Archived Posts February 2013 - Page 13 of 15 | Acton PowerBlog

I came across this intriguing story out of Silicon Valley today:

SUNNYVALE (CBS SF) – Bloom Energy Corp. has been ordered by a U.S. District Court Judge to pay $31,922 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages to employees from Mexico after the company was found to have willfully violated the minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Bloom, a manufacturer of solid oxide fuel cells, has been paying 14 workers brought to the United States from Chihuahua, Mexico less than $3 per hour for refurbishing work performed at the company headquarters in Sunnyvale.


According to a press release from the Labor Department, Bloom Energy brought the workers in from Mexico to refurbish power generators alongside U.S. workers. Federal investigators found that the workers were paid in Mexican pesos the equivalent of $2.66 per hour. The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked. California minimum wage is $8 per hour.

First off, any corporation or company guilty of knowingly breaking the law deserves whatever due punishment is prescribed by statute. Secondly, it appears that “progressive” and “green” businesses are just as susceptible to exploiting cheap labor from Mexico as any “Right-wing”-owned or supported company. I point this out purely because the association of any and all exploits found under our current “capitalistic” (term used loosely) system are always blamed on proponents of freer economic markets (and limited government). This perceived endorsement of perfidious behavior in the marketplace isn’t a minor point either. It is the rationale employed by many Americans – especially younger ones – to denounce, if not out-right reject, any association with free market capitalism.

Third, the minimum wage laws in this country are, on the whole, rubbish. Their real-world effects run in direction contradiction to the stream of well-intentioned hot air cascading forth from whichever bleeding-heart politician or community organizer happens to be singing their praises in front of a camera crew at the moment.

I’m not saying that the specific scenario detailed in the news report above is a pitch-perfect example of what’s wrong with labor laws in the United States, and I’m certainly not defending the actions of Bloom Energy. What I am saying is simply that the panic button and red-flashing light certain journalists, reporters and politicians want going off in the hearts and minds of the average American adult any time they hear about how few dollars/pesos other human beings are willing to work for need to be reigned in a bit. We must take a deep breath and decide to soberly investigate if something like the Minimum Wage Law has worked, is working, or can ever work.

Dr. Thomas Sowell (Hoover Institution) has a few thoughts on the subject:

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Myth of the Zero Sum Game
Jay Richards, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

Myth #3: The Zero Sum Game Myth – believing that trade requires a winner and a loser.

Appeals court rules against HHS mandate
Michael Foust, Baptist Press

A federal appeals court has once again ruled against the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate in a case that has strong implications for religious liberty.

University of Pittsburgh’s Rescher Prize to Alvin Plantinga
David J. Theroux, The Independent Institute

Plantinga has shown that those scholars who attempt to ground reality in naturalism are not just pursuing a futile quest leading to determinism and nihilism but are embracing views that defeat their very intellectual enterprise, including science itself. Unfortunately, many superb classical liberal and libertarian scholars remain unaware of Plantinga’s work and are oblivious of the profound weaknesses in their naturalistic assumptions.”

School Choice Is Nice, but It’s Freedom That’s Key
Neal McClusky, Cato at Liberty

Having the ability to choose a school is certainly better than being assigned to a single, government institution. But just being able to choose a school must not be the ultimate goal.

Working Class Bulwark by Jacob BurckAs I noted last week, my review of Nicholas Eberstadt’s Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic appears in the current issue of The City, a fine publication produced by Houston Baptist University.

Eberstadt provides an important service in bringing home the fiscal realities of the spending crisis facing the American government. But Yuval Levin’s brief reply was, for me, the high point of the book, as it emphasized the indispensability of the so-called “third sector” in social analysis. Eberstadt’s case is helpful for drawing sharp lines, but it’s also worth taking a step back to appreciate the real complexity of the situation.

This is in part why I find any dichotomous breakdown of the situation, whether it pits “makers” against “takers” or the proletariat against the bourgeosie, to be insufficient.

