Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg has been busy on the interview circuit over the past few days as news organizations look for intelligent analysis of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation that that was released last week. On Monday, the Wall Street Journal called upon Gregg to provide his thoughts on the economic content in the exhortation on Opinion Journal Live; we’ve embedded the video below.
To kick off the Labor Day weekend, Peggy Noonan offers some timely thoughts on the meaning of work:
Joblessness is a personal crisis because work is a spiritual event. A job isn’t only a means to a paycheck, it’s more. “To work is to pray,” the old priests used to say. God made us as many things, including as workers. When you work you serve and take part. To work is to be integrated into the daily life of the nation. There is pride and satisfaction in doing work well, in working with others and learning a discipline or a craft or an art. To work is to grow and to find out who you are.
In return for performing your duties, whatever they are, you receive money that you can use freely and in accordance with your highest desire. A job allows you the satisfaction of supporting yourself or your family, or starting a family. Work allows you to renew your life, which is part of the renewing of civilization.
Work gives us purpose, stability, integration, shared mission. And so to be unable to work—unable to find or hold a job—is a kind of catastrophe for a human being. (more…)
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.
Obamacare – or the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – is meant to give everyone in America the best access to the best health care. But things aren’t looking so good. As we get closer to its onset, it’s becoming clear that there will be fall-out. Employers (especially small-to-medium size businesses) are looking for ways to handle the onslaught of costs Obamacare will bring; one way is to offer healthcare ONLY to employees, leaving employee families out of luck, and insurance.
Detroit is bankrupt. The city government can’t pay its bills. Scores of empty houses and garbage-strewn lots greet anyone who drives down once-bustling streets. There is a lot of finger-pointing, and no easy answers. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle of what went wrong in Detroit.
At The Wall Street Journal, Steve Malanga has a few puzzle pieces to add, and they form the face of former-Mayor Coleman Young. Young was Detroit’s mayor for 20 years (1974-1994), and Malanga calls him a “radical trade unionist who ran as an antiestablishment candidate reaching out to disenfranchised black voters, Young lacked a plan except to go to war with the city’s major institutions and demand that the federal government save it with subsidies.” During Young’s 20 year mayorship, the city’s government became less and less effective, and the middle class (both black and white) got out. (more…)
We’re still working on finishing production on the audio and video captured last week at Acton University 2013. Here’s William McGurn, Editorial Page Editor at the New York Post and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, addressing Acton U participants last Thursday night:
It’s called the “Marketplace Fairness Act,” but how fair is it and who does it really benefit? The legislation, which is expected to pass the Senate, is heralded by supporters as instituting market equity to the brick and mortar retailers. Supporters also proclaim it will help to alleviate state budget shortfalls. The Marketplace Fairness Act gives new authority to states to directly collect sales taxes from online retailers. Jia Lynn Lang at The Washington Post explains:
There is much talk about raising minimum wage, even to the absurd rate of $22 per hour. President Obama has promised an increase to $9 per hour. Some small business owners, feeling the pinch of these raising wages, are turning to technology to solve their economic issues.
Carla Hesseltine, who runs a small bakery, is considering eliminating employees and replacing them with tablets that will take orders:
In order for her Just Cupcakes LLC to remain profitable in the face of higher expected labor costs, Ms. Hesseltine believes the customer-ordering process “would have to be more automated” at the Virginia Beach, Va., chain, which has two strip-mall locations as well as a food van. Thus, she could eliminate the 10 workers who currently ask customers what they would like to eat.
Small business owners can only raise prices so much without damaging sales, in order to cope with increased labor costs. Of course, there are costs involved with the set-up, upkeep and repair of technology, and the intangible cost of the loss of human contact.
Many studies about the effects of higher wages on overall employment tend to be politicized, clashing over whether the benefits of higher paid workers outweigh the costs of having fewer low-wage jobs. To support President Obama’s case for an increase in the minimum wage, the White House cites a 2009 academic study that says any adverse employment effect from such would be of a small and possibly irrelevant magnitude.
The raise in minimum wage to $9 does in fact seem to be minor. However, it is clear from Ms. Hesseltine’s story alone that tinkering with the minimum wage system will have ramifications. One could argue that the loss of minimum wage jobs will be balanced out by sales of technology and the jobs created there. It remains to be seen.
Zero-sum: It’s thinking that if you have more, I have less. One more baby in a family is one more mouth to feed, and less food for everyone else. One new business opens up on the block, and all the rest of the businesses suffer. The guy in the cubicle next to you gets a raise, and you get nothing, because there’s nothing left.
Except that it’s wrong. Lots of people know it, too. P.J. O’Rourke knows it, and he wants to make it clear to President Obama as well. O’Rourke congratulates Obama for some things here at the end of 2012, such as taking care of Osama bin Laden and for not being Jimmy Carter. However, O’Rourke also schools Obama on the fallacy of zero-sum thinking:
You sent a message to America in your re-election campaign. Therefore you sent a message to the world. The message is that we live in a zero-sum universe.
There is a fixed amount of good things. Life is a pizza. If some people have too many slices, other people have to eat the pizza box. You had no answer to Mitt Romney’s argument for more pizza parlors baking more pizzas. The solution to our problems, you said, is redistribution of the pizzas we’ve got—with low-cost, government-subsidized pepperoni somehow materializing as the result of higher taxes on pizza-parlor owners. (more…)
As I leafed through this week’s Wall Street Journal Europe political commentary, I finally felt a little redemption. Hats off to WSJ writers Peter Nicholas and Mark Peter whose brief, but poignant August 20 article “Ryan’s Catholic Roots Reach Deep” shed light on vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s value system. This was done by elucidating how Paul Ryan views the relationship of the individual with the state and how the local, small-town forces in America can produce great change for a nation gravely concerned about its weak and vulnerable.
The article references a standard Catholic but still-very-unknown-teaching on “subsidiarity.” Go figure, not even my word processing program recognizes the term in its standard U.S. English lexicon. Alas, subsidiarity is not a word you read about in the secular Wall Street Journal, either, whose op-eds debate many critical intuitions of the free market and democratic society yet seldom examine the intersection of theology and economics, like the Acton Institute does so well.
Indeed the WSJ Europe article was not that erudite (for other more elaborated pieces on subsidiarity go here and here and be sure to watch Fr. Robert Sirico’s enlightening video (below). Neither do the WSJ writers spell out the details of Ryan’s various economic and welfare reform proposals inspired by the principle of subsidiarity, which include a repeal of nationalized medicine and drastically reducing spending on various excessive national welfare and other expansive public agencies. Nonetheless, last Monday this secular media outlet gave its readers a very Catholic glimpse into Ryan’s political world view which is a product of a hardworking, Irish Catholic family from “small-town” America (Janesville, Wis.) trying to solve its own problems by the teachings of the Catholic Church. (more…)