Archived Posts April 2013 - Page 6 of 13 | Acton PowerBlog

New York City’s hipster and elitist class seem to believe that they should have some role in determining what business owners do with their property. Like hipsters and elitists around the country, New York’s cohort are banding together to protest companies that do not present the utopian vision for the neighbors where these elites dwell (most of whom are renters, by the way). There is much buzz in New York City right now because more and more national chains are setting up shop causing great consternation. In a recent AM New York newspaper story, readers get a sense of the angst:
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Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
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sale-sign1J.C. Penney recently gave up on last year’s strategy to abandon sales and coupons in favor of “everyday low pricing.” As an article in the New York Times points out, “simplifying pricing, it turns out, is not that simple”:

“It may be a decent deal to buy that item for $5,” said Ms. Fobes, who runs Penny Pinchin’ Mom, a blog about couponing strategies. “But for someone like me, who’s always looking for a sale or a coupon — seeing that something is marked down 20 percent off, then being able to hand over the coupon to save, it just entices me,” she said. “It’s a rush.”

Devoted coupon users like Ms. Fobes may be more frugal than the typical consumer. But most shoppers, coupon collectors or not, want the thrill of getting a great deal, even if it’s an illusion.

The article goes on to indicate  that this type of illusion-seeking and the corresponding “rush” are sometimes due to certain levels of conditioning:

Even Walmart, which actually does pull off the trick of “everyday low prices” in its domestic stores, is finding it hard to convert consumers to a single-price model in countries like Brazil and China, where retailers give deep discounts on a few main products, then mark up the rest, said Mark Wiltamuth, an analyst at Morgan Stanley.

The problem, economists and marketing experts say, is that consumers are conditioned to wait for deals and sales, partly because they do not have a good sense of how much an item should be worth to them and need cues to figure that out.

Just having a generically fair or low price, as Penney did, said Alexander Chernev, a marketing professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, assumes that consumers have some context for how much items should cost. But they don’t.

Yet as AEI’s Mark Perry notes, from a producer and seller’s perspective, such schemes come in response to the ever-evolving and unpredictable demands of the consumer—in this case, particular shopping preferences. This is “not an enviable position to be in,” Perry writes, “to be at the mercy of fickle and unpredictable consumers.” (more…)

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has been studying the steady rise of hostility towards religious expression and religious liberty worldwide. In fact, they found that restrictions on religion rose in every major area of the world, including the United States, since the study began in 2009.

Citing what the Pew Forum calls “social hostilities” (as opposed to government hostilities), the study found that Pakistan, India and Iraq were the most hostile countries to religious freedom.

The Social Hostilities Index (SHI) measures acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations and social groups. This includes mob or sectarian violence, harassment over attire for religious reasons and other religion-related intimidation or abuse.

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A-Win-Win-Solution--The-Empirical-Evidence-on-School-ChoiceA new report by Greg Forster of the Friedman Foundation finds that of all the “gold standard” research on children who utilize school vouchers, 11 of 12 studies conclude all or some of those students achieve better educational outcomes. No study found choice participants were worse off than those remaining in traditional public schools:

The evidence points clearly in one direction. Opponents frequently claim school choice does not benefit participants, hurts public schools, costs taxpayers, facilitates segregation, and even undermines democracy. However, the empirical evidence consistently shows that choice improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools, saves taxpayer money, moves students into more integrated classrooms, and strengthens the shared civic values and practices essential to American democracy.

These results are not difficult to explain. School choice improves academic outcomes by allowing students to find the schools that best match their needs, and by introducing healthy competition that keeps schools mission-focused. It saves money by eliminating administrative bloat and rewarding good stewardship of resources. It breaks down the barriers of residential segregation, drawing students together from diverse communities. And it strengthens democracy by accommodating diversity, de-politicizing the curriculum, and allowing schools the freedom to sustain the strong institutional cultures that are necessary to cultivate democratic virtues such as honesty, diligence, achievement, responsibility, service to others, civic participation, and respect for the rights of others.

Read more . . .

Joe has done us all a real service in putting together his three part (1, 2, 3) primer on Bitcoin (full PDF here).

I am curious, though, what the justification is for referring to Bitcoin as a “commodity” currency. Consider this from Izabella Kaminska at the FT Alphaville blog:

For those who insist that the term “fiat” refers exclusively to government-issued fiat currency, it’s perhaps better to interpret our use in the evolutionary sense.

Meaning that Bitcoin (and other virtual currencies) represent not commodity money, not managed money, nor even old fashioned government-issued fiat money, but a whole new type of super fiat that is rendered valuable by the issuing crowd (made up of independent entities) rather than the state.

The idea is that Bitcoin isn’t “declared” to be valuable by the state, but that it is “declared” to be valuable by common consent of the community of Bitcoin users. Consider this a kind of communal rather than governmental fiat.

This is why I wondered earlier about Bitcoin as “merely fiat money without the pretensions.”

