Book Reviews, Economics, Teen fiction
The Hyperinflation Devastation
by Connor Boyack
400 pages / 2019
Remember those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books kids loved back in the 1980s? Readers would be brought to a fork in the road, given two options to choose from and if they chose Option A, they would be told to go to one page, and if they chose Option B then they would be directed to another. Afterward, they would continue on their chosen track with the adventure continuing to branch repeatedly thereafter.
In The Hyperinflation Devastation, author Connor Boyack has taken that concept and expanded on it, creating a 400+ page “Choose Your Consequence” adventure to teach teens various lessons about economics.
In this, the first book in the series, Emily and Ethan Tuttle, a pair of 15-year-old twins, head out on their own to the small South American country of “Allqukilla.” If 15 strikes you as young to be out without parents, I’m with you. However, these two are a particularly independent pair who have spent the last year planning and saving for this trip. They want to go to Allqukilla to check out the country’s ancient ruins.
But is it to be? Right after their plane arrives, they see local news reports warning about an impending earthquake and it’s here that readers face their first choice. Are the Tuttle twins going to have an incredibly short adventure and head back on the very next plane, or are they going to go on to their hotel? Of course, no reader is going to take the cautious route, so onward and forward the adventure continues. While exactly what happens depends on the choices a reader makes, the twins will encounter that earthquake, and then, with power disrupted, they’ll have to deal with roads in bad repair, hyperinflation, a lack of available food and water, and no cell phone service, as the two figure out their way home.
The author’s economic outlook is a small government, libertarian one, which comes out in the lessons the twins learn. So, for example, in one story branch, they end up in a small village in the hills that still has power because these villagers have never relied on the government to provide it. In another branch, they encounter some not-so-warm-hearted help – entrepreneurial sorts who will do them good…for a price. The twins sometimes get entirely altruistic help, but the point is, they also get help from people who wouldn’t otherwise be helpful, except that it is in their own self-interest to do so. The lesson here is that the free market is important because it gives people a motive to provide things other people want.
While this is intended as an educational story, Boyack doesn’t beat readers over the head with the lessons he’s trying to teach. Only once, in the eight or so different story arcs does a character offer up a prolonged economics lecture. But even then, it isn’t too long.
The one caution I would offer deals not with this book, but with the author. He writes from a generally Judeo-Christian, libertarian perspective. Often times, those two perspectives can match up quite nicely since both Christians and libertarians recognize that the government shouldn’t try to be God. Thus we both believe in some form of smaller, limited government, which sets us apart from the many who call on the government to solve whatever problems they face.
But in some of Boyack’s other books, his libertarian perspective comes in conflict with his Judeo-Christian perspective. In The Tuttle Twins Learn About the Law (one of the Tuttle Twins picture books he’s written for younger readers) he teaches readers that governments gain their authority from people, and not God. Based on that assumption the author argues that governments should only be able to do what people are able to do, therefore just as it would be wrong for a person to forcibly take money, so too the same must be true of government. But this simply isn’t true. God has empowered governments to do some things which individuals must not do, and taxation is one of them (Luke 20:25, 1 Peter 2:13-14).
The libertarian perspective in Hyperinflation Devastation is more restrained, and thus in keeping with a Christian worldview that understands God as distributing powers and responsibilities not simply to the state, but to parents, and the church, and individuals too.
I would recommend this for any kid from 10 to 15. The adventure is a solid one, and the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure component will grab their attention.
Yes, this is an economics lesson, but it is a generally subtle presentation that never gets in the way of the story. That allows most kids, whether they are politically-inclined or not, to enjoy this. But because the economics angle is so very different from what they are reading in other books, it may well spark an interest in learning more about money, inflation, politics, and more.
It may interest parents to know there are other titles in this “Choose Your Consequence” series so far, but as I haven’t read them, I can’t recommend them as of yet.
There is one mistake in the book, on page 388, where we are directed to Page 335 but should be directed to Page 111. I recommend some of the Tuttle Twin pictures books on my personal blog here.
Christians can’t “invest” in cryptocurrency
I hope this headline got your attention! I can hear some of the objections already: What do you mean, we can’t invest in cryptocurrency; don�...
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Economics
Christian Economics in One Lesson
by Gary North 2015 / 268 pages Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson is what its title suggests, just one economic lesson explained in the fi...
Economics, Science - Environment
Thinking on the margin, or why some pollution is better than none
Another economic principle Christian teens (& adults) need to know ***** An important aspect of economics is counting the costs of an action or purchase, and, on the flipside, also evaluating the benefit that could result. With these two concepts, cost and benefit, we can understand how people make their decisions. When the benefit of taking an action is greater than the cost, people will take that action. For example, if buying a soda would bring you $3 worth of enjoyment, but it only costs $1, then you’ll choose to buy the soda. And afterwards, if you’ve had your fill of soda, you might hardly enjoy another soda, and perhaps value it at just a quarter. So of course you then won’t buy it for $1. What is “marginal thinking"? This example illustrates the meaning of the concept of marginality. When economists use the term “marginal benefit,” they are referring to the benefit added by the last unit purchased – in this case the last soda. Another example: when you decide whether to work for another hour, you don’t consider the cost and benefit of all the hours you already worked. Instead, you consider the cost and benefit associated with the final (or marginal) hour under consideration. So when you “think marginal," then think about the cost and benefit of “one more unit.” And whether people realize it or not, we all engage in marginal thinking. Imagine you’re deciding to buy an ice cream cone. Let’s say a single scoop cone costs $2, and every additional scoop costs 50 cents. When deciding whether to buy a single scoop you have to compare how much benefit you get from the single cone to the cost of the cone ($2). So long as you value the single scoop cone at more than $2 you buy it. When the marginal benefit of an action is greater than the cost, people will do that action. What about the second scoop? Well, each scoop is 50 cents, so you’ll choose to buy the second scoop if you enjoy it at a value more than 50 cents. You’ll keep purchasing more scoops but at some point, another scoop just won’t be worth another 50 cents to you, so you’ll stop. Why does it matter? So hopefully you understand marginal thinking, because now we have to consider why it matters. Marginal thinking is valuable in all sorts of applications. For students, marginal thinking can help you prioritize your studying. I always tell my students that, if their goal is a good GPA, they shouldn’t spend much time trying to improve their grade from a 96% to a 98%. Why? First, both grades are an “A” so the marginal benefit to your GPA is nothing. Also, once your grade is already high, it’s much more difficult to move it up. Therefore, the cost is high and the marginal benefit is low. Most students would be better off dedicating their time to working on a class where they have a 79% since the cost is lower – just a little more study could boost them up a letter grade – and the marginal benefit is higher. In Luke 16, Jesus tells the story of a man who manages the money of a rich man. The manager is going to be fired because of his wasteful practices. When he discovers this, he forgives the debtors of his master to make friends before he’s fired. Jesus tells us in Luke 16:8a, “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” In 16:9 He goes on to give the meaning of the parable, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” The point of the parable is not that we should be dishonest in our dealings. Instead, it’s that we should use our resources shrewdly for the Kingdom. Christians are called to be good stewards of the resources we are given, which includes our time. As the studying example above illustrates, effective use of time requires the ability to consider the relevant costs and benefits of a given decision. There’s a “good” amount of pollution and crime? Marginal thinking is also valuable when it comes to thinking about policy. Economists have a pithy saying: the efficient amount of anything is not zero. It’s tempting to believe bad things should be eliminated completely. For example, many people would likely support the phrase, “politicians should eliminate pollution.” But imagine what it would mean to eliminate the very last “units” of pollution. Almost every vehicle, either personal or those used for transporting goods and services, relies on some form of pollution to operate. If we had zero pollution, our grocery stores would receive zero food deliveries because we wouldn’t have semi-trucks, and they would receive zero visits from us, because we wouldn’t have cars. Elimination of all pollution, at least at this point, would result in most of humanity returning to subsistence conditions – the cost is too high, and thus that is a “purchase” we shouldn’t make. Of course, some pollution should be eliminated. If a factory is dumping toxic waste into a public river, the cost of allowing the pollution to continue is very high. As strange as it might sound, the efficient amount of crime is also not zero. Imagine how much money and how many resources would need to be spent to ensure zero crime. We’d need a police officer on every street corner 24/7. Think of how high your taxes would need to be to support those pensions! Surely taxpayers have other priorities with higher marginal benefits than preventing some minor traffic violation. No Nirvana naivete This sort of logic can be summarized neatly by saying economics as a field is inherently opposed to the Nirvana fallacy. The Nirvana fallacy is the mistake that is made when people compare the real world to an unrealistically ideal alternative. We would all like to get a grade of 100% in every class and live in a world without crime or pollution. But these are unrealistic desires for this world. A solid understanding of marginal analysis complements the Christian understanding of our fallen world. When politicians offer us a vision of a world where all bad is eliminated, a clear understanding of marginal analysis provides us with an argument for why such a world is out of reach. Economists Armen Alchian and William Allen rightly summarize this in the foreword of their book Universal Economics. They say: “since the discouraging fiasco in the Garden of Eden, all the world has been a place conspicuous in its scarcity of resources, contributing heavily to an abundance of various sorrows and sins. People have had to adjust and adapt to limitations of what is available to satisfy unlimited desires.” In sum, marginal thinking helps us better understand the nature of our own decisions. When applied properly, this way of thinking provides a more sober view of the important decisions we make in our personal lives and in the public square. Peter Jacobsen is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Ottawa University and the Gwartney Professor of Economic Education and Research at the Gwartney Institute. He has previously written for both the Foundation for Economic Education and the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics....
