Archive for December, 2010

Kingdom Economics: Transcending Scarcity

Living in God's Two Kingdoms, David VanDrunenI have been reading David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, which I received as part of a promotion by Matthew Lee Anderson. Although I still have a ways to go, I recently read one little piece about kingdom economics that I found particularly interesting.

While writing about the church’s “distinctive ethic” of generosity, VanDrunen says the following:

Anyone who has studied economics — the economics of the common kingdom — has learned the fundamental principle of scarcity. Though worldly wealth is not exactly a fixed quantity that creates a zero-sum game (there is much more worldly wealth now than there was a thousand years ago), there is truly only so much to go around. A certain sum of money will only satisfy a certain number of needs and desires. A piece of property cannot be enjoyed by everyone.

VanDrunen then comments on the personal benefits of generosity, on which I have recently commented (here, here, and here):

The explanation lies not in a complex theory worthy of a Nobel Prize economist, but in the mysterious, wonderful, economics-defying work of God. He “is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8). When the impoverished give generously, God makes them “enriched” in the experience (9:11). In part, this is about money, but only in part.

Then, VanDrunen offers this high-level summary of kingdom economics:

In the church there are no winners and losers, but every act of love is mutually enriching in Christ’s economics — an economics built not on the principle of scarcity but on the principle of extravagant Read the rest of this entry »

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Foreign Aid and Dependency: A System of Economic Slavery

PovertyCure recently released a marvelous video promoting their refreshing approach to economic (and human) transformation. As the video states, “It’s time to ask, ‘What causes wealth?’”

Watch the video here (HT):

The video illuminates some great points about the poisonous dependency being fostered by the modern foreign aid movement, at one point calling it “a system of economic slavery.”

The solution: individual empowerment and transformation.

The PovertyCure web site also echoes a view of human potential similar to that which is often promoted on this blog:

Christ calls us to solidarity with the poor, but this means more than assistance. It means seeing the poor not as objects or experiments, but as partners and brothers and sisters, as fellow creatures made in the image of God with the capacity to Read the rest of this entry »

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Giving and Receiving: Christmas, Consumers, and Charity

Buy More Stuff, Christmas, consumerism, shoppingChristmas is a wonderful time of year, but it has recently become an occasion to ridicule America’s consumer culture.

In a recent post at Ethika Politika, I address some of the issues surrounding consumerism and charity, pointing out that one just might be a driver of the other.

Here’s an excerpt:

We like to call it “consumer culture” (most often with an “evil” at the beginning). People are standing in lines for petty products, spending money they don’t have, and passing out extensive wish lists and catalogs to friends and family. On the surface, it appears to be a spectacle of shallowness and shortsightedness. Buy, buy, buy! Sell, sell, sell! It’s all so terrible, isn’t it?

For some, it most certainly is, but for most of us, consumerism isn’t so much a sign of our materialism as it is a representation that we rely on things for survival and pleasure. In this understanding, it would seem that our consumer culture isn’t such a bad thing at all, particularly around Christmastime, when much of our buying is concerned with the interests of others. Through this lens, is there anything healthy to be found in the bustling consumeristic spirit of the holidays?

To read the full post, click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Book Recommendations: Gifts for the Family Nerd

books, Christmas, recommendations, nerdIn today’s post at Common Sense Concept I provide a list of book recommendations for those who are doing any last-minute Christmas shopping or list-building. As far as the focus of the list, I offer five titles that proved influential in shaping my views on faith and free enterprise.

The five books are as follows:

As I note in the post, these titles are not (necessarily) religious: “Rather, [they] were extraordinarily valuable in steering my raw, Bible-based upbringing in the right direction when it came to economics.”

To find out why I think these titles are important for Christians, read the full post. Read the rest of this entry »

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Government Grinches: How Economics Saved Christmas

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss, Art Carden, economicsArt Carden recently wrote a creative spin on Dr. Seuss’ famous holiday story, in which he illuminates what the Grinch’s behavior tells us about property rights.

In Carden’s approach, the Grinch’s disapproval of Whoville’s holiday joyfulness could represent any number of private-sector resentments, but the parallel that seemed clearest to me was with the government’s disapproval of our financial decision making.

