Lessons From Canada Reprised!

Sometimes I am amazed at the stupidity of our congress. In the paper this weekend there was a generic comment made about congress wanting direction. They want to know where we want them to go. My gosh I think it is clear where we want them to go. We want them to work together and deal with the gap between the tax revenue and government spending. Any thinking person recognizes this is the black swan looming. Even our wonderful neighbors to the North are warning us about the storm coming.

The American Enterprise Institute, a fairly conservative group, hosted dignitaries from Canada over the weekend. The visitors included former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. His message, “Get real about the gap between federal revenues and spending, or get ready for disaster.”

During the 90’s the Liberal Party was in control in Canada. Jean Chretien was the Prime Minister and Paul Martin was its finance minister. Martin was tasked with “pulling his country out of a fiscal death spiral.” The Canadians accomplished this with deep cuts in government spending and tax cuts. Their reasons for doing this was “not ideology, but simple arithmetic.” They knew if they did not take on the difficult task the cost of living would rise significantly.

Another Canadian speaker at this conference was Janice McKinnon. She was the finance minister for Saskatchewan in 1993. During this time Saskatchewan’s “tax-supported debt was 180% of its annual revenue.” Its credit rating was diminishing, dropping to triple B. In response they closed 52 hospitals, many schools, and thousands of people lost their jobs. McKinnon stated they did not have a choice. If they would have waited the pain would have been that much greater.

Congress if you are looking for direction, then get busy and deal with this problem. I doubt you have the will to accomplish the task. “Market discipline doesn’t exist in Washington, which has the privilege of an accommodating central issuing the world’s reserve currency. The big spenders don’t need to pay attention to pesky numbers.” You better start paying attention to the numbers, because the longer it takes to deal with the debt issue, the harder it will be and the greater the risk.

And that is my thought for the day!

The Christian College Business Program

I have been pondering our business program at the college where I teach. I have been thinking about the frame within which we have defined our mission, etc. Please understand this is not a criticism of the department leadership, but an evolutionary thought process that will hopefully help our department provide a better service to our students.

I have previously written about the topic of teaching business within a Christ-centered liberal arts institution, and have noted that this type of environment is optimal for producing business leaders for the future. I have read multiple books on the subject, but have recently found a short article written by two professors at one of our sister schools that articulates what I think I have been looking for. It is a model for teaching business in a Christ-centered liberal arts environment. The article is entitled “Salt and Light,” and was written in 1992 by Dr. Ken Armstrong and Dr. Mike Wiese. I’d like to share several points from this wonderful piece of work.

They begin the article by exploring the scientific paradigm of education. They note, accurately, that this paradigm has been widely successful for generations, but has had its critics. They also argue that due to changing societal characteristics there is a critical need for a new paradigm, especially within the Christian College realm. They cite Warren Bryan Martin as claiming “that these colleges [Christian Colleges] are best positioned to break away from the paradigm of the elite university and offer an education which places priority on the formation of student character.” The writers then focus specifically on the role of business education within the Christian College. They noted that business education emerged within the Christian College system “as one-dimensional instruction of the subjects of business.” Initially these instructors were lifelong practitioners, “not necessarily educators, and rarely research scholars.”

The way business has been taught in the past is antiquated due to the changing macroenvironment. Armstrong and Wiese identify seven challenges that are pushing for this shift of the business educational paradigm:
Increasing numbers of students coming to Christian institutions to study business.
Increased acceptance of business and other applied professional programs as legitimate fields of studies in a Christian Liberal Arts setting.
The complexity of business skills required by employers.
The sometimes less than adequate administrative skills that are exhibited in operating the local church.
The concern for higher values and standards of conduct.
The rapid growth of the non-profit sector, and its subsequent need for business skills.
The expanded emphasis for hands on experience.

These seven reasons are given for the emergence of business programs into the limelight of Christian Colleges. After they argue that some Christ-centered institutions are providing a business education that is not different than a secular college or university, and after making a compelling argument for a new paradigm, Armstrong and Wiese then describe a model that has become foundational to Anderson University.

This model does recognize that a Christ-centered, liberal arts institution will perform similar duties that secular institutions do, “teaching, research, and service.” But their model also recognizes that the Christian institution has an agenda that is very different than the secular university. This agenda includes “their desire to influence the greater society for good” When we break this down to departments, the business department is responsible to prepare its students to “move into positions of influence within business.” These leaders then are to be salt and light in order to make a difference within their chosen profession.

