The Aug. 26 edition of the Wall Street Journal features a compelling opinion piece by Susan Combs, the Texas comptroller of public accounts. Ms. Combs correctly assesses the inherent responsibility of public pension funds to the businesses in which they hold shares. Namely, they should ensure company profitability rather than push agendas that may harm market share and growth.
Just so. Writes Combs: “Not long ago, people who used their few shares to push a point at shareholder meetings may have been marginalized as oddballs. Today, hedge funds and other major players are using their clout to lobby for – and get – big changes in corporate governance.”
Whatever this activism has to do with the ethical obligations of shareholders to one another is beyond the comprehension of Combs and, frankly, your writer. Such has been one theme of my repeated cavils related to the so-called religious-based shareholder activists who submit proxy resolutions year after year related to overturning Citizens United, limiting the depiction of tobacco use in film and television, curtailing hydraulic fracturing and taking expensive measures to avert global warming.
One may agree or disagree with the activists’ point-of-view on any of these given topics, but as Combs notes:
Putting public funds in the activist arena in this way strikes me as seriously bad policy. As the comptroller of public accounts for the state of Texas, I have to manage billions of dollars in taxpayer money, and I have a fiduciary obligation to achieve the very best returns possible. This is a rock-bottom, non-negotiable duty that goes with the office. Our “shareholders” are the tax-paying public.
The same holds for private investments made on behalf of clergy, nuns, and other religious. Many investment opportunities exist for companies more than willing to comply with ill-founded science, questionable public policy, and social progressivism. (more…)
NRO’s Mark Steyn minces no words when it comes to his distaste for Obamacare: “a hierarchy of privileges,” he calls it, along with “crappy” and “inefficient.”
First, Steyn points out that it’s doubtful anyone has read the “comprehensive” health care act: it’s a thousand pages long. As he says, the problem with something so “comprehensive” is that “when everything’s in it, nothing’s in it.” But worst of all, it means whatever the government wants it to mean:
The Affordable Care Act means whatever President Obama says it means on any particular day of the week. Whether it applies to you this year, next year, or not at all depends on the whim of the sovereign, and whether your CEO golfs with him on Martha’s Vineyard. A few weeks back, the president unilaterally suspended the law’s employer mandate. Under the U.S. Constitution, he doesn’t have the power to do this, but judging from the American people’s massive shrug of indifference he might as well unilaterally suspend the Constitution, too. Obamacare is not a law, in the sense that all persons are equal before it, but a hierarchy of privilege; for example, senators value their emir-sized entourages and don’t want them to quit, so it is necessary to provide the flunkies who negotiated and drafted the Affordable Care Act an exemption from the legislation they imposed on the citizenry. Once again, the opt-out is not legal.
A recent story from Catholic News Service highlights an interesting encounter between markets and monasticism, a subject that I have commented on before, this time centered around the Monastery of St. Benedict in Norcia:
The monks in Norcia initially were known for their liturgical ministry, particularly sharing their chanted prayers in Latin online – http://osbnorcia.org/blog – with people around the world.
But following the Rule of St. Benedict means both prayer and manual labor, with a strong emphasis on the monks earning their own keep.
After just a year of brewing and selling their beer in the monastery gift shop and through restaurants in Norcia, financial self-sufficiency seems within reach, and the monks are talking expansion.
“We didn’t expect it to be so enormously successful,” said Fr. Cassian Folsom, the U.S. Benedictine who founded the community in 1998 and serves as its prior. “There’s been a huge response, and our production can’t keep up with the demand and the demand continues to grow.”
Beer brewing has been a traditional ministry of the Church for ages, going back to a time when water was unsafe to drink without first boiling it. The brewing process, as well as the alcohol, happens to purify the water from any harmful bacteria. This led St. Arnold of Metz (d. 640) to proclaim, “From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world!” I’ll drink to that.
While prayer and liturgy still come first at St. Benedict’s, the brothers have also found that the division labor — once referred to as “economic cooperation” — can also be a spiritual good:
Fr. Basil Nixen, the novice [brew]master, said the beer enterprise has raised the morale of the monks and reinforces their sense of community because all the monks are called on to help with some aspect of producing, bottling, distributing and selling the beer.
