Posts Tagged potential

Have Faith in America: Calvin Coolidge on Restoring Confidence

Calvin CoolidgePresident Obama has been re-elected, and as many commentators point out, he faces a nation even more divided than when he took office.

Over at the Acton Institute, I contemplate how President Obama might go about reuniting the country, using President Calvin Coolidge’s famous speech, “Have Faith in Massachusetts,” as an example:

I’m currently reading President Calvin Coolidge’s autobiography, and in it, he describes a situation quite similar to our own. In the 1910s, Coolidge was a state senator in Hampshire County, Massachusetts, yet even in his local community, he witnessed severe conflict and division among his fellow citizens, including the now-famous “Bread and Roses” strike and the accelerating split in the Republican Party toward Teddy Roosevelt’s emerging progressivism

…It would be January of 1914 that Coolidge was sworn in as President of the Massachusetts Senate. He would now have a louder voice, along with more opportunity to change things: to face the tide of radicalism and class warfare and restore confidence and unity in the Commonwealth.

Coolidge responded by giving an inauguration speech for the ages (now known as “Have Faith in Massachusetts”), one that downplayed the power of government as the primary agent of cultural and economic change, avoided divisive distinctions of class, gender, or race, and instead elevated the redemptive, restorative power and potential of the human spirit. Instead of promoting a zero-sum view of human engagement, Coolidge emphasized and romanticized the type of cooperation and collaboration that the market provides and prosperity demands.

Here’s a sample of the speech:

This Commonwealth is one. We are all members of one body. The welfare of the weakest and the welfare of the most powerful are inseparably bound together. Industry cannot flourish if labor languish. Transportation cannot prosper if manufactures decline. The general welfare cannot be provided for in any one act, but it is well to remember that the benefit of one is the benefit of all, and the neglect of one is the Read the rest of this entry »

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Population Control, Human Dignity and Economic Development

I recently argued that economic issues and social issues are inseparable, noting that our philosophies of life and ultimate visions of humanity impact all areas and, thus, should be applied consistently. Authentic human flourishing is about much more than mere “choice,” economic or otherwise.

In a new PovertyCure video, development economist Carroll Ríos de Rodríguez affirms this point, explaining how a distorted view of human life and human dignity can ultimately inhibit an area like economic development.


As Rodriguez says, the solution to poverty is not eliminating the poor. The solution is to free people toward pursuing their life-giving potential. There’s a reason economist Julian Simon called humans the “ultimate resource.”

Portraying humans as leeches, drainers and destroyers, as so many population-control “experts” and top-down economic planners do, will only lead to pseudo-solutions misaligned and ultimately destructive to the human person, whether spiritually, in the case of economic control and dependency, or physically, in the case of widespread abortion and mechanical “sex Read the rest of this entry »

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Instagram, Innovation, and the Almighty Government 8 Ball

Instagram, Government 8 BallThe makers of Instagram, a popular iPhone photo-sharing app, recently sold their company to Facebook for $1 billion. The company was founded a mere 18 months ago by a pair of twentysomethings. It has only 12 employees and brings in no revenue. No big deal.

This week at Values and Capitalism, I look at the story through a broader lens, pondering the implications of such sudden, unexpected technological changes and successes, particularly on those who think prosperity comes from creating five/ten/twenty-year plans to boost Industry/Company/Product X.

Here’s an excerpt:

The problem for the predictors and planners is that despite whatever economic or moral arguments they so cunningly concoct to justify shoving widgets X, Y and Z down our throats, one big, stubborn, complicating reality persists: as innovation continues, needs and desires change.

You can shake the Almighty Government Eight Ball all day long, but even if you get it right and are able to calculate some end-game net profitability for artificially propping up Failing Company X or Greenie Wizard Lab Y, who knows if such a plan will stay workable or cost-effective by tomorrow? Obama can toot the Subsidize Wind Farms horn till the ears of his great grandchildren are bleeding with debt, but what happens when Engineer Suzie wakes up the next morning with an idea for a cheaper, greener, more effective solution? Sorry Suzie, but we’ve already rolled the dice.

