I remember when people were responsible for their own actions. If you committed a violent crime, people weren't as willing as they are today to accept explanations, such as past traumatic experiences, designed to diminish your culpability. And you certainly couldn't get away with saying that a debate about the location of a mosque caused you to embrace violent extremism.
Something has gone very wrong.
In an Associated Press article by Rachel Zoll, NYC mosque debate will shape American Islam, graduate student Adnan Zulfiqar suggests that the debate over a proposed mosque at the site where nearly 3,000 Americans were massacred could "make" some American Muslims turn radical:
"They're already struggling to balance, 'I'm American, I'm Muslim,' and their ethnic heritage. It's very disconcerting," said Zulfiqar, 32, who worked for former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, a Georgia Democrat, and now serves Penn's campus ministry. "A controversy like this can make them radical or become more conservative in how they look at things or how they fit into the American picture."
Is this a plea for fairness or a threat?
Consider the facts. There are thousands of mosques in the U.S. Almost immediately after the 9/11 attacks, our leaders declared that "Islam is a religion of peace" and that the attackers represented a perversion of that religion. There have been very few attacks against Muslims in the U.S. since then. The American people are fair-minded and tend to judge people, as Martin Luther King implored, by the content of their character.
Opposition to the proposed Ground Zero mosque is perfectly legitimate. There are well over 100 mosques in New York City. Opponents urge the developers to build anywhere but the site of the World Trade Center attack. A number of Muslims have spoken out against the proposed mosque at Ground Zero.
Part of the problem is that radical Muslims do not accept individual rights as enshrined in the US Constitution. We adhere to the principle expressed in the saying "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Radical Muslims have responded violently to books and even cartoons that disparage Islam. When Adnan Zulfiqar suggests the controversy surrounding the proposed Ground Zero mosque could "make" some Muslims embrace extremism, he is simply demonstrating that he is not comfortable living in a free society.
The US Constitution protects every citizen's right to practice his or her religion. But it's important to understand that the Founders believed that religion and the proper functions of the state are two distinct spheres. The US Constitution does not guarantee the right of Muslims—or anyone else—to impose their values on others or to threaten violence when they don't get their way.
An article in today's Wall Street Journal, The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility, expands on some of what I said last week. Unfortunately, in an effort to soothe and persuade proponents of what was once called a "mixed economy," the article ends in confusion.
Aneel Karnani argues that private profits and public interests are sometimes compatible. When they are, corporate social responsibility is irrelevant. When they aren't, corporate social responsibility is ineffective. Either way, he says, corporate social responsibility delays development of better solutions.
Karnani claims that consumers are more likely to have choices when companies pursue profits. He points out that social responsibility adds cost: "Managers who sacrifice profit for the common good also are in effect imposing a tax on their shareholders..." Karnani suggests that by adding cost and inefficiency, government regulations may do more harm than good.
In the end, however, he suggests that industry should pursue government-defined goals through self-regulation, and concedes that when industry fails to police itself government should step in and impose regulations.
However, that's exactly where most statists say we are today. Namely, they claim that our biggest industries were built by robber barons, and that government was forced to act. Deregulation, they insist, brings back the injustices of the past.
Karnani should have taken a bolder position. A legitimate capitalist (i.e., someone not engaged in fraud) must serve genuine interests to be successful. To wit, the only way to grow a business is to deliver real value. Government regulation always reduces choices. Managers who sacrifice profit for the "common good" impose a tax on customers to the detriment of employees and investors. Government regulations should be used sparingly and only to prevent immediate harm (for example, polluting a source of drinking water).
Karnani ignores the elephant in the living room. Who decides which goals are socially responsible? Who decides the best way to achieve those goals? We can appoint a blue ribbon committee, but who decides its members? There is no escaping the fact that corporate social responsibility is all about politics.
History shows that the best way to meet not-for-profit goals is through philanthropy and volunteerism. If you force people to drive electric cars, then we will end up with fewer cars. If you persuade them to drive electric cars, then more people will drive electric cars, and entrepreneurs will work on developing better electric cars.
I've known for some time that America's early industrialists were not "robber barons" but brilliant entrepreneurs and noble philanthropists. For example, John D. Rockefeller created the mass market for kerosene home lighting by driving down prices, and he gave back to society by funding hugely successful efforts in education and medical research.
I was pleased to see that Burton W. Folsom, Jr. provides a nice framework for understanding the early industrialists in his book The Myth of the Robber Barons. Folsom sorts them into two groups: the political entrepreneurs and the market entrepreneurs.
The political entrepreneurs were people like Robert Fulton (steamships) and Thomas C. Durant (railroads). Their reliance on government assistance led to high prices, technological stagnation, and corruption. Market entrepreneurs such as Cornelius Vanderbilt and James J. Hill were innovators who drove down prices and improved service.
I have seen both types of entrepreneurs throughout my career. Today, the political entrepreneurs (better known as "crony capitalists" on the right and "socially responsible entrepreneurs" on the left) are clearly on the ascent. Legitimate entrepreneurs don't need to add "socially responsible" to their job descriptions because they already provide products and services that people want and value. "Socially responsible" is simply another way of saying "political" and it means seeking public money distributed by government officials--often to people with the right connections.
It's sad to see our country repeating this mistake. Our education system, media, and political elite share the blame. The way to turn things around is to once again honor individual initiative and achievement, the source of most generous and effective giving.
The report's goal is to promote more cost-effective solutions for remote areas in emerging economies. However, I'm concerned that this could become another endless quest for funding. In my experience, it's better to focus on solutions that succeed in the marketplace. That does a better job of driving costs down and identifying business models that work on their own. Once you have a market-tested solution, creative financing and limited subsidies can be used to greater effect.
One of the report's best ideas is "provide good enough analysis." Too many entrepreneurs get distracted by the notion that the best performance wins. History shows that it's the right balance of performance, cost and convenience that wins. Again, I think the marketplace is much better at finding the right balance than grant-driven projects. Grants tend to mask issues that are crucial to long term success.
The best way to serve remote areas in emerging economies is to create winning solutions for developed countries and just keep growing the market. This is precisely why the mobile phone market is growing so rapidly today in countries such as India.