Posts Tagged charity

A Real Fair Trade Solution: Kill the Big Ag Behemoth

I have routinely criticized “fair trade” schemes as ineffective, inefficient and counterproductive — a convoluted form of temporary charity that would be better if treated as temporary charity.

The real problems that cause poverty are deep and complicated, and they cannot be fixed by magical price inflation by Westerners (particularly when our own view of value is as distorted as it is).

As I pointed out in my review of Victor Claar’s book on the subject, one of these problems is often the nature of the given market. When it comes to coffee, for example, Claar explains that “coffee growers are poor because there is too much coffee.” The solution is hardly, “more coffee!”

Many of these realities are difficult to change for good reason: accurate, voluntarily determined prices reflect the real preferences of real people who are just trying to create real value. This includes both the consumer and the creator (the coffee grower). Yet other realities are stubborn because they are involuntarily determined.

This is where we should be setting our sights, and this week at AEI’s newly rebranded project, Values and Capitalism (formerly Common Sense Concept), I focus on one of the biggies: agricultural subsidies.

Here’s a taste:

Although the aims of “fair traders” are often noble (e.g. when “equality of outcome” doesn’t masquerade as “fairness”), their efforts would be much better spent tackling the real problems that impact economic development in the long term. If we’re looking for a game of Demolish the Western Privilege Machine, agricultural subsidies are a marvelous piñata.

The price distortion caused by such subsidies is summed up nicely by Daniel Sumner in an AEI paper on the subject:

Farm commodity subsidies—including price and income supports—crop insurance subsidies, and disaster aid encourage US production and disadvantage farmers who attempt to compete with subsidized production from the United States. These programs stimulate more production when Read the rest of this entry »

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Phantom Needs: Projecting Poverty Where It Doesn’t Exist

Mincaye, Waodani

Mincaye doesn't care about your cars and credit cards.

Steve Saint, author of End of the Spear and missionary to a tribe that killed his father, has some marvelous insights on the West’s tendency to project its “standards, values and perception of need onto others,” particularly when it comes to material needs (HT). When we do so, Saint argues, we often impose the opposite: poverty.

Unfortunately, this tendency has been evidenced no more energetically than by Western Christians.

From Saint’s own experience working with the Waodani people, the material needs are far less impending than the typical Westerner assumes. Indeed, the hustle-and-bustle of such outsiders is often deemed distasteful by the very people the West is attempting to “rescue” through material “fulfillment.”

As Saint explains:

When people visit the Waodani, they look around and think, “Wow, these people have nothing!” People from the outside think the Waodani are poor because they don’t have three-bedroom ramblers with wall-to-wall carpeting, double garages so full of stuff the cars never fit and, I guess, because they never take vacations to exotic places like Disney World.

Mincaye, on the other hand, sees the way we “Outsiders” live here in “The foreigner’s place” and makes comments like; “Why, never sitting, do the foreigners run around and around in their car things speaking to each other on their talking things but never hunting or fishing or telling stories to each other?” After traveling and speaking with me in the U.S., Canada and Europe, Mincaye is always greatly relieved to get back to his thatched roof hut, with the open fire wafting smoke in his face, eating whatever happens to be in the cooking pot.

As I have been arguing quite aggressively (here, here, and here), we mustn’t ground our views of mission or vocation or work or needs or productivity or value through our debased, earthly perspective (Romans 1, anyone?). By doing so, we will only dwell in our individual pride and arrogance, whether we think we are “doing good” or not.

By arbitrarily and impulsively acting for the sake of acting (not a good idea), we actually reject the true source of life. There is a reason that the Bible says that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” for without actually denying ourselves and submitting to him, we are nothing but Read the rest of this entry »

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Privilege: A Means to Do Good

Conservatives and libertarians like to downplay privilege and focus mostly on merit. “Just work hard,” they’ll say, which is indeed part of the solution. Yet it is not the only element in play.

This week at Common Sense Concept, I discuss the issue in light of a recent talk by Anthony Bradley for Marketplace One.

Watch the video here:



Here’s an excerpt:

[A]lthough our efforts certainly play a part in how well we succeed in life—and although they may indeed be a primary factor in some or most cases—are we really to ignore where we came from and how that came to be? After all, isn’t our ability to triumph and overcome obstacles only inspiring insofar as it contrasts with whatever little amount of privilege we had in the first place? What are “obstacles,” anyway, if not the things that don’t come easy? Do we marvel over the relative accomplishments of John D. Rockefeller’s children as much as we marvel over the striking ascendance of Rockefeller himself?

