Two Americas

Under the title “America Less Exceptional,” George Will argues how a “mushrooming welfare state has done major damage to [our] nation.” His argument involves a changing ethos within our country moving from a strong protestant work ethic to one of deepening dependency. The data he provides is interesting.

“America’s welfare state transfers more than 14% of GDP to recipients, which equates to about $2.3 trillion dollars. This is indicative of what Will calls a “needy” nation. Another piece of data is that “transfer benefits to individuals through social welfare programs have increased from less than one federal dollar in four (24%) in 1963 to almost three out of five (59%) in 2013.”

We all know that Baby-Boomers are beginning to retire, and some would assume that the major source of growth in social welfare payments would be a result of the Baby-Boomers. However, Will states “more than twice as many households receive anti-poverty benefits than receive Social Security of Medicare.” Will goes on to give other details about the issue, but as I read this I said to myself, “why is this happening?”

One reason he argues is the change of what is meant by poverty. I do think he has an interesting point. “Poverty programs have become untethered from the official designation of poverty: In 2012, more than half the recipients were not classified as poor but accepted being treated as needy.” This, writes Will, has created “character challenges which promotes certain habits.” We are fast becoming a nation of people standing on street corners with a sign that say “will work for food,” but have no intention of actually working. In fact, many of us have forgotten how to work. A dependency culture is emerging, thus eliminating the American distinctive of “self-reliance, personal responsibility, and self-advancement.”

The question, is this true? I can read the numbers, and I can draw certain conclusions, and I have to say I am concerned. But do we need to blame just the government, business for not paying a living wage and outsourcing work, the conservative blowhards, or even the growing liberal ethos in this country? I think I want to blame all of the above.

Our government continues to expect different results by doing the same things. I know what that is a definition of. We also know the wages are stagnant, and I for one will not talk anymore about the supply and demand theory of micro-economics associated with wages. I know what it says. I also have my concerns about the move of our country away from its Christian foundations because of, well for many reasons. Much of it seen as a result of the colonization excesses of the past that so-called enlightened folks point to while crying out that everything is the Evangelical’s fault.

So what is the solution to the two Americas? The rich are just fine, or so they think. The poor continue to struggle. The secular humanist cries out there is no God. The Social Gospel Sojourner moves slowly towards a universal gospel that says only the poor are saved. The political conservative tells us what they are against. Those that associate their salvation with their political beliefs, thereby ensuring the gays and immigrants are all condemned to hell, scream the loudest. All of this demonstrates to me just how far we have moved away from what is really important.

I remember when I first got saved. And yes, I am going to call it that. I was lost and He found me. I was saved. I remember the simplicity of that time. It was all about Jesus. This Guy who I knew loved me enough to die on the cross for me. He has given me a new life. That life is not about riches, and it is not about politics. But it is definitely about a chosen life. One that involves following. It is a life rich with love, compassion, and service.

If we are going to deal with the two Americas the way it should be dealt with, then I think we need a fresh wind. A fresh recognition of who this guy Jesus is. May the Spirit of God breath a fresh wind in our hearts and lives, and may the living water of Jesus Christ fill us so we never thirst again! May we fall in love with Jesus.

And that is my thought for the day!

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Capitalism and Relgion: Principled Entrepreneurship

I am pleased that I teach in a Christ-Centered school that is of the Liberal Arts tradition. The reason I say that is because I love to teach and I love the topic of business. I want to know how the economy works, I want to teach my students how it works, and I want my students to know how to run organizations in efficient and effective ways to ensure society receives value. My understanding of value is broader than some, but I see it both as monetary and social value.

There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t read or see something negative about Capitalism. I think it is because the folks that say these things are just looking at the extreme perversions of capitalism. They don’t see private property being used to produce goods demanded by the market. They see the excesses of the system, which are real and problematic. However, I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bath water and become Socialists.

What got me thinking about this was an article I read yesterday “Teaching Capitalism to Catholics.” The title intrigued me, and after reading the editorial I have been exposed to another great phrase “principled entrepreneurship.” I have to say I like that phrase.

