Posts tagged with: Business/Finance

Peter Greer has spent his life doing good, from serving refugees in the Congo to leading HOPE International, a Christian-based network of microfinance institutions operating in 16 countries around the world. Yet as Greer argues in his latest book, The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, “service and charity have a dark side.”

The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, Peter Greer

Pointing to a study by Fuller Seminary’s Dr. J. Robert Clinton, Greer notes that “only one out of three biblical leaders maintained a dynamic faith that enabled them to avoid abusing their power or doing something harmful to themselves and others.” From King David’s power trip with Bathsheba and Uriah to Jonah’s end-of-life anger and selfishness, the Bible is filled with examples of self-destruction amid service.

“When I looked to Scripture for guidance, what I found troubled me,” Greer writes. “Men and women who had heard from God—who even performed amazing miracles—were just as likely to blow it as everyone else.”

And alas, in all of our discussions about how to best serve our neighbors, how often do we focus on surface-level externalities to the neglect of the human heart? How often do we narrow down our “metrics for success” to exclude any discussion or contemplation about the motivations driving our actions or the potential for pitfalls along the way? (more…)

Is a company “Christian” because it sells Christian products, like Bibles and greeting cards with Scripture verses on them? Is a company Christian because its owners says it is? in god we trustWhat makes a company “Christian” and do we need them?

This is the question posed at by Hugh Whelchel at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics. He points out that many well-known American businesses proclaim that they are Christian: Hobby Lobby, Chik-Fil-A and Forever 21, for instance, even though none of them specialize in specifically Christian items or consumers. Now, Hobby Lobby is closed on Sundays, specifically so its employees are free to worship and rest that day, clearly stemming from the owners Christian beliefs. Is that what it takes to be a “Christian” company? (more…)

Rudy Carrasco, frequent lecturer at Acton University and other Acton events, board member of the Christian Community Development Association, and the U.S. Regional Facilitator of Partners Worldwide, recently posted this on his blog, Urban Onramps:

  • We call upon the Church world wide to identify, affirm, pray for, commission and release business people and entrepreneurs to exercise their gifts and calling as business people in the world – among all peoples and to the ends of the earth.
  • We call upon business people globally to receive this affirmation and to consider how their gifts and experience might be used to help meet the world’s most pressing spiritual and physical needs through Business as Mission.

What I find interesting in this language is that the recommendation for business owners is to “receive this affirmation” and move into Business as Mission (BAM). The affirmation needs to come from the Church who is being called upon to “identify, affirm, pray for, commission and release” these business people. There is an order here: first the church affirms, then the business owners go out. Yet, most BAM groups are not addressing the Church. There is much complaining about the Church, in that the Church does not affirm business people or sees business people as less holy, or only wants business people for their money. Yet, the Church is not being challenged, taught, or addressed. When I proposed a shift to my work a year ago to engage the Church more in BAM and directly involve them in this work, I was told by a number of people that it would be foolish to do this. I was told that the Church is too difficult to work with, too bureaucratic, too desiring of power, and that it will not be successful.

 

Golden RiceA piece of news analysis over the weekend by Amy Harmon, a national correspondent for the New York Times, captures well the dynamics of the current debates about the merits of genetically-modified organisms (GMO’s).

Harmon writes specifically about the case of Golden Rice, which has some attributes that should inoculate it against common concerns about GMO’s. Golden Rice is not monopolized by a corporate entity, and has been developed specifically to address urgent health concerns in the developing world:

Not owned by any company, Golden Rice is being developed by a nonprofit group called the International Rice Research Institute with the aim of providing a new source of vitamin A to people both in the Philippines, where most households get most of their calories from rice, and eventually in many other places in a world where rice is eaten every day by half the population. Lack of the vital nutrient causes blindness in a quarter-million to a half-million children each year. It affects millions of people in Asia and Africa and so weakens the immune system that some two million die each year of diseases they would otherwise survive.

Harmon also observes that “beyond the fear of corporate control of agriculture, perhaps the most cited objection to G.M.O.’s is that they may hold risks that may not be understood. The decision to grow or eat them relies, like many other decisions, on a cost-benefit analysis.”