When you have a fuller picture of society than is provided through merely political lenses, it becomes far more difficult to determine who is really a maker and who is really a taker. Or as Joseph Sunde puts it in his review,

The moment we disregard the value in varying social and institutional relationships—beginning with a holistic disregard of the distinct responsibilities of the government vs. the business vs. the school vs. the church vs. the father vs. the daughter vs. the grandmother—is the moment we should expect to see “dependency” become warped toward a one-sided “entitlement archipelago” that serves the self, and little else.

As for the complexity of modern society, Herman Bavinck describes things this way, in a manner that helpfully complicates any simple oppositional narrative:

Current society displays in every respect the greatest inequality and the richest diversity, far greater inequality and diversity than its opponents usually imagine. For they divide society actually into only two classes: the filthy rich and the dirt poor, the superpowerful and the powerless, the abusers and the abused, tyrants and slaves. But the real society, the society that lives and breathes, does not look at all like that; the diversity is far greater, so great that no one can form a complete picture of it. The filthy rich constitute a very small minority, and of these people, membership along a continuum proceeds down to the bottom not by a big leap but rather in terms of a gradual slope in various degrees and in various stages.

For more on these matters, I highlight Bavinck’s insight and the phenomenon of natural diversity, particularly in economic terms, in a recent paper, “The Moral Challenges of Economic Equality and Diversity.”

Seize the DayIn Businessweek late last year, Jason Zinoman noted the Broadway revival of Glengarry Glen Ross with Al Pacino as Levine. The play, says Zinoman, “speaks as directly to the economic anxieties of today as when it opened on Broadway in 1984, at the end of Ronald Reagan’s first term. Then, the play was widely seen by critics as a left-wing attack on a free-market system run amok.”

But as he also notes,

Glengarry Glen Ross is often compared to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, but the fundamental difference is that Mamet shows us in concrete detail the value of work. He lets the audience see salesmen doing their job, and then distinguishes between those who do it well and those who don’t. In fact, as corrupt as the office may be, there is a meritocratic ethos at its core—the most impressive salesman, Roma, is also the most successful. Levene, by contrast, repeats himself, caves in negotiation, lies poorly. It’s easy to have sympathy for him, but hard to conclude that he doesn’t deserve to get paid less than Roma. Look closely enough at this play and you’ll find a belief in the market as well as a critique of it. Like most great dramas or novels, its ideas are far too complicated to fit into a slogan.

As another great work of fiction that likewise doesn’t fit neatly into a simple binary pattern, in between Death of a Salesman (1949) and Glengarry Glen Ross (1984), I’d like to also highlight a short novel I recently read, Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day (1956). Seize the Day follows the travails of hapless Tommy Wilhelm as he tries to scrape out a living in New York, or at least as he tries to appear to try to do so. There’s some serious engagement with the realities of internalized expectations, competition, envy, hucksterism, and the phenomena of commodity speculation.

James Q. Wilson’s terrific book Bureaucracy has an interesting story about Donald Trump and New York mayor Ed Koch. The year was 1986. The city of New York had spent six years and $13 million failing to build an ice skating rink in Central Park. In early summer that year, Donald Trump proposed to Mayor Ed Koch that he take over the project for $3 million and promised to cover any excess amounts himself rather than go back to the city. By late October the project was finished and was three quarters of a million dollars under budget.

How do you explain this story? Why was the city of New York so inept that it could not do in six years and with five times the money what Donald Trump was able to achieve in a few months?

There are several reasons why the city failed so miserably, but ultimately, the answer is that when government tries to do something, everything is infected by politics. For example, when the city planned to build the rink, the type of fuel used for refrigeration was a political matter. When Trump built the rink, he only worried about getting a reliable refrigeration unit. The city also had to abide by standards for equitable bidding of the project. Trump only had to give the contract to someone he knew could get the job done. Most important, when the city had the project there wasn’t much incentive to contain cost. No member of the government would personally have to cover cost overruns. Trump, on the other hand, accepted responsibility for coming in at or under the budget as the only way he could come out ahead.

