Posts tagged with: consumerism

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Tuesday, December 31, 2013

????????????????????????????????????In a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal, Emory economics professor Paul H. Rubin makes an interesting argument about the way economists tend to over-elevate and/or misconstrue the role of competition in the flourishing of markets.

“Competition plays a supporting role,” he argues, but “cooperation makes markets thrive”:

The way we use the term competition instead of cooperation fosters anti-market bias. “Competition” carries a negative connotation because it implies winners and losers, and our minds naturally feel sympathy for the losers. But cooperation evokes a positive response: It’s a win-win situation with no losers. And in fact the word competition doesn’t depict market activity as aptly as the word cooperation. The “competitive economy” would be better described as the “cooperative economy.”

Consider the most basic economic unit, the transaction. A transaction is cooperative because both parties gain from a voluntary exchange. There is competition in markets, but it’s actually competition for the right to cooperate. Firms must compete for the privilege of selling to consumers—for the right to cooperate with consumers. Workers compete for the right to cooperate with employers. Competition matters because it ensures that the most efficient players will gain the right to cooperate on the best terms available. But competition plays a supporting role, while cooperation makes markets thrive. (more…)

CoolMy pastor made a good point in his sermon Sunday that the more secular we become as a nation the less we talk about “abundance.” Instead, the national dialogue of our politics shift to discussions about scarcity. Many politicians are stuck in the mindset of talking about things like wealth distribution and rationing. The more materialist and less spiritual we become as a nation, the more inclined we are to fight over the table scraps.

If we don’t look to God, we won’t believe the Lord can bless us. In turn, many only want to get what they can. This is all too evident in the excessive shopping we often see where consumers believe stuff equals being blessed. Sadly, some try and substitute stuff for what only the Gospel can provide.

In his 1925 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation , President Calvin Coolidge talks a lot about abundance, a word he used in most of his Thanksgiving Day Proclamations. The Coolidge presidency occurred over a time of unprecedented technological innovation in America as well as economic surplus and growth. Coolidge had a keen understanding of what blessings and abundance meant for the nation and why it was essential that the country “progress in moral and spiritual things.” Material advancement alone was not sufficient. Here is an excerpt from the 1925 proclamation:

The season approaches when, in accordance with a long established and respected custom, a day is set apart to give thanks to Almighty God for the manifold blessings which His gracious and benevolent providence has bestowed upon us as a nation and as individuals.

We have been brought with safety and honor through another year, and, through the generosity of nature, He has blessed us with resources whose potentiality in wealth is almost incalculable; we are at peace at home and abroad; the public health is good; we have been undisturbed by pestilences or great catastrophes; our harvests and our industries have been rich in productivity; our commerce spreads over the whole world, and Labor has been well rewarded for its remunerative service.

As we have grown and prospered in material things, so also should we progress in moral and spiritual things. We are a God-fearing people who should set ourselves against evil and strive for righteousness in living, and observing the Golden Rule we should from our abundance help and serve those less fortunately placed. We should bow in gratitude to God for His many favors.

Unfortunately, most politicians and leaders today are unable to speak with clarity about spiritual wealth and abundance, thus their vision is limited because it remains solely on the things of this world.

Gray Matters, Brett McCrackenIn his 2010 book, Hipster Christianity, Brett McCracken explored the dynamics of a particular cultural movement in (and against) modern evangelicalism. In his new book, Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty, he pulls the lens back, focusing on how the church more broadly ought to approach culture, particularly when it comes to consuming it.

Though McCracken’s book focuses on just four areas — food, drink, music, and film — his basic framework and the surrounding discussion offers much for Christians to ponder and absorb when it comes to cultural engagement at large.

In an interview with On Call in Culture, McCracken was kind enough to answer some questions on the topic.

Early on, you explain that your book is not about “making culture,” but about “consuming culture well.” Yet you also note how consumption and creation can intersect and overlap. How does our approach to consumption impact our creative output?

In order to be a good creator of culture, one must be a good consumer of it. We will never make great films if we don’t love the greatest films, know the greatest films, and understand why they are great. The best chefs are the ones who love food the most and take the time to consume it well — to pay attention to flavor profiles, to savor tastes that go well together, to understand what cooking methods work and don’t work, etc. The great artists in history didn’t just make their masterpieces from some innate mastery of technique. They studied the masters first and did the work of understanding why one painting or symphony was a masterpiece and why another one wasn’t. They were good consumers before they were good creators. (more…)

Blog author: johnteevan
posted by on Monday, October 7, 2013
Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

This first appeared in my newsletter, Economic Prospect, in late 2008. Looking back after five years I still like it.

The American failure to save is matched by our insistence on spending to have it all. One part of the problem is the consumer’s love of debt. The other part is the government’s love of debt. Both love debt to enjoy things now and to put off the day of reckoning. How did we get so far from the idea of being content with having enough food, clothing, and shelter?