Yet this, I argue, is more than just an economic argument:

If you haven’t noticed, this is a clear economic problem (e.g. ethanol), yet coming at it from that angle will be unlikely to influence many progressives, whose positions, whether they admit it or not, rest mostly on rash-and-puffy moral superiority and a quest for control (e.g. “Smart Cars contribute to the common good, not your cute little digital Polaroids”). I’ll save those arguments for another day, because within the economic argument against this contorted game of Pick Your Favorites lies a different moral message about the way we view humans and human potential.

In short: Needs and desires change because people change.

To assume that the government can successfully pick winners and losers economically—whether with products, business or entire industries—is to assume that we humans live, or want to live, in a static world filled with static individuals who conceive of themselves in static terms. We will always buy what we currently buy, know what we currently know and pursue absolutely nothing of real value unless ole Goodie Government tells us otherwise.

But that’s not the way humans are, or, at the very least, that’s not what we were intended to be.

As much as folks might want to wield our semi-free economy toward constructing temples to Gaia and propping up eat-your-veggies initiatives, the market is or should primarily be about facilitating human engagement and human interaction. Such facilitation is integral to empowering human vocation, which should primarily informed by God and any on-the-ground cultural, social and religious institutions. All those select progressive “moral” causes might be fine-and-dandy as individual vocations in individual markets on any individual day of the year, but who is to say they are better or more desirable than innovating a new way to use our smartphones? (Don’t answer that, Joe Biden.)

To read the full post, click here.

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Population Bloom: We Are Not Bags of Garbage

David Beckham, Victoria Beckham, family, populationDavid and Victoria Beckham recently had a baby — their fourth, to be exact — and although I’m not typically one for celebrity news, The Observer ran an article condemning the couple as “irresponsible” and  “selfish” for their excessive family building. Have these people ever watched TLC?

The article illuminates a primary feature of progressivism commonly critiqued on this blog: Without proper “guidance” from an all-knowing Computer State, humanity is a virus.

This week at Ethika Politika, I write in their defense, spending much of my time summarizing the morbid views of such misanthropes:

Such claims are not new. Indeed, they have been around for as long as we’ve managed to doubt our own value, promise, and potential (I’m looking at you, Mr. Caveman), as well as that of others (and you, Peter Singer.)

For Thomas Malthus, the eighteenth-century scholar and notoriously wrong “population expert,” humans were(/are) dead-set on creating the same world that Mr. Ross fears — one with too many bodies, not enough food, and an existence “condemned to a perpetual oscillation between happiness and misery.” Tough luck.

For Paul Ehrlich, the more recent and more embarrassingly wrong “scholar” of population doom, humans are a “cancer” that, without forceful (er, “enlightened”) population control, will naturally tend toward catastrophe and mass starvation. If left to our own devices — via petty ole “freedom,” of course — we unruly beasts will feast and gorge and reproduce ourselves into an oblivion. For Ehrlich, the bulk of humanity can only be saved (or “sustained”) if we initiate targeted starvation, abortion, and sterilization of the unenlightened. These hapless folks — the chosen ones — must pay the price for humanity’s ultimate transgression: existence.

Under this vision, it is only logical that disdain be dumped on those who create new life. Our procreation decisions become nothing more than strategic factors in a number game of the “enlightened”:

Such a view assumes us to be reckless monsters, hopeless without servile submission to the robotism of an all-knowing Computer State. We are movers and users and Read the rest of this entry »

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Foreign Aid and Dependency: A System of Economic Slavery

PovertyCure recently released a marvelous video promoting their refreshing approach to economic (and human) transformation. As the video states, “It’s time to ask, ‘What causes wealth?’”

Watch the video here (HT):

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.

The PovertyCure web site also echoes a view of human potential similar to that which is often promoted on this blog:

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 »

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Instruments of Righteousness: Leveraging Human Nature through Capitalism

Apostle Paul, Rembrandt

The Apostle Paul recognized human depravity, but he also saw redemption.

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:

  1. Humans are flawed but perfectible (a la Jean-Jacques Rouseeau and Karl Marx).
  2. Humans are flawed and cannot change (a la Thomas Hobbes and Bernard Mandeville).
  3. 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 »

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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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Orphanages in America: Mourning the Loss of Community Impetus

Home Away From Home: The Forgotten History of Orphanages by Richard B. McKenzieIn modern-day America, orphanages are a thing of the past. Due to the emergence of foster care, the expansion of welfare, and an overall increase in life expectancy, orphanages are now seen to be largely unnecessary.