In addition to financial sustainability and koinonia, the brewing also has the goal of introducing more people to the life of faith:
“Here in Norcia, we’re at a very important place for evangelization” because so many tourists and pilgrims come through the town, he said. “We’re continually sharing with others our life, above all the liturgy.
“People come to the monastery for the beer,” he said, but they leave realizing God brought them to Norcia to meet him.
Becoming Europe, the latest book from Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg, has been reviewed by Books & Culture: A Christian Review. Theodore Roosevelt Malloch, a research professor at Yale University’s Center for Faith & Culture, begins his review with a series of question, including, “Will entrepreneurship vanish in America, as it has, more or less, in Europe? And what will be the moral and political costs of what Gregg describes as ‘reduced freedoms’?”
Malloch notes how Gregg walks the reader through most of Europe’s long-standing desire to provide full employment and “to preserve the market from its own inherent instabilities“: (more…)
As the civil war in Syrian continues to escalate, Christians are increasingly becoming the target of violent attacks. Catholic and Orthodox groups in Syria say the anti-government rebels have committed “awful acts” against Christians, including beheadings, rapes and murders of pregnant women.
Today, the conflict has morphed into a full-fledged civil war in which more than 100,000 people have perished. The most capable units on the rebel side — those spearheading the fight against the secular government — are composed of Islamist militants, many of whom fought U.S. forces in Iraq. The militants now accuse Christians of being supporters of Assad’s regime.
“They have threatened to cut our throats,” said Bahri, a Roman Catholic. “I love my country, but if it means having the terrorists slaughter me, my wife and our two boys, I’d rather escape to Lebanon.”
These ancient Christian communities, some of the oldest in the world, have generally been protected by successive Syrian governments, including Assad’s. But that security was lost when rebel factions began mounting increasingly ferocious attacks on them throughout the country.
On Aug. 17, rebel gunmen shot dead 11 Christians and wounded three more in central Syria, eyewitnesses and human rights activists said. In April, two bishops were abducted in rebel-held areas and an Italian Jesuit priest, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, went missing last month while on a trip to the rebel-held northeastern city of Raqqa.
A piece of news analysis over the weekend by Amy Harmon, a national correspondent for the New York Times, captures well the dynamics of the current debates about the merits of genetically-modified organisms (GMO’s).
Harmon writes specifically about the case of Golden Rice, which has some attributes that should inoculate it against common concerns about GMO’s. Golden Rice is not monopolized by a corporate entity, and has been developed specifically to address urgent health concerns in the developing world:
Not owned by any company, Golden Rice is being developed by a nonprofit group called the International Rice Research Institute with the aim of providing a new source of vitamin A to people both in the Philippines, where most households get most of their calories from rice, and eventually in many other places in a world where rice is eaten every day by half the population. Lack of the vital nutrient causes blindness in a quarter-million to a half-million children each year. It affects millions of people in Asia and Africa and so weakens the immune system that some two million die each year of diseases they would otherwise survive.
Harmon also observes that “beyond the fear of corporate control of agriculture, perhaps the most cited objection to G.M.O.’s is that they may hold risks that may not be understood. The decision to grow or eat them relies, like many other decisions, on a cost-benefit analysis.”
As I argue in my latest book, Get Your Hands Dirty, there is a theological basis for the development of genetically-modified foods. The cost-benefit sorts of reasoning has its place, but as I argue, “The limits of all these arguments about GM food are essentially the same: they argue primarily, if not solely on the basis of pragmatic concerns. While these arguments are attractive, especially to American common sense, they are neither comprehensive nor adequate in and of themselves.”
A Christian examination of GMO’s cannot be limited simply to arguments about expediency. It is necessary to first establish that a moral basis exists for this type of human activity. As I examine the case of GM foods through the lens of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, I conclude that such a “biblical-theological framework provides some important general affirmations of the genetic engineering movement with regard to food. This reality is in some respect directly related to the truth of human exceptionalism, the priority of human life over and against that of animals and particularly plants.”
So while expediency cannot be the sole arbiter validating GMO’s, the human cost associated with either acceptance or rejection of such foods are relevant. There are some legitimate concerns about GM foods, at both the level of principle and practice. There are no perfect solutions. But even so, as I put it, our “default position should be in favor of innovations which have a realistic possibility of substantively increasing the fruitfulness of the earth.”