Archive for February, 2011

Collective Bullying: The Social Injustice of Public-Sector Unions

This week at Common Sense Concept, I comment on the recent goings on in Wisconsin, focusing specifically on what I call the social injustice of collective bargaining in the public sector.

Here’s an excerpt:

The most dizzying of the spin has been the notion that public workers are entitled to a “right to collective bargaining” — a claim made so frequently and with such conviction that one would assume the taxpayers were granted some bargaining powers of their own.

But alas, although politicians began to invent such rights in the 1950s, the merits of these unique privileges have been highly contested, even by the likes of pro-union leaders like FDR and George Meany.

If you think that “social justice” is an odd way to approach the issue, I am somewhat sympathetic. (What doesn’t constitute social justice nowadays?) But as long as folks are tossing the label around about fake exploitation (as they often do), I thought I should at least be entitled to use it about the real stuff:

Framing my argument in terms of “social justice” will surely strike the pro-public-union crowd as odd. After all, they are the ones scolding the rich for “excess” and comparing Wisconsin teachers to third-world sweat-shop workers (need a laugh?). But when one begins to understand the unfair advantages that public-sector unions hold over the rest of the citizenry, such moping and mourning is quickly revealed to be the posturing Phariseesm that it is.

After examining the ins and outs of various public-sector advantages (relying heavily on Yuval Levin), I conclude that the institutionalized, coercive privileges held by public-sector unions are far more troublesome than their bloated line-item status in the budget:

Governor Walker claims that his actions are fundamentally about the budget, but based on the reactions from the unions (“It’s not about the money!”), it appears that the real gem they treasure is their coercive “right” to collectively bargain over the funds of the private citizens they are supposed to serve — a privilege of unfair and exploitative advantage.

To read the full post, click here.

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The Age of Moderation: Western Ambivalence and the Moral Life

The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes Moral Life, Kenneth Minogue, London School of EconomicsToday at Ethika Politika, I discuss the value that division and conflict can bring to our pursuits of moral truth.

The problem, however, is that divisiveness is particularly out of fashion these days. Indeed, many seek to force “unity” on others from the top down — a feature of modern society that Kenneth Minogue likes to call “Western ambivalence.”

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

We are told to “soften our rhetoric,” to “reach across the aisle,” and to “find common ground.” We are reprimanded for framing matters of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in moral terms. No longer should our debates be about the merits of this vs. that, but rather, we are to concern ourselves with the supremacy of neither. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t get us too excited about anything.

The consequences of this appear quite clear. Without a drive toward engaging ideological struggles (and the ability to do so), how will the moral life ever flourish?

Here’s another excerpt:

The danger of today’s widespread ambivalence, therefore, is not necessarily that everyone might pretend to submit to a single, unified “truth” (although they certainly might), but rather that they would be too ambivalent to know it. As with our competitive endeavors in economics, a retreat from the active, heightened struggle of what Minogue calls the “moral life” will lead to an unauthentic, untried society in which ambivalence equals unity, and unity trumps morality.

As already indicated, Minogue’s views provide some valuable insights on this matter; thus, I found it helpful to leverage a few ideas from his recent book, The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life.

To read the full post, which contains more of my thoughts on Minogue’s book, click here.

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No Dominion, No Stewardship: Property Rights and the Environment

This week at Common Sense Concept, I explore the essential primacy of property rights in reaching productive and sustainable environmental solutions. More specifically, I focus on the tragedy of the commons and how God has called us to dominion in order to avoid such manifestations.

As I argue, many Christians prefer a more passive and detached approach to environmental stewardship, opting for advocacy and observation rather than ownership and control. In this view, human engagement with the ecological system is most often an exploitative invasion akin to the Hexxus-possessed tear-down of Fern Gully. Thus, we tend to retreat and assume an attitude that limits productive engagement altogether.

In reality, God has called us to a form of stewardship that is interactive and transformational. Environmental stewardship is not a spectator’s sport.

