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Economics

5 things Christians should know about income inequality

Income inequality is still at the forefront of conversation for many people. Thankfully, there are biblical principles that help Christians understand whether income inequality is a problem, and if so, how we are to respond. At the Christian research organization I work for – the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics – we talk a lot about various aspects of income inequality and how to think about it. Today, I’d like to summarize this tough topic through these five points dealing with the best approach to bringing about flourishing, especially for the poor. 1. HOW INCOME INEQUALITY IS MEASURED Income inequality measures income differences across groups of people using a statistical tool called the Gini coefficient. It ranges between zero and one. A score of one indicates perfect inequality: one person makes all the income and everyone else makes zero. A score of zero indicates perfect equality: everyone earns exactly the same amount. The U.S. Gini coefficient is 0.45 according to the CIA World Fact Book. For the sake of context, the impoverished country of Bangladesh has less income inequality than the U.S. (Gini of 0.32). Meanwhile Hong Kong has slightly more income inequality than the U.S. (Gini of 0.54).  Alone, income inequality data doesn’t tell us that much about whether one country is “better” than another. 2. CRONYISM MAKES INCOME INEQUALITY WORSE, AND IT'S UNFAIR Cronyism occurs when corporations pursue the government for benefits, protections, or subsidies benefiting their business at the expense of competing firms and consumers. It is a growing trend evidenced by the hundreds of lobbying firms popping up on K Street. Politicians have responded quite favorably to these lobbying efforts and have created a culture in which the most well-connected win. This is inherently unfair. An unjust system is prevailing where ordinary businesses and entrepreneurs are failing because they lack the resources to buy off politicians. The unfortunate result is that they can’t succeed, and the well-connected rich get richer and stifle more opportunities for the poor. 3. DIVERSITY IS A BIBLICAL PREMISE OF CREATION. WE ARE BORN WITH DIFFERENT GIFTS, RESULTING IN DIFFERENT INCOMES. We are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and, while we bear many physical similarities, we are all distinct. That means that, by definition, we are unequal. God knew that our uniqueness makes our work and talents inherently dignifying and brings us into community with one another. Our interdependence makes us able to achieve things we never could on our own. We use our gifts and skills to provide goods and services that others need. We then trade for goods and services that we need but aren’t able to provide ourselves. The market return for our services is our income, and that income is based on the market supply of what we provide and the value people place on it. This means that our incomes will be different. However, because we do not operate in a vacuum, those who do earn high incomes tend to create lots of value for everyone, including lots of job opportunities. High incomes are not a sign that the rich have stolen from the poor. Quite the contrary, wealthy individuals have often innovated products and services that make us all richer and ease our way of life. 4. INCOME MOBILITY IS A BETTER MEASURE OF PROSPERITY Income mobility is quite different from income inequality. Income mobility tracks the lifetime income of a person. It’s a way of understanding if people are able to earn more income over their lives as a result of increases in their education, skills, and productivity. The trouble with the data on income inequality is that it doesn’t track individuals over time. If we look at the poorest income bracket in 1990 and again in 2014, we have no idea if the people who were poor in 1990 are still poor today simply by looking at the data. In fact, mobility data suggests that almost sixty percent of individuals who were in the lower income brackets moved into higher brackets in under a decade. 5. WE SHOULD FOCUS ON WHAT GOD HAS CALLED US TO DO, NOT ON WHAT OTHERS ARE DOING In a flourishing society, there are going to be lots of people who make high levels of income. Think how different the Congo or Vietnam would look if local entrepreneurs had the opportunity to create and innovate. The world would have a lot more people like Bill Gates and a lot more wealth and opportunity for all – not just the rich. It’s easy to want for ourselves what others have, but we can’t all be Bill Gates. God has gifted each of us to do something specific and special. We need to focus on our unique callings and do them with excellence rather than focusing on what others have. Unfortunately, some of the talk around income inequality is about coveting what others have rather than wanting more for the poor. I can tell you from living in a county with the highest per-capita income in the country that it is easy to want what others have: the newest car, the bigger house, the better wardrobe. It is a deceptive trap to believe that if we have these things, we will feel better or live better. WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT INCOME INEQUALITY? Be aware of the cronyism all around us that often shows up in seemingly benign programs like laws mandating certain light bulbs, sugar subsidies, and occupational licensing. Government is increasingly giving in to the entitlement culture of lobbying. We need businesses to stop asking for favors and political leaders who will stop the handouts. Furthermore, prayerfully discern the path to which God calls you and pursue it with integrity, hard work, and faith. No matter what income it brings, it gives you a chance to serve others in the here and now and achieve everlasting significance for God’s kingdom.

This article is reprinted, with minor edits, with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (www.tifwe.org). The original article appears here. IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. Go here to subscribe to the free IFWE Daily Blog. Dr. Anne Bradley "is the Vice President of Economic Initiatives at the Institute, where she develops and commissions research toward a systematic biblical theology of economic freedom." RedPanel.com comic used with permission.