I am sure all of you are familiar with Pope Francis’ recent comments about economics. As a Priest aging in South America he saw many of the excesses of Capitalism, and was very concerned about caring for the poor and marginalized. Pope John Paul II also “explicitly condemned” economies that exploited the poor, however in a 1991 encyclical noted the working man would be the first to suffer, which “was borne out by the collectivist societies of the 20th century.” He recognized that exploitation happens regardless of the economic system employed by the state. But in the encyclical Pope John Paul II he also commended an “economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, and private property.”

This is the focus of principled entrepreneurship. You see the Catholic University of America’s School of Business and Economics has received a grant to study and teach how capitalism and Catholicism are compatible. As one who sees the need to frame business within a moral structure, I am encouraged and excited to see where the CUA takes this. It is a fact that economic development has done more to alleviate extreme poverty than anything else in the history of humankind.

Catholics, like students at Warner Pacific, are concerned about social justice. Therefore, this university will be developing systems of pedagogy which understands the importance of recognizing how “free markets only work within a moral culture. When business is unmoored from a concern for the common good, capitalism can slide into cronyism and corruption.”

I for one believe that the principles of the free market can alleviate poverty only if we recognize and fight against the excesses. The free market has raised 1 billion people out of extreme poverty and created a “2 billion person middle class throughout the world over the past 300 years.

To do this I believe that business must be taught within a framework of morality. If we only teach the technical aspects of business leading to profit maximization for the 1% and not for the common good, then our motivation is wrong and immoral. Milton Friedman had it wrong. The process of making money is not amoral, it must be done with the prescription to effectively and efficiently use resources, but in a just way. I for one believe it can be done like this. I for one think that we cannot only do well, but we can do good too.ß

And that is my thought for the day!

A Plethora Of Topics

I like the word plethora; it means “a large or excessive amount of something.” When I say there are a plethora of topics to discuss, I really mean it. The apostles of do nothing are back in session. All of our public servants have been sworn in. I could write about that.

I could write about the interesting people I have met over the last couple of days. Michal Tehteh from the Community Cycling Center in Portland, or Lisa Detchman from Boomerang. Both are active with businesses that are doing good in their community, one is Portland and the other Vancouver. One person I want to talk to is Ryan Hurley of Detour Ministries who seems to have a vision for West Vancouver that intrigues me. I am going to try and meet with him.

I could write about Boeing. It had an incredible year both delivering airplanes, as well as getting new orders. There are still labor issues, but the company will be producing aircraft in the Pacific Northwest for many years to come. Of course, tragic events could change that, but hopefully these do not occur.

One thing that did catch my eye yesterday was a new book. The title “Labors Love Lost,” got me to take another look because of my love for reading and watching Shakespeare. The article in the WSJ that discussed this book started with “The American working class seems destined for the dustbin of history.” That seems rather negative. The author of the book, Andrew Cherlin, is a Sociologist and expert on the contemporary family.

Cherlin argues that the world of business in the United States has changed causing an angst for the modern American worker. The benefits of work in the US took over 100 years to develop as our economy moved from an agrarian base to an industrial one. “Only after the greatest generation returned home from a war that had disabled the competition from abroad did productivity increase, the family wage became commonplace and the lunch-pail worker emerged as a star in America’s story of progress.”

But now, the American worker is faced with a “global diaspora” of living wage jobs, being replaced with low-wage service jobs. Cherlin also argues the American male has become frustrated with the lack of wage advancement and subsequently has gone AWOL from the labor market. This in turn is leading to the implosion of “churchgoing American families,” who are experiencing divorce and non-marital births as routine. The reason given for this, at least from a political perspective, is dependent about one’s philosophy. Liberals believe it is because of the affects of economic inequality, and the conservative it is related to the loss of traditional “bourgeois values.”

Ok, we know we have a problem, but I am more concerned with how we fix it. Where do we go from here? The fact is the way we work has changed. Technology has done more to change the way work is done than the diaspora. However, I think the American consumer needs to change too. If we want to see better paying jobs for all, then we need to support small local businesses that hire a lot of people. However, if we can only afford to shop at Walmart, then we need to continue the pressure them to raise wages. This will need be a combined effort by consumers and government. I am not sure what that looks like, but I know if Walmart adds a few pennies on the cost of its product to raise the wages of its employees by a few bucks, everyone wins, even the investor.

