Posts Tagged authenticity

Celebrating the Artificial: General Motors and the Skeletons of American Industry

GM is Alive, Government Motors, bailout, subsidy, taxpayerThe Treasury Department is reportedly feeling pressure from General Motors to “sell the government’s entire stake in the auto maker,” a move that, at the moment, would result in an estimated $15 billion loss for U.S. taxpayers. But such are the realities of dysfunctional private-public-private back-rubbery:

GM executives have grown increasingly frustrated with that ownership, and the stigma of being known as “Government Motors.” Executives have said the U.S.’s shadow is a drag on its reputation and hurts the company’s ability to recruit talent because of pay restrictions.

Last week, I explored these tensions over at Values & Capitalism, critiquing the government’s malinvestment in GM as well as the Democratic National Convention’s overt attempt to romanticize such failures:

“GM is alive, and Osama bin Laden is dead,” said President Obama in his recent speech at the DNC. The crowd responded with resounding cheers, energetically waving signs bearing the same slogan. Now, just a week later, bumper stickers are already primed for your Prius.

The problem is: Osama bin Laden is actually dead, and GM has resurrected into a zombie of sorts, fumbling and stumbling about under the control of autocrats—licking its lips for another round of taxpayer flesh.

Yet of all of the tall tales of glorious GM resurrection, the Obama’s administration’s underlying attitudes about human potential are made most clear by none other than Vice President Joe Biden, whose DNC speech rails against the “Bain way” (i.e. the profitable way), arguing that “the Bain way may bring your firm the highest profits, but it is not the way to lead our country from the highest office.”

And there she blows:

Profitability, we are told, should no longer be a priority of the American people. Further, we are told, it shouldn’t be a priority of the United States government. And this is what garners cheers from the ruling party of our nation.

We now live in a country where government-appointed know-it-alls waste tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on failing companies, only to then be hailed as “defenders of industry.” We now live in an era in which viewing government in terms of “balance sheets and write offs” is demonized; in which waste and inefficiency are downplayed; and in which those who pursue economic growth in a traditional sense are viewed as obstacles to human flourishing.

The truth, of course, is that “the Bain way” secures higher profits by discouraging wasteful behavior and drawing on everything that’s good in humanity. It is this—value creation and the reward of earned success—that makes the market much more than a market, empowering us to attain the American Dream.

The market can only be a source for good if it remains a free market: an arena where contributions come before rewards, not after. And the moment Americans forget this—the moment we join this overt celebration of government-subsidized failure—is the moment we start down the road that invariably makes America like every other entitled, vacuous Western democracy, rather than the exceptional nation we’ve always been.

If this is the contrast the Democratic party wishes to draw—a battle between Artificializer Obama vs. Realistic Romney—so be it. Americans will know what they’re buying, and if the pollsters’ current predictions hold true, we’ll get all the skeletons of “industry” and “economic progress” that we ask for.

To read the full post, click here.

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Sweeping Our Way to Prosperity: Booker T. Washington & the Dignity of Work

Booker T. WashingtonI have been enjoying Booker T. Washington’s biography, Up from Slavery, and this week at Values & Capitalism, I unpack some of his ideas about the dignity of work, contemplating their application among  today’s youth.

I start off by pointing to a moment that Washington viewed as crucial in his mobility from former slave to college president. After finally saving up enough money to travel to the Hampton Institute, Washington was given an unusual entry exam.

As Washington himself explained it:

After some hours had passed, the head teacher said to me: “The adjoining recitation-room needs sweeping. Take the broom and sweep it.”

It occurred to me at once that here was my chance. Never did I receive an order with more delight. I knew that I could sweep, for Mrs. Ruffner had thoroughly taught me how to do that when I lived with her.

I swept the recitation-room three times. Then I got a dusting-cloth and I dusted it four times…When I was through, I reported to the head teacher. She was a “Yankee” woman who knew just where to look for dirt. She went into the room and inspected the floor and closets; then she took her handkerchief and rubbed it on the woodwork about the walls, and over the table and benches. When she was unable to find one bit of dirt on the floor, or a particle of dust on any of the furniture, she quietly remarked, “I guess you will do to enter this institution.”