  1. This is a complex issue based at first in ‘scarcity’ which leads people to create products to fill real needs. When these products are produced people have jobs and can afford more products. Say’s Law says that production creates its own demand.
  2. There comes a point where we move beyond some invisible line and marketing takes over to create imagined needs in people. These needs are filled by more products creating more jobs. This happened after WW2 and made us very prosperous.
  3. Then there is a third stage when the credit industry takes over and tries to convince people to borrow not just for houses or cars (durables) but for anything to enhance their way of life. This started in the 1970s. Consumer debt is $2 trillion but this kind of borrowing creates still more jobs at least for as long as the party lasts.

But the day of reckoning has arrived. Will we get the point and change our behavior? Apparently not. First, the government sold bonds, then raided the trust funds (Social Security), then we borrow to stimulate the economy…then we just borrow without limit.

If Americans are not saving, who will loan us all this money? The answer is the Chinese and Asians who are amazing savers. They will loan us the money. China already owns nearly $2 trillion in U.S. government bonds. This is not a small issue.

Economics in One Lesson : The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics

Economics in One Lesson : The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics

This classic work provides the layman with a clear understanding of the economic way of thinking. A must-read for the beginner!
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archmorningThe other day I had to bring my wife to the airport for an early-bird flight. Thus, I chose to work for a few hours at a nearby McDonald’s before going into the office.

Now, I know that what I’m about to say is out of fashion these days, particularly if “fast food” has anything to do with it, but permit me to share one small sliver of what a glorious thing business can be.

There I was, at 5:00 a.m., and behold, a quiet, clean, and air-conditioned environment waved its big golden arches at me, offering me free Wi-Fi, little disturbance, and, of course, an array of greasy goodies. All I had to do was buy a coffee (which was delicious, by the way) and they were happy to have me around. The calories abounded, but there were no schemes and no tricks. Just one guy getting some basic needs met — if I may dare to call them “needs” — superbly, cheaply, and without hassle.

Did I mention there were free re-fills on the coffee?

For all of our decrying of the various temptations of a quick-and-easy consumer economy and the isolating effects of a Drive-Thru Culture — plenty of it well warranted — there’s something good and true and beautiful about not having to sweat the basic necessities of life.

Peace and prosperity are under-appreciated.

Last Friday at Acton University, Fr. Gregory Jensen gave an engaging lecture on the dual subject of asceticism and consumerism. The “East Meets West” part might not be what many would expect. Rather than contrast a consumerist West with an ascetic East, Fr. Gregory insists that both consumerism and asceticism transcend cultures and traditions. Inasmuch as all people take part in consumption, an ascetic answer to the challenge of consumerism is (or ought to be) where East meets West. The audio of Fr. Gregory’s lecture will be available on Ancient Faith Radio in the near future, but as a teaser I would like to explore some of the themes briefly here. (more…)

The lowering of education quality has been noted in the recent past on the PowerBlog (here and here). Last Saturday, Casey Harper noted at educationviews.org that even students are complaining about the declining rigor of American education.

Harper notes that, according to a recent survey,

More than half of eighth-grade history and civics students say their work is “often or always too easy,” according to the report. Twelfth-grade students sang the same tune, with 56 and 55 percent, respectively, saying their civics and history work is “often” or “always” too easy. (more…)

Last week, in a reflection about American freedom and Christianity, I contended that the shift from emphasis on the pursuit of “property” to the pursuit of “happiness” illustrated the spiritual insight of the American founders. And today, Joe passed along a piece related to the economic climate in America at the end of the eighteenth century, which suggests that as “America had a thriving middle class,” the United States might have been designed especially to institutionalize, protect, and promote the materially-acquisitive ethos of the time.

That, at least, is the suggestion made by Brad Gregory in his book, The Unintended Reformation. In a chapter on “Manufacturing the Goods Life,” Gregory contends that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the broader vision of social life articulated by the founders was uniquely oriented toward merely material prosperity:

The substantive emptiness of the nation’s founding documents was possible not only because Americans were strongly shaped by Christian moral assumptions, but also because so many of them had simultaneously departed in practice from the traditional Christian condemnation of avarice.

A corollary of this is that America is uniquely anti-Christian:

If Christianity is among other things a discipline of selflessness in charitable service to others, then the United States’ legally protected ethos of self-regarding acquisitiveness, culturally reinforced at every turn, would seem to be its antithesis.

You might guess what this means for our evaluation of Europe, however, which ends up looking rather more Christ-like by comparison:

But, ironically, more than is true of federal or state institutions in the church-going United States, secularized Europeans’ welfare states since World War II have more in common with the social concerns and the moral commitments of the Christianity that made the Continent and Britain, because they at least seek to meet the most basic needs of every citizen.

