Academic, No-Agenda Meetings

I think I am going to like academic no-agenda meetings. Our academic dean had a meeting this afternoon where we just sat around had some coffee and cookies and talked. We talked about some difficult topics, had some lighter moments, but ultimately it was a time of creating a sense of camaraderie.

Today was one of those days that seemed to be uneventful, but moved very quickly. I took care of the taxes for my truck, bought some dog food for Lucy, met with my SIFE board, and had a business department meeting. All in all, I felt out of step with all of those activities. I felt like I was Paul crossing the street in front of the Apple studios as the only one out of sequence. I have been working on a project and school and found out that there will be a committee put together to put the project together. I don;t care whether I am putting together this plan, I just want it to happen. So I am dealing with feelings of disappointment. It was just that kind of day.

I love my job, and I love where my research is taking me. I am encouraged by how I am changing philosophically. I feel like I am building upon a good foundation.

I don’t know what all of this means. Little old me will never change the world. But little old me has changed a lot. I am still a believer in Jesus Christ. I am still a professor at Warner Pacific College, and hope to be for a long time to come. I am not disillusioned by the state of the world. I am challenged on how to use the principles of free enterprise to make a difference.

Wesley’s concepts of make as much money as you can, save as much as you can, and give as much as you can is wonderful. I think this is a critical element of free enterprise. I am convinced this is the way to go. This blog is a like the kind of day I had.

It was an odd day! I did not accomplish as much as I thought I would, but I never quit thinking. I am ok and tomorrow is another day.

And that is my thought for today!

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We Need A Change!

In previous blogs I have written about the problems associated with Corporate Cronyism. I am not the only one who sees the issues associated with an unfair playing field. In a recent Rasmussen poll, 68% “of voters said they believe government and big business work together against the rest of us.” This unholy partnership is nurtured through increased lobbying activities. I agree with Koch when he states in his WSJ article, “The growing partnership between business and government is a destructive force, undermining not just our economy and our political system, but the very foundations of our culture.”

This cronyism creates a system based of favors, you scratch my back and i’ll scratch yours. Instead of focusing on meeting a customer’s needs the company focuses on which party will give it the biggest handout. This system then evolves into a political system that picks winners and losers. The result of this system is businesses that are unable to compete in the international realm, subsequently leading to higher prices for us. An example of this was given in Koch’s article this morning. “By subsidizing and mandating politically favored products in the energy sector, the government is pushing up energy prices for all of us.” Koch, who has been a recipient of these favors, Koch Industries, states that these subsidies actually kill jobs not create them. Government intervention kills efficiency not enhances it.

When we hang around the fort waiting for government handouts creativity dies. Things come to easily, and we just wait for the next shipment of meat, blankets, or whatever. It kills the entrepreneurial spirit. Another way our political system kills entrepreneurism is its policies. I’ve written about this before, but I just read a new wrinkle in this discussion.

“In 2009, Argentinian entrepreneur Pablo Ambram spent three months at a prestigous business incubator in San Diego, California developing his company, Agent Piggy, which uses technology to teach children about financial management.” Ambram did everything he needed to do to create a business, but his visa ran out and he had to leave. America has no visa category for immigrants who want to start a business and create jobs. Ambram wanted to incorporate in the U.S. because of the size of the market, but was not allowed to due to our policies.

Don’t get me going on how our current tax system hurts the ability of new businesses to start here in the United States. The fact is we need to look at our overall business tax structure and political policies to ensure we can compete at the highest level internationally. If we allow cronyism to continue we will become an Italy, or worse evolve into a state capitalism like China or Russia. We need a fresh set of eyes looking at this issue.

And that is my thought for the day!

Boomer Career Encore

As much as I’d like to write about an article I read today entitled “The Battle Hymn of the Slacker Father,” I have chosen to write about Baby Boomers. I am a Baby Boomer. I was born right in the middle of the age range usually attributed to Boomers, and I possess all of the characteristics of the Boomer generation, both good and bad. The latest characteristic under discussion involving Boomers is how they are recreating themselves.

Boomers are aging, but instead of retiring they are choosing new careers. The careers they are choosing usually involve a cause. AP writer David Carpenter discussed this today in the Columbian. He calls these careers Encore Careers, or “paid work that combines personal meaning with social purpose.” It seems this is a pervasive phenomenon. “As many as 9 million people ages 44 to 70 already are in such careers as the second and third acts of their working lives.” But with the Boomer population at 76 million, there just might be a whole lot more people exploring secondary careers that involve a cause.

There are many reasons for this event, such as shifting cultural values, financial realities, and longer life expectancy, but I think it may be something else. The Boomers grew up in the 60’s, and many of us protested against the man. We also felt we could not trust anyone over 30, but eventually all of us hit 30 and beyond. Maybe our desire to find cause related careers is connected to our earlier feelings. Because we had to sell out, go to work, and become the establishment, we may just feel guilty. We never took that trip to New Orleans on the chopper; we never lived in a Teepee; and we never solved the issue of poverty. Maybe these new careers are our attempt to deal with the guilt associated with these failures.

