Posts Tagged progress

Transforming Hearts and Minds Through Entrepreneurship

I’ve already weighed in on Bono’s “humbling” realizations about capitalism and commerce, noting that although I’m still not overly confident in the direction of Bono’s efforts, such a realization is an encouraging sign. Yet despite my original skepticism — which Greg Forster found a bit too heavy-handed — Bono has continued with this theme, arguing more recently that “commerce and entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty than aid.” Consider me pleased.

Last week, Josh Good of AEI’s Values & Capitalism project (where I also blog), used Bono’s comments as a springboard for a broader discussion about the role of aid and entrepreneurship in the developing world. Columnist Michael Gerson leads the discussion, followed by HOPE International’s Chris Horst and Andrea McDaniel of the As We Forgive Rwanda Initiative.

You can watch a video of the event here:

Although I routinely have strong and significant disagreements with Gerson’s overall approach, particularly on the topic of aid, his remarks in this particular talk are pretty close to the mark. Even where we disagree, I continue to find his arguments on particular global health initiatives to be compelling challenges to my own less interventionist positions.

The most striking point, however, comes from Horst, who points to an important Nicolas Kristof column that I’ve discussed in the past. Reminding us that the developing world faces more than just a resource problem, Horst emphasizes that our goal of empowering entrepreneurship in these countries needs to stretch beyond Read the rest of this entry »

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Celebrating the Artificial: General Motors and the Skeletons of American Industry

GM is Alive, Government Motors, bailout, subsidy, taxpayerThe Treasury Department is reportedly feeling pressure from General Motors to “sell the government’s entire stake in the auto maker,” a move that, at the moment, would result in an estimated $15 billion loss for U.S. taxpayers. But such are the realities of dysfunctional private-public-private back-rubbery:

GM executives have grown increasingly frustrated with that ownership, and the stigma of being known as “Government Motors.” Executives have said the U.S.’s shadow is a drag on its reputation and hurts the company’s ability to recruit talent because of pay restrictions.

Last week, I explored these tensions over at Values & Capitalism, critiquing the government’s malinvestment in GM as well as the Democratic National Convention’s overt attempt to romanticize such failures:

“GM is alive, and Osama bin Laden is dead,” said President Obama in his recent speech at the DNC. The crowd responded with resounding cheers, energetically waving signs bearing the same slogan. Now, just a week later, bumper stickers are already primed for your Prius.

The problem is: Osama bin Laden is actually dead, and GM has resurrected into a zombie of sorts, fumbling and stumbling about under the control of autocrats—licking its lips for another round of taxpayer flesh.

Yet of all of the tall tales of glorious GM resurrection, the Obama’s administration’s underlying attitudes about human potential are made most clear by none other than Vice President Joe Biden, whose DNC speech rails against the “Bain way” (i.e. the profitable way), arguing that “the Bain way may bring your firm the highest profits, but it is not the way to lead our country from the highest office.”

And there she blows:

Profitability, we are told, should no longer be a priority of the American people. Further, we are told, it shouldn’t be a priority of the United States government. And this is what garners cheers from the ruling party of our nation.

We now live in a country where government-appointed know-it-alls waste tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on failing companies, only to then be hailed as “defenders of industry.” We now live in an era in which viewing government in terms of “balance sheets and write offs” is demonized; in which waste and inefficiency are downplayed; and in which those who pursue economic growth in a traditional sense are viewed as obstacles to human flourishing.

The truth, of course, is that “the Bain way” secures higher profits by discouraging wasteful behavior and drawing on everything that’s good in humanity. It is this—value creation and the reward of earned success—that makes the market much more than a market, empowering us to attain the American Dream.

The market can only be a source for good if it remains a free market: an arena where contributions come before rewards, not after. And the moment Americans forget this—the moment we join this overt celebration of government-subsidized failure—is the moment we start down the road that invariably makes America like every other entitled, vacuous Western democracy, rather than the exceptional nation we’ve always been.

If this is the contrast the Democratic party wishes to draw—a battle between Artificializer Obama vs. Realistic Romney—so be it. Americans will know what they’re buying, and if the pollsters’ current predictions hold true, we’ll get all the skeletons of “industry” and “economic progress” that we ask for.

To read the full post, click here.

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Religion, Babies, and the Limits of Economic Analysis

Data-visualization guru Hans Rosling recently gave a fascinating TED talk contemplating the relationship between religion and babymaking. (For some of my commentary on his previous instances of wizardry, see here and here.)