As we continue to expand our government, we need to be thinking about what we really want. Bureaucracy gives us all kinds of things that we emphasize in our politics such as politically correct energy, equity and diversity in bidding, protection of union members, and providing jobs for government workers. On the other hand, sometimes you just want your skating rink by December.

Imagine that you have a series of plumbing problems in your house—clogged sinks, backed up toilets—and decide to hire a plumber. Which of these two incentive structures would you choose?

(A) The plumber only gets paid when the problems are fixed.
(B) The plumber will continue to be paid indefinitely for working on the problem, and will continue to get paid as long as the problem persists

Most of us would choose option A since we are more interested in functional indoor plumbing than we are in providing a paycheck for plumbers. Hard-working plumbers should prefer option A too since it respects their dignity and skills. The vocation of the plumber is to solve plumbing problems, not to latch onto make-work projects.

So if most people would choose option A, why does the government almost always adopt an incentive structure that reflects option B?

Family, church, and school are the three basic people-forming institutions, says Pat Fagan, so it’s no wonder that they produce the best results—including economic and political ones—when they cooperate:

Besides marriage, the other foundational institution that fosters human flourishing is religion. The effects of religious worship are dramatically visible in U.S. national survey correlational studies and increasingly in causational studies in areas like education, crime reduction, and health. Religious practice and prayer are good for marriage, but when marriage and worship are combined in family life, children thrive even more, and a decade or two later the economy experiences the benefits when those children are more productive earners.

When marriage and worship are united with a school that upholds the same fundamental ideals, a small community is formed, eminently capable of raising children to their optimum capacities. Family, church, and school are the three basic people-forming institutions, and it is no wonder that they produce the best results when they cooperate.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, February 6, 2013

5 Reasons You Should Celebrate Black History Month
Jemar Tisby, Reformed African American Network

While not everyone agrees Black History Month is a good thing, here are several reasons why I think it’s appropriate to celebrate this occasion.

Methodist Women for Open Borders
Mark D. Tooley, FrontPageMag

UMW once was the largest women’s organization in America, with over 1 million members. Today it is likely the fastest declining women’s organization, with just over half a million, and plunging.

The Boy Scouts: A Threat to Religious Liberty?
Liberty Institute

You are of course aware of the number of Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs sponsored by churches—whether Protestant, Catholic, or Mormon—and that hold their meetings in those church facilities. Both those sponsorships and the use of those facilities would be jeopardized if the proposed policy change is adopted.

How to Find Your Calling
Elise Amyx, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

One piece of advice I wish I heard in college is that your calling is not something you discover, it is something you recognize.

Blog author: abradley
Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ge Wang, adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at the Virginia Tech/Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, and seven of his colleagues published a study refuting early claims that affirmative actions should be taken to protect against racial discrimination when grants are dispersed.

The discussions about research grants and race escalated when a 2011 issue of Science magazine reported “that Asians were four percentage points and black or African American applicants 13 percentage points ‘less likely to receive NIH investigator-initiated research funding compared to whites.'”

Using a U.S News and World Report ranking on the top 92 medical schools, Wang and his team reportedly compiled data on black and white faculty members in departments of internal medicine, surgery, and basic sciences from a subset of 31 schools. The researchers found 130 black faculty members, and then randomly selected 40 of them for comparison. They paired the 40 black faculty with 80 white faculty peers including the same gender, degree, title, specialty, and university.

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Lee Habeeb and Mike Leven explain why it’s essential to make the moral case for conservatism:

If there is a single reason why conservatives continue to lose the battle of ideas, it’s because we don’t make the moral case for freedom and free markets. Our political class instead makes the economic case for our philosophy. Our smart guys are so impressed with their own intelligence, they think we can win the debate using numbers and data, charts and graphs, and political tactics and strategy.

It’s the Left’s secret advantage. They create the feeling that they care more about the average American because they make the moral case for their philosophy.

[. . .]

As the state takes more of our money, there is less for us to give to churches, synagogues, and mosques who take care of the weakest among us. And not just with a check, but with a caring human being connected to that material support.We can point to 20th-century Europe’s experience. As the state grew, the churches there had less influence and eventually emptied.

Read more . . .