I was one of the happiest souls on earth. The sweeping of that room was my college examination, and never did any youth pass an examination for entrance into Harvard or Yale that gave him more genuine satisfaction. I have passed several examinations since then, but I have always felt that this was the best one I ever passed. 

From there, I move to discuss Washington’s later experience in founding his own school, during which he required his students to build their campus with their own hands. His intent: “the students themselves would be taught to see not only utility in labour, but beauty and dignity; would be taught, in fact, how to lift labour up from mere drudgery and toil, and would learn to love work for its own sake.”

 Here’s the modern-day takeaway, from my piece:

There is some kind of lesson here, some valuable takeaway for an entitled, lackadaisical society that has grown obsessed with a quick and artificial process of growth, one which is completely unsustainable, not to mention wholly debilitating at a deeper spiritual and cultural level.

There is also a lesson here for our leaders, one of whom recently promised to spur such artificiality faster and further, promoting things like “free” education while ignoring the “drudgery” and “toil” that Washington recognized as necessary for any kind of authentic success and genuine Read the rest of this entry »

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Long Live the Artificial: Newt Gingrich’s Anti-Bain Blather

Of all the warts Mitt Romney boasts on his big smelly toe, Newt Gingrich and others have decided to attack the one thing Romney has going for him: his business-leader experience in the private sector. (go here for the full scoop)

This week at Values & Capitalism, I offer my critique of the Gingrich(/Obama) view:

Note to Newt: I know we’d all like a 100% success rate, but high-risk investment doesn’t always pay off, and when it doesn’t, bad things happen. Businesses close, people lose their jobs and human suffering abounds. Oh yeah, and another thing: it’s not great for investment firms either.

When these companies failed under Romney’s watch, I doubt that Jolly Fat-Cat Mitt was grinning in his Doctor Claw Chair while stroking a snickering kitty. Anyone who understands anything about investment firms should understand that bad investments are, well, bad.

There’s plenty of basic economic idiocy here, not to mention nostrils-full of that all-too-familiar “pre-conversion” Gingrich stench (does “moldy baloney” capture it?). But throughout all the confused prattle—e.g. Newt’s forthcoming wanna-be Michael Moore project—I find myself haunted by a single, disturbing reality. Some people actually swallow this stuff.

The deeper issue in Gingrich’s thinking — other than his basic goal of political revenge, of course — is his apparent disdain for creative destruction and his implicit worship of the artificial.

More from my piece:

Most of [this] seems to involve an embrace of the artificial—a belief that prosperity can and should be manufactured from the top down and that successful entrepreneurship, innovation, and jobs(!!!!!!!—those are for you, Joe Biden) demand nothing more than Sugar Daddy U.S.A.’s material blessing.

Implicit in such an orientation is a belief that risk can somehow be avoided or subverted—that turning companies around is always possible, that the solution (if there is one) is always accessible/know-able, and that investments will always produce a profit (when all else fails, there’s subsidies…duh!). All you need is a warm and toasty heart and a propensity to use other people’s stuff to Read the rest of this entry »

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Embracing God’s Message, Ignoring His Method

In what serves as a nice complement to my recent posts on obedience and the spiritual side of socio-economic decision making, PovertyCure recently posted a video of Peter Greer (HT), in which he adequately captures the church’s unfortunate tendency to embrace God’s message without seeking God’s method.

Watch the video here:

Economist Victor Claar captures similar activity in the first part of his critique of fair trade, documenting the modern church’s impulsive, near-trendy promotion of counterproductive trade schemes.

My question: When we see “good intentions” (quotes intended) result in something like the temporary inflation of a market — not to mention the subsequent destruction of otherwise beneficial and growing enterprises — what are we to assume the driving motivations are behind those specific decisions? Are such efforts to “help people” really taking a holistic Biblical approach? When our “charitable” endeavors fail miserably, should we use our Bibles to justify those actions, or should we deeply question whether those actions were all that “Biblical” in the first place?

Yes, Jesus told us to help the poor, but how do we do that, and what else did he tell us to do?

In the case Greer describes, the church may have achieved its short-term aim, but in the process, it did some serious damage to a local provider, and probably many others. This would seem to make the given community’s long-term prospects worse.

