I expected it to be more like this.
Acton Commentary: Economists in the Wild
... The rapid material advance of the last 200 years has provided more comfortable lives in several meaningful ways: It has led to longer lifespans, conquest of diseases, and the ability of the human population to grow more rapidly and securely than at any time in previous history. (It also has provided the means of transforming social and family relations, liberating women from historically “women’s work” on the farm or in the home.) In other words, human ingenuity, technology, and innovation have largely succeeded, in wealthy nations at least, in approximating the abundance of the Garden of Eden.
However, no exertion on humanity’s part, and no conceivable innovation in technology, can succeed in re-creating the original innocence of humans in the Garden of Eden. There is perhaps a corollary here: This approximation of Eden still partakes fully of human sin.
The central insight of environmentalism is