This week at Values & Capitalism, I offer my thoughts on the lecture, focusing specifically on the limits of Rosling’s analysis as it relates to the economic implications of religion and culture.

You can watch the full talk below:

Rosling argues that religion has nothing to do with decreasing birth rates, but getting out of poverty does.

Ah, but what hath religion to do with that?

As I’ve written previously, economists have a tendency to shy away from and/or mistreat any factors that might rattle their neat categorical frameworks and cause “#VALUE!” to pop up throughout their intricate Excel spreadsheets. Observing countries according to “majority religion,” for example, provides little insight into the unique cultural differences and political climates of the countries involved while also Read the rest of this entry »

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From Contract to Cooperation: In Family and in Business

Love and Economics, Jennifer Roback Morse

The subject of contracts is not particularly sexy, which is part of the reason I’d like to talk about contracts—and how we might reach beyond them.

In one sense, we have come to ignore, downplay, or disregard the value of contracts. Across the world, we continuously see grand planners like Jeffrey Sachs trying to impose markets and social stability with the flick of their wands, paying little attention to cultural factors like trust and property rights or the institutions required to make contracts mean something. Similarly, here in America, our government seems increasingly bent on diluting or subverting our most fundamental agreements, whether between husband and wife or Foreclosed Billy and his bank.

Yet in other areas, we are overly contract-minded, particularly when it enables us to slack off or lead predictable, controllable lives. Our default setting as humans is to pursue the minimum amount of work for the maximum reward—to put in our 40 hours, shrug our shoulders, and say, “that’s that.” Take the recent union battles in Wisconsin, where protestors proudly insist that their gripes aren’t about the money, but rather, securing a specialized right to privilege and protection. If such an alarming display of entitlement and self-obsessed insulation-seeking isn’t adequate evidence of our new-found comfort level with legalistic, minimum-effort thinking and living, I don’t know what is.

Contracts certainly play an important role in ordering our affairs—as indicated in my preliminary jab at Mr. Sachs—but we mustn’t forget that they can only take us so far. We may indeed need to establish some minimums in our commitment-making (and enforce them accordingly), but that needn’t mean that the minimum is all we aim to achieve.

This is an issue that progressives, conservatives, and libertarians consistently get tied up with, with our discussions consistently centering on words like “coercion,” “obligation,” “voluntaryism,” and all the rest. Yet in trying to understand the dynamics of these features, we must recognize the limits of such categories, lest our aforementioned human tendencies to carve out rationalistic legalistic frameworks impede or limit our thinking about responsibility and commitment to only involve rationalistic legalistic frameworks.

Here’s where that tricky little thing called “love” comes into play, for it so comprehensively breaks such propensities, and, in doing so, shatters the type of line-item, pseudo-rationalistic entitlement and selfishness that ultimately holds individuals back and consequently drags entire families and societies down into the muck.

If there’s one person who understands this, its economist Jennifer Roback Morse, whose book, Love & Economics, argues that love, particularly as encountered in marriage and parenting, helps to show our convenient political-theory buckets for what they are and teach us crucial lessons about how we are to view people and progress. “Familial relationships are not coercive in the usual sense, nor are they voluntary in the usual sense,” argues Morse.

Marriage may be “contractual” in certain ways, but Morse prefers to see it as a “partnership”—one filled with what she calls “radical uncertainty.” “Will we both remain healthy?” she asks. “Will we both continue to be employed at our current level of income and status? Will our needs change in ways we cannot fully predict?”

As Morse notes, a partnership reaches beyond our preferred and overly nit-picky me-vs.-them comparisons (see also: “love keeps no record of wrongs”), focusing more heavily on the we aspect and thus transforming our efforts to be in service of someone and something higher than ourselves:

Partnerships feature ongoing, joint decision making during the life of the relationship. In purely contractual relationships by contrast, the parties negotiate most, if not all, of the significant decisions prior to entering into the contract. In a partnership, the partners share responsibilities, decision-making, and risks…

 …In a partnership, both partners have enough at stake in the relationship that they have an incentive to do all the unstated but necessary things that can be known on the spot and in the moment. The contract is neither the end of the relationship nor the method for how the parties relate to one another.