Is this what God wanted? Was it God’s intention to temporarily flood the egg market and put people out of business, only for the need to reemerge the very next year, but this time with a lack of suppliers? Was it the voice of the Holy Spirit that told this church to “give x to y!” or was it the voice of “Hey, I’ve got Read the rest of this entry »

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The Individual & the Family: Connecting the Dots

In a recent CNN debate between contenders for the GOP nomination, Rick Santorum initiated a brief spar with Ron Paul over the notion of individualism as it relates to the family.

Paul began by emphasizing that “we need to see everybody as an individual,” after which Santorum retorted that the “basic building block of a society is not the individual. It’s the family.”

Yet whether he knows it or not, Santorum is perpetuating a false dichotomy, affirming to conofused Americans everywhere that placing the proper emphasis on the individual diminishes the family, rather than enhances it.

In my recent post at AEI’s Values and Capitalism, I explore the misconception further, drawing on Ryan Messmore’s wrap-up of the same event to demonstrate the need for clarity in the interrelationship of individualism and authentic community. My point, however, should be noted by Paulites and Santorumistas alike.

No matter how obvious we “liberty buffs” think the connection may be, Santorum’s all too common knee-jerk insertions of “family!” should indicate that confusion still persists, even (or especially?) among conservatives. More importantly, it should inspire us to give the individual-family connection the prominence and proper placement it deserves:

Whether or not Paul was leaving such an impression will depend on who’s listening, but Santorum obviously didn’t get the memo. As Messmore seems to understand, this is indicative of a larger misunderstanding in the public at large. Far too often, proponents of individual rights assume that everyone else will connect the dots between the individual and community. Indeed, some of our very own fail with pride.

But in doing so, or rather, in not doing so, we risk leaving the impression that the lines do not exist in the first place. We may think it’s obvious that the family and other essential private institutions are natural byproducts of individual liberty, but the connection is far more misunderstood than we realize.

Such distinctions are (also) particularly important at a time when collectivists promote a false sense of “community” and “family” in their own PR with vigor (“It takes a village!”). Which is why the consequence of inaction is Read the rest of this entry »

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Fair Trade Fast Food: Why Not Manipulate Americans?

McDonald's, worker, employee, fast foodWhat would happen if we had fair trade fast food here in America? What if benevolent do-gooders from Europe and Asia tried to intervene on behalf of American minimum-wage workers and offer a “fair wage” for serving burgers and fries?

Further, what would have happened to me — a former McDonald’s employee — if I had made 5 bucks an hour extra, all out of some well-meaning foreigner’s arbitrary sense of “social justice”? Would I have ever gone to college, or would I have stayed put? Would McDonald’s have remained a competitive job creator, or would it have caved and crumbled next to those who avoided such “compassionate” scheming? Would it have become more difficult for low-skilled workers like myself to get a job in the first place?

These questions (and more) are at the center of my recent post at Common Sense Concept, in which I argue (once again) that fair trade distorts reality and confuses our vocational processes.

But why all the fuss? Wasn’t I, as a minimum-wage worker, being unjustly trampled by “the Man” (in a yellow suit, no less!)? Why did all those privileged cooks and servers at Red Robin deserve more money than me? Was it the “arrogance” of their Mt. Vesuvius burger? In the grand scheme of suburban teenager-hood, why was I of all people doomed to enter that realm of grease and irritable soccer moms?

For [some], my contract with McDonald’s might just as well have been labeled “unjust” and “unfair.” This was not, after all, a “living wage.” Shouldn’t somebody somewhere have stepped in to fill the “gaps” and stop McDonald’s from “exploiting” me? How was I, as a mere teenager, ever to rise above my circumstances without Read the rest of this entry »

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The Least of These: People or Political Pawns?

Barack Obama, Jim Wallis, SojournersThe budget talks are a’blazin and Jim Wallis is at it again, rallying left-leaning Christians everywhere to support a laundry list of progressive “anti-poverty” programs (i.e. all of them).

On July 20, Wallis and 11 other “religious leaders” met with President Obama to ask for a “Circle of Protection” around any program ”focused on reducing poverty.” (“Circle of Protection”–is that Orwellian, New Age, or something out of a 1980s RPG?)

“We made our simple principle clear,” Wallis said. “The most vulnerable should be protected in any budget or deficit agreements…We told President Obama that this is what God requires of all of us.”

