Archived Posts March 2006 | Acton PowerBlog

The resemblance is uncanny.

Who said liberation theology was dead?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, March 30, 2006

A brief Q&A with Acton research fellow and Covenant Theological Seminary professor Anthony Bradley has been posted here, “How Jacked-Up Punks Will Change The World,” in preparation for Anthony’s speaking engagement at the Reform & Resurge Conference 2006, May 9th – 11th in Seattle, WA.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, March 30, 2006

Pat Nolan, president of Justice Fellowship, writes about the challenges that non-profits face in seeking funding, in the latest Justice eReport, “Equpping the Armies of Compassion.” Nolan highlights the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide and We Care America, which has a grant center that assists charities in getting proposals together.

And on a related note, Joe Knippenberg at No Left Turns critiques an article by Amy Sullivan in The New Republic, “Patron Feint,” which depicts the faith-based initiative as a mere political tool to satisfy the GOP’s evangelical base.

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Wednesday, March 29, 2006
An apple a day…

Here’s an interesting story–Apple Corps is suing Apple Computer for breach of contract. You probably recognize the first Apple as the company owned by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and the widows of the other two Beatles. Since 1991, Apple Corps has had a deal with Apple Computer: in essence, the music company agrees to stay out of the computer and telecommunications business, and the computer company agrees to stay out of the music business–technically, each has agreed to keep its trademark out of the others “field of use.” All was fine and dandy until innovation reared its head: iTunes. Through its iTunes Music Store, Apple Computer now sells over three million songs a day–a success driven largely by the invention of the iPod. Apple Corps claims that Apple Computer has now elbowed in to the former’s “field of use.”

So this brings up an interesting dilemma: when a company like Apple creates something new–in this case, a new distribution system for music–unimaginable in the time when the terms of a particular agreement were set, how does this change the agreement itself? When the two Apples agreed to stay out of one another’s field of use, what happens when one Apple creates a new field that is similar in some ways to the one it promised to stay out of?

…won’t keep the lawyers away.

Of course, I am no lawyer, and cannot say how things ought to play out (any thoughts on this from those who know?). But it is worth noting that the creativity of entrepreneurs–in this case, the creative minds at Apple–can easily disrupt common ways of thinking about particular industries. Markets are not static entites, but we often don’t think that innovation can also change our terms of understanding. This is not a negative. Rather, it shows the multiple powers of human creativity: the thing created also demands the creation of new ways of understanding our world and language.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, March 29, 2006

It has been a bit of a mystery over the last few months, as an anonymous group of developers had been purchasing up a series of properties near downtown Grand Rapids. The investigative work of the local TV news turned up the plans for the group to end up with a 41-acre area that runs along the Grand River through the heart of downtown.

Currently, the area is mostly made up of unused manufacturing facilities, abandoned buildings, and generally unproductive land. Over the last week, WOODTV 8 has learned the identify of one of the primary developers and their plans for the property. The project is called the RiverGrand, and Duane Faust of a developing company with offices in Atlanta and Los Angeles has been identified as a key player.

In an interview with Faust, 24 Hour News 8’s Suzanne Geha got Faust to describe the project: “We plan to build a large scale, mixed-use infrastructure development project that will serve as the standard bearer for not only Grand Rapids but the entire state of Michigan, making the transition from an industrial, manufacturing-based economy to a technology-economic-health care-entertainment as well as financial economy that everyone else is doing in the country,” he said.

There are currently no blueprints, but Faust says the project would take the best elements from other well-known developments, including Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Atlanta’s “Atlantic Station,” and London, England’s Canary Wharf.

Like Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the RiverGrand would have a marina for use by boaters. Similar to Atlanta’s “Atlantic Station,” the RiverGrand would be “a city within a city,” made up of mixed-use land that serves as the core of downtown economic, residential, and social activity. And akin to London’s Canary Wharf, the land would be the home for several high-rise buildings, which would “significantly” change the skyline of Grand Rapids.

Since the RiverGrand project is much smaller than these other developments, the similarities would be appropriated to the scale of the plan, of course. Even so, Faust predicts that RiverGrand will employ 10,000 people.