THERE'S NO FREE LUNCH – an economic principle Christian teens (& adults) need to know
Small revolutions in schooling are occurring across the world. From homeschooling to microschools, many parents find themselves wanting more for their children in terms of education. Resources are available for independent schooling now more than ever, but some subjects remain difficult to tackle. My own field of economics remains elusive for many educators. Part of the difficulty is that many people don’t know what economics actually is. Many think economics is just composed of principles budgeting and investment. This view of economics and finance being the same is common, but it’s wrong. Instead, economics considers how people interact in a world where there are limited means but unlimited desires. The study of this interaction and the rules that govern it is of fundamental importance for anyone who wants to understand human flourishing, politics, or any topic of social importance. My high school economics teacher used to say, “everything goes back to economics.” Math and science, for example, are the tools people use to accomplish their goals. But the reasons they use these tools are economic. And I can’t think of a better starting point for understanding economics than the concept of opportunity cost. What is an “Opportunity Cost”? One of the most famous phrases in economics is, “there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.” This phrase is meant to illustrate the always present role of opportunity costs. Whenever you make any decision to do anything at all, you’re essentially choosing between two possibilities – your best option and your second-best option. Consider an example. Molly has three offers of how to spend her Saturday evening. She can study for her college algebra final exam, she can babysit for 3 hours at a rate of $15 per hour, or she can hang out with her friends. Let’s say her favorite option is to study, her second favorite is babysitting, and her third pick would be having out with friends. Since studying is Molly’s most urgent desire, she decides to allocate her time that way. But what did she give up? You might be tempted to say she sacrificed $45 and time with friends, but that isn’t really the case. After all, Molly couldn’t have babysat and spent time with friends. So even if she hadn’t studied, she would still have only been able to do one of these other options, so in a very real sense that’s the only option she was sacrificing. In this case, her second favorite option would have been to earn $45 babysitting. So, the “opportunity cost” of Molly’s studying is $45. To say it again, the opportunity cost is the option you value second highest and sacrificed when you decide to pursue your first choice. In this light, we can see every action has a cost. Time spent resting could be time learning or fixing up the house. Another hour of overtime at work is one less hour at home with family. Every time you say yes to one opportunity, that prevents you from accepting another. There is no free lunch. Why does it matter? The concept of opportunity cost is important for people to understand for several reasons. First, opportunity cost helps us understand some of the hard-to-see downsides of certain policies. Consider the income tax. If a government increases the income tax from 25% to 40% this has major ramifications for someone deciding whether they want to work an extra week during the summer for $1,500. With a 25% tax rate, the person takes home $1,125, while at 40%, the person only takes home only $900. Now let’s say this person values their relaxation time as being worth about $1,000 a week to them. Then this tax policy will make a big difference. The opportunity cost of working this week will be the equivalent of what this fellow valued for his time off: the opportunity cost for working would be $1,000. Now with a 30% tax rate, that extra paycheck is worth more to the person than the extra week off ($1,125 is greater than $1,000). But with a 40% tax rate, suddenly the relaxation is worth more ($1,000 is greater than $900)! So, by understanding the concept of opportunity cost, we can also understand that higher income taxes will mean people will work less. Even free comes with a cost Opportunity cost has practical usefulness too. Why is it that sometimes deals sound too good to be true? It’s because implicitly, we all have some understanding of opportunity cost. If a person offers to give you a free car, his opportunity cost is, at minimum, keeping the car for himself. Why would he give it away rather than keep it? Is it possible he is getting something from you? Something having a price of zero dollars is not the same as something being free. When my local ice cream shop offers “free” ice cream, I know there’s going to be a line going out the door. When I take into account the fact that my time is valuable, I realize waiting half an hour in line for free ice cream could have a higher cost than paying the regular $3 but without waiting. To learn more… If you’re interested in learning more about opportunity cost and how it applies in the world, I highly recommend reading Economics in One Lesson. Author Henry Hazlitt does an excellent job of applying the logic of opportunity cost, and the book will only cost you your time (as it is a free download at fee.org/resources/economics-in-one-lesson). And trust me when I say, it’s worth the opportunity cost. Peter Jacobsen is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Ottawa University and the Gwartney Professor of Economic Education and Research at the Gwartney Institute. He has previously written for both the Foundation for Economic Education and the Institute for Faith, Works, and Economics....
An abundance mentality in business
Christian entrepreneurs may be positioned to help the next generation become entrepreneurs too ***** Christian business owners often speak about an “abundance mentality”: the idea that God, in blessing their companies richly, has allowed them to be a blessing to others, providing a stable place of work for their employees while at the same time taking great care of their customers. And God’s generosity enables them to practice generosity to all sorts of good causes too. I recently had the privilege of speaking with a few Reformed Christian business owners, and I was struck by an additional characteristic of this mindset they shared. These men had a desire to see their valued employees become business owners themselves. Ryan VanDelft Ryzer Construction Services Bellingham, WA Ryan VanDelft initially started his company without any business partners. He set up Ryzer Construction Services after moving across the border from British Columbia to Washington State, and they’ve been installing and supplying windows, doors, and other materials to builders of higher-end homes since 2015. After some years of slow but steady growth, Ryan decided it was time to expand what the company offered its clients, and to give more responsibility to the growing team of employees he had developed. And as anyone familiar with Ryan knows (we go to the same church), one of Ryan’s passions is mentoring the young people who work for him – he’s eager to invest in their skill development, and coach them in the soft skills that will enable them to be successful in business, even while he’ll take time to help them outside of work. A walk around the Ryzer warehouse and board room shows a commitment to sharing the company’s statement of purpose, its values and strategies, and its mission statement – they are proudly displayed on banners for all to see. The last line of Ryzer’s statement of purpose reads “Grow profitably, and enjoy the process,” and references Psalm 127:1 – “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Ryan also refers regularly with his team to “the Four E’s” – his shorthand for the mission statement to “Empower people. Embrace Craftsmanship. Enrich Lifestyles. Enjoy work.” VanDelft has taken on a partner, Dave Hommes, a fellow believer whose skills in finance and organization complemented his colleague’s gifts. Ryan’s long-term plan is to bring in additional partners who have shown promise as employees, helping them to share in the risk and reward of business ownership. He talks about “making the pie bigger.” While some might see additional partners as a potential drain on a fixed profits number, Ryan hopes that enlarging the business as opportunities allow, while growing the talent pool of employees and associates, will result in a larger number of satisfied clients, and a larger “pie” to share with his partners. Bruce DeBoer Ontario Metal Products and Ontario Outbuildings Dunnville, ON Bruce DeBoer joined partner Brad Schutten in Ontario Outbuildings, and Ontario Metal Products just a few months before COVID came calling. Their company supplies metal roofing panels, siding, and accessories to local builders, priding itself on good pricing with excellent service. Despite the current challenging supply chain environment, Bruce and Brad have been able to grow their sales volume substantially. The whole team of about twenty associates begins their week with a staff meeting, that includes Bible reading and prayer, before launching into the goals and plans for the work week. DeBoer takes a keen interest in his associates, providing a listening ear in times of stress, and trying to understand what are the most important things in their lives. “We’ve switched to an employee market. Life is different than it was twenty years ago. Most families are double income now, so what they need is different. A husband might have to stay home when a child is sick, where years ago, that would have been the wife’s role.” DeBoer advises that in a low unemployment environment, it is wise to find what benefits and other intangibles might be important for your colleagues, and it’s not always about hourly wages or salary. DeBoer and Schutten have taken an innovative approach in helping employees become business owners. While it might be simpler and more profitable to continue with an owner-employee relationship, the business partners have encouraged those associates who show promise to form companies with DeBoer and Schutten: continuing to do the same work of installing or building, but enjoying a portion of the fruits of their labors as owners. The new companies take advantage of the all the economies of scale of a larger company – sharing bookkeeping systems, quoting software, and administrative expertise together. This makes the process of becoming self-employed less daunting than it might otherwise be for a young entrepreneur. The author of Ecclesiastes recognized the value of teams and partnerships: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow… a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Eccl. 4:9-12) When asked what advice he would give anyone looking to advance their career or become a business owner, DeBoer did not hesitate: “Find a mentor!” That’s good advice, and it doesn’t need to be complicated. Find someone with experience and ask them out for a coffee. Most business veterans are eager to share what they know, and more than willing to help someone avoid the same mistakes they may have made or seen. King Solomon agreed that finding a mentor is a good path: “Listen to advice, and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” (Proverbs 19:20) “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” (Proverbs 18:1) ***** It was wonderful to hear about how the Lord has blessed these business owners in their decisions to help their employees also grow and prosper. Both VanDelft and DeBoer emphasized that their workplace mindset is not all about financial gain, and that part of their joy in their daily work is seeing others achieve more than they would have thought possible. Marty VanDriel is a writer and Assistant Editor for Reformed Perspective, a TV and film critic for WORLD magazine, and a Christian entrepreneur himself as the CEO of TriVan Truck Body....
