Category: Public Policy

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
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Profit is a valid motivation for business and, generally speaking, a company that pursues profits within the bounds of law and morality will be fulfilling its purpose admirably.

But profit is an instrumental good rather than a final good, and so there are sometimes extraordinary circumstances that place additional moral obligations on business.

For an edifying story about a company that responded well to such circumstances, see US News & World Report on the financial firm Keefe, Bruyette, and Woods in its 9/11 issue.

For a less heartening story about businesses whose fulfilment of such obligations is at least doubtful, see Business Week‘s exposé of American tech companies’ dealings with the Chinese government.

Admitteldy, the issues in the latter story aren’t cut and dried. Companies can’t possibly be expected to control the uses to which their products are put. The defense offered by Thomas Lam of Cisco is compelling: “The networking hardware and software products that Cisco sells in China are exactly the same as we sell in every market in the world. It is our users, not Cisco, that determine the applications they deploy.”

But when a company is dealing with a government that has as spotty a human rights record as China’s, it should be especially circumspect, I think. To the contrary, Cisco and others have apparently catered to the country’s oppressive system, marketing their goods as “strengthening police control” and “increasing social stability.”

That seems not quite right.

From the same issue of Business 2.0 magazine I cited yesterday, check out this article on Adobe Systems, which is touted as having “The greenest office in America.” It just goes to show you that economic efficiency and environmental concerns go hand in hand.

Click on the first link in the piece to get a slideshow of the various improvements which save energy and money at Adobe’s offices. My favorite is the timed outages of garage exhaust fans and outdoor lighting systems (cost: $150, annual savings: $68,000).

As the Cornwall Declaration states, “The tendency among some to oppose economic progress in the name of environmental stewardship is often sadly self-defeating.” The declaration also notes the aspirations to a world in which “advancements in agriculture, industry, and commerce not only minimize pollution and transform most waste products into efficiently used resources but also improve the material conditions of life for people everywhere.”

One final note…these moves profiled in the article are economical enough to motivate companies to cut costs on their own. I don’t think Adobe needed “about $350,000 in energy rebates,” presumably from the government.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, September 11, 2006
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In a recent issue of Business 2.0 magazine, we are told that X Prize founder Peter Diamandis is expanding his X Prize Foundation to address new areas of innovation. The first Ansari X Prize included a $10 million purse for the first private spaceflight. The X Prize Foundation website notes that the group is “actively researching the feasibility of new prizes in space, energy, genomics, education, nanotechnology, and prizes in the social arena,” but Business 2.0 gives us some more particulars on three new X Prizes:

  • First, the X Prize Cup, awarded for the most innovative amateur rockets. Diamandis’ interest in rockets extends to his involvement with the advent of the newly-formed Rocket Racing League. Information about additional X Prizes appears in a box inset within this story, “Move over, Nascar — here comes rocket racing.”

  • Another X Prize of $10 million will be awarded for the invention of a “sequencer that maps an individual’s DNA in a matter of hours for less than $10,000.”
  • And finally, there is the Automotive X Prize, which will include a cash award in excess of $10 million, for the creation of a “mass-market car that ‘significantly exceeds’ 100 mpg.”

Also, be sure to check out the details of the X Prize Foundation’s Lunar Lander Challenge.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Friday, September 8, 2006
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Jeff Mirus of CatholicCulture.org flogs an address by Capuchin friar and dean of theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Father David Couturier. I share Mirus’s assessment that “one is at times unsure exactly what Fr. Couturier means,” but some of his points do seem at odds with the vision of charity articulated by, for example, Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est, as Mirus points out.

Especially perplexing is Couturier’s statement concerning the role of Capuchin Franciscans in world affairs. He minimizes concern about the impact of diminishing vocations on conventional charity and emphasizes the promise of progress through non-governmental organizations:

“It doesn’t matter how small we get,” argues Fr. Couturier. “It is our international character that gives us strength and influence in the world today.”

So, the fact that there may be no friars left at the local level to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless is relatively unimportant, as long as there are Capuchins working for “justice and peace” at the highest levels of U.N.-affiliated NGOs?

I have great respect for Franciscans all over the world who perform tremendous charitable and educational work, especially for those working in some very difficult settings. But I hope that the friars pay more attention to the writings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI than to the musings of Fr. Couturier when discerning their way forward.

Christian geneticist and author (The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Simon & Schuster Trade Sales) Dr. Francis Collins is the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Human Genome Research Institute and head of the Human Genome Project.

Recently he was the keynote speaker at the 61st Annual Meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, a group of Christian geneticists, chemists and other scientists.