But there’s another reason for their demise which typically supersedes the rest: People tend to think that orphanages are bad.

Indeed, from Oliver Twist to Little Orphan Annie, we have long been bombarded by images of the lonely child living in cramped quarters with little to eat and even less to read. The masters are cruel, the children are loathsome, and the food is inedible.

But “not so” — or not necessarily so — says Richard B. McKenzie, editor of a recent collection of essays titled Home Away From Home: The Forgotten History of Orphanages. In the collection, McKenzie attempts to inform our common perceptions of orphanages by offering us a glimpse into what the orphanage life was really like.

The conclusion? Sometimes Dickensian, sometimes not. In either case, the McKenzian solution is a bit more cautious than we’re used to.

To build the collection, McKenzie assembled a number of academics to condense their works into more “manageable” chapters. As for McKenzie himself, he promotes a positive view of orphanages, particularly because he himself had a positive experience growing up in one.

“Critics of orphanages stress what the children there did not have.” McKenzie says. “Those of us who were there have a different perspective. We were, and remain, able to draw comparisons between what we had at The Home with what we would have had.”

But although McKenzie has his own opinions on the personal and socio-political benefits of orphanages, he has already edited a volume on that subject. Instead, this book is intended to bring clarity to a forgotten past. He is not trying to Read the rest of this entry »

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Deny Yourself: The Upside-Down Economics of Christianity

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane by Sebastiano Conca (1746)

Many have dismissed Christianity by claiming it is based in an ideology of pure selflessness — one in which the truly devoted Christian is destined to a life of pain, poverty, and abandonment. Given how many actual Christians assume this perspective, such a view is understandable. But although the Bible promotes selflessness on many levels, the holistic truth about what God intends for us is a bit more nuanced.

The key to overcoming this confusion is a recognition of the difference between poorly aligned and properly aligned self-interest.

Jesus provides the clearest explanation of these matters in Matthew 16:24-28:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Jesus then illuminates the profit motive behind it all:

…”For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

As counterintuitive as it may appear in natural terms, the choice to “lose your life” and follow Jesus provides the ultimate value. But although the new covenant is not a zero-sum game, we must remember to keep our intentions in selfless mode. That’s the tricky part. We must deny ourselves even while doing so will be in our best interest.

This is a challenge, because we are natural beings prone to natural inclinations. Even when we center our hearts and minds around the Word of God, we are constantly tempted to act according to Read the rest of this entry »

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Supported by Jehovah: Why We Named Our Son Josiah

Josiah Daniel Sunde

Our beautiful boy: Josiah Daniel SundeI’ve only been a parent for a short time, but I've already been asked the following question several times:“What does it feel like to bring a child into today’s society? The economy is crumbling, culture is deteriorating, and the End Times are upon us. Doesn’t it concern you to know that you're bringing your child into such terrible a world?”Let’s ignore for the moment that modern society is pretty great on a number of levels, because the question isn’t really about modern society but about the way we perceive humanity and its role in this world.Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of evil in the world — indeed there always has been — but if spreading the Gospel is the solution to the world’s woes, don’t we need people to do that?After all, since the beginning of time, God ordained humans to steward and rule over His creation. Doesn’t this mean that our children can provide immense value to a dark world? I understand that we should be concerned for our children’s safety and well-being, but raising Godly people is one of the greatest ways we can maximize both earthly and heavenly potential.It was within this context that we decided to name our son Josiah.You may be thinking that name selection is a pretty frivolous way to go about changing the world, but this was an initial step toward instilling a proper foundation in our child. One day he will probably wonder why we named him Josiah, and we wanted to have an answer that would go beyond matters of mere aesthetics and social mobility. We wanted to have an answer that he could identify with and apply to his relationship with God and the world around him.Plus, throughout the Bible God shows us time and time again how our names can largely impact our identities. God changed Abram’s name (“exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of a multitude”) to signify their covenant. He changed Jacob’s name to Israel to identify Jacob’s conversion from “supplanter” to “having power with God.” He changed Simon’s name (“God has heard”) to Peter (“rock”) to remind him of his responsibility to build the Church.I am not saying that parents can replace God’s authoritative power, but we are supposed to help our children find their identities, which includes helping them find God.King Josiah rediscovers the Torah.