News

F.R.E.E.D. – an acronym to help us defend and use our religious freedom

If you're pro-life, you know the value of a good acronym. For years S.L.E.D. has helped us remember there are just four differences between the unborn and us, and none of them would justify killing the unborn. Size – They are smaller but so what? Smaller adults aren't seen as less human. Level of development – The unborn are less developed than adults, true, but so are prepubescent children. Why would that make either of them less human? Environment – The unborn are in a different environment but since when does where we are determine who we are? Degree of dependency - They are highly dependent, but so are people who need dialysis and that doesn’t make them any less human. For years John Stonestreet has wished there was a similarly useful acronym to help Christians remember what to say when it comes to defending our religious freedom. In his May 16 Breakpoint column, he shared how his colleague Shane Morris has done just that with the acronym F.R.E.E. with each letter representing one point in a compelling argument for religious freedom. Forcing – Many in the world still recognize that “forcing people to go against their beliefs for no good reason is a bad thing.” Reason – “Is there a good reason to force a religious person to go against his or her belief in the case you’re discussing? And are there less burdensome alternatives to squashing this freedom, like using a bakery down the street or an adoption agency across town?” Examples – Offer examples that make your point. “Should a Muslim t-shirt designer be forced to create shirts mocking the prophet Muhammad? Should an Orthodox Jewish club at a university be forced to admit Christians as officers?” Equality – Complete the argument by asking, why shouldn’t Christians get the same freedoms we’d give to the Muslim t-shirt maker or the Orthodox Jewish club? It’s a helpful tool, made even better with one addition. Underpinning these four points is the idea that we should do to others as we would want done to us. That’s from the Bible (Matt. 7:12) and that worth noting because, as much as defending our freedom of religion is important, it’s even more important to actually use it. So let’s give God the glory with a fifth point that we can call “D, as in Divine.” That’ll be a reminder for us to show how the core of our argument rests on a solid biblical principle. And in explaining that this is not our insight, but God’s, we can point our listeners to Him. Let's never forget to use our liberty to tell people how they too can be freed.

In a Nutshell

Tidbits – March 2020

It’s so easy to get things wrong While doing evangelism, Christian apologist Ray Comfort will often ask his conversational partner a series of quick trick questions. The goal is to provoke a little humility by highlighting how easy it is to get things wrong. So take this quiz (or better, yet, give it to a friend...who can take a joke) and then look at the bottom of this page to see how well you really did. How many of the unclean animal did Moses take onto the Ark? What is the name of that raised print that deaf people use? Spell the word shop. What do you do when you come to a green light? It's noon. You look at the clock, and the big hand is on the three, and the little hand is on the five. What time is it? You are the driver of a train. There are 30 people on board. At the first stop, 10 people get off the train. At the next stop, 5 people get on the train. Here is the question: What is the name of the driver of the train? Spell the word silk. What do cows drink? And here’s one Comfort doesn’t use, but should:

What mouse walks on two legs?   I don’t know. Mickey Mouse! What dog walks on two legs?   Goofy? Right! And what duck walks on two legs?   Donald Duck! All ducks walk on two legs!

Troublemaking Bruce Jenner, who now goes by the name of Caitlyn, was an Olympic decathlete in the 1970s, and his personal best in the 400-meter is still better than any woman has ever run. If feelings can determine a person’s gender, then why doesn’t Caitlyn own the women’s 400-meter world record? Lies and statistics, and spanking... Every now and again the mainstream media will splash news of the very latest spanking study, which will report that spanking is "linked to aggression, antisocial behavior, mental health problems, cognitive difficulties, low self-esteem, and a host of other negative outcomes." That study will then be used as evidence that spanking needs to be banned. But if we look beyond the headline we'll find that whatever the latest study might be, it makes two fundamental errors. First, it will label as "spanking" anything physical that a parent did as a punishment for their child. That a child who is regularly beaten by his drunken father will have problems at school, is presented as evidence that a child who sometimes gets three smacks to his behind will also have trouble at school. Second, despite knowing that correlation does not imply causation, the press will report as if this is the exception to the rule, instead of looking for any sort of possible alternate explanation for the findings. What might an alternative explanation be? If I were a betting man I would put all my fortune down on this: were we to do a study of children who crayola the hallway wall, and then go outside to make mud pies so they can feed them to their napping, open-mouthed big sister, we would find that they are more likely than their peers to get spanked. In other words, it might well be that spankings don't lead to these "negative outcomes" but rather that a child's disposition to negative outcomes requires a parent to spank them more often. As any parent with two or more children can tell you, one of their kids will require more discipline than the others. And it isn't the especially good one. Get ready to be reviled "Pastors need to teach their people about how to handle with grace being looked down on more then ever before. I heard of John Stott reflecting that as a young man at Cambridge when people said ‘O he's a Christian,’ what they meant was that he was a goody-two-shoes. But now to be called a Christian means that you are viewed as a morally-deficient person, because you have not swallowed the gay agenda.” – Dr. John E Benton, Evangelicals Now, July 2012, on how the world will change as gay marriage becomes the norm. More troublemaking Our culture is insane, as is on clear display with what they think about sexual education. To put that insanity on better display here’s an idea from frequent RP contributor Rob Slane that lays out a couple of pointed questions a brave troublemaking Christian could ask university professors or sex-ed teachers.

