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cow-faceDuring the Spanish Civil War, an American farmer named Dan West served as an aid worker on the front lines. His mission was to provide relief to weary soldiers, but all he was allotted to give them was a a single cup of milk.

This meager ration led West to wonder if more could be done. “What if they had not a cup,” thought West, “but a cow?”

The “teach a man to fish” philosophy behind that question inspired West to found Heifer International, an organization that provides farm animals to needy families and communities in developing countries. It’s an appealing model (like many Americans, my family has made donating a farm animal a holiday tradition) but does it work? Is giving an animal an effective option for helping the poor?

Developmental economist Bruce Wydick agricultural economics professor Chris Barrett studied the impact of farm animal donations:
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On Thursday at 9PM EST, Victor Claar will be a guest on “Stossel”  on Fox Business. Claar and John Stossel will discuss fair trade coffee. Claar frequently lectures on the fair trade movement at Acton University and wrote, Fair Trade? It’s Prospects as a Poverty Solution. If you can’t catch the premier of the show, it will air again multiple times, including on Fox News at 10PM EST on Sunday, December 15. The full episode will also be available online several days after the original airing.

vetsBack in 2009, I wrote a commentary titled “Veterans First on Health Care.” I argued the government must prove it can handle existing obligations before proposing any further takeover of the health care industry. I interviewed former Congressman Gene Taylor (D-Miss), who I once worked for, and among other things, assisted with Veterans Affairs claims and other military constituent services. Taylor made the point then that “We [government] can’t pay for the promises we’ve already made on health care, and it only gets worse for the next fifty years.”

I posed the logical question, “If it cannot handle the challenge of caring for 8 million veterans, how will a government bureaucracy manage a system dealing with 300 million Americans?”

Unfortunately, according to CNN, things have become even worse for American veterans who use VA hospitals:

Military veterans are dying needlessly because of long waits and delayed care at U.S. veterans hospitals, a CNN investigation has found.

What’s worse, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is aware of the problems and has done almost nothing to effectively prevent veterans dying from delays in care, according to documents obtained by CNN and interviews with numerous experts.

The problem has been especially dire at the Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn Veterans Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina. There, veterans waiting months for simple gastrointestinal procedures — such as a colonoscopy or endoscopy — have been dying because their cancers aren’t caught in time.

The entire piece at CNN is worth reading. It’s a scary glimpse on a smaller scale of just how destructive single-payer health care is and how it leads to rationing of care and death.

wmartIn light of the ongoing discussion over fast-food wages, I recently wrote that prices are not play things, urging that we reach beyond the type of minimum mindedness that orients our imaginations around artificial tweaking at the bottom instead of authentic value creation toward the top. Prices don’t equip us the whole story, but they do tell us something valuable about the needs of others and how we might maximize our service to society.

But though I have a hearty appreciation for the role that low-wage employers like McDonald’s play — due in large part to my 5-year stint working for The Ronald — I’m also grateful that other companies like Costco are able to provide higher wages to many low-skilled workers.

When we observe such differences — one prosperous company paying $7 per hour while another pays $12 — it can be easy to get worked up, pointing our fingers at greedy executives, idols of efficiency, unwise allocation of company funds, etc. Yet while any assortment of these drivers may indeed contribute to how wages are set, and though executives bear heavy moral responsibility on such matters, it’s helpful to remember that (1) we’re greatly limited in understanding the books of the companies we critique, and (2) executives aren’t the only ones influencing prices.

Over at Bloomberg, Megan McCardle does a marvelous deep-dive on this very sort of thing, starting with a comparison of Costco and Walmart wherein she ponders why the former offers higher wages than the latter.

A summary:

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burnt-churchHundreds of supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi were killed in Cairo this week by Egyptian security forces. The protestors, mostly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, responded by destroying Coptic Christian churches throughout the country.

Here’s what you should know about what’s going on in Egypt.

What is the Muslim Brotherhood?

The Muslim Brotherhood, begun in 1928, is Egypt’s oldest and largest Islamist organization.

Founded by Hassan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood – or al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun in Arabic – has influenced Islamist movements around the world with its model of political activism combined with Islamic charity work. The movement initially aimed simply to spread Islamic morals and good works, but soon became involved in politics, particularly the fight to rid Egypt of British colonial control and cleanse it of all Western influence. While the Brotherhood say they support democratic principles, one of the group’s stated aims is to create a state ruled by Islamic law, or Sharia. Its most famous slogan, used worldwide, is: “Islam is the solution.”

Ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, the Freedom and Justice Party.

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Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Tuesday, August 13, 2013

At City Journal, authors Joel Kotkin and Ali Modarres wonder if the modern city can still be a place for families, or if cities are now only for the childless. They point out that, historically, cities were based on family life, right up until the last rockwell citycentury or so. Then, the suburbs happened: folks with children wanted more space, better public schools and cheaper housing. What they lost (access to the arts, culture, more extensive food choices) didn’t seem as important as a yard and three bedrooms. Have cities now become the domain of the childless?

Demographic trends seem to bear out this vision. Over the past two decades, the percentage of families that have children has fallen in most of the country, but nowhere more dramatically than in our largest, densest urban areas. In cities with populations greater than 500,000, the population of children aged 14 and younger actually declined between 2000 and 2010, according to U.S. Census data, with New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Detroit experiencing the largest numerical drop. Many urban school districts—such as Chicago, which has 145,000 fewer school-age children than it had a decade ago—have seen enrollments plummet and are busily closing schools. The 14-and-younger population increased in only about one-third of all census-designated places, with the greatest rate of growth occurring in smaller urban areas with fewer than 250,000 residents.