It’s true, admits Gregory, that American freedom includes the ability to be spiritually responsible. But even the value of this is doubtful:

So too, it is obvious that he advent of modern capitalism and market-governed societies has facilitated the potential for human flourishing and the possibility of living meaningful human lives for hundreds of millions of people, which considered as such is also a very good thing. But those who are devoted to their families, demonstrate care for others, make charitable donations, and practice self-restraint do so within a world dominated by wall-to-Walmart capitalism and consumerism, with all that this implies.

What all this has to do with the Reformation is something that has to be explored within the larger argument of the book. I’m currently drafting a review of it, but it has already been reviewed and engaged in a number of significant places, like Books & Culture, the Wall Street Journal, and First Things. At this point I can recommend Gregory’s book if you want to see what the Reformation and global climate change have to do with one another (hint: the main link is the American “ethos of self-regarding acquisitiveness” outlined above).

Religion & Liberty’s summer issue featuring an interview with Metropolitan Jonah (Orthodox Church in America) is now available online. Metropolitan Jonah talks asceticism and consumerism and says about secularism, “Faith cannot be dismissed as a compartmentalized influence on either our lives or on society.”

Mark Summers, a historian in Virginia, offers a superb analysis of religion during the American Civil War in his focus on the revival in the Confederate Army. 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of America’s bloodiest conflict. With all the added attention the conflict is receiving, a piece focusing on faith is especially poignant. “The Great Harvest” by Summers notes that the revival was “homespun,” meaning one that was organic in nature and spread among the common soldier.

I offer a review of Darren Dochuk’s new book From Bible Belt to Sunbelt. Dochuk tells the tale of the great migration from the American South to Southern California. This development ultimately transformed evangelicalism and national politics. It also helped in wedding many religious conservatives to economic conservatism.

“The Separation of Church and Art” is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art by Abraham Kuyper. Available for the first time in English, Christian’s Library Press will publish Kuyper’s work in November. The Acton Institute has played a tremendous role in the translation project. You can find out more about that role here.

The “In The Liberal Tradition” figure is American Founder Oliver Ellsworth. Ellsworth, a strong proponent of federalism was instrumental in the shaping of our Republic. American President John Adams called Ellsworth “the firmest pillar” of the federal government during its earliest years. In a new biography about Ellworth, author Michael C. Toth argues that Ellsworth’s Reformed faith not only shaped his personal life but the model of federalism he supported also had deeply religious roots within Connecticut.

There is more content in this issue. Past issues of Religion & Liberty are also available online.

Metropolitan Jonah at AU 2011



We’ve posted the text of Metropolitan Jonah’s AU talk on “Asceticism and the Consumer Society” on the Acton site. His remarks, delivered on Thursday, June 16, at the plenary session looked at the “opposing movements in the human heart” between consumerism and worship. In the course of his talk, Jonah cited Orthodox Christian theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s definition of secularism as “in theological terms … a heresy … about man.”

Jonah:

Man was created with an intuitive awareness of God and thankfulness to Him for the creation. In return, the creation itself was made to be a means of communion and revelation of God to man. Man was thus created as a Eucharistic being, the priest of creation, to offer it in thanksgiving to God, and to use it as a means of living in communion, the knowledge and love of God. Man was created to worship. In our fallenness, turning from God to created things as ends in themselves, we lost the intuitive knowledge of God and our essential attitude of thankfulness to Him. Secularism is rooted in this loss of divine awareness, the darkening of our intuitive perception of the creation as the sacrament of God’s Presence. It is a denial of our essential reality as human beings, and our reduction to purely material animals. Thus the refusal to worship and give thanks, to offer the creation in thanksgiving back to God, is a denial of our very nature as humans.

What Schmemann is testifying to is that “worship is truly an essential act, and man an essentially worshipping being.” It is “only in worship” that I can find “knowledge of God and therefore knowledge of the world.” As the etymology of the word orthodoxy suggests, the true worship of God and the true knowledge of God converge and are together become the foundation of obedience to Him.

Jonah, primate of the Orthodox Church in America, said the “fruit” of secularism is despair. The cure for this despair is the Cross of Jesus Christ:

The Christian ascetical life, that is the life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the works of mercy and obedience, is the application and the appropriation of the Cross to my life. It is the means by which I both enter into a life of communion with God and become myself a sacrament of that communion for others. This is possible because at its most basic level, asceticism “is the struggle of the person against rebellious nature, against the nature which seeks to achieve on its own what it could bring about only in personal unity and communion with God.” Our “restoration” to a life of personal communion with God and so our personal “resistance” to the powers of sin and death, “presuppose a struggle” within each human heart that is often lacking in contemporary society and even our churches.

Read Metropolitan Jonah’s “Asceticism and the Consumer Society” on the Acton site.

Special thanks to Koinonia, Monomakhos, Byzantine, TX, The Pulp.it, RealClearReligion, Preachers Institute and the American Orthodox Institute for linking to this post.