Bloomberg Businessweek of May 29 had a fascinating article propounding a “Big Mac” labor value theory, and using it to suggest that all restrictions to international migration were economically damaging. I have disagreed strongly with that conclusion from time to time in this column beginning in 2004, but yet found the basic data evidence compelling. I thus thought it worth deconstructing the article’s logic to see where its reasoning was in error and what economically sound conclusions could be drawn from the data presented.
The earnings evidence is clear. In the United States, a McDonald’s employee earns an average of $7.22 per hour, compared to a Big Mac cost of $3.04; thus the employee earns 2.38 Big Macs per hour. In India, the average employee earns 46 cents per hour while the Big Mac costs $1.29, so the employee earns 0.36 Big Macs per hour. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, both employees do the same work; thus the U.S. employee earns 6.6 times as much as the Indian employee, simply for living in the United States.
The article then goes on to recount the fate of employees of one of the big Indian software companies, who earn far more when transferred to the United States than they do in India, and are then back on Indian pay scales when they return to India. The article draws from these examples the highly questionable conclusion that world welfare would be maximized if all immigration barriers were removed, so that Indian McDonalds employees and software engineers could flood to the United States and earn the juicy remunerations available in the Land of Opportunity.
It requires a little deconstruction to determine why this conclusion is rubbish. Is the differential between Indian and U.S. McDonalds employees purely a matter of location, and would Indians be able to pick up the higher U.S. living standards by mass migration to the U.S.?
One factor glaringly left out of the Bloomberg Businessweek calculation is that of productivity. Its glib assumption that the job of McDonalds employees in India and the United States is identical is almost certainly wrong. For one thing, a Big Mac occupies a different market position in the relatively impoverished India to that in the United States.
Even when I lived in Zagreb, Croatia, a country considerably richer than India, McDonalds had a very different social position from that in the U.S. Being American, McDonalds was where the relatively affluent young Zagrebacki hung out on a Friday evening. For families, being taken to McDonalds was more of a treat than in the U.S., and children’s birthday parties were held at McDonalds even by the affluent and sophisticated. The “product,” defined to include the ancillary services and overall experience, was different too. You were much more likely in Zagreb to have the food brought to your table when it was ready, and the outlet was spotlessly clean, far more so than most McDonalds in the United States.
For the less affluent in Zagreb, there was an alternative to McDonalds in the cevapi houses, which served the local delicacy of meat on a skewer, accompanied by a little salad in a pita bread half. Those outlets were “faster” than McDonalds – more crowded, with rushed service and tables that weren’t spotless. While the cevapi were delicious, they doubtless involved less McDonalds-style quality control.
Given that the product and its market position were different in Zagreb from the United States, I’m quite sure staffing levels and the jobs involved were also different, as they would be in Mumbai. For one thing, far more man-hours must have been devoted to keeping the place clean and providing modest service to its upscale clientele. It makes sense; if labor costs only 0.36 product units per hour instead of 2.38, then the optimal production and service mix will use considerably more of it. Thus productivity, in terms of the number of Big Macs served per employee, will be lower in a poor country even if the employees themselves work equally hard. I would also guess that the training involved for a McDonalds employee in Mumbai is more substantial than for one in New York, since the disciplines of hygiene and regimentation needed to succeed are less ingrained in the local society as a whole.
The Indian software example is more difficult, until you consider what function the software engineer fulfils within the Indian company. For the company, it is much costlier to have software written in the United States than in India, unless the productivity of the U.S. workforce is much greater than that of its Indian staff. However, the company employs software engineers in the United States because it needs them to be in the same timezone as its customers, and if necessary able to visit them, in order to provide marketing, customer service and support activities. The two jobs are not identical, even if the engineers are the same people, and the company would lose huge amounts of money if it transferred all its Indian workforce to the U.S. since its employees’ wages would be raised by competition from local employment opportunities.
In a theoretical economic model, welfare might be optimized by eliminating immigration restrictions. But that could not happen by moving the Indian, Chinese and African population to the United States and raising their wages to U.S. levels, because they would not be sufficiently more efficient in a U.S. setting to support the higher wages. Instead, while the overall global average wage might be somewhat higher, most of the differential would be eliminated by U.S. wages falling to emerging market levels. U.S. politicians, responsible for the welfare only of the U.S. electorate, would be betraying their voters if they contemplated any such move.
