Transparency And Independence: Think Tanks Rather Than Lobbying Tanks

Por Alejandro Chafuen: Publicado el 2/5/16 en: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alejandrochafuen/2016/05/02/transparency-and-independence-think-tanks-rather-than-lobbying-tanks/#b4dcb8a72d73

 

Last week, the leaders of most of the most relevant think tanks in North America attended a meeting to discuss the major challenges they face today. The 3rd Annual North America Think Tank Summit was held under Chatham House rules so I will focus on the substance of the discussions and the published material rather than mention who said what. Eighty-five participants from 60 organizations took part in candid presentations and exchanges. The meeting was convened by The Think Tanks and Civil Society Program at the University of Pennsylvania and co-hosted by three prominent think tanks: the Hudson Institute, Brookings, and the Carnegie Endowment. The combined income of the U.S. non-profit organizations present at the summit amounts to over $1.2 billion (based on data from 2014), so this was a very relevant group.

This year, the topic of the meeting was “Assuring the Quality, Independence, and Integrity of Think Tanks.” It is healthy that think tanks in North America, especially those based in the United States, show concern for their reputation. Within the think tank sector, U.S. think tanks are the envy of the world; no country can boast such a wide variety of well-funded organizations. Think tanks are diverse not only in philosophy, as are more ideological think tanks like the Center for American Progress, Cato Institute or the Heritage Foundation, but also in focus, from the Urban Institute and the Rand Corporation (security and strategy) to the Acton Institute (religion and public policy).

Think Tank Leaders gather for the Third North American Summit at the Brookings Institution.

Think Tank Leaders gather for the Third North American Summit at the Brookings Institution.

Yet despite their deep pockets and hard earned global recognition as major policy players, U.S. think tanks are not always well regarded by the public. Dr. James McGann, who headed the conference, included in the conference materials a series of quotes to exemplify the media coverage that has shaped negative perceptions of U.S. think tanks. He cited the following widely read articles from respected publications such as the New York Times and the New Republic: “Fellows at think tanks accepting funding from lobbyists to publish findings without disclosing the funding source,” published in the New York Times; “Conflicts of interest in think tank scholars that are registered lobbyists” from the New Republic; and “Conflicts of interest in think tank funding from foreign governments and corporations” also in the Times. One expert who has been studying think tanks’ public perception noted that 95% of key media coverage and existing scholarly literature on U.S. think tanks presents these organizations negatively. Several leaders took offense at the comment, trumpeting their own accomplishments and listing counter-arguments to this assertion.

Negative perceptions of think tanks often rise from conflicting visions of the role and purpose of these types of organizations. Think tanks sometimes pursue opposite policy goals, that is to say, what one regards as an accomplishment, the other regards as a destructive result. Promoted by “progressives” and despised by conservatives, Obamacare is a case in point. The same with immigration. Often there is a perception that rather than basing their policy prescriptions on independent research, think tanks do the opposite: they start with a conclusion commissioned by donors and supporters, and then produce research to accommodate that predetermined narrative. This perception exists even among expert scholars and intellectuals: Nobel Laureates Paul Krugman and Vernon Smith famously differ on their views on the think tank sector. “Progressives” tend to applaud Krugman’s interventionist views while pro free economy groups (such as the Independent Institute, Manhattan Institute, Mercatus, and Cato, all of which participated at the summit) generally fall in line with Vernon Smith’s ideas.

When prompted to address the effects of this special election year on their work, most speakers acknowledged that as the major think tanks in the United States, they tend to be publically regarded as part of the elite, which has earned them distrust from conservative and socialist bases alike. Most of these meetings took place at Brookings and the Carnegie Endowment, located side-by-side in Washington D.C.’s Embassy Row. Indeed, gathering in such near palatial surroundings, inside a room full of people with graduate degrees from top schools makes it hard to refute the claim that think tank leaders are part of the elite. I heard only one speaker acknowledge that researchers should pay attention to the frustration from voters. Another speaker stressed the difference between philosophy and ideology as guides for the work of think tanks. Many ideologies are too rigid; from immigration to trade, it is all or nothing. And when relevant segments of the population believe that think tanks respond to concerns and challenges in a dogmatic fashion, they begin to discount them as merely another type of lobbyist, a stone’s throw away from those on the Hill.