Here’s an excerpt:

The fact that God calls us to dominion (as displayed “in his image”) indicates that successful stewardship will only come when we exhibit overarching sovereignty and control. God does not tell us to cohabitate with the animals and feed them butter and bread with sugar sprinkled on top. He does not tell us to merely observe his creation and then go about our normal “human” business (though observation is indeed a marvelous thing). We are not to be mere spectators, or even mere protectors. Rather, God calls us to active ownership of creation by which we can take control of it and transform it for the better.

To discuss the natural implications of such a view, I leverage some useful insights from Steven Hayward, author of the new book, Mere Environmentalism: A Biblical Perspective on Humans and the Natural World.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

Owning parts of nature — whether habitat or actual rare species — sounds counterintuitive to the secular mind (though plainly not to the Old Testament Fathers), but Read the rest of this entry »

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A Romantic Boom and Bust: The Opportunity Costs of Love

Last week, I explored the degree of risk and uncertainty involved in pursuing God’s ultimate will for our lives. This week, Tho Bishop has a great piece at the Mises Institute that echoes these themes from the angle of earthly love.

Bishop’s primary goal is to show the parallels between Austrian business cycle theory and what he calls an “Austrian romance cycle,” focusing specifically on the element of time.

The comparison makes for quite an enjoyable read.

Here is the gist:

Romance starts with a first move. Just as Austrians understand that it is the role of the entrepreneur to shoulder the risk of capital investment in order to potentially achieve profit, we can understand that it is the role of an instigator to take the risk in the hope of finding romantic success. Without an entrepreneur, economic growth is unobtainable; without someone making a first move, romantic growth is unobtainable.

To demonstrate the similarities, Bishop provides a brief parable about a young romantic named Adam. In the beginning of the story, Adam is interested in investing in a new relationship, and like any good investor, he is trying desperately to convince certain women that he is “worth the risk.”

Becoming a bit impatient with the slow growth of his success, Adam begins to “stimulate” his love life in the same way a government might try to manipulate an economy: by faking it.

Adam has become frustrated by romantic failure. Fed up with his lack of success in romance, Adam begins to tell every girl who will listen that he saved orphans from the rampaging cannibals of Rojinda, climbed Mount Everest, and once out debated Ron Paul on the House floor. Adam has decided to manipulate his “interest rate.” All of a sudden Adam finds himself as the center of attention.

Behold! The impressive splendor and all-encompassing prosperity of the boom! Spending for the sake of Read the rest of this entry »

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Iron Chef Church: Christianity and the Entrepreneurial Mind

Leigh Buchanan recently wrote a piece for Inc. Magazine titled, “How Entrepreneurs Think,” exploring a recent study on entrepreneurial psychology by Saras Sarasvathy, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. (HT)

The study draws a clear line between entrepreneurs and corporate executives, concluding that the former typically exhibit effectual reasoning, while the latter are more prone to thinking causally:

Sarasvathy likes to compare expert entrepreneurs to Iron Chefs: at their best when presented with an assortment of motley ingredients and challenged to whip up whatever dish expediency and imagination suggest. Corporate leaders, by contrast, decide they are going to make Swedish meatballs. They then proceed to shop, measure, mix, and cook Swedish meatballs in the most efficient, cost-effective manner possible.

But this doesn’t mean that entrepreneurs are wandering aimlessly through life. Their approach is simply not static. Like an Iron Chef, they are highly mobile and highly adaptable.

The distinction here, according to Buchanan, is as follows:

That is not to say entrepreneurs don’t have goals, only that those goals are broad and — like luggage — may shift during flight. Rather than meticulously segment customers according to potential return, they itch to get to market as quickly and cheaply as possible, a principle Sarasvathy calls affordable loss. Repeatedly, the entrepreneurs in her study expressed impatience with anything that smacked of extensive planning, particularly traditional market research. (Inc.’s own research backs this up. One survey of Inc. 500 CEOs found that 60 percent had not written business plans before launching their companies. Just 12 percent had done market research.)

…Sarasvathy explains that entrepreneurs’ aversion to market research is symptomatic of a larger lesson they have learned: They do not believe in prediction of any kind. “If you give them data that has to do with the future, they just dismiss it,” she says. “They don’t believe the future is predictable…or they don’t want to be in a space that is very predictable.”