I don’t know if guilt is the reason I retired from Boeing and started teaching, but I know now that I have an encore career. I am making a lot less money than when I was working for Boeing, but I am much more fulfilled. I am working longer hours, but I am happier. My current role as a professor means that I have the opportunity to lead a group of students on a journey of discovery. My cause involves helping students to learn the value of life long learning. To me this is much more important then making airplane parts.

And that is my thought for the day!

The Free Market, Grameen Bank, and Mohammad Yunus.

Yesterday in my Economics class, we covered the concept of efficiency. By displaying how a free market is efficient I argued that the more free a market is the more value will be created. In other words, everyone is better off. The consumer is getting a deal, while the entrepreneur is making a profit. I also displayed the impact of regulation on efficiency and how government intervention reduces the efficiency of the market. Realize a free market is an ideology, one that may be impractical due to the fall of humankind (there will always be those who try to take advantage of the system). Thus, the free market needs some level of government oversight. Trying to figure out what that level is, is the $65,000,000 question.

All of us understand the importance of earned success. Thus, an economic system should be able to create jobs for as many people as possible. Thus a free market, one that is efficient, will provide opportunities for entrepreneurs to earn success. Arthur Brooks discusses this in his free market treatise. “Making a moral case for job creation is not hard: Jobs are not just a source of money for Americans; they are a ticket to earned success. High unemployment, especially when it is avoidable, is fundamentally unfair because it robs people of their potential fulfillment. It is especially harmful to the poor and the young, who have fewer economic opportunities then others.” Job creation is at the top of everyone’s what to do next list. To accomplish this, Brooks tells us there are three things that need to be our focus.

First, get government out of running businesses. As we have seen government choices on who to bail out and who to let fail has been cronyistic. We have been stuck at over 8% unemployment for quite a while now, and we need to commit to a free market situation.

Second, the government must do its job, guard against special interests. Cronyism is prevalent in our business and political system. This hurts the market and leads to monopolistic activities that hurt the consumer.

Third, keep the government payroll to a minimum. Large numbers of government employees require greater levels of taxes. Taxes reduce the ability of the free market to perform at an efficient level.

The level of efficiency within government is notoriously nonexistent. Whether it is FEMA and its inability to meet the needs of people in Louisiana. Or currently, in how the government has reduced America’s ability to compete, government is inefficient. However, a recent example of government inefficiency can be found in Bangladesh.

Mohammad Yunus, a professor of Economics, decided to go back to his home. He arrived in Bangladesh and ran into some women who wanted to start a business. They were complaining about the local loan sharks who were charging high interest rates. So he asked the women how much they needed to pay off the loan sharks and start their business. It equated to about $27. So he gave them the money out of his pocket. Thus, Grameen Bank was born, as was Social Business.

Eventually, 2006, Grameen Bank and Mohammad Yunus would be awarded a Nobel Prize for its micro-lending mission. Grameen Bank has been, “providing life-changing micro-loans to poor people.” Grameen loans money to woman who start businesses, and then pay back the money at very low interest rates. Last time I checked about 97% of the clients who borrow money pay it back. “With 8.3 million borrowers, Grameen is the source of capital for women entrepreneurs and has used its influence and resources to support education, community-hygiene initiatives, affordable healthcare and better nutrition.” Not only has the bank provided opportunities for its clients, it has provided opportunities for social justice and civic improvement. This is a great example of  an efficient market.

Another interesting fact about Grameen is that it is run by its borrowers. The borrowers are the majority owners and thus choose who the bank’s managing director is. The Bangladeshi government wants to change this arrangement. Grameen is a unique situation. “Grameen Bank is more than just another financial institution. It is a living demonstration of how people who lack advantages of any kind can nevertheless lift themselves out of poverty through hard work and personal accountability.”

The government of Bangladesh will never run this company better than the people who have been loyal to the institutional principles initiated by Yunus.  “The idea that poor people can run their own bank successfully has been very empowering.” And it is a testimony to the power of a free market.

And that is my thought for the day!

A Superstar Economy

I received several great comments as a result of my blog yesterday. And yes, I am arguing for moderation. Big government, as well as unrestrained greed, will lead to the oppression of people. Therefore, in my opinion any meritocratic economic system must be guided by compassion and ontology. If there is no cognizant oversight, the worst will happen. “The money will go into channels which will carry it, not to the most productive, but to the most corrupt.” Who is John Galt?

Yesterday Tiger Woods came in third place. However, his earnings took him over $100 million. This is just the amount he has earned by winning tournaments, not from endorsements. The closest golfer to Woods is about 33% behind. Therefore, the world of golf has a superstar, which has affected the earning capabilities of all golfers. PGA purses have grown exponentially since the advent of Woods. Right, wrong, or indifferent, that is a fact.

In this example we can see the effects of a superstar, or high performer, on the overall system. The need to perform is higher, but so is the reward. This generates a system of winners and losers, but increases incentives. However, the cost necessary for this reward becomes higher too. An example of this is the climbing cost of education.