Discussions then turned to how think tanks should respond to a changing political environment. Some reflected on the danger of being reactive to politics, but most argued that advocacy and educational efforts based on solid research are much needed mantles for think tanks to take on. Within the United States tax code, non-profit organizations that get involved in politics fall under section 501 (c) (4), which dictates that up to 50 percent of these organizations’ activities can be political in nature. Think tanks like Heritage have created their own section, Heritage Action. The Center for American Progress also has one. Representatives from this center and from Heritage mentioned that the foundation’s research arm has eight times more income than their political and advocacy arm. Rather than shying away from admitting involvement, several of the groups present were proud of their role in helping enact legislation. Among the cases presented were: Brookings and the drafting of the Marshall Plan in the late 1940s; the Heritage Foundation and its Mandate for Leadership reform manual during the Reagan Administration; and the Center for American Progress and its role in passing Obamacare.

Think tanks from Mexico and Canada had different concerns. The representatives from the Mexican organizations focused on other issues: Their think tanks are much smaller, mostly as the result of a weak philanthropic culture. The Canadians described their country’s more stringent provisions, which prevent think tanks from entering into political debates.

There was no consensus on how much additional transparency is needed. The most recent study to cause alarm was the 2015 think tank transparency report. Produced by Transparify.org, this report detailed the levels of financial disclosure of over 160 think tanks located in 47 countries worldwide. Pro free-market think tanks with outstanding reputations scored very low in that ranking. One of those, CEDICE Libertad, is in Venezuela, a country where the government detains political opponents. In countries with weak rule of law, the only think tanks that can be transparent are those who are allied with their corrupt governments. In the United States, the recent cases that bring the politicization of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to surface are cause of additional alarm. While all non-profits in the United States have to disclose their main donors to the IRS, no such obligation exists for state filings or for public disclosure. Several states, however, including New York and California, are requesting the same information that is submitted to the federal government. Due to fears that information will be leaked for political objectives, several think tanks are challenging this request. As I mentioned in an earlier column, when rule of law is politicized, transparency is a complicated topic.

A think tank leader from Canada, which scores very high on rule of law rankings, confided that as their publications and research usually cast doubt on government policies, they would lose a major portion of their income if they were forced to disclose the names of all their donors to the public. Corporations in particular are afraid to be associated with those who do not toe the official line. In the United States, only a small percentage of think tanks’ income derives from corporations (10% in average) while abroad, corporate donations account for usually a third or more of a think tank’s income.

U.S. Think Tank experts discuss how to position their work in the current political environment. (L to R): Winnie Stachelberg, Center for American Progress, Lee Edwards, Heritage Foundation, Tom Carver, Carnegie Endowment, David Boaz, Cato Institute, and William Galston, Brookings

U.S. Think Tank experts discuss how to position their work in the current political environment. (L to R): Winnie Stachelberg, Center for American Progress, Lee Edwards, Heritage Foundation, Tom Carver, Carnegie Endowment, David Boaz, Cato Institute, and William Galston, Brookings

The larger, Washington-based think tanks disputed the notion that the source of donations (that is to say, whether they are corporate, government, or from individuals and foundations) correlate with independence. Most noted that more and more, foundations have their own agendas and use think tanks as research arms. On the other hand, when think tanks become major institutions of civil society, corporations begin to donate to become part of the “club”—not necessarily because they agree with the organization’s policy positions. Think tanks that are seen as beneficial to their civil societies begin to attract donors in the same way as museums, hospitals, and universities. Representatives from the smaller think tanks present at the meeting, which were not many, chimed in on the problems that can come with accepting corporate or government donations.

Several new challenges faced by think tanks were mentioned during the meeting. One is the threat by city governments to disregard the non-profit status of think tanks in their tax collection efforts; Acton Institute recently won its case versus the city of Grand Rapids. Another challenge is the effort by several Attorney Generals to seek detailed donor information from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has produced major research on issues like global warming and climate change.

These challenges are not limited to the United States. Foreign governments are also using “transparency” as an excuse, in order to stifle divergent views. Only a couple of days after the end of the think tank summit, the Chinese government passed a lawrequiring full disclosure of foreign non-profit activities. It is clear that the Chinese government is more interested in control than transparency. Yes, transparency and independence are desirable—but when government authorities begin using selective and arbitrary requirements to define transparency and independence, then think tank leaders are right to be concerned. There may not yet be a consensus on how to achieve transparency, integrity, and independence, but increased competition and accountability to stakeholders—within an environment of governments and judicial systems that live by the principle of equality before the law—would be a start.