Get_Your_Hands_DirtyAs I argue in my latest book, Get Your Hands Dirty, there is a theological basis for the development of genetically-modified foods. The cost-benefit sorts of reasoning has its place, but as I argue, “The limits of all these arguments about GM food are essentially the same: they argue primarily, if not solely on the basis of pragmatic concerns. While these arguments are attractive, especially to American common sense, they are neither comprehensive nor adequate in and of themselves.”

A Christian examination of GMO’s cannot be limited simply to arguments about expediency. It is necessary to first establish that a moral basis exists for this type of human activity. As I examine the case of GM foods through the lens of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, I conclude that such a “biblical-theological framework provides some important general affirmations of the genetic engineering movement with regard to food. This reality is in some respect directly related to the truth of human exceptionalism, the priority of human life over and against that of animals and particularly plants.”

So while expediency cannot be the sole arbiter validating GMO’s, the human cost associated with either acceptance or rejection of such foods are relevant. There are some legitimate concerns about GM foods, at both the level of principle and practice. There are no perfect solutions. But even so, as I put it, our “default position should be in favor of innovations which have a realistic possibility of substantively increasing the fruitfulness of the earth.”

abc_lululemon_ceo_wanted_sign_jt_130615_wgPro-market advocates often talk about how markets are self-correcting. But why do businesses in free markets fix their own mistakes? Because if they don’t, customers and other stakeholders will punish them:

Lululemon, which produces yoga and other athletic apparel, provoked outrage from its devoted customer base when it released a flawed product earlier this year: see-through yoga pants. Founded in 1998, the company had built trust and loyalty among its yoga-loving clientele for delivering quality products: In just 15 years, Lululemon had grown to over $1.3 billion in annual revenue. So, it’s no surprise that Lululemon’s fans were upset and disappointed at the failure.

But Lululemon’s response to its mistake demonstrates why government intervention in the marketplace is unnecessary and, often, inferior to that of the free market. To address all the complaints the company received from consumers and stores, Lululemon recalled the pants on March 18, offered refunds, and apologized.

Despite the gesture, the market punished Lululemon for its error: Its stock price plummeted the next day, decreasing the company’s value by $250 million. Several weeks later, the chief product officer resigned. The repercussions for Lululemon’s mistake affect the short term as well as the long term: The damage to consumer confidence will take time to rebuild and revenues will reflect the damage.

The incentives for the company to address this mistake couldn’t be any higher. They will be far more powerful in encouraging better customer service than having the government inspect all clothes manufactured.

Read more . . .

Delta Airlines has announced that it foresees a spike in health care costs for the company to the tune of $100 million a year. A Delta executive, Robert Kight, has said that fees associated with Obamacare will be costly, but won’t likely be more health care costsbeneficial than what the company’s employees now have.

One of the costly items pertains to an annual fee of $63 per “covered participant” next year. The company estimates this means a more than $10 million expense in 2014. The catch for Delta is that, because many of their employees insure through Delta, the fee meant to help subsidize the health care law’s coverage amounts to a “direct subsidy” from the company that provides “zero direct benefit to our participants,” Kight said. (more…)

Katie Nienow worked in youth ministry for four years. After deciding to transition into the world of business, her former boss was not pleased. “You’re leaving the one thing God has best designed you to do,” he said.

Throughout her time in ministry, Nienow says that her interest in business and economics felt “ancillary to the call.” In a new video from Nathan Clarke and This Is Our City, she explains how that perspective was fundamentally transformed.

As Nienow explains:

God really awakened me to understanding that the gospel going forth in the world was a much broader restoration of communities, of cities, of economic systems, and that perhaps, just perhaps, God had gifted me because he wanted me to participate in that in a broader sense. (more…)

ups-freight-globalUPS CEO D. Scott Davis was asked in a recent BusinessWeek interview, “You talk a lot about trade, global trade. What is your company’s role?”

Here’s what Davis said (emphasis added):

We always consider ourselves an enabler of global commerce. The worst thing for this country and UPS, and for the world, is protectionism. The natural reaction in a recession is people look inward and say, “Let’s put up barriers.” That stifles economic growth for everybody. I’m on the president’s Export Council, and my job is to educate the public and Congress. We’ve got to have a country that exports. We need more trade agreements.

