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…)
In his new book, Defending the Free Market: the Moral Case for a Free Economy, the Rev. Robert Sirico points out that capitalism has been given a bad name that it truly doesn’t deserve:
Rightly understood, capitalism is the economic component of the natural order of liberty. Capitalism offers wide ownership of property, fair and equal rules for all, strict adherence to the rules of ownership, opportunities for charity, and the wise use of resources. Everywhere it has really been tried, it has meant creativity, growth, abundance and, most of all, the economic application of the principle that every human being has dignity and should have that dignity respected.
So why all the distrust, distaste and dislike for capitalism? Charles Murray at The Wall Street Journal suggests that capitalism has been segregated from that which conforms us to the good: virtue.
Historically, the merits of free enterprise and the obligations of success were intertwined in the national catechism. McGuffey’s Readers, the books on which generations of American children were raised, have plenty of stories treating initiative, hard work and entrepreneurialism as virtues, but just as many stories praising the virtues of self-restraint, personal integrity and concern for those who depend on you. The freedom to act and a stern moral obligation to act in certain ways were seen as two sides of the same American coin. Little of that has survived. To accept the concept of virtue requires that you believe some ways of behaving are right and others are wrong always and everywhere. That openly judgmental stand is no longer acceptable in America’s schools nor in many American homes.
Murray goes on to say that the principled stewardship that has been a hallmark of middle class America needs to be restored in order for capitalism to once again be seen as not only good, but great.
Read the entire article here.
Last week’s Wall Street Journal features a column from Michael Meyerson detailing the religious perspective of the Declaration of Independence. With questions of religious liberty occupying a sizable space in the public square, the article is especially timely. According to Meyerson, the Declaration’s brilliance lies in the “theologically bilingual” language of the Framers. Phrases like “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” employ what he calls a nondenominational inclusivism, a show of rhetoric that neither endorses nor rejects any particular religious ideology. The underlying implication of this statement, which captures the broader thrust of Meyerson’s article, is that the Framers recognized religion’s intrinsic value in a democratic state. He goes on to argue that the Framers’ understood religious expression as not only permissible, but desirable, for a budding nation. This is especially evident in two oft-forgotten but explicitly religious passages of the Declaration. First, the Framers’ acknowledged their own “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.” They also professed a “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” Such phraseology, Meyerson argues, testifies to the value that the Framers’–among them some staunch supporters of church-state separation–placed on religious freedom:
Even Jefferson and Madison, often described as believing in a total separation of religion and government, continued the practice of using inclusive religious language. Jefferson urged in his first inaugural, “May that infinite power, which rules the destinies of the universe, lead our councils to what is best,” while Madison stated that, “my confidence will under every difficulty be best placed . . . in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations.”
The Framers didn’t see such nondenominational language as divisive. They believed it was possible—in fact desirable—to have a public expression of religion that is devout, as long as it recognizes and affirms the variety of belief systems that exist in our pluralistic nation.
Similar sentiments are found in the writings of Michael Novak, an American Catholic philosopher and lecturer at 2012’s Acton University. Novak’x 2001 book, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, even addresses many of the same themes as Meyerson’s article. To listen to Novak’s Acton University Lecture’s click here. For a copy of On Two Wings, click here.
In the Wall Street Journal, Acton Institute President and Co-Founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico looks at the recent “note” on economics released this week by the Vatican. The document, titled “Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of a Global Public Authority,” was published with an eye toward the upcoming G-20 meeting in Cannes, France, on Nov. 3-4. This 18-page document has, Rev. Sirico observes, “been celebrated by advocates of bigger government the world over.”
But what’s missing from the popular analysis is that the Vatican document “embraces a sound economic theory concerning the cause of the world financial crisis: the breakdown of the postwar Bretton Woods monetary system and the unleashing of fiat currencies and central-bank printing presses.”
We went from a hard-money regime, in which there were restrictions on the power of central banks and financial institutions to create money and credit, to one where money became purely paper. There were no restrictions remaining on the power of governments to finance unlimited debt. Banks could create credit seemingly without limit. Central banks became the real power in the world economy.
None of this was true under a gold standard. That system limits the expansion of credit by an indelible physical fact. There was a limit, a check, a rule that went beyond the whim of financial masters and politicians. The Vatican seems to understand this.
But discerning the disease and finding the cure are very different undertakings, and here the document falls short. It imagines a new world central bank and political authority that will rule without “any partial vision or particular good” but rather seek “the common good.” Its decisions should “be made in the interest of all, not only to the advantage of some groups, whether they are formed by private lobbies or national governments.”
Somehow, with an intelligence never before discovered in government bureaucracies, these proposed global authorities would create “socio-economic, political and legal conditions essential for the existence of markets that are efficient and efficacious.”
Read “The Vatican’s Monetary Wisdom” on the website of the Wall Street Journal (may require registration).
Water is becoming scarcer and even more of a necessity than it was before. And while stories of water scarcity typically occur in underdeveloped, arid countries, the United States and other developed countries must realize they are no longer exceptions and must take into consideration the importance of water and the allocation of its use.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal explores the severe lack of water in Palm Beach, Florida. Residents are restricted to once-a-week watering schedules for lawns and plants, however, not all residents are abiding by restrictions whereas many owners of large estates are continuing an excessive use of water. The disparity in water usage has created a disgruntled community in West Palm Beach.