Here’s a little taste:

On Christmas Eve Night, the Grinch went to town
He stole all the presents, he took their wreaths down
He stole their Who Hash, everything for their feast!
He swiped their Who Pudding!  He swiped their Roast Beast!
He looked at his sled loaded up with Who snacks
‘Twas quite an efficient Pigovian tax!
Then late in the night, when he got to Mount Crumpit
For he’d taken the load, and he threatened to dump it
The Whos, with one voice crying out in the night
Screamed “bring back our stuff!  You haven’t the right

At the end, Carden sums up his point effectively, pointing out that economic value need not (only) come from the material realm:

The holiday season brings specials galore
They teach us that Christmas can’t come from a store
Reflect, as you watch them, as day turns to night
On good economics, and property rights.

Read the poem in its entirety here. Happy Friday! Read the rest of this entry »

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The Last Agora: Social Networks, Social Planners, and True Community

social network, Facebook, ZuckerbergMark Zuckerberg was recently named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year,” and regardless of whether you agree with the selection (or care!), Michael Knox Beran uses the occasion for some reflection on social networks and the concept of community.

Beran, who is one of my favorite writers on all things agora (see here), begins his commentary with the following quote from the Time piece:

[The] bigger social networks get, the more pressure there is on everybody else to join them…It’s going to get harder and harder to say no to Facebook and to the authentically wonderful things it brings, and the authentically awful things too.

Beran notes that “electronic community has its virtues,” but he laments modern society’s “morbid craving for it.” This craving, Beran argues, “reveals the degree to which actual community has collapsed in much of the West.”

But before you jump on the anti-corporation bandwagon and ridicule Zuckerberg for destroying authentic community, understand that Beran sees this more as a reflection of culture than the cause of its corrosion:

Social planners have gradually eviscerated the agora sanctuaries which once brought people together in face-to-face community: they have replaced the rich artistic culture of the old market square with Le Corbusier–style functionality; they have marginalized its spiritual traditions; they have supplanted its charitable institutions with dehumanizing social bureaucracies; and they have made its schools, the transmitters of its ancient civic culture, ever more morally and culturally vacuous.

In other words, Beran believes that social networks are (unfortunately) the last popular form of community we have. On the whole, we have tried to automate and mechanize virtue by tinkering with the social landscape. (This, of course, is why I had to put the “True” before “Community.”)

Such a reality, Beran argues, mirrors the outcome that Read the rest of this entry »

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Instruments of Righteousness: Leveraging Human Nature through Capitalism

Apostle Paul, Rembrandt

The Apostle Paul recognized human depravity, but he also saw redemption.

In a recent piece at The American, Arthur Brooks and Peter Wehner write splendidly about the connection between vision and political execution. After summarizing three basic views of human nature — what Thomas Sowell would call “visions” — Brooks and Wehner dive into the issues involved in executing each vision in the political sphere.

The three primary views, as the authors see them, are as follows:

  1. Humans are flawed but perfectible (a la Jean-Jacques Rouseeau and Karl Marx).
  2. Humans are flawed and cannot change (a la Thomas Hobbes and Bernard Mandeville).
  3. Humans are flawed but “under the right circumstances, human nature can work to the advantage of the whole” (a la Adam Smith and James Madison).

Brooks and Wehner side with the last option, and after exploring the political implications supporting it, they explain its overall consistency with Biblical teaching:

This last view of human nature is consistent with and reflective of Christian teaching. The Scriptures teach that we are both made in the image of God and fallen creatures; in the words of Saint Paul, we can be “instruments of wickedness” as well as “instruments of righteousness.” All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, the Bible declares — yet it also tells us to be holy in all our conduct, to walk in His statutes, and not to grow weary in doing good. Human beings are capable of acts of squalor and acts of nobility; we can pursue vice and we can pursue virtue.

But how does this vision of human nature connect with the political realm? How do we take the Pauline view of human nature and translate it into a proper political framework?

Brooks and Wehner explain:

As for the matter of the state: Romans 13 makes clear that government is divinely sanctioned by God to preserve public order, restrain evil, and make justice possible. This, too, was a view shared by many of the founders. Government reflects human nature, they argued, “because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.”

This brings the authors to the subject of self-interest. After all, it is capitalism’s reliance on self-interest that leads its opponents to ridicule it as immoral and Read the rest of this entry »

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Prosperity Explosion: Is Income Disparity Necessary for Growth?

Hans Rosling recently released a marvelous video on the relationship between income and life expectancy over the last 200 years (HT). The visualization is stunning.

