Posts tagged with: Business/Finance

Did ‘Social Business’ Sink the Cardboard Bike?

Did ‘Social Business’ Sink the Cardboard Bike?

Jonathan Witt, research fellow at Acton, recently wrote a piece at The Federalist about “social business.” He argues that it might do more good to own and operate an ethical business that follows through on its contracts and “respects the dignity of employees and customers,” rather than trying to have a “social business.” Witt begins by talking about a cardboard bike. In 2012, Izhar Gafni became relatively famous by creating a sturdy cardboard bike that could be sold to the poorest around the world for $20. After two years and unsuccessful Indiegogo campaign, this potentially revolutionary project has failed to go anywhere. Witt argues that “social business” is to blame:

After talking up the virtues of a “social business model,” the start-up behind the bike, Cardboard Technologies, expended considerable energy trying to raising capital from Indiegogo donors uninterested in profit. The lack of a profit motive may have played a role. It also didn’t help that the price of the bike kept shifting—from $20 to $290 to $95 plus $40 shipping. Would-be investors had to wonder: Was the bike going to have a revolutionary everyman price, or wasn’t it?

CEO Nimrod Elmish tried to explain, saying the bicycle’s price will fluctuate depending on where you live, costing more for buyers in wealthy countries and nothing for those in developing countries. “We want to bring a social business model that will make [it] available to all,” Fortune quoted him as saying. “We don’t have a price tag, we have a value tag.”

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AnthazShopIndiaFreedom to practice one’s faith and be a person of faith can be instrumental in enabling the poor to achieve some modicum of social and economic freedom, says Rebecca Shah:

Religion is no panacea, but aspects of religion can activate certain practices and partnerships among its adherents that can motivate and encourage economic development. If modern economics continues to yield an understanding of human development that ignores the role of religion, governments and development institutions will persist in acting as “one-eyed giants” who “analyze, prescribe, and act as if man could live by bread alone, as if human destiny could be stripped to its material dimensions alone” (“Development Experts: The One-Eyed Giants” in World Development). According to human development theorist Denis Goulet, development is more human and fuller when people are called to “be more” rather than simply to “have more.” There can be “authentic development” only when there is a “societal openness to the deepest levels of mystery and transcendence,” and when this yearning for mystery and transcendence is recognized and satisfied.

Read more . . .

bankruptcyThe Bible has a lot to say about the principles behind bankruptcy law, says T. Kyle Bryant. In the Old Testament, God gave Moses various laws concerning the poor, lenders, borrowers, and debt forgiveness.

From these passages, we get a glimpse of how God makes provision for people who cannot pay their debt after a certain number of years. Beside discouraging lenders from making “bad” loans (ones that could not be repaid in seven years), the law prevented overwhelming debt from ruining a person’s life forever. In this way, God’s law provided for a type of bankruptcy protection every seven years (and every 50 years for land).

The United States bankruptcy scheme is complex, but the similarities between it and the biblical system are striking. Both systems served to protect the relatively powerless consumers and give predictability and stability to the creditors. For example, in the Israelite law, debtors could be released from their debts every seven years—no matter the amount of the debt, it was gone. This prevented common debtors from having to sell themselves into slavery in perpetuity to pay for their debts. On the other hand, it gave a stable and predictable risk profile to creditors seeking repayment of those debts. Lenders could temper their desire to make risky loans with the knowledge that any chance of repayment after the seventh year was uncertain.

In a similar way, the Bankruptcy Code allows a person freedom from their debt every eight years. Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code governs (in large part) individual debtors and the discharge of a person’s debt. If someone has received a discharge of their debt under Chapter 7, they must wait eight years before they can file for bankruptcy again. This echoes the biblical pattern of debt being wiped away every seven years. (But whether this tempers creditors’ risky lending practices is another question).

Read more . . .

WalmartOn Friday, June 6, shareholders of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., will gather at the Bud Walton Auditorium on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville, Ark. Among them will be As You Sow member Zevin Asset Management, which is pushing a resolution demanding the retailer issue annual reports on its policy, lobbying and membership expenditures. All of this, of course, is intended to embarrass Walmart in the same-ol’ name-and-shame game employed so often by shareholder activists advancing a progressive agenda.

What apparently bothers Zevin is Walmart’s exercise of its voice in policy issues directly impacting the company, its shareholders and – most important – its customers. Zevin’s resolution goes even further by requiring Walmart divulge its contributions to such tax-exempt groups as the American Legislative Exchange Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the Business Roundtable. Why? Well – to Zevin and other shareholders cut from the same sackcloth — it’s unseemly that the world’s largest company engages with a group that writes model legislation. Never mind that the company employs more than 2 million people worldwide and donates more than $1 billion each year to charities, it’s the incorrectly perceived unsavory political nature of anything that drifts right-of-center. (more…)

corporations_are_people_too_by_biotwist-d4hnskt[Note: “Argument Outline” is a new occasional series that provides summaries of religious, economic, and public policy arguments presented in the public square.]

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) states that government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except in certain conflicts with a compelling governmental interest. That seems straightforward enough, but what does this law mean when it refers to a “person”? For instance, can a corporation like Hobby Lobby be a person under this Act?