Book Reviews, Children’s picture books, Economics
Nobody knows how to make a pizza
by Julie Borowski 2019 / 30 pages The picture book's title makes a claim that my daughter just couldn't believe: "Come on Dad, you know how to make a pizza!" But do I really? Sure, I know how to combine a pizza crust with cheese and tomato sauce. I'm even very good at it. But the point this slim volume is trying to make is that there is a lot more to it. That flour I use started as grain that somebody had to grow, and I certainly don't know how to do that. That farmer who does, brings in his crop using a wheat harvester, which he isn't able to make himself. He'll ship off his grain, perhaps via a train, which neither of us could ever manufacture. We also don't know how to turn wheat into flour, and the folks that do, don't know how to make the semi-trucks that ship their flour to grocery stores around the country. Making even the simple pizza crust requires a lot of different people all working together, with not one of them knowing how to get all the needed steps done. That's why the pizza narrator's claim – that "there's not a single person on Earth who knows how to make me" – isn't as outrageous as it first seem, And that doesn't even get into the tomato sauce and cheese! You might be wondering, okay, but so what? The point of this little book (and the 1958 essay, I, Pencil, which inspired it) is to expose the arrogance of any big government's central planners. Whether it's full-blown communists who want to plan everything, or a democracy where the elected leadership "merely" direct large chunks of the economy (gov't spending in Canada accounts for 45% of GDP, and their impact is extended further still via regulations), we have governments of all sorts all around the world that think they know how best to run things from the top down. However, if planning the production of a single cheese pizza is beyond the capabilities of any one man, or even a team of the very smartest people on earth, then why would we think the government could ever know enough to competently make the innumerable management decisions they make, from what minimum wage everyone should be paid, to how children should be educated in K-12 (and what they should learn), which companies should be bailed out or subsidized, or even how much milk should be produced? Of course, if no one knows how to make a pizza, that prompts an obvious question: how is it that countless cheese pizzas are made every day? Instead of someone at the top planning it all out, this miracle occurs without much planning at all. The author of this picture book makes more of a libertarian presentation than a Christian one, so I'm using the term "miracle" here for a wonder she doesn't really attempt to explain. But Christians do have an explanation. Now, we might take for granted what the free market can produce – cheaper computers, innovations like the smartphone, innumerable kinds of bagel – to the point it seems too ordinary to call all of that a miracle. But the free market is a miracle nonetheless, completely beyond anybody's ability to plan and create, making it all the easier to see God's fingerprints. His commandment "Do not steal" creates property rights, which is the basis for one person trading what they own to another for something they want more. If you can't steal from others, then the only way to provide for yourself and your family is by producing something other people will value. You get money from them to meet your needs by making something that meets theirs. So God's law is the basis for free trade and it is unplanned, unorganized free trade that has miraculously proven to be the most effective way of raising people out of poverty. The government still has a role here - to prevent theft, enforce contract laws, and generally ensure that property rights are respected – but not in picking the winners and losers. While that's deeper than this picture book goes, what Julie Borowski does highlight is the result: all sorts of strangers cooperating with one another, each looking out for their own interests, but together creating something that none of them could make on their own – innumerable voluntary exchanges and, eventually, violà a pizza! As noted, this book has a libertarian flavoring to it, and because libertarians can often be libertines on moral issues, their values can be at odds with what God knows is best. However, in this case the libertarian impulse for small government syncs up well with the Christian emphasis on humility and Man's fallibility – we have a hard enough time trying to plan out our own lives, so it's arrogant indeed for bureaucrats and politicians to think they can plan out everyone else's lives for them. Better then, to limit (though certainly not eliminate) the government and what it does, so as to leave people the responsibility and allow them the freedom to manage their own lives. This would be read to best effect with a parent along for the ride. Otherwise I could see kids enjoying it, even as they entirely miss the overall small government argument being made. You can watch the author read her book below. ...
Economics, Human Rights, Satire
On achieving equality...
I was recently confronted with the disturbing statistic that evidences the ultimate case of gender inequality: the life expectancy of males is 6.1 yea...
The art of the apology
In the middle of a leaders’ coaching session, focusing on how they engaged in difficult conversations with their teams, I began to notice a theme. T...
The hidden tax of inflation
Prices are on the rise in many countries around the world. Price increases are measured by a statistic called inflation, which expresses the percent p...
