Archive for May, 2012

Entrepreneurs Need More Than Just Capital

In a recent interview, Malik Fal, managing director of Endeavor South Africa, outlines some key challenges for South African entrepreneurs, as well as some suggested solutions (HT).

Most notable, I think, is his belief that access to capital is not the primary obstacle:

This week at Values & Capitalism, I build on his analysis, decrying our general human tendency to limit our economic problem-solving to the material factors.

An excerpt:

Fal argues that entrepreneurs in South Africa need things like more help from venture capital firms (e.g. IT and financial management support), and although I trust this is also true for American entrepreneurs…our broader society seems to be slipping in its grasp of the challenges and risks that are required for authentic flourishing.

This poses an issue for the real creators and producers, for when the rest of us lack patience and understanding in how value is actually created, we will tend to muddle the process by supporting the types of short-sighted, zero-risk pseudo-solutions our public is currently craving. Our society’s current inability to address its deficit crisis is Read the rest of this entry »

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From Contract to Cooperation: In Family and in Business

Love and Economics, Jennifer Roback Morse

The subject of contracts is not particularly sexy, which is part of the reason I’d like to talk about contracts—and how we might reach beyond them.

In one sense, we have come to ignore, downplay, or disregard the value of contracts. Across the world, we continuously see grand planners like Jeffrey Sachs trying to impose markets and social stability with the flick of their wands, paying little attention to cultural factors like trust and property rights or the institutions required to make contracts mean something. Similarly, here in America, our government seems increasingly bent on diluting or subverting our most fundamental agreements, whether between husband and wife or Foreclosed Billy and his bank.

Yet in other areas, we are overly contract-minded, particularly when it enables us to slack off or lead predictable, controllable lives. Our default setting as humans is to pursue the minimum amount of work for the maximum reward—to put in our 40 hours, shrug our shoulders, and say, “that’s that.” Take the recent union battles in Wisconsin, where protestors proudly insist that their gripes aren’t about the money, but rather, securing a specialized right to privilege and protection. If such an alarming display of entitlement and self-obsessed insulation-seeking isn’t adequate evidence of our new-found comfort level with legalistic, minimum-effort thinking and living, I don’t know what is.

Contracts certainly play an important role in ordering our affairs—as indicated in my preliminary jab at Mr. Sachs—but we mustn’t forget that they can only take us so far. We may indeed need to establish some minimums in our commitment-making (and enforce them accordingly), but that needn’t mean that the minimum is all we aim to achieve.

This is an issue that progressives, conservatives, and libertarians consistently get tied up with, with our discussions consistently centering on words like “coercion,” “obligation,” “voluntaryism,” and all the rest. Yet in trying to understand the dynamics of these features, we must recognize the limits of such categories, lest our aforementioned human tendencies to carve out rationalistic legalistic frameworks impede or limit our thinking about responsibility and commitment to only involve rationalistic legalistic frameworks.

Here’s where that tricky little thing called “love” comes into play, for it so comprehensively breaks such propensities, and, in doing so, shatters the type of line-item, pseudo-rationalistic entitlement and selfishness that ultimately holds individuals back and consequently drags entire families and societies down into the muck.

If there’s one person who understands this, its economist Jennifer Roback Morse, whose book, Love & Economics, argues that love, particularly as encountered in marriage and parenting, helps to show our convenient political-theory buckets for what they are and teach us crucial lessons about how we are to view people and progress. “Familial relationships are not coercive in the usual sense, nor are they voluntary in the usual sense,” argues Morse.

Marriage may be “contractual” in certain ways, but Morse prefers to see it as a “partnership”—one filled with what she calls “radical uncertainty.” “Will we both remain healthy?” she asks. “Will we both continue to be employed at our current level of income and status? Will our needs change in ways we cannot fully predict?”

As Morse notes, a partnership reaches beyond our preferred and overly nit-picky me-vs.-them comparisons (see also: “love keeps no record of wrongs”), focusing more heavily on the we aspect and thus transforming our efforts to be in service of someone and something higher than ourselves:

Partnerships feature ongoing, joint decision making during the life of the relationship. In purely contractual relationships by contrast, the parties negotiate most, if not all, of the significant decisions prior to entering into the contract. In a partnership, the partners share responsibilities, decision-making, and risks…

 …In a partnership, both partners have enough at stake in the relationship that they have an incentive to do all the unstated but necessary things that can be known on the spot and in the moment. The contract is neither the end of the relationship nor the method for how the parties relate to one another.

