Category: Economics

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
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“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.

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Blog author: dpahman
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
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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.

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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).
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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…)

aimthesolution“You have never met a mere mortal.” – C.S. Lewis

God has called each of us to redemptive stewardship, crafting us in his own image that we might assume this calling in boldness and love. Thus, as we approach complex issues of poverty alleviation and seek to empower others on this path, we must be careful that our efforts affirm the dignity and destiny of the human person.

As noted in the Acton Institute’s core principles, “the human person, created in the image of God, is individually unique, rational, the subject of moral agency, and a co-creator,” possessing “intrinsic value and dignity, implying certain rights and duties both for himself and other persons.” A brief perusal of Genesis 1 will confirm as much, yet far too often we distort and confuse this framework, defining those in severe need according to their present station and developing our “solutions” in turn.

Such attitudes can manifest subtly (our vocabulary) or severely (coercive measures), even or especially among the boots on the ground and the “experts” that fuel them. “Anti-poverty(!)” programs and policies may indeed abound (even the Millennium Development Goals nod to “human dignity”), but little of that matters if the promoters or measures themselves treat others as inferior, incapable, or altogether dispensable. (more…)

The most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, volume 17, no. 2, has been published. The full content is available online now to subscribers and will be in the mail in the next few weeks. This issue features another fine slate of scholarship on the morality of the marketplace and Christian social thought more broadly.

As is our custom, this issue’s editorial by executive editor Jordan Ballor is open access (here), as are the first two installments of our Controversy section (here and here). This issue’s controversy centers on the role of labor unions in a free and flourishing society.

Our Reviews section features reviews of 16 books in the categories of Christian Social Thought, Ethics and Economics, and History and Philosophy of Economics.

This issue also features a Scholia translation of a selection from the Danish Lutheran theologian Niels Hemmingsen, “On the Law of Nature in the Three States of Life,” including an important introduction by E. J. Hutchinson and Korey D. Maas on Hemmingsen’s influence on the development of the Lutheran natural law tradition.

Lastly, for those looking to peruse the past year of scholarship in the Journal of Markets & Morality, this issue also includes the volume 17 index, which is also open access (here).

For those of you interested in an individual or institutional subscription, detailed instructions explaining how to subscribe through our website can be found here.

 

Arthur Brooks

Arthur Brooks

Arthur Brooks is not the first to notice the demographic deterioration of Europe (Acton’s Sam Gregg wrote about it in his book, Becoming Europe), but Brooks points out that Europe isn’t just getting old, but “dotty” as well. Brooks writes in The New York Times about Europe’s aging population, and its loss of vibrancy.

As important as good economic policies are, they will not fix Europe’s core problems, which are demographic, not economic. This was the point made in a speech to the European Parliament in November by none other than Pope Francis. As the pontiff put it, “In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a ‘grandmother,’ no longer fertile and vibrant.”

But wait, it gets worse: Grandma Europe is not merely growing old. She is also getting dotty. She is, as the pope sadly explained in an earlier speech to a conference of bishops, “weary with disorientation.”

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