I also think the investor, owner of capital, can change this too. They can put pressure on management teams to raise wages by instructing the board of directors that this is a priority. It may not be maximizing the return to shareholders, but it will optimize.

The social side, implosion of families, I think is a result of the culture shift in our country. Civility is in decline, connection is now done electronically and not F2F, and relativity has become the philosophical foundation of our country. I think that is a problem. This is where I think religious organizations can step in and begin to work with the people to develop a more healthy outlook on life. How can a guy, just cut off by a 72 year old man in traffic, feel like he has the right to follow the old man home into his garage to express his road rage? No wonder the 72 year old man shot him. I think our culture is in trouble.

To conclude my thoughts this morning, which are a bit random, I want to quote Phillip Yancey. “In the waning days of the empire [Roman], the watching world sat up and paid attention. People flocked to the churches, which stood out as caring communities. A fourth-century Roman emperor known as Julian the Apostate complained bitterly about Christians of his time” The impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also…Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity.”

There is a plethora of things to think about and take action on. My question to you is do you care enough to make a difference? Stockholders, and other owners of capital, do you care enough about the living standards of the people who work for you? Are you the Scrooge before or after the visions? Are you a man who has checked out of the process of life because you feel you are a victim? Or are you a church member who sits on Sunday and listens to a message that is meant to spur you on to service, but only reinforces your idea of exceptionalism? I think I have been, but now I want to change.

This is a new year and the key term is plethora. No one person can do it all. But the time is now to turn the page and make a difference Spiritually, Economically, Socially, and Environmentally.

And that is my thought for the day!

The New Year!

Over the last week I have thought about what a new year means. I have thought about my family, church, career, and philosophy. Change is all around therefore, what, if anything, do I change in 2015? In November of this year I will be 65, enrolling in Medicare. I probably have ¾ of my life done, at least according to the Social Security website. However, I did read this morning that people with asthma have a higher chance of heart disease. Oh my, I just can’t win. But, the question is relevant, what does the new year bring?

First, careerwise I don’t see any changes. I love being a professor and working with students. So I don’t foresee anything changing there. In my family, probably not a whole lot changing there, but hopefully there will be some opportunities for my kids for better jobs, and for more opportunities to see grandchildren. Mainly I am going to care for my wife who had surgery and needs love and support.

There may be a change when it comes to church though. My pastor of the last five years is retiring, and I am thinking it is time to try something else. It is not that I like church hopping, but I think I want the fresh wind of the Spirit filling me a new. I know that is not related to where I attend church, it is my responsibility to keep myself in a place of openness to God, but it just may be good for me to attend another church. I have recently attended one close to my home, where there are a lot of old friends, and it feels very comfortable, and at my age comfortable is good.

My philosophy probably will not change much either. Although, I may be a bit more liberal than I used to be. However, my belief that business is a force for positive social change has been fortified over the last year, and I think it will become even more prominent in my thinking this year.

I plan on introducing myself to Lisa Detchman and Detour Ministries. She has started a thrift and consignment shop in downtown Vancouver. The store is located at 808 Mainstreet. I also plan on sitting down with Ryan Hurley who started Detour Ministries, “a nonprofit Christian organization that aims to create sustainable support for nonprofits and churches.” This is very similar to Erik Bahmes concept Mission-Based-Entrepreneurship. Also, the principles are the same as Social Business or Social Entrepreneurship. This to me is the salvation of Capitalism.

What Detchman is doing is running a business, and then giving the proceeds to various ministries and nonprofits, such as the food bank. In December she was able to give a $900 check to the Clark County Food Bank. Detchman operates her firm using effective and efficient business practices. This in turn helps to provide more of a return to charities. Detchman is using the triple bottom line as her business model. She is looking at the economics of the business, the social return, and ways of being environmentally aware (her philosophy involves reuse). I really need to touch bases with this group.

So there you have it, a short description of what I have been thinking. And oh, by the way, I plan on improving my blog site. That is the next thing on my list.

And that is my thought for the day!