 

Alejandro A. Chafuén es Dr. En Economía por el International College de California. Licenciado en Economía, (UCA), es miembro del comité de consejeros para The Center for Vision & Values, fideicomisario del Grove City College, y presidente de la Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Se ha desempeñado como fideicomisario del Fraser Institute desde 1991. Fue profesor de ESEADE.

Free Market Think Tanks: 2016 Website And Social Media Leaders

Por Alejandro Chafuen: Publicado el 22/2/16 en: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alejandrochafuen/2016/02/22/free-market-think-tanks-2016-website-and-social-media-leaders/#7704265d18d7

 

I began tracking the social media presence of free-market think tanks three years ago and shared the results in this column in 2014 and 2015. This past year once again showed growth in most areas, with the exception of website traffic. Think tanks are attracting more followers on their Twitter, Facebook, and even LinkedIn accounts but those who follow them on these social media platforms do not always go to their websites.

The Heritage Foundation ranked first among free-market groups. It ranks ahead Brookings in every social media platform except in its use of LinkedIn. Indeed, while the most recent think tank ranking list Brookings as the top think tank in the world, in the use of social networks, Heritage consistently edges out Brookings.

Below are the winning free-market think tanks in the U.S. and from around the world:

    • Most Facebook likes (U.S.): Heritage Foundation (1,920K); (Non U.S.): Instituto Mises, Brasil (175K)
    • Most Twitter followers (U.S.): Heritage Foundation (540K) ; (Non U.S): CEDICE, Venezuela (77K)
    • Most monthly visitors to website (SimilarWeb, U.S.): Heritage Foundation (2,700K); (Non U.S.): Instituto Mises, Brasil (570K)
  • Most subscribers to YouTube Channel (U.S.): American Enterprise Institute (71K); (Non U.S.): Fundación Libertad y Progreso, Argentina (13K)
  • Most views of YouTube video (last 12 months) (U.S.): Acton Institute (343K); (Non U.S.):Fundación Libertad y Progreso, Argentina (992K)
  • Most minutes viewed on a You Tube video (last 12 months) (U.S): Heritage (2,473K); (Non U.S.) Fundación Libertad y Progreso (6,274K)

The leaders in free-market media, magazines, and news outlets include:

  • Most Facebook likes: CNSnews.com (Media Research Center) (1,972K)
  • Most Twitter followers: Reason (169K)
  • Most monthly visitors to website: National Review (10,600K)
  • Most subscribers to YouTube Channel: Reason (157K)
  • Most views of YouTube video (last 12 months): Daily Signal (Heritage) (599K)
  • Most minutes viewed on a You Tube video (last 12 months): Daily Signal (Heritage) (12,867K)

Among university-affiliated groups, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University leads in most Facebook likes, Twitter followers, You Tube and Website traffic. Among student advocacy organizations, Students for Liberty leads in Facebook likes, and Turning Point USA, despite being founded in 2012, only 4 years ago, ranks first in Twitter followers.FreedomWorks is ahead of Americans for Prosperity among grassroots mobilization organizations, and it leads in all social media platforms except on YouTube and Instagram. Instagram is growing among the younger population. In addition to Americans for Prosperity, Instagram leaders in their category include Mises Institute (US), CEDICE (Venezuela), Hoover, Students for Liberty, and National Review.

You Tube video by Fundación Libertad y Progreso (Argentina) attracted more than one million views.

You Tube video by Fundación Libertad y Progreso (Argentina) attracted more than one million views.

As is natural in such a dynamic and changing social media scene, think tanks are trying different strategies. Some are posting their promotional and advocacy videos on Facebook, rather than on YouTube. For instance, the Mises Institute in Brazil has more than 164,000 views of their video promoting their Master’s Program in Austrian Economics on Facebook, while their most popular video uploaded to YouTube has less than 5,000 views. Videos on Facebook, however, tend to be much shorter than on YouTube, which has no length limit. Fundación Libertad y Progreso, from Argentina, produced a very popular short video against Latin American populism, which starred young Guatemalan libertarian activist Gloria Alvarez. It was viewed close to one million times, and helped boost the number of subscribers to their You Tube channel to over 13,000. It defeated all the 2015 pro-free society promotional videos around the world.

In countries where freedom of the press is under attack, Twitter has become the premiere media outlet for think tanks. CEDICE, the courageous think tank in beleaguered Venezuela, continues to be the best example of this phenomenon. With 77,000 Twitter followers, CEDICE ranks first among foreign think tanks.

