Archive for January, 2011

The Immateriality of Wealth: Ten Ways to Alleviate Poverty

Jay Richards recently wrote a fascinating piece for The American, in which he argues that many of the “preconditions of wealth creation” are immaterial and spiritual, contrary to many of our materialistic assumptions.

Alas, humans have long been ignorant of what is necessary for wealth creation to occur, and  modern-day perceptions have unfortunately leaned toward the common materialistic superstitions of the past.

As Richards explains:

For most of human history, discovering the sources of wealth creation would have been devilishly hard, since most economies, such as there were, tended to be static. If a Mesopotamian farmer or Greek shepherd in the second century BC ever asked, “Where does wealth come from?” he would have assumed that wealth came from rain, common labor, good luck, or some combination of these. He probably also would have assumed that to get really wealthy, you need to plunder other people.

Thankfully, we don’t need to plunder other people in order to create wealth, whether on our own or through the government. In fact, plundering people doesn’t achieve much of anything in the long run.

Instead, we should focus on getting the proper immaterial preconditions in place. When that is the case, wealth creation will begin foster in a way that is truly beneficial for all (…even for the would-be plunderers).

Richards provides a list of ten specific items that he believes lead to healthy preconditions for wealth creation. “The more of these a culture has or does,” says Richards, ”the more likely it is to be prosperous.”

Here is the list (and I quote):

  1. Establish and maintain the rule of law.
  2. Focus the jurisdiction of government primarily on Read the rest of this entry »

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Tithes Untapped: The Potential Economic Power of the Church

I recently read Jordan Ballor’s new book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness, and I plan on posting a full review in the very near future.

In the meantime, I wanted to highlight a small piece from the final chapter on “avenues for reform.” Among other things, Ballor discusses the ecumenical movement’s tendency to lean on government action rather than church solutions, questioning whether this an acceptable (i.e. Christian) approach to serving the needy.

First, it is important to get a sense of what motives should driving our giving. As Ballor notes (and as I have discussed previously), the apostle Paul provides great assistance in directing such motives:

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

As for the topic at hand, “under compulsion” is probably the most valuable piece when it comes to identifying whether government programs can serve as Biblical generosity. Has paying your taxes ever made you feel “cheerful”?

But what if we as a society were to rely on non-compulsory generosity and “cheerful giving”? What if the church actually lived up to its Biblical calling by at least giving tithes on a consistent basis (there is certainly more work to be done)?

To give us a sense of what this would look like, Ballor pulls some figures from theologian Ron Sider, who is quoted as follows (from this book):

[I]f American Christians simply gave a tithe rather than the current one-quarter of a tithe, there would be enough private Christian dollars to provide basic health care and Read the rest of this entry »

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Winning to Live: Competition Is About Discovery

horse, racing, competitionEconomist Friedrich von Hayek once referred to competition as a “discovery procedure.” This week at Ethika Politika, I explore what that means for us as moral individuals.

Far too often we confine our thinking about competition to matters of “justice” or “fairness.” Such considerations are certainly relevant and important, but I fear that we tend to fall back on them as a way of avoiding the impending risk and vulnerability within the competitive process.

As I argue, we must be careful not to lose sight of the ultimate purpose or value of competition, which is, above all, discovery.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

Competition leads to reaction. It demands, provokes, and prods. It draws out information. When we engage in competitive activity, we are bound to uncover something new. We will not be certain of the end goal, and we will not be certain of the end result, but the information we gain throughout the process will point the way towards true value.

Here’s another:

The good news is that although competition may lead to a frustration of our original intentions, it need not be the frustration of our entire destinies. It may tell us that our role in the larger equilibrium (Hayek prefers the term “order”) has shifted, but it is up to us to find ways to provide value in the shifting frontier. We can certainly remain idle as we watch the world transform, or we can participate and innovate, continuing to develop as individuals and as a society.

Read the full article here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Attacking Constantine: Greg Boyd on Paganistic Christianity

Greg Boyd recently posted a segment from a sermon that has been popping up across the Web (often in unlikely places).

Boyd discusses Constantine’s heavy influence on Christianity, arguing that Constantine likely received his vision from the devil, and from it developed a paganistic version of Christianity that led to centuries of bloodshed.

You can watch the video here:

I certainly diverge from Boyd on several points, but I thought I would post the video anyway, particularly because I will soon be reading Peter J. Leithart’s new book from the Read the rest of this entry »

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Planners and Searchers: Locating Demand Among the Poor

farmer, foreign aid, development, AfricaIn today’s post at Common Sense Concept, I summarize economist William Easterly’s marvelous dichotomy of planners vs. searchers.

Here’s the gist of the contrast:

The planners are the high-level organizers, sitting comfortably in their air-conditioned offices as they crunch numbers and try to plan their way to global prosperity. The searchers, on the other hand, are the folks on the ground, working effortlessly to locate direct needs, collaborate with on-the-ground resources, and create value.

The deeper issue, in my opinion, is that we need not confine such a contrast to matters of economic development. We as Westerners also need to transform our worldview to being that of a searcher.

Here’s another excerpt:

We as individuals, moral agents, and Christians, must become the searchers ourselves. Like an entrepreneur launching a new business opportunity, we need to get as close to the demand as possible. We cannot rely on a “fail-proof” plan for eliminating poverty. We cannot cower to a policy that promises to make the proper transfers on our behalf. Instead, we must expose ourselves to the searching process.

To read the full post, click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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It Takes a Civilization: Trade, Talents, and Toasters

Thomas Thwaites recently gave a marvelous talk at TED about his quest to build an electric toaster entirely from scratch.