What then is the role of faculty in this model? I am going to let the authors describe this to you. “The authors strongly feel that if our students are to understand what it means to be salt and light they must see it modeled, and that modeling can be most effective if it includes (but is not limited to)as primary models the faculty members where the student is receiving his professional training.” In other words, faculty living out their desire to be salt  and light. In my opinion this is incredibly important. The authors then identify three points of interaction for the faculty member, or business department: Student, Community, and Church.

The authors describe that proper interaction with students as involving the modeling of teaching excellence. I have come to understand that teaching too much in not beneficial to my ability to provide a top level learning event. I have also learned that classroom engagement and enactment outside of the classroom gives a holistic scholar-practitioner element to a topic. This leads to teaching excellence. Armstrong and Wiese state, “We cannot successfully preach excellence while we model mediocrity.”

If I focus just on my thoughts concerning teaching business, after reading this article I am even more convinced that teaching business in a liberal arts environment leads to success for the business student, or teaching excellence. I am also convinced that business disciplines are applied liberal arts where elements of psychology, philosophy, and science meet. As a result, I can appropriately conclude the business department must collaborate more with its colleagues, not less, developing “integrated teaching strategies.”

The second area of interaction is the community. According to the authors, business faculty must keep current, and they must be active providing salt and light to the business community. “Any exchanges involving the discussion of human dignity, integrity, and justice with members of the business community are useful and to be encouraged.” The faculty will then live this in front of their students. This area of the discussion, in my opinion, is the most important part of this discussion. As business faculty we can teach theory in the classroom, but it is the application in community that gives the theory validity.

The third area of interaction of the Armstrong and Wiese article seems to be its weakest point. I think it is due to the assumption that business faculty within a Christian school are active within a Church. However, the writers do make an excellent point about interaction of business faculty with the Church. I think what they are saying is the business faculty, in helping equip students to understand their gifts, prepare students to function as active members within the body of Christ. This action then is comprehensive involving technical, spiritual, and ethical skills to properly function according to those gifts, including administrative gifts required for efficient church management.

I am excited to have found a model that can bring continuity to the business program I am teaching in. But I would like to close this blog by giving credence to the five observations mentioned by the authors. I would also like to add some additional comments of my own.
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This model is a working model. It is constantly changing, but it is a model that has worked for 20 years. I think our business faculty should view this as a best practice, thus debating its application at our institution.
This is not a new model, but it is systematic. I think this is something that can expand our program in a quad bottom-line manner. This quad bottom-line includes spiritual, economic, social, and  environmental elements.
This is a model for an entire business department not just one member. This to me is a critical element. This cannot be one person’s actions, but the philosophy of the department.
This model leads to increased exposure for other players within the model. “It should sensitize the student to the moral issues that are present in our society, and should open up avenues of dialogue for the student with the business and church communities as he/she struggles with lifelong priorities.” I don’t think I need to add anything to this comment.
The institution of this model will improve interaction between the business department and its stakeholders and display the business department’s struggle with what it means to be salt and light. After reading this article, it is no wonder the business department is the hub of Anderson University.

I apologize for the length of this blog entry, but this to me is an important discussion.

And that is my thought (a long one) for the day!

150 Years Ago: The Emancipation Proclamation!

The more I read about Abraham Lincoln, the more I recognize how great of a leader he was. His tenacity is well documented, and his courage cannot be doubted. Although his Presidency did not start in a stellar manner, but with a clandestine arrival in Washington D.C. due to threats on his life, he became our greatest president.

His crowning glory, the Emancipation Proclamation, was delivered on September 22, 150 years ago. However, in my reading this morning I ran across a quote from Lincoln that has a profound application to our current situation. Regarding the importance of the Civil War Lincoln stated, “I consider the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us of proving that popular government is not an absurdity.” Lincoln would clarify this concept during a 4th of July speech by elaborating on the importance of ensuring the experiment that regular people “were capable of governing themselves,” would continue.

Lincoln felt the Emancipation Proclamation  was “the central act of my administration, and the great event of the 19th century.” According to the Richard Slotkin the “proclamation wiped out $3.5 billion of investment in slaves, at a time when the entire wealth of the nation amounted to only $16 billion.” And it ensured the destruction of the “retrograde institution” called slavery. Lincoln states in his second State of the Union address, “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free, [and makes Americans] honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.”

We need a Lincoln today. A leader who believes in the sanctity of states rights, but can navigate difficult political morasses. I am tired of Obamas and Romneys who have no specific answers. I am tired of Pelosi’ and Boehners who continue to put up walls of contempt to stop progress. I am tired of a do nothing congress that allows our debt to continue to climb, leaving a negative legacy for our great grandchildren.

Absurdity has no bounds. We have one of the worst congresses in the history of this country. It appears that nothing will change that when they come back from their vacation, and I really don’t see this upcoming election changing anything either, unless we change the players.

