On January 14, as Brad Chacos so perfectly put it for PC World, “a Washington appeals court ruled that the FCC’s net neutrality rules are invalid in an 81-page document that included talk about cat videos on YouTube.” Reactions have been varied. Joe Carter recently surveyed various arguments in his latest explainer. For my part, I recommend the German, ordoliberal economist Walter Eucken as a guide for evaluating net neutrality, which as Joe Carter put it, “[a]t its simplest … is the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally and that every website … should all be treated the same when it comes to giving users the bandwidth to reach the internet-connected services they prefer.” (more…)
This is a guest post by Michael Hendrix in response to the recent debate sparked by a provocative post on millennials and Gen Y “yuppie culture.” Michael serves as the director for emerging issues and research at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the University of St. Andrews and a Texas native.
By Michael Hendrix
Over the past few weeks, much has been written on GYPSY unicorns and my generation’s dashed hopes (warning: strong language). For my fellow millennials who get overly defensive on such matters, I have a request: Get over yourselves and get to work.
We are entering an era of profound economic change, and I fear that the career prospects of many in my generation have too much in common with those of the horse at the advent of the automobile. Consider these words from the economist Gregory Clark, who’s quoted at a key point in Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s Race Against the Machine:
There was a type of employee at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution whose job and livelihood largely vanished in the early 20th century. This was the horse. The population of working horses actually peaked in England long after the Industrial Revolution, in 1901, when 3.25 million were at work. … But the arrival of the internal combustion engine in the late 19th century rapidly displaced workers, so that by 1924 there were fewer than 2 million. There was always a wage at which these horses could have remained employed. But that wage was so low that it did not pay for their feed.
Structural changes are coming. Information and communications technologies (ICT) are bringing about a shift equally as profound as that of the Industrial Age. Just as steam power and the internal combustion engine swept away inefficient production and labor, so too will the Information Age’s connectivity and automation advance on so many of the jobs we hold dear. What Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue — and not without controversy — is that technology is advancing on mankind’s comparative advantages in a way that previous revolutions never could. Building a steam-powered hammer to take on John Henry’s brawn is one thing; fashioning a highly cognitive robot with fine motor skills is quite another. And while this future hasn’t fully arrived yet, it’s the process of getting there that we must prepare for. (more…)
A recent report by the United Nations states that out of the world’s seven billion people, six billion have a mobile phone, but only 4.5 billion have a modern toilet. In India, there are almost 900 million cell phone users, but nearly 70 percent of the population doesn’t have access to “proper sanitation.” Jan Eliasson, the UN Deputy Secretary General has called this a “‘silent disaster’ that reflects the extreme poverty and huge inequalities in world today.”
Despite the lack of sanitation, most people are able to afford a mobile phone with a wide range available for [$15] or less and the price of calls reducing from [15c] a minute to [3c] a minute in the last decade.
This report focuses on the negative: the lack of sanitation for those in abject poverty, but it fails to note the extraordinary fact that people living in poverty have access to a device that was, until recently, a luxury item for wealthy Americans. Tim Worstall, a contributor on Forbes.com, addresses this report in a recent article:
It’s possible to be a little cynical about this phones versus thrones number though. Actual flush toilets aren’t in fact the problem. What is the provision of water to flush them and a sewage system to flush them into. Both of which are largely government provided. While mobile phone systems are largely private company provided. Whether you want to call it the lust for profit or the greater efficiency of the private sector, it won’t surprise the more right leaning of us that phones do have a greater market reach than toilets.
Andreas Widmer, president of The Carpenter’s Fund in Switzerland, has spoken a great deal about small businesses, aid, and investing in Africa. In an interview with PovertyCure, he explains causes of poverty: (more…)
Innovation is an ethical matter through and through, says Chris MacDonald, because ethics is fundamentally concerned with anything that can promote or hinder human wellbeing.
Innovation is generally a good thing, ethically, because it is aimed at allowing us to do new and desirable things. Most typically, that gets expressed in the painfully vague ambition to ‘raise productivity.’ Accelerating our rate of innovation is a worthy policy objective because we want to be more productive as a society, to increase our social ‘wealth’ in the broadest sense. The 20th Century has seen a phenomenal burst of innovation and increases in wellbeing, exemplified not least by the fact that life expectancies in North American have risen by more than half over the last hundred years. The extension and enriching of human lives are good goals, which in turn makes innovation generally a good thing.
Indeed, when looked at that way, innovation isn’t just a ‘good,’ but a downright moral obligation. Yes, lives for (most) people in developed countries are pretty good. But many still don’t have happy and fulfilling lives; many children, even here, still go to bed hungry. Boosting productivity through innovation is a key ingredient for making progress in that regard. And if less developed nations are going to be raised up to even a minimally tolerable standard of living, we need innovations that will help them, and we need innovations that will make us wealthy enough that we can afford to be substantially more generous toward them than we currently are.