The impact of saying, “I’m so busy”
How many times have you asked someone “How are you doing?” and they respond with “Busy!”? In that response, they did not actually answer your caring inquiry and they unknowingly sabotaged their credibility as a leader. Further, in their hurriedness, they potentially hijacked an opportunity to bless. As Christ-following leaders, here’s why I suggest we do well to remove this response from our repertoire… and learn better ways. Let me explain. We’re all busy. That comes with the position of being any sort of leader. However, even as deliberate leaders are often busy, they are not hurried. Jesus himself was very busy, but not hurried. I would suggest that responding with, “I’m so busy” does three things: Reveals our leadership Drains our credibility Limits the God-story 1. It reveals our leadership Newsflash: We are not a “hero” by being busier than others. Being busy is not a badge of honor. Our culture has hoisted the notion of "busyness" onto such a pedestal that many have simply learned to respond this way merely as a status symbol. In the past, I would work ridiculous hours – and be sure to let others know (subtly of course to maintain my “martyr syndrome”). I burned the candle at both ends with noble church and community work. I would even brag about my lack of sleep that week, or not attending my family’s vacation because “I have so much to do.” Worse yet, I thought less of others who didn’t. I viewed them as lazy or irresponsible. I was unaware and delusional, arrogant, and prideful. I wore my hurriedness as a badge of honor. Not only was it destructively sad, but it was also poor thinking. More yet, it was weak theology, because I didn’t have my identity in Jesus. My sense of worth came from what I did and accomplished… and what it took to get there. I would even show up to public functions late and rushed, hoping guests would think, “Man, that guy sure works hard. Look at all his obligations and responsibilities. He’s so industrious… such a servant-heart.” Does that mean all who respond with “I’m so busy” are like I was? Of course not… but an addict can easily spot another addict. It doesn’t have to be this way. Hang around effective leaders for a while and you’ll notice an inner calm and resolve, despite being in the press. A Christ-following leader rests in the unresolved. They offer a vulnerable, gracious, or inquisitive response… despite being busy. 2. It drains my credibility Rather than being a badge of honor, responding with “I’m so busy” can actually convey: I’m not helping others grow: Show me someone who keeps telling everyone they're busy, and you often see a leader who needs to grow in investing in others. Effective leaders know how to build, enable, and inspire people to accomplish something bigger and better than they could do on their own. They look for smarter ways. I'm disorganized: In a lot of cases, a frantic pace is simply a lack of organization and healthy habits. I don't have clarity of what matters most: Without clarity of purpose, and focusing on what’s most important, it's easy to get lured into the frenzy of putting out fires because “I’m so” It might look like hard work, but in many cases, it's just squandered energy. I can’t say no: Enough said. 3. It limits the God-story Starting conversations about how busy you are is a great way to miss an opportunity to witness and bless others. Why? Unknowingly, you put up a wall with someone who cared enough to genuinely see how you’re doing. We’ve also stunted the opportunity to share deeper reflections about where God is at work in your life. We’ve limited others to see His beauty in the middle of trial or challenge. Ultimately, by saying, “Oh, I’m so busy”, others don’t get to be blessed by the work God is doing in this challenging season of life you’re in. Deliberate application So, what might be a better way to respond when someone asks, “Hey, how are you doing?” Be thoughtfully deliberate. Because being real opens meaningful conversation. Maybe something like, “I’m doing well. Life’s a bit challenging right now, but it is well with my soul. Pressed but not crushed. You know, God is really showing me… Be vulnerable and curious. Because vulnerability builds trust and invites in a God-story. “I’m actually in a season of struggle right now. Doing well, but feel stretched too thin. How do you manage to juggle all your roles these days? …Could we pray together?” Be a hope dispenser. Because everyone needs encouragement in their busyness. “Yes, well I’m really enjoying where God has me right now. What that looks like is…” This one of a ten-part series, “Moving from Hurried to Purposeful” that Darren Bosch has written for DeliberateU, a Christian business leaders mentorship group. ...
Economics, Science - Environment
Manure into mattresses – we can "create" resources
Economist Julian Simon's key insight is that man's creativity – his brainpower – is a resource that creates other resources. So while some view a rising population as a threat to limited resources ("We're going to run out of oil!") Simon viewed a growing population as a growing resource base. Our brains, when properly applied, could in a reflection of God's own creativity, turn nothing (or next to it) into quite something. For example, when copper – a key element in our phone lines – started getting very expensive, this motivated some smart chaps to develop a much cheaper alternative: sand! That's what our telephone lines are today: Sand (silicon) + Human Creativity = Fiber optic cables Making sand into something is amazing enough, but a much more impressive example of "resource creation" is the way some farmers have turned poop into bedding (or if you prefer alliteration, manure into mattresses). It is quite a story! Rising prices prompts creative thinking Down where I live, in the Northern Washington/Southern BC area, some dairy farmers used to use sawdust as a cheap bedding material for their cows. The cows could sleep in it, poop on it, and the farmer could then come along, clean it out, and put a new layer down. Sawdust clumped together, making it easy to scoop away, but perhaps its most attractive quality was its cheapness. Sawdust used to be viewed as a waste product from the lumber industry – they couldn't give it away and would even bury it. But then creative farmers created a market for this castoff. Or to put it in more mathematical terms: Sawdust + Human Creativity = Cow bedding Some time later, other creative folks started to see more ways that sawdust could be used, including as fuel. Because it originated as a lumber waste product it was cheaper than many other fuel options. So some greenhouses owners figured out a way to use it to heat their buildings, and started to outbid the farmers. This result was this waste product – nothing more than garbage before human brainpower got involved – had so increased in value that farmers could no longer afford it. They needed to find a cheaper option for their bedding! And then it happened. Some ingenious dairy farmer, probably sitting out on his tractor staring out across his manure lagoon, started thinking about the possibilities in all this poop. The result was a separation system that used the undigested fibers found in cow manure. This is fed into a rotating drying drum, where high heat kills the germs, and the output is fibrous bedding material for the farmer's cows. Poop + Human Creativity = Cow bedding Manure has been turned into mattresses! Conclusion Julian Simon was an atheist, so he didn't understand why we have this capacity – why we have a mysterious, awesome ability to use our brains to create something out of nothing. But Simon did recognize Man was more than his mouth; he understood that Man wasn't best understood as a consumer of scarce resources, but that instead Man has an ability (and Christians would add, a calling) to be a producer of plenty. So, in this limited way, Simon has a more accurate understanding of Man than any of his critics. So where does our creative capacity come from? It is a reflection of God's creative Genius. We can't create ex nihilo – out of nothing – like God does, but when we take what was once useless, and put it to productive use, we show ourselves to be His image-bearers....
The $15 minimum wage - good intentions are not enough
In the US, the latest COVID-19 relief package has re-awoken the debate on minimum wage increases, and that policy conversation is spilling over into Canada, Australia, and much of the Western world too. Often policy proposals put Christians in difficult territory. The Bible was not written during a time where every person would be personally accountable for participating in the governing of a nation. There’s very little in the way of advice to voters on specific policies. However, this doesn’t mean Christians can’t form educated opinions about policies like the minimum wage. To do so, believers can evaluate the fruits of the policy. Good intentions One way to evaluate whether the minimum wage increase would be a good thing is to see if the intended fruits of the policy are good and analyze whether the actual fruits will match the good intentions. Supporters of the minimum wage increase are ostensibly trying to help lower the level of poverty. Higher wages for the lowest wage workers could give them a chance at a better life. This intended fruit appears to be good. Lowering poverty seems to be unambiguously good. And a reasonable interpretation of Matthew 22:20-22 could claim it’s within the state’s right to take money from business profits and give it to workers. Combining this logic with verses like Psalm 41:1 could make a powerful case for this proposal. A Christian might be tempted to stop thinking here. Perhaps the increased cost to businesses is worth the poverty alleviation. However, even if someone does accept this trade-off, the biggest problem with increasing the minimum wage lies more in the results than intentions. Bad results Good intentions are not enough to eliminate poverty, as evidenced by the American “war on poverty,” now entering its 58th year. The minimum wage law does not guarantee every person a job at $15/hour. In actuality, what the minimum wage law does is make it illegal to gainfully employ any worker whose skills don’t bring in $15 of hourly revenue. Economists refer to the revenue an additional worker brings in as “marginal revenue product.” For any worker with a marginal revenue product less than the minimum wage, employing them would either mean making a net loss on the hire or breaking the minimum wage law. Businesses must make a profit. If a business fails to do so, it will eventually have no option other than shutting its doors. If businesses fall behind competitors in making a profit, they also run the risk of being driven out of business. As such, hiring decisions in business are based on whether they generate profit. If a salesman, for example, sells $8 worth of products an hour, and he gets an offer for a wage of $7.50, the company finds hiring him to be worthwhile. However, a company that pays a salesman who