3 weeks ago

Billionaires and the good society

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders contends we should not allow billionaires. His view produced interesting debate exchanges with Michael Bloomberg, who has a net worth of $53 billion. Are billionaires good for America?

A first consideration is the source of the riches. Were they earned from a successful business, or by stealing from or swindling others? Bank robbers and con artists do not benefit our economy. For those who inherited their wealth, we should consider the original source of the fortune.

The voluntary nature of purchases means that wealth accumulated through business is earned. A customer buying financial information from Mr. Bloomberg’s company or a book from Amazon, whose founder Jeff Bezos tops the Forbes Richest Americans list (net worth: $116 billion), receives value equal at least to the purchase price. You should only buy a book on Amazon for $15 if it is worth at least $15 to you.

Mr. Bezos, of course, does not keep the $15. Amazon likely bought the book from a publisher, and must also pay its employees. Only part of the $15 is profit for Amazon, and only a portion of this goes to Mr. Bezos.

Companies sell goods and services at the prices they do because they also benefit. Market transactions make both buyers and sellers better off. Billionaire entrepreneurs become rich by taking a small slice of the value created by a large volume of economic activity.

Did Mr. Bezos and Mr. Bloomberg make their billions at the expense of their workers? No, although their businesses needed the efforts of many employees to succeed. In a market economy, not even the world’s richest person can force anyone to work for them. All employment is voluntary. Every Amazon and Bloomberg Business employee chose to work for the wage or salary offered. The employees presumably found these jobs attractive relative to their alternative options.

Economics shows that workers get paid based on their productivity. Competition between businesses bids up wages to this level. An employee paid less than their contribution can be hired away by other businesses.

Consumers typically value what they buy more than the price paid. For instance, that $15 book you bought from Amazon might be worth $25 to you. The extra $10 is called consumer surplus and is our share of economic prosperity. In a sense, billionaire entrepreneurs get rich by providing us consumer surplus.

Research shows that billionaire entrepreneurs get very little of the value they create. Nobel-prize winning economist William Nordhaus found that firms capture just over two percent of the total value of their inventions. The rest goes to consumers mostly, but also to employees and suppliers. The two percent is for the business, not just the founder. Amazon’s value created for society must be in the tens of trillions of dollars.

Billionaire entrepreneurs make our modern world enormously more prosperous and have done nothing legally or morally wrong. Still, a billion dollars is more than anyone could spend responsibly in a dozen lifetimes. Couldn’t we tax their wealth, as Mr. Sanders has proposed?

A wealth tax may not have the dire consequences some predict. Money cannot really be motivating the super-rich who continue to work hard. Mr. Bloomberg was already a multimillionaire when he was crawling under desks to hook up his information boxes for clients. Perhaps their motive is intrinsic, that they simply desire business success. Or they may care about relative standing, say moving up the Forbes list.

Both of these motives suggest that reasonably high taxes may not deter the rich from working hard. Does this make a wealth tax good policy? Not necessarily. America’s billionaires might move to nations with lower taxes. And billionaires’ wealth helps fund new innovations by their companies and risky startup ventures by others, as Forbes columnist John Tamny emphasizes.

Billionaire entrepreneurs benefit America. They become super-rich by making our lives better, not by taking from us. Mr. Bloomberg may not win the Democratic presidential nomination, but he need not apologize for the wealth he has helped create.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

11 hours ago

Community holds ‘Park and Pray’ twice daily at East Alabama Medical Center — ‘God is in this’

Lee County has been one of the hardest hit areas by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Alabama, and members of the community are rallying around medical professionals who are battling on the front lines against the disease.

RELATED: Medal of Honor recipient Bennie Adkins in hospital with coronavirus

As reported first by WSFA, Alabamians from around the Opelika area are holding a “Park and Pray” twice per day in support of the hospital staff at East Alabama Medical Center (EAMC).

At 7:00 a.m. and then again at 7:00 p.m. CT, community members begin 30 minutes of prayer while parked in the hospital’s deck. Afterwards, everyone flashes their vehicle lights as a show of encouragement for the staff, who can view the event from hospital windows.