Orienting our perspectives around we-centered uncertainty requires us to reject the type of liberal, me-centered Read the rest of this entry »

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The Magic of Regression: Following the Leader in Reverse

I recently posted my thoughts on Hans Rosling’s TED Talk, “The Magic of the Washing Machine,” which does a fine job of illustrating how progress can feed progress, and how human ingenuity is at the heart of it.

In my most recent post at Common Sense Concept, I focus on a different phenomenon: our tendency to greet such progress with opposition:

If humans are really the “ultimate resource” as Julian Simon suggested, it’s no wonder that the continuous maximization of human time and freedom will lead us toward ever-increasing output. Yet just as the fruits of industrialization and widespread innovation seem to be evidence of some kind of “magic,” various opposing forces seem intent on demonstrating their own variety of bizarre tricks. Alas, just as society seems to progress, we exhibit a strange tendency toward regress.

Yet not all opposition leads to regress. We should indeed meet each new technological innovation with plenty of skepticism and criticism. In some sense, that’s what being a conservative is all about. So how do we properly discern? How do we know what will truly lead to progress and what will actually push us backwards?

We don’t. At least not always — which is why I think the more important question has to do with who is doing the discerning rather than what we are discerning about. As Thomas Sowell says, and as I quote quite frequently, “The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best.”

Here’s more from the post:

We will always have error, and we will always have disagreement, particularly in the realm of progress. But when we as individuals truly screw up, the consequences come quickly. When disruption comes, we humans are pretty good at responding and adapting. Nobody likes to look stupid and nobody prefers to be on the “wrong side of progress.” In a society guided by self-interest a la Adam Smith, the invisible hand typically spanks us when we need it, and progress gets back on track accordingly.

So what happens when the central planners mess up? What happens when lofty bureaucrats and paper-pushers start making decisions about what light bulbs we use, what toilets we flush, and how much salt goes in our French fries?

An inescapable, large-scale game of Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Bad Machines: Economic Myths, Western Arrogance and Indian Textiles

In my most recent post at Common Sense Concept, I examine a recent attempt to prop up India’s handmade textile industry.

The IOU Project recently released an ad chock-full of economic myths and Western arrogance, urging us to buy their products and resist the almighty, domineering force of industrialization.

According to the ad, if we lose the battle against the machines, we will quickly descend into poverty, unemployment, and sameness. (LOL)

This is typical fair-trade manipulation: flooding markets that would naturally subside, retract, or level out, resulting in long-term stagnation, price confusion, and plenty of other things.

In my post, I take a look at six of the ad’s main assertions, arguing that more machinery, freedom, and energy consumption is exactly what India needs.

Here’s an excerpt of my response to the anti-machinery talk:

According to the theories in this video, we [industrialized] Westerners should be helplessly enslaved by now, forced to do the bidding of modern machinery. But perhaps we have been! Here we are, destined to work in high-rise buildings and air-conditioned offices, pining away on the internet and dabbling in ideas when we could be sewing our own clothes, hand-washing our own laundry, growing our own food, and thatching our own huts. Dang machinery!

Here’s my response on the handmade industry being (supposedly) emission free:

The cavemen of yore were certainly more environmentally friendly than we are, but they filled their days hunting for food, trying to stay warm in the winter, and hoping they’d have time to come up with a written language. Such a life might sound like paradise to the idealist sitting in the front row of Eco-Imperialism 101, but at what point are we willing to Read the rest of this entry »

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WALL-E vs. the Jetsons: Materialism and Technological Progress

Jetsons, WALL-E, technology, progress, innovation, Jeffrey TuckerIn my most recent post at Common Sense Concept, I build on Jeffrey Tucker’s piece on the Jetsons and innovation, focusing on the bleak alternative to healthy modernization. As I argue, the society may very well result in the misaligned World of WALL-E.

For Tucker, the Jetsons represent a healthy view of technological progress — one in which the more important human struggles still remain largely intact, with the material stuff staying secondary:

The whole scene — which anticipated so much of the technology we have today but, strangely, not email or texting — reflected the ethos of time: a love of progress and a vision of a future that stayed on courseIt was neither utopian nor dystopian. It was the best of life as we know it projected far into the future.

Yet there is another possibility we all should be wary of.

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

This distinction about a society that “stays on course” is what separates the World of the Jetsons from the World of WALL-E, a realm in which humans assume the role of virtual robots, controlled by their possessions, consumed by their leisure, and subsequently doomed to an existence of myopic and self-destructive idleness.