This is good news for an area that has been hit hard by recent manufacturing losses. Electrolux, which at one point employed 2,700 people in Greenville, Michigan, closed its doors earlier this year. The key for the Faust plan is that Michigan is to move beyond a primarily industrial economy, and the attractiveness of the RiverGrand project is the diversity of economic opportunity it embraces, from tourism, music and entertainment, to commercial and finance industries.

This is in marked contrast to the plan from the politicians in the state’s capital. On the heels of the Electrolux move, Gov. Granholm trumpeted the news of a new plant being opened in Greenville, which would employ 500 people. The facility is owned by United Solar Ovonic, which is a developer of alternative fuel techonlogies, including the production of solar cells.

It’s clear that the Lansing politicians see the future of Michigan’s economy to be a continuation of the industrialized past, as two consecutive administrations (Engler and Granholm) have used tobacco settlement funds to set up technology and biotechnology funds for new endeavors in Michigan.

The problem with such efforts is that the liberty of entrepreneurial enterprises should not be pitted against the determinism of lawmakers. As we have seen, the transition from an industrial economy can be difficult for many in the short-term. And while it is tempting for politicians to try to find for themselves the next big thing, they must resist that temptation and simply place Michigan in a position where it has a clear and fair tax structure that is competitive with other states and nations.

Technological innovation will always be an important part of a robust economy. But a diversification that deals with the realities of a global economy will be the real answer to long-term growth. For that reason, the future hope for Michigan lies more with entrepreneurial endeavors like the RiverGrand project as with the decisions of Lansing lawmakers in determining the future industries of Michigan.

Projects like the RiverGrand will do more to make Grand Rapids a “cool city” than state programs ever could.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, March 28, 2006

“Immigration creates wealth,” says Larry Kudlow:

Part of the immigration problem is simply Mexico’s inadequate growth and lack of economic opportunity. The country is growing at about 3 percent a year, but it ought to be growing at six to ten percent. Our southern neighbor ought to be the “Mexican Tiger,” but continues to be the “Mexican Chihuahua.”

He also cites and explicates a column by Linda Chavez in The Washington Times, “illustrating what great entrepreneurs and small-business owners Hispanics are.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Monday, March 27, 2006

It was a major topic of discussion during the era of corporate scandals a couple years ago, but the issue of executive compensation still pops up in the news from time to time, and it remains a problem with which serious thinkers continue to grapple.

Harvard’s Lucian Bebchuk and Berkeley’s Jesse Fried started one important strand of the discussion when they published Pay Without Performance in 2004. (Robert Kennedy reviewed it for Markets & Morality [available to subscribers]). In brief, Bebchuk and Fried proposed measures to enable and encourage more active shareholders as a check on exorbitant executive pay.

The discussion continues at Harvard’s Program on Corporate Governance, which features further commentary from Bebchuk as well as papers that criticize his proposals for reform. One paper not linked at that page is Stephen Bainbridge’s, which argues that boards of directors are better suited to make corporate governance decisions than are shareholders.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, March 27, 2006

Kofi Akosah in Accra, Ghana, writes in the latest Campaign for Fighting Diseases newsletter about the prospects for the use of DDT in fighting malaria in his home country. He first describes the devastation that the disease wreaks: “More than 17 million of Ghana’s 20 million people are infected by malaria every year, costing the nation a colossal 850 million cedis (US$94 million) for treatment alone.”

He continues, “Those infected by malaria are in and out of hospital and unable to work. Malaria takes an especially heavy toll on farmers. Swarms of mosquitoes make it impossible for farmers and their families to sleep indoors especially, during the rainy seasons when they are forced to sleep outdoors around bonfires.”

Akosah blames in large part the regulations and methods used by the World Health Organization, which he says have “advocated the use of insecticide-treated bednets in vector control, almost to the exclusion of other proven measures.” One such measure that the WHO has decided to reintroduce in limited use, is “Indoor Residual Spraying, which involves spraying the interior walls of dwellings with a small amount of DDT. This acts as an irritant to the mosquitoes, which prevents them from coming in the house in the first place. Those that do make it inside are quickly repelled outside.”

