Posts tagged with: international relations

comparativeadvantageNote: 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: Comparative advantage

What it Means: The ability of an individual or group of individual (e.g., a business firm) to produce goods or services at a lower opportunity cost than other individuals or groups.

Why it Matters: There is a story of the distinguished British biologist, J.B.S. Haldane, who found himself in the company of a group of theologians. On being asked what one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of his creation, Haldane is said to have answered, “An inordinate fondness for beetles.”

When we examine creation to uncover what it reveals about the character of God, one of the things we discover time and time again is the Creator’s fondness for diversity. Like Haldane, we can see this by looking at biology (e.g., there are more species of beetle than birds or mammals combined). But we can also find it when we turn to economics.

A primary example of God’s enthusiasm for diversity is the concept of comparative advantage. While the definition of the them makes it sounds dull and wonky, comparative advantage is a beautiful, theologically profound norm of creation.

Fully appreciating the nuances of the ideas requires timely reflection. But understanding it can be achieved when a few minutes. In this brief video, economist Donald J. Boudreaux does a masterful job of explaining how, when combined with trade, comparative advantage improves human communities.
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Lemkin

Raphael Lemkin

Today marks the 54th year since the passing of one of the world’s most influential international human rights lawyers. Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term ‘genocide’, made the crime illegal under international law, and possessed an almost prophetic sense of the atrocities that would occur under Nazi tyranny in World War II, died a largely unnoticed man. Only seven people attended his funeral, and to this day, many have not heard of Lemkin or the great contributions credited to his name.

The following account of Lemkin’s life and work is largely drawn from “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, the 2002 book by Samantha Power. Power was named U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations on August 2nd.

Early Insights

Born in 1900 to a large Jewish family in the village of Bezwodene, Poland (now near Volkovysk, Belarus), Lemkin became conscious of crimes against religious and minority groups at a young age. At the age of 12, he read the book, Quo Vadis, which recounts the Roman Emperor Nero’s massacres of Christian converts in the first century.

Lemkin learned about the Ottoman Empire’s extermination of its Armenian minority in 1915, and the 1920 assassination of Mehmet Talaat, the architect of the genocide. While studying linguistics at the University of Lvov, he asked one of his professors why the Armenians did not arrest Talaat instead. The professor said there was no law under which he could be arrested. “Consider the case of the farmer who owns a flock of chickens,” he said. “He kills them and this is his business. If you interfere, you are trespassing.” Lemkin was deeply troubled by this response and the idea that “state sovereignty” effectively permitted leaders to exterminate entire minority groups. (more…)

The Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh on April 24th killed 1,127 people, including almost 300 whose bodies have not yet been identified. In the article, “Buy Yourself a Cup of Tea” — A Collapse in Culture”, PovertyCure’s Mark Weber highlights a complex and deeply-rooted problem within Bangladeshi culture that has contributed to numerous disasters like this: corruption. The reversal of this pattern requires a commitment much stronger than any government regulation can provide, he maintains.

He says,

Corruption disguises what is true and what is untrue, what is safe and what is unsafe, what is legitimate and what is illegitimate. It disallows the ideal of a free market because the economic actors are not truly free, for they are subjects to a thousand cronies. This is why, while the push for increased corporate standards is indeed of utmost importance, a deeper conversation about corruption needs to take hold. Government regulations in the many forms of building codes are already well established; they’re just not being honored. Western companies are increasingly careful, if not by their own volition then by the powerful push from consumers, but they’re inevitably limited in their powers of supervision. For an end to the factory fires and structural disasters that kill innocent Bangladeshi workers every year, the culture of petty corruption needs to be overthrown. Such a revolt will necessarily have to come from within…

View the entire article on the PovertyCure Blog.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, October 12, 2012

Panel: “Why Morality-Free Economic Theory Doesn’t Work”

“Why Morality-Free Economic Theory Does Not Work: A Natural Law Perspective in the Wake of the Recent Financial Crisis.” The recent worldwide financial crisis has revealed a serious flaw in current thinking about markets and morals. Contemporary legal theorists and political economists commonly assume that markets can (and even should) provide morally neutral zones for the exchange of goods among free persons, constrained by nothing other than the laws of contract and the imperatives of self-interest. Professor Bruni’s lecture will challenge this dominant assumption, and will offer an alternative, ‘natural law’ perspective on the interrelatedness of markets, morals, and human sociality.

