Cecilia, now 16, lives in Miami

Cecilia, now 16, lives in Miami

The New York Times has a poignant piece about Cecilia, a young Guatemalan girl who sought a better life in the U.S. and was unfortunately caught up in the machinations of human smuggling. The smugglers were bold, advertising on the radio with promises of a better life. They required a $7,000 loan, with her family’s home as collateral. Her trip ended in a gas station parking lot in Florida, with Cecilia being robbed of another $1,000. Then there is this:

Behind the surge of young migrants showing up for a shot at the American dream is a system of cruel and unregulated capitalism with a proven ability to adapt. The human export industry in the region is now worth billions of dollars, experts say, and it has become more ruthless and sophisticated than ever, employing a growing array of opportunists who trap, rape and rob from the point of departure to the end of the road. [emphasis added]

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Jerry-Seinfeld-Clio-Speech-2-700x450Out of all the passages in the Bible, I suspect the advertiser’s least favorite verse is Isaiah 55:2: “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?”

Advertising — like most other forms of marketing — can serve a noble and necessary function. But even most ad executives will admit that much of what they do is intended to fuel our desire to spend money on things we don’t really need and which cannot satisfy us.

Yet even knowing this truth we seem to never tire of hearing about the latest and greatest products and services. As the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes, “All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. . . Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? (v. 1:8,10).

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld is neither a preacher nor a prophet. But when the advertising industry recently gave him their highest award, he satirically skewered advertising-fueled materialism in a manner that is almost Biblical.

Shirley Roels

Shirley Roels

On October 31, Calvin College will be hosting the Symposium on Common Grace, an event co-sponsored by the Calvin College Business Department and the Acton Institute. According to the event website, the symposium will

…bring members of the faith, academic, and business communities together to explore and consider Abraham Kuyper’s works on common grace and how it applies to various business disciplines. The event will also celebrate the publication of the Acton Institute’s first translation of Kuyper’s works on common grace into English.

One of the leaders involved in this event is Shirley Roels, senior advisor for NetVUE, an organization that works with undergraduate students across the U.S., helping them develop their understanding of vocation and faith in the workplace. On September 30, I had the opportunity to talk with Shirley and the upcoming symposium. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, October 6, 2014
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Education Needs More Freedom, Not More Money
Emily Domenech, The Federalist

Oh, what I could do with the money my local school system spends while complaining they just don’t get enough to offer many extras.

Child Poverty Rate Five Times Lower in Married-Parent Homes
Rachel Sheffield, The Daily Signal

Child poverty rates have decreased slightly, according to the latest Census data. Child poverty dropped from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent between 2012 and 2013.

Sandy Hook Commission Calls For Government Crackdown On Homeschools
Eric Owens, The Daily Caller

Under a new law proposed this week by Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, every homeschooling parent with a child who has been labeled with a behavioral or emotional problem would be forced to submit to a host of strict, burdensome regulations.

Megabanks have prison financial services market locked up
Daniel Wagner, Center for Public Integrity

Government gives no-bid contracts to Bank of America, JP Morgan.

_70189222_464_unemployedSeries Note: Jobs are one of the most important aspects of a morally functioning economy. They help us serve the needs of our neighbors and lead to human flourishing both for the individual and for communities. Conversely, not having a job can adversely affect spiritual and psychological well-being of individuals and families.

A 2011 study of the long-term unemployed published by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University found that half of participants experienced shame and embarrassment that led them to isolate themselves from friends and associates. Among the long-term unemployed, 31.1 percent reported spending two hours or less with family or friends the previous day, versus 21.5 percent among short-term unemployed adults.

Because unemployment is a spiritual problem, Christians in America need to understand and be aware of the monthly data on employment. Each month I’ll highlight the latest numbers we need to know (see also: What Christians Should Know About Unemployment).
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kidspiggybank2Having already shrugged my shoulders at our society’s peculiar paranoia over whether having kids is “too expensive,” I was delighted to see Rich Cromwell take up the question at The Federalist, pointing out what is only recently the not-so-obvious.

“Children are people, not toasters or cars,” he writes, “and deserve to be more than the product of a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats analysis.”

Alas, as we continue to accelerate in our compartmentalization and transactionalization of every area of life, we appear increasingly bent on abusing the gifts of “choice” and “empowerment” to control and micromanage that which ought to be driven by divine deference.