Consider, too, the generation of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 in 2000. By 2010, the core cities of the country’s 51 most populous metropolitan areas had lost, on average, 15 percent of that cohort, many of whom surely married and started having children during that period. While it’s not possible to determine where they went, note that suburbs saw an average 14 percent gain in that population during the same period.

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Samuel Kampa recently reviewed Victor Claar’s monograph, Fair Trade? Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution. Kampa begins by commenting on how quickly the “fair trade” moment has gained popularity, especially among the college and post-college aged, but also in the church community. He says that young people “are doing one thing right: expressing sincere concern about world poverty.  If this concern can be channeled into effective action, great things can happen.  Of course, effective is the key word.”

First, he offers a short list of reasons, given by fair trade advocates, why the fair trade movement is necessary:

1) Many farmers and workers in the international community receive very low prices for foods and commodities and are forced to live on less than $2 a day.
2) Many of the foods that Western consumers eat have been harvested by grossly underpaid farmers and workers.
3) The fact that Western consumers benefit at the expense of impoverished farmers and workers is both unfair and morally undesirable.
4) Agencies like Fair Trade USA guarantee fairer prices for crops and commodities, vastly improving the quality of life of farmers and workers.
5) Fair trade products are more expensive than non-fair trade products, but fair trade farmers and workers are receiving fairer prices.
6) Fair trade materially benefits the lives of impoverished farmers and workers at little cost to the consumer.
7)  Therefore, consuming fair trade products is morally preferable to consuming non-fair trade products.

Kampa explains Claar’s conclusions about fair trade: “Far from improving the lot of the poor, fair trade actually hurts non-fair trade farmers, keeps fair trade farmers in relative poverty, and diverts money from more efficacious charitable endeavors.” Kampa offers the two main critiques against the movement from the monograph as: “(1) Fair trade economically damages non-fair trade farmers. (2) In the long term, fair trade does more harm than good to fair trade farmers.” He then points out that “if true, [these two critiques] damage premises 4-7 in the pro-fair trade argument outlined above.” (more…)

the_abyss_of_inequality_3075151Earlier this week I claimed you rarely hear progressives argue that income inequality is a problem since for them it just is an injustice. But there’s another reason you rarely hear them make arguments about why income inequality is morally wrong: their actual arguments are terrible.

CNN columnist John D. Sutter recently asked four people — Nigel Warburton, a freelance philosopher and writer; Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute; Thomas Pogge, director of the Global Justice Program at Yale; and Kentaro Toyama, researcher at the University of California at Berkeley — to answer the question, “Is income inequality ‘morally wrong’?”

Sutter only summarizes their arguments, but it’s doubtful they would become more coherent or persuasive if they were in book-length form. So let’s examine each of the summaries:

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AApretzelsWhen walking through an airport or shopping mall the aroma hits me before I even see the store. If happiness had a scent I suspect it would smell like Auntie Anne’s soft pretzels. From the first whiff my knees go weak and my brain tells me that I will never know joy again if I pass up this salted, buttery, baked goodness. They are so good that I fully expect St. Peter hands them out at the Pearly Gates.

While I’ve long loved Auntie Anne’s, I never knew the inspiring story of it’s founder. Anne Beiler, a former “black-car Amish” tells Fortune Magazine how virtue and trust helped her become a successful entrepreneur. (She expanded her baked good empire with a loan from a Mennonite chicken farmer who “loved what we wanted to do, and he gave us $1.5 million on a handshake.”)

Beiler says Auntie Anne’s is a modern-day business miracle that never should have happened.

I had no formal education, capital, or business plan. But we practiced what I call the three small P’s. We started with a purpose — counseling and helping people. We had a product that supported our purpose. Then we got the people to do it. The three small P’s, in that order, result in the big P — profit. If you stay true to your values and purpose, you will get to profit.

Here’s her advice for running a business:

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Man-of-Steel-General-Zod-HelmetIn the new movie Man of Steel, Superman engages in a fight with his fellow aliens from Krypton that causes significant damage to Metropolis. Disaster expert Charles Watson estimates the costs of the physical damage done to the city to be about $2 trillion. To put that in context, 9/11’s physical damage cost $55 billion, with a further economic impact of $123 billion.

What would be the impact of Superman’s fight on the economy? According to some liberal economists, it would lead to a economic boom. In defending President Obama’s stimulus proposal in 2011, Paul Krugman proposed a peculiar solution for economic recovery that mimics the one in Man of Steel: prepare for an alien invasion.

“If we discovered that, you know, space aliens were planning to attack and we needed a massive buildup to counter the space alien threat and really inflation and budget deficits took secondary place to that, this slump would be over in 18 months,” he declared, arguing in favor of the president’s stimulus package. “And then if we discovered, oops, we made a mistake, there aren’t any aliens, we’d be better [off].”

Man of Steel must be Krugman’s favorite movie: you not only get an alien invasion (Kal-El, General Zod and his soldiers) but you get alien destruction on a massive scale. Just think of all the economic benefit Metropolis gained!
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