Archive for December, 2010
I have been reading David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, which I received as part of a promotion by Matthew Lee Anderson. Although I still have a ways to go, I recently read one little piece about kingdom economics that I found particularly interesting.
While writing about the church’s “distinctive ethic” of generosity, VanDrunen says the following:
Anyone who has studied economics — the economics of the common kingdom — has learned the fundamental principle of scarcity. Though worldly wealth is not exactly a fixed quantity that creates a zero-sum game (there is much more worldly wealth now than there was a thousand years ago), there is truly only so much to go around. A certain sum of money will only satisfy a certain number of needs and desires. A piece of property cannot be enjoyed by everyone.
The explanation lies not in a complex theory worthy of a Nobel Prize economist, but in the mysterious, wonderful, economics-defying work of God. He “is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8). When the impoverished give generously, God makes them “enriched” in the experience (9:11). In part, this is about money, but only in part.
Then, VanDrunen offers this high-level summary of kingdom economics:
In the church there are no winners and losers, but every act of love is mutually enriching in Christ’s economics — an economics built not on the principle of scarcity but on the principle of extravagant Read the rest of this entry »
The video illuminates some great points about the poisonous dependency being fostered by the modern foreign aid movement, at one point calling it “a system of economic slavery.”
The solution: individual empowerment and transformation.
Christ calls us to solidarity with the poor, but this means more than assistance. It means seeing the poor not as objects or experiments, but as partners and brothers and sisters, as fellow creatures made in the image of God with the capacity to Read the rest of this entry »
In a recent post at Ethika Politika, I address some of the issues surrounding consumerism and charity, pointing out that one just might be a driver of the other.
Here’s an excerpt:
We like to call it “consumer culture” (most often with an “evil” at the beginning). People are standing in lines for petty products, spending money they don’t have, and passing out extensive wish lists and catalogs to friends and family. On the surface, it appears to be a spectacle of shallowness and shortsightedness. Buy, buy, buy! Sell, sell, sell! It’s all so terrible, isn’t it?
For some, it most certainly is, but for most of us, consumerism isn’t so much a sign of our materialism as it is a representation that we rely on things for survival and pleasure. In this understanding, it would seem that our consumer culture isn’t such a bad thing at all, particularly around Christmastime, when much of our buying is concerned with the interests of others. Through this lens, is there anything healthy to be found in the bustling consumeristic spirit of the holidays?
To read the full post, click here.
In today’s post at Common Sense Concept I provide a list of book recommendations for those who are doing any last-minute Christmas shopping or list-building. As far as the focus of the list, I offer five titles that proved influential in shaping my views on faith and free enterprise.
The five books are as follows:
- A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles by Thomas Sowell
- The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden
- Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism by Arthur Brooks
- From Poverty to Prosperity: Intangible Assets, Hidden Liabilities, and the Lasting Triumph over Scarcity by Nick Schulz and Arnold Kling
- Free to Choose: A Personal Statement by Milton and Rose Friedman
As I note in the post, these titles are not (necessarily) religious: “Rather, [they] were extraordinarily valuable in steering my raw, Bible-based upbringing in the right direction when it came to economics.”
In Carden’s approach, the Grinch’s disapproval of Whoville’s holiday joyfulness could represent any number of private-sector resentments, but the parallel that seemed clearest to me was with the government’s disapproval of our financial decision making.
Here’s a little taste:
On Christmas Eve Night, the Grinch went to town
He stole all the presents, he took their wreaths down
He stole their Who Hash, everything for their feast!
He swiped their Who Pudding! He swiped their Roast Beast!
He looked at his sled loaded up with Who snacks
‘Twas quite an efficient Pigovian tax!
Then late in the night, when he got to Mount Crumpit
For he’d taken the load, and he threatened to dump it
The Whos, with one voice crying out in the night
Screamed “bring back our stuff! You haven’t the right
At the end, Carden sums up his point effectively, pointing out that economic value need not (only) come from the material realm:
The holiday season brings specials galore
They teach us that Christmas can’t come from a store
Reflect, as you watch them, as day turns to night
On good economics, and property rights.
In a recent piece at The American, Arthur Brooks and Peter Wehner write splendidly about the connection between vision and political execution. After summarizing three basic views of human nature — what Thomas Sowell would call “visions” — Brooks and Wehner dive into the issues involved in executing each vision in the political sphere.
The three primary views, as the authors see them, are as follows:
- Humans are flawed but perfectible (a la Jean-Jacques Rouseeau and Karl Marx).
- Humans are flawed and cannot change (a la Thomas Hobbes and Bernard Mandeville).
- Humans are flawed but “under the right circumstances, human nature can work to the advantage of the whole” (a la Adam Smith and James Madison).