Unlike other social media platforms, which have gained significant traction over the past decade, LinkedIn has yet to leave its mark regarding Latin American think tanks. At least in the world of think tanks, LinkedIn is still primarily used as a tool for recruiters rather than as a platform for the dissemination of research or advocacy papers. Yet over the past few years, the number of LinkedIn followers has grown more than other social media platforms. The leading free-market think tanks have seen their followers increase by over 50%. Heritage’s followers increased by 61%, Cato’s by 52%. The Mises Institute (U.S.), which lags behind the others in number of followers, grew at 77%. Among foreign think tanks, the Fraser Institute saw a 72% increase. I only recently began tracking American Enterprise Institute’s growth, so I do not have their year-to-year numbers, but with over 7,500 followers, they have surpassed Cato among market-oriented institutes to reach second place (after Heritage).

During the past year, I estimate that leading free-market think tanks attracted, on average, 20% more Twitter followers and on average, 20% more “likes.” (Facebook “likes” is a cumulative figure; very few people “unlike” a Facebook page). Foreign think tanks saw 50% more “likes.” Something similar happened with YouTube subscribers, which grew 20% on average for the leading U.S. think tanks and more than double that percentage for foreign groups. Yet, as stated above, this growth on social media platforms has not translated into an increase in web visitors. According to SimilarWebtraffic numbers most organizations saw their website traffic stagnate or go down close to 10%.

When it comes to LinkedIn, free-market think tanks are far ahead of their competitors in the academy and in media. Mercatus continues to lead in followers among academic-based think tanks, and National Review among on-line magazines, but they all ranked much lower than Heritage, Cato, or AEI.

As I did in my previous articles, I shared my data with two of my favorite experts, Michael Rae, who has built and hosted dozens of think tank websites, and IESE’s Emma Alvarez, asking for their insights on the evolution in think tank’s social media efforts. When analyzing these numbers, Rae comments: “The success of some groups to gain larger ‘view’ numbers from a significantly smaller subscriber base … indicates to me more engaging taglines and content from the smaller group. Content remains king.”

Think tanks continue to have trouble capturing the Twitter traffic of some of their most public stars, and something similar is occurring with LinkedIn. Alvarez, the social media manager at IESE business school, points at the failure of some groups to manage their multiple accounts properly: “Even if there are some think tanks profiles on LinkedIn, most of them don’t have the direct link to the homepage.” Out of a sample of 28 pro-free market organizations, most of them leaders in their field, only eight “have a direct link from their homepage [and] Fraser Institute and CIDAC are the only ones who have the links to LinkedIn on the header.” LinkedIn allows organizations to create company profiles as well as groups. Alvarez adds that the home pages of Adam Smith Institute and Students for Liberty, for example, link to LinkedIn group, rather than the company page, and “Libertad y Progreso to a personal profile and not to the company page.”

Social media data gathered last week of March and first week of February 2016. Sofie O'Mara and Mariana Zepeda conducted research for this piece.

Social media data gathered last week of January and first week of February 2016.

According to Alvarez, think tanks have yet to build a stronger presence on this platform. Universities are doing better. She described LinkedIn’s strategy to attract a younger audience that will use this platform to “help” them select a college. LinkedIn features a school’s notable alumni prominently, channeling resources like their career recommendations and for “engagement for asking questions or connecting with the campus community,” toward promoting traffic for the school. LinkedIn’s internal search algorithm prioritizes the university page result, so one tends to find a person’s university affiliation before their company or employer. Only organizations with an .edu suffix can have a LinkedIn university account, so to take advantage of this special treatment of colleges and universities, think tanks with educational programs could start their own web addresses with an .edu suffix. Acton Institute, Cato, Mises Institute,the Atlas Network, and other free-market organizations which have their own “universities” or “master’s program” could pick an appropriate website address specific to this platform. But LinkedIn has first to approve their inclusion as “universities.” Brookings, which is the only think tank with an .edu suffix, still does not have a university page. Having students pass through educational programs is essential for being approved by LinkedIn. The fact still remains that unless sub-pages are properly and intelligently linked to the organization’s home page, they might fail to drive traffic to their main website.

