Thinking About The Future!

Do we think about the future? Are we prepared for the future? These are questions I have been pondering after an article over the weekend that discussed required retirement funds to maintain your current lifestyle. I think I am pretty close, but have no desire to retire yet. But it has motivated me to think about the future.

The state of Washington better start thinking about what they will do if Boeing pulls out and moves to South Carolina. Currently three 787’s per month are being built in North Charleston, but now there is discussion that the new 777X will also be partially built in South Carolina, a non-union state. What would happen to the economy in Washington if Boeing pulls out completely? Although the state is more diversified, Boeing still has a huge impact on our state economy. So Washington you better start thinking about this. I know Governor Jay Inslee is looking at this, and hopefully it is not too late. I think the Union’s that are working with Boeing had better think about this too.

However, the bigger impact of not thinking about the future will be the lack of foresight when it comes to scientific research. Large companies will always expend a certain percentage of it’s budget on Research and Development. Product lines mature and decline, and these companies know that if they don’t pay attention then they will cease to exist. However, a good portion of research that has impacted business has been accomplished by government-supported research. And as Gerald Seib states, “business needs to pay attention to this.”

What are the examples of government funded research that has impacted business? “Dr. Ruth Benerito developed the easy-care cotton process that led to permanent press clothing, as well as flame-resistant furniture.” This one event provided the initiative needed by US textile manufacturers, and a much need “boost” to the cotton industry in its fight against synthetics. Dr. Benerito was a research chemist working for the Department of Agriculture.

Other research accomplished by government agencies that have impacted our lives are bar-codes, GPS systems, the computer touch screen, and government research involvement in the development of the Internet (which is well documented). The impact of government-funded research on our lives is immeasurable. Therefore, we should really think through cutting spending in this area.

“A study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that overall federal research-and-development funding could be reduced by $57.5 billion, or 8.4%, if the sequester stays in place.” I don’t know how much that will specifically impact our future, but I do know that R&D is something that is critical to any entity’s future, and I think it is strategically critical to our country’s continued hegemony.

Additional data gives an indication that less research is being funded. Research says that fewer research grants are being requested and fewer are actually being funded. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? “The effects ripple out directly to research universities, which are the engines for the most ambitious and innovative government funded research.” Seib adds to this, “At the University of Notre Dame, the sequester has caused a drop in government-funded research of between 6% and 10% this year.”

There is no question that our country needs to cut spending. Our debt cannot continue to grow every year. We are leveraging our future to maintain a current lifestyle, which is dangerous. Any company will tell you how important it is to have a rational debt to asset ratio.

However, we need to think these cuts through clearly and strategically, which is what a skilled manager will do. Oh wait, we are talking about politicians, they are neither rational nor strategic.

And that is my thought for the day!

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The Power Of Business

On Saturday I had the opportunity to be a judge for several middle and high school students who were creating small businesses. They spent the day learning how and then creating a businesses plan. One important caveat was they student team had to describe how their business would honor God. The judges awarded a cash gift to the best team. I was asked to give some final thoughts, and I stated that these young people demonstrated to me the power of business to create good in society.

This morning during my reading I had the pleasure to learn about Peter Omidyar, who was the founder, along with the first employee and President Jeffrey Skoll, of Ebay. Omidyar Network is his new business venture, which invests in small businesses, social entrepreneurships, and non-profits that are in the business of helping people. The category of business that Omidyar’s new offering would be listed in is venture-philanthropy. Omidyar focuses on “five main areas of investment: financial inclusion, consumer internet and mobile telecoms, education, property rights, and open government.”

Organizations, such as KIVA.org, which provides microloans are supported with both financial and process support. The process support helps the organization run more effectively and efficiently. “Omidyar’s network “provides money for the charity,” but it also has a human resource department that will help the organization hire the right people. The organizations he supports find that the help with running the business is more important than the money itself.

Omidyar has also bought into the idea that there is money at the bottom-of-the-pyramid. He is a believer in impact investing, but is also a firm believer in taking a risk. “He has concentrated on trying to build viable businesses that sell to the poorest consumers, where costs must be pared to the bone.” Examples are D.light, “a provider of cheap lamps that use solar energy, eliminating the need for kerosene lamps. Bridge International Academics that provide children in Kenya with a decent education for $5 per month. And Microensure, “a firm that gets mobile-phone companies to provide free life-assurance as an incentive for loyal subscribers.”

