Posts tagged with: risk

hLOcRIn case you hadn’t noticed, “manly Christianity” has become somewhat of a thing. From the broad and boilerplate Braveheart analogies of John Eldredge to the UFC-infused persona of the now embattled Mark Driscoll, evangelical Christianity has been wrestling with how to respond to what is no doubt a rather serious crisis of masculinity.

Such responses vary in their fruitfulness, but most tend to only scratch the surface, prodding men to spend more time with the wife and kids (good), provide more steadily and sacrificially for their household (also good), spend more time in God’s creation (also good, I suppose), and eat more chicken wings and do more Manly Things™ (debatable).

Yet as Alastair Roberts artfully explains in a beautifully written reflection on the matter, the fundamental problem is, well, a bit more fundamental. (HT)

Due to a complex web of factors, some more controllable than others, society and culture have increasingly promoted a full-pronged infantilization of modern man, driven by or paired with its increasingly hollow philosophy of love and life. Thus, Roberts concludes, “The recovery of Christian masculinity will only occur as we commit ourselves to the restoration of biblical Christianity and the recovery of the weight and stakes of its moral universe.”

I have routinely written about the challenges of raising kids (particularly boys) in an age where economic prosperity, convenience, and a host of other newfound privileges make it easier than ever to insulate ourselves from external risks and skip past formative processes that were once built-in features of existence (e.g. manual labor). When it comes to the cultivation of the soul, our character, and the human imagination, what do we lose in a world wherein work, service, and sacrifice have been largely replaced by superficial pleasures and one-dimensional modes of formation? (more…)

tim-keller-head-shot-2011The Christian life is one filled with risk, driven by active faith in an active God whose ways are higher than our own. In all that we put our hands to, God calls us to turn away from the supposed predictability of our own plans and designs and rely entirely on Him.

Such an orientation transforms each area of our lives, from family and friends to politics to church life and beyond. But for those involved in entrepreneurship and business, the stakes feel particularly high, and amid the rise of modernity and overwhelming economic prosperity, the temptation to rely on our own devices is more alluring than ever before.

Christians are good at talking about “abandoning all” for the sake of the Gospel, to be sure, but what does this look like in day-to-day life? The rich young ruler made a risk calculation when asked to give all of his wealth to the poor, and based on that output, he failed. What similar calculations do we encounter as God prompts our stewardship, whether it means donating to a particular charity or investing in a new idea or enterprise? (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Friday, January 3, 2014
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Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something AwesomeIn his new book, Risky Gospel, Owen Strachan calls Christians to an active life filled with faith and risk, cautioning us away from complacency and comfortability, whether in our churches, jobs, families, political witness, or in the deeper workings of our spiritual lives.

“We must give up our man-made plans for worldly peace and prosperity,” he writes. “We must relinquish anxious management of our daily existence. We must break with a ‘play it safe’ mentality and embrace a bigger vision of our time on this earth.”

Though the thrust of such a thesis feels reminiscent of what Matthew Lee Anderson recently summarized as the ”new radicalism,” Strachan’s contribution has a particular emphasis on how such risk plays out in the ordinary and mundane aspects of our lives. In his chapter on vocation and economic engagement, for example, Strachan offers a rather balanced approach for thinking about Christian stewardship.

The Christian life is one filled with entrepreneurial pursuit, Strachan argues, but such a journey is designed and pre-destined for participants of all shapes and sizes, from the assembly line worker to the small business owner to the board-room executive:

God has commissioned us…to build and create. We are, if you will, gospel entrepreneurs. Instead of operating in a beaten-down, scared-to-risk, sitting-on-our-hands mentality in which we passively wait for the world to act upon us, we can, like the faithful servants from the parable of the talents, build godly vocations and careers for God’s glory. This kind of existence is driven by and dedicated to the gospel. Everything we undertake and create is from the outflow of God’s mercy delivered to us by the body and blood of Jesus. (more…)

Colonial Church of Edina

Colonial Church of Edina

Pastor Daniel Harrell had a heart for missions, so upon unexpectedly receiving roughly $2 million from a land sale, his Minnesota church was energized to use the funds accordingly. Though they had various debts to pay and building projects to fund, the church was committed to allocating at least 20 percent to service “outside of their walls.”

“The sensible way to spend the 20 percent would have been to find a successful service agency and write the check,” Harrell writes, in a recent piece for Christianity Today‘s This Is Our City.* “But I hated that idea. Surely we could leverage this money in a way that would let us get personally involved.”

The process proceeded as follows:

We had the money. We had the wisdom and experience, especially in fields related to business. What we lacked was our particular calling (or the energy to follow it through). What if we challenged young adults in our church and wider community to generate an idea that could become our calling?

