Category: Economics

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, April 2, 2015
By

food-cost1While it may not seem like it when you’re standing at the checkout line at the grocery store, food is cheaper now that it was half a century ago.

“We are purchasing more food for less money, and we are purchasing our food for less of our income,” says Annette Clauson, an agricultural economist. “This is a good thing, because we have income to purchase other things.”

A recent report published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows how the average share of per capita income spent on food fell from 17.5 percent in 1960 to 9.9 percent in 2013.

thr-income-spent-on-food_custom-ed63b133b0b3914191e299c179a61271caa0db71-s1400-c85

A reduction of 7.6 percent over 50 years may sound trivial, so let’s examine how it would affect an average person.
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economic decisionIf there’s one area of the faith-work conversation that’s lacking in exploration and introspection, it’s the role of spiritual discernment in the day-to-day decisions of economic life.

It’s one thing to orient one’s heart and mind around the big picture of vocation and stewardship — no small feat, to be sure — but if economics is about the intersection of knowledge and human action, what does it mean to serve a God whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts? Before and beyond our questions about ethics and meaning and vocation (“is my work moral?”; “does it have meaning?”; “what am I called to do?”) remains the basic question of obedience.

How does the Gospel transform our hearts and minds and how does that process transform our economic action? How do we make sure we’re putting obedience before sacrifice in all that we do? How do we hear the Holy Spirit minute-by-minute, day-by-day, and how does that impact the ideas we have, the products we conceive, the prices we set, the relationships we build, and the trades and investments we make?

I was reminded of this recently upon reading an essay on discernment by Peter Kreeft. Although he doesn’t speak directly to economic matters, Kreeft does a nice job of connecting the earthly with the transcendent, cautioning us against “emphasizing Christ’s divinity at the expense of his humanity or his humanity at the expense of his divinity,” or likewise, “his divine sovereignty at the expense of free will or free will at the expense of divine sovereignty.” Spiritual discernment ought not descend into some kind of peculiar escapism, but rather, it must engage with the natural world, leverage the gifts and the resources God has given us, and ultimately bear fruit for the good of the city and for the life of the world. (more…)

When we hear about church “outreach ministries,” we often think of food pantries, homeless shelters, and community events. But while these can be powerful channels for service, many churches are beginning to look for new ways to empower individuals more holistically.

For some, this means abandoning traditional charity altogether, focusing their ministry more directly around recognizing the gifts and strengths of others. For others, like Evangel Ministries in Detroit, it involves a mix of many things, but with a particular emphasis on the power of entrepreneurship to transform lives and communities.

Hear their story here, in a video produced by Made to Flourish:

For Evangel, it’s not just about meeting immediate needs through traditional channels, but about teaching work skills and financial literacy, teaching congregants on the details of permitting, and even in some cases providing investment capital for particular businesses. (more…)

Bob Geldof

Bob Geldof

Good story in the Wall Street Journal today about rocker-activist Bob Geldof and how he’s spearheading a push by private-equity firms into Ethiopia to effect a “historic shift from aid to trade.” Investments are flowing into private sector projects such as a flower farm, a juice company, pipeline building and commodity exchanges.

A number of high-profile investors have recently shown up here. KKR & Co., the New York-based private-equity firm, last summer bought control of a rose farm, Afriflora, for about $200 million, its first investment in Africa. Blackstone Group plans to build a $1.35 billion pipeline to bring gasoline to the capital, Addis Ababa. Hedge-fund manager Paul Tudor Jones is backing a $2 billion geothermal power project.

The investors are following in the footsteps of Irish punk rock singer turned activist Bob Geldof, whose Live Aid concerts 30 years ago this summer raised about $145 million for the victims of a devastating Ethiopian famine. Mr. Geldof now chairs 8 Miles LLP, a London-based private-equity firm that invests in Ethiopia. 8 Miles raised a $200 million fund in 2012; Mr. Geldof put in a few hundred thousand dollars. “They don’t have to die in vast numbers before we pay attention,” Mr. Geldof said in an interview. “The potential rewards in Africa are far greater than anywhere else.”

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smile-curveThe smile curve is an idea came from the computer industry, but it applies broadly. It’s a recognition, in graph form, that there is good money to be made (or more value to be added) in research and development, and, at the other end, in marketing and retailing.

It’s also a recognition that there is almost no profit to be made, except in high volumes, in the middle areas of manufacturing (assembly or shipping). This has hurt the American middle class because we used to be a manufacturing nation. Yet today, even where manufacturing is strong, it does not usually pay well.

It’s one reason so much factory work has gone overseas (especially textiles and assembly). In the early stages of a product, there is good money in the middle, but when it becomes common to make a car or a computer or a vacuum cleaner, then the value of manufacturing goes down, as we all know. (more…)

BroadwayUMC-naveIn the early 2000s, Broadway United Methodist Church had a series of outreach programs, including a food pantry, after-school program, clothing ministry, and a summer youth program that served up to 250 children per day. Today, these programs are completely absent, and it’s no accident.

“They’ve been killed off,” writes Robert King in a fascinating profile of the transformation for Faith and Leadership. “In many cases, they were buried with honors. But those ministries, staples of the urban church, are all gone from Broadway. Kaput.”

“One of the things we literally say around here is, ‘Stop helping people.’” says Rev. Mike Mather, the church’s pastor. “I’m serious.”

Although Mather was the first to initiate many of these programs, with some efforts going back as far as the late 1980s, after a series of circumstances, including a series of community tragedies, he began to believe that a new approach was needed. “I started paying attention to what they really cared about,” he says. (more…)

forest-path-stewardship1Being a follower of Jesus includes a hopeful vision of the future. In the fullness of the kingdom of God, we will live on a new earth as embodied humans, worshiping and working, married to Christ and in fellowship with sisters and brothers from all nations (Rev. 21-22). There will be no more war, perfect justice, a restored ecology and each person will steward gifts and responsibilities consistent with his or her created design and fidelity during this present age (Isaiah 2; Mt. 25).

The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit are the historical/personal guarantees of this eschatological vision (Acts 2-3). This audacious Christian hope inspires our covenant fidelity to the Triune God and concrete service to the world. Because of God’s unconditional love expressed in the Cross-and the liberating power of the resurrection, we now serve others sacrificially and all our present good works are signposts of the future.

This vision – eloquently expressed by Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright and Cherith Fee-Nordling among others – avoids utopian fantasy and dispensational fatalism. Our efforts are substantial but partial, for we are saved in hope of the final redemption (Ro. 8:18-27). We are not merely gathering decisions before the Rapture, but making disciples of all nations that work out their salvation in local communities that evangelize and seek the common good (Phil 2:12-16). Our disciples-making includes all elements of human flourishing, from the inner life of contemplation to creating value through our work. (more…)