sells $8 worth of products per hour a wage of $15 is losing $7/hour. Companies that hire this way will be outcompeted by those who don’t. So, what is the result of a minimum wage? Workers who don’t make their companies enough to warrant getting paid the minimum wage are fired. Economic theory suggests this, and a recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research surveys studies on the topic and shows the research overwhelmingly finds that unemployment results from the minimum wage. Not only do some workers not have their poverty alleviated, but the workers with the least opportunity are more impoverished. In fact, evidence suggests this unemployment is imposed on minority groups and women disproportionately. The problems don’t stop there. Unemployment increases, but some workers who previously made a minimum wage will keep their jobs. Aren’t these workers made better off? Not necessarily. If a worker was previously willing to work a job for $8 (as evidenced by the fact that they accepted the job), but now the same worker is being paid $15, this doesn’t mean they are $7 better off. Why? Well, since the employer is mandated to pay a higher wage, they are going to try to get the most work out of the worker possible. Workers might find that these new expectations and pressures make the job less enjoyable than if they were paid an $8 wage. Also, if you’re getting paid more than you would have needed to accept a job, and there are a lot of unemployed replacements waiting, you’re going to be willing to accept a less pleasant job to keep that high-paying job. A higher minimum wage gives workers less bargaining power and, as such, will lead to workers taking on jobs with bosses who don’t need to offer them as much dignity. This is not to say all bosses will take advantage of this position, but it seems unrealistic to assume none will. In sum, if we judge a policy by its fruits, a $15 minimum wage will increase the poverty of those with the lowest opportunity, and it carries the possibility of work becoming less dignified for those lucky enough to keep their jobs. Despite potentially good intentions, the results speak for themselves. Instead of giving more dignity to work and lifting people out of poverty, the minimum wage exacerbates both problems. Bootleggers, Baptists, and bad intentions For argument’s sake, I’ve assumed good intentions on the part of minimum wage policy advocates to this point. However, it’s important to point out that the minimum wage is utilized as a tactic by racists and labor unions to cut out the competition. Stanford economist Thomas Sowell has chronicled how a Canadian minimum wage has racist roots. Sowell argues: “In 1925, a minimum-wage law was passed in the Canadian province of British Columbia, with the intent and effect of pricing Japanese immigrants out of jobs in the lumbering industry.” A largely automated company would love to increase the labor costs for its competitors. The results of the Australian minimum wage were similar. Sowell points out: “A Harvard professor of that era referred approvingly to Australia’s minimum wage law as a means to ‘protect the white Australian’s standard of living from the invidious competition of the colored races, particularly of the Chinese’ who were willing to work for less.” Whenever Christians support policy, they should take care to avoid contributing to the “Bootleggers and Baptists” phenomena. This phrase describes how, when the US passed alcohol prohibition, the two major groups who supported it were Baptists who opposed alcohol and illegal alcohol bootleggers who stood to profit if legal alcohol distributors were closed. In supporting prohibition, Baptists supported the profits of bootleggers with bad intentions. In the cases Sowell cited, the “bootleggers” were racist who wanted to eliminate minority labor competition. Today, bootleggers can come in the form of a business like Amazon, which, as a largely online company, doesn’t rely on laborers who make less than $15 per hour. Since Amazon already pays its warehouse workers $15/hour, an increase in the minimum wage would do little to impact their costs, but it would raise the costs to one of Amazon's biggest competitors – Walmart. Bootleggers could also be skilled labor unions that lobby for the minimum wage to limit the competition from unskilled, but lower cost, labor. In these cases, the special interest groups intend the policy to prevent less fortunate low-skill laborers from having jobs. To make a positive difference in the world, Christians must consider more than their intentions behind policies. Instead, it is part of our responsibility, given the form of government God has allowed us to participate in, to be educated about the results of policy. In the case of raising the minimum wage, the results are in. Christians need to do better if we want to help the suffering of “the least of these.” Peter Jacobsen is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Ottawa University and the Gwartney Professor of Economic Education and Research at the Gwartney Institute. He has previously written for both the Foundation for Economic Education and the Institute for Faith, Works, and Economics....
Economics, Movie Reviews, Watch for free
Love Gov: Breaking up with government is hard to do
Here's something new: an economic argument for small government presented as a comedic drama. And Love Gov is a romance too, sort of. Alexis is thinking of quitting college to start her own business, but then she meets the strangely charming Scott Govinsky (known as "Gov" to his friends). To compliment her ideas, ambitions, and drive, Gov is so very caring and supportive. And eager to help. And he never seems to runs out of advice. Perfect material for a boyfriend? Alexis thinks so...at first. The problem is, Gov's advice isn't nearly as helpful as it seems. If you haven't figured it out yet, Alexis' boyfriend Gov is a stand-in for our government, which wants to mind our business because it cares for us so deeply. But as much as the politicians and bureaucrats might mean well, that doesn't mean they are doing well...which is what Love Gov tries to show. CAUTIONS The series' producer, the Independent Institute, is not a Christian organization. So, even as they are for limited government, they might be for less moral restraint too, as evidenced by the little boy at the very beginning (who has only the briefest of roles) wearing a shirt with a transgender rainbow on it. A more notable quibble: because Love Gov is humorous, some of its serious points are made in an over-the-top manner, which could prompt the cynically-inclined to discount those points entirely. So it's important to pitch this to friends properly: introduce it to them as the light-hearted discussion-starter it is, and don't present it as any sort of weighty "final word" on the issues it raises. CONCLUSION The overall argument being pitched is for smaller government. While the group pitching it isn't Christian, there's a lot here for Christians to love, since we should also support limited, and thus smaller, government. Why? Because God has given different responsibilities to different types of "government." The "governments" we're talking about here are not of the municipal, provincial, or federal sort but rather family government, Church government, and yes, State government too. We can throw in self-government as well. These types of government are all appointed by God to take on different roles, and while who should have exactly what role can sometimes be difficult to discern, one type of government can only gain more power and influence at the expense of the others. Which type of government is the most expansionist? The State. Its influence in our family life, the education of our children, regulation of business, management of healthcare, direction of the economy – that reach is already enormous. And just as the State's expansion into education came by shrinking the parental role, so too its expansion into other areas comes at the expense of other levels of "government." That's why Christians should want a limited government; because we know that God didn't intend for us and the other types of government to abandon our roles and responsibilities to the State. Another reason for a limited government? When the State takes on jobs God never intended for it they will tend to mess things up. Good intentions simply aren't enough (Prov. 27:14); a good dose of humility about what the State can do, and shouldn't even try to do, is also vital. Episode 1: An education in debt (6 minutes) Alexis wants to quit school to start up a business and start paying off her student debt. Then she meets Gov, who encourages her to stay in school "because there's nothing more important than your education." What about that student debt? Gov assures her, "You are going to have a lifetime to pay off debt...a lifetime!" The Bible likens debt to slavery (Prov. 22:7) – it limits your ability and freedom to do what you otherwise might want to do. Episode 2: Protection from jobs (5 minutes) After Alexis graduates college she decides to pursue her small business idea. Gov is, once again, happy to help, though this time coming to the "aid" of employee Libby. Regulations are brought in with the intent of protecting workers. But regulations also make it harder and more expensive to hire workers: One estimate concerning Canada's tech industry had a 1% increase in regulations leading to a 5% decrease in business startups. The tradeoffs that come with government "protections" are often overlooked. Episode 3: A remedy for healthcare choices (6 minutes) Alexis is looking for a new healthcare insurance plan, and Gov knows best. Meanwhile, Libby argues that choices and options and free market competition could produce healthcare for less. In his documentary Wait Till It's Free, Reformed filmmaker Colin Gunn makes that same argument. Episode 4: House poor (6 minutes) Alexis goes house-hunting and mortgage-hunting too, only to discover that Gov has been spending her money, putting her tens of thousands in debt. In Canada accumulated provincial and national debts average out to $40,000 CDN per citizen while in the US just the national debt works out to more than double that at $80,000 US per citizen. Episode 5: Keeping a close eye on privacy (5 minutes) While Alexis and Gov aren't together anymore, he's still keeping tabs on her – breaking up with "the Gov" proves very hard to do. This series came out soon after Edward Snowden revealed that the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) had been spying on its own citizens, though generally in aggregate – it viewed all the captured data as a whole, not tying it to specific people. But Snowden also shared that should the government want to look at your specific data it could do that too after getting a judge's approval...which was always given....
Two tales of trade: how free trade creates wealth
As Christians we know that man is prone to all sorts of evil, but we often forget that man is also prone to all sorts of stupidity. Much damage is don...
