Posts tagged with: Disaster/Accident

Jean Jean Flaubert says the Red Cross promised to transform his neighborhood. “Now I do not understand the change that they are talking about,” he said. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)

Jean Jean Flaubert says the Red Cross promised to transform his neighborhood. “Now I do not understand the change that they are talking about,” he said. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)

Disaster relief and aid to developing nations is big business. Really big. While the documentary “Poverty,Inc.” examines whether this business helps or hurts, it’s very clear from this NPR/ProPublica story that the Red Cross did not help Haiti. And the Red Cross didn’t help Haiti to the tune of $500 million.

The Red Cross claims all the money went to Haitians. Haitians say no. Former Haitian prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive:

I’m not a big mathematician, but I can make some additions. It doesn’t add up for me.”

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In this edition of Radio Free Acton, Paul Edwards speaks with Luba Markewycz of the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago, Illinois about the Holodomor – the Great Famine of the 1930s inflicted on Ukraine by Josef Stalin’s Soviet Government that killed millions of Ukrainians through starvation. They discuss the Holodomor itself, and the process undertaken by Markewycz to create an exhibition of art by young Ukrainians to commemorate the event. You can listen to the podcast using the audio player below.

More: Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg joined Luba Markewycz in November at the Acton Building’s Mark Murray Auditorium for an evening of discussion of the Holodomor and the Holodomor Through the Eyes of a Child exhibit.

Friedrich Hayek once called intellectuals “professional secondhand dealers in ideas.” And the Preacher proclaimed, “There is nothing new under the sun.” So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising when ideas, memes, and other cultural phenomena pop up again and again.

There is, however, a notable correspondence between an Acton Commentary that I wrote earlier this month, “The Worst Christmas Song Ever,” and a piece that appeared weeks earlier at The Federalist. In “‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ Is The Worst Christmas Song Ever,” Leslie Loftis takes down this miserable tune in devastating fashion. Loftis points out that the song “has a little of everything to loathe. Condescension. Inane inaccuracies. Smugness. Mullets.”

Whether or not you have read my commentary, you should go check out her case against the song now.

I first noticed the song, which heretofore had been background Christmas muzak, when we screened the new documentary Poverty, Inc. earlier this year at the Acton Institute offices. That film includes a section discussing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

Matthea Brandenburg helpfully points out some further commentary by Magatte Wade and others about the song over at the PovertyCure blog.

When Christmas rolled around, I had the idea to write something about the song, and connected it with William Easterly’s analysis of the differing perspectives on development offered by Gunnar Myrdal and Hayek. But I now think that even though I hadn’t read Loftis’ piece, I had seen the title before I wrote my piece. In fact, I checked Ben Domenech’s excellent email newsletter The Transom, to which you should subscribe, and there on December 3 is the following: ‘“Do They Know It’s Christmas” is the worst Christmas song ever. http://vlt.tc/1qf7

No doubt I saw the link, and got the idea for calling it the “worst ever” into my head. Then some days later I connected it to the Poverty, Inc. clip and wrote my piece. So the idea for calling this the worst Christmas song ever must be credited to Loftis and The Federalist. I’m sorry that I didn’t realize that Loftis’ piece had already appeared, or I would have pointed to it earlier, and given credit for the idea straight away. So in the interests of disclosure, I certainly haven’t been the only one to criticize this song or even to call it the “worst Christmas song ever.” I guess I’ve got egg(nog) on my face. The variety of voices that find the song problematic, however, should be a indication that there’s something rotten in “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” It is, after all, a song that includes a toast like this: “Here’s to them underneath that burning sun.”

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is like a bad earworm that won’t go away. And now I really, really hate that song!

The Acton Institute is currently hosting an art exhibit called “Holodomor: Through the Eyes of a Child” in our Prince-Broekhuizen Gallery at the Acton Building. It features artworks created by contemporary Ukrainian children commemorating the great famine of the 1930s that was inflicted upon Ukraine by Stalin, resulting in the deaths of almost 7 million people by starvation.

The exhibit is the brainchild of Luba Markewycz, whose aim is to shed light on this largely unknown chapter of Ukrainian history and expose the tyranny and inhumanity of Stalin’s Communist regime. On November 6th, Markewycz – who is a teacher by profession, and has served in many roles at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago – was joined by Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg to discuss the exhibit and to shed light on the terrible historical events that it commemorates.

Sic semper tyrannis, eh?

Sic semper tyrannis, eh?

The Burger King acquisition of Tim Hortons and the resulting plans to move the corporate headquarters under the taxing authority of the Canadian government is being derided by some as unpatriotic.

This is the latest in a long string of similar phenomena over the last decade or so, as we see patriotic loyalty (or the lack thereof) becoming a political issue in the context of offshoring, globalization, outsourcing, and so on.

A response to the charge of being unpatriotic would seem to me to require at least two points.

First, the responsibilities of a business owner, CEO, or corporate board are different than those of a government politician. They have different loyalties, so to speak. So to judge the one by the standards of the other is an exercise in missing the point.

Second, I would respond with a query along these lines: Which is more unpatriotic, a greater disservice to a nation, for someone to be involved in: moving a business from one country to another or making the tax environment in a country inhospitable to businesses?

Since the era of Adam Smith economists have been asking, “What creates wealth?” One key answer is specialization and trade. On a timeline of human history, the recent rise in standards of living resembles a hockey stick — flatlining for all of human history and then skyrocketing in just the last few centuries.