For those who don’t know, Josiah was the 19th king of Judah, and was unique among the other kings in the extent to which He restored God’s law in the land. On the surface this may seem like a simple story, but Josiah did not begin his reign in the best of circumstances.

Josiah’s grandfather, King Manassah, had reversed all of the spiritual gains made by his father King Hezekiah. Manassah was absorbed in idolatry and witchcraft, and eventually sacrificed his own son on an altar of fire. After Manassah’s death, his son Amon (Josiah’s father) reigned in a similar fashion — building temples to Baal, worshipping idols, and continuing to “forsake the Lord” as 2 Kings describes it. After reigning for only two years, Amon was assassinated by his own servants, leaving his son Josiah to assume the kingship at only eight years of age.

In short, the Kingdom of Judah had backslidden into 57 years of spiritual adultery. When Josiah became king, he was immediately confronted with a choice that most children aren’t faced with — he could continue to perpetuate the status quo of idolatry and human sacrifice (i.e. the easy route), or he could abandon everything he knew and return to worship of the one true God — Jehovah.

For reasons related to his fear of the Lord, Josiah chose the latter. By the age of eighteen, Josiah had commissioned the priests to restore the temple to its proper place, after which he rediscovered the Book of the Law (either the Torah or the Book of Deuteronomy). Upon hearing his secretary read it out loud, Josiah was dismayed by the implications.

2 Kings 22:11 describes the incident in detail:

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: “Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.

In other words, Josiah immediately had faith in the Word of God, and by applying it to the culture around him he realized how disobedient and profane God’s people had become. Remember that in this moment Josiah is hearing God’s Word for the first time and he simply believes it right away. Given how countercultural such stringent laws would be at that time, the audacity and immediacy of his faith is incredibly inspiring to me.

It reminds me of what Abraham talks about in Jesus’ parable of Lazureus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31). When the rich man is burning in Hades, he begs Abraham to let him go back to earth and warn his family against continuing their wrongdoing. Abraham responds by saying they need no more warning than what they already have at their disposal.

“They have Moses and the Prophets,” Abraham says. “Let them listen to them.”

Josiah didn’t have the privilege of a Christian (or Jewish) upbringing. He wasn’t the recipient of “proper parenting.” He wasn’t taught to memorize Bible verses or tithe from his paycheck. He didn’t go to youth group every Sunday or attend summer camp revival services.

After all, his father was a pagan.

But when Josiah was confronted with God’s word, he simply knew it to be true. From a young age, he sought and pursued God despite his cultural disposition and “natural inclinations.” He recognized evil and realized that living righteously required faith in God and a holistic rejection of the world as he knew it.

After this realization, Josiah took many actions to reverse the wrongs of his forefathers. He restored the Temple, re-instituted the Law, destroyed the “high places” of idol worship and prostitution, and presided over the first Passover since the days of Samuel.

We can all talk the talk and say we love the Lord, but when Josiah heard God’s voice, he took immediate and extreme action. He really believed that God was true to His word.

This is what the Lord had to say to Josiah:

Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD. Therefore I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.

The Hebrew translation of Josiah is “Jehovah will support,” and from the above passage it is evident God was indeed backing Josiah’s decisions. Covenants are two-way deals, and Josiah was supported by Jehovah because he made the choice to enter into relationship with God, even when the earthly systems of his day were going the opposite way.

That is what I want for my son. I don’t want him to have the fatherless childhood Josiah had, and I will try my best to protect him from the rampant idolatry of this world. But my prayer for him is that he discovers an earnest and sincere devotion for the one true God — one that perseveres the wickedness that will inevitably surround him. My son may have been born into a culture of corruption and deceit, but it can’t be any worse than the one King Josiah was confronted with.

As my wife and I continue to shepherd him toward adulthood, we will continue to pray and trust that our son will meet God intimately and realize the value that Jehovah can bring to a fallen world.

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