"I imagine a teenager in a sex education lesson asking the following question: 'Miss. Assuming I take precautions, would it would be safer for me to have 3 partners or 300?' No brainer of course, and even the most progressive of teachers would have to admit that 3 is 'safer' than 300. Simple mathematical probabilities this one: the lower the number, the 'safer the sex.'

"In which case a really mischievous teenager – a true rebel you might say – might ask the following question: 'Miss, is it safer to only have 1 partner for life, or multiple? And if it’s 1 – which it is – and if this is a safe-sex lesson – which it is – why do you not advocate it?'”

Faint heart never won fair lady “Many a man has known a great woman, yet did not win her because, out of fear, he failed to pursue her.  Every man understands this, both the brave man who has risked it all (and won or lost) and the timid man who did not dare.  The battle to take the great action required at these ‘make it or break it’ moments is won or lost privately, deep in the heart.” – Patrick F. Fagan Answers for "It’s so easy to get things wrong" Moses didn't take any animals on the ark; Noah did. Deaf people don't need special raised print; Braille is for the blind. You certainly don't stop. We told you, it's noon. Remember, you are the driver of the train. While calves might drink milk, cows drink water.

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

BOOK REVIEW: What’s your worldview?

by James N. Anderson 112 pages 2014 If you’ve got fond memories of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books you’ll really enjoy this adult update. This time it’s a journey to discover our own worldview and, like the kids’ books, we keep coming to forks in the road. So, early on, we either agree there is objective truth and then go to page 22 or we say there isn’t and then go to page 91. A Christian reader flipping to page 22 will be asked to consider, “Is it possible to know the Truth?” The author James Anderson lays out the case for both options, after which we again have to choose which way we want to go. After a dozen or so steps, readers will eventually arrive at the worldview that matches their professed beliefs. Anderson is a Christian and his biases are acknowledged up front. So, even as he has challenging questions for anyone who lands on one of the other 20 worldviews, he also raises the problem of evil for Christians. He wants everyone to follow God, but he refuses to pretend as if Christians have it all figured out. That means this is a book you could give or share with people you know who aren't Christian. How's this for a conversation starter: "Hey Fred, do you know what your worldview is? Come on over, I've got this great little book that'll help us figure it out." Overall, I'd say the strength of the book is this really fun format and also it’s conciseness  – there is just so much packed in such a little space. I'd recommend it for teens as a graduation gift, and for college students and adults too. Maybe the best use of it is as a coffee table book, because it can be digested in chunks by choosing one "adventure" at a time. To get a peek at the first 20 or so pages, you can find it here on the author's website. And if you want to hear Dr. Anderson give an overview on worldviews, check out the 20-minute presentation below that he gave at the 2016 Ligonier Ministries National Conference.

AA
News
Tagged: fake news, featured, news

News or fake news: third of Brits have dinner in silence?   

In September, at least five of the United Kingdom’s online newspapers shared the results of a study claiming one-third of Brits eat their dinners in complete silence (we linked to just the one paper because the others are sleazy). They reported the study was commissioned by Old El Paso, the Tex Mex food producer, and involved 2,500 British parents.  Other  findings include:

  • 4 in 10 parents don’t eat at the same time as their children most days
  • only 20% of families eat dinner together every day of the week
  • 44% of respondents admit to staring at their phones well eating

Apparently more and more families don’t have the energy or intimacy to know how to interact with one another. That’s sad, if true.

But this has a whiff of fake news about it. How so? The original study is untraceable – we’re told it was commissioned by Old El Paso, but we aren’t told what polling organization did it. No further information can be found on the company website or social media pages. Also, while the news articles have a few different titles, most were authored by just one reporter, Rob Knight (a few others were unattributed, and some were shorter abridgments). So even as it seemed this story was coming from lots of different sources, it actually amounted to just one. What we’re left with is one reporter telling us about a study that can’t be traced, which was published by a company that hasn’t publicized it on their website or social media. None of that means its fake. It does give us reason for healthy skepticism.

For Christians, how many Brits talk during dinner isn’t as important as that we know how to handle such news stories. We’re all news outlets now, what with our social media accounts, so the question we have to ask is, are we going to be reliable or unreliable reporters? This is a big deal. After all, we worship a God-man who died and came back to life, which is already a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks (1 Cor. 1:23). We don’t want to blow our credibility where it hardly matters by passing along trivia that doesn’t turn out to be true. Instead we want to be careful in the small things, so that we will be seen as trustworthy when we talk about what, or rather Who, really matters.


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