150 years ago an infamous event occurred, one the changed the path of this country forever. Lincoln was able to ensure the true American dream would endure the conflict between the North and the South. Thank you Abraham for your great work!

Who is going to rise up and ensure that our great experiment continues?

And that is my thought for the day!

The Future Labor Force?

Everyone is talking about unemployment, but the fact is there are many jobs that are going unfilled. There are many reasons why this is the case. Nick Schultz discussed the other day in the WSJ. His article involved comments made at a recent dinner in Washington D.C. Schultz’s point is that “finding qualified applicants can be quite difficult.”

I found this article very interesting. Many of the representatives at this dinner were from the manufacturing sector. One representative described his number one problem with finding qualified people involved a problem with passing a drug test. Another representative stated, “applicants were so underqualified that simply finding someone who could answer the telephone was sometimes a challenge.”

More than 600,000 jobs in manufacturing were unfilled in 2011 due to a skills shortage. But what are the skills that are missing? Are they purely technical skills? Or is there something even more important?

Obviously the STEM skills are lacking in this country. Therefore, secondary education outlets have begun to emphasize those skills, but even more important it seems is the importance of soft skills. These missing elements include interpersonal skills, work ethic, and intrinsic motivation. On top of this there seems to be an inability to communicate with the written word and verbally.

A recent survey supports what these employers were saying at this dinner.  “The SHRM/AARP survey found that professionalism and work ethic is the top applied skill that younger workers lack.” Other surveys have identified punctuality and reliability as a problem. All of these missing social skills can affect human capital, in other words, people working together for the good of the organization.

What will is take to fix this problem? Obviously the fix is bigger than industry. The fix will need a congruent action from education and business. With the aging of the baby boomers, and the changing work environment, it is critical that we prepare our future work force. You better believe that our competitor countries are!

And that is my thought for the day!

Being A Whole Person

Lately I have been pondering motivation. Why do I do what I do? Why do I want to teach? Why do I like to travel? This has led me to think about the bigger issues of our civic life. Paul Sohn writes a blog about Salt and Light. It is in reference to our behavior as ambassadors of Christ. Therefore, what does salt and light mean to me now as I explore the role of Social Entrepreneurship? My meditations this morning reinforce my earlier thoughts on the subject. I think Wesley summarizes my thoughts well. “Make as much as you can, give as much as you can, and save as much as you can.”

As a man of faith I think it is important to work hard. This is a legacy of the early expression of faith in this country. Max Weber calls it the Protestant or Puritan work ethic. This means that a believer is called from a life of sin into  a new life with Jesus Christ. The result of this relationship is a giftedness expressed through a vocation. This is the second call. I believe in this. As we pursue our called vocation we work hard because we find fulfillment in our chosen profession. This results in prosperity. We then give away a portion of our prosperity, by choice, to help others.

The willingness to help others is foundational to being a human being. I choose to look at this from a Christian framework. This framework recognizes that God’s moral law affects all, not just the Christian. As the book of Romans tells us, all have a sense of God. All of us know what right and wrong because God has written in upon our hearts. This is His moral law.

I am thinking a two examples of how this “God reality” is being expressed by individuals. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are two of the richest men in the world. Each have promised to give away half of their fortunes. They are also convincing others to do the same. They have kicked off a new era of philanthropy, which has been given the label of philanthrocapitalism. 92 of the richest people in the world have signed on and are willing to give away part of their fortune. Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Moore (co-founder of Intel), and Mr. Hastings (founder of NetFlixs) have all signed the pledge. There are critics of this process, but for the most part these individuals are demonstrating God’s law written on their hearts.  This results in a larger sense of humanity.

Another way this willingness to make a difference is expressed is through acommitment to help people. Sometimes this occurs at the detriment of the person who passionately cares for others. An example of this is Suu Kyi of Myanmar (Burma). Today she will receive an award that was given to her by President Bush in 2008. The Congressional Gold Medal is one of the two highest civilian awards given by the United States. This award is given to the defenders of freedom and liberty.

Suu Kyi has fought hard for a democratic expression in Burma. For years she was in opposition to the leadership of Burma. This resulted in the government putting her under house arrest. She spent two decades “under various forms of house arrest or restricted movement.” She was separated from her husband and children. The Burmese government would not allow her to see her cancer ridden husband who would eventually die. Her personal cost for the freedoms the Burmese are just beginning to explore was high. Yet, she expressed the reality of God’s moral law through this desire to care.