“This is what God requires of all of us”? You mean Medicaid, food stamps, and foreign “aid”? Inspiring, I do declare.

But, man, if we’re falling short on our redistributionist checklist, folks in the third-world must really need a sense of what God requires of them. Maybe Wallis can head over to Cuba or Zimbabwe and teach those tyrannical bullies a thing or two about how to properly manipulate and micro-manage their peoples toward greater prosperity. How I would love to see Wallis positioned in the former Soviet Union, trying to fix things by avoiding programs that “focus on reducing poverty” (i.e. everything).

As much as I appreciate Wallis’ attempt to intercede on my behalf, what God “requires of all of us” cannot be rolled into some quaint piece of legislation signed by Harry Reid or John Boehner. God’s “requirements” do not constitute a legalistic bullet list of progressive programs, and the church extends well beyond an “enlightened” majority with a tendency to sign and spend things quickly. (I’ve discussed this previously).

Why, for example, is our bloated, inefficient, fraud-laden Medicaid system the God-ordained method for helping America’s poor find healthcare in the 21st century? Why, might I ask, is such a system only God-ordained insofar as it remains untouched by budget cuts? If we cut the program by, say, 1% (or even .00001%), will judgment day come sooner or more harshly than it would otherwise? And to what degree? Paging Harold Camping…Al Gore?

What if I happen to disagree with page 3,500 of the legislation, but agree with the rest? What if I disagree with the whole thing and suggest Read the rest of this entry »

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Joyful Innovators: Liberty and Dignity in the Christian Lens

welder, welding, fabricating, steel, creativity, ingenuityIn my most recent post at Common Sense Concept, I take a look at Bill Easterly’s recent interview with economist Deirdre McCloskey, author of the new book, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World.

McCloskey seeks to topple our conventional views of what leads to economic growth, arguing that much of it comes down to maintaining proper attitudes about liberty and dignity.

Her thesis, as explained in the interview, is as follows:

Modern economic growth — that stunning increase from $3 a day in 1800 worldwide to now upwards of $130 a day in the richest countries, and anyway $30 as a worldwide average — can’t be accounted for in the usual and materialist ways. It wasn’t trade, investment, exploitation, imperialism, education, legal changes, genes, science. It was innovation, such as cheap steel and the modern university, supported by an entirely new attitude towards the middle class, emerging from Holland around 1600. (It has parallels in classical music and mathematics and politics, in all of which the Europeans burst out, 1600-1800.)

As usual, I turn McCloskey’s theory toward Christianity, and more specifically, evangelicalism, examining how evangelicals tend to view such elements (nowadays) and whether those views are attributable to some recent sociological trend or the belief system itself.

Here’s an excerpt:

To use the evangelical sphere as an example, there seems to be an increasingly common sociological disdain for innovation and markets, which seems to imply that the “tenets” of evangelicalism conflict with Read the rest of this entry »

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Love That Ends in Bloodshed: G.K. Chesterton on Division and Unity

G.K. Chesterton, OrthodoxyI recently wrote a piece at Ethika Politika discussing the problems we encounter when we pursue unity for the sake of unity. My basic argument — which is partially borrowed from Kenneth Minogue — is that moderation lends itself toward ambivalence, and ambivalence wanders from truth.

Shortly thereafter, my good friend RJ Moeller pointed me toward an excerpt from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodox, which illuminates similar similar points from a Christian perspective.

In this case, Chesterton points to the differences between artificial unity and active love (a close cousin of truth).

It is just here that Buddhism is on the side of modern pantheism and immanence. And it is just here that Christianity is on the side of humanity and liberty and love. Love desires personality; therefore love desires division.

It is the instinct of Christianity to be glad that God has broken the universe into little pieces, because they are living pieces. It is her instinct to say “little children love one another” rather than to tell one large person to love himself.

This notion of being “living pieces” translates quite well into an individualistic approach to our public endeavors, particularly when we consider the benefits that can come from active struggle and engagement.

Chesterton continues, noting that Jesus made it clear his blood and sacrifice would provoke division, not soften it:

We come back to the same tireless note touching the nature of Christianity; all modern philosophies are chains which connect and fetter; Christianity is a sword which separates and sets free. No other philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the 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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