Posts tagged with: trade

“Globalization must do more than connect elites and big businesses that have the legal means to expand their markets, create capital, and increase their wealth.” –Hernando de Soto

6898950_7a0fd3b3d9_bWhen assessing the causes of the recent boom in global prosperity, economists and analysts will point much of their praise to the power of free trade and globalization, and rightly so.

But while these are important drivers, we mustn’t forget that many people remain disconnected from networks of productivity and “circles of exchange.” Despite wonderful expansions in international free trade, much of this has occurred between “outsiders,” with many partners still languishing due to a lack of internal free trade within their countries.

Much of this is due to an absence of basic property rights, as economist Hernando de Soto argues throughout his popular book, The Mystery of Capital. If the global poor don’t have the legal means or incentives to trade beyond families and small communities, so-called “globalization” will still leave plenty behind. (more…)

The highly popular “buy-one, give-one” models — as epitomized by the popular TOMS Shoes brand — have long held the attention of Western do-gooders. It’s quick, it’s easy, and hey, people like the shoes. And let’s not forget the power of the Warm & Fuzzies.

Yet many are beginning to raise concerns about the actual impact of these activities. As Acton’s Michael Matheson Miller recently explained in an interview with Knowledge@Wharton, “The one-for-one model can undermine local producers. When you give free things, why would you buy local shoes?”

In the debut of his new smarty-pants comedy show, “Adam Ruins Everything,” Adam Conover chooses to set his sights on precisely this:

To their credit, TOMS Shoes has taken certain steps to reconsider its model, including a decision to “employ 100 Haitians and build a ‘responsible, sustainable’ shoe industry in Haiti.” But alas, by all public appearances, there is still a ways to go. (more…)

francisgmo62815“Defending capitalism on practical grounds is easy,” writes economist Donald Boudreaux at the Mercatus Center. “It is history’s greatest force for raising the living standards of the masses.”

What’s more difficult, it seems, is understanding its moral logic, spiritual implications, and which of each is or isn’t inherent to private ownership and economic exchange.

At what level, for instance, is freely buying a gallon of milk at a freely agreed-to price from a freely employed worker at an independent grocery store an act of sin, idolatry, and exploitation? Such basic transactions are, after all, the bread and butter of a system built on free enterprise and open exchange (i.e. capitalism). From here, it gets more complicated, of course, and even that basic starting point can surely involve corrupt actors and action.

Yet even Pope Francis, discernor of the discerning, seems to struggle in locating Point A of that basic logic, even when railing against its banner. I tend to presume that basic milk purchases are not, in fact, his actual target. But then he continues and without qualification, railing against markets at large and ripping at plenty of positives that dangle well outside the deserving injustices of cronyist corporatism.

The Pope prefers to argue not that capitalism “has its faults” or “demands a virtuous society,” but rather that it is a “new tyranny,” one that followed the ills of communism, but filled the void with something just as tragic. (more…)

Work-New1Originally written in 1982, Lester DeKoster’s small book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life, has had a tremendous impact on the hearts and minds of many, reorienting our attitudes and amplifying our visions about all that, at first, might seem mundane. More recently, the book’s core thesis was put on display in Acton’s film series, For the Life of the Worldparticularly in the episode on creative service.

Christian’s Library Press has now re-issued the book, complete with new cover art and a hearty new afterword by Greg Forster.

In the afterword, Forster revisits the book in light of the broader faith and work movement, noting DeKoster’s keen awareness of the struggles and hardships we often experience at work, and the hope of Christ in the midst of such struggles.

Although the book applies to every occupation and vocation — from the Wall Street executive to the independent artist to the stay-at-home mother — one of DeKoster’s primary audiences in his own life was blue-collar workers, who he routinely taught in night classes at Calvin College. “His message of hope to them is an outstanding model for our movement today,” Forster writes.

Indeed, DeKoster realized that without a proper understanding of God’s ultimate purposes, we will find ourselves trapped in a “wilderness of work,” lost and without meaning. But when we understand God’s grand design for all things, everything changes. (more…)

georgia-prison-welding-class_1With the rise of the information economy, many millennials have steered clear from blue-collar jobs and manual labor, often prodded by their parents to pursue a “real education” and “a better life.

As folks like Mike Rowe have only begun to highlight, such attitudes have led to a serious skills gap in the trades, one that appears to hold steady even in the face of record unemployment. Yet despite these cultural shifts, such work does indeed provide significant value to the economy while affirming the dignity and creative potential of the worker.

Thus, while some prefer to hold their noses at the trades, others are seizing it as an opportunity to create and share value. Such is the case at Walker State Prison in Georgia, where a unique welding program offers to train prisoners in the high-demand trade of welding.

According to the American Welding Society, we will be short by nearly 300,000 welding-related positions by 2020 (HT), giving participating prisoners a good shot at meaningful careers upon their release.

And the prisoners aren’t complaining. They are eager to offer their skills, learn a craft, and contribute to society. Watch some highlights here:

One can’t help but be inspired by Christopher Peeples, for example, who at 26 years old is about to finish a 10-year prison sentence. Thanks to the program, he looks forward to wonderful job prospects, and his Dad (a craftsman himself) has been quick to share in the excitement. According to NPR, one recent alumnus of the program had three job offers upon his release, one of which offered $50,000 per year with a company truck.