In reality, any such mass migration would incur such huge assimilation costs that the theoretical benefits of leveling the playing field would be largely wiped out. However, that is not a counsel of despair. Free trade is not the same thing as free migration; the case for it is very much stronger. In particular, the “globalization” caused by the Internet and modern telecommunications has hugely increased economic welfare for the citizens of poorer countries, provided those countries are even moderately competently run. (The recent economic histories of India and China, both badly run countries by any Western standards outside Greece, are good examples of this.)
It is now clear however that globalization has also depressed living standards for the less able citizens of rich countries, raising their unemployment rate as wages are to a certain extent “sticky” on the downside. That does not mean that globalization should be rejected by Western politicians; having been an artifact of technology rather than policy, it would almost certainly have been impossible to stop, and any attempt to do so would have left the country attempting it both poorer and more isolated than when it began. In any case, there is every sign that the initial effect of the Internet revolution is approaching completion; the rapid increase in Chinese wage rates and disappearance of the Chinese balance of payments surplus certainly suggests that a new equilibrium is being reached.
To improve the living standards of Western countries’ citizens in this new equilibrium, and reduce their debilitatingly high unemployment, new policies are necessary. Increasing mass immigration increases the pressure on domestic living standards, especially at the bottom; it should thus be avoided. Education, so often touted as the panacea for facing the increase in international competition, is clearly no such thing, because it is of mediocre quality and excessive cost. In any case at all but the most exclusive levels it can easily be copied overseas (as the recent Indian successes in the software business have demonstrated). Instead, interest rates must be raised to levels that rebuild the capital base in rich countries, rather than decimating it as has been the case with the Greenspan/Bernanke polices. By increasing the incentives to saving, and the returns from it, policymakers can increase the rich countries’ natural advantage in capital availability, and reduce their pension and medical expenses by providing citizens with higher investment returns.
The other need is for policymakers to reduce the level of waste in the public sector, most of which produces “output” that is laughably overvalued in GDP statistics. Especially in Europe, living standards, already under threat, have been reduced further by the exactions of oversized and unproductive public sectors. Cutting this waste will leave more money in citizens’ pockets, and improve their living standards thereby.
Wage differentials between rich and poor countries are natural, caused by differentials in those countries’ capital endowments, infrastructure and institutional effectiveness. Their natural level has been reduced by the Internet, and will doubtless be reduced further by future technological advances. But as far as possible, responsible Western policymakers should work to ensure that this reduction in differentials produces only improvements in emerging markets’ living standards, without allowing it to immiserate their own people.
(Originally appeared in The Bear's Lair.)
Martin Hutchinson is the author of "Great Conservatives" (Academica Press, 2005)—details can be found on the Web site —and co-author with Professor Kevin Dowd of “Alchemists of Loss” (Wiley – 2010). Both now available on Amazon.com, “Great Conservatives” only in a Kindle edition, “Alchemists of Loss” in both Kindle and print editions.
When Henry, my cousin, graduated from TCU in 1957 with a Business Degree he was offered a job at Convair (now Lockheed). When Hank went for his interview I tagged along. Having just graduated from high school, I filled an application at Convair while Hank was interviewed. Shortly, Hank and I were hired at Convair to work on the B-58 project, Hank as a business analyst and I as an aircraft assembler. My job as an assembler, which paid a good wage required little to no skill. My job duties were to assemble wing parts with a riveting press. Truthfully, it was a repetitious and boring job. After a few weeks at Convair a union rep came and asked me if I wanted to join the UAW Machinist Union. I recall asking the union rep what advantages I’d have if I joined the union. He told me I’d have job security and I’d get wage increases every year. Well aware that Convair had layoffs often, I declined to join the union. I told the union rep that if the B-58 program would be axed by the Air Force, I, and other workers would lose our jobs and there was nothing the union could do for us to keep them. After two years the Air Force axed the B-58 contract and I along with thousands of union workers were laid off. Hank however, kept his job where he worked for over 40 years until he retired.