Regarding the USPS decision Wednesday to stop Saturday mail delivery, Ron Nixon at the New York Times writes,
The post office said a five-day mail delivery schedule would begin in August and shave about $2 billion a year from its losses, which were $15.9 billion last year. The Postal Service would continue to deliver packages six days a week, and post offices would still be open on Saturdays. Reducing Saturday delivery is in line with mail services in several other industrialized countries like Australia, Canada and Sweden, which deliver five days a week.
This move has not come without opposition, however. Nixon continues,
Whether it will succeed is difficult to predict. Many lawmakers view the Postal Service as the quintessential government service that touches constituents almost every day, and rigidly oppose any changes. Also, postal worker unions hold sway over some lawmakers who are influential in writing legislation that governs the agency.
Again, he reports,
Most Americans support ending Saturday mail delivery. A New York Times/CBS News poll last year found that about 7 in 10 Americans said they would favor the change as a way to help the post office deal with billions of dollars in debt. The Obama administration also supports a five-day mail delivery schedule.
But three postal unions and some businesses on Wednesday called the move to five-day delivery misguided.
He goes on to note, “Many companies said ending Saturday delivery would have a devastating effect on their businesses.”
This sounds like a dire situation. Faced with “a requirement that it pay nearly $5.5 billion a year for health benefits to future retirees” and a 37% decline in first class mail since 2007, the postal service has ceased to be profitable as it stands, despite consistent yearly increases in the price of stamps. Small businesses may be threatened; Nixon reports that Ricardo Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, has additionally claimed that stopping Saturday mail “would be be particularly harmful” to “rural communities, the elderly, the disabled and others”; shouldn’t something be done to fix this problem? (more…)
In case you haven’t already heard the rumor, allow me to fill you in: AU Online has an awesome, newly revamped website and digital learning platform. AU Online is designed to make the resources and tools of a typical Acton conference available through a university-level, online environment. The AU Online team hopes the new features and functions will make this program your go-to destination for the integration of faithful intentions and sound economic reason.
To kick off the 2012-2013 schedule of online courses, Acton’s director of research, Dr. Samuel Gregg, will present a four-part lecture series, Freedom and Virtue in the Developed World. The first live, online session is scheduled for 6:30pm EDT on October 23.
If you haven’t done so, we encourage you to visit the AU Online website to see for yourself what all of the hype is about! If you have any questions, please contact the AU Online team by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On an unrelated note, registration for the 2013 Acton University conference opens November 15! Be sure not to miss out on your chance to apply.
Ethical human agency is only possible with freedom. Freely turning to the good, which the Creator has given us, is the highest sign of human dignity. The proper exercise of freedom requires “specific conditions of an economic, social, juridic, political and cultural order”. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n. 137) The free market is one of these institutions. The free market is the most efficient instrument to guarantee the distribution of goods and services in society. Beyond efficiency, however, markets need sound ethical and cultural foundations. Only free markets can be ethical markets, and only ethical markets can function in freedom. One of these primary and universally recognized ethical principles is charity.
Call for Papers: “The State of the Consecrated Life in Contemporary Canada”
We are pleased to announce an extended deadline for the Call for Papers for the “State of the Consecrated Life in Contemporary Canada” Conference to be held on 25-26 January 2013 in Montreal, Quebec. This conference is held as a part of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada research grant that explores the state of consecrated life in contemporary Canada and seeks will bring together leading researchers from Canada and abroad to share research and insights on this important subject. For more information, please see the attached document or the conference website: www.consecratedlife.ca. The new deadline will be 31 July 2012. Please forward this information to any colleagues, students or contacts who might be interested.
International Congress on Medieval Studies, 9-12 May 2013. By the late medieval period, merchants formed an integral part of urban society; among their activities, they facilitated trade between city centers, participated in the governing of cities, and were patrons of churches and monasteries. At the same time, the wealth that they amassed and their sometimes morally dubious activities, such as money lending, often left merchants fearful of what the afterlife would bring, causing them to appeal directly to specific saints for intercession. This session seeks to explore the religious lives of these elite members of urban society, specifically considering the individual saints to whom merchants appealed for their earthly protection and heavenly salvation as well as the manner in which they made these appeals.
Call for Papers: “Technology and Human Flourishing”
2012 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture (Thursday, October 25-Saturday, October 27) Technology changes us—and the world around us—in countless ways. It eases our labor, cures diseases, provides abundant food and clean water, enables communication and travel across the globe, and expands our knowledge of the natural world and the cosmos. The stuff of science fiction is now, in many cases, reality, and it can make our lives longer, healthier, and more productive than ever. But technological advance is not without complication, and even ardent proponents of technology recognize that our present age of innovation is fraught with concern for unintended consequences.
