Category: Economics

socialmobility-121One of the most important important socio-economic factors in America is also one of the least talked about: social mobility.

Social mobility is the ability of an individual or family to improve (or lower) their economic status. The two main types of social mobility are intergenerational (i.e., a person is better off than their parents or grandparents) or intragenerational (i.e., income changes within a person or group’s lifetime). While there is no truly adequate gauge to measure such opportunities, we can get a fair estimate based on measurements of social mobility.

And by that measure, African Americans are fairing poorly. The Brookings Institute recently highlighted three disturbing facts about the social mobility of black Americans:

This post is part of a symposium on vocation between the Patheos Faith and Work Channel and the Patheos Evangelical Channel, and originally appeared at the Oikonomia blog, a resource from the Acton Institute on faith, work, and economics.

3218139011_6c328939cb_bWe’ve seen a renewed focus among Christians on the deeper value, meaning, and significance of our daily work, leading to lots of reflection on how we might “find God in the workplace.” As a result, Christians are becoming ever more attentive to things like vocation and calling, looking for transcendent purpose and value in the world of work, beyond simply funding missionaries or evangelizing co-workers.

Yet for those of us who find ourselves in seasons or careers that seem at odds with our vocation, such revelation can only add to our frustration. “If God has placed a calling on my life in the realm of business, what am I doing here?” we ask. We read or hear stories from stock brokers, garbage collectors, artists, and academics who feel “called by God” to their particular stations, yet when we look our own position, we feel and seenothing of significance. What gives?

If these are questions you’re wrestling with, God may indeed be in the process of moving you on to something else; if so, the process of uncovering those next steps will involve plenty of prayer, counsel, discernment, prudence, and wisdom (a topic for another day). But he may be calling you to simply endure and continue right where you are. In either case, the question remains: How can we persevere in the here and now? (more…)

vox-inequalityImagine that the wealth of both the poorest and richest Americans were to double overnight (and the middle class wealth stayed the same). Would the poor be better off? Most of us would agree they would be. But those obsessed with income and wealth inequality would fret that the poor were in even worse shape than before since inequality just got much, much worse.

The difference in opinion is based on our choice of perspective. If you care about the only inequality that matters (consumption inequality) then you’d cheer that people had more income to increase their consumption. But those concerned with the relative measure of income and wealth would (correctly) note that what bothers them merely got worse. The poor are richer, sure, but the rich got richer too and that’s. . . unfair? (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, January 14, 2015

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce.” –Proverbs 3:9

In his latest video, Dan Stevers highlights the importance of giving God our first and our best, focusing mostly on the story of Cain and Abel. “The concept of firstfruits extends to every aspect of our lives,” he writes. “God doesn’t accept leftovers; God must be first.”

The video contains excerpts from Robert Morris’ popular book, The Blessed Life: Unlocking the Rewards of Generous Living, which is a stirring exploration of the power of generosity. In the book itself, Morris begins the first chapter by explaining that the “principle of firstfruits” is really the key to understanding Christian stewardship as a whole:

The principle of the firstfruits is very, very powerful. I have heard it said that any first thing given is never lost, and any first thing not given is always lost. In other words, what we give to God, we don’t lose because God redeems it for us. But what we withhold from God, we will lose. Jesus echoed this principle when He said: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matt. 16:25, NIV).

The first belongs to God. We find this principle all through God’s Word. We can give God the first of our time. We can give Him the first of our finances. That’s what tithing really is—giving our first to God. It’s saying, “God, I’m going to give you first and trust You to redeem the rest”…The first portion is the redemptive portion. In other words, when the first portion is given to God, the rest is redeemed.


Blog author: dpahman
Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Not Abba Pistamon

Today at Ethika Politika, I examine some ancient economic wisdom from one of the desert fathers: Abba Pistamon. Far from the newest of Nintendo’s Pokemon monsters (despite the sound of his name), Abba Pistamon was one of the first Christian monks. The dialogue between him and an unnamed brother that I examine from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers has a lot to say about production, labor, profit, and exchange.

I write,

Far from a gnostic allergy to any involvement with the material world, Abba Pistamon acknowledges the good of production and exchange, appealing to past precedent of other revered monks before him (“Abba Sisois and others”). Commerce, he says, was common. In fact, according to the size and expansive enterprise of ancient monastic communities, we can say that his assessment is more than anecdotal. In ancient Christian sources, contempt for the merchant and trader is common, but the reality is more complicated. Sometimes traders and merchants went by a more respectable name: monks. We should not be surprised, then, that Abba Pistamon displays a certain natural business sense. But he does not stop at the merely economic aspects of production and exchange.