The idea was sparked by an instance in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in which the protagonist comes to a new planet only to realize that his knowledge and technological prowess are useless without the advanced civilization to back it. As Thwaites summarizes: “He realizes that without the rest of human society he can barely make a sandwich, let alone a toaster.”

Thwaites’ response: “But he didn’t have Wikipedia.”

Watch the video here:

The basic message of the talk, as interpreted by economist Donald Boudreaux, is that “through trade, millions tap into the talents and knowledge of others.”

It is a simple message, and you’ve most likely heard it before (my personal favorite is Milton Friedman’s pencil example). Such a message is only worth repeating because so many people still fail to see the fundamental value in free trade and globalization.

The only thing I want to add is Read the rest of this entry »

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The Redemptive Road Trip: Church Is Not a Gas Station

As mentioned previously, I have been reading David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms and I am thoroughly enjoying it.

In the first part of the book, VanDrunen explains the story of the two kingdoms, starting with the first Adam, and ending with the last. In the second part, he explains how we as humans are to participate in both kingdoms, relying heavily on the term “sojourner” to characterize our role on this earth.

In the third and final part, VanDrunen discusses what he believes to be the overarching purpose for earthbound Christians: the church. If we are only sojourners on this earth, how are we to treat the church in the larger earthly context? (Or is the church the larger earthly context?) It is is this point that I want to explore for a bit.

VanDrunen begins by summarizing two popular analogies for going to church that I’m sure you’ve all heard:

One popular analogy is that going to church is like stopping at a gas station. Church is a place where we stop to fill up our tanks after a tiring and stressful week and thus get recharged for the week ahead. Another analogy compares going to church to a huddle in a football game. Church is the gathering of all the team’s players so that they can regroup, encourage each other, and prepare for separating again and facing the opponent through the coming week.

VanDrunen quickly moves on to explain why he thinks such analogies are “radically insufficient and misleading.” Here are the two primary deficiencies as VanDrunen sees them:

Deficiency #1: Church is not a human-centered event.

Perhaps most obviously, these analogies portray going to church as a human-centered event. Going to church is not primarily about me or even about Read the rest of this entry »

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The Real Radical: In Defense of the American Dream

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, David PlattI have previously commented on David Platt’s book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, in which I outlined a preemptive critique of his ideas based on David Brooks’ assessment.

Now that I’ve actually read the book, I have written a full review. Unfortunately, much of what I anticipated was proven to be true. Platt is far too broad in his condemnation of the American church, and his solutions are narrow-minded and sloppy.

The full review is posted over at Common Sense Concept.

Here’s an excerpt:

For Platt, American culture promotes the antithesis to radical abandonment. It relies heavily on individual ingenuity and prosperity, and thus it is automatically low on grace and generosity (in truth, the two go hand in hand). In order for the American church to reach widespread abandonment, Platt argues, it must instead strive toward extinguishing any “non-sacrificial” pursuits therein and ensure that its participants are engaging in more “acceptable” activities.

Here’s my general response to Platt’s criticisms:

Having the freedom to pursue one’s own goals can certainly be a bad thing, particularly when such dreams are merely one’s own goals. But God has intended for our hearts to be aligned to his mission. When that is the case, the society that promotes individualism becomes one that has great potential for enabling God’s plans through individuals.

To read the full review, click here. Read the rest of this entry »

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The System Is to Blame: Kenneth Minogue on the Threat of Political Idealism

Kenneth Minogue seems to be heavy on my mind these days. I recently finished his newest book, The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life, and it has provided me with lots and lots to chew on (some of my initial comments are here, a full review is forthcoming).

In a video I came across last week (not connected to the book), Minogue does a fine job of outlining the threat of political idealism on our political development (what Minogue calls “civilization”). Minogue’s definition of such idealism basically boils down to any sort of excessive trust in the perfectibility of human systems. He even indicates that libertarians are often guilty of it (worshippers of the market…that sort of thing). In many ways, Minogue’s opinions align very closely with those of Thomas Sowell.

Watch the video here:




This discussion comes in the wake of what Minogue sees as modern society’s attack on libertarianism and individualism. In order to respond to such an attack, Minogue argues, we need “something more sophisticated than Hayek and Adam Smith and the glories of the free market.” The ideas offered in this video are indeed part of Read the rest of this entry »

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Agents of Faith: Pursuing the Pillar of Fire

Moses Crossing the Red Sea, Pillar of Fire, RaphaelIn times of uncertainty, we tend to look for the quickest path to security. We want solutions that are neat and tidy, direction that is clear and comfortable, and a future that is pretty and predictable. No one wants to be unsure about tomorrow, and no one likes to be exposed.

When it comes to looking for security in God, we are no different. Not only do we want a tangible sign that God is real, but we want a flashy display of his guidance, outlining exactly what to do and how to do it. We want to know which job will be profitable, which relationship will endure, and which parenting strategy will empower our children to the fullest.

In many ways, God has already given us the answers to these questions, and he has done so in a direct and persuasive way — through his Word. Not only does the Word take the form of written guidance for our daily lives, but it also became flesh in order to deliver us from sin and send us the Holy Spirit (aka “the helper”). In this sense, the answers are largely available. What more could we want?

The problem is that God does not answer such questions on our terms. If you’re anything like me, you’ve asked the following question at least once in your life:

If God is real, why doesn’t he just come down from heaven, tell me the Bible is true, and give me his phone number in case I have any questions?

The answer lies in the reality that God created us to be agents of faith, which is necessary for us to be agents of love. God yearns for relationship with us, and real relationship requires faith in the sense that real relationship requires trust.

The struggle of faith — of believing in God and doing what he says— is part of Read the rest of this entry »

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