Like other experts who spend their time trying to measure whether or not social media presence translates into public policy impact, Michael Rae realizes that these platforms’ immediacy and transitory feel create a challenge for think tanks. “In a world of short attention spans,” Rae argues, “the fleeting tweet, the passing item on your timeline suits the users’ world better than the visit to a website, or checking your email. Email seems to demand engagement, as does the website, whereas the tweet needs only a cursory glance.”

Free-market think tanks are spending tens of millions of dollars in social media, and there is still much to improve in transparency and in proper measurement of outcomes. Tracking email subscribers and measuring their interactions and relevance, should complement any analysis. This type of data, however, if collected, is seldom shared outside the organizations. Until this changes, the combined data of traffic measured by each of the platforms is our best shot at understanding which think tanks are doing a better job at getting the freedom message out to the public.

 

Alejandro A. Chafuén es Dr. En Economía por el International College de California. Licenciado en Economía, (UCA), es miembro del comité de consejeros para The Center for Vision & Values, fideicomisario del Grove City College, y presidente de la Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Se ha desempeñado como fideicomisario del Fraser Institute desde 1991. Fue profesor de ESEADE.

The Most Influential Think Tanks In The United States: A New Social Media Ranking

Por Alejandro Chafuen: Publicado el 16/12/15 en: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alejandrochafuen/2015/12/16/the-most-influential-think-tanks-in-the-united-states-a-new-social-media-ranking/

 

TheBestSchools.org, an online resource for campus and online education, has just released a ranking of the 50 most influential think tanks in the United States. I have written that the think tank and university worlds are beginning to overlap. Some universities are creating internal think tanks, some think tanks are offering university-type programs, and there is an increased number of efforts where think tanks and universities collaborate in educational products and services. It does not come as a surprise, at least for me, that this “school web portal” decided to devote some time to focus on U.S. think tanks.

Like other rankings, this new effort treats “think tanks as principally in the business of selling their ideas.” But it focuses on social media more than any other previous ranking. The authors reason that “in this age of the Internet, in which every think tank has a website,” we “can regard think tanks as in the business of search engine marketing, i.e., as attempting to market their ideas over the Internet and especially through their website.”

Early each year I compile statistics and write about the impact of conservative and libertarian think tanks in social media. Fourteen such groups appear in this list. Although my analysis of social media impact uses more measurements than TheBestSchools.org, some of the results are similar, especially the top four free market groups: Heritage Foundation, Cato, Mises Institute and American Enterprise Institute. Mises Institute is the one with the smaller budget ($4 to 5 million), and they can rightly claim that, at least in social media measurements, they provide more “bang for the buck.” In addition to the superb collection of scholarly books and studies in the Austrian tradition, especially by Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and their disciples, Mises Institute sometimes releases provocative articles, defying politically correctness and attracting wide readership. This increases its social media impact, but who is to say that think tanks were only created to influence the academic and policy elites?

Leading Conservatives Libertarian TT in TBS Ranking

Despite the claim in the title of the ranking that these are the 50 most influential US think tanks, the organization recognizes that they do not measure the “intrinsic merit of a think tank and its intellectual program” but its “cash value” measured by the popularity of a think tank’s official website, ranked against all other websites, as determined by the average number of monthly visitors (specifically, organic search traffic), number of keywords/phrases for which the site ranks, and the monetary value of the traffic as gauged by those keywords.” This is the key measurement ofSEMrush.com. TheBestSchools.org, uses that web tool to determine how well their portal was doing “in attracting and holding visitor traffic” so they decided to measure think tanks.

Although they state that in preparing the ranking they considered the average yearly revenue; the average number of printed media references per year by outside organizations; and the number of categories in which a think tank was ranked by the2014 Global GoTo Think-Tank Index, a simple analysis of their ranking shows that those elements were not weighed. They just relied on one SEMrush measurement. The top two groups in the list, the Belfer Center at Harvard, and the Earth Institute at Columbia, do not merit their ranking. Those who prepared the data took the entire traffic of Harvard and Columbia as the traffic for these centers. The Heritage Foundation, ranked third, should be really ranked first. In addition, the information for some of the think tanks is incomplete or wrong. Acton Institute, for example, appears on several categories in the 2014 GoTo Think Tank Index, but the analysis mentions none. Another issue of the rankings is that it does not provide information on when the data was compiled and does not include many think tanks, like Hudson Institute, which beats several on the list. TheBestSchools.org will be correcting its analysis.