Taking Print Shop at Tech High, I learned the linotype (a typesetting machine) well enough to be awarded the best linotype operator in Texas at a Vocational Printing competition in Galveston. Laid off and needing a job, I sought a typesetting position in several typesetting firms in Fort Worth. Back then, most typesetting firms were unionized and I had to undergo a 2-year apprenticeship at a low wage before I could operate a linotype while paying high union dues. Dejected, I went back to building mobile homes, a job I learned during my summer vacation high school years that paid a good wage. In the early 60s I read a classified that Jordan Typesetting, a non-union shop, was in need of a part time linotype operator. I applied for the job and told Jack Jordan, the owner, that it had been years since I touched a linotype keyboard, but was willing to work for free if he just gave me the opportunity to set type. Jack agreed, paid me $1 and hour and bingo, I was doing what I always to do — set type. In two months I regained my typing speed and Jack increased my wage to $2.50 an hour. After 6 months Jack offered me a full time position at $3.75 an hour. I declined Jack’s offer because he offered no benefits. Benefits that I had at Artcraft Homes and needed for my family and myself. For 2 years I worked 2 jobs — 40 hours building mobile homes and 25 hours setting type.
One Friday while off due to inventory at Artcraft Homes, I went to visit a friend at St. JosephHospital in South Fort Worth. After visiting my friend I decided to stop at Motheral Printing Co. a nonunion print shop not far from St. Joseph to chat with Rick Martinez, a cameraman at Motheral and a Print Shop chum at Tech High. Rick told me that he heard I was setting type. I told him that I was, and he informed me that Motheral was in dire need of a full time night typesetter. Soon Rick called Don Reed the shop superintendent and told him of my typesetting skills. After chatting with Mr. Reed, he offered me the nighttime typesetting position at 5.75 an hour. Not wanting to quit Mr. Jordan due to him giving me my typesetting opportunity, I quit Artcraft Homes. Thus, I’d set type with Jack during the day and at night at Motheral’s.
After a few months working the night shift at Motheral, I was put on the day shift. At the time Motheral’s was a small print shop. Wanting to expand, the Motheral brothers, Wess and Foist, called their brother, Carl Motheral, then a business tycoon in Mexico to revamp the company. Under the leadership of Carl, the company grew by leaps and bounds. Carl enlarged the company, adding top of the line litho and web presses. My linotype job soon gave way to computers to which I adapted well. Soon Motheral grew into the largest commercial printer in Fort Worth. Motheral’s soon lured many lucrative accounts like: American Airlines, Mary Kay Products, Alcon Laboratories, General Dynamics, and Bell Helicopter to name but a few of the many customers the company had. Several times Motheral printers entertained the thought of being unionized. Carl quickly would have shop meetings illustrating the dues union workers paid in comparison to Motheral’s wages. Folks, it was a no-brainer, Motheral’s wages let workers keep more of their pay without having to pay union dues, and, Motheral’s offered great benefits.
In time, Motheral’s grew significantly adding a new Small Press Shop. Soon we were the top dogs of printing in Fort Worth. “Why?” Some might ask. Folks, all of Motheral’s unionize competitors, and there were plenty, went under. Most couldn’t pay the wages the printing unions demanded, so they shut their doors. I remember many of my print shop union buddies were looking for jobs in whatever they could find. The sad thing about these printing union workers is that they didn’t get a dime from the unions after contributing untold dollars to their coffers for years.
After 18 years at Motheral’s I was offered and took a job at General Dynamics, (formerly Convair) as a non-union Engineer Illustrator. While working at GD the UAW went on strike demanding higher wages. As an illustrator I often typed many of the company’s business transactions with the Air Force. Folks, the Air Force had a set price for each F-16 and the price was locked. GD could not offer higher wages without operating at a loss. Under pressure GD soon caved to the union’s demands. However, to recoup their losses, GD sent the F-16 electrical components parts to be assembled in Mexico that resulted in the lay off of hundreds of GD employees. In the end, the union workers got their pay raise, but many GD employees lost their good paying jobs.
Today, UAW workers at Lockheed (formerly General Dynamics) are again on strike demanding higher wages. Lockheed has yet caved to the union’s demands after several weeks. With all the cuts in defense spending, Lockheed is in no position to meet the union’s demands. In fact they are hiring to replace striking workers. Meanwhile UAW striking workers are tapping their banks, their retirement funds and many are losing their homes. In contrast, union bosses are getting paid and enjoying their benefits. Seems that unions can’t understand that “you can’t get blood from a turnip!”