Even some people who are sympathetic to Hobby Lobby’s fight to avoid being forced to violate their conscience may wonder if it makes sense to give such broad-based religious liberty protections to corporate entities. But in a recent article in the Harvard Law Review, Alan Meese and Nate Oman make the case that the most natural reading of the term ‘person’ in RFRA includes for-profit corporations, and why they should be afforded the same religious freedoms as individuals.

The following is a summary outline of the argument they present in this law review article:
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vietnam-protestsWhat is going on in Vietnam?

For decades, China and Vietnam have clashed over control of parts of South China Sea, which is rich in oil and fish. Earlier this month, China moved an oil drilling rig into waters claimed by Vietnam. The Vietnamese government sent vessels trying to stop Beijing’s deployment. Chinese ships responded by firing water cannons, which sparked protests in Vietnam. Thousands of protestors torched Chinese-owned businesses and factories. On May 18, Vietnamese security forces moved to stop the protests while the Chinese government sent four ships to evacuate Chinese citizens from Vietnam.

Where exactly is Vietnam?

Vietnam is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. The country is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea to the east. Although roughly the size of New Mexico, Vietnam has a population of over 89 million, about the same as California, New York, and Texas combined. It is the world’s 13th-most-populous country, and the eighth-most-populous Asian country.

What type of government and economy is in place in Vietnam?
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Repurposed library card catalog

Repurposed library card catalog

I am not an economist. Truth be told, I only took one class in economics as an undergrad. However, I’ve learned a lot in the past few years, and one of the things I’ve learned is that most people don’t understand economics.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry knows this as well, and explains it far better than I could. In today’s Forbes, Gobry breaks down the understanding of economics into two broad camps: the “productivist” view and the “creativist.” First, the productivist:

Violently compressed, the productivist view of the economy holds that an economy works because it gives people stuff to do and stuff to buy. The reason why an economy which hums along hums along is because it produces enough stuff and people have enough money to buy that stuff so that people buy stuff and that gives jobs to the people who produce stuff, and in turn the stuff that is produced makes people want to buy them. To the productivists, the key thing is to keep the machine running and, hopefully, make it run faster, and more efficiently. But, fundamentally, what makes the economy run is this consumerist dynamic.

This, Gobry says, is the way most people – even economists – understand economics. It’s right in the short-term, but flawed. This viewpoint holds that economics is merely an endless cycle of buying and selling. As long as there is products are made, bought and sold, everything should be okay. (more…)

The Acton Institute Mini-Grants on Free Market Economics Program accepts proposals from business and economics faculty members at Christian colleges, seminaries, and universities in the United States and Canada in order to promote the scholarship and teaching of market economics. This program allows for collaboration between faculty from different universities, as well as allow future leaders to emerge, strengthen, and expand the existing network of scholars within economics. Entrants may submit proposals in two broad categories: Course development and faculty scholarships.  You can learn more about this program on the Mini-Grants page.

Here is the complete list of the 2014 winners and their specific projects: (more…)

Regulatory Climate IndexThe revitalization of cities has become a significant focus among today’s Christians, with many flocking to urban centers filled with lofty goals and aspirations for change and transformation.

Last summer, James K.A. Smith expressed concern that such efforts may be overly romanticizing certain features (community!) to the detriment of others (government), concluding that “farmer’s market’s won’t rescue the city” but “good government will.” Chris Horst and I followed up to this with yet another qualifier, arguing that while both gardens and good governance are indeed important, so is business and entrepreneurship.

Families, churches, institutions, businesses, and governments all need to be in right relationship if cities are to flourish, and this means that Christians need to gain a clear understanding of what these relationships look like. How do the economies of love, creative service, wisdom, wonder, and order interact and intersect, and how do we orient our actions and attitudes accordingly?

For example, if a city’s economic future is driven, among other things, by entrepreneurialismhigh levels of human capitalclustering of skilled workers and industries, or in the case of North Dakota’s Bakken region, bountiful natural resources, what role should the People of God play therein? What role do families play in those endeavors? What about churches, community associations, organizations, or businesses? How ought public policy to guide (or not guide) various efforts? Christians are called to be concerned with all of the above.

In a new study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation — Regulatory Climate Index 2014: The Cost of Doing Business in America — we see a great example of the types of questions we ought to be asking. Focusing on 10 cities across America, the study investigates “the efficiency of local regulations that apply to small businesses,” demonstrating the full impact that the dirtier, more “boring” and mundane elements can have on whether and how individuals are empowered to invest, serve, and sacrifice within and for their cities. (The project was led by Michael Hendrix, who has contributed here on the blog in the past.) (more…)

keep-calm-and-expect-the-unexpected-18Today at Bloomberg we find this unexpected news about unemployment:

Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits unexpectedly climbed to a nine-week high, underscoring the difficulty adjusting the data for seasonal variations such as the Easter holiday and spring recess at schools.

Jobless claims rose by 14,000 to 344,000 in the period ended April 26, the highest level since Feb. 22, Labor Department data showed today in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for 320,000.

There are two things the media never expects: (1) The Spanish Inquisition and (2) increases in jobless claims. Over the past five years, in 30 of the past 60 months,  the media has considered it “unexpected” when jobless claims increase:

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