As economist Don Boudreaux explains, without specialization and trade, our ancient ancestors only consumed what they could make themselves. How can specialization and trade help explain the astonishing growth of productivity and output in such a short amount of time—after millennia of famine, low life expectancy, and incurable disease?

“‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say–but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’–but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Cor. 10:23-24).

Christians are called to productive service of others in our work. The fact that someone will pay you for your work is a sign that they value it, and we must say that they are better-positioned than anyone else (other than God) to decide what’s best for them. But human beings are not infallible. In fact, we are highly fallible. We deceive ourselves and desire things that are not good for us.

Does the provider of a good or service have a moral obligation not to provide certain goods (or bads) or services? When does a “service” become a “disservice”?
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DollarSignCapitalism is routinely castigated as an enemy of the arts, with much of the finger-pointing bent toward monsters of profit and efficiency — drooling only for money, caring nothing for beauty, and so on. Other critiques take aim at more systemic features, fearing that the type of industrialization that markets sometimes tend toward will inevitably detach artists from healthy social contexts, sucking dry any potential for flourishing as a result.

Yet while free economies certainly introduce a unique series of challenges for artists and consumers alike, and despite the wide array of bottom-dollar record-company execs and merchandising-obsessed Hollywood crackpots that demonstrate such obstacles, recent increases in economic empowerment have also led to plenty of artistic empowerment in turn.

Empowered to Create

The more obvious and overarching examples of this have to do with the simple ways in which widespread prosperity has freed up our time, energy, and resources. As collaboration and innovation accelerate, folks are continuing to discover new ways of doing more with less. As result, the tools and time needed to participate in a variety of artistic ventures, from hand-painting to stage acting to music production, are closer to common fingers than ever before.

Of course, market forces aren’t perfect. As channels of culture, they mostly funnel what they funnel, and that includes squalid appeals to the lowest common denominator. But neither are such forces limited to the hands of the tasteless and trite. Indeed, despite the best efforts of the powerful and privileged, many artists are now finding themselves increasingly equipped to bypass the big shots altogether, taking their art and their audiences with them, from the purchase of their paintbrushes to the publication of their portrait.

As a young boy, I dreamed of one day becoming a filmmaker. After working only two summers at minimum wage, I was able to save up enough cash to put that dream to the test, purchasing a-state of-the-art video camera and my very own digital editing equipment. Thanks to the innovations of others, and the basic freedoms that unleashed it all in the first place, at the age of 16, I was able to secure the tools needed to begin my work — tools that, only a decade prior, were confined to the hands of Hollywood bigwigs. (more…)

Everyone agrees that during times of natural disaster, people need help. With “Superstorm Sandy” pummeling the eastern third of the U.S., it is easy to see that many people will need aid in the form of  food, clothing, shelter and other basic necessities, and we are obliged to help.

But we should be smart about it.

Brian Fikkert, author of “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…or Yourself”, gives three reasonable guidelines for helping in these situations. First, he says, help must be immediate. No one should have to wait for crucial needs and services. Second, this type of help should be temporary. Why?

 It should only be provided during the time that people cannot participate in their own recovery. Determining when to stop relief is never easy. We can make the mistake of ending our relief too early, but we can also err in creating unnecessary dependency by extending it too long.

Finally, Fikkert says, relief requires partnership. This is a key element in the aid of any sort. When relief turns to pity, a situation of paternalism and not partnership is created, and that is unhealthy for both parties. As Michael Fairbanks, co-founder of The Seven Fund has said,

 …you create that parental relationship. I’m helping you. You should be guided by me because I have a bag of money. The responsibility for your future is actually on me, not on you because I have the resources to develop you. It’s patron-client; it’s master-slave; it’s donor-recipient. It’s all broken.

Fikkert reinforces this:

 Experts say relief is typically needed only for a week or less before you should transition into a rehabilitation development strategy, working with people to help them move forward rather than merely doing things for them. As you do this, look for opportunities to form relationships. As we walk with people over time, we can address the deeper issues of life and what it truly means to be a fully restored human.

As we continue to examine how we can best help our fellow human beings, whether it is in time of naturall disaster, on-going entrenched poverty or personal crisis, it is good to remember that forming relationships is always better than simply dropping supplies into someone’s lap and moving on to the next big problem.

Read Brian Fikkert’s “Help Without Hesitating” at the Gospel Coalition.

This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.

Hurricanes almost always leave two things in their aftermath: broken windows and articles advocating the broken window fallacy.

As economist Don Boudreaux wrote earlier today, “Americans will soon be flooded by commentary that assures us that the silver lining around the destruction caused by hurricane Sandy is a stronger economy. Such nonsense always follows natural disasters.” The only detail Boudreaux gets wrong is that such nonsense has preceded the actual disaster. The Atlantic, wanting to get a jump on being wrong, published an article today at noon arguing that Hurricane Sandy will “stimulate the economy” in two ways:

First, the threat of a dangerous event pulls economic activity forward. Families stock up on extra food and supplies to prepare for a disaster. Second, and much more significantly, the aftermath of storms requires “replacement costs” that raise economic activity by forcing business and government to rebuild after a destructive event.

Frederic Bastiat provided the ultimate rebuttal to this spurious thinking 162 years ago in his essay ‘That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen.’ So why do we people make the same claim that destruction is economically beneficial? Could it be that people are simply unaware of Bastiat’s “parable of the broken window”?

Back in August economist Bryan Caplan asked why the one group that should be familiar with Bastiat’s essay—economists—don’t universally love it:
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