ROME, May 31, 2012 – There's method in this madness. Since the butler of His Holiness ended up in jail, the scene has suddenly changed. At center stage is no longer the dispute over the contents of the stolen papers. It's the thieves. Intent on scheming in the shadow of a venerable white robe.
"With justice eliminated, what are kingdoms if not a great band of thieves?" The phrase is from Saint Augustine, but it was Benedict XVI who cited it in his first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est" of 2005. He didn't know that seven years later it would become the public image of the Vatican. A citadel devastated by thievery, with no corner left inviolate, not even that "sancta sanctorum" which the private desk of the pope should be.
The real or presumed thieves of Vatican papers have declared in chorus to the newspapers, under anonymity, that they acted precisely out of love for the pope, to help him clean house. And it is true that none of the wrondoing laid bare in the documents involves his person. But it is even more true that everything falls upon him, inexorably.
The pope theologian of the great homilies, of the book on Jesus, is the same one who reigns over a curia adrift, a den of "egoism, violence, enmity, discord, jealousy," all of the vices he stigmatized in last Sunday's homily for Pentecost and in so much more of his fruitless prior preaching.
It is the same pope who wanted as his secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and continues to keep him at his post, in spite of the fact that he sees more and more evidence of his inadequacy every day.
In the Vatican today, the boundary between illicit acts and those of simple mismanagement has become very slender, almost nonexistent.
The glaring proof is showing up right now. Pontifical butler Paolo Gabriele has just been arrested for the theft of documents from the papal apartment, while within and around the Institute for Works of Religion, the Vatican bank (IOR), a clash of unprecedented violence has come to a head, registered with equal brutality first in an official statement from the Holy See itself and then in an internal document deliberately leaked to the press, so that the world would know that the president of the IOR, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, had received a vote of no confidence from the other members of the bank's supervisory board.
And he had lost his support, the document said, because of his manifest incapacity to perform his role, for culpable ignorance of his duties, for "increasingly bizarre" personal behavior, and also, naturally, because of his suspected release of confidential documents – in short, because of a total of nine accusations shot through and through with a tone of insult, put to a vote and approved one by one by the board of renowned advisers: the German Ronaldo Hermann Schmitz of Deutsche Bank, the American Carl Albert Anderson of the Knights of Columbus, the Spaniard Manuel Soto Serrano of Banco di Santander, and the Italian Antonio Maria Maroccco, a notary in Turin and the latest member to be added to the board.
The first three, in 2009, had given determined support to the appointment of Gotti Tedeschi as president of the IOR. And they had continued to give their support until a short time ago, when there were already bitter disputes between Gotti Tedeshci and the director general of the bank, Paolo Cipriani, a power player of the old guard. For six months, the two have not been on speaking terms.
The statement with the announcement of the challenge to Gotti Tedeschi ended by saying that the next day, Friday, May 25, there would be a meeting of the commission of cardinals that oversees the IOR, the only one that could turn the motion of the board members into an executive order.
The meeting did in fact take place, but without any final statement. Formally, Gotti Tedeschi has not yet been dismissed, and he is mustering the weapons to make his defense.
But meanwhile, the conflict has moved to where it counts the most, within the commission of cardinals. Where there is Bertone as its president, but also Attilio Nicora, who has almost never been in agreement with him, and Jean-Louis Tauran, who as former foreign minister of the Holy See has never been able to swallow the entrusting of the secretariat of state to someone with no expertise in diplomacy, like Bertone.
One of the other two cardinals of the commission, Telesphore Placidus Toppo, lives in India, and the other in Brazil, Odilo Pedro Scherer. Justified absences.
The last battleground between Bertone and Nicora was the set of regulations introduced in Vatican City for admission to the international "white list" of states with the highest standards in fighting money laundering.
It is amazing that in the statement against Gotti Tedeschi there is no reference to this essential point of contention.
To write the regulations, Gotti Tedeschi and Cardinal Nicora had called upon the two leading Italian experts in the matter, Marcello Condemi and Francesco De Pasquale, both of the brood of Banca d'Italia. The law, number 127 in the Vatican numeration, went into effect on April 1, 2011, and in conjunction with this Benedict XVI, with a motu proprio, endowed the Vatican with a Financial Information Authority, headed by Nicora, with powers of absolute control over every movement of money performed by any office within the Holy See or connected to it, including the IOR and the secretariat of state.