Michael Rae, of Canadian based Lexicom, an expert on free-market social media efforts, has been using SEMrush.com for six months. The more that think tanks use paid advertising to promote their social media posting, the more useful the tool will become. Regarding the ranking, Rae says that the “disparity between the top and bottom of the rankings in terms of web traffic, seems to indicate that it really is a ‘winner takes all’ world online, at least for web pages.” Many on this new list are indeed some of the most influential US think tanks, but a more accurate ranking of the best ones is yet to be produced.

Adriana Peralta collaborated on this article.

 

Alejandro A. Chafuén es Dr. En Economía por el International College de California. Licenciado en Economía, (UCA), es miembro del comité de consejeros para The Center for Vision & Values, fideicomisario del Grove City College, y presidente de la Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Se ha desempeñado como fideicomisario del Fraser Institute desde 1991. Fue profesor de ESEADE.

 

LAUDATO: ¿SI O NO?

Por Gabriel J. Zanotti. 

 

La publicación de la encíclica Laudato si de Francisco ha producido un ruido que hace mucho no se veía en la opinión pública mundial. Él es especialista en hacer lío, así que podríamos dejar el lío como está porque él estaría conforme así.
Nuestros lectores, sin embargo, están acostumbrados a que nosotros arreglemos los líos, así que vamos una vez más a satisfacer la demanda subjetiva del mercado.
La Laudato si tiene tres aspectos: uno teológico, otro económico, otro científico.
El aspecto más importante, que es además el ámbito específico de las enseñanzas de la Iglesia, es el teológico. Allí hay un tema que ya quedado medio invisible o mejor dicho inaudible en medio de las voces agitadas, ya enojadas, ya laudatorias, de la Laudato.
Como todos sabemos, en el Génesis Dios le da al hombre la facultad de dominar la tierra. Pero ese “dominus” puede entenderse en dos sentidos: dominio como símbolo la dignidad de la naturaleza humana, creada a imagen y semejanza de Dios, sobre las cosas no humanas, o dominio como el ejercido por el dueño sobre su esclavo.
Pues bien: lo que Francisco enseña es que la relación del hombre con la naturaleza debe ser del primer modo. De esta manera ubica al tema ecológico en una perspectiva judeo-cristiana donde no hay panteísmo entre Dios y la naturaleza, donde la Tierra no es “madre” que sustituye al Padre creador. No: el ser humano no es hijo de la naturaleza, sino de Dios, y por su dignidad natural, superior, ontológicamente, a la naturaleza. Pero ambos (ser humano por un lado y tierra y demás seres vivos por el otro) son hermanos en creación, y como tal su relación no debe ser la de Caín, sino la de Abel, armonía perdida, sin embargo, en el pecado original.
Dicho esto, Francisco recuerda algo que en términos filosóficos se puede decir así: la relación del hombre con la naturaleza no debe reducirse a la sola racionalidad instrumental, donde lo único importante es una relación entre fines, medios, resultados y eficacia. Ello no es malo en sí mismo, al contrario, es necesario muchas veces planificar y evaluar, pero en la relación de hermandad donde el yo se vincula con un tú, el otro no es un mero instrumento.
Ahora bien, la naturaleza no es estrictamente un tú, pero tampoco, en una perspectiva cristiana, una merca cosa que tiene una relación de esclavitud con un dueño arbitrario que sería el hombre. En santos tales como San Francisco y Fr. Martín de Porres y su enternecedora relación con toda la naturaleza creada, Dios nos ha dado un símbolo que no se reduce, como muchas veces se ha hecho, a un cuentito dulce para niños. En ellos se ve una sensibilidad hacia todos los seres vivos que todo cristiano debe tener: una relación de hermandad, que no implica sumisión del hombre a la naturaleza, pero tampoco un dominio arbitrario de esta última o sólo reducido a una planificación racionalista, hija del Iluminismo. Esa relación de hermandad es una relación de armonía, donde la naturaleza puede servir, sí, para las necesidades del hombre, pero no para la arbitrariedad, la destrucción o la crueldad. Esa sensibilidad hacia la naturaleza como una hermana en armonía es una sensibilidad cristiana que no es nueva, aunque Francisco la esté recordando en este momento, y sus implicaciones sociales no radican en un determinado sistema sino en cambiar hábitos, en cuanto a consumo y-o protección de la naturaleza que nos rodea.
Todo esto es, sencillamente, lo más importante de la encíclica.
Luego están los temas económicos y científicos. Cuánto mercado o estado son necesarios para proteger el medio ambiente, o las hipótesis y diversos testeos empíricos sobre el tema del calentamiento global, son temas totalmente opinables en los cuales cualquier católico puede opinar libremente, no porque sean temas arbitrarios, sino porque las ciencias sociales y naturales comprometidas en esos temas tienen un margen de contingencia que no compromete al Magisterio de la Iglesia o al Catolicismo en cuanto tal. Desde esta perspectiva, el Instituto Acton, haciendo ejercicio de la legítima libertad que todo fiel tiene en esos temas, ha insistido siempre en que el mercado libre tiene mucho que ofrecer para el cuidado del medio ambiente, sobre todo a través de la internalización de externalidades negativas y privatización de bienes públicos estatales, todo ello a través de una mayor definición de los derechos de propiedad. Lo interesante es que autores partidarios de la sociedad libre, como Hayek y Feyerabend, han criticado fuertemente, en el núcleo central de su obra, a esa misma racionalidad instrumental que siempre ha criticado la Escuela de Frankfurt. El racionalismo constructivista, criticado por Hayek, y la unión entre estado y ciencia, criticada por Feyerabend, han llevado a una planificación racionalista que ha influido mucho en lo que Mises llama intervencionismo y que ahora se llama “crony capitalism”, ese contubernio entre estado y privados, estos últimos protegidos por los primeros, retrasando la aparición de nuevas alternativas de mercado en cuando a energías limpias, como energía solar.
Por lo tanto: ¿Laudato SI o NO? Pues en la perspectiva cristiana de la ecología, obviamente SI. En los temas opinables, si, no, ni, lo que (con estudio y prudencia) se pueda opinar. Pero con una importante coincidencia de fondo, más allá de los ruidos y líos que quiere el travieso Francisco.

