Posts tagged with: Business/Finance

t873In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court just announced its ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, holding that, “as applied to closely held corporations, the government’s HHS regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA).” The full opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, can be read here.

Although there is still much to digest, and although the majority opinion still leaves quite a bit of room for related battles to continue, it’s worth noting that that whatever perceived “narrowness” we see in the decision — confining things specifically to closely held corporations — remains a significant victory, particularly given our culture’s prevailing attitudes about business.

According to HHS, by simply incorporating one’s business in the pursuit of profit — “without in any way changing the size or nature of their businesses” — a company “would forfeit all RFRA (and free-exercise) rights” (quotes from Alito’s paraphrase). The arguments supporting such a view vary, including the principal argument advanced by HHS that corporations cannot “exercise religion.”

Alito dissects this from a variety of angles, and does so rather compellingly. But one of the more noteworthy sections is his refutation of the notion that for-profit corporations aren’t protected by RFRA because they “simply seek to make a profit.” (more…)

In 1820, America’s per capita income averaged $1,980, in today’s dollars. But by 2000, it had increased to $43,000. That economic growth has benefited the rich, of course. But it has also transformed the lives of the poor — and prevented many more from becoming or staying poor.

In this superb short video, the American Enterprise Institute briefly explains the moral value of economic growth.

offering-plateDespite the struggling-to-recover economy, charitable giving by Americans continues to rise. But a smaller proportion of this money is going to religious organizations.

According to a newly released report by Giving USA, total estimated charitable giving in the U.S. rose 4.4 percent between 2012 and 2013, to $335.17 billion in contributions. The single largest contributor to the increase in total charitable giving was an increase of $9.69 billion in giving by individuals. In 2013, per capita giving by U.S. adults reached $1,016, and average U.S. household giving reached $2,974.

Giving increased for three of the four sources of giving. Only giving by corporations declined slightly in 2013, notes Tom Watson of Forbes, because of the slow rate of growth in pre-tax corporate profits in 2013, at 3.4 percent.

Unfortunately, charitable contributions to religion continue to slow. The report attributes this to the result of declining religious affiliation and attendance and religious-oriented charitable organizations categorized within other subsections.

But as The Economist points out, the sharp overall rise in charitable giving has been driven by the very rich, who tend to favor secular charities:
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starbucksWhen most people think of Starbucks they think of overpriced coffee, free wifi, and omnipresence. Starbucks are everywhere. The company was founded in 1971 and since 1987 they’ve opened an average of two new stores every day. In the U.S. alone there are 12,973 locations.

When most people think of “big business”, though, they don’t often think of the Seattle-based coffee company. But they should. Starbucks has 151,000 fulltime employees, $15 billion in annual revenues, and three times as many locations as Walmart. Starbucks is one of the biggest of big businesses. And, not surprisingly, a big proponent of cronyist policies.

Cronyism occurs when an individual or organization colludes with government officials to create legislation or regulations that give them forced benefits they could not have otherwise obtained voluntarily. Those benefits come at the expense of consumers, taxpayers, and everyone working hard to compete in the marketplace. A prime example is minimum wage laws. Almost without fail, big businesses tend to support higher minimum wages.

Since they could just choose to pay higher wages, why would they support federal mandated wage floors? One reason is because it helps to eliminate the competition from small business who don’t have the size and scale to absorb higher-than-market wage increases.

In a recent interview with CNN, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said he supports an increase to federal minimum wage even though he admits the $15 wage in Seattle could have “traumatic effects” on small business owners and employees.
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briberyThere’s an old saying that corruption is authority plus monopoly minus transparency. That combination makes state-level governments especially prone to the temptations of corruption.

A new study in Public Administration Review, “The Impact of Public Officials’ Corruption on the Size and Allocation of U.S. State Spending,” looks at the impact of government corruption on states’ expenditures. Defining corruption as the “misuse of public office for private gain,” the authors of the paper note that public and private corruption can have a range of negative effects, including lower-quality work, reduced economic productivity, and increased poverty.

According to Leighton Walter Kille, the researchers explored two possible theories: First, higher levels of corruption should cause states’ spending levels to be higher than they would be otherwise. Second, corruption would distort states’ spending priorities in ways that favor bribes from private firms and others. Some of the findings include:
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Well, how did I get here?

Well, how did I get here?

File under allegory: An Austin, Texas, resident whose property tax bill has her “at the breaking point.” As noted by Katherine Mary Ham at HotAir, the resident in question, Gretchen Gardner, deems the $8,500 bill for which she’s on the hook a wee tad cumbersome. “It’s not because I don’t like paying taxes,” she said. “I have voted for every park, every library, all the school improvements, for light rail, for anything that will make this city better. But now I can’t afford to live here anymore. I’ll protest my appraisal notice, but that’s not enough. Someone needs to step in and address the big picture.”

According to Ham, Ms. Gardner purchased a 1930s bungalow more than 20 years ago, and the artist apparently can’t understand why her tax bill is so high. In this regard, Ms. Gardner resembles the Nuns on the Bus and other religious shareholder activists who submit proxy shareholder resolutions on a plethora of feel-good (but, in reality, harmful) agenda items through investment groups As You Sow and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

Similarly, voters in Acton’s Grand Rapids, Mich., front yard have approved a $10 million income tax increase, seemingly unaware of how this additional burden will impact the city and its residents negatively. Oh wait, did I forget to mention the $30 million parks millage approved by voters last year? While we’re at it, let’s toss in the 2011 mass transit millage approval, which will top out at $15.6 million annually. One day, however, Grand Rapids taxpayers may wake up like some allegorical David Byrne character, tapping their arm and asking, “Well, how did I get here?” as they ponder how much less money they take home, save or have available for philanthropic activities. (more…)

MoneyRoll

Note: This is the latest entry in the Acton blog series, “What Christians Should Know About Economics.” For other entries in the series see this post.

The Term: Money

What it Means: In economics, money is a broad term that refers to any financial instrument that can fulfill the functions of money (more on that in a moment).

There are three basic ways to exchange goods and services: gifting (e.g., I give you a banana, expecting nothing in return); barter (e.g., I give you a banana, in exchange you give me an apple); by using money (e.g., I give you a banana, in exchange you give me $1). Money was invented (and reinvented in every culture) because it makes exchanges easier than the barter system.

What Money Is: Money is a shared belief system used to simplify exchanges of goods and services. To be used as money people have to share a belief that the item —whether paper, gold, rocks, etc. — can perform three main functions: be a store of value, be used as a unit of account, and serve as a medium of exchange.

In the next section we’ll examine these functions. For now, here are two examples of how money serves as a shared belief system:
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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 . . .