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EAMC Chaplain Laura Eason is reportedly helping to organize the powerful effort, however the idea originally came from a friend of hers.

”It has just mushroomed and just snowballed into this incredible, incredible thing,” Eason told WSFA.

Registered nurse Madeline Vick captured a video from inside the hospital on Thursday of that night’s Park and Pray. The moment, she told the TV network, gave her chills.

However, the community is apparently doing much more than just the Park and Pray to lift up the hospital staff. People have also brought signs, rocks and bricks with messages of support, as well as providing meals. Anyone wishing to sponsor a meal for the staff can contact either the Auburn Chamber of Commerce or the Opelika Chamber of Commerce.

”This entire community has been unbelievably supportive with so many things,” Vick said.

“These last few days have been really tough and, and it’s gonna get tougher, and so having the community behind us, having the churches and so many people of faith praying for that, in and of itself gives us strength, encouraged to keep on going,” she added. “Just knowing that God is in this and helping keep us safe, and providing protection over our patients in our community and our staff here. Again, it’s been incredible.”

You can watch the full feature from WSFA here.

RELATED: Keep up with Alabama’s confirmed coronavirus cases, locations here

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

12 hours ago

VIDEO: Shelter-in-place, $2.2 trillion in stimulus, Sessions wants China held responsible and more on Alabama Politics This Week

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Should Alabama join other states by issuing a shelter-in-place order?

— Will the $2.2 trillion stimulus deal hold off a total economic collapse?

— Former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions wants to hold China responsible for its role in the spreading of the coronavirus. Will they pay a price?

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Jackson and Handback are joined former Chairman of the Madison County Commission Dale Strong to discuss his county’s preparedness for the coronavirus pandemic.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” at Governor Kay Ivey asking her to call for a shelter-in-place-order because we all know it is coming eventually.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

13 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby: Together we will combat COVID-19

The novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) is accelerating across our state, country, and in more than 150 countries globally.

On Thursday, the state of Alabama exceeded 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) announced the state’s first COVID-19 related deaths. Alabamians as far as all four corners of the state feel the challenges faced by this unfamiliar pandemic.

The past few weeks have been marked with a feeling of uncertainty, but that has not stopped the great people of Alabama from rising above the unknown and putting all best efforts forward to help lower the spread in our communities. It is important to remember the advice and guidelines we have all become familiar with during this period of time:

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  • Social distancing can greatly decrease the spread of COVID-19 in your community and potentially save lives when properly practiced. It is best to stay home as much as possible and to only leave when it is absolutely necessary. This is the biggest way Americans can do their part to lower infection rates across the country.
  • Practice keeping yourself and your home clean. It is crucial to wash your hands as often as possible and to disinfect commonly used surfaces in your household.
  • Take steps to protect others. If you feel you may be sick, stay home and away from others in your household. If someone in your family is sick, stay home as well. Cover a cough or sneeze with your elbow instead of your hand. Avoid any close contact with others. These practices are especially important for people who are at a higher risk of getting sick.
  • Do not immediately seek testing if you do not show symptoms of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and ADPH recommend contacting your primary care physician before seeking any medical care. This way, your doctor can evaluate your situation and take steps to prevent infection within their office. If you believe COVID-19 symptoms are present, contact your doctor immediately.

It is important that we recognize and remember the perseverance and dedication of our healthcare workers, and it is especially essential that we acknowledge those efforts during this global pandemic. Doctors and nurses not only in our state, but around the world, are putting their lives at risk in order to save the lives of others.

During a time where hospitals may be over-capacitated and medical supplies are in high demand, resources can run dangerously low. If you want and are able to help, FEMA encourages donations, volunteering your services in your community, or even donating medical supplies.

As communities across the state and country continue to provide assistance, it was imperative that Congress did its part to provide aid to Americans who have been impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. The House on Friday passed the CARES Act following the Senate’s passage of the bill on Wednesday night.

