Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, March 5, 2014

bitcoin-deadLast year I wrote a series of blog posts about what Christians should know about Bitcoin. In response, one astute reader pointed out an odd juxtaposition: my conclusion seemed to imply that Christians should avoid Bitcoin “at all cost” and yet the Acton Institute accepts donations in Bitcoin. “I really want to know the rationale behind this,” he said.

Well, the rationale is easy enough to explain: Not everyone at Acton agrees with me. Like other nerds who have an interest in the intersection of economics, liberty, and technology, many of us at Acton disagree about the merits of Bitcoin. (I’d offer to place a gentleman’s wager on the future of the crypto-currency, but they’d want to bet using Bitcoin. Either way – whether it increased in value or went defunct – I’d end up the loser.)

Opinions are still divided, but the evidence that Bitcoin is doomed to failure piles up almost every day. Over the 8 month span from October 2010 to June 2011, the market value of Bitcoins skyrocketed 9667-fold from a value of $0.06 to $29. Later, when I wrote my series last April, a single Bitcoin was worth less than $100. Today, it is worth $660, and that’s after falling from a high of $1,100 in November 2013. A currency that can fluctuate from $0.06 to $1,110 in a three-year period is not a currency – it’s a speculative bubble.

Of course, we Bitcoin doomsayers have been waiting for the bubble to pop for some time now. We also tend to think that every new drop is a sign of it’s impending doom. Fellow naysayer Jonathan Last is sure, this time, that the end of Bitcoin is near:

Philosopher and theologian, Michael Novak recently delivered a speech at the Catholic University of America on the vocation of business and Forbes published the transcript. Novak argues that “capitalism is lifting the world out of poverty.” As many Asian and African economies shift from socialist to capitalist, they are seeing enormous economic growth, and small businesses are the force behind these economic gains:

Even in developed nations, most jobs are found in small business. In Italy, over 80 percent of the working population works in small businesses. In the U.S., the proportion is just about 50 percent, but some 65 percent of new employment is in small businesses.

During the great economic expansion of 1981-1989, the U.S. added to its economy the equivalent of the whole economic activity of West Germany at that time. Sixteen million new jobs were created in the U.S., the vast number of them in small businesses. Startups peaked as new businesses came into being at a rate of 13 percent (as a portion of all businesses) – an all-time high. Much the same happened under Clinton in 1993-2001, but even better – 23 million new jobs were created.

In the creation of small businesses, four factors are necessary. First, ease and low cost of incorporation; second, access to inexpensive credit; third, institutions of instruction and technical help (such as the system of local credit unions in the U.S.), and the steady assistance of the extension services of the A&M universities; and, fourth, throughout the population habits of creativity, enterprise, and skills such as bookkeeping and the organization of work. Economic development is propelled, as John Paul II said, by know-how, technology, and skill (Centesimus Annus 32). Therein, perhaps, lie the greatest entry-points for Americans and others who wish to help poor nations by proffering assistance in economic development from the bottom up. (more…)

bieberJustin Bieber is no different than many 20-year-olds in the US and Canada. He is naturally searching for identity, meaning, and purpose — and searching for a community with whom to pursue those things. This is a normal process of transitioning from the teenage years into adulthood. Bieber, like many 20-year-olds, has shown a lack of judgement at times that has landed him not only in the news but also in jail. Many of us remember our own antics in those years and breathe a sigh of relief that we were never caught.

January 23, 2014 was one of those nights for Bieber. He was taken into custody with singer Khalil Amir Sharieff after police busted an illegal street drag race involving exotic cars, according to news sources. The Miami Police are now releasing photos from the custody intake process that put on display Bieber’s many tattoos. What I find interesting is that Bieber not only has a tattoo of Psalm 119:105 and but also one of Jesus. It made me wonder what Bieber’s life would like look if these things were tattooed not only on his skin but also on his heart.

