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Friday, January 16, 2015

God Versus Physics: Is Creation Behind the Big Bang?

In his doctoral dissertation, Steven Hawkins demonstrates that the universe could have begun spontaneously. That is to say, the big bang could have gone off without being triggered by a divine intelligent being, or God in the sense of the word as used in the Abrahamic religions. To say that the universe could have begun in a moment of singularity is not necessarily to vitiate the deity-concept of all content. In fact, Hawkins’ work may one day trigger a movement to hem in the concept to the terrain that is distinctly religious.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Religion and Violence: On the Power of Self-Idolatry

Religion and power make awkward bed-fellows. Speaking in January 2015 on religious fundamentalism, Pope Francis suggested that violence belies claims of religious validity. That is to say, actions speak louder than words, and harming other people effectively renders a person’s claims of religious motivation null and void. Unfortunately, the typical assumption that people have that they cannot be wrong when it comes to their own religious beliefs also operates when political ideology is the actual motivation. Such pride, which I suspect is rooted in self-idolatry, stands as a wall preventing such remarks from influencing potential culprits.

The full essay is at “Religion and Violence.”

On a Central Federal Policy in Education in the U.S.: Implications for American Federalism

In a speech in January 2015, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged a continued central role for the federal government in education policy. He said the president was proposing to increase federal spending on elementary and secondary schools by $2.7 billion; Congress had appropriated $67 billion to the U.S. Department of Education—with $23.3 billion for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—in the 2015 budget.[1]  Typically, debate on the federal government’s role had focused on the use of standardized tests in holding schools accountable. I submit that a self-governing people has a duty to consider the wider implications, such as the impact of a greater role on the federal system. Otherwise, unintended consequences may show up after it is too late to do anything about them.

The full essay is at "Federal Policy in Education."

[1] Caroline Porter and Siobhan Hughes, “Education Secretary Presses Central Federal Policy Role,” The Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2015.

Fiscal Responsibility in Alaska: On the Challenge of Falling Oil-Tax Revenue

With West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the U.S. benchmark oil price, at $46.07 on January 12, 2015, lawmakers in Alaska were getting nervous because the government was relying on oil-industry taxes to cover 89% of the government’s operating revenue.[1] At the time, the government had a $3.5 billion deficit in the $6.1 billion budget.  How the governor, Bill Walker, planned to deal with the shortfall can give us a glimpse of what fiscal responsibility might look like in government.

The full essay is at “Fiscal Responsibility in Alaska.”

[1] Ana Campoy, Mark Peters, and Erica Phillips, “Energy-Heavy States Get a Crude Awakening,” The Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2015.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Stockholder Activism at DuPont: A Conflict of Interest for Management

In American corporate governance law, the business judgment rule gives management expertise the benefit of the doubt over stockholder proposals. Compared with executive skill, they look rather populist and thus potentially irrational in nature. Nevertheless, with the rule chaffing up against the property-rights foundation of corporate capitalism, the managerial prerogative can be said to be dubious. Indeed, a strict private-property basis justifies displacing the default profit-maximization mission for a given corporation. Alternatively, stockholders may want to use their concentrated, collective wealth for other purposes, such as to alleviate hunger. Once enough profit has been made for the business to be sustained for another year or two, any additional surplus would be spent on food pantries, for example, rather than going out as dividends or being retained by the corporation. Because managerial skill is premised on the profit-maximization goal and its associated strategies, corporate executives intrinsically resist alternatives proposed by stockholders. The managers face a conflict of interest in providing their recommendation for stockholders. Even when the proposal assumes profit-maximization but differs from a current strategy (i.e., adopted by management), a conflict of interest exists should the management seek to provide a recommendation for the stockholders. In this essay, I use the activism of Trian Fund Management at DuPont to illustrate this point.

The full essay is at “Stockholder Activism at DuPont.”

Is Dark Trading Ethical?

“Dark trading” has a subterranean connotation, as if it were done by slithering snakes in the river Styx. In actuality, the term refers to trading in stocks that is done on computers that are less public than the exchanges. That is to say, the bid-and-ask quotations on a given computer network are known only to participants on it, and not to the traders on the public exchanges. Ethically, the public-private dichotomy is relevant. I submit that it reflects a wider trend in American society.

The full essay is at “Dark Trading”