I started my business for the wrong reasons
Why did you start your business? When people ask me that question, I often respond with, “So I could spend more time with my family while providing for them.” Or, “So I could work part-time while recovering for chemo.” Or, “So I can build up a bank account and get back to my plans for seminary.” They all sounds like noble answers, right? Well, this morning during my devotions, I read a verse that struck a chord. It was Ephesians 4:28: Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Ok, so what does that verse have to do with my running a business? Well sure, I am not to steal, or be engaged in dishonest things in business, and yes, it says that we are to give to those in need. But what is the thing that struck a chord and made me realize that that “to provide for my family” is the wrong reason? I mean, the Bible does tell us that we are to provide. In 1 Timothy 5:8 we read: Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. Jesus has told us to provide for our families. So we must. But that is not the ultimate reason we work. As a Christian, saying, “I work to provide for my family” is incomplete and is an unscriptural view of work. We should work, whether it’s at my business, or at your job at the office, or at your job digging a ditch, because working is the Lord’s will concerning us. The thief is to perform honest work and share with those in need, not because he was a thief, not because it is some sort of punishment, but because it is the Lord’s will for all of us! Working is the Lord’s will concerning us. Boom. It’s that simple. As this revelation (one that I am sure I already knew) resounded in my head and my coffee got cold….I remembered 1 Corinthians 10:31: So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. We are to live our entire lives to the glory of God. Work…to the glory of God. Rest… to the glory of God. Eat…to the glory of God. Ride that mountain bike…to the glory of God. Drink that beer…to the glory of God. Dig that ditch…to the glory of God! Post that selfie on Instagram…to the glory of…uh. Well, you get my point. Everything we do is to be done for God’s glory. What do most of us actually work for? When I worked at a regular job, most of my colleagues spoke about working towards retirement, saving for a trip, working for the weekend to go on that mountain biking trip, buying beer, working OT to get that renovation on the house, or buying the Big House to keep up with the Jonses. Unfortunately, many Christians view work in exactly the same way. Many of us are in it for what we get out of it. Unfortunately, I fell in the trap of viewing work as merely a means to an end. Sure, some of you may argue that we use our work to do things that glorify God. It is true that God may be honored in the results of our work, through tithing, helping the needy...saving so I can go to seminary and become a pastor… even as He may not be supreme in our view of work itself. Is He supreme in your view of work? If I am honest with myself, He has not been my ultimate focus in this business. Starting this business may not have been for his glory; but that changes today. Why do you work? Ryan Smith blogs at OneChristianDad.com where this first appeared. It is reprinted here with permission....
Documentary, Economics, Movie Reviews
Wait till it's free
Documentary 2014 / 82 minutes Rating: 9/10 Why would Canadians be interested in watching a Scotsman take a look at the American healthcare system? Because this examination, of how capitalism and socialism impact healthcare costs, is very relevant for us too. The film’s director and producer, Colin Gunn, is Presbyterian and consequently a capitalist. If that seems an abrupt connection, then consider that we Reformed folks know that the heart of man is wicked. So we are well aware that if an economic system needs men to be angels, laboring for no personal benefit, then that is an unworkable economic system. So we know better than to be socialists. But for some reason, we don’t seem to think that holds true for healthcare. This comes out most strongly when Canadians, even the Reformed ones, start talking about healthcare with their American cousins. Then we seem to be quite proud of the socialistic nature of our healthcare system, which “costs us nothing, and is free for everyone.” But, of course, that isn’t really so. It certainly isn’t free – the costs are simply not seen, paid out in taxes, so that Canadians have very little idea of how much their healthcare really does cost. And that everyone is covered doesn’t distinguish it all that much from American healthcare, where everyone can get emergency care, and where more and more of the population is covered by the government-run Medicare. As Gunn points out, the American system is almost as socialistic as the Canadian. Gunn’s main argument is that a good dose of capitalism would be good for what ails the American system. His most telling observation was that in the American system no one knows what the costs will be beforehand. There is no public pricing chart, and so no way of comparing what one hospital might charge versus another. And without an awareness of how much things might costs, there is only a pretense of competition. You won't have innovation if you don't have competition so if we want to reform healthcare, this might be the first place we need to start: make all the prices public! I highly recommend this documentary – it is a brilliant argument by a Christian filmmaker who has perfected his craft. The content is superb: Gunn has assembled an impressive cast of experts from around the world to make his case. And the presentation is even better: there are fun little animated bits, and great narration, and a wonderful story arc – this is packaged up nicely, and tied up at the end with a bow. Who should see this? Anyone who thinks socialism is the answer to our healthcare needs. You can watch the trailer below, and rent the full film by clicking on the "$4.95" link in the trailer below. The Wait Till It's Free YouTube site has a lot of extras that are also worth checking out. ...
On Union Membership: voices from the past
On March 9, 2017 the Abbotsford Canadian Reformed Church held a forum on "Christians and Union Membership" and I was tasked with presenting a historic perspective on the topic. Why look to the past? There are at least a couple of reasons to look to the past when figuring out an issue. First, it is a matter of appreciating the wisdom of our elders – honoring our father and mother. In times past union membership was a much-discussed and debated issue, so if we think our parents wise, why wouldn't we want to hear from them? Second, as C.S. Lewis has noted, every generation has its own particular blind spots. Just like a fish doesn't know it's wet, we have biases we aren't aware of because they are such a part of our culture and time. Thus the benefit in studying history is that we'll be able to see through the biases in times past – we can spot their blindspots because we don't share them. And, more importantly, our ancestors may be able to highlight and help us see our blindspots because they don't share them. In doing my digging I came across a half dozen articles, from the years 1975-1993 that made important points. While these articles, by 5 different authors, could all be characterized as "anti-union" it is important to note that no one here is objecting to collective bargaining. If workers want to come together to negotiate with their employers, we all agree that they should be free to do so. What these authors are saying is that there are demands that some unions make of their membership that Christians should object to. UNIONISM by Rev. W. Huizinga (1975) SUMMARY: Rev. Huizinga shares quotes from a number of union constitutions, bylaws, and oaths, noting some unions would require of Christians oaths of allegiance. What sort of oaths are these? Well, as Rev. Huizinga's examples were dated, here is a more current example, from the Laborers' International Union of North America (active in the US and Canada): I do hereby solemnly pledge that, as a member of the Laborers' International Union of North America and of this Local Union, I will be active in its affairs, loyal to its cause and interests, and obedient to my constitutional obligations and responsibilities. In the fulfillment of this commitment I will regularly attend Union meetings and volunteer my time as a VOICE organizer, on picket lines, in get-out-the-vote efforts and in local charities or community activities on the Union's behalf. I will be true to my responsibilities as a citizen of the United States or Canada. So help me God. We are to be loyal to the union and it's "cause and interests"? What about when those interests include supporting political parties I oppose, or charities I disagree with? If we look at unions as contract negotiators, the idea of such a loyalty oath is very strange. After all, any other time we hire a negotiator – say a lawyer, or a realtor– we don't have to make a loyalty pledge to him. When a union requires this sort of oath they are looking for a bigger role than just as a negotiator – they want us to join in their movement. And that brings us to the second objection Rev. Huizinga raises. He also showed there is a Marxist "class struggle" idea – workers versus owners – that seems to underly unionism. In some union constitutions it is even stated explicitly. But whether explicit or not, many unions will pit employees against employers, or seek to pit customers against the company (by asking for a boycott). This adversarial approach is completely foreign to the Bible. Huizinga points to Heidelberg Catechism, Answer 111, where, in explaining the 8th