Two weeks ago I attended a lecture at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) by Jonathan Haidt, author, among many other books and articles, of the book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Haidt is a social psychologist whose research focuses on the emotive and anthropological bases of morality. His talk at GVSU for their Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies and Business Ethics Center, focused mostly on the question of the roots of our political divides in the United States and how to move our public discourse in a more civil direction. (more…)
In a recent event co-sponsored by Christian’s Library Press, professor Oliver O’Donovan engaged in a robust conversation with Matthew Lee Anderson and Ken Myers on the topic of the Gospel and public engagement. The audio is now available via Mars Hill Audio. Sign-up is required, but is both simple and free.
Anyone who has read O’Donovan is familiar with the weight and depth he brings to such matters. As was to be expected, this is a conversation filled with richness, nuance, and the types of rabbit trails that, to one’s great delight, end up not being rabbit trails after all.
The discussion is worth listening to in full, but O’Donovan’s kick-off discussion of “the secular” is of particular relevance to our discussions about economic, cultural, and political transformation. For O’Donovan, modernity has wielded a peculiar influence on the way Christians view “common life” in the “common world” — one that has led to a problematic approach to what we now think of as “the secular.”
It used to mean something quite different:
Historically, the word secular meant to do with the affairs of this world – i.e., it was the life of creation extended into history as distinct from the intervention into this world and the work in this world of redeeming it and saving it. So every Christian lived a secular life and a spiritual life, in that a Christian is engaged, has tasks, has a life to live within the common terms of a common world, and at the same time an awareness and response to the work of God in saving it. (more…)
Income > spending = surplus
Surplus x time = wealth
According to Mr. Micawber from Dickens’ David Copperfield:
Annual income £20, annual expenditure £19.975 = happiness
Annual income £20, annual expenditure £20.025 = misery
In his latest column, Tyler Cowen points out that whatever economic recovery we’ve experienced has “largely bypassed young people,” arguing that such a development is bound to have an impact for years to come:
For Americans aged 16 to 24 who aren’t enrolled in school, the employment picture is grim. Only 36 percent are working full time, down 10 percentage points from 2007. Longer term, the overall labor-force participation rate for that age group has dropped 20 percentage points for men and 14 points for women since 1989.
This lack of jobs will damage the long-term careers of a big chunk of the next working generation. Not working after you finish school very often means missing out on developing the skills and habits that will serve you well later on. The current employment numbers are therefore like a telescope into the future labor market: a 23-year-old who is working part time as a dog walker, yoga instructor or retail clerk may be having fun, but perhaps will receive fewer promotions as a 47-year-old.
Cowen notes a higher minimum wage as one potential culprit, but argues that “the root causes run much deeper,” ranging from increasing uncertainty to expanding globalization to a newfound pickiness among employers. Arnold Kling offers some additional hypotheses, including the idea that decreases in child-rearing among the young-and-able will likely lead to decreases in a need or desire to work full-time. (more…)
For this week’s Acton Commentary, ahead of Labor Day weekend, I write about “working harder and smarter,” lessons we can learn from Ashton Kutcher and Mike Rowe.
One of the implications of connecting hard work with smart work is that the difficulty of work on its own does not determine its value in the marketplace. It isn’t a question of how hard you are working, but how hard you are working in productive service. This is why Lester DeKoster writes,
The paycheck follows upon work. Often the harder we work, the larger the paycheck—though, as many workers know, this unfortunately is not an invariable law. That is because, as we shall see, work and wage are not related as cause and effect.
He refers to money as the “bait,” which induces us to work and which tends to direct our work in service to others. But the bait can become a “trap” if we conflate the meaning of work with the wage: “Work endows life with meaning because of what work is, not because of what it earns. Paychecks buy goods and services provided to us through the gift of selves by others, but money buys no meaning. Life’s meanings are not for sale!”
We know the government is listening, watching, gathering information. We know that we’re being told it’s all for our own good; after all, who wants to miss a possible terrorist attack? Sleeper cells, the Boston bombers, the haunting memory of 9/11 say all of this is necessary for our safety, right? Not so fast, says Peggy Noonan.