Paper: “The Decision to Delay Social Security Benefits: Theory and Evidence”
John B. Shoven and Sita Nataraj Slavov, NBER Working Papers
Social Security benefits may be commenced at any time between age 62 and age 70. As individuals who claim later can, on average, expect to receive benefits for a shorter period, an actuarial adjustment is made to the monthly benefit amount to reflect the age at which benefits are claimed. We investigate the actuarial fairness of this adjustment. Our simulations suggest that delaying is actuarially advantageous for a large subset of people, particularly for real interest rates of 3.5 percent or below.
One of the justifications for the HHS mandates (amended now to require insurance companies to provide contraceptives free of charge) has been purely economic. The idea is that the use of contraceptives saves insurance companies (and by extension the rest of us) money, as it is less expensive to pay for condoms or birth control pills than to pay for a pregnancy and birth.
Of course the calculus to come up with such a conclusion is flawed in myriad ways. But even if we were to assume the veracity of the contention, many questions immediately arise. For instance, why wouldn’t insurance companies voluntarily offer birth control coverage gratis if it would lower their costs? Aren’t these the same profit-maximizing institutions that politicians have been demonizing for years? Aren’t the insurers the professionals, whose business it is to know what ways are available for minimizing exposure? The very fact that up to this point insurance companies have not added free birth control as a preventive care measure is powerful evidence against the economic argument in favor of contraception.
Gleaning is the traditional Biblical practice of gathering crops that would otherwise be left in the fields to rot, or be plowed under after harvest. The biblical mandate for the practice comes from Deuteronomy 24:19,
When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
Gleaning provided the poor with a way to use their own labor to provide for their needs. For us today, the practice provides a useful Biblical model for how we can help others to help themselves. “Those with wealth are to provide opportunities for the poor to rise out of poverty,” writes Marvin Olasky, in Renewing American Compassion, “the typical starting point in the Old Testament was gleaning.”
The latest episode of This American Life follows the story of Mike Daisey and his investigation into the origins of Apple products, especially the iPhone which is “Made in China.”
What might the iPhone say if it could speak for itself? Ira Glass provides some answers to such a question in the opening moments of this episode, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.” It’s illuminating that Daisey half-jokingly describes his devotion to Apple products in religious terms (this doesn’t prevent him from using the Lord’s name in cursory fashion, however).
Just like the pencil in Leonard Read’s essay, “I, Pencil,” the iPhone is “a mystery,” one “taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril.”
There are many, many lessons to learn from the story of I, iPhone. One of these lessons has to do with the dignity of the various people who work together to invent, assemble, market, sell, and distribute such wonders. This is where This American Life largely focuses its energies in this episode.
Another lesson has to do with the lessons about global trade and interdependence. In his book Work: The Meaning of Your Life—A Christian Perspective, Lester DeKoster leads us through a thought experiment, in this case having to do with “I, Chair.”
As seeds multiply themselves into harvest, so work flowers into civilization. The second harvest parallels the first: Civilization,
like the fertile fields, yields far more in return on our efforts than our particular jobs put in.
Verify that a moment by taking a casual look around the room in which you are now sitting. Just how long would it have taken you to make, piece by piece, the things you can lay eyes on?
Let’s look together.
That chair you are lounging in? Could you have made it for yourself? Well, I suppose so, if we mean just the chair!
Perhaps you did in fact go out to buy the wood, the nails, the glue, the stuffing, the springs—and put it all together. But if by making the chair we mean assembling each part from scratch, that’s quite another matter. How do we get, say, the wood? Go and fell a tree? But only after first making the tools for that, and putting together some kind of vehicle to haul the wood, and constructing a mill to do the lumber, and roads to drive on from place to place? In short, a lifetime or two to make one chair! We are physically unable, it is obvious, to provide ourselves from scratch with the household goods we can now see from wherever you and I are sitting — to say nothing of building and furnishing the whole house.
There’s much more to unpack just from these two lessons, of course.
How much of our expectations about the conditions of workers are simply culturally hegemonic forms of colonialism? Don’t Americans tend to assume that the ideal is immediately possible? What about the difficult choices that actually face workers in other countries in their concrete situations?
On these kinds of choices, consider Nicholas Kristof’s “In Praise of the Maligned Sweatshop” (Kristof is also heard from in this episode of This American Life): “We in the West mostly despise sweatshops as exploiters of the poor, while the poor themselves tend to see sweatshops as opportunities.”
As we listen to Daisey’s story, our natural instinct is revulsion. We certainly wouldn’t want to live and work that way. And even apart from concerns about cultural colonialism, Daisey documents real abuses that ought to make both consumers and producers reassess how things are done.
And so what might it mean for someone else to have the opportunity to work their way out of such situations, to have more choices than the binary options of industrial manufacturing and subsistence farming (or starving), and to have these opportunities not merely individually but corporately?
What might true compassion, which places us within the context of the other person in their concrete situations, mean in these kinds of settings?