Commandment, it reads: I must promote my neighbor's good wherever I can and may, deal with him as I would like others to deal with me... Or as Jesus puts it, "Love your neighbor as yourself," which most certainly includes our employer (Luke 10:25-37). Pastor Huizinga also sees strikes as a revolt against the 5th Commandment, which tells us to honor our father and mother and by extension, all those God has placed in authority over us. While this seems to be a common view, particularly historically, Rev. W. Pouwelse argues in his article "Labour Relations" (included below) that the 5th Commandment is not all that applicable. A CHRISTIAN VIEW OF LABOR UNIONS by Gary North (1978) SUMMARY: Gary North argues that strikes are based on "the wholly immoral premise that the worker owns his job (can exclude others from the position) even though he refused to work for his employer." What North says here requires a little unpacking. That the worker owns his job is a Marxian notion too. Karl Marx argued that the value of a good was dependent only on the labor that went into it - the more labor, the greater the value of the good. When we view production this way – employees are the only source of value for a good – then owners would seem to bring nothing to the table, and yet they are profiting from other people's efforts. If this were true, we could understand why a worker would think he owns his job. But this is at odds with the truth. When I hire someone to mow my lawn, I as the employer, have created that job - it didn't exist until: 1) I decided the job needs doing. 2) I decided I was going to invest my own time elsewhere. 3) I decided it was worth my money to hire my neighbor's son to do it. So who owns the job? I do because this job is a product of my thought process; it did not exist until I decided it existed. Now imagine my neighbor's son wanted more money, and came to me and made his request. What would we think if, when I didn't agree, he not only refused to mow my lawn, but he told me I wasn't allowed to hire his sister (who's happy to do it for a buck per hour less) because this is his job. Just to complete the illustration, we can imagine that he somehow gets the government to legalize his scheme. It still would not change that he has taken from me what is mine. He has stolen a job that I, as the employer, created. So North is arguing that strikes – those that prevent replacement workers – whether they are legal or not, are a violation of the 8th commandment not to steal. North also argues that while unions may increase the wages for union members, they do so in precisely the same manner that monopolies increase prices – by preventing competition. Unions do this several ways, but one way is by excluding non-union members from competing for certain jobs (ie. in a strike, workers who would be willing to do the job for less aren't able to take the job). LABOUR RELATIONS by Rev. W. Pouwelse (1983) Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 Part 4, Part 5 SUMMARY: This is one longer article broken up into 5 parts, and for our purposes, parts 3, 4 and 5 are the relevant ones. Rev. W. Pouwelse argues (in contrast to Rev. W. Huizinga above) that it isn't the 5th Commandment (at least not primarily) that governs employees' relationship with their employers but the 9th. The 5th commandment, to honor our father and mother, can be extended to those in authority over us, like the government or our church consistory, but doesn't extend in the same way to employers. Why? Because the authority employers hold over us is an "agreed upon authority." We agree to do this, and in exchange they agree to pay us that – it is a contractual arrangement between two parties. The difference can be seen in how we are free to quit our jobs at any time, but we are not free to stop listening to our parents, or our government, or our consistory. That's why, when we leave our job, no one accuses us of violating the 5th Commandment. The 9th Commandment – do not bear false witness – would apply to our contractual relationship with our employer. If we sign a contract we would need to live up to the terms; we do need to do as we have promised. LABOUR MOVEMENTS by Rev. Pouwelse (1984) Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 SUMMARY: This longer article is broken up into three parts, and in part 3 Rev. Pouwelse speaks out against strikes for several practical reasons: 1) In strikes in the past "workers threatened and even violence is used" 2) Also "workers who had nothing to do with unions were prevented from doing their work" These are very good objections – clearly Christians should not join a union that threatens and commits violence, and shuts down non-union workplaces – but these objections seem to have been more of a concern at the time this article was written. Strikes in the 1980s were more often marked by violence than they are today (at least in North America). But Pouwelse also notes that: 3) Strikes "puts a burden on innocent people....this burden has to be carried not only by the workers and their employers, but many other people suffer as well. During a bus strike the general public suffers in the first place." This would seem to be contrary to God's command to show love for our neighbor. 4) Strikes are a "denial of our God-given mandate to labour faithfully" – when we strike, we are, as a part of our negotiation strategy, no longer doing productive work. That might seem a minor thing, but when we realize that God calls us to be productive then a negotiation strategy that prevents productivity is one we have reason to question. Like Huizinga above, Pouwelse also points to the oaths or pledges required by some unions as conflicting with our call not to serve two masters. But not all unions require such oaths or pledges. UNION MEMBERSHIP...AN HISTORICAL STUDY by Rev. J. L. van Popta (1992) SUMMARY: This is a 21-page paper so we can only touch on a few highlights here. In the paper Rev. J.L. van Popta compares and contrasts the way union membership has been viewed, historically, in the Christian Reformed Churches (CRC) with how it has been viewed in the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC). In the late 1800s in the CRC, while unions were deemed "usually un-Christian," it wasn't until 1904 that they really tackled the issue of union membership in detail. Seven objections were raised, including the matter of oaths: ...many unions would cause their members to live contrary to the first and the fifth commandment by “exact an oath or promise of unconditional obedience to the majority or the board with disregard of one’s duty toward God, the State, the Church, and the family.” In the Synod of 1928 there was a new development. 1928...changed the understanding of corporate responsibility. In 1904 members of unions were guilty of union practices. In 1928 members were absolved of guilt if they protested. In other words, if a union engaged in violence, in 1904 a CRC member would be required to get out of that union. But in 1928 the Synod said they could remain in the union, though they would have to publicly protest the violence. This issue of corporate responsibility – how responsible we are for the actions of a group in which we are a member – is an issue that future synods will continue to debate, with the 1945 Synod then turning back to the clock to adopt a stance very similar to that of 1904. The first CanRC position on unions came about in 1951, and was made by the consistory of New Westminster. They raised two objections to union membership. The first objection was to unions that required "unconditional obedience to laws and bylaws in force or yet to be enacted." The second objection was against “closed-shop” policies of unions. This was judged to be in violation of the 8th and 6th Commandments. Calling on Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Days 42 and 40 the consistory showed that the self serving motive of the “closed-shop” policy was at bottom theft and murder, and members of unions were then guilty of these sins. This precluded any membership at all. Closed shops are companies where the union has so negotiated things that union membership is a condition for being hired. Or, in other words, if someone wasn't willing to join the union then they were barred from working there. In this stance the New Westminster consistory came out against all unions, but as Rev. van Popta notes, their decision came out 1 year before the formation of the Christian Labor Association of Canada (CLAC), and 12 years before it was recognized as a union. So while the consistory was objecting to all the unions at that time, they had not anticipated the birth of a Christian Labor movement, and their decision should not be understood as addressing a group like the CLAC. UNIONS by Rev. G. P. van Popta (1993) SUMMARY: Rev. G.P. Popta notes that "blanket statements that all unions are evil and we may not join any" are not useful since situations can be so different. Van Popta states that the first step in deciding whether or not you can join a specific union would involve reading through the union's constitution, and the collective agreement between the union and employer, to find out what promises or obligations come with membership in that union. And if they demand unconditional obedience, that is a promise we can not make. He also raised the issue of the "adversarial model" in which strikes are a key tool. "The Bible teaches a harmony model." He ends by sharing how, in some cases, it is possible to seek an exemption from union membership, with dues going, instead of to the union, to a charity agreed upon by the union and the person seeking the exemption. This is an option he urges Christians to investigate....