I proposed we take $250,000 and sponsor a social entrepreneurial competition. We could invite innovators ages 35 and younger to submit project proposals with gospel values of grace, justice, love, redemption, and reconciliation. We’d ask that applicants affirm the Apostles’ Creed, because we wanted our effort to promote Christian faith. Our church would provide funding and expertise, networking, creative community, and acceleration toward successful launches. We’d use business acumen to make the projects sustainable and stress measurable outcomes. (more…)

Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller

In a recent appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Tim Keller discusses the major themes of his new book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, which aims to properly orient our work toward worship and service (HT).

In the interview, Keller argues that we live in a culture that has misplaced its identity in work, rather than pursued it as part of a deeper, more sacred commitment:

When you make your work your identity…if you’re successful it destroys you because it goes to your head. If you’re not successful it destroys you because it goes to your heart—it destroys your self-worth… What you need with faith, is faith gives you an identity that’s not in work or accomplishment, and that gives you insulation against the weather changes. If you’re successful, you stay humble. If you’re not successful, you have some ballast. So, basically, making your work your identity, kind of an idol, to use Biblical terminology, is maybe the big sin of New York City.

There is, of course, a balance, and much of Keller’s book is devoted to uncovering this balance. As he goes on to explain in the interview, “Work is a great thing when it is a servant instead of a lord.”

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As we reap the benefits of market exchange and observe the many achievements of free trade and globalization, it’s easy to give credit to the market itself, either ignoring or forgetting the supporting individuals, communities, and institutions who actively leveraged it for the common good.

Capitalism is, after all, a mere framework for human engagement. Although the constraints it imposes (“thou shalt not steal”) and the features it elevates (ownership, stewardship, risk, and sacrifice) may fit well within a broader Christian context, it says more about what we can and can’t do than what we might or might not imagine or accomplish.

As Michael Bull recently explained, through capitalism’s continuous process of value creation, it is in many ways similar to a “biblical covenant structure”:

Good businessmen understand how it works. It invariably necessitates the risk and sacrifice of what we now possess for a greater reward. Steve Jobs told us that, and demonstrated it again and again. It takes money to make money. This requires faith in the one who made the promise, even though business people do not recognize the source of the abundance is the hand of God.

Yet, of course, it is different:

God calls Man to work, which involves risk (faith), a sacrifice and some obedience to laws (which include natural and business laws), which will bring fulfillment of the promise — a greater abundance than what you sacrificed. That is where capitalism ends, but it is not where Covenant ends, and here is the problem for which socialism is tendered as a solution. (more…)

Are you a risk-adverse investor? Then you may want to avoid choosing a mutual fund that’s headquartered in an area with lots of Catholics.

New research from the University of Georgia and Southern Methodist University and published in Management Science shows that the dominant local religion—whether Protestant or Catholic—significantly affects mutual fund behaviors.

Specifically, the findings show that mutual funds headquartered in heavily Catholic areas tend to take more risks and funds in heavily Protestant areas take less risks, said lead author Tao Shu, assistant professor of banking and finance in UGA’s Terry College of Business. The paper was co-authored with Eric Yeung of the Terry College and Johan Sulaeman of Southern Methodist University.

“Finding evidence that a local culture’s religious beliefs affect mutual funds’ risk-taking decisions is surprising because this a very competitive industry. One would expect that profit chasing would eliminate all the impact of culture or anything else,” Shu said. “But, surprisingly, a local culture’s religious beliefs still impact risk-taking decisions.”

Because mutual funds make up about half of all institutional investments in the U.S., the findings have widespread implications for how investors manage their money, he added.

Shu also notes that surveys show Catholics are more tolerant and Protestants less tolerant to speculative risk than the general population. “One suggestion is that many Protestant congregations are against gambling,” said Shu, “but Catholic churches are more tolerant of it—they may even use lotteries to generate funding for the church.”

Despite the risk-preference differences, the study showed that end results are about the same and that the risk-taking associated with local religious beliefs does not lead to superior fund returns. So rather than pouring over prospectuses when choosing a mutual fund company, just look at Google Maps and pick one that is surrounded by Baptist churches.

When we think of rule of law failure, countries like Zimbabwe and Somalia come to mind. But as Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg points out in his latest piece over at Public Discourse, rule of law can also be subtly eroded in wealthy countries. The negative consequences for risk-taking, entrepreneurship, and long term investment, he says, can be far-reaching.

Risk is an inherent part of the workings of market economies. But Gregg notes that’s not the same thing as uncertainty:

Measurable risks are . . . no deterrent to the making of economic choices. If we take them seriously, they help us to calibrate our economic choices to be consistent with our responsibilities, resources, and opportunities. The same measurements also allow us to distinguish between prudent risk takers and the reckless, and reward them appropriately. Uncertainty, by contrast, involves those risks that cannot be quantified. It can occur either because of the sheer complexity of a given situation or because the subject matter cannot be reasonably measured. As long as a situation of uncertainty persists, it will deter many people from even considering whether to take economic risks.