Ultimately, though, this isn’t about money or even stability. It’s about authentic, whole-life rehabilitation.

By pursuing work in a needed skill — by orienting hearts and hands toward service to others and thus to God —  these men are entering into a transformative, collaborative exchange that will shape their very souls and spirits. Material provision is just the byproduct.

Of course, it would require no small amount of these programs to fill the skills gap we’re facing, and so the question remains: what are others waiting for?

As we continue to expand our economic imaginations and pursue vocational clarity, these prisoners offer a powerful example on how we ought to view and approach such work.

What a blessing it truly is.

trade21Many conservatives exhibit a peculiar tendency to be pro-liberty when it comes to business, trade, and wages, but protectionist when it comes to the economic effects of immigration.

It’s an odd disconnect, and yet, as we’ve begun to see with figures like Donald Trump and Rick Santorum, one side is bound to eventually give way. They’ll gush about the glories of competition, but the second immigration gets brought up, they seem to defer to labor-union talking points from ages past.

When pressed on this in a recent podcast, immigration protectionist Mark Krikorian argued that the difference is that immigrants are people not products, and thus they make things a bit more problematic. It’s more complicated and disruptive, he argues, when you’re dealing with actual people who have diverse and ever-shifting dreams. (more…)

monkIn a lecture on markets and monasticism at Acton University, Dylan Pahman gave a fascinating overview and analysis of the interaction between Christian monasticism and markets. He’s written on this before and has a longer paper on the topic as well.

In the talk, he highlighted a range of facts and features, from monastic teachings on wealth and poverty to the historical realities of monastic communities and enterprises. Over the centuries, monasteries have contributed a host of products and services to civilization and culture, often countering the common assumption that all such communities are flatly against trade, production, and wealth creation.

One point that stood out in particular was Pahman’s summary of a recent study by Nathan Smith, in which Smith ponders how these communities have managed to succeed for so long, particularly given their many (internally) socialistic traits. According to one study, the average longevity of monasteries is 463 years(!), which is far longer than the lifespan of most companies and states, never mind your run-of-the-mill secular commune (Portlandia variations included).

There are a variety of forces that may contribute to this, including unique pressures of lifelong commitment, corresponding theological reinforcement, etc. But when it comes to some of the more universal traits that help monastic communities thrive, they may offer some lessons to help orient and affirm our broader thoughts about community in the context of work, trade, enterprise, and worship. (more…)

immigrationAs the number of Republicans vying for the presidency reaches new levels of absurdity, candidates are scrambling to affirm their conservative bona fides. If you can stomach the pandering, it’s a good time to explore the ideas bouncing around the movement, and when necessary, prune off the poisonous limbs.

Alas, for all of its typical promotions of free enterprise, free trade, and individual liberty, the modern conservative movement retains a peculiar and ever-growing faction of folks who harbor anti-immigration sentiments that contradict and discredit their otherwise noble views. For these, opposing immigration is not about border control, national security, or the rule of law (topics for another day), but about “protecting American jobs” and “protecting the American worker.”

Consider the recent shift of Scott Walker. Once a supporter of legal immigration, Walker now says that immigration hurts the American worker, and that “the next president and the next Congress need to make decisions about a legal immigration system that’s based on, first and foremost, protecting American workers and American wages.” Or Rick Santorum, who has made no bones about his bid for the protectionist bloc. “American workers deserve a shot at [good] jobs,” he said. “Over the last 20 years, we have brought into this country, legally and illegally, 35 million mostly unskilled workers. And the result, over that same period of time, workers’ wages and family incomes have flatlined.” (more…)

globe-fabricIn Leonard Reed’s famous essay, “I, Pencil,” he highlights the extensive cooperation and collaboration involved in the assembly of a simple pencil — complex coordination that is quite miraculously uncoordinated.

Reed’s main takeaway is that, rather than try to stifle or control these creative energies, we ought to “organize society to act in harmony with this lesson,” permitting “these creative know-hows to freely flow.” In doing so, he concludes, we will continue to see such testimonies manifest — evidence for a faith “as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.”

In his book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster explores the theological aspect of this phenomenon, noting God’s grand design in these webs of service and exchange. For DeKoster, this “practical faith” points rather clearly to a Creator, and when we recognize it, we begin to see how His purposes might manifest through our work in ways out of our immediate control or humanistic intent.

Echoing Reed’s essay, DeKoster refers to this web of exchange as the “fabric of civilization,” stitched together with the “countless tiny threads” of human work, each dependent on the other, but each mysteriously guided by an independent source. (more…)

tppThe controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), backed by many Republicans and President Obama, hit a snag Tuesday when key Democrats spoke out against the agreement.

What exactly is the TPP? It is a free trade agreement with 12 nations (including China and Japan) that purports to increase economic growth, jobs and free trade. However, there is much opposition in Congress.

Leading opponents of the measure in the Senate have pushed for additional protections for U.S. workers and address concerns about alleged foreign-currency manipulation by China that makes American products too expensive.

“It’s a betrayal of workers and small business in our communities to pass fast track, to put it on the president’s desk without enforcement  … and without helping workers,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, told The Washington Post.