Posts tagged with: ethics

Great and powerful Oz

Great and powerful Oz

According to Merriam-Webster, “cronyism” is ” the unfair practice by a powerful person (such as a politician) of giving jobs and other favors to friends.” For instance, former Detroit mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, surrounded himself with friends and family members while in office, as he cheerfully plundered the city’s coffers, sharing the wealth with his entourage.

It’s easy to think that cronyism is like Oz: far, far away. Yes, there are tricky creatures there, but heavens, we here in Kansas won’t be affected by shiny streets and glowing horses.

Not true. The economy shapes the culture. What happens in Oz, if you will, is felt in Kansas. And not only felt in Kansas, but eventually begins to seep into the Kansas culture. Why shouldn’t I have an army of flying monkeys to protect my farm? Why shouldn’t I sidle up to the Wicked Witch and make sure she’s on my side? You never know. Michael A. Needham and Ryan T. Anderson state,

While cronyism is most recognizable when it generates economic windfalls for the favored few, conservatives would do well to explain that it also operates in other realms. Indeed, for decades, the Left has been seeking special advantages from government in its effort to reshape the character of American society. So, if you’re against the government arbitrarily picking winners and losers in the economy, you need to be against it doing the same in the culture. If Solyndra and the Export-Import Bank are a problem, so too is government funding for Planned Parenthood and government discrimination against Catholic Charities.

We call this sort of government special-interest-seeking “cultural cronyism.”

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LemonisMarcus2I’ve written before on how television can be a powerful tool for illuminating the deeper significance of daily work and the beauties of basic trade and enterprise. Shows like Dirty Jobs, Shark Tank, Undercover Boss, and Restaurant Impossible have used the medium to this end, and today at The Federalist, I review a new contender in the mix.

CNBC’s The Profit is arguably the best reality show currently on television. Starring Marcus Lemonis, a Lebanese-born American entrepreneur and investor, each episode highlights an ailing businesses in desperate need of cash, care, and wisdom.

By the end, we get a remarkable view into the types of struggle, pain, glory, and redemption that occur across countless businesses every single day.

The show counters a host of false stereotypes about business, three of which I highlight in my piece. But one that is perhaps more popular and pernicious than all is the notion that business and is necessarily driven by greed and selfishness.

On the contrary, I argue, selfishness kills and service prospers: (more…)

RefuseServiceSignIn today’s Acton Commentary, “The Logic of Economic Discrimination,” I take up a small slice of the larger controversy and discussion surrounding religious liberty laws like the one passed recently in Indiana. My point, drawing out some of the implications of observations made by others, including Ryan Anderson and Shikha Dalmia, is that anti-discrimination boycotts depend on discrimination. Or as Dalmia puts it, “what is deeply ironic is that corporate America was able to wield its right not to do business (and boycott Indiana) by circumscribing the same right of Indiana businesses.”

Now there are lots of other angles and significant points to explore surrounding this enormously complex and important debate. Many have criticized the hypocrisy of corporations like Apple for doing business in places like China and Saudi Arabia even while they grandstand against Indiana. Others are now pointing to the actions of many in Silicon Valley, which despite the proclamations of support for social justice, have actually created huge inequalities. Tech centers like Silicon Valley are great, it seems, unless you are a woman, have a family, or are a blue-collar worker.

Indiana politicians, under massive scrutiny, have since moved to “clarify” the RFRA law that was passed, a move that has mollified some but not others. From the beginning, these conversations about religious liberty and economic rights have, in my view, insufficiently included sensitivity to considerations like freedom of association. Hopefully the larger context and interactions of contracts and rights, not merely “religious liberty” narrowly defined, can help broaden and mature the conversation.
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rights-are-not-gitsIn his recent announcement that he was running for president, Sen. Ted Cruz’s said “our rights don’t come from man, they come from God Almighty.”

That raised some eyebrows in our secular culture. For example, Meredith Shiner, a Yahoo reporter, tweeted:”Bizarre to talk about how rights are God-made and not man-made in your speech announcing a POTUS bid? When Constitution was man-made?”

The idea that the “unalienable Rights” mentioned in the Declaration of Independence don’t come from God is considered obvious to many secularists. But if our rights don’t come from God, where do they come from? The obvious answer is “the State.” And as Matt Lewis points out, that means the state can take them away:
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It is commonplace in Christian circles, whether Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant, to appeal in public discourse to the inviolable good of human dignity.

Today at Ethika Politika, I seek to answer the question, “What does human dignity look like in real life?” It is fine to talk about it in the abstract, but what does it look like on the job or as a parent?

I write,

Real, flesh-and-blood human persons do not evoke our respect as naturally as an abstract treatise on human dignity might imply. I am reminded of one Peanuts comic in which Linus shouts, “I love mankind … it’s people I can’t stand!” People, as a general rule, all tend toward some form of nerdery, some weird little obsession — such as sports, video games, philosophy, music, or literature — or at least some personal (usually minor) neurosis, like an aversion to a certain smell or fear of spiders or always having to have the last word.

And, frankly, Linus is right, even if he overstates his case. It is a common if not essential feature of personhood that any given person, with enough exposure, will grow annoying to our unsanctified hearts.