Yet while many in the “pro-capitalism” crowd downplay privilege too much, those in the Marxist camp twist it to be the determining factor of our existence: either our weapon or our prison:

Whereas the pro-capitalism crowd likes to pretend class privilege is a non-issue, the Marxist crowd likes to pretend that such privilege determines our very actions. If you are born poor, you are incapable of becoming wealthy, because if you are born wealthy, you are incapable of not Read the rest of this entry »

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The Morality of Profit: (Mis)defining Generosity in a Win-Lose World

"Give me all your money...or else!"

This week at Common Sense Concept, I discuss Tom Palmer’s new video on the “morality of profit” as a follow-up to my post on whether capitalism is compatible with Christian values.

Palmer uses the charity efforts of Bill and Melinda Gates as a launching pad for discussion, focusing on their professed desire to “give back” to society. The problem with such language, Palmer notes, is that “you can’t give back what you didn’t take.”

The Gateses did not, of course, take anything, as true free exchange would not permit it:

We are not forced to fill company coffers against our will. We are not doomed to buy oranges or apples if the price isn’t right. Instead, we are free to collaborate of our own free will and by our own consent. In such a world, profit is merely a symbol of community value. If we reject profits as immoral, we should be prepared to reject the community that empowers it. The tricky part, as I’ve mentioned before, is that this is most often ourselves. This is what the “morality of profit” all boils down to: whether mutual exchange is indeed mutual.

This tells us something about the morality of profit, but Palmer’s discussion also teaches us something about the nature of generosity — namely, that when we misunderstand the way wealth is created, we also misunderstand the ways in which (or through which) our generosity should be and can be channeled and expressed.

Indeed, understanding this process is crucial for understanding how God calls us to use our wealth:

By diluting our charity to some redistributionist obligation, we dilute the very potential of our charity, both for ourselves and our communities. How are we to maximize our generosity and distribute compassion effectively if we harbor faulty, guilt-ridden sentiments about Read the rest of this entry »

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The Heart of the Entrepreneur: Realizing God’s Provision Through Burgers and Malts

About a year and a half ago, some of our closest friends, Brett and Emily Geselle, started their own restaurant. In the time since, Tommy’s Malt Shop has become a huge success (no small feat in the middle of a recession).

Prior to starting the restaurant, Brett had a successful career in the corporate world. Leaving that path for the high-risk prospect of starting a burger joint was not necessarily the easy, secure, or comfortable thing to do (pursuing the proper American dream typically isn’t). Yet there was something about pursuing the restaurant that made it worth the risk.

Hear their story here (HT):



This is entrepreneurship — and Radical Individualism — at its finest. Brett’s initial vision was not based in a humanistic, materialistic desire for power, glory or wealth, and neither were the actions that brought his dream to fruition. Instead, it was based in the leading of his heart by the Holy Spirit. The subsequent process involved sacrifice, strugglegenerosity, risk, wisdom, diligence, and hard work. That is how God works.

The result: a restaurant that meets community needs while also bringing the Geselles self-fulfillment and a realization of God’s provision. As Brett says in the video, “It has an impact on your heart and it will Read the rest of this entry »

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Intergenerational Justice: What Is the Church’s Role?

Up until now, I have avoided any in-depth discussion about the Center for Public Justice’s Call for Intergenerational Justice, a document which “demand[s] that Washington end our ongoing budget deficits.” The document was signed by a variety of Christian leaders from across the political spectrum, and was designed to “start of a biblically grounded movement in which grandparents, grandchildren and everyone in between can join hands to promote a just solution to our debt crisis.”

The Call has garnered both praise and criticism, with much of the latter coming from friend-of-the-blog Jordan Ballor. To discuss their disagreements, Gideon Strauss of CPJ recently joined Ballor for a discussion at the Acton Institute. This week, Common Sense Concept took the conversation a step further by hosting a panel on the Christian’s role in the budget crisis. Included on the panel were Strauss, Ballor, Jennifer Marshall, Ron Sider, Ryan Streeter, and Pastor Jonathan Merritt.

Catch the conversation here:


The discussion is engaging across the board, and as Daniel Suhr has noted in his recap, there is plenty of room for consensus.

But as an evangelical, I’d like to focus specifically on Pastor Merritt’s concers, particularly his (mis)perception of how conservatives and libertarians view poverty solutions — a misunderstanding that permeates evangelicalism at large.

