Topping the charts is the warning attached to a front-loading washing machine: “Do not put any person in this washer.” Other hits include:
- “Never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level.”
- “Don’t try to dry your phone in a microwave oven.”
The contest is part of the group’s efforts to “give us a chance to tell the inside story of how our nation’s legal system has become so erratic that these types of labels are necessary,” said Bob Dorigo Jones, president of M-LAW.
In his book Give Me a Break, journalist John Stossel includes a chapter titled, “The Trouble with Lawyers,” and writes that these wacky labels are a form of “verbal pollution.” He says, “Lawsuits also disrupt the information flow that helps us protect ourselves. We ought to read labels.” But when we are overrun with inane labels of this kind, “people respond to it by ignoring labels we should read.”
A NYT editorial informs us today that retail prices for coffee products are rising (HT: Icarus Fallen). We are assured, however, that the price rise has been “relatively modest” and that an important factor is “changes in supply and demand in a global economy.”
The bad news in the editorial, at least for the fair trade crowd, is that these same forces of suppy and demand are raising the price for the commodity itself.
According to the International Coffee Organization, the composite price of coffee rose over 36 percent from the beginning of 2005 to the end of 2006. The organization predicts a down year for the Brazilian coffee crop, which could lead to a supply shortfall and even higher prices this year. While world demand has grown at annual rates of 1.5 to 1.8 percent over the last five years, it has been rising at a much faster clip of roughly 15 percent for smaller players like Russia and China. As more people enter the global middle class, the demand for coffee rises, putting upward pressure on the price.
I have argued previously that the very low price of coffee internationally was a pointer to the fact that we had a global glut in the bean supply.
That trend seems to be reversing and the rising commodity price for coffee is thus undermining the long-term viability, relevance, and credibility of fair trade coffee.
Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in California, has a new blog, Mouw’s Musings, and has taken notice of Sam Gregg’s recent Acton Commentary, “Self Interest, Rightly Understood.”
Giving Gregg credit for making “an important point” with which he largely agrees, Mouw goes on to say: “At the same time this also seems to me to be true. People who are not motivated by an intentional desire to promote the common good often do not in fact promote the common good. And people who do aim to promote the common good often do succeed in doing so.”
Thus, because of this second reality, Mouw concludes that there is “a need for discernment on the part of Christians in evaluating various hard-line economic philosophies.” With that point, I heartily agree.
It seems to me, however, that in some ways the point that Mouw engages, that “as individuals pursue profit” there are all sorts of unintended positive consequences, is a rather small claim that does not itself deny Mouw’s second observation. Gregg himself, in fact, writes in the immediately following line, “None of this means that commercial society does not afford opportunities for people to act altruistically.”
It is a valid point for both Mouw and Gregg to make that there is a higher good than pursuit of mere self-interest and one that is consonant with the Christian tradition. That being said, Gregg is concerned making both a more limited and more pointed claim: the good resulting from the secondary virtue of self-interest is still good, and it is even good that is essential for common flourishing.
There shouldn’t be anything controversial about such a claim, especially since it has been held by so many Christian theologians, not least of which is Jonathan Edwards, who distinguished between primary and secondary virtue.
In his treatise on True Virtue, Edwards writes that self-love “is far from being useless in the world” and “exceeding necessary to society, besides its directly and greatly seeking the good of one.” He even says that self-love can be manifest as a sort of “‘negative’ moral goodness,” or “the negation or absence of true moral evil.”
Being that Edwards is concerned to explore the nature of true virtue, rather than this “negative moral goodness,” he doesn’t spend a lot of time examining the implications and social effects of self-love, and that is entirely understandable.
On that score, Edwards’ concern is more like Mouw’s in that he is seeking to describe the highest good. By comparison with Christian benevolence, the virtuous character of secondary or civil good doesn’t match up. Thus, concludes Edwards, “no affection limited to any private system, not dependent on, nor subordinate to Being in general can be of the nature of true virtue.”
But Gregg’s task is different and more limited than either Mouw’s or Edwards’ concern. Gregg is looking primarily at the civic good that self-interest promotes. And its important to realize that neither claim is necessarily inconsistent with the other.
It has been said that when Jonathan Edwards would roam about the countryside on his horse, he would record his observations and thoughts on little scraps of paper and pin them to his coat. When he returned home, his wife would help him unpin the notes and he would arrange them on his desk and use them as a basis for recording his thoughts in more permanent form.
It must have been one of the memorable sights of the world to have seen him returning on horseback from a solitary ride into the forest, while there fluttered about him, pinned to his coat, the strips of paper on which he had scribbled the results of his meditations.
But whatever the source of his recorded observations, it can’t be doubted that his meditations found their way into his Miscellanies, a set of writings on various topics worked on throughout his lifetime.
In the writing of these Miscellanies, we can view Edwards as a proto-blogger of sorts, and if we can stretch the image a bit more, we can see the Miscellanies as an early form of hypertext. At least, the topical and occasional nature of the Miscellanies render them well-suited for the tools of a digital age, where tags and hyperlinks can quickly and easily connect writings previously separated by time and page.
The hypertextualization of Edwards’ Miscellanies is, in fact, what The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University has accomplished. As part of the project to digitize Edwards’ entire corpus, the beta phase of the first installment of texts has been made public and is free to access during a trial period.
All 1373 Miscellanies are now text searchable and linked by topic. Now, for instance, you can scan through all eight of the Miscellanies (and another sermon), written over the course of a decade, that treat of the subject of “self love” with a few clicks of a mouse button.
And so, with the work of the Jonathan Edwards Center, we now have access to the works of Jonathan Edwards, the O.B. (Original Blogger). Hey, if Jonathan Edwards can be my “homeboy,” then we can certainly indulge one or two other anachronisms.
With the publication this month of The Commercial Society – Foundations and Challenges in a Global Age, Samuel Gregg embarks on an exploration of the key foundational elements that must exist within a society for commercial order to take root and flourish. Guided by the thoughts of Alexis de Tocqueville, Gregg studies the challenges that have consistently impeded and occasionally undermined commercial order. This commentary, excerpted from the new book, explains why people who begin to exceed their “immediate needs and acquired responsibilities … begin to develop opportunities to be generous to others.”
I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to hell with them that descend into the pit: and all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, shall be comforted in the nether parts of the earth. — Eze 31:16
After 30 years of Saddam’s stalinist rule and nearly four years since he was deposed, a democratic Iraq is making great strides on the environment in its own right, and with the help of the international environmental community…(read on) (more…)