 

Gabriel J. Zanotti es Profesor y Licenciado en Filosofía por la Universidad del Norte Santo Tomás de Aquino (UNSTA), Doctor en Filosofía, Universidad Católica Argentina (UCA). Es Profesor titular, de Epistemología de la Comunicación Social en la Facultad de Comunicación de la Universidad Austral. Profesor de la Escuela de Post-grado de la Facultad de Comunicación de la Universidad Austral. Profesor co-titular del seminario de epistemología en el doctorado en Administración del CEMA. Director Académico del Instituto Acton Argentina. Profesor visitante de la Universidad Francisco Marroquín de Guatemala. Fue profesor Titular de Metodología de las Ciencias Sociales en el Master en Economía y Ciencias Políticas de ESEADE, y miembro de su departamento de investigación.

The Index Of Cronyism By ‘The Economist’: A Call For Improvement.

Por Alejandro A. Chafuén. Publicado el 30/10/14 en: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alejandrochafuen/2014/10/30/the-index-of-cronyism-by-the-economist-a-call-for-improvement/

 

Several of the most important think tanks around the world that defend the virtues of the free market have programs that focus on the moral defense of free enterprise or the more tarnished term “capitalism.” The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) for example, has a program on Values and Capitalism. Most of the work of the Acton Institute, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is devoted to show to the religious, that the free economy can lead to a more virtuous and prosperous society. Two of the most recent books by the leaders of these institutes focus on this challenge: “Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy” by Father Robert Sirico; and “The Road to Freedom” by Arthur C. Brooks.

Donors to think tanks and university centers have invested millions to promote programs and publications that address the morality of “capitalism” and “free enterprise.” Capitalism has been defined by most friends and foes as the economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production. When the means of production are in private hands in countries with pervasive corruption, the moral defense of profits becomes very difficult.

The term “crony capitalism” is being used today by economists from all sides of the ideological spectrum. It usually refers to an economy where preferential regulation and other favorable government intervention—based on personal relationships—helps decide winners and losers.

Unfortunately, much of the debate about cronyism is based on anecdotes and generalizations. A few days ago, during the Free-Market Forum on “Markets, Government, and the Common Good” organized by Hillsdale College, several speakers address the topic of cronyism. Over 400 people attended the event, half of them professors at Christian colleges. One of the keynote speakers, Charles Payne, an entrepreneur and a Fox Business Network contributor, shared with the audience a litany of regulations and privileges which tarnish and corrupt the essence of the free enterprise system. Some anarcho-capitalists and libertarians regard receiving any income from government as crony. On the statist side, some regard economic freedoms as crony. They argue that they serve the rich at the expense of the poor.