Over the past week I transcribed his lecture from the audio and blogged it. The first segment describes his salvation experience, and what led him to conclude as a geneticist that the genetic code substantiates the evolutionary fossil record.

In the second half he lays out his primary argument for the existence of God. Then he moves into a brief summary of other Christian positions on the origin of man (creation, Intelligent Design, and his own position).

What does this have to do with ecology? I believe that who we think we are sets to the tone for how we treat ourselves and the world around us, and that includes how we treat all living things. Collins makes his case that we are who we are by virtue of God-evolved DNA, "the language of God" in polypeptide form.

I think you’ll find it thought provoking. Interested in your thoughts and comments.

[Don’s other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist Blog]

The only way that culture can be truly changed, in terms of the gospel, is by movements of the Spirit that are birthed in congregational life. The Christian Right thinks that it can alter culture by direct partisan political pressure led by media personalities and tried-and-true techniques. They could not be more sadly mistaken. The failure of this approach is self-evident over the course of the past six years. The late missional theologian Lesslie Newbigin understood this well when he concluded:

“If the gospel is to challenge the public life of our society…it will only be by movements that begin with the local congregation in which the reality of the new creation is present, known, and experienced, and from which men and women will go into every sector of public life to claim it for Christ, to unmask the illusions which have remained hidden and to expose all areas of public life to the illumination of the gospel. But that will only happen as and when local congregations renounce an introverted concern for their own life, and recognize that they exist for the sake of those who are not members, as sign, instrument and foretaste of God’s redeeming grace for the whole life of society.” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p. 232-233).

This is another reason why revival and mission are intimately related. We need awakening to see and hear the leading of God again and we need a missional perspective in order to reach the culture around us with the good news.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

I haven’t started Marvin Olasky’s new book yet, but here’s a bit from the abstract of a new NBER paper, “Rules Rather Than Discretion: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina,” by Howard Kunreuther and Mark Pauly. Speaking of property owners who suffer severe damage and don’t have the resources to rebuild:

To avoid these large and often uneven ex post expenditures, we consider the option of mandatory comprehensive private disaster insurance with risk based rates. It may be more efficient to have an ex ante public program to ensure coverage of catastrophic losses and to subsidize low income residents who cannot afford coverage rather than the current largely ex post public disaster relief program.

That solution doesn’t sound too promising to me, and it strikes me as a false dichotomy. Are the only two options government action before or after the fact?

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, September 7, 2006
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An interesting debate is going on over at Mere Comments. The main thread has to do with the morality of the Bush Administration’s approval of over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill and the implications for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race. Leaving those issues aside, I was struck by a comment from “Daniel C.”, claiming that the problem really presents an “excellent case for dismantling the Food & Drug Administration.”

It’s a question worth raising. I don’t know enough about the history or current practice of the FDA to judge definitively one way or the other, but I know that there exists significant discontent with its role as (ostensibly) the nation’s guardian of food and drug safety. For example:

1. It constructs unreasonable obstacles to the delivery of medical technology.
2. It stifles pharmaceutical innovation because regulators are biased toward caution as opposed to risk.
3. Its evaluation process is distorted by rampant conflicts of interest on the part of the experts it employs to evaluate new products.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, September 7, 2006
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Seth Godin issued a call recently for marketers to take stock of their trade and embrace the moral aspects of their industry: “You’re responsible for what you sell. When you choose to sell it, more of it gets sold.”

I particularly like how Godin emphasizes personal responsibility. This is something that is not unique to a particular profession, of course, and is therefore a reality that constantly needs to be reiterated. “As marketers, we have the power to change things, and the way we use that power is our responsibility–not the market’s, not our boss’s. Ours,” he writes.

Indeed, the logic of the marketplace is not enough by itself. That’s true for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the powerful and dominating attraction of sin.

“We’re responsible for what we sell and how we sell it. We’re responsible for the effects (and the side effects) of our actions, ” Godin states. “It is our decision. Whatever the decision is, you need to own it. If you can’t look that decision in the mirror, market something else.”

Godin’s analysis may not in itself be sufficient to arrive at a comprehensive and full-blown morality of the marketplace, but I think it’s a pretty darn good start, especially considering it comes as a call from within the profession.

Dr. Grabill can take heart…recognition of the natural law isn’t dead.

“A human brain trapped inside a mouse’s body — not a good idea,” says Anjana Ahuja in the UK Times.

Not convinced? Check out this piece of mine over at BreakPoint, “A Monster Created in Man’s Image.”