This is a fairly new endeavor, and it has a long way to go. However, I think this demonstrates the power of business to create good. Omidyar, just like other social entrepreneurs, is seeking new business models that can not only meet social need, but be run effectively and efficiently, thus creating excess value.

Business is about meeting needs. A non-profit business’ mission is to meet a client’s need. A for-profit business is about meeting a customer’s need. There is mission in both cases. One is trying to make a profit while the other is trying to effectively use the funds donated. In both cases the organizations are trying to have higher levels of productivity. They are both trying to create more output with less input.

Business is completing your mission. The mission is first and foremost providing service. It is not profit. If we lose that fact, then we lose the reason for being in business. We lose our soul. This is when Jesus’ words ring out “what good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul.” It feels good to meet a need; it doesn’t feel good to sell a substandard product to steal from someone else; or to provide a substandard service because we are serving a particular demographic.

Business is amoral, neither good nor bad. It is us that make it that way. Business, as we have seen in many cases, can be exploitive, but it can also be a huge power for good, and that we have seen too.

And that is my thought for the day!

The Christ-centeredness of Business!

The other day I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on how Christ-centeredness plays a role in teaching business. I pointed out that who I am in Christ must make a difference in who I am in the classroom. I also pointed out that if I am a Christian who owns a business, how I run that business must be a result of my relationship with Jesus. If I am really a Christian then that is the way it must be. There is no separation between my faith and how I live my life.

I also discussed the fact that this tension, being a business-person and being a Christian, is played out in several levels. From a philosophical perspective this tension plays out how business is exercised in general; then how this plays out at the organizational level, such as how much I pay my employees, and lastly at the individual level where one lives their life everyday at work.

I also mentioned the inconsistency associated with those who criticize business.  I gave the example of Michael Moore. Moore stated “So, here’s my question: after fleecing the American public and destroying the American dream for most working people, how is it that, instead of being drawn and quartered and hung at dawn at the city gates, the rich got a big wet kiss from congress in the form of a record tax break, and no one says a word? How can that be? I think it’s because we’re still addicted to the Horatio Alger fantasy drug. Despite all the damage and all the evidence to the contrary, the average American still wants to hang on to this belief that maybe, he or she (mostly he) just might make it big after all.”

We have to remember that even though Moore grew up in a working class family in Michigan, he is now worth $55 million. He owns a $1 million apartment in New York City, and a $1 million plus home in Michigan. Seems to me he is one of the 1% that he complains about, and he is a Horartio Alger. He is actually proof of the concept.

I enjoyed thinking about this, and I enjoyed discussing the topic with other professors. Economics is central to human existence. We all have to make money to live. As a business person who is a Christian how I do business is important. I must never forget that reality.

And that is my thought for the day!

 

The Changing World Of Evangelicalism

I have been in this world for several decades now and have observed many changes. Some are good and some not so good. One of the worst changes in my opinion was when the Evangelical Church moved into politics. I have come to believe that it was akin to Constantine’s legalization of Christianity in 313 AD. During the reign of Constantine some would argue the Church went from Silver and Gold have I none, but what I have I give to you, representing the power of God’s Spirit, to having reduced spiritual power while developing stronger political power.

Even Billy Graham learned a lesson about political involvement through his experience with Richard Nixon. Billy Graham said he was crushed by Nixon’s behavior, and after this important lesson never got involved with politics again. He focused on what his job was, winning people to Christ.

Any discussion of the Church’s role in society is always rich. Richard Niebuhr wrote about this tension in his 1951 classic “Christ and Culture.” In this book he explores five possible archetypes for a Christian’s engagement with culture: Christ against culture; Christ of culture; Christ above culture; Christ transforming culture; and Christ and culture in paradox. In light of what Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention, has just announced I think this warrants a discussion. “Mr. Moore, a 42-year-old political independent and theologian who heads the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, says its time to tone down the rhetoric and pull back from the political fray.” The reason is a result of the millennial’s “visceral recoil” from the culture wars. The tension between generations, and the tension involving the Church’s role in the world, is nothing new.

Niebuhr eloquently describes the various ways of understanding the Church’s role in society in his 1951 book. Christ against culture, speaks of an antagonistic tension between the Christ (representing the Church) and the world that sees the world as hopelessly fallen. The Christ of culture takes a more homogeneous approach of an absence of tension between Christ and the world, Christ seeks to understand the common good and becomes its champion. The Christ above culture, was advocated by Thomas Aquinas, arguing that all that is good in the world comes from God. However, for optimization to occur there needs to be Spirit revelation and mediation of the Church.