Orienting our perspectives around we-centered uncertainty requires us to reject the type of liberal, me-centered Read the rest of this entry »

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A Lack of Self-Denial: In Sex, Economics, and Everything Else

President Obama’s recent “coming out” on the issue of same-sex marriage has led to a renewed discussion of the issue. Obama’s explanation for his “evolution” (which, in reality, is unlikely an evolution at all) is that his Christian beliefs require it:

When we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.

Now, I have no issues with the Golden Rule properly applied, but I resent that it’s come to be used not as an imperative for disinterested compassion, but as a bludgeoning tool for legitimizing particular behaviors and supporting an anything-goes moral outlook. At a fundamental level, such a view of “equal treatment” requires us to rid words of meaning and rip truth out of justice, should that particular truth be so awful as to offend so-and-so’s individual choices.

Through this understanding, the President’s refrain goes something like this: “Want to change the definition of an age-old institution? Well, if I wanted to do that, I would certainly want to be appeased.”

And there’s the biggie: I. I. I.

When the Golden Rule is contorted as such, it illuminates how much we’ve come to elevate self-satisfaction and self-affirmation in our society-wide contemplations about morality and justice. Rather than look to things like history, experience, science, or God himself (gasp), we base our actions and outlooks around what we might prefer. And alas, even when we do choose to look at the right sources—as Obama so keenly attempts with his “faith”—we tend to limit their value only insofar as it allows us to throw they’re broader purpose out the window.

The mindset is captured well in Collin Hansen’s analysis of the recent goings on, in which he sums up our current cultural outlook as follows:

  1. God made me this way.
  2. He wouldn’t deny my natural desires.
  3. And I don’t have to explain myself to you or anyone else.

Yet such cultural erosion is by no means epitomized or even made clearest by this frequent battle over whether homosexuality is right or wrong. The push toward homosexual marriage is just one logical step in what has been a decades-long journey down a road of obsessive me-centered self-affirmation, and it certainly won’t be the last. That we’ve come to view homosexuality as the primary issue in the larger debate is unfortunate, yet it is perhaps due to the fact that many Christians don’t seem to think there is a “larger debate.” As Hansen puts it, “The pursuit of self-fulfillment covers a multitude of adultery, divorce, and pornography in our churches. Why shouldn’t it also cover homosexuality?”

Yet there is just as big of a need to re-re-re-(re?)-emphasize the former: Why shouldn’t it also cover the rest?

When we look beyond the issue of homosexual marriage to issues of heterosexual sex, whether we’re talking pre-marital sex/contraception, pre-marital cohabitation, pornography, adultery, or whatever, we see the church becoming more and more comfortable with a version of “love” and “covenant” centered around Individual X’s abstract personal desires and less and less attached to (or interested in) the truth of the Bible and the Gospel. It should come as no surprise that Christians who are fine and dandy with sinful heterosexual lifestyles feel the need to affirm homosexual ones. By their own framework of “truth” and set beside their own moral outlook, such a move does indeed constitute “justice” and “equality.”

Thus, while the question of whether one favors homosexual marriage is indeed an important one for public debate, for the Christian in particular, such popular calls have a deeper Read the rest of this entry »

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An Equality of Human Dignity: Charles Murray, Bill Maher and Materialism

Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, has been making waves. In the book, Murray argues that America has, over the past 50 years, experienced a new class divide between what he calls an “upper middle class” and “lower middle class.”

I have yet to finish the book (more reactions will surely come), but in observing Murray’s exchanges throughout the media, I’ve been struck by the left’s reactions to his thesis, particularly their rejection of his belief that social decay might just kinda sorta have social causes (as opposed to purely economic ones).

This week at Values & Capitalism, I examine this view, using Bill Maher’s recent interview with Murray as an example:

Maher aptly demonstrates the materialistic assumptions of his progressive worldview, assuming every social problem is linked to some kind of economic inequality.

Here’s an excerpt of my response:

Yet even if Maher were persuaded on this particular data, I trust he’d only get more creative with the numbers, for who can deny the unstoppable, exploitative power of bourgeois prosperity? For Maher and other progressives, this is not about data; it’s about an underlying faith in the evil of economic inequality and the transcendent power of material equilibrium.

Material. Material. Material.

Skyrocketing divorce rates? Follow the money. Absent fathers? Move that money around! Obesity epidemic? Give more funding to public schools. Widespread theft and burglary? Heck, have we tried more government coupons?

Such an outlook ignores what drives us as humans and what makes us prosper. If Maher really wants to repair our cultural divide, he should move beyond Read the rest of this entry »

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