But as soon as these regulations were approved, the counteroffensive began.
The management of the IOR, the secretariat of state and the governorate objected that with it the Vatican was losing its sovereignty and becoming an "enclave" of external banking, political, and judicial powers. They had a trusted American lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, rewrite the law, and last winter, by decree, they implemented a second version that limited the supervisory powers of the Financial Information Authority, subordinating them to those of the secretariat of state.
According to its proponents, the new regulations also correspond better to the international requests for transparency.
But both Nicora and Gotti Tedeschi are of a diametrically opposed view. They judge the new law 127 as "a step backward" that will cost the Holy See its admission to the "white list."
A first response from the international authorities on the anti-laundering regulations in effect at the Vatican is expected in July.
But the preliminary judgments expressed by the inspectors of Moneyval after two rounds of of investigation at the Vatican do not bode well.
The first version of law 127, examined under ten different aspects, had received six votes in favor and four against.
The second version received eight votes against, and only two in favor.
Meanwhile, in the Vatican it is war. Cardinal Bertone is also under fire for the campaign he conducted in 2011 for the purchase, with the money of the IOR, of the San Raffaele, the cutting edge hospital established in Milan by a controversial priest, Fr. Luigi Verzé, plunged into a whirlpool of debt.
At first Gotti Tedeschi supported the purchase offer, but very soon he joined the opponents, including cardinals Nicora and Angelo Scola, the new archbishop of Milan, and Benedict XVI, highly opposed to the purchase not only because of the direct involvement of the Holy See in a worldly affair too far from its spiritual ends but also because at the San Raffaele and the affiliated university activities are practiced and teachings are imparted that are in glaring contradiction with Catholic doctrine; and it is certainly not possible to replace en masse the physicians, scientists, and professors.
In the end, Bertone gave up and the San Raffaele was purchased by a leading Italian entrepreneur in the health care sector, Giuseppe Rotelli.
But for the exuberant secretary of state, the dream of creating a Catholic hospital center under the control and guidance of the Vatican dies hard. As proven by another of his failed initiatives: the conquest of the Gemelli, the Roman general hospital of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart that became famous all over the world for having accommodated and cared for John Paul II.
There was one obligatory step for the conquest of the Gemelli: the control of the founding and sponsoring institute of the CatholicUniversity, the Toniolo, controlled in turn by the Italian episcopal conference and traditionally headed by the archbishop of Milan.
The Toniolo was for years the target of a hostile takeover that aimed to remove by any means necessary its representatives most closely allied with the cardinal who was the president of the CEI until 2007, Camillo Ruini.
The attack that in 2009 struck Dino Boffo, a member of the Toniolo and the director of the newspaper of the CEI, "Avvenire," with accusations of homosexuality that were afterward acknowledged as false by the very newspaper that had published them, was the fiercest moment of this battle.
Bertone did not defend him. Worse, the director of the newspaper published by the Vatican secretariat of state, "L'Osservatore Romano," Giovanni Maria Vian, peppered Boffo with criticisms in a merciless interview with "Corriere della Sera," precisely at the crucial moment of the attack against him.
There would be no need today to read the heartbroken letters written by Boffo at that juncture, which have appeared among the papers stolen from the pope. The substantial dynamic of the facts was already before the eyes of all.
The San Raffaele operation, the attack on Boffo, the attempted conquest of the Gemelli, Bertone's claim of outranking the CEI in the role of leading the Church in Italy. It all fits together.
In 2010, the irrepressible secretary of state, claiming a presumed mandate from Benedict XVI, even intimated to Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi in writing that he should leave the presidency of the Toniolo. The archbishop of Milan flew off the handle. And Benedict XVI agreed with the latter, after calling both contenders before him.
This correspondence was also stolen and made public. But here as well the story was already well known. Today the presidency of the Toniolo has passed peacefully to Tettamanzi's successor in the see of Milan, Cardinal Scola.
In a public letter to the bishops of the whole world, in 2009, Benedict XVI warned: "If you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another."
The pope had taken these words from Saint Paul. Because even in Christianity at its origin, there were fierce contrasts.