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military-spendingWhen it comes to spending on national defense the political debate is often presented as a simplistic, binary contest between those who want to spend more and more (often conservatives, who want a strong military) and those who want to spend less and less (often liberals, who want to use the money for social welfare purposes). While those discussions are important, they are also incomplete. Conservatives, in particular, should be more cognizant of the way cronyism can undercut military readiness.

In an article today at The Stream, I argue that we need a broad-based agreement about the most effective ways to spend defense funds based on the true needs of the military:
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ssmweddingcakeThe U.S. judiciary has made it increasingly clear that the rights of conscience either do not apply or are strictly limited for people who own businesses that serve the public. We have an obligation to keep fighting against this injustice against this judicial tyranny, but in the meantime, what are business owners to do? How, for example, should they respond when forced to violate their conscience by serving a same-sex wedding?

That question has been recently debated on Public Discourse, the excellent website of the Witherspoon Institute, by Russell K. Nieli and Jeffery J. Ventrella. Both men agree it would be morally permissible and even commendable for business owners to avoid violating the law by ceasing to serve all weddings, whether traditional or same-sex, or even by ceasing operations completely and finding another line of work. But they disagree on other options. Nieli suggests it would be morally permissible for such shopkeepers to comply with the law and provide services to same-sex couples if they also announced publicly. Ventrella disagrees, arguing that complying with an unjust law is always morally wrong and thus that any shopkeeper implementing Nieli’s suggestion would be engaged in an action that is inherently immoral.

Robert T. Miller joins the debate and asserts that a shopkeeper who objects to sex-same weddings but who nevertheless provides services at such weddings generally acts in a morally permissible way if he acts to comply with a validly-enacted law, to preserve the goodwill of his business, and to make a just profit.
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Fail-Debtors-Prison-Poor-TaxWhile payday loans can help some people out of a financial jam, they tend to prey on the poor and create a usury situation. Now that same predatory financial monster is moving into a new territory: bonds, courts fees and fines.

Take the case of Kevin Thompson, a 19-year-old who was fined for speeding and failure to renew his license. Although he had a job, he could not afford to pay the $810 fine the court handed down. What happens next sounds Kafka-esque: (more…)

1.21411In the latest addition to Mike Rowe’s growing catalog of pointed Facebook responses, the former Dirty Jobs host tackles a question on the minimum wage, answering a man named “Darrell Paul,” who asks:

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 and hour. A lot of people think it should be raised to $10.10. Seattle now pays $15 an hour, and the The Freedom Socialist Party is demanding a $20 living wage for every working person. What do you think about the minimum wage? How much do you think a Big Mac will cost if McDonald’s had to pay all their employees $20 an hour?

Rowe begins by recounting a job he had working at a movie theater for $2.90 per hour (the minimum wage in 1979). He served his customers, learned a host of new skills, and received several promotions in due course. Eventually, he decided to move on, pursuing areas closer to his vocational aspirations.

He worked. He learned. He launched.

Turning back to the present (and future), Rowe is concerned about the ways various labor policies have prodded many business owners to innovate ever-closer to full-blown automation, leading to ever-fewer opportunities for unskilled workers. “My job as an usher [at the theater] was the first rung on a long ladder of work that lead me to where I am today,” Rowe writes. “But what if that rung wasn’t there?” (more…)

MolinaCover - CopyCLP Academic has now released A Treatise on Money, a newly translated selection from Luis de Molina’s larger work, On Justice and Right (De iustitia et iure). The release is part of the growing series from Acton: Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law.

Molina (1535–1600) was one of the most eminent theologians of the Jesuit order in the sixteenth century. Known widely for developing a theory of human freedom of action (and in turn, a new religious doctrine now known as Molinism), Molina was also the first Jesuit to make major contributions to economic thought through a major treatise (On Justice and Right).

In the book’s introduction, Rudolf Schuessler offers more on the historical context and Molina’s contribution therein. As Schuessler explains, Molina’s views on freedom impacted his entire approach to economics and helped “set the pace for Jesuit economic thought.”

Jesuit economic thought in the seventeenth century gravitated toward individual freedom and displayed a keen appreciation of the market economy while upholding moral restrictions for market activities in a flexible and low-profile form. These features of Jesuit economic thought are of great—although not universally recognized—importance because the Jesuits were the teaching order par excellence in early modernity. Almost all early modern economic thinkers in Catholic countries were taught by the Jesuits, and Molina had the privilege to set the agenda for his order’s economic thought…

…By summarizing and discussing the state of the art of his time, Molina sets the pace for Jesuit economic thought. After the demise of the scholastic tradition and the temporary abolition of the Jesuit order in the eighteenth century, the respective doctrines traveled on back roads into the nineteenth century where they influenced the Austrian school and the marginalist revolution in economics. Molina and his contemporaries were the first to apply the laws of supply and demand systematically to money markets, and as a result conceived the quantity theory of inflation. They began to understand the role of risk, of liquidity, and of time preference in economic contexts, as well as the institutional role of property rights. For this they still deserve our attention.

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