First, she reminds us that the NSA has – at least technically – only limited authority when it comes to spying on American citizens. Yet, it seems they are monitoring 75 percent of our internet traffic. And clearly, our privacy doesn’t matter a bit:
[A] finding was revealed that the NSA violated the Constitution for three years running by collecting as many as 56,000 purely domestic communications without appropriate privacy protections. The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court slammed the agency for “misrepresenting” its practices to the court, and noted it was the third time in less than three years the government misrepresented the scope of a collection program.
That’s the conclusion Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, has come to. The surrogacy business in India is booming. While statistics are hard to come by, according to one estimate, surrogacy brings in more than $2 billion a year to India. That does not translate to much money for the surrogate mothers, however. Women are paid about $8,000 for their medical expenses and having a baby. However, since it is typically poor women, many of whom are illiterate, that are targeted for surrogacy, many sign contracts they do not understand. India has few laws governing surrogacy, so the women have little or no rights. It is a situation ripe for abuse. (more…)
In light of the latest hubbub over the minimum wage, I recently wrote that “prices are not play things,” arguing that we do ourselves and our neighbors no favors by trying to subvert and distort market signals according to arbitrary whims. Instead, I argue, we should reach beyond such low-ball thinking, focusing on creation and contribution rather than sitting and settling.
Over at Think Christian, Jordan Ballor offers some related thoughts, including a helpful reminder that while prices matter, wages do not represent a “commentary on the value of the human person as such.” Tying our self-worth to marketplace value, he argues, “can be a misleading and potentially destructive identification.”
In Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster pushes heavily in this same direction, going so far as to say that although work and wages move on “parallel tracks,” “neither track is the cause of the other or the goal of the other”:
What is a just wage? It is a paycheck that recognizes the personal relationships that underlie work and civilization. Involved are both the needs of the worker – at all levels – and success of the enterprise – in which all are involved…[T]hose whose work is concerned with the creation and administration of wage and price scales must be economic artists whose jobs bear heavy moral responsibility. What the traffic will bear or wage scales that only grim necessity will oblige the poor to accept are artistic guidelines that enjoy no endorsement from heaven. The search for just wage and fair price is never-ending, for the market is always changing and so are the forms required of work. Economic justice is by no means universal even in the best of civilizations.
How, then, do they relate? (more…)
The protests organized by labor organizations to advocate for an increase in the minimum wage have garnered attention, most recently from the NYT, which editorialized in favor of such moves. Over at Think Christian, I weigh in with an attempt to provide some more of the complex context behind the moral evaluation of such mandates.
In the piece, I’m really less interested in the plight of current-minimum wage workers relative to those who might become minimum-wage workers with an increase, those who are currently priced-out of labor markets because of minimum-wage legislation, and those who will be priced out with an increase.
Earlier this week, Joseph Sunde discussed the issue with an eye towards the price of labor: “Prices are not play things.” I largely agree with Joseph about the significance of the price associated with various kinds of labor. The signal that minimum-wage workers should be receiving is that their work is not that specialized or valuable in the marketplace. You can rage against the values of the marketplace all you like, but that’s what the prices signal.
A mere recital of the economic policies of governments all over the world is calculated to cause any serious student of economics to throw up his hands in despair. What possible point can there be, he is likely to ask, in discussing refinements and advancements in economic theory, when popular thought and the actual policies of governments…have not yet caught up with Adam Smith? – Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson.
These words continue to echo in the District of Columbia as legislators and activists once again choose to listen to their well-intended intuition over the lessons of basic economics.
On Wednesday, D.C. Council approved the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), a bill which requires “big-box” retailers to pay their employees a minimum wage of no less than $12.50 an hour. The bill is backed by labor activists and some religious leaders who claim that employees who are paid the city’s minimum wage of $8.25 (a dollar higher than the federal minimum wage) are not being paid a ‘living wage.’ Should the LRAA be signed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and pass a congressional review period, all D.C. retailers that work in a space of 75,000 square feet or more and exceed $1 billion in corporate sales will be forced to pay their employees this higher minimum wage.
Wal-Mart has warned the city that the company will abandon plans for three planned stores in the district should the bill be passed into law. Such a statement is being taken as an ultimatum by labor activists. Among the most outspoken is Rev. Graylan Hagler, a senior pastor of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ and a leader of Respect DC – a local activist group that fights for what they call living wages. In response to Wal-Mart’s proposal, Hagler stated, “If you allow a bully to bully you, it’s never going to end. There will be something else. There will always be another agenda. We’ve got some work to do.” (more…)