In the United States we have efforts, such as Subsidy Tracker, which give some idea of the problem. Subsidies feed cronyism. Known state subsidies to private business add up to $153 billion. This represents approximately 10 percent of government spending at state level. Assuming that the federal and local governments are as generous with tax dollars as the states are—if the same percentage applies to all government spending (35 percent of the economy)—then the subsidized private sector economy might approach 3.5 percent. More research is needed as the existence of one element of cronyism in a contract does not prove that all the value added ex-post is also crony. A deal between PDVSA (Venezuelan Oil Company) and Boligarchs (Bolivarian Oligarchs) can be crony, but that does not mean that many of the small win-win retail transactions, like filling our gas tank at CITGO (a subsidiary of PDVSA), are also crony.

Earlier this year “The Economist” magazine released an index of crony capitalism. The index had Hong Kong with the worse score. In the article “The Economist” acknowledged the weakness of the methodology but still made it the cover story. As Hong Kong has consistently ranked as number one in economic freedom, the fact that “The Economist” ranked it as the most “crony” does great damage to the defense of the morality of capitalism or free enterprise.

In many countries, considerable amount of profits result from contracts with totalitarian structures such as state owned companies, or access to under-valued foreign currencies. One of the negative effects of cronyism is that it can lead to an unequal distribution of economic freedom, a concept that I have addressed before. The inequalities in income and opportunity produced by cronyism and an unequal distribution of economic freedom are not due to God, natural endowments, or personal effort. As such, many times they are scandalous. Tim Carney, of AEI’s Culture of Competition Project, also speaking at the Free-Market Forum mentioned above, argued that polls suggest that citizens are not so concerned with inequality. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, for example, are greatly admired. Unfairness, however, which arises from cronyism, is disliked by the overwhelming majority. Carney endorsed the need of developing better indicators of cronyism.

Even before the fall of the Iron Curtain a consensus developed that when it comes to growth, economic freedom won hands down over socialism. But when it came to justice and morality, there is no such consensus. During these last two decades there has been a constant improvement in the quality of the measurements of economic freedom. There has also been an advance in the efforts to measure corruption. There has been very little advance, however, in the effort to measure cronyism.

As cronyism is regarded as a source of injustice and a consequence of immoral behavior, has the index developed by “The Economist” proved the immorality and injustice of capitalism?

The above question seems illogical and will likely be disregarded in circles that believe capitalists can do no wrong. If you point to a capitalist who seeks and profits from privileges, this group’s response is, “he is not a true capitalist.” In many socialist circles you find the same attitude, when you point to a failed socialist experiment they answer, “they were not true socialists.” But for the large majority of educated observers, who follow economic policy, the fact that a magazine such as “The Economist” would rank Hong Kong number one in cronyism in a leading article and cover page, is no laughing matter. It gave a rich cache of ammunition to the enemies of the free market.
It was not just Hong Kong either. The country ranked second in economic freedom, Singapore, did not do much better as it ranked fifth in cronyism. The index is indeed weak. It measures the weight of the sectors which are prone to cronyism (among them construction, oil, ports, and banking), it then factors in the number of local billionaires in those sectors, and comes up with the ranking. With the same methodology, even a libertarian utopia could end up being classified as 100 percent crony. Take for example an island or sea platform, such as the one promoted by the Seasteading Institute. Assume that most of the property in that island is owned by billionaires, and where the main product is oil and the main service is banking. Even if all transactions are voluntary the Economist Index it would show it as almost completely crony. Although cronyism is usually described as quasi-corruption, the index shows a very low correlation with corruption. China, which scores very bad in corruption, just 4 out of 10, appears as much less crony than Hong Kong, which scores a respectable 7.5 out of 10 in Transparency (a measure of lack of corruption). Singapore, which has the second least corrupt score (8.5) ranks fifth worst in cronyism.

More than a reason for criticism, “The Economist” and its Index of Cronyism should be a call for action and improvement. “If it Matters Measure It,” says the motto of the Fraser Institute. Cronyism matters. Measure it.

 

Alejandro A. Chafuén es Dr. En Economía por el International College de California. Licenciado en Economía, (UCA), es miembro del comité de consejeros para The Center for Vision & Values, fideicomisario del Grove City College, y presidente de la Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Se ha desempeñado como fideicomisario del Fraser Institute desde 1991. Fue profesor de ESEADE.