Our religious shareholder activist buddies in As You Sow and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility can welcome Neil Young in their ill-advised battle against genetically modified organisms. Seems ol’ Shakey – as Young is known to his friends, family and hardcore fans – has released a song that could’ve been written from all the GMO falsehoods and scare tactics spread by AYS and ICCR, including:

More than 60 percent of all processed foods available today contain GE ingredients such as soy, corn, or canola; and because in the U.S. there is no mandate that GE food be labeled, most consumers are most likely unknowingly consuming them. ICCR members call on food and beverage companies to apply the precautionary approach in decision making until such time as science can rule out any harmful side-effects and further advocate for the consumers’ right to know through proper labeling of GMO ingredients in all products. Moreover, seed and chemical companies are asked to monitor and disclose potential health effects, particularly unknown allergenic effects; environmental impacts of GMOs; and respect for and adherence to seed saving rights of traditional agricultural communities. – ICCR

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are plants or animals that have had their DNA modified by laboratory processes to have specific characteristics. When the first genetically modified (GM, also known as genetically engineered, GE) crops were introduced, the biotechnology industry claimed they would increase crop yields, decrease pesticide use, improve nutrition, and more. However, in the fifteen years since GMOs were first commercialized, they have delivered negligible benefits and raised significant environmental, public health, and food security concerns. (more…)

The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America has published a new report on Orthodox Monastic Communities in the United States (here). The report contains a lot of great information (“great” for nerds like me, anyway), including a whole section entitled, “‘Monastic Economy:’ Ownership of Property and Sources of Income in US Orthodox Monasteries.”

According to the report,

In summary, the three most common sources of income in US Orthodox monasteries are:

  • Occasional private donations including bequests and offerings for performed sacraments (87% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income);

  • Sale of religious items (except candles) that are not produced by monastery (52% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income);

  • Production and sales of candles (24% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income).

Thus, after private donations, the top two sources of income are through commerce: 52% sales of items not produced by the monastery and 24% candles produced by the monastery. Income from other items produced by monasteries, such as books, devotional items, and food items, was also significant. Our Merciful Saviour Russian Orthodox Monastery in Washington state, for example, lists sales of their “monastery blend” coffee as their primary source of income.

This does not come as a surprise to me.

The most recent volume (vol. 8, 2014) published by the Sophia Institute, of which I am a fellow, includes a paper by me entitled, “Markets and Monasticism: A Survey & Appraisal of Eastern Christian Monastic Enterprise.” While my paper is not a comprehensive history, it does include a section on modern Orthodox monasteries in the United States.

I write, (more…)

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.

closed-businessThe Obama administration and several courts have effectively said that religious freedom doesn’t apply to money-makers — at least, not when it comes to purchasing abortion-inducing drugs for your employees.

In a recent piece for USA Today, Mark Rienzi, author of a marvelous paper on the relationship between profit-making and religious liberty, argues that drawing the line on “for-profit” vs. “non-profit” is a mistake for anyone who believes “conscience” belongs in business.

Offering a brief summary of the more recent demonstrations of “conscience” among money-makers, Rienzi invites us to imagine a world where values and business are separated:

We regularly encounter businesses making decisions of conscience. Chipotle recently decided not to sponsor a Boy Scout event because the company disagreed with the Scouts’ policy on openly gay scoutmasters. It was “the right thing to do,” Chipotle said.

Starbucks has ethical standards for the coffee beans it buys. Vegan stores refuse to sell animal products because they believe doing so is immoral. Some businesses refuse to invest in sweatshops or pornography companies or polluters.

You can agree or disagree with the decisions of these businesses, but they are manifestly acts of conscience, both for the companies and the people who operate them. Our society is better because people and organizations remain free to have other values while earning a living. Does anyone really want a society filled with organizations that can only focus on profits and are barred from thinking of the greater good?

Yet the persecution we see is quite selective. (more…)