Instead, the World of the Jetsons is one in which human potential is unleashed. There is a “love of progress,” but such a love is not detached from higher responsibilities and does not confuse or pervert the moral order. For the Jetsons, the stuff remains stuff and life moves on, whether that entails personal goals, family development, community engagement, or a relationship with God (one can only hope, George!).

So what separates the two?  If both worlds experience drastic technological improvements, what changes the people within them? How can we Read the rest of this entry »

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The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion

The New Holy Wars by Robert H. NelsonWe have all argued or debated with someone who resists facts and resorts to emotional or idealistic rhetoric. Conversely, we have all found ourselves in positions where we want to ignore the real-world implications of our beliefs for the sake of some perceived justice or goodness.

Whether we’re talking about the foods we eat, the medicines we take, or the public policies we support, we all have a tendency to get religious about the material.

For Robert H. Nelson, author of The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America, these examples represent various forms of secular religion. If you look close enough into somebody’s core ideology, Nelson argues, you will surely find parallels to the holy books, priesthoods, and dogmas typically found in “regular” religions.

Nelson acknowledges that there are plenty of competing secular religions in the public sphere; however, he believes that two religions in particular have engaged in what is now the most prominent conflict in American society — namely, economic religion and environmental religion.

But why these religions, and why now?

Nelson argues that both religions emerged during the nineteenth century as a result of the Industrial Revolution. During this time, technological innovation boomed, living standards soared, and access to education expanded.

As Nelson explains:

For the first time ever, one of earth’s creatures — human beings — had literally acquired the capacity to remake ‘the creation’…Astonishingly enough, human beings had now acquired knowledge and powers previously reserved for God.

In other words, the dream of creating heaven on earth was suddenly realistic for those who thought such a feat was actually attainable or desirable. Over time, Nelson argues, the successes of the Industrial Revolution resulted in the emergence of two factions — one that “exalted human control over Read the rest of this entry »

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Organic, Local, and Slow: the Pampered vs. the Starving

Pesticide to be sprayed on food crops.

You can thank "poison" like this for helping us feed the world's billions.

Robert Paarlberg has a fantastic piece over at Foreign Policy on the negative organic food is having on the world.

“What’s that?” you say. “You mean I can’t improve my body, heal Mother Earth, and fix poverty in Africa all with one chomp of my socially-conscious organic apple? But I paid an extra dollar!”

People “go organic” for plenty of reasons, but whether it’s for health, the environment, or charity, Paarlberg argues that your efforts are ill-conceived and counterproductive.

But what’s his primary problem with the organic movement?

Helping the world’s poor feed themselves is no longer the rallying cry it once was. Food may be today’s cause célèbre, but in the pampered West, that means trendy causes like making food “sustainable” — in other words, organic, local, and slow. Appealing as that might sound, it is the wrong recipe for helping those who need it the most.

Indeed, the way people obsess over the food they eat has always struck me as downright bizarre. I understand that we should eat healthy and take care of our bodies, but this global effort to organicize the planet has always seemed a bit overhyped and preachy to me — particularly because the evidence for the argument never seems to match the impetus for its execution.

The more I watch the organic movement’s momentum increase, the more I realize that its implications are much grimmer than I originally suspected. This isn’t so much on the health side of things — in fact, I don’t think there is really any difference on that front — but the push for organic food is doing great harm to the environment, as well as our efforts to decrease global poverty.

In case you didn’t know, many moons ago all farming was “organic,” and people were starving to death.  Some things never change, for you’ll notice that in most Read the rest of this entry »

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We Are All Kings Now: Modern Convenience and Kingdom Pursuits

Matt Ridley has a new book out called The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, which I hope to read in the near future. In the meantime, I’ve been perusing the book’s accompanying blog and have been enjoying it thoroughly.

Check out this video that was recently posted:




The overarching premise of Ridley’s book is that humanity has come a long way since the beginning of time, but despite the leaps and bounds of human progress, pessimists are still whining about modern inconveniences and preaching the world’s eventual collapse.

Ridley believes the future isn’t as grim as we think it is because humans will continue to foster prosperity as they always have. But what is the specific path to that prosperity?

“We progress when we trade,” Ridley says, “and we only really trade productively when we trust each other.”

From what I’ve read so far, I would agree with Ridley. However, plenty of evangelical Christians seem wary of globalization and its effects, claiming it is a sign of the end times and an avenue for the Antichrist. The bar code, they will say, is the “mark of the beast,” and live television will be the Read the rest of this entry »

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