cherrypieShould we always take the side of the individual consumer?

That’s the question Rod Dreher asks in a recent post on “Amazon and the Cost of Consumerism.” It’s a good question, one that people have been asking for centuries. The best answer that has been provided—as is usually the case when it comes to economic questions—was provided by the nineteenth-century French journalist Frédéric Bastiat.

Bastiat argues, rather brilliantly, that,

consumption is the great end and purpose of political economy; that good and evil, morality and immorality, harmony and discord, everything finds its meaning in the consumer, for he represents mankind.

He summarizes his argument as follows:

There is a fundamental antagonism between the seller and the buyer.

The former wants the goods on the market to be scarce, in short supply, and expensive.

The latter wants them abundant, in plentiful supply, and cheap.

Our laws, which should at least be neutral, take the side of the seller against the buyer, of the producer against the consumer, of high prices against low prices, of scarcity against abundance.

They operate, if not intentionally, at least logically, on the assumption that a nation is rich when it is lacking in everything.

Bastiat uses this as the basis of his argument that the interests of the consumer, rather than the producer, align more closely with the interests of mankind (see addendum below for more on this reasoning). Producers want scarcity since it increases their profits. If they can’t produce scarcity in the market, they’ll seek out government protections that create artificial scarcity (which is why those who are pro-business are rarely pro-market).

Book publishers don’t like the fact that Amazon is reducing the scarcity of their product, because it lowers the cost. But what is the result from the consumer side? The lower prices allow consumers to consume more books than they otherwise would be able to afford.
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Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Economics, at first glance, doesn’t seem very…well…sexy. It’s all about numbers, right? How the stock market is doing, how much people are willing to spend on stuff they need or want, whether or not people have jobs. That’s economics, right?

As the Rev. Robert Sirico is fond of saying, economics is fundamentally about human action. If this is true, then economics applies to sexual activity as well. In the following video (from the Austin Institute), today’s sexual landscape is examined through the lens of economic truisms.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Poverty
James V. Schall, Aleteia

Erroneous ideas on how to help the poor are a major cause of the problem.

ISIS to Christians in Mosul: convert, pay or die
CNN

Just days after the militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria said they killed hundreds of Syrians, dozens of Iraqi Christian families are now fleeing the ISIS-controlled city of Mosul, hoping to avoid a similar fate.

Uncle Sam Eavesdropping Outside the Confessional
Aaron Taylor, First Things

The state of Louisiana may be about to go where even rabidly anti-Catholic England in the seventeenth century dared not.

Greatest Poverty Eliminator Is a Job, Panel Says
Marguerite Bowling, The Daily Signal

With June bringing the best jobs report since the recession began, one economist says the time is now to eliminate abject poverty in America and abroad.

Last week was a busy one, news-wise, and this may have slipped by you. Suddenly, 4.5 million people in the 5 U.S. territories (American Somoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) are now exempt from Obamacare. Just like that.

What’s the story? Obamacare costs too darn much, and insurance providers were fleeing the U.S. territories, leaving many without insurance or at least affordable insurance. These territories have spent the last two years begging to get out from under this law, only to be told the Department of Health and Human Services

has no legal authority to exclude the territories” from ObamaCare. HHS said the law adopted an explicit definition of “state” that includes the territories for the purpose of the mandates and the public-health programs, and another explicit definition that excludes the territories for the purpose of the subsidies. Thus there is “no statutory authority . . . to selectively exempt the territories from certain provisions, unless specified by law.”

Laws, let us remember, are made by Congress. Unless they’re not. For instance, last week, the Department of Health and Human Services said they’d reviewed the situation and

the territories will now be governed by the “state” definition that excludes the territories for both the subsidies and now the mandates too. But the old definition will still apply for the public-health spending, so the territories will get their selective exemption after all.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, there seems to be some elasticity in the White House’s definition of “state.” And, may I add, some elasticity in the democratic process, the Constitution and rule of law. Perhaps a review via Schoolhouse Rock will help.

max_600_400_democracy-allianceWhen it comes to political and lobbying spending, it’s a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world, to quote the Kinks’ Ray Davies. Leftist organizations such as the Center for Political Accountability, the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, and As You Sow seemingly check the closets and under the beds each night to ensure corporations aren’t exercising their First Amendment rights to freely engage in the political process. These shareholder activist groups work together and individually to stifle corporate speech by submitting proxy resolutions to companies in which they invest. These resolutions request companies to publicly divulge spending on lobbying and political campaigns as well as corporate contributions to such nonprofit advocacy groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But when it comes to progressive billionaires contributing to liberal causes and candidates, CPA, AYS and ICCR are conspicuously silent. What’s the deal?