This legislation brings immediate assistance to American healthcare workers, small businesses, industries and families. The bill includes up to $1,200 per person, $2,400 per couple and $500 per child in direct payments to qualified individuals, grants and loans to small businesses in assistance to meet payroll, rent, and other business expenses, and provides resources, materials, and medical supplies to hospitals and healthcare providers.

The CARES Act also boosts unemployment insurance benefits and expands eligibility. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the state of Alabama is estimated to receive $1.9 billion to combat COVID-19.

Congress has acted on behalf of the American people, and these resources will help with our recovery as we fight this virus and maintain our economic strength as a nation.

As always, my office stands by to assist with any constituent questions or concerns. My staff and I are working hard to ensure the people of the Second District are provided with the most accurate information, guidance, and resources in order to overcome the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. I remain committed to keeping my constituents informed and up-to-date on the latest news and newest discoveries surrounding this crisis.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

15 hours ago

From Slapout through ‘American Idol,’ Jessica Meuse is an Alabama Music Maker on a journey

Jessica Meuse would love to become “the dark version of Carrie Underwood.”

That might seem ambitious for an Alabama Music Maker from Slapout. But her talents have already taken her from Elmore County to Hollywood for her “American Idol” experience, and she is enjoying a career as a singer-songwriter.

“Alabama is definitely the prettiest place I have ever lived,” said Meuse. “I’m grateful to call such a beautiful state my home.”

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Jessica Meuse is an Alabama Music Maker enjoying her post-‘American Idol’ journey from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Meuse was born in Round Rock, Texas. She moved several times as a child, since her mother worked for the government.

When Meuse was in the seventh grade, she moved to Slapout where she joined the Montgomery Youth Orchestra, eventually becoming principal second violin. She taught herself how to play the violin, guitar and piano.

“I was not the most accepted kid in school,” said Meuse. “I was the nerdy kid. Music was the thing that I had when I went home.”

At age 18, Meuse began writing music. Her first song was called “What’s So Hard About Bein’ a Man?” She went on to self-release a CD by the same name in 2011 and has written about 60 original songs.

“I’m definitely country, but I’m more on the spectrum of Southern rock,” said Meuse.

She auditioned for “The Voice” before her “American Idol” run, but, didn’t pass the judging rounds of the “Voice” mentors.

Meuse finished in fourth place on the 13th season of “Idol.” She became the first person in the history of the series to perform an original song during the finals.

Meuse calls herself a spiritual person and has said she is driven by her faith. She has eight tattoos and designed seven of them herself. She has two on her right arm: one of a phoenix and one of a dove surrounded by three stars. She has said that these represent spiritual rebirth and the Holy Trinity. On her left arm, she has a tattoo of the word “Faith.”

“A lot of my music is about finding your inner strength, of being tough, even when you don’t feel it,” said Meuse. “There’s always a song to write.”

The effects of the coronavirus on musicians have been swift. “It’s imperative now more than ever to support one another,” said Meuse. “Our livelihood comes from performing. The importance of a fanbase and local support is more important than ever. All I ask is that people be kind to one another in this weird time we’re all living through together. Be safe. Be healthy.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

17 hours ago

Alabama printer making face shields for health care workers

An Alabama printing company focused on the restaurant industry has found a way to help health care workers and keep its business going during the coronavirus pandemic.

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“Our director of sales, Michael Cuesta, came up with this idea that we can create face shields,” Calagaz said. “He presented a homemade prototype to me and then, along with our director of operations, we created six working prototypes. We then met with four area hospitals to get their feedback and, after some adjustments, we received orders and went into production mode.”

Calagaz said his company is gearing up to produce 5,000 face masks per day.

“In less than a week we created a prototype, met with hospitals, ordered materials and delivered the first 5,000 to Mobile’s four hospitals,” Calagaz said. “Kudos to our team for thinking outside the box and working hard to make this happen.”

Calagaz Printing in Mobile is a third-generation family-owned printing business. Joe Calagaz joined the company in 1991, a business his grandfather started in 1955. Calagaz said the community response this week has been amazing.

“Our entire team of 17 employees is honored to work and provide a solution for our health care workers,” Calagaz said. “We have a sense of pride and are grateful to have the means by which we can have an impact in this time of crisis.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)