I rather like Serene Jones’ piece in Huffington Post, “Economists and Innkeepers.” Jones got some things right. She knows that Christian Scripture teaches many economic lessons, like subsidiarity and stewardship (although she doesn’t use those terms.) She says, “Economic theory is replete with theological and moral assumptions about human nature and society” and that is correct. As Istituto Acton’s Kishore Jayabalan reminds us,
Things like the rule of law, a tradition of equality for the law, which should cut down on corruption, which give people the confidence and security in the future to take some risks and to develop the goods that they have either personally or socially, and use them for the good of all.
We make economic, legal and moral decisions that affect others every day, in ways large and small. Jones is practically defining subsidiarity when she says, “I would argue that rather than being merely faceless economic units, we all have a moral responsibility for the care of each other.” (more…)
When asked, “If you could grow up to be anything you wanted, what would you be?” there were some rather remarkable disparities between the answers of children in the developed and the developing world.
Kids in the developed world “most typically want to become professional athletes (19%).” Contrast that with the hopes and dreams of children in developing countries, “who aspire to becoming doctors, nurses, dentists (27%).” Now I certainly enjoy my sports; just ask my wife. But these kinds of results may well illustrate a gap in maturity and values between the developing and the developed world, one in which the developing world enjoys the comparative advantage.
There comes a point, often a very sharp point, in almost every adult North American male’s life when he clues in to what the women around him have known since childhood: that screen in front of you where those players are playing that game is not a mirror. On the contrary, that screen is delivering the reality-check message that the game those players are playing actually has nothing whatever to do with you, the observer. Nothing. Nada. Bupkas. Or in my favorite line ever to come out of Jerry Seinfeld’s mouth: “They won. You watched.” It’s not even a continuum. It’s a total disconnect.
The ambitions of children are to some extent, at least, reflective of the values of the broader society. And I fear there’s a grave disconnect between what really ought to be valued and what is often valued in our world today.
The survey was based on questions of 6,204 children, and includes other queries like, “If you were president or leader of your country, what would you do to improve the lives of children in your country?” and “What are you most afraid of?” Check out the full report, “Small Voices, Big Dreams” (PDF).
I recently pondered what might come of the global economy if we were to to put God at the forefront of our motives and decision-making. The question came as a reaction to Tim Keller, whose recent book calls on Christians to challenge their views about work. By re-orienting our work to be a “servant” instead of a “lord,” Keller argues, we will actually find more fulfillment in the work that we do.
Keller’s main point in the video I discussed was to caution against our human preferences for idol carving. Although this is a valuable word of warning, it’s also worth noting that in a more basic sense, our work is already service.
The extent to which this is practically true will depend on a variety of factors — the type of work we’re doing, the type of economic system we’re engaged in, the levels of cronyism, artificiality, and misinformation in the economic environment that surrounds us — but by and large, our work is concentrated on actually fulfilling the particular needs of particular persons. As Lester DeKoster writes in Work: The Meaning of Your Life: “Work is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others.”
Through this understanding, perhaps a clearer way of expressing things is that work is less about whether we’re serving and more about who we’re serving. At the core, this simply rehashes Keller’s original point, prodding us to ask ourselves whether we’re serving God or something else (i.e. anything else). But beyond this, in those rougher, hazier areas of human discernment, it also empowers us to ask some other productive questions.
For example, in examining the ways in which trade and exchange impact human relationships across broader society, DeKoster contrasts life in the African bush with life in Western civilization, noting that the primary difference lies in work: “The bush people have to do everything for themselves. Civilization is sharing in the work of others.”
As DeKoster goes on to explain:
Our working puts us in the service of others; the civilization that work creates puts others in the service of ourselves. Thus, work restores the broken family of humankind… Through work that serves others, we also serve God, and he in exchange weaves the work of others into a culture that makes our work easier and more rewarding…As seed multiplies into a harvest under the wings of the Holy Spirit, so work multiplies into a civilization under the intricate hand of the same Spirit. (more…)
I recently asked the question at Ethika Politika, “Which Capitalism?” (also the title of my article), and I followed it up with a related question here regarding the relationship between distributism and capitalism (is the former a form of the latter?). In addition, Jordan Ballor reflected last week on the different orientation of definitions of capitalism and socialism, observing, “One definition [i.e. capitalism] is focused on structure, the other [i.e. socialism] is connected with moral ideals.”