As noted by CPA’s Bruce Freed on the AYS website:

‘Dark money’ spending by third-party political organizations poses an even more serious risk to companies as they face growing pressures to contribute. To address the threat, the Center for Political Accountability (CPA) and its shareholder partners will be filing resolutions at more than 50 companies in the 11th year of CPA’s advocacy and engagement effort. (more…)

pied piperIn a scathing report in The Washington Post, reporters David Nakamura, Jerry Markon and Manuel Roig-Franzia detail how the current border crisis involving a surge of children from Mexico and Central America was predicted by several human rights organizations and that the Obama administration failed to act, thus creating not only the increase in children illegally crossing the border, but also the desperate conditions the children have had to endure.

In 2013, the University of Texas at El Paso issued a 41-page report that “raised alarms about the federal government’s capacity to manage a situation that was expected to grow worse.” The Post article goes on to say,

The researchers’ observations were among the warning signs conveyed to the Obama administration over the past two years as a surge of Central American minors has crossed into south Texas illegally. More than 57,000 have entered the United States this year, swamping federal resources and catching the government unprepared.

The administration did too little to heed those warnings, according to interviews with former government officials, outside experts and immigrant advocates, leading to an inadequate response that contributed to this summer’s escalating crisis.

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For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles is a 7-part series from the Acton Institute that seeks to examine the bigger picture of Christianity’s role in culture, society, and the world. Each Monday — from July 7 to August 18 — The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is highlighting one episode and sharing an exclusive code for for a free 72-hour rental of the full episode.

Here’s the trailer for episode 3, The Economy of Creative Service.

Visit TGC to get the code for the free rental (you have to apply the code today, but once you do the rental is free for 72 hours).

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, July 21, 2014

How Entrepreneurs Practice Their Faith Through Companies
Chris Horst, OnFaith

When religious practice and corporate policy converge.

What’s Happening To Gordon College Is Just The Beginning
Joy Pullmann, The Federalist

There is far more government bullying ahead for every private school, charity, parachurch organization, and even churches.

The Next Religious Liberty Case
David Skeel, Wall Street Journal

After Hobby Lobby, a Christian college asked for a different kind of exemption. Then came the backlash.

Europe Moves to Outlaw Organ Trafficking Worldwide
Matthew Robertson, Epoch Times

An official European representative body has promulgated a new convention outlawing the trafficking in human organs, calling on all countries to become signatories to it and criminalize the practice and punish offenders.

a_560x0Snowpiercer is the most political film of the year. And likely to be one of the most misunderstood.

Snowpiercer is also very weird, which you’d probably expect from a South Korean sci-fi post-apocalyptic action film based on a French graphic novel that stars Chris Evans (Captain America) and Tilda Swinton (The Chronicles of Narnia).

The basic plot of the movie is that in 2014, an experiment to counteract global warming (which is based on a real plan) causes an ice age that kills nearly all life on Earth. The only survivors are the inhabitants of the Snowpiercer, a massive super-luxury train, powered by a perpetual-motion engine, that travels on a globe-spanning track. A class system is installed, with the elites inhabiting the front of the train and the poor inhabiting the tail.

When I say this is a “political” film I mean it in the Platonic sense of an ideal polis based on the best form of government that leads to the common good. Snowpiercer is an extended political fable about the polis, albeit one that includes scenes of hatchet fights between people carrying torches and people wearing night-vision goggles.

Last week, Snowpiercer was released in eight theaters in selected cities and on video-on-demand. Because of the rave critical reviews (it’s currently at 95% approval on Rotten Tomatoes), it’ll like be going into wider release.

If you haven’t seen it yet, lower your expectations. While visually interesting and, at times, thought-provoking, it doesn’t live up to the hype (director Bong Joon-ho’s 2006 monster flick The Host was similarly over-praised).You should also be forewarned that it’s rated R for violence, language, and drug content.

If you have seen it and still wondering what exactly it was about, read on.

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t like spoilers, stop reading now. Seriously. Massive spoilers below. Stop reading now. Don’t say your weren’t warned.

There are two ways to understand Snowpiercer, the right way and the wrong way. Here’s your guide to both:
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Earlier today, Elise Hilton was featured on the Neal Larson Show discussing several facets of the current “Border Crisis” and suggesting how to address this situation.

Listen below:

Read Hilton’s commentary this week comparing our current situation with one 50 years ago in Cuba.