Brooks and Wehner side with the last option, and after exploring the political implications supporting it, they explain its overall consistency with Biblical teaching:
This last view of human nature is consistent with and reflective of Christian teaching. The Scriptures teach that we are both made in the image of God and fallen creatures; in the words of Saint Paul, we can be “instruments of wickedness” as well as “instruments of righteousness.” All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, the Bible declares — yet it also tells us to be holy in all our conduct, to walk in His statutes, and not to grow weary in doing good. Human beings are capable of acts of squalor and acts of nobility; we can pursue vice and we can pursue virtue.
But how does this vision of human nature connect with the political realm? How do we take the Pauline view of human nature and translate it into a proper political framework?
Brooks and Wehner explain:
As for the matter of the state: Romans 13 makes clear that government is divinely sanctioned by God to preserve public order, restrain evil, and make justice possible. This, too, was a view shared by many of the founders. Government reflects human nature, they argued, “because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.”
This brings the authors to the subject of self-interest. After all, it is capitalism’s reliance on self-interest that leads its opponents to ridicule it as immoral and Read the rest of this entry »
One item worthy of note is how Rosling describes our “remarkable progress” as occurring despite “enormous disparities.” It is a small but important distinction to dissect.
Is it not true that loosening up trade and expanding freedom requires income disparity, or the mere allowance of it? After all, it is during the de-centralization and the individual freedom of the Industrial Revolution that the bottom-left countries started moving decidedly toward the upper right. In a free society, income disparity is typically a sign of efficiency, i.e., maximizing, channeling, and organizing human potential and innovation effectively (thus a subsequent boost to life expectancy).
This isn’t to say that the current extent of income disparity is inevitable, or that all forms of such disparity are signs of efficiency, but overall, you cannot have steady growth without a steady improvement of allocation, and you cannot maximize allocation improvement without allowing for inequality in economic rewards.
Don’t get me wrong. I share Rosling’s optimistic outlook about the future. I do think we can close the gap between “the West and the rest.” It is indeed possible and desirable that we get most people to the healthy-wealthy corner of Rosling’s chart.
However, I don’t think we can accomplish this if we see economic inequality as an evil or a hindrance to our productivity. It is in the countries that view it as such that we consistently find resistance to upper-right movement.
It is not, as Rosling says, despite income disparity that prosperity has exploded; it is in part because freedom-loving people stopped fearing it. We began living lives of individual invention and personal risk rather than cowering beneath crippling insulation and slavish submission.
It is only by allowing for life to happen that we can hope for life to improve.
Bryan Caplan has some interesting thoughts on weird people and their kids over at EconLog. The discussion centers around whether children tend to reflect their parents’ level of “weirdness.”
As far as what he means by “weird,” Caplan leaves the door open to plenty of quirky traits, including “jokiness,” libertarianism, or a mere “fascination with role-playing games.”
Here is the initial premise:
…[S]uppose that the parent-child correlation on the trait you picked is exactly zero. Then no matter what you’re like, you should expect your kids to be at the 50th percentile. If you’re normal, that’s a pretty good deal; at least on average, your kids will be just like you. But the weirder you are, the less your kids will typically resemble you. Even if you’re at the 95th, 99th or 99.99th percentile, you can expect your kids to be perfectly average. In a world of zero parent-child correlation, weird people have little in common with their children. (emphasis added)
After providing some evidence for these claims, Caplan offers the following analysis:
Now let’s look at these facts like a mad economist. There are two ways to surround yourself with people like you. One is to meet them; the other is to make them. If you’re average, meeting people like yourself is easy; people like you are everywhere. If you’re weird, though, meeting people like yourself is hard; people like you are few and far between. But fortunately, as the parent-child correlation rises, weirdos’ odds of making people like themselves get better and better. This is especially true if the parent-child correlation largely reflects nature rather than nurture, because you won’t have to ride your kids to emulate you; they’ll do it on their own initiative. (emphasis added)
As your weirdness increases, so does your incentive to have kids. If you like football and American Idol, you’re never really alone. You don’t need to build a Xanadu for yourself. But if you’re a lonely misfit, oddball, freak, or weirdo, then find a like-minded Read the rest of this entry »
What if misery was a product?” asks June Arunga.
“Assume for an instant that it is one of Africa’s exports, and that the money sent to relieve it by many well-wishing humanitarians is a form of capital. The amount of capital expended to purchase this product makes it as great an export — if not greater — than Nigeria’s oil or Congo’s gems.”
Arunga covers a few specific areas related to the ineffectiveness of foreign aid, but her main concern seems to be this:
The scary thing for me might be that [foreign aid is] not merely ineffective, but that it is in itself a form of investment in misery…It is a choice to invest in pain and suffering rather than in aspiration and human potential…It is a choice between on the one hand, a blinding pessimism, and on the other hand, an illuminating optimism. It is a choice between denial and acknowledgement of human potential.
Arunga provides a few scenarios to illustrate how aid proponents typically approach Africa’s downtrodden, focusing primarily on Read the rest of this entry »