Uncertainty in America, according to Gregg, is being magnified by the sheer complexity of laws such as the United States Internal Revenue Code:

A tax code of this size and complexity which is subject to so many sources of potentially conflicting official and semi-official explanations is bound to embody significant contradictions, and offers considerable scope for arbitrary decision-making. Uncertainty is the result. It’s also valid to claim that the same tax code may well be impossible for large numbers of honest law-abiding citizens to understand and comply with—not to mention difficult for conscientious civil servants to administer justly. As a result, many people may unintentionally violate the law or simply choose to forgo making any number of potentially wealth-creating opportunities for fear of violating the law.

Another example is the thousands upon thousands of pages of legislation being passed by Congress every year. As Gregg writes:

Then there are the rule-of-law problems associated with the sheer volume of law that directly shapes American economic life. The 2010 healthcare reform legislation, for instance, amounted to 2,700 pages. Not far behind it in length was the 2010 financial overhaul act: a mere 2,300 pages. More than a few legislators have confessed to never having read either piece of legislation in its entirety. Nor should we assume any great familiarity on their part with the thousands of pages of legislation which these acts superseded, integrated, or reinterpreted. The possibility that many laws governing healthcare and financial services have subsequently been rendered unclear, inconsistent, and impossible to comprehend is high.

These erosions of rule of law, Gregg says, result in large incentives not to take risks and not to make long-term investments. It also encourages entrepreneurs to look elsewhere for a more friendly, stable and comprehensible legal environment.

Read the piece in its entirety at Public Discourse.

I still haven’t quite gotten to a thorough fisking of “Exhibit B,” yet, and will have to be satisfied with arguing the following thesis in the meantime:

It is impossible to increase insurance coverage in America without increasing medical spending.

We cannot save enough on bureaucratic reform and government-induced “competition” to offset the new costs associated with an influx of 40+ million new participants. Certainly the newly mandated premiums, paid by those who have determined for themselves that it is not worth it to pay in to health insurance, will also offset some of the new costs. But how many of those 40+ million uninsured have voluntarily opted out?

If even a large minority, say 1/3 of the uninsured, is made up of those that have been denied coverage outright or cannot afford it because of various health factors (many estimates place that number far higher), then guaranteeing coverage to 15 million new patients will certainly surpass any of the potential gains seen in those other revenue sources. The very reason that so many of these folks do not have insurance coverage is because private firms have determined them to be too risky (that is, too expensive) to cover.

How can we mandate coverage of this group and not increase health care spending? It seems like an impossible promise.

The contention really cannot be that we can spend just as much as we are right now and extend the same qualitative and accessible health coverage to everyone. The honest situation is that we would have to spend more to guarantee coverage, and as a nation we need to decide whether that public good requires governmental mandates, regulations, and administration or if it doesn’t.

There will be new costs. We need to determine whether and how they ought to be borne.

What is the root cause of the sub-prime crisis shaking the global economy? We need to know so we don’t allow it to screw up our economy even worse.

Many point to dishonesty and poor judgment on Wall Street. There was plenty of that leading up to the near-trillion dollar bailout, and even now the stock market is busily disciplining stupid, dishonest companies.

Others point to the many people who falsified loan applications to get mortgages beyond their means. That too played a role.

But dishonesty and poor judgment are as old as Adam and Eve. Something more was at work in the present crisis, a crisis of unprecedented scope. Why didn’t profit-minded loan companies run thorough credit checks? Why did they keep pumping out low interest loans to high risk borrowers, ignoring the risks?

It’s as if somebody spiked the financial system’s punch bowl with stupid juice, driving normally prudent financiers to dash, en masse, over the cliff.

It seems that way because it is that way. The brewers of the stupid juice were largely (if not exclusively) politicians in Washington who sought to redistribute wealth from the rich and middle class to poor people with bad credit. These politicians fostered various laws and institutions that directed, cajoled and legally bullied mortgage companies to extend big loans to people with little credit.

A case in point is a group called ACORN—Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Stanley Kurtz explains in an Oct. 7 essay at National Review Online:

“You’ve got only a couple thousand bucks in the bank. Your job pays you dog-food wages. Your credit history has been bent, stapled, and mutilated. You declared bankruptcy in 1989. Don’t despair: You can still buy a house.” So began an April 1995 article in the Chicago Sun-Times that went on to direct prospective home-buyers fitting this profile to a group of far-left “community organizers” called ACORN, for assistance. In retrospect, of course, encouraging customers like this to buy homes seems little short of madness.

… At the time, however, that 1995 Chicago newspaper article represented something of a triumph for Barack Obama. That same year, as a director at Chicago’s Woods Fund, Obama was successfully pushing for a major expansion of assistance to ACORN, and sending still more money ACORN’s way from his post as board chair of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Through both funding and personal-leadership training, Obama supported ACORN. And ACORN, far more than we’ve recognized up to now, had a major role in precipitating the subprime crisis.

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