The next Niebuhr position is Christ transforming culture, which may be where the Church needs to retrench. Christ through His Spirit is evangelizing and transforming society. As Christianity Today stated in its definition of this position, “Business, the arts, the professions, family life, education, government – nothing is outside the purview of Christ’s dominion, all must be reclaimed in His name.”

The last option is Christ and culture in paradox. This view declares that although God has established worldly institutions, such as government, and the Church must be in the world, that there is a tension experienced as the Christian tries to figure out the path that God has called them too. Christianity Today argues that this is the most difficult of positions to understand. However, they do a good job of describing this paradox, “Evangelicalism generally eschews paradox. We prefer the clarity of binary opposition, and there are many such pairs in the Bible; light versus darkness, good versus evil; the kingdom of God versus the Kingdom of Satan; the Church versus the world; the flesh versus the spirit.  Yet, we are Bible people, and we must listen also to Scriptures that speak of the kingdom itself as a mixed field (Matthew 13:24-30), full of wheat and tares, and of the Christian life as being in the world and not of it.” I like that, and I embrace that position in my life as a Christian.

I for one am tired of being known for what I am against. I for one am tired of being painted as a bigot, or hate monger, etc. I am speaking generically as the Church. I agree with Mr. Moore, that it is time to move away from the political argument, but not the cultural argument. It is time to repent and turn back to God. It is time to have what Glen Stassen calls a “Thicker Jesus,” a Jesus that can meet the needs of this day and age.

It is time to be a clearer reflection of the One we love to a world that is getting worse and worse. Gladwell, in his book David and Goliath, discusses the decades long conflict in Northern Ireland. He discussed the hundred and thousands of people that were killed due to religious differences. As I read that I remembered a song from the 70’s sung by a Christian duo, Malcolm and Alwyn. The song was entitled “The World Needs Jesus” and it was on their album “Fool’s Wisdom:”

In the middle of this crazy world

Heavy with sorrow and grief, oh, what a mess

Like a ship that is sinking to its doom

Carrying its treasure

Oh, where can a young life turn

 

Oh, Oh the world needs Jesus

 

There’s Protestants and Catholics

Both having themselves a war

While the world looks on and wonders what for

But my Lord brings His message, its true and its clear

But there’s so much confusion it brings me to tears

 

Oh, oh the church needs Jesus

There is more to the song and you can listen to it on YouTube, but that is enough now. The world needs Jesus, it doesn’t need Republicanism, and its doesn’t need Capitalism; but it surely needs Jesus. And even more, the Church needs Jesus. And even more than that, I need Jesus.

And that is my thought for the day!

 

 

A New Kind Of Capitalism

Yesterday was a great day, and today promises to be a good one too. Our College’s Board of Turstees are meeting on our campus and three of my Social Entrepreneurship students had the opportunity to tell them a little about themselves. I have to say I am very proud of those young people. They did an incredible job.

Today two of my Master’s students will be presenting their thesis to the Board, which will also lead to a good day. The presenters are discussing two very different topics, but both relevant to the College. I am looking forward to this.

Both events are connected because they both speak to reality of change and the need to adapt. This is what Capitalism needs to do. We need to find a way to practice benevolent capitalism that will encourage people to take initiative for their lives. This has occurred in areas around the globe with fantastic results, but now it seems our homeland needs a helping hand.

Poverty in our nation is becoming the norm. As reported today by the Washington Post.,“A majority of students in public schools throughout the American South and West are low-income for the first time in at least four decades,” many of our young students are eligible for free and reduced meals.

However, as tragic as this is, the more poignant element of this article involved another comment, “In a large swath of the country, classrooms are filled with children who begin kindergarten already behind more privileged peers and lack the support at home to succeed and are more likely to drop out of school or never attend college.” This to me is much more of a concern. If we are talking about elementary school children that are less motivated to learn and are stuck in a poverty trap, then how can we continue as the hegemon for the world? Or have we lost the desire to lead?

In this new environment where we should not assume that our children have the desire and support to function as productive members of society, maybe we need some new variation of Capitalism? Over the last two decades we have experienced almost unfettered globalization. However, the great recession has many governments questioning the idea of a one-world economy, and having the “economic fruits of this opportunity going to the richest 1%,” is motivating governments to question the validity of Capitalism in general.