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt defended the company’s practices [of taking certain tax exemptions], saying:
We pay lots of taxes; we pay them in the legally prescribed ways…. I am very proud of the structure that we set up. We did it based on the incentives that the governments offered us to operate.
So far so good. He didn’t make the rules that privilege his firm, but he will avail himself of these privileges when offered. I can sympathize. I oppose the mortgage interest deduction but still take it every April. Schmidt’s next statement, however, is about as far from the mark as one can get:
It’s called capitalism…. We are proudly capitalistic. I’m not confused about this.
A quick lesson for Mr. Schmidt: genuine capitalism is about competing on a level playing field for customer dollars. If you offer a superior product or service, customers will reward you by voluntarily parting with their money in exchange for what you offer. (more…)
The history of America is filled with heroic tales of courage and sacrifice. At the outset of World War II, most of the world was under tyranny. Sixteen million Americans served the country during World War II. Four hundred thousand of those Americans died in the war. They made history at places like Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Okinawa, Salerno, Normandy, and the Ardennes. Most of the men who freed the world from Nazi and Imperialist Japanese aggression have now passed from this earth. But while almost 1,000 veterans of the conflict die a day, there are still about a million living in this country.
The “Honor Flight” documentary is an incredibly moving film about a few of these men from the Midwest. It captures American history and pride, and their trip to visit some of our nation’s monuments in Washington. And for many of them, this will be a last day of tribute that they will remember in their lives.
A recurring theme throughout the film is that many veterans did not talk about their experiences when they came home from the war. This fact was touched upon in a previous PowerBlog post about Marine veteran E.B. Sledge, who was a great writer and author of With the Old Breed. Admiral Chester Nimitz paid tribute to Americans like Sledge when he said of the men who took Iwo Jima, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
Fortunately over the last couple of decades there have been a number of popular books, films, and new museums that have raised awareness of this war and its importance for liberty around the world for a new generation. There are great places like the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, and the book and film Band of Brothers, which tells the riveting and heroic story of “Easy Company” and their combat experience in Europe. “Honor Flight” is another important tribute that raises the awareness of the heroics of many of these men and the sacrifices they made for America and the world.
The goal of the Honor Flight program is to help “every single veteran in America, willing and able of getting on a plane or a bus, visit their memorial.” Since it is at no cost to the veteran a lot of money has to be raised. This film touches on some of the monumental fundraising efforts that made this trip possible.
Featured in this film are the stories of Harvey Kurz, Orville Lemke, Julian Plaster, and Joe Demler. These are humble men. Almost humorously, the film features footage of Kurz, holding down a job and bagging groceries at his local Pick n’ Save. Kurz, of course, is probably at least in his late 80s. Demler, also known as “the human skeleton,” wasted away to 70 pounds in a German POW camp during the conflict.
What is so amazing about this film is the way it brings veterans and families together to reap so many memories and moments of joy. So many men are reunited and given a worthy and tremendous tribute. They share stories for the first time and take us back to a time when the world was at war and American blood was shed on the soil, beaches, skies, and oceans across the world. This film is worth seeing and while many have come before “Honor Flight” to give World War II veterans their due and tell their story, this is a reminder of just how many we are losing and that they are indeed “The Greatest Generation.”
A congressional conference committee is negotiating whether the federal government will protect the religious freedom of military chaplains and armed services members regarding homosexuality and same-sex “marriage.”
In one of the most memorable mid-1990s episodes of The Simpsons, the curmudgeonly misanthrope Charles Montgomery Burns achieves a lifelong dream:
Since the beginning of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun. I shall do the next best thing: block it out.
While Mr. Burns had no use for our nearest star, the other residents Springfield were dismayed by the citywide sun-block. They understood, as Steve Martin once said, that “A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.”
Only a cartoon villain would propose an idea as absurd as blocking out the sunshine. But in the real world we find its economic equivalent: opposing economic growth.
A prime example is Eugene McCarraher, an associate professor of humanities at Villanova University, who recently wrote in The Hedgehog Review:
The beatific vision of the capitalist moral imagination is the Gross Domestic Product: the yearly growth in the volume of goods and services whose increase is never questioned.
Similarly, the British economic historian Robert Skidelsky says that in his new book he “rejects indefinite economic growth for reasons which are substantially, though by no means exclusively, conservative.”
Too much growth, like too much sunshine, can indeed by be harmful to human flourishing. But why would anyone oppose long-term economic growth?
Consider the consequences if there were to be a long period in the U.S. with no economic growth. The result would be almost as cataclysmic as blocking out the sun: (more…)