As Cromwell concludes, constructing elaborate cost-benefit analyses based on our own humanistic and materialistic priorities will only serve to distort and diminish the beauty and mystery of procreation:

There is more to life than budgets. Children are much more than budget line items.  They are infuriating, destructive, annoyingly inquisitive bundles of energetic, enthusiastic joy. They challenge you, they test the outer limits of your patience. But they also offer you the opportunity to see the wonder and satisfaction of learning to shimmy up a door frame by pressing feet and hands to opposite sides, of scoring the first goals in soccer, of feeding the dogs for the first time. It’s magnificent. As a wise friend told Blair and me when we were expecting Greer, “You will never regret having kids, but you may one day regret not having kids.”

Give it up. Stop trying to make it part of your life script. Stop thinking of kids in the terms you would think of a new toaster or minivan. Those are purchases you may regret. That’s why they come with receipts and warranties. Kids definitely do not. Kids do, though, offer you the chance to experience the exquisite pleasure of riding a go-kart on a Friday afternoon with a thrilled four-year-old, smile stretching from ear to ear. It is so choice. I recommend you have one or three and experience that exquisite joy for yourself. Trust me, you have the means.

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Blog author: jcarter
Friday, October 3, 2014
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Israeli-Arab Priest to UN: “Israel Only Place Where Christians in Middle East Are Safe”
Anav Silverman , Breaking Israel News

In a speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council today on September 23, Father Gabriel Naddaf, an Israeli Arab Greek Orthodox priest from Nazareth, called attention to the plight of Christian minorities suffering under Muslim extremists in the Arab world.

Another court strikes down Obamacare subsidies in 36 states
Adrianna McIntyre , Vox

The Eastern District Court of Oklahoma ruled to strike down Obamacare’s subsides on federal exchanges, consistent with a ruling in a related lawsuit earlier in the summer.

Can a Nation’s Soil Explain Its Economic Fortunes?
Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic

If your ancestors could grow crops easily—and thus get proof that patience pays off—you’re more likely to value distant payoffs, argue two economists in a new paper.

Who brought the Arabs to this nadir?
Hisham Melhem, Al Arabiya News

Today, the world of millions of Arabs is collapsing; whole societies are consumed by the flames of sectarianism, political fragmentation and economic disenfranchisement.

Vladimir PutinOn Tuesday, Acton’s Todd Huizinga took part in a West Michigan World Trade Association panel discussion on “US and EU Sanctions on Russia: How They Affect You.” He was joined by three other panelists who focused respectively on the legal, economic, and political ramifications of the current Russian/Ukrainian conflict and the sanctions it has evoked.

Though each of the panelists focused on a different angle of the conflict, a common thread emerged: the desire of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his political regime to return Russia to a position of dominance on the world stage.

Signaling this desire for increased power was the Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory, Crimea, in March and its military intervention in Ukraine thereafter, among other events. While these are significant actions in their own right, they also serve a broader purpose in drawing attention from the international community. As Huizinga stated, “they test Western resolve to act.”

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farm-subsidy-column-imageHave you ever listened to a classical symphony and thought the music needed more distortion? Or have you ever read a newspaper and believed it would have been improved if it had more disinformation? Most of us don’t appreciate distortion in our music or disinformation in our news. Yet far too many do favor distortion and disinformation when it comes to pricing.

Prices signal information in markets. A “market” is a summary term for a variety of voluntary exchange for tangible commodities or nontangible services. In fact, one of the most important functions of a market is to use pricing to serve as an information system (creating, collecting, filtering, processing, and distributing information). When we describe a market as a “free market” one of things meant is the prices are largely free of distortions and disinformation.

This is one of the main reasons free market advocates oppose government subsidies: they inject distortions and disinformation into the pricing system. Almost always, the distortions result in an advantage of the strong over the weak, the big over the small, and the rich over the poor.

A prime example is government subsidies to farmers. During the Depression, the government began subsidizing crops to save family farms. But now the program costs billions, benefits big agricultural companies, and can even harm family farms.
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job seekerAccording to the U.S. Department of Labor, unemployment across the country is at about 6.1 percent (here in Michigan, it’s at 7.4 percent, which puts us in the bottom 10 states.) That means a lot of folks are still struggling to find a job, or a job where they are not underemployed.

Peter Morici, an economist at the University of Maryland give 5 reasons for this. Have all the “good” jobs moved overseas? Do we need to raise the minimum wage? Are we Americans lagging behind in math and science? Here are Morici’s thoughts: (more…)