America has been the hegemon of this phenomenal growth, but now we are losing the respect and ability to lead this transformation. As the Economist reports we may have lost the desire, but China is not ready yet to be the leader. The question in my mind is where do we as a country go?

We are mired in debt, our children are suffering from the effects of impoverishment, the richest 1% are benefiting from our economic rebound, and we are losing ground economically, spiritually, and educationally to the rest of the world.

It is time regroup and refocus. It is time to repent, and create a new way of thinking that creates a hope based in reality. Michael Moore in his movie “Capitalism A Love Story” displays a dog jumping up next to a table. The dog is begging for scraps from the table. Moore’s point is that the haves are trying to make the have-nots believe that if they work hard enough they can get the scraps from the table. Moore is implying that it doesn’t occur. I vehemently disagree with him.

Thomas Sowell in this morning’s paper recounted how in the 1950’s, a time not known for its racial tolerance, worked hard to get ahead. Even though he is black he did not listen to the naysayers who were saying that a black man could not get ahead. He believed if he worked hard he would earn a better life. This is just as true today as it was back then. However, it may be just a little bit harder.

One reason for this difficulty is changing technology. I also think our educational systems have become inefficient. I also think our political system is corrupt. Even though all these elements are in place to make things a little more difficult, barriers are not new. There were barriers in the past, just different ones.

So people, don’t give up! Stay in school, work hard, and most of all don’t listen to the voices that say you will never amount to anything. That is just not true. Work hard, and keep focused. Good things will come.

And that is my thought for the day!

Jacksonians And Jeffersonians

Our nation is changing, some feel for the better and others for the worse. Many cry out, “we are no longer a Christian nation.” Others say that we are quickly heading to hell. On an on it goes. Who is right? Or better yet is this a zero sum event, where one side is right and the other wrong? I don’t know, but it is an interesting road of thought to travel.

Has the United States changed? Absolutely! Has it become more diverse? Absolutely! Has our social mores changed? Absolutely! Has the general population become more affluent? Absolutely! Has technology changed to make our lives easier? Absolutely! Yes, the United States has changed immensely over my lifetime. Are the social, economic, and political changes that have occurred good? It depends on what you mean by the term good.

I ran across a term this morning that intrigued me, the term was Jacksonian. Jacksonians are people who, “are suspicious of federal power; skeptical about do-gooding at home and abroad; they oppose federal taxes but favor benefits such as Social Security and Medicare that they regard as earned. Jacksonians are anti-elitist; they believe that the political and moral instincts of ordinary people are usually wiser than those of the experts and while problems are completed, solutions are simple.” We see this typology in many of our heroes, the Lone Ranger, Dirty Harry, and even John Wayne. They are the strong and silent type always doing the right thing.

The article I was reading took this description and applied it to the Tea Party. The writer described the Tea Party “as Jacksonian America, aroused, angry, and above all fearful, in full revolt against the new elite – backed by the new American demography – that threatens its interests and scorns its values.” I think the operative word here is fearful. The Jacksonians see the world around them changing and they don’t like it. Is this bad? Evil? Bad for America? Absolutely not!

Another term in my reading was Jeffersonian. Jeffersonians believe in the “Republic, as a form of government, and equality of political opportunity, with a priority for the yeoman farmer, planters, and the plain-folk. They were antagonistic to the aristocratic elitism of merchants and manufacturers, distrusted factory workers, and were on the watch for supporters of the dreaded British system of government.” Jeffersonians advocated for a strong local government, instead of a big central government.

Obviously there are similarities within these two viewpoints and differences. However, things seemed to be simpler in the days of Jefferson and Jackson. We were a country that was growing. We were expanding our borders; we were dealing with growing pains; and learning how to run an expanding government. We had just finished fighting an oppressive regime while creating an entrepreneurial country. What occurs at the point of start up is much different than when a business is mature and heading into decline.

Our organization, country, is at a crisis point. It is a crisis of leadership. Mature organizations will often need to create new strategy to recover what has been lost. Mature organizations often have complacent leadership; leadership that has lost its edge.

In the words of Malcolm Gladwell, the above characteristics, such as complacent leadership, are associated with moving from being a David to being a Goliath. The drive and ingenuity that made David successful is lost, and by becoming a Goliath we think that because of our size and strength we are undefeatable. This leads to an affluency trap. The affluency trap is a mental-model that captures the organizations thinking leading to loss of effort, quality, and subsequent success.

