During a season such as Christmas, where hyper-consumerism and hyper-generosity converge in strange and mysterious ways, it’s a question worth asking: How much of our gift-giving is inefficient and wasteful?
For some, it’s a buzz-kill question worthy of Ebenezer Scrooge. For an economist, however, it’s a prod that pushes us to create more value and better align our hearts and hands with human needs.
For Cowen and Tabarrock, gift-giving typically suffers from knowledge and incentive problems. “When people buy something for themselves, value is created, because the buyer values the good more than it costs the seller to produce,” Tabarrock explains. “But when people give gifts that aren’t wanted, the recipient values the gifts at less than the cost. Gift-giving: it can be kind of a negative trade.” (more…)
When we think about “stewardship,” our minds tend to revert to the material and the predictable. We think about money or the allocation of resources. We think about growing crops or creating goods or financial investment and generosity.
For the Christian, however, stewardship goes much further, weaving closely together the tangible and transcendent in all areas of life. “Stewardship is far more than the handling of our money,” write Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef. “Stewardship is the handling of life, and time, and destiny.”
In For the Life of the World, God’s oikonomia is compared to a song, with our activity in each sphere of creation harmonizing together even as it plays in its own distinct way and through its own “modes of operation” — whether in family, business, education, or elsewhere. God has given us stewardship as a gift, granting the responsibility to manage his house and the availability to partner with the divine in that remarkable task.
C.S. Lewis points to this reality in The Magician’s Nephew, where he writes at length about the origins of Narnia and the creative call of humankind. (more…)
Marco Rubio has inspired plenty of chin-stroking over his recent remarks about welders earning more than philosophers.
“We need more welders and less philosophers,” he concluded in a recent debate.
The fact-checkers proceeded to fact-check, with many quickly declaring falsehood (e.g. 1, 2). Yet the series of subsequent quibbles over who actually makes how much continue to side-step the bigger issue. Though the liberal arts are indeed important and ought not be viewed simply in terms of “vocational training,” mainstream American culture is certainly fond of pretending as much.
The individualistic dream-stoking rhetoric, inflated expectations, and subsequent angst have become all too nightmarish a cliche among my generation, joined by ever-increasing attempts to secure more government goodies to keep the machine humming along. Surely there are many who approach the liberal arts with a healthy perspective, but at the same time, the jokes about the barista going for his third Master’s degree aren’t exactly jokes.
Rather than approaching each individual as a creative person with unique gifts and educational aspirations, we continue to pretend that one vocational or educational track ought to apply to all. At the same time, rather than approaching the so-called “job market” as an ecosystem of creativity and collaboration, filled with countless human needs waiting to be met, we revert to thinking only of ourselves, self-constructing our preferred vocational destinies while we move through the college assembly line. (more…)
Over at the Reformation21 blog, Michael Jensen compares what he calls the “scarcity mindset” of the world with the “abundance mentality” of God, noting that “the world as we see it is open to the creative and transformative power of the Lord God.”
Although Jensen’s portrait of civilizational progress is undeservedly bleak (if anything, we’re learning to see beyond scarcity), and although he overstates the conflict between “growing populations” and “diminishing resources” (see Matt Ridley et al), he manages to frame the basic theology quite well:
A theistic worldview, and in particular the Christian one, has at the heart of reality the three-personed God of Love, whose creative energy made everything from nothing at all by his Word, and who makes a great nation out of the fruitless loins of Abraham, and who gives life even to the dead. His grace abounds; his abundance overflows. He enters into, blesses, and renews the earth. The Old Testament testifies again and again to the renewing power of the divine breath upon the earth.
The emblematic episode was the Exodus: a feeding in the wilderness, in which God reminded Israel of the title that Abraham had given him when he provided a ram to substitute for Isaac: yhwh yrh, the God who provides. The manna from heaven was not a natural co-incidence. It was miraculous. It wasn’t supposed to be there – it exceeded nature’s fruitfulness, and enabled survival in the wilderness, where nature was in fact barren…The feeding of the five thousand is the New Testament counterpart to the feeding in the Exodus. The 5000 who gathered in the desert ate from two fish and five loaves, and were satisfied. And, in excess of the Exodus miracle, there were twelve baskets of left overs! The miracle was a provision beyond necessity, to excess.
