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Friday, June 6, 2014

GDP and Poverty: Is Economic Growth the Answer?

From 1959 to 1973, the American economy grew 82 percent, per person. It is easy to assume this is why the poverty rate decreased from 22% to 11 percent.[1] From roughly 1985 to 1990 and then again from 1995 to 2000, heady growth rates are also correlated positively with declining poverty rates. But correlation is not causation. Indeed, had the correlation in the 1959-1973 period continued, the subsequent per capita growth would have ended poverty in 1986. What then are we to make of the relationship between GDP and poverty?

[1] Neil Irwin, “Growth Has Been Good for Decades. So Why Hasn’t Poverty Declined?The New York Times, June 4, 2014.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Catholic Social Ethics: On the Free Market and Economic Inequality

In June of 2014, Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga, a “prince” of the Roman Catholic Church, of the free-market system as “a new idol” that increases inequalities of wealth and excludes the poor. Pope Francis had already claimed that personal charity is not sufficient as a remedy—that solidarity with the poor necessitates, in the Cardinal’s words, “dealing with the structural causes of poverty and injustice.” As theorized by Thomas Piketty, that structure includes a tendency under typical circumstances for the rate of return on capital to exceed the growth rate in incomes (and GNP). Faith in the market’s invisible hand and people’s charitable giving do not suffice to counter this tilt. Indeed, Catholic social ethics would have it that faith in perfect competition as an ideal is tantamount to idolatry that operates at the expense particularly of the down-trodden and poor.

The full essay is at "Catholic Social Ethics: The Free Market as an Idol."

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The EPA's Coal Carbon Emission Targets: Natural Gas Leaks Through

Coal is the bad guy. At least it is the antagonist in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 645-page carbon-emissions plan unveiled in early June, 2014. In spite of the fact that the 30% reduction in CO2 emissions from the level in 2005 being set for 2030, critics showed their oligarchic focus on today by pointing to what the current likely costs would be. Electric bills increasing $4 or so a month in West Virginia. Lost jobs—as if the criteria of capital were also those of labor. In short, short-term inconveniences without a hint of the other side of the ledger. I submit that this is precisely the element in human nature that can be likened to the proverbial “seed of its own destruction” in terms of the future of our species. As menacing as such “reductionism to today” is, the assumption such as underlies the EPA’s proposal that coal is the definitive obstacle—and, furthermore—that we are not missing any other huge but invisible danger—is just as problematic from the standpoint of the species’s survival.

From: “What We Know about Coal and Natural Gas: The EPA’s Coal Emissions Targets

President Obama as Legislator in Chief: Missing the VA Fraud

Buffeted with a whirlwind of criticism in the wake of revelations of widespread fraud in VA Hospital and outpatient clinic wait times, President Obama somewhat sheepishly admitted during a news conference on the matter that he had heard nothing of the practice on his travels around the country. With at least one instance of false scheduling at 65% of the facilities between September 30, 2013 and March 31, 2014 and 13% of schedulers being instructed in how to falsify wait-times,[1] it is odd that word had not reached the president’s ear. Maybe this is not so odd after all, for the president’s domestic trips tended to be oriented to campaign fundraisers and speeches oriented to proposed legislation. In other words, the president—and Barak Obama is hardly alone here—put his legislative role above that of his office as chief executive.

1. Meghan Hoyer and Gregg Zoroya, “Fraud Masks VA Wait Times,” USA Today, June 3, 2014.

Marx and Rousseau on Economic Inequality

Both Marx and Rousseau are “anti-history” in the sense that socioeconomic and sociopolitical large, complex organization, well beyond the small groups of prehistoric homo sapiens people living a sustenance existence, has alienated workers from themselves (Marx) and introduced artificial, or “moral,” inequalities and inauthentic fronts (Rousseau). In other words, the human condition in the modern world is not a story of progress; paradoxically, things have gotten worse in spite, and indeed in part due to the extent of technological progress. In other words, under the subterfuge (i.e., camouflage) of “progress,” the species has actually acquiesced to increasing decadence and deterioration as human organization has become larger and more complex.

The full essay is at "Marx and Rousseau on Economic Inequality"

Monday, June 2, 2014

Leadership as Defined in a Mega-Church

Leadership is influence. This is the definition that the pastor of an evangelical Christian mega-church enunciated in a sermon that took up nearly the entire service on the Sunday morning of my visit. Parents, teachers, students, and artists—all and many others—the cashiers at Walmart—are leaders, according to the pastor. “You need to get over the hurdle,” he charged, “of thinking that leadership only applies to kings and people on stages.” As influence, leadership applies to virtually anyone—all of us. Populism was the real message. “A kingdom is actually any place of influence,” he added. Everyone is a king in his or her own kingdom by virtue of simply having influence.

The full essay is at “Leadership Is Influence

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Dismembering Time Inc: Delimiting Management

Typically, management is assumed to be a skill or practice that enables a person so trained to work in virtually any company, regardless of what the sector happens to be. A manager is presumed fully able to go from managing a bank to managing a restaurant. Organizing is the common thread; passion for the particular output is not. Yet surely product-specific knowledge and indeed fascination must count for something. This point struck me as I read the ideas of one journalist regarding what should come of Time Inc. once separated from the mother-ship of Time Warner. If the parts of Time Inc. are indeed worth more as parts of different companies than as remaining as a whole, then it is worth asking whether it makes sense to assign each part to a company oriented to the same theme or domain. If so, then the particular theme of a publication, or business moreover, should have some bearing on a manager.