This is what has happened to our country. We have been on the top of the heap for so long, that we now take for granted our success. We have lost our hunger and ability to adapt to changing environments. We want to keep what we have, but have lost the will to fight for it. Our ability to do the right thing has been overshadowed by our elitist mentality, expressed in the desire to maintain political power rather than making good decisions. Both Jackson and Jefferson are turning over in their graves right now.

We have put on so much armor we can’t even move to generate the right amount of energy to fight. We are vulnerable, and if we don’t change some David is going to come along and sling a rock at us at 150 mile-per-hour, hit us in the forehead, and take our head.

I hope our political leaders prove me wrong and actually accomplish something, but I am not holding my breath. The stone is on its way, and our armor is so heavy we cannot move quickly.

And that is my thought for the day!

Knaves And Fools

Tonight on the news there was a story about one of the 400 critically ill patients across the United States that are waiting for experimental treatment. I know the report was supposed to demonstrate how the shutdown is affecting the most vulnerable, but I didn’t think it was fair to target just the Republicans as the report did, but I think the Republicans have brought this on to themselves.

Alan Blinder in today’s article “The GOP’s Flirtation With Disaster” was the one who called all of the politicians Knaves and Fools. He started his article with “While I get more cynical about politics every year, I keep concluding that I’m not cynical enough.” Man, I agree with that statement. While watching every stupid things our leadership does, my political cynicism grows. This involves all politicians Democrat and Republican, and even some of our local Clark County Commissioners.

This Congressional stupidity has harmed our country in several different ways. According to Economists, each week that the government is partially shutdown the GDP growth rate is cut by .15 to .2 of a percentage point. The economists state we will experience the results of this in the fourth quarter of 2013. OF course we can make this up in the first quarter of 2014, at least according to Blinder, but this process has hurt 800,000 government employees, “plus tens of millions of Americans who depend on government services.”

Obviously there is a financial cost associated with the shutdown and a clean CR (continuing resolution), but what about the ongoing cost of a huge deficit and growing Federal debt? The deficit this year will end up being $750 billion. They say that is “roughly 4.5% of GDP.” If Congress does not pass a debt increase then the government budget will need to be cut $750 billion immediately. However, the government will be out of money on Oct 17, so Obama and Michelle, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi and all the other people in Congress will need to go back to their communities and stand on the freeway off-ramps and raise $750 billion or immediately cut the budget by 20%. If we did cut the budget this much it would result in reducing the “GDP by more than 4.5% – in an economy that is barely managing 2% growth rates,” this will initiate another recession.

I really like what Blinder says about how this CR and default is diminishing our reputation as a country. If we default our interest rates will rise. These rates, just like any person who defaults on a loan, will last for years. And with the amount of money we owe, it could be decades.

Our currency is also the world’s currency. Many countries throughout the world currently hold some of our currency to bring stability to their economic system. If we default then the world will begin to search for a new international currency. This will be even more of a surety if the world begins to see shutdowns and defaults as being used by our Congress as tools of political blackmail.

My favorite comment by Blinder is this, “And did I mention that Washington would look like a bunch of Knaves and Fools? It is hard for a nation that has taken leave of its senses to remain the undisputed leader of the Free World.” All of this spells trouble for the Republicans. Obama has done a pretty good job of using Republican weaknesses against them. However, I think the Republicans have done it to themselves too.

Paul Ryan’s article in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal was a solid look at a negotiating process that could lead to a budget solution. I don’t think anyone is disputing that Entitlements are the part of the Federal budget that is the problem. You know it just hit me, the Federal government is like Detroit. It has made $60 trillion in unfunded promises, and everyone is losing their job and can’t pay taxes, so the Federal government has a reduced revenue stream. This is the same thing that led to Detroit’s demise; too many promises and not enough money.

I agree with David Malpass when he states that the bigger battles is in the area of our debt and spending. “The Federal Reserve will borrow $1.1 trillion in 2013 alone to buy bonds.” This is the infusion of cash into a market to stimulate consumption. This is why we have a $17 trillion debt situation.

We have a government problem, and the people of the United States have had it. Sunday on the news there was a report displaying law abiding people tearing down barriers and carrying them to the White House and throwing them down by the fence. Police were yelling at these regular folks, and the regular folks were yelling at the police. When I saw this, I thought to myself are we watching the demise of our great country?

I am afraid. Some say that world-leading countries go through a cycle of about 300 years. The country grows and becomes strong, but eventually matures and then goes into decline. Are we at the point of decline? I don’t know but I will say this, our politicians are certainly not helping.

And that is my thought for the day!