And also with Jesus, among the apostles, there were some who jostled for places of power, and some who protested against the wasting of the precious ointment poured out upon the Master's feet, instead of "selling it and giving the proceeds to the poor."
Benedict XVI has the refinement and the humility never to identify himself with Jesus. But to associate himself with him, yes. Last May 21, at the toast at a luncheon with cardinals, he concluded trustfully: "We are on the team of the Lord, and therefore on the winning team."
But what a struggle, when everyone is playing against him, even those "disguised with the truth."
Immediately before this, speaking to the cardinals, the pope had cited Saint Augustine: "All of history is a battle between two loves: love of self even to disregard of God; love of God even to disregard of self."
And he added: "We are in this battle, and in it it is very important to have friends. As concerns me, I am surrounded by my friends of the college of cardinals, I feel safe in their company."
Father Federico Lombardi also guaranteed, on May 29: "There are no cardinals among the persons of interest or suspects."
Not to inconvenience the police, but not all of the cardinal "friends" are playing on the team as the pope expects.
This same article was published in "L'Espresso" no. 23 of 2012, on newsstands as of June 1, under the title:
Corvi e demoni nella curia vaticana
GUERRA SANTA Carte trafugate. Veleni. Arresti. Nella Santa Sede è in atto un violento scontro con al centro il potente cardinale Bertone. Mentre il papa è sotto assedio e gravato dagli scandali
On May 29, "L'Osservatore Romano" published its first commentary on the arrest of the pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele, after five days of absolute silence on the case.
It did so in an interview conducted by the director, Giovanni Maria Vian, with the substitute of the secretariat of state for general affairs, Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu.
In the interview, Becciu reports that Benedict XVI is "also pained about the violation suffered by the authors of the letters or of the writings addressed to him."
The crime for which Gabriele is under investigation is defined by "L'Osservatore Romano" as "possession of a large number of confidential documents belonging to the pope."
Benedict XVI expressed himself in this way on these events at the end of the general audience of Wednesday, May 30:
"The events that have taken place in these days concerning the curia and my collaborators have brought sadness to my heart, but have never obfuscated the firm certainty that in spite of human weakness, difficulties and trials, the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, and the Lord will never deprive it of his help in upholding it on its journey. Nevertheless there has been a multiplication of conjectures, amplified by some means of communication, that are entirely gratuitous and have gone well beyond the facts, offering an image of the Holy See that does not correspond to reality. I therefore would like to renew my trust and my encouragement to my closest collaborators and to all those who on a daily basis, with fidelity, with a spirit of sacrifice, and in silence help me in the fulfillment of my ministry."
With regard to the shakeup at the top of the Institute for Works of Religion, it must be noted that there had been public signals of the rupture between the president and the management of the IOR even before the meeting of the supervisory board on May 24 that produced the vote of no confidence on Ettore Gotti Tedeschi.
On May 15 and then on May 22, in the auditorium of the Vatican bank, director general Paolo Cipriani extensively illustrated the structure of the IOR and the services it administers to two large groups of diplomats accredited to the Holy See.
At the same meetings, vice director Massimo Tulli and director Giovanni Marinozzi provided clarifications on "the compliance of the IOR with the most demanding international standards in the matter of the fight against money laundering."
The convening of the ambassadors was handled by the assessor and the head of protocol of the secretariat of state, Monsignors Peter B. Wells and Fortunatus Nwachukwu, who also spoke at the two meetings.
But Gotti Tedeschi did not take part in either of the meetings, in spite of the fact that his presence was mentioned by "L'Osservatore Romano" in reporting on the first of the two.
Not all of the ambassadors have found the explanations they have received to be satisfactory.
In an interview with Vatican Radio after the first of the meetings, British ambassador Nigel Baker cautioned that the process of adding Vatican City-State to the "white list" would in any case be "bumpy, because there will be some things where the IOR can’t yet say we’ve reached full international compliance and indeed other Vatican institutions."
About the strong reservations expressed by Cardinal Attilio Nicora, president of the Financial Information Authority, on the second version of law 127 on anti-laundering, in effect at the Vatican as of January 25, 2012, see the excerpts from one of his letters in an article in "Il Fatto Quotidiano" of last February 16:
On May 29, "Avvenire" published a defense of Gotti Tedeschi written by Marco Tarquinio, director of the newspaper owned by the Italian episcopal conference.