Of course, as with all the miracles, it’s an object lesson. This is a great extraordinary picture of what the world, when God rules it once for all, will look like. And it isn’t a world in which things will run out. It’s a world in which things overflow, because that’s the character of the God who made it. This is the God who made everything from nothing, not with any strain, but by a word; and the God who gives life to dead. This is the God whose artistry fills the heavens at night, and who has filled the earth with so many creatures that we haven’t counted them all yet. And this is the God, who, despite our willingness to believe that he has our good in mind, gives us even his own Son to supply what we need.
Again, I think these glimpses into the abundance of the not yet are far more prevalent in the here and now than Jensen seems to believe. We have seen unprecedented bursts of innovative and value-creative activity in so many ways, leading to more material needs being met and more bellies being filled than ever before. Surely human greed and vice continue to tempt folks throughout all of that, and the “scarcity mindset” is alive and well among many. But free societies have secured gains not out of quest for self, but by learning to orient inventors, entrepreneurs, and employees in the service of neighbor. (more…)
With the rise of the information economy, many millennials have steered clear from blue-collar jobs and manual labor, often prodded by their parents to pursue a “real education” and “a better life.
As folks like Mike Rowe have only begun to highlight, such attitudes have led to a serious skills gap in the trades, one that appears to hold steady even in the face of record unemployment. Yet despite these cultural shifts, such work does indeed provide significant value to the economy while affirming the dignity and creative potential of the worker.
Thus, while some prefer to hold their noses at the trades, others are seizing it as an opportunity to create and share value. Such is the case at Walker State Prison in Georgia, where a unique welding program offers to train prisoners in the high-demand trade of welding.
According to the American Welding Society, we will be short by nearly 300,000 welding-related positions by 2020 (HT), giving participating prisoners a good shot at meaningful careers upon their release.
And the prisoners aren’t complaining. They are eager to offer their skills, learn a craft, and contribute to society. Watch some highlights here:
One can’t help but be inspired by Christopher Peeples, for example, who at 26 years old is about to finish a 10-year prison sentence. Thanks to the program, he looks forward to wonderful job prospects, and his Dad (a craftsman himself) has been quick to share in the excitement. According to NPR, one recent alumnus of the program had three job offers upon his release, one of which offered $50,000 per year with a company truck.
Ultimately, though, this isn’t about money or even stability. It’s about authentic, whole-life rehabilitation.
By pursuing work in a needed skill — by orienting hearts and hands toward service to others and thus to God — these men are entering into a transformative, collaborative exchange that will shape their very souls and spirits. Material provision is just the byproduct.
Of course, it would require no small amount of these programs to fill the skills gap we’re facing, and so the question remains: what are others waiting for?
As we continue to expand our economic imaginations and pursue vocational clarity, these prisoners offer a powerful example on how we ought to view and approach such work.
“We view autism as one of our key competitive advantages,” says Tom D’Eri of Rising Tide Car Wash in Parkland, Florida, which employs 43 employees, 35 of which are on the autism spectrum. “Our employees follow processes, they’re really excited to be here, [and] they have a great eye for detail.”
Hear more of their story here:
Among adults with autism, the unemployment rate is around 90%, and yet, if you were to ask D’Eri, whose brother has autism, the market is simply not recognizing the enormous potential and unique gifts these people possess. “Typically people with autism are really good at structured tasks, following processes, and attention to detail,” he says. “So we saw that there are really important skills that people with autism have that make them, in some cases, the best employees you could have.” (more…)
As the number of Republicans vying for the presidency reaches new levels of absurdity, candidates are scrambling to affirm their conservative bona fides. If you can stomach the pandering, it’s a good time to explore the ideas bouncing around the movement, and when necessary, prune off the poisonous limbs.
Alas, for all of its typical promotions of free enterprise, free trade, and individual liberty, the modern conservative movement retains a peculiar and ever-growing faction of folks who harbor anti-immigration sentiments that contradict and discredit their otherwise noble views. For these, opposing immigration is not about border control, national security, or the rule of law (topics for another day), but about “protecting American jobs” and “protecting the American worker.”
Consider the recent shift of Scott Walker. Once a supporter of legal immigration, Walker now says that immigration hurts the American worker, and that “the next president and the next Congress need to make decisions about a legal immigration system that’s based on, first and foremost, protecting American workers and American wages.” Or Rick Santorum, who has made no bones about his bid for the protectionist bloc. “American workers deserve a shot at [good] jobs,” he said. “Over the last 20 years, we have brought into this country, legally and illegally, 35 million mostly unskilled workers. And the result, over that same period of time, workers’ wages and family incomes have flatlined.” (more…)