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Coverage of the drought in the Horn of Africa has fixated on the amount of aid going into the region and humanitarians’ estimates of how much more will be needed. According to the U.N. Coordination of Human Affairs office, the $1 billion already committed to assistance is less than half of what will be needed—but who knows whether the final figure will be anywhere near the stated $2.3 billion.

Hundreds of thousands of Somalis are flooding out of their country into neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia because massive refugee camps and daily high-energy rations are better than the situation at home. This migration is no different than that of the Israelites in Exodus or Ruth: surely 3500 years and half-a-dozen moon landings later we ought to have a better way of doing things?

Well we do, but the U.N. and the rest of the humanitarian establishment have lost the patrimony of Moses, and so have been wandering around the desert, dispersing aid to no effect, for a good deal more than 40 years. There is, thank goodness, a growing realization that U.N.’s materialistic solution is not working, as Ian Ernest, the chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, said last week:

We would not only want to work on the immediate needs, but we are thinking, because this is becoming a chronic problem, we have got to see the root causes and fight it.

World leaders cannot help developing Africa, of course, unless they understand developing Africa, and that is hopeless if they do not understand human nature. There can be no to help for the world’s poor that does not come from a correct understanding of the human person. Modern humanitarian efforts undermine the dignity of the human person by treating the people of developing nations as mouths to be fed rather than the entrepreneurs who will pull their countries out of poverty.

Eva Muraya, a Kenyan businesswoman and one of the voices of Acton’s PovertyCure project, put it this way:

We begin to say no to poverty and begin to redeem the dignity of the citizens by virtue of creating business opportunity.

My biggest asset, I will say without a doubt, is the people who have worked with me, have worked alongside me.

As long as the U.N.’s mission in the Horn of Africa is unchanged, progress made by Somalia and other countries will be despite mainstream humanitarian efforts, not because of them.

On today’s Diane Rehm Show, a panel of experts discussed the pending energy policy legislation in the US Congress. Karen Wayland, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Counsel talked about the need to join the concepts of national security and climate change when discussing energy policy (RealAudio).

From her perspective, these two concerns are tied up together and shouldn’t be separated, in part because if you take energy independence and national security alone, you might think that reliance on coal would be the best option.

“If you go down the path of energy independence separate from considering global warming what you get is the possibility that some of the solutions to energy independence, like coal-to-liquids, actually leads you to higher global warming emissions,” says Wayland.

Wayland and the NRDC don’t want to see “is this jumpstarting of a whole new industry for coal, which is the greatest emitter of carbon dioxide.”

The linkage of concerns about climate change to international security policy is a critical part of an emerging narrative of international relations. For instance, new UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said of the genocide in Sudan, “The Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.” This is the latest in a long series of attributions of blame for global crises coming from leading international figures. Following the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004, ecumenical faith leaders blamed the extent of the damage on man-made global warming.

Then, as now, I think that using tragedies and conflicts like the tsunami or the Darfur genocide to advance an ideological agenda, like the fight against global warming, is irresponsible. Ban Ki-moon may indeed be right to point out the ecological roots of the Darfur situation. When necessary commodities are scarce, it is not surprising that conflict often arises.

But to connect that particular situation, directly or indirectly, to man-made climate change (driven in large part by Western economies, most especially America) smacks more of opportunism than legitimate and responsible commentary. And if this kind of narrative becomes the dominant one politically, you can expect there to be talk of environmental economic reparations from the industrialized world to the developing world.

Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a statement about global warming that acknowledges the intimate linkages between global concerns about the environment, peace, and prosperity. According to MSNBC, “The SBC statement frames the global warming debate as a moral issue with profound implications for the poor — but does so through a different lens.”

“Our concern is for the vulnerable communities as well,” said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research with the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “But we think if the data is being misinterpreted, and policies are being implemented to reduce the human contributions, those policies are bound to drive up the costs of goods and services for poor and underdeveloped parts of the world.”

Increased and growing poverty and environmental devastation do indeed have profound implications for geo-political relations, and particularly so when the blame flows only one way. But against the narratives of Western oppression and victimization of the developing world, we need to better understand and articulate the positive aspects of a globalized, interdependent, and interconnected political and social economy.