While residents in the U.S. are disagreeing over water usage for landscape purposes, many throughout the world are dying of thirst, thus, putting forth the question, do communities need to reevaluate their water use? Grass, and green luscious landscapes that are found in more moderate climates are not natural to southern Florida, so is it moral for residents to obtain a landscape, requiring a large use of water, that isn’t even native to an area?
Water scarcity has become a cause for concern in the United Kingdom, and Egypt and Ethiopia have been battling over the share of the Nile’s water reserves. Many countries and local communities are now forced to take into consideration their long term use of water.
In past blog posts (here, here, and here) I’ve taken a look at the water crisis and with Italians recently deciding to repeal a law that required water to be treated as a commodity, an explanation of my previous argument in support for treating water as a commodity is needed. My last post was missing an important moral case for the privatization of water that needs to be addressed.
In his essay, “Thirst: A Short History of Drinking Water” James Salzman analyzes how different civilizations throughout history provided drinking water. Jewish law, according to Salzman, treated water as a common property resource, not an open access resource. Priority was given according to use, giving drinking water the highest priority. While water, which came from a well made possible by human labor, was for community use only, nobody was turned away who was in need of drinking water.
Rome is a great example of how water resources were allocated when a water supply and sanitation system existed. There was a public water source, known as the lacus, where Romans could collect water for free. When using the lacus, Romans had to use their own manual labor to transport the water from the lacus to their homes. However, there was also a private water supply where Romans could pay to have water brought into their homes through a pipe system.
The “right to thirst,” as explained by Salzman, is recognized by both the Romans and the Jewish law. Salzman explains every human has a right to water, and both civilizations understand that right by providing free drinking water to those in need. Such compassion shows one’s love for his or her neighbor.
However, as we see through the example of the Romans, the convenience of having a clean and sanitary water supply delivered into a home comes with a price. While we have a right to water we have to pay for the resources and the costs that come with such modern conveniences. Furthermore, as I’ve explained in my past blog post, “Water is not a human right” if we have free water for all, we will bear witness to tragedy of the commons with our water resources.
At a recent symposium on economics and finance, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of the State, explained the importance of the private sector in water supply. Cardinal Bertone underscores the contribution that the private sector can make to providing access to water. However, he also recognizes the importance that businesses that do provide water are being called to provide an important service to people and morals need to have a higher priority than profit:
The second challenge has to do with the administration of “common goods” such as water, energy sources, communities, the social and civic capital of peoples and cities. Business today has to become more and more involved with these common goods, since in a complex global economy it can no longer be left to the state or the public sector to administer them: the talent of the business sector is also needed if they are to be properly managed. Where common goods are concerned, we urgently need business leaders for whom profit is not the exclusive goal. More and more, we need business leaders with a social conscience, leaders whose innovation, creativity and efficiency are driven by more than profit, leaders who see their work as part of a new social contract with the public and with civil society.
There is opposition to how water should be supplied. The Catholic left has a different view, supporting government’s role in providing water instead of a private entity:
On June 9, a group of more than 100 missionary priests and nuns fasted and prayed in St. Peter’s Square to underline their support for the referendum and their opposition to the privatization of water. Beneath Pope Benedict XVI’s windows, they unfurled a giant banner reading: “Lord, help us save the water!”
Some 25 Italian dioceses signed an appeal asking for a “yes” vote to preserve water as a universally shared resource. Franciscans in Assisi asked prayers and action in defense of “sister water.”
Bishop Mariano Crociata, secretary-general of the Italian bishops’ conference, said recently that access to clean water supplies was a “fundamental human right, connected to the very right to life.” He warned that privatization efforts have seen multinational companies “turn water into business” to the detriment of the wider population.
And while the U.S. has been criticized for consuming 233 billion gallons of water, it must also be kept in context. The U.S. is still one of the largest and most productive economies, producing goods that are exported to countless countries. Such productivity requires a greater consumption of water than less productive countries, however, every country that does import U.S. goods benefits.
As water is becoming scarcer we will need to reevaluate how we use and treat this precious resource. Yes, we have a obligation to take care of those in need, we must recognize, however the difference between the “right to thirst,” to have water in order to sustain life, and the luxury of commoditized water provided through extensive resources to be delivered into homes for domestic use. The Catholic Church teaches that the universal destination of material goods (water is one such good) and the principle of common use of the earth’s resources (such as mater) is primarily (though not exclusively) realized the institution of private property—an institution that comes with rights and responsibilities. Applying this reasoning to the dilemmas facing us with regard to water would certainly lead to clearer thinking about this complex question.
Current events in India have left the country wrestling with an important question: What is civil society and what does it consist of? These are not easy questions to answer as definitions of civil society can greatly vary.
According to a story on the Wall Street Journal’s India Real Time section, “…political demonstrators have demanded greater civil society involvement in the governing country…” While many throughout India are trying to define a civil society and who represents it, the Journal cited a definition by Samuel Gregg, research director at the Acton Institute:
Samuel Gregg, … notes that up to around the 18th century, the term “civil society” was used to distinguish the realm of the secular from the realm of the church, but then underwent a shift. India Real Time made a stab at defining the term “civil society” from his work as comprising those “intermediate associations” of society – academic, cultural, religious or charitable – that are separate from the family, and from the institutions of the state and the market. Mr. Gregg calls such associations “little platoons” that draw “people out of their immediate family without subsuming them into the state” and that have “the capacity to assist people to look towards those higher ends of truth, beauty, and the good.”
This definition effectively covers charities, non-governmental organizations or NGOs, civic associations like local Residents’ Welfare Associations, social movements, traders’ associations, social service initiatives, faith-based groups and so on.
Click here to read to full article.