Gates and Suu Kyi operate within very large spheres of influence. They are impacting their world in a positive manner. Each of us also have a sphere of influence. Mine involves a small college and community. God is calling me to make a difference in how we do business. I am a firm believer in Wesley’s thoughts on wealth. When we follow wesley’s axiom, then we are a whole person. Pursuing wealth without care for others means we have cut ourselves off from God’s moral law, or what some would call spirituality.

So, how are you impacting your sphere of influence? How are you making the world a better place?

And that is my thought for the day!

The Big Mess!

With the start of QE3, I think we need to discuss what this means for all of us. With the Fed buying mortgage-backed securities, there will be more money available for speeding up the economy. However, even before the full effects of QE3 are felt the annual spending of the federal government have exceeded the 2007 level by $1 Trillion. With our slow economy and reduced tax revenue we have had “a string of federal budget deficits, $1.4 Trillion in 2009, $1.3 Trillion in 2010, and another $1.2 Trillion this year.” The current national debt is around $16 Trillion, with equates to about $51,000 per individual citizen in the US. This is a lot of debt, so I think it is time that we starting figuring out what to do.

I’d like to share a comment with you that was in the WSJ this morning. In an article written by George Schultz, Michael Boskin, John Cogan, Allan Meltzer, and John Taylor we see the magnitude of this problem. “The amount of debt is one thing. The burden of interest payments is another. The treasury now has a preponderance of its debt issued in very short-term durations, to take advantage of low short-term interest rates. It must frequently refinance the debt which, when added to the current deficit, means Treasury must raise $4 Trillion this year alone. So the debt burden will explode when rates go up.”

The article continues to discuss how this problem will impact us in the long run. The article mentions the reduction of real income, increased inflation, and a more complex monetary system. According to Schultz, et al, “The fixes are blindingly obvious. Economic theory, empirical studies, and historical experience teach that the solutions are the lowest possible tax rates on the broader base, sufficient to fund the necessary function of government on balance over the business cycle; sound monetary policy; trade liberalization; spending control and entitlement reform; and regulatory, litigation and education reform.” However, to get to this point there needs to be much more dialogue than has occurred up to now. In fact, what we need is what Paulo Freire calls cooperation.

All of us know trust is the foundation of good dialogue. An erosion of trust leads to an inability to properly communicate. This is what we see in congress today. In fact, we see what Freire calls antidialogical action. “In the theory of antidialogical action, conquest (as its primary characteristic) involves a subject who conquers another person and transforms her or him into a thing.” Philosophers call this the I-it or I-thou relationship. Because I see the other as a thing the person becomes an it. Someone I can take advantage of. This is in contrast to a person that I see as a person, resulting in an I-thou relationship, which has huge communicative implications.

Instead of practicing antidialogical methodology, our congress needs to begin to see each other within an I-thou framework. If they do maybe they can work together to solve our huge problems. Our economic situation is a mess, and the longer we wait to take action the harder it will be to solve.

And that is my thought for the day!

Chicago – Not My Kind Of Town

It appears that the city of Chicago and its teachers have come to an agreement. The union was bargaining for a 30% raise, but the agreement has ensured that teachers will receive 16% raises, over three years. This is to offset the new teacher-evaluation system. The teacher’s union is concerned with the ability of its teachers to pass the evaluation. I wonder if they are just as concerned with the degenerating skills of our primary and secondary students?

Chicago teachers have been reported as receiving raises between 19% and 46% over the past five years. Don’t get me wrong, teachers work very hard and earn every penny they receive, but is this another promise that the city will not be able to pay in the long run? I don’t think we are getting it, we are in debt to our eyeballs and we are acting like we have a lot of money.

Yesterday on NPR there was are program discussing a new economic model recently developed that will use a computer to analyze the effects of various events on our level of unemployment. The bottom-line of the report was that we are going to live with higher levels of unemployment for a long period of time. This means lower tax revenue, and tighter civic budgets.

Three California cities have declared bankruptcy because they cannot pay their bills. Mammoth Lake, San Bernardino, and Stockton have all sought protection from their bills, employee pay and pensions. These cities have made promises that they cannot keep, and we will probably see more of this over the next decade.

The fact is, civically, we have been living above our means, and the piper is coming due. Because of short-term thinking the management decisions made to buy off the work force are going to take a long-term toll on people.  Right now I am listening to my dog cry because we put her in her crate. She had a little accident on the carpet when she had just been outside. She got into trouble for (as the Monks of Skete call it) eliminating on the carpet. I want to go let her out but she has to learn to eliminate outside not in the house. It is a long-term decision.

Management can be notoriously short sighted, which is what has happened with cities and their unions. Now we are going to go down a very difficult road, especially if we are going to be fiscally responsible.

And that is my thought for the day!