See it for yourself:

One item worthy of note is how Rosling describes our “remarkable progress” as occurring despite “enormous disparities.” It is a small but important distinction to dissect.

Is it not true that loosening up trade and expanding freedom requires income disparity, or the mere allowance of it? After all, it is during the de-centralization and the individual freedom of the Industrial Revolution that the bottom-left countries started moving decidedly toward the upper right. In a free society, income disparity is typically a sign of efficiency, i.e., maximizing, channeling, and organizing human potential and innovation effectively (thus a subsequent boost to life expectancy).

This isn’t to say that the current extent of income disparity is inevitable, or that all forms of such disparity are signs of efficiency, but overall, you cannot have steady growth without a steady improvement of allocation, and you cannot maximize allocation improvement without allowing for inequality in economic rewards.

Don’t get me wrong. I share Rosling’s optimistic outlook about the future. I do think we can close the gap between “the West and the rest.” It is indeed possible and desirable that we get most people to the healthy-wealthy corner of Rosling’s chart.

Hans Rosling, data, visualizationHowever, I don’t think we can accomplish this if we see economic inequality as an evil or a hindrance to our productivity. It is in the countries that view it as such that we consistently find resistance to upper-right movement.

It is not, as Rosling says, despite income disparity that prosperity has exploded; it is in part because freedom-loving people stopped fearing it. We began living lives of individual invention and personal risk rather than cowering beneath crippling insulation and slavish submission.

It is only by allowing for life to happen that we can hope for life to improve.

(Photo Credit)

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Weird Parents, Weird Kids: An Overlooked Perk to Procreation

Bryan Caplan has some interesting thoughts on weird people and their kids over at EconLog. The discussion centers around whether children tend to reflect their parents’ level of “weirdness.”

As far as what he means by “weird,” Caplan leaves the door open to plenty of quirky traits, including “jokiness,” libertarianism, or a mere “fascination with role-playing games.”

Here is the initial premise:

…[S]uppose that the parent-child correlation on the trait you picked is exactly zero. Then no matter what you’re like, you should expect your kids to be at the 50th percentile. If you’re normal, that’s a pretty good deal; at least on average, your kids will be just like you. But the weirder you are, the less your kids will typically resemble you. Even if you’re at the 95th, 99th or 99.99th percentile, you can expect your kids to be perfectly average. In a world of zero parent-child correlation, weird people have little in common with their children. (emphasis added)

After providing some evidence for these claims, Caplan offers the following analysis:

Now let’s look at these facts like a mad economist. There are two ways to surround yourself with people like you. One is to meet them; the other is to make them. If you’re average, meeting people like yourself is easy; people like you are everywhere. If you’re weird, though, meeting people like yourself is hard; people like you are few and far between. But fortunately, as the parent-child correlation rises, weirdos’ odds of making people like themselves get better and better. This is especially true if the parent-child correlation largely reflects nature rather than nurture, because you won’t have to ride your kids to emulate you; they’ll do it on their own initiative. (emphasis added)

The lesson?

As your weirdness increases, so does your incentive to have kids. If you like football and American Idol, you’re never really alone. You don’t need to build a Xanadu for yourself. But if you’re a lonely misfit, oddball, freak, or weirdo, then find a like-minded Read the rest of this entry »

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The Ultimate Resource: Investing in Human Potential

What if misery was a product?” asks June Arunga.

“Assume for an instant that it is one of Africa’s exports, and that the money sent to relieve it by many well-wishing humanitarians is a form of capital. The amount of capital expended to purchase this product makes it as great an export — if not greater — than Nigeria’s oil or Congo’s gems.”

This comes from a speech by Arunga at a recent event sponsored by The Economist. I highly recommend watching the video in full (HT).

Arunga covers a few specific areas related to the ineffectiveness of foreign aid, but her main concern seems to be this:

The scary thing for me might be that [foreign aid is] not merely ineffective, but that it is in itself a form of investment in misery…It is a choice to invest in pain and suffering rather than in aspiration and human potential…It is a choice between on the one hand, a blinding pessimism, and on the other hand, an illuminating optimism. It is a choice between denial and acknowledgement of human potential.

Arunga provides a few scenarios to illustrate how aid proponents typically approach Africa’s downtrodden, focusing primarily on Read the rest of this entry »

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