Parents recognize that in a superstar economy they need to invest in the education of their child. This investment helps the child prepare for the requirements and rewards. This works if you have the resources available, but to those who don’t, it creates human despair. In fact, “between 1973, and 2010, the male labor-force-participation rate went from 79 percent to 70 percent, largely because the number of less-educated men grew.” Many of these men are from working class backgrounds, but the according to Zingales, this could spread to the middle class as education costs rise.

The superstar economy is a win-lose event. However, it is not imperative that it stay this way. Business As Mission, can be expressed in two different manners. First, as we see in the life of Paul the Apostle, Business As Mission, was career endeavors (tentmaking) used to further the Kingdom of God. The purpose then of business is to create an organization for the purpose of demonstrating God’s love through economic pursuit.  The second expression, is the pursuit of economic gain for a purely social reason. Obviously, business must be effective and efficient, we can interpret that as profitable, and it must be environmentally friendly, but the ontology is focused on social justice. The drive is to create profit for the social order.

The superstars create value, raise the stakes, which in turn encourages others to do the same. Interesting! Milton Friedman believed that the only socially responsible thing a company needs to do is to create profit within the boundaries of the law. Today, all companies are doing more than that. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is being expressed in manners that go far beyonds the legal confines. As Richard Branson has stated, anyone doing business today needs to be socially responsible. Thus, the superstars can change the way we do business to one of compassionate competition for the good of all.

And that is my thought for the day!

John Galt, Paulo Freire, and Entitlements

Saturday’s WSJ had an excellent article discussing whether entitlements are corrupting us or not. Nicholas Eberstadt argues that entitlements are corrupting us, while William Galston argues they are part of the civil contract. I’d like to discuss this argument while framing the discussion with “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” and Ayn Rand.

Entitlements are government transfers to individuals in the form of Social Security, Disability, unemployment payments, and welfare. This is not an all inclusive list, but it gives us the idea of what is represented by the term. Entitlements help to distribute wealth in a more egalitarian manner. The growth of this activity is staggering. In 1960, “U.S. government transfers to individuals totaled about $24 billion in current dollars.” However, in 2010, according to the WSJ, that amount has grown by almost 100 times. “In 2010 alone, government at all levels oversaw a transfer of over $2.2 trillion in money, goods, and services.” We must ask, is this creating a taker’s mentality in the United States?

Or, can we see these entitlement payments as a response to the terrible economic times we are currently experiencing? In reality, are they just opportunities to support the ethos of the past and help to get us through the hard times?  The United States has always had a sense of self-reliance. “The proud self-reliance that struck Alexis de Tocqeville in his visit to the U.S. in the early 1830’s extended to personal finances. The American individualism about which he wrote did not exclude social cooperation – the young nation was a hotbed of civic association.” In other words, we worked hard and helped one another. Does large government entitlements support this ethos of the past of does it create something else?

In my opinion, if we just give entitlements to people with no expectation we will create a reservation mentality. In other words people will desire to “hang around the fort for government handouts.” Entitlements are a hinderance if the only form of action. Entitlements are just as exploitive and destructive as unfettered capitalism.

Freire in his classic defines the “pedagogy of the oppressed” as a dehumanized relationship between those in power and those who are not. The key word in the above sentence is dehumanized. Freire states, “They cannot see that, in the egoist pursuit of having as a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have.” These individuals lose their humanity by giving into the system of consumption. To maintain this system, they oppress those who do not have because they did not earn the stuff. Freire then believes a system is created to maintain status quo, so those that have will keep, and those that don’t will be kept in their poverty.

The possessors then use available systems to ensure that the lazy folks stay in their place. “If others do not have more, it is because they are incompetent and lazy, and worst of all is their unjustifiable ingratitude towards the generous gestures of the dominant class. Precisely because they are ungrateful and envious the oppressed are regarded as potential enemies that must be watched.”

I do think Freire has a point. Many I talk to seek to blame an economic system for this oppression, but I think this is incorrect. Freire does not blame economics, but the interaction of people. A system of entitlements is just as oppressive as unrestrained capitalistic pursuit. The oppressor is large government in this case, creating a dependence on benevolent big brother.

Ayn Rand was a philosopher and anticommunist. She explored the concept of objectivism, individual rights, and rational self-interest. In “Atlas Shrugged,” she explores a United States where the movers decide they will not be taxed by the government. During the first part of the book one question is constantly asked, who is John Galt? Eventually we find out that Galt is the individual who leads the strike that, “stops the motor of the world.” I have just started this book, and I am sure I will write more.

What is my point? Ontology of humanity is central to our existence. Humanity needs purpose. Therefore, dehumanization occurs through the process of limiting our ability to find purpose. An economic system based in cronyism creates a non-egalitarian event that is oppressive, which is what Marx discussed. Therefore, free marketers need to be aware of this and respond by self-policing commerce. However, a system of entitlements create the same type of oppression. If the entitlement system our government proposes is left unchallenged America will become one large reservation where we are all hanging around the fort waiting for our monthly checks. Talk about oppression.

And that is my thought for the day!