Posts tagged with: resources

I had the privilege of giving the opening lecture last night for the “Limited Government and the Rule of Law” conference taking place here in Grand Rapids this weekend. The talk was on “Christian Origins of Limited Government,” and was followed by an excellent Q&A session.

One of the questions had to do with economic consequences or effects of the Fall into sin, particularly with respect to the curse. There are of course myriad implications for economics from the curse, starting first with the recognition of the toilsome nature of labor in the fallen world:

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

Presumably this means that human work isn’t as productive as it would be otherwise. One practical effect of this is scarcity. Fallen work doesn’t produce as many goods and services as non-fallen work; and it would seem there are in fact both qualitative and quantitative consequences for the fruits of human labor. The noetic effects of sin would have some implications here, as well, as it may be that Adam’s insights into the nature of the world were adversely effected. Where he had previously known the nature of things by immediate perception, this insight may well have been clouded. Certainly, as Abraham Kuyper notes, we no longer possess that direct insight that Adam had before the Fall.

So if we understand economics to be, at least from one perspective, reflection on the dynamic between limited resources and unlimited needs, wants, or desires (as Victor Claar described it in his talk on envy earlier this week), then we have clear implications for economics on the scarcity side stemming from the curse.

But I would also argue that the curse has impacted the other half of the dynamic as well. Our desires have become disordered, inordinate, and confused. We want the things we shouldn’t, and we want the things we should want more than we should want them. The acquisitive, grasping, desiring side of human nature is unmoored from and detached from its natural human limits and orientation. We see evidence of this disorder in the aspect of the curse that is applied to the wife: “Your desire will be for your husband, / and he will rule over you.”

So if the curse was the introduction of scarcity into human life, it also was the introduction of desires no longer appropriately limited by obedience to God’s will. Economics in this fallen world deals directly with these (and other) consequences of the curse.

Dismal science, indeed!

A recent Fox News piece on President Obama’s “science czar,” John Holdren, makes for spooky reading, dramatizing where well-intended intellectuals can end up when they take a zero-sum view of our planet’s resources.

In a 1977 course book that Holdren co-authored with environmental activists Paul and Anne Ehrlich, the three make an extended case for aggressive global population control. As the Fox News article explains:

Holdren and the Ehrlichs offer ideas for “coercive,” “involuntary fertility control,” including “a program of sterilizing women after their second or third child,” which doctors would be expected to do right after a woman gives birth.

“Unfortunately,” they write, “such a program therefore is not practical for most less developed countries,” where doctors are not often present when a woman is in labor.

The Most Dangerous Game

The article provides a pdf of the relevant pages of the 1977 course book (go here). Reading these several pages makes it difficult to take seriously a statement by Holdren’s office that Dr. Holdren “does not now support and has never supported compulsory abortions, compulsory sterilization, or other coercive approaches to limiting population growth.” At best, a passage at the end of 788 and the beginning of 789 suggests that the three authors would happily opt for less coercive measures, provided those measures work to their satisfaction.

Holdren and the Ehrlichs are not alone. There’s a long history, dating back at least to the 1700s, of doomsters insisting that population growth coupled with a scarcity of natural resources will very soon ruin civilization.

What’s behind this pessimism, a pessimism apparently immune to contrary historical evidence? In Acton’s new Effective Stewardship DVD curriculum, soon to be released by Zondervan (go here), Acton president Rev. Robert Sirico puts the matter in philosophical and theological context. There he argues that the problem is rooted in a false anthropology, one in which the doctrine of the imago dei is eclipsed, and with it the powerful role of human creativity:

There are many people, including religious leaders, who say that the essential problem is a problem of resource, and that if it’s a problem of resource then it’s a problem of population. This is what I call humaniphobia.

The image in the humaniphobe’s mind is that the human person is one big mouth that is constantly ingesting, and then polluting.

On such a view, humans are the problem rather than the solution. The takeaway question is this: Do we really want to hand our health care over to the U.S. government when a science adviser like Holdren has the president’s ear?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, February 15, 2007

One of the stories told in the Acton’s forthcoming documentary, “The Call of the Entrepreneur,” (trailer available here) is that of Brad Morgan, a Michigan dairy farmer, who bucked the odds and the naysayers and turned the problem posed by the disposal of his herd’s manure into a profitable business venture.

His innovative solution to manure disposal, turning it into high quality compost for a variety of purposes, led to the formation of Morgan Composting in 1996, and more than ten years later the business is still going strong.

Sirico: “Sometimes they’re the most common resources that we walk over, that we ignore, that we even are perhaps repulsed by…”

Reflecting on the role of the entrepreneur in the market economy, Acton president Rev. Robert A. Sirico says, “Sometimes they’re the most common resources that we walk over, that we ignore, that we even are perhaps repulsed by, that become the source of wealth, the source of jobs, the source of prosperity. I mean this is an incredible institution.”

Perhaps no “resource” illustrates this reality better than manure. Brad Morgan turned the waste from cows into a valuable commodity. And now researchers and government officials are following Morgan’s lead.

Wendy Powers, a professor of agriculture at Michigan State University, says, “We really need to think outside the box on what uses for manure are.” Brad Morgan thought outside the box and Morgan Composting now offers a full line of products.

The Associated Press report says that “fiber from processed and sterilized cow manure could take the place of sawdust in making fiberboard, which is used to make everything from furniture to flooring to store shelves.”

“Farmers are having to put more and more money into dealing with manure,” said Tim Zauche, a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. “This is a huge cost to farmers.” A dairy farm can spend $200 per cow per year to handle its manure, Zauche said.

But looking at manure as a resource to be managed rather than waste to be disposed of is the key difference in perspective. That’s what Powers calls thinking “outside the box.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, August 10, 2006

“Throughout history, shortages of vital resources have driven innovation, and energy has often starred in these technological dramas. The desperate search for new sources of energy and new materials has frequently produced remarkable advances that no one could have imagined when the shortage first became evident.” So says Stephen L. Sass, a professor of materials science and engineering at Cornell, in today’s NYT op-ed, “Scarcity, Mother of Invention.”

He concludes, “If there is anything to be learned from history, it’s that we need to face the harsh reality of fossil fuel scarcity and begin something like a Manhattan project to develop clean, economical, and preferably sustainable new sources of energy. Just as importantly, we need to innovate on the side of conservation and efficiency.” While there is valid dispute about just which point we are at with regard to the scarcity of fossil fuels, the larger considerations stand.

I made a similar point in my most recent Acton Commentary, “Transcendence and Obsolescence: The Responsible Stewardship of Oil,” in which I argue that “human stewardship of oil and other petroleum-based fuels entails a responsibility to use the economic opportunities they afford to find and integrate other renewable, sustainable, and cleaner sources of energy, especially represented by the promise of nuclear power, into our long-term supply.”

On a related note, check out this WaPo story, “Md. County Offers Incentives To Boost Nuclear Operation”:

There may be growing acceptance of nuclear power, owing to concerns over global warming, dependence on foreign oil and skyrocketing energy costs. Some leading environmentalists are saying nuclear energy should at least be explored as a way to offset global climate change.

But Jim Riccio, a nuclear policy analyst with Greenpeace International, said nuclear power remains unsafe and is too dependent on government subsidies. He is keeping an eye on Calvert County developments. “No ifs, ands or buts,” he said. “Until the last dog dies, Greenpeace will be anti-nuclear.”