, and the like; morale, employee productivity, and efficiency suffer.
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