Category: Public Policy

Three years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the same rights as individuals to engage in political speech. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the Citizens United decision, the “corporate identity” of a speaker did not justify a reduced level of free speech protection. Can that same concept about corporate identity be applied to religious liberties? Do corporations have religious liberty rights too?

Some legal scholars are claiming they do not:
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Last night in Dublin I was having a conversation with a 65-year-old man who was ranting about the high unemployment rate in the European Union, which in the 17-nation currency area rose to 12.2 percent in April. The current unemployment rate is a new record since the data series began in 1995. My new friend was very open about being an outright socialist and said that Europe’s problem is that people are not being treated fairly.

Capitalism, he explained, promotes a culture where people do not share their resources because it encourages inequality. To solve the European unemployment crisis, my friend suggested that Europe “needs a dictator” to come in and simply tell everyone what to do so that there will be true equality. The problem, however, my Irish friend confessed, is that when someone gets in a power “they get carried away with it,” and people end up being taken advantage of. He did not seem able to connect the dots that countries that have tried socialism and dictatorships are countries where the poor are worse off in the long-run. Therefore, his proposal will not work.

The conversation raised several questions for me. To start, I wondered why this 65-year-old man drinking a Smithwick’s beer, sitting next to me drinking a pint of Guinness, did not see that we were both experiencing equality thanks to the free market, property rights, and the rule of law. I also wondered why he thinks that something like socialism would be the best way forward given the fact that a form of it is currently not working in the European Union.
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The Washington Post has an interesting story on young people who feel their vocation is “earning to give”—making as much money as possible in order to give away as much as possible to worthy causes. An example is Jason Trigg, an MIT computer science graduate who works as a programmer for a high-frequency trading firm:
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Jordan Ballor wrote a provocative post about fusionism today, titled “Libertarians in Black,” modifying Jonah Goldberg’s suggestion that there should always be a libertarian in the room during political discussions with a little help from Johnny Cash:

I think we might be able to bring Jonah Goldberg and Johnny Cash together on this point, to say that there always ought to be a “libertarian in black” in the room, asking the right questions about what government policies do for the people, particularly the poor.

Yet I wonder, might there be room for another man (or woman) in black as well? Might we also benefit from having a monk in the room? (No offense intended to any Trappists, who traditionally wear white, but honestly, what are they going to say?) (more…)

MonksInkWhat do markets have to do with monasticism? Quite a lot to the Benedictine monks of St. Andrew’s Abbey in Southern California, according to a recent press release. Their prior Fr. Joseph Brennan describes MonksInk, the monks’ business selling ink and toner cartridges:

Every monastery has something unique about them. For example, a monastery in Louisiana makes soap. Some make jellies and jams. The Camaldolese make amazing fruitcake. But we never developed anything like that. Until now, we only produced ceramics, and even these were designed by a brother monk in Belgium. We really needed to do something different. MonksInk was a good fit.

The article goes on to detail their offerings:

Product selection meets or exceeds what one could find at any big box office supply store — including ink and toner options for every make and model of printer, fax and copy machine, from HP and Epson to Xerox, and every brand in between. Buyers also have their choice of original manufacturer products, alternative cost-saving brands, or re-manufactured items. And, the monks are quick to point out, anyone can always add a prayer request or two as well! (more…)

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.

sowell-intellect-raceThe more I read of Thomas Sowell’s latest book, Intellectuals and Race, the more I am persuaded that the era of progressivism may have been just as damaging to the history of black progress in American than the Jim Crow era. From the latter part of the 19th-century through the 1930s progressives sought to use government as a means of addressing the social ills of society. It was an era where leading intellectuals, in partnership with politicians, expanded the scope of the government’s decision-making authority to address the needs of the poor. It was an era where good intentions created more problems than policy makers anticipated. Sowell explains how these policies were especially harmful to minorities in chapter 3 of the book.
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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…)

thomas-aquinasaugustine-of-hippoAs I noted previously, I’ve been involved this month in a panel discussion over at Cato Unbound on the issue of “Conservative-Libertarian Fusionism.”

My two most recent contributions to the discussion phase focus on possible resources for the question that can be gleaned from Augustine and Aquinas.

Augustine inaugurated a tradition of Christian reflection on the saeculum, the age of this world in which the wheat and the tares grow up together, and the implications of this for common life together. On the relevance of Augustine for modern considerations of political order, I recommend a recent lecture from Eric Gregory of Princeton University.

Aquinas in many respects, and as Gregory points out, should be read as a constructive interlocutor with Augustine rather than in opposition with him. Indeed, Augustine wrote in his Enchiridion that “although every crime is a sin, not every sin is a crime.” Likewise in his treatise on free choice, he observed, “The law which is framed for the government of states, allows and leaves unpunished many things that are punished by Divine providence.”

In this vein, Aquinas treats in systematic fashion the question, “Whether it belongs to human law to repress all vices?” As I contend over at Cato Unbound, Aquinas follows Augustine in answering negatively, and his discussion has some serious implications for how both conservatives and libertarians ought to think about the limits of the law: “Conservatives and libertarians ought to recognize that positive law is not meant to repress all vices or to promote all virtues.”