Jim Manzi, in his commentary on the article, points out that one must make another distinction between risk and uncertainty, with risk being somewhat quantifiable and uncertainty more  Read the rest of this entry »

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Superrational Self-Interest: Defining a Term

crucifixion, sacrificeI recently wrote a three-part series on the topic of selfless self-interestedness — a concept I have also referred to as superrational self-interest.

As far as I know, the term is new to the realms of theology and political philosophy. Thus, I thought it might be worthwhile to create a post in which I define it a bit more clearly and explain why I think such a term is necessary. This post will also provide a central hub from which the three more extensive posts can be accessed and read as a whole.

The three-part introduction is as follows:

Upon hearing the term “selfless self-interestedness” I suspect many will dismiss it as an unproductive oxymoron. The rest, I hope, will ask “Why?”

Why, for instance, would someone who believes so adamantly in the power of self-sacrifice want to promote something called “self-interest”? Why, if sacrifice is the ultimate goal, would we even waste our time considering the self or the individual? Even if one actually believes that sacrificial acts are indeed in our self-interest, what’s the point of calling it “sacrifice” in the first place?

The first and most fundamental reason is relatively simple: Jesus himself promotes both and often talks about each in terms of the other. Perhaps the clearest example of this is Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If this doesn’t provoke a wrestling match between the notions of self-interest and sacrifice, I don’t know what does.

The second and more practical answer is that we as humans tend to structure our most important discussions around the relationship between the self and the other. Unfortunately, such discussions tend to opt for one or the other, rather than looking beyond each as Read the rest of this entry »

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Ecumenical Babel: Economic Ideology and the Church

Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness, Jordan BallorWhen we survey today’s global economic environment, there are few observations that all of us can agree on.

Here’s a start:

  • Gigantic transnational corporations are out of control, exploiting their workers and rendering consumers and governments powerless to their manipulative forces.
  • Venerable local cultures, along with their esteemed mom-and-pop shops, are under attack, besieged by an ever-homogenizing monster, eager to suck away their uniqueness and transplant it with Western saliva.
  • Economic globalization — the root of such evils — is fattening the pockets of the rich, emptying the pockets of the poor, and threatening earth’s most vital life support systems in the process.

On the whole, modern-day capitalism and free trade have resulted in rampant greed and moral depravity, leading society to sacrifice its most vulnerable members on an altar of economic neoliberalism.

Oh, and when I say that all of us can agree on this, I mean all of us Christians.

I wish I could say that the above rant was constructed from articles in the Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, or The New Republic. Unfortunately, it was compiled from ideas found in the recent proclamations of three major ecumenical organizations: the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC). (Yes, I did have a bit of fun with them.)

The problem, of course, is that all of us don’t agree — a point not lost on theologian Jordan Ballor, author of the new book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.

For Ballor, the ecumenical movement has become far too narrow in its ideological underpinnings and far too politicized in its public stances. Although its role should be focused on fostering church unity around a set of grounded beliefs, the movement’s overt participation in Read the rest of this entry »

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Get Behind Me, Satan: Rejecting the Love of Man

Jesus, Peter, painting, "Get Behind Me Satan"We are all well-conditioned to deride the loves of money, power, and self, but there is one form of idolatry that is far more subtle than the rest: the love of man.

This week at Common Sense Concept, I explore such idolatry through an instance in the Book of Matthew where Peter expresses loving concern regarding Jesus’ impending death.

Jesus’ response? “Get behind me, Satan!”

Here’s an excerpt:

Such a harsh response is difficult for us to understand. It seems highly unreasonable that the desire to keep a loved one away from harm — let alone death — would be labeled as satanic, particularly when that loved one is the Son of God…The problem, of course, is that Peter’s love was based on “the things of man,” and like many of us, he should have known better.

The lesson therein has to do with keeping the first commandment before shooting for the second (I have commented on this before). If we don’t, we are bound to screw things up. We must first and foremost align our love to God, which means submitting to his will with gracious obedience.

Here’s another piece:

In our earthly striving to love our neighbors and do good works, to which source is our love truly aligned? It may be easy to think that the ends of love always involve our own destruction, but what if we shift that onto someone else? To what end of submission is our love of God truly capable of achieving? Are we willing to accept the death of a loved one? This is radical, indeed.

Read the full post here.

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