A sad tale of a wealthy millennial’s moral confusion
A few years back my wife heard a young woman share that she had felt guilty for being able to go out to dinner with friends in Chicago. She knew her mother, still living in South Africa, wasn’t able to dine out like this. When she later told her mother about her feelings during a phone call, her mother was having none of it. She told her daughter that gratitude, not guilt was the appropriate response to God’s blessings. The young woman was told that she should thank God for how she’d been able to immigrate to America, and she could also pray and work for a time when South Africans, and others around the world, would enjoy blessings similar to those she was experiencing now in America. Is wealth immoral? I remembered that story the moment I began reading about Adam Roberts, a Millennial who in his Vox article “Is wealth immoral?” expressed his sense of guilt and injustice at having inherited over a million dollars as a child of wealthy parents. “As I got politicized around things like wealth inequality, climate change, war, and the forces connecting them, I didn’t connect it too much with my own family or history,” he wrote. But then he came to understand things differently. He confessed, as if they were sins, that his family had gained wealth through the oil industry, banking, and stock in companies that built things for the military. His parents had given him stock in ExxonMobil, BP, and Chevron – another reason for guilt. As he became active as a “community organizer” in Boston, “no longer surrounded by wealthy peers,” it “felt absurd … to have access to so much when so many others didn’t.” “As a result,” he wrote, “I got real weird about money. I’d barely spend any of it.” He’d walk instead of taking Uber. Spending of $300 a month for prescription drugs for his mother-in-law was okay, but he was conflicted about putting down $30,000 on a house or spending $6.99 for a bag of popcorn at a theater. So he offset those two by contributing $30,000 to a land trust and declining to get a soda refill. But such things, he believes “are imperfect, individual actions.” The whole system that allows people to amass such wealth while others struggle is “immoral.” Everyone, he thinks, should have a modest first home, but nobody should have a “$20M mansion in Newport, RI,” a second home if anyone else is homeless, or a third (or fourth or fifth). Nobody should buy a new $799 sofa when he could buy a used one, and nobody should have a yacht – at all. “Is it moral to hold any excess private wealth under capitalism?” he asks – and later reveals that it’s not. “Does it matter how that wealth was accumulated?” He offers four examples: fossil fuels, medical doctor, useful invention, or stocks. He draws toward his conclusion by writing: “In a system that produces a handful of people with billions of dollars while hundreds of millions of people still lack access to basic human needs like health care and affordable housing … the question isn’t what billionaires should do with ‘their’ money. It’s how to enact policies that prevent any one person from concentrating that much wealth and power in the first place.” He recommends “taxing wealthy families like mine a whole lot more” because it’s “totally happened in the past,” it’s “part of the Green New Deal,” and it’s “widely supported.” At the level of individual choices, he reports that he’s donated roughly a third of what he inherited to charitable causes and intends to donate another third. “For me, it feels like part of becoming more connected and alive on this planet,” he says. Good motives; bad conclusions How should we respond to such thinking? Certainly not by condemning Roberts’s motives. It’s refreshing to see someone born rich who cares about those who weren’t. His charitable giving is to be commended, as is his self-restraint. And, frankly, as I read his article (accompanied by brilliant illustrations that drive home his points), my heart went out to him. Nonetheless, there are serious problems with his thinking. Is “wealth inequality” unjust by definition? Why, then, hasn’t he already divested himself of everything he owns except what would equal the average net worth of people around the world? How can anyone buy a used sofa – or any sofa at all – if nobody buys a new one? What constitutes a modest first home – something typical of Corinth, Mississippi, where median home value is $105,900? Or of Boston, where Roberts lives and the median home value is five-and-a-half times as much, or Manhattan at eleven times as much, or San Francisco (tack on another hundred grand)? Or – let’s get real now, and care about the whole world, not just wealthy America – is $1,000 a square foot, common in Boston, “modest,” or $99 (7,000 rupees) a square foot, common in Bengaluru (Bangalore), India’s “silicon valley”? Or next to nothing for the cardboard shacks in which millions of the poor of Africa, Asia, and Latin America live? And what’s the dividing line between a moral system and an “immoral” one that allows people to amass such wealth while others struggle? Is personal net worth of $10,000 okay, but not $11,000? Or $250,000 but not $300,000? What objective standard justifies where Roberts draws the line? And what is “excess” wealth? Consider millionaires and billionaires – the sort of persons Roberts thinks “the system” should disallow. What do millionaires and billionaires do with their “excess” wealth? Well, they might buy stocks or bonds – providing the capital to pay workers, equip them with expensive tools that enable them to produce the food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medical care, and other benefits still other people need. They might buy a second or third house (or a yacht, or a private jet), construction of which employed workers whose wages provided food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medical care, and other benefits to themselves and their families. Maybe they’ll just stick it in a bank account – from which the bank will make loans to companies that will employ people to make things that benefit others. About the only thing they can do with it that will be of use to nobody is hide it under the mattress. (Let me know if you run into a millionaire who does that. I’m curious to meet such an eccentric.) It’s pretty clear that Roberts thinks there’s something particularly immoral about accumulating wealth from fossil fuels. Yet using those fossil fuels has lifted billions of people out of the poverty that breaks Roberts’s heart by providing not only energy but also plastics that prevent foods from spoiling; fertilizers that allow farmers to grow more food on less land to feed the growing human population while leaving land available for wildlife; pharmaceuticals that heal diseases; and literally thousands of other products derived from them. And when he bemoans fossil fuels’ contribution (however great or small) to climate change, does he weigh that against all those other benefits from them – plus the roughly $3.2 trillion in extra crop yields the CO2 emitted from them added to global crop yields (making food more available for the poor) from 1960 to 2012, with another $9.8 trillion expected by 2050? Medical doctors, whose method of accumulating wealth it seems Roberts favors over fossil fuels, would be severely handicapped without fossil fuel-derived medications (maybe including some his mother-in-law takes), not to mention the electricity that lights their operating rooms and powers their refrigerators to preserve their medications, their MRIs, and every other high-tech invention that enables them to restore people’s health and prolong their lives. How many of the things that raised human life expectancy at birth from about 27 or 28 years before the Industrial Revolution to about 70 today worldwide (and 80 in developed countries) would have been developed if no inventors, innovators, or entrepreneurs could have received any more rewards for their efforts than those who dug ditches (an honorable task but not highly rewarded) or just sat on their haunches? For some, wealth is a problem When a rich ruler asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to obey God’s commandments – something the man says he has done from his youth up. “One thing you still lack,” Jesus says. “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The man leaves sad, prompting Jesus’ remark, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” – i.e., impossible. But, He explains, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:18–27). So does that justify Roberts’s feeling guilty about his inherited wealth, and demanding that “the system” be changed to prevent anyone’s amassing “excess wealth” while others struggle? Charity is good, and so is investment No, for in the very next chapter, when Jesus encounters a rich tax collector who says that he will give half his goods to the poor and restore fourfold anyone he has defrauded, Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:1–10). So which is it? Must one give everything away, or half? Or is there a different point entirely – wealth takes the place of God for some people, and must be given away entirely, but not for others. After that encounter, Jesus tells a parable about a nobleman (who represents God) who entrusts money to each of ten servants and instructs them to engage in business until he returns. On his return, the servants report their performance. The first has multiplied the investment ten times, the second five times. He rewards them proportionately. The third servant says, “Lord, here is your mina , which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.” The nobleman, ignoring the obvious lie that he was reaping where had not sown, responds, “I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?” Then he instructs others to take the money from him and give it to the first servant. “Lord,” they protest, “he has ten minas!” And the master responds, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Luke 19:11–27). God condemns injustice, not wealth The Bible has much to say about the need to protect the poor from oppression and to give charitably to help those who cannot help themselves. But nowhere does it condemn wealth. Indeed, some of the most important of God’s people were wealthy – Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, Joseph of Arimathea, and wealthy women who provided for Jesus and His disciples. The Bible condemns greed, selfishness, and injustice – but it never equates injustice with inequality. Adam Roberts’s confusion is sad, for it means he encourages not only envy and resentment toward many whom God has blessed but also false guilt on the part of many, including himself, who are blessed. By all means, whether you consider yourself rich or middle class or poor, give to the poor, and work to protect the poor from injustice. But don’t condemn all inequality as injustice, and don’t feel guilty for the gifts God has given you. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and a former professor of historical theology and social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary, is author of Social Justice vs. Biblical Justice: How Good Intentions Undermine Justice and Gospel. Questions to consider How does God's "equality" as found in James 2:1-4, and Lev. 19:15 differ with the sort of equality that Adam Roberts wants the government to bring in? How does equal treatment under the law differ from being made equal by the law? (See the comic below). Roberts feels guilty for two different reasons: 1) for being wealthy, and 2) for how that wealth was garnered. As Christians, which of those two could be a legitimate concern, and which is not? Why? Each time money is exchanged for merchandise both parties become "wealthier." When I pay $5 for a book it's because that book is worth more than $5 to me and the merchant gives me the book because the $5 is worth more than the book to him (or else neither of us would make the trade). Amazingly both of us came off the better for the trade. Thus, money gained via legitimate means (piracy and money laundering are both out) represents good that has been done and wealth that has been increased. How should that understanding color our impressions of billionaires and millionaires? How much "good already accomplished" does their wealth represent? The 10th Commandment (Ex. 20:17) says we're not to covet our neighbor's stuff. Is it still coveting if we support a political party that has plans for our uber-rich neighbor's wealth? Explain. Lord Acton's most memorable quote "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" is based on a biblical understanding of Man's fallen nature. Is this adage a good reason to want to diminish the wealth – and thus the power – of the very wealthy? Or does the 10th Commandment apply even to their power? In Luke 12:48 we read, "...from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." Is this passage a good justification for higher taxes on the rich? Is this God speaking to government about what the wealthy need to do, or God speaking to the wealthy about what the wealthy need to do? ...