One of the reasons that DDT had been excluded from WHO treatments against malaria was the havoc that the use of the chemical caused nearly fifty years ago. As Chuck Colson writes, the WHO “sprayed the people’s thatch-roofed huts with DDT—and set in motion a life-and-death illustration of the importance of respecting the natural order.”

He says that the unintended consequences of the application of DDT to the huts followed after the mosquitos had been killed: “The pesticide killed the mosquitoes, but it also killed a parasitic wasp that kept thatch-eating caterpillars under control. The result? People’s roofs began caving in.”

“And then things really got bad,” Colson continues. “The local geckos feasted on the toxic mosquitoes—and got sick. Cats gorged on sick geckos—and dropped dead. And then, with no cats, the rats began running wild, threatening the people with deadly bubonic plague.” All this points to the dangers of the unintended consequences of any policy initiative, but especially one that involves the alteration of the natural environment.

The way to deal with the reality Colson describes, however, is not necessarily to abandon the use of DDT altogether, but to learn from the mistakes of the past. This is why current advocates of the use of DDT emphasize that it is indoor spraying that is the legitimate use of the chemical.

The statement of the Kill Malarial Mosquitos NOW! coalition (PDF) states vehemently that it is in favor “only for indoor residual spraying (which results in zero-to-negligible external environmental residue) – and not for aerial or any other form of outdoor application.”

For more on the coalition, see this entry from the PowerBlog, “Add DDT to the Malaria-Fighting Arsenal.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, March 24, 2006

An snippet from Ecumenical News International:

Presbyterians invest $1 million in church ‘bank’ that helps poor

New York (ENI). The Presbyterian Church (USA) has invested US$1 million in Oikocredit, an organization established by the World Council of Churches that assists people in poor countries start small businesses. The investment is the largest in Oikocredit over more than a decade, the church announced earlier this week, making the 2.4-million-member US denomination the second-largest investor in the institution set up in 1975. The largest is the Church of Sweden.

I’ve looked a bit at the Oikocredit organization, and in generally this does not fit my normal expectations for an initiative by the left-leaning WCC. To be sure, Oikocredit does employ the rather vague criteria of “socially responsible investing” when deciding which groups to fund.

But in general, the microlending approach is much more economically viable and informed than many ecumenical attitudes towards global poverty. Started over thirty years ago, Oikocredit has a track record, and “was created for groups that need credit to develop their productive enterprises, but have difficulties receiving credit through conventional financial institutions, because they simply lack collateral.” For a personal story of how microloans can be a part of the solution (along with property rights, the rule of law, and so on), see this commentary by Rev. Jerry Zandstra.

Despite its shortcomings, Oikocredit on the whole is probably a good thing. And again, when compared to what you typically see from ecumenical groups, it’s positively refreshing.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, March 23, 2006

Joe Knippenberg raises three issues with respect to my critique of the faith-based initiative (here and here). He writes first, “any activity that depends upon money is potentially corrupting, whether the source is governmental or private…. Why governmental money is different from private in this regard isn’t clear to me.”

I agree that the potential for corruption is present in both cases, but the immediate constituency differs from private to public funds. For the former, the donors are the immediate stake-holders and the charity is accountable to them. For the latter, politicians and bureaucrats are those who hold the charity immediately accountable.

Despite the best intentions of many people who work in government, special interests and ideologies can skew their proper stewardship of taxpayer money, and does not always represent the interests of the citizenry. Since taxpayer money is mediated through the government, there is another layer of institutionalization that serves to increase the distance and thus the accountability between the charity and the donor constituency.

This raises another important issue, which is that strictly speaking taxpayers shouldn’t be considered “donors” in the traditional sense at all. Paying taxes is enforced by the power of the state in a way that voluntary donation to private charities is not. One aspect of this is the distancing effect I just pointed out, but another effect is that the moral virtue of the act of giving is displaced by the coercive nature of the taxpayer/government relationship. Surely those who voluntarily give even more to charities than they are required by taxation are worthy of even greater praise because of this, but nevertheless the nature of the money flowing in to charities from these two sources is quite different. One is coerced the other is voluntary. (more…)