Responding to some letters from readers, Tarquinio praised the president of the IOR not only for his "professional expertise, his dedication and generosity in resolving open problems in a transparent way by looking always to a greater good," but also because "his constant, delicate, and primary thought has been and is for Pope Benedict."
No one will argue that texting while driving can be a major source of driver distraction, leading to an increasing number of accidents every year.In fact, at least 38 states have adopted some form of “texting while driving” ban.And motorists who get into accidents because that text simply couldn’t wait should probably expect their digital distraction to land them in court.But what about the person on the other end of that text?Can he or she be held at fault?
That was the novel issue being debated in a first-of-its-kind case unfolding recently in a New Jersey courtroom.David and Linda Kubert were injured in a September 21, 2009 auto accident with 19 year-old Kyle Best.Best had clocked out of his job at a local YMCA at 5:41 p.m.; his pickup truck crossed the yellow line and struck the motorcycle on which the Kuberts were riding at 5:49 p.m.Both husband and wife were severely injured in the crash and each would lose a leg as a result.Best was charged with careless driving, improper use of a cellphone, and failure to stay in his lane.He pleaded guilty to the counts and was fined, given a probated sentence, and ordered to speak at 14 local high schools about the dangers of texting while driving.In the resulting civil lawsuit, Best testified in a deposition that he didn’t know exactly where his truck was on the road because he was distracted by a text he had just received.Best’s cellphone records were subpoenaed.They revealed that on that day, Best had exchanged a total of 62 text messages with his 17 year-old girlfriend, Shannon Colonna (30 from Best to Colonna, and 32 from Colonna to Best).Right before the accident, the records showed that Best texted his girlfriend at 5:47:56 p.m., she replied at 5:48:23 p.m., and he responded at 5:49:07 p.m.
The lawyer for the Kuberts, Stephen “Skippy” Weinstein, decided to add Ms. Colonna as a defendant to the lawsuit on the novel theory that she was “electronically present” in Best’s vehicle, that she knew or should have known that he would be driving, and that she owed third parties a “duty of care” to prevent Best from getting into an accident.The attorney analogized this to the criminal justice system’s use of “aiding and abetting” charges against third parties.The Kuberts also made the argument that as a matter of public policy, senders of texts that distract drivers should share in the blame for any resulting accident.They pointed to a bill introduced earlier this year in the New Jersey legislature that would create an inference that illegal use of a cellphone amounts to reckless driving.The proposed legislation would also increase the penalties for texting or talking on a cellphone while driving.
But should a person who texts someone be held legally responsible for that person’s distraction and any resulting accident?Can the legal system assume clairvoyance on the part of a message sender—that the sender is somehow aware that the message recipient is doing something else at the exact moment he reads the text, such as driving, operating heavy machinery, or even performing surgery?Colonna testified in her deposition that she didn’t know whether her boyfriend was driving at the time.Her lawyer, Joseph McGlone, also pointed out that when the crash occurred, Best was typing a text, not reading one from Colonna.McGlone argued that it would be both impractical and unfair to impose a duty on the texter, since she has no control over when, where, or how a recipient would read and respond to a text.“Quite simply,” he says, “once the message sender transmits an electronic message, it is the message receiver’s responsibility to read it at the appropriate and safe time.”
That makes perfect sense.Whether it is an incoming phone call, text message, Facebook update, or whatever form of communication, the sender should have every right to expect the recipient to exercise common sense in reading, listening to, or reacting to that message.If I was careless enough to open and read my “snail mail” while going 65 mph down the freeway, how can I or anyone else blame the person who sent me that mail for an accident that I later get into?
Fortunately, N.J. State Superior Court Judge David Rand agrees.He dismissed the claims against Ms. Colonna, saying it is reasonable for text message senders to assume that recipients will behave responsibly.He also observed that drivers today are bombarded with all sorts of distractions, including GPS devices and signs along the road, and that “were I to extend this duty to this case, in my judgment, any form of distraction could potentially serve as the basis for a liability case.”Hopefully, any other judges encountering similar attempts to broaden the scope of liability will follow Judge Rand’s example and keep this Pandora’s box that is our wired world shut.