But then again, isn’t this kind of communal agreement or declaration of value what money has always really been? Isn’t that, as Joe relates, what we learn from the example of the rai of Yap? (Their real innovation seems to be that they anticipated something like the “virtualization” of money exchange.)

Here again I’ll invoke the insight of Richard Whately: “It is not that pearls fetch a high price because men have dived for them; but on the contrary, men dive for them because they fetch a high price.” People are mining Bitcoins because they fetch a high price…at least for now.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
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Why Study the Didache?
Tom O’Loughlin, Nottingham University

The earliest Christian community at work and in prayer. The first how-to manual for the Church.

Once Supporters, Baptists Now Shirk Earth Day
Aaron Weave, Ethics Daily

When Earth Day began in 1970, Baptists actively supported the need for greater regulations to protect the planet. Today, too many Baptists shirk that responsibility.

Easter on way for the Orthodox
Andrew Estocin, Albuquerque Journal

Most Americans identify Orthodox Christianity with an ethnic group such as Greeks or Russians. However, in New Mexico, Orthodox Christians are a diverse group that prays and worships in English.

Religious Freedom and the Modern Antidiscrimination Regime
Rick Plasterer, Juicy Ecumenism

Robust protections for religious freedom are needed in contemporary society, both from legislatures and from courts, to prevent religious freedom from being subordinated to other interests offended by religious belief and practice.

[Note: This is the third entry in a three part series. You can read the introductory post here and part two here.]

The Disadvantages of Bitcoin

For people who are not obsessed with anonymity and are not waiting for the U.S. to return to the gold standard, the reasons for avoiding entering the Bitcoin market are numerous:

1. Convertibility – Whereas other currencies are convertible into other financial instruments (dollars to checks to certificates of deposit, etc.) and through numerous third-party services (e.g., Visa, PayPal, Citibank), commodity currencies like Bitcoin can only be exchanged for fiat currencies—and then only through an online exchange. Indeed, unless your computer is working overtime on Bitcoin mining, the only way to acquire the currency is to buy it from one of the 30 online exchanges.

These exchanges are completely unregulated and are subject to problems that do not affect other financial markets. For instance, in 2011 the largest Bitcoin exchange, MTGox, had a security breach that resulted in the theft of nearly $9 million worth of Bitcoins. The theft caused the value of Bitcoins to crash from $17.50 to one cent before the market was able to recover.

2. Instability – The MTGox breach—and the subsequent market crash—taught Bitcoin owners a harsh lesson about commodity currencies: they can be wildly unstable. Over the 8 month span from October 1 2010 to June 9 2011, the market value of Bitcoins skyrocketed 9667-fold from a value of $0.06 to $29.

The rate had dropped in 2012 and at the end of last year a Bitcoin was worth only $13.51. Last week, though, Bitcoins were trading as high as $266 before plummeting to less than $100. Anyone who had bought $1,000 worth of currency in October 2010 would theoretically have $4.4 million worth of Bitcoins. However, the convertibility problem would make it nearly impossible to extract that money without crashing the market and devaluing the entire currency. A gradual sell-off over an extended period of time would be necessary to take advantage of increase in valuation.

Still, being the seller of the overvalued currency is preferable to being the buyer. The Winklevoss twins, millionaires famous for their legal battle with Facebook, claim to own around one percent of all Bitcoins currently in existence (around 108,000). They began buying the currency in 2012, making some early Bitcoin holders very rich.
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Fr C. John McCloskey, a Church historian and research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, recently reviewed Samuel Gregg’s Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future.

He says:

Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich., has written a very timely book, given the concerning state of our economy and, more importantly, our ever-declining moral life.

Becoming Europe opens with an account of the human slaughter and economic disaster of the First World War, which, as they say, “changed everything.” In particular, it opened the way for the Second World War, in part through the economic collapse of a defeated Germany during the Weimar Republic. The desperate situation in which a bankrupt Germany found itself eventually offered an opening for the hate-filled demagoguery of Adolph Hitler, the Third Reich and the Second World War. (more…)

Acton University is just two months away and we’ve just confirmed our featured lecturers for the big event. Check out their bios below.

The four featured speakers are:

Rev. Robert Sirico

He is presidsiricoent and co-founder of the Acton Institute.  Fr. Sirico serves on the staff of Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His writings on religious, political, economic, and social matters are published in a variety of journals, including: the New York Times, the Wall Street JournalForbes, the London Financial Times, the Washington Times, and more.
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If your next date night costs you more, you can thank Obamacare. Regal Entertainment Group, the country’s largest movie theater chain, has announced that it is cutting employee hours due to Obamacare related costs.movie tickets

One Regal theater manager told FoxNews.com the move has sparked a wave of resignations from full-time managers who have seen their hours cut by 25 percent or more.

“In the last couple weeks, managers have been quitting on a daily basis from various locations to try and find full-time work,” said the manager, who asked not to be named. “Regal up until now has never restricted anyone to anything below 40 hours.”

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