It would be great to have an opportunity to ask Bieber what Jesus and Psalm 119 mean to him with no cameras, no media, no “selfies,” and the like–just to have an honest conversation about how he believes Jesus and Psalm 119 provide direction in his life. According to the Christian Post, Bieber recently tried to get baptized in an evangelical Protestant church.

chevron-ran-clean-up-ecuador-oilIn 2005, religious shareholder activists of various stripes jumped aboard the bandwagon filing resolutions against Chevron for an environmental disaster it allegedly caused. Chevron asserted its innocence, but the activist shareholders put the squeeze on:

Chevron’s Ecuador environmental disaster, considered by experts to be the worst oil-related ecological problem on the planet and currently the subject of a high-stakes law suit estimated to cost the company upwards of $6 billion, will be high on the agenda of the company’s 2006 annual shareholder meeting with the filing of three new resolutions asking Chevron’s management to take various steps to protect human rights, the environment and shareholder interests.

The resolutions were filed by institutional and socially responsible investors, including the New York State Common Retirement Fund, Trillium Asset Management, Amnesty International USA and members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), which together own more than $1 billion in Chevron shares. The resolutions increase the pressure on the California-based oil major to address the widespread toxic contamination left by Texaco (now Chevron) in the Ecuadorian Amazon during a 20-year period that began in the early 1970s.

This story has a twist, however. Over at the National Review, Kevin Williamson reports Chevron beat the rap on the $6 billion judgment rendered against it by an Ecuadorean court several years ago. Seems the judge who established the original fine was in cahoots with a cadre of nasty elements. (more…)

In an excerpt from the splendid PovertyCure series, Michael Fairbanks offers a helpful bit on why our attitudes about competition matter for economic development:

I can predict the future of a developing nation better than any IMF team of economists by asking one question: “Do you believe in competition?” When I go to Venezuela and I say, “do you believe in competition?,” they say “competition means the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” They say “competition is the unnecessary duplication of effort because you have two firms doing the same thing.” They say “competition is a quaint North American concept that doesn’t apply here.”

But when I go to Silicon Valley and I say,“What do you think about the word competition?,” they say, “Well, I love competition, because even when I lose, I learn something. And my success is due to the fact that I speeded up my failures, and the only way to fail was to compete, and figure out where I wasn’t good enough.”

As Hayek put it, competition is a discovery procedure. If we neglect, distort, or downplay that process, we can expect the outcomes of discovery — the fruits of our sacrifice and service — to digress accordingly.

The massive federal student loan program is creating a gargantuan higher education bubble and unsustainable levels of student loan debt, but at least all that borrowed money is going primarily to educate people, right? Apparently not. Yahoo Finance reports on yet another way that the nanny state is creating moral hazard and impoverishing the culture:

A number of factors are behind the growth in student debt. The soft jobs recovery and the emphasis on education have driven people to attain more schooling. But borrowing thousands in low-rate student loans—which cover tuition, textbooks and a vague category known as living expenses, a figure determined by each individual school—also can be easier than getting a bank loan. The government performs no credit checks for most student loans.

College officials and federal watchdogs can’t say exactly how much of the U.S.’s swelling $1.1 trillion in student-loan debt has gone to living expenses. But data and government reports indicate the phenomenon is real. The Education Department’s inspector general warned last month that the rise of online education has led more students to borrow excessively for personal expenses. Its report said that among online programs at eight universities and colleges, non-education expenses such as rent, transportation and “miscellaneous” items made up more than half the costs covered by student aid. (more…)

As Egypt moves through the process of establishing a new, stable government after not just one but two revolutions, the security of the Coptic Orthodox Christian community in Egyptian society has at times been in doubt. Dr. Magdy El-Sanady, an Egyptian Coptic Christian, has worked for over 30 years in health planning, management and community development, and in non-governmental organization institutional strengthening in Egypt. Dr. El-Sanady holds postgraduate degrees in pediatrics and public health from Egypt and an M.B.A. and Ph.D. from the U.K. In 2012, he was assigned by His Holiness Pope Tawadros II to provide institutional support to the Holy Synod. In that context, he has published two books: Christian Witness in a New Era and Holistic Approach to the Christian Ministry.

Dr. El-Sanady joins Acton’s Director of Communications John Couretas for a discussion of the current state of affairs politically and socially within an Egypt that is transitioning from dictatorship to a new, and hopefully better, form of government.