Posts Tagged failure

Occupy Yourselves: Targeting the Evil, Greedy 100%

The attitudes and actions of the Occupy Wall Street protesters have inspired many others to join the streets in outrage, leaving those of us at home to wonder what the point of it all may be.

And let me assure you: there is indeed a point.

I’ve been struck by the moral arrogance that permeates the crowds — a sort of pretentious, self-absorbed judgmentalism, self-anointed to invade the souls of the rich and expose their moral failings. Such supposed vice, we are told, must be stopped, and it is these brave oracles of materialism and greed who shall stand in its way.

There are, of course, a few problems with this. One is that “ending corporate greed” requires privy knowledge of who is greedy and who is not. We can certainly trust the discernment of the guy smoking pot in the sleeping bag next to the sewer drain, but even if he gets it right, how might we convince Mr. Fat-Cat Richiebottoms to alter his moral outlook?

“Just take his money away,” they’ll say.

Yet if I threw Billy Goodheart’s “Everyone is greedy but me!” sign in the garbage, my hunch is that his ability to produce quality picketing art would only improve. There he’d be, the very next day, with the same attitudes, the same platitudes, and the same distasteful propensity to blame the Man.

Reality alert: You cannot change the world by blaming others, and you cannot change moral behavior by yelling.

With particular precision, David Brooks sums up the issue nicely:

If there is a core theme to the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is that the virtuous 99 percent of society is being cheated by the richest and greediest 1 percent. This is a theme that allows the people in the 99 percent to think very highly of themselves. All their problems are caused by the nefarious elite.

And problems do abound. Yes, there are structural issues with the status quo. Yes, corporatism is out of control (which is not the same as “capitalism,” mind you). Yes, banks and businesses were/are reckless. Yes, people were/are greedy. You woke up on the right planet.

The question is, “What can we do about it?”

In a free society, one thing we can control is our own lives. If we don’t want to be beholden to greedy misers or enslaved to high-interest credit cards, we can say “no.” If we don’t want to be tied to 10 years of student-loan debt that we can’t afford, we can go to a trade school or demonstrate some basic upfront frugality. If we’re looking for our dream job and can’t find it, we can continue to increase our skills and standing, no matter how frustrating the process may be.

If, however, we are trying to “be the change we want to see in the world” by sleeping in a gutter for weeks on end, we should be prepared to receive our prize.

What we need is what John Witherspoon once called a “return to duty” — an introspective moment that leads us to “hearken the rod” rather than disdain it, to return to Read the rest of this entry »

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Responding to Economics Through Wonder, Heartbreak, and Hope

We need to be careful when discussing the intersection of economics and religion, lest we improperly conflate the two or segregate them altogether.

One goal of this blog has been to push toward achieving and discovering the proper approach: to determine the real questions Christians should be asking and proceed to tackle them head on. Far too often our debased disposition gets the best of us and we approach such matters legalistically and/or materialistically, as if there is a sanctified list of dos and don’ts for general economic activity paired with Biblical prices, a God-ordained wage, and an easily discernable end-game equilibrium.

Such an approach impacts our entire view of value — both temporary and eternal — and in turn, is likely to distort our personal economic decisionmaking, our responses to basic economic activity, and our overall attitude and orientation toward the economic sphere at large. This is likely to also impact our view of God, whether directly or indirectly.

Our discussion needs to press toward a deeper tension, and in a recent piece at Cardus, Gideon Strauss lays forth the types of questions that will challenge us toward getting there. Although the piece is geared toward “business leaders” — the likes of which are certainly a relevant audience — the questions therein also apply to your average minimum-wage worker (or whoever else).

Indeed, if Christians did so much as simply struggle with these types of questions from the very beginnings of their work experiences, we could probably get more things right earlier (and probably get a lot more true “business leaders” overall). Our answers will surely bring disagreement, but I’ll leave that for other discussions. For now, I would simply submit that we be attentive to respond to each with a transformed mind.

To frame his approach, Strauss organizes the questions under three groupings, each of which center around human responses to God: questions inspired by wonder, heartbreak, and hope. These, Strauss says, “we may ask of a particular business or market, or a national economy, or perhaps even, of the global economic order.”

Here’s the rationale for each: 

[#1] I believe that: The whole world of making products, providing services, buying and selling, building companies, establishing relationships of trade—marketplaces filled with businesses and their customers—can be a vibrant expression of what it means to be human in God’s wonderful creation.

[#2] At the same time, given the fractured state of this world, our economic lives are often a source of heartbreak: when poverty overwhelms us; when we cannot find work, or make payroll; when our businesses fail, or governments make it hard to do business; or, when we slavishly devote ourselves to the hunt of money and discover at the end of our pursuit that all we have does not matter.

[#3] And yet, part of the good news that crested over the horizon at Easter is that also this vital but broken part of our lives is a theatre of hope: despite the evil and suffering that can make human life a misery, the original promise of business activity and market relationships is being redeemed, and we can work with courage, lead with love, and expect our efforts to bear fruit of very long-lasting value. (emphasis mine)

I encourage you to contemplate each and read his responses and explanations. For all ye lazy ones (or simply for a teaser), the main questions are listed 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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Baby Can Stand: A Lesson in Empowerment, Risk, and Reward

Josiah, Barbaric YawpMy eight-month-old son has always been extremely forceful about pushing the limits of his physical capacity. With each new skill he has learned — whether rolling, sitting, or scooting — he has immediately set his sights on pursuing the next thing. (At a mere three weeks of age he was able to lift up his head completely on his own.)

Over the past week he has learned a new skill: standing.

He can’t stand independently, but as with every previous pursuit, he certainly thinks he can. He pulls himself up on anything he can find — our couch, his toys, his crib, whatever — and each time he is successful, his eyes light up, his muscles flex, and his voice sounds out what Walt Whitman would surely call a barbaric yawp.

He is empowered. After all of his struggling, all of his toiling, and all of his striving, his muscles are finally ready to support his body sufficiently.

But alas, standing is not good enough. Within minutes he moves away from his object of security toward the nearest open space. Slowly and intentionally, he begins to test the unknown, moving one hand away from his support until finally falling to the floor with a resounding thud.

This type of failure is continuous, but it does not discourage him. Within seconds, he pulls himself up and once again pushes away from his support, fighting feverishly to Read the rest of this entry »

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The Ultimate Resource: Investing in Human Potential

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.”

This comes from a speech by Arunga at a recent event sponsored by The Economist. I highly recommend watching the video in full (HT).




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 »

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Banking on Failure: Is Financial Speculation Moral?

I came across this video the other day via Jeffrey Tucker.

Click the above image to watch the video on the BBC website.

In the video, BBC’s Justin Rowlatt spends the day with financial speculator Hugh Hendry in order to, as the BBC website states, “find out whether public unpopularity of speculators is well-founded.”

Hedge funds are indeed pretty unpopular, and always have been, but this interview is particularly timely in that Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has recently been quite outspoken in criticizing financial speculators and blaming them for Greece’s many economic woes.

In the video, Rowlatt lobs the following Papandreou quote Read the rest of this entry »

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