In a piece earlier this year in Comment magazine, I examined the relationship between “Trade and Mutual Aid.” As Martin Luther described interpersonal obligation in another context, “It remains, therefore, for us to render mutual service with our gifts, so that each with his own gift bears the burden and need of the other. Thus we shall fulfill the law of Christ.”

In the BW interview, Davis also addresses the nature of the relationship between UPS and the USPS, Amazon, and what it’s like shipping sharks.

Visigoths sack RomeThe travails of Detroit’s bankruptcy and the implications for the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) continue to garner speculation about the place of art in society and the value of the DIA to the city, both now and in the future.

Emergency manager Kevin Orr has “formally engaged Christie’s to appraise a portion of the city-owned multibillion dollar collection at the DIA.” John Fund at NRO has advised that even a limited number of paintings could be sold, keeping the remainder of the collection intact. This would allow for a reformation of the institution itself, “to make the art in the DIA more relevant to the people who actually live near it.”

Meanwhile, Graham Beal, the director of the DIA, plays a dangerous game of brinksmanship in the media. By Beal’s account, any change to the DIA would result in the shuttering of the institution: “If works of art are sold by anybody, that breaks the operating agreement — then that money ceases to come from the three counties, then the DIA will effectively be closed down.” Such claims continue to be made despite the real danger of liquidation by order of a federal judge and regardless of the realities of the institution’s operating budget. For fiscal year 2011, the DIA had an operating excess of nearly $22 million.

But Beal doesn’t seem inclined to give any quarter to talk about changes to the DIA. Thus he’s called suggestions like mine to “privatize” the DIA “a bit of a fairy tale.” But if anyone is living in a fantasy land, it’s those who think the DIA will be immune to the political turmoil surrounding Detroit. Rather than galvanizing around efforts to save the DIA, political and civic leaders in Detroit seem increasingly intent on looting the collection: “The Van Gogh must go,” said Mark Young, president of the Detroit Lieutenants and Sergeants Association. “We don’t need Monet – we need money.” The combined interests of the city’s creditors and pensioners might just be enough to sink the DIA. As Philip Terzian writes, “the financial claims of creditors might well have greater weight than the principle of a distinguished art collection in Motown.”

Barbarians are at the gates of the DIA, and the director fiddles. The best thing for a thriving DIA would be to become fully independent, but by all accounts Beal is uninterested in pursuing such options. Having gained a spot at the public trough, the DIA seems loathe to give it up, even if it means endangering the future of the institution.

First they came for the Picasso. Then they came for the Van Gogh. Then they came for the Rivera…

Monsanto PlantWriting over at the Live58 blog, Catherine Sinclair describes her transition from uncertainty regarding GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) to outright opposition: “After doing some more research, I’ve come to the conclusion that we should avoid GMO as much as possible.” This a conclusion that we might think is counter-intuitive, to say the least, for an organization committed to ending the scourge of global hunger and poverty.

Sinclair’s main indictment of GMOs comes down to the agribusiness giant Monsanto: “Because they are companies seeking profit, seed developers like Monsanto do whatever they can to control the agricultural industry.”

It’s important to distinguish the theoretical and ethical basis for genetic modification from the actual behavior and practice of corporations like Monsanto. Too often the two are conflated. In my new book, Get Your Hands Dirty, I have an updated discussion of a theological framework for evaluating GM foods. As I caution at the conclusion of my examination of GM foods, “nothing in this framework presumes any particular policy outcome in the realm of law, and so, for instance, concerns about the use of property rights as a means to tyrannize or monopolize particular industries ought to be considered.”

Making such a distinction allows an approach that is more nuanced and responsible than simply identifying Monsanto with GMOs in general. So, for instance, a self-identified “hippie” writes in Slate:

I think Monsanto is evil, that patenting seeds and suing farmers is unethical, and that some GMO crops (like Roundup Ready Soybeans) lend themselves to irresponsible herbicide and pesticide use and cross-contamination.

But I’m also not going to let my anti-corporate sentiments get in the way of a diverse and promising field of research. (emphasis added)

Genetic modification and the cronyism that is so endemic to big agribusiness simply aren’t identical. That distinction strikes me as a helpful starting point for responsible discussion of GMOs.

For a critical but balanced examination of GMOs in theological context, check out Brad Littlejohn’s treatment of his “inner Luddite” at Mere Orthodoxy.