World of Warcraft and Population Control

World of Warcraft’s latest expansion: Warlords of Draenor

You may have heard of the popular computer game World of Warcraft (WoW), which recently released its fifth expansion, which adds more quests, dungeons, and other content, in November. WoW has over 10 million players and there are few signs of this slowing down, which is impressive for a game originally released in 2004. What you might not have known is that there are complex economic and social structures in place everywhere in the game. But do these systems mirror real life in any meaningful way? I’d argue that making profit in WoW’s auction house reflects on one’s understanding of a free market since it employs similar principles. One Manhattan College professor recently likened playing WoW to a religious experience since it “tests a person’s’ ethics and values, and also gets them to think about things like environmentalism and moral issues.” I’m not sure if I’d attend a WoW church service, but the game is a great example of a virtual economy and being kind (or unkind) to your neighbor. (more…)

money-heartI think it is important to keep in mind that it is not the world of economics that is critical to human life on earth. When I left the field of economics for what I still believe to be a more important life agenda, it was because I regarded economics as driving cross-country at 80 mph with my eyes firmly fixed on the rear-view mirror.

We do, in fact, live in a world defined by economic and political realities, just as a fish lives in water. But that economic world has existed for less than 300 years and it will not last forever. When we talk of poverty or the benefits of living above poverty, it’s easy to think that the miseries of poverty are true miseries. But that misery is often only the economic part of the story. Poverty of mind, of person, and, worst, of soul are the true poverties. Comfortable affluence addresses the less important parts of being human.

I wrote my book, Integrated Justice and Equality, to rebuke the current supremacy of the trendy idea about income redistribution. But is income really the point of life? If I had not focused on biblical integration, my work would have just been a commentary on economic well-being without an anchor. (more…)

“Stewardship is far more than the handling of our money. Stewardship is the handling of life, and time, and destiny.” –Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef

Faithful in All God's HouseStewardship as a term is tossed around rather widely and routinely, and even (or especially) in church settings, its presumed definition is often surprisingly narrow. Though often used in reference to tithing, fundraising, or financial management (and rightly so), we mustn’t forget that at a more basic level, stewardship is simply about our management of God’s house. All of his house.

“God makes man the master of his temporal household,” write Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef in Faithful in All God’s House. “Like all stewards, man is not the owner. He is the overseer…The quality of stewardship depends on obedience to the Master’s will.”

As Evan Koons learns in Episode 1 of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, our various earthly economies— or the “modes of operation that God has designed us to work within” — include our families, jobs, governments, schools, charities, and institutions. Each area has its own distinct role, its own distinct “sound,” its own mode of operation. But each was meant to played in harmony with others. God calls us to be stewards across all of life, and assuming that responsibility begins with expanding our imaginations.

Over at Oikonomia, the Acton Institute’s new blog at the Patheos Faith and Work Channel, the first chapter of Faithful in All God’s House is offered in full, helping lay a basic foundation on how we might consider the reach of these things. (more…)

_70189222_464_unemployedSeries Note: Jobs are one of the most important aspects of a morally functioning economy. They help us serve the needs of our neighbors and lead to human flourishing both for the individual and for communities. Conversely, not having a job can adversely affect spiritual and psychological well-being of individuals and families. Because unemployment is a spiritual problem, Christians in America need to understand and be aware of the monthly data on employment. Each month highlight the latest numbers we need to know (see also: What Christians Should Know About Unemployment).

Positive news is marked with the plus sign (+) while negative employment data is marked with a minus sign (-). No significant change is marked by (NC).

heart-exchangeThe subject of contracts is not particularly romantic, which is part of the reason I’d like to talk about contracts—and how we might reach beyond them.

In some ways, we’ve come to overly ignore, downplay, or disregard contracts. Across the world, we see grandmaster politicians and planners trying to impose various “solutions” with the flicks of their wands, paying little attention to core features like trust and respect for property rights. Here in America, our government is increasingly bent on diluting or subverting our most fundamental agreements, whether between husband and wife or foreclosed Billy and his bank.

In other ways, however, we are excessively contract-minded, particularly when it enables us to slack off or lead predictable, controllable lives. We want guarantees to ensure the maximum reward for the minimum amount of work. We want legislation that protects our jobs and locks in our wages and retirement. We want to put in our 40, return to our couches, grab one from the cooler, and say, “that’s that.” We want to give our effort insofar as we receive our due, insulating ourselves from risk, sacrifice, and discomfort wherever possible.  (more…)