Merritt, himself a self-proclaimed conservative, begins his response by countering Ballor’s claim that the Call does not do enough as far as “putting the church on the hook.” In an initially shocking statement, Merritt says that he’s tired of putting the church on the hook, wrongly assuming that Ballor wants the church to ramp up its political involvement. Going further, Merritt Read the rest of this entry »

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It Takes a Market: Hillary Clinton, Milton Friedman, and the Family

family, market, grocery, shoppingThis week at Common Sense Concept, I use Hillary Clinton’s popular premise as a launching pad for discussion about the role of family and the subsequent role of the market in enabling it.

First, here’s my quick re-cap of Clinton’s view, which is not particularly unique in the scope of human history:

Clinton’s main argument is that we need a society which meets all the needs of all its children (“Just imagine, bro!”). For Clinton, however, such ends are not to be reached by encouraging freedom, instilling dignity, or teaching the importance of self-government and charity. Instead, children are only to reach their ultimate state of nirvana if the State becomes the family itself. After all, much like those other pesky private institutions — churches, schools, businesses…that kind of thing — the private family simply cannot be trusted (fascism alert).

To illuminate the errors within such a view, I lean on economist Milton Friedman, whose widely circulated exchange on the distribution of income vs. wealth provides some good insights.

Here’s Friedman in his own words:

The thing that is amazing that people don’t really recognize is the extent to which the market system has in fact encouraged people and enabled people to work hard and sacrifice — in what I must confess I often regard as an irrational way — for the benefit of their children. One of the most curious things to me in observation is that almost all people value the utility their children will get from consumption higher than their own.

As for where I stand, I take a view quite similar to that I made in my recent post on WALL-E vs. the Jetsons:

When the material needs are met by utilizing the proper socio-political framework, we can then more easily progress as a society toward a proper spiritual orientation. If we take a different path, and attempt to Read the rest of this entry »

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Scarcity vs. Nonscarcity: Why Do Christians Struggle with Economics?

Half empty plate, scarcity, nonscarcity, economicsIn a recent post at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Jeffrey Tucker tries to explain why modern religious people have such a hard time grappling with economics. (“Why Religious People Struggle with Economics”)

Indeed, although the discipline was originally systemized by Catholics in the 15th and 16th centuries (as Tucker duly notes), today’s Christians — whether Protestant or Catholic, progressive or conservative — often fail miserably in their attempts to comment on the subject. This, after all, is why I started this blog in the first place.

For Tucker, the roots of the problem go much deeper than a lack of mere knowledge:

It’s not just that the writers, as thoughtful as they might otherwise be on all matters of faith and morals, do not know anything about economic theory. The problem is even more foundational: the widespread tendency is to deny the validity of the science itself. It is treated as some kind of pseudoscience invented to thwart the achievement of social justice or the realization of the perfectly moral utopia of faith. They therefore dismiss the entire discipline as forgettable and maybe even evil. It’s almost as if the entire subject is outside their field of intellectual vision.

The issue, then, is recognizing the difference between the realms of scarcity and nonscarcity, a topic that I have discussed on several occasions (here, here, and here):

If one exists, lives, and thinks primarily in the realm of the nonscarce good, the problems associated with scarcity — the realm that concerns economics — will always be elusive. To be sure, it might seem strange to think of things such as grace, ideas, prayers, and images as goods, but this term merely describes something that is desired by people. (There are also things we might describe as nongoods, which are things that no one wants.) So it is not really a point of controversy to use this term. What really requires explanation is Read the rest of this entry »

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Materialistic Generosity: The Limits of Earthbound Altruism

Mary, Judas, Lazarus, Jesus, painting, perfume

In my latest post at Common Sense Concept, I explore the topic of generosity as it pertains to the Love of God and the Love of Man.

More specifically, I examine the centrality of sacrifice in the Christian pursuit and the corresponding importance of grounding that sacrifice in the divine rather than the debased.

Here’s an excerpt:

We must move beyond our humanistic perceptions of generosity, pushing energetically toward a more heavenly orientation — one that is led by the Spirit rather than the flesh. As Kelly Kapic argues in his recent book, Jesus’ death on the Cross is not just a gift, but an invitation to participate in God’s unique movement of divine generosity.

To explore this point further, I look at a story in the Gospel of John in which Mary lavishes Jesus’ feet with expensive ointment. Judas scolds Mary for wasting precious resources, claiming that they would be better sacrificed on behalf of the poor.

Jesus responds with this: “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

As I argue in the post, Jesus is pointing to Judas’ fundamentally materialistic perspective of generosity — a view that sees human individuals (and their resources) as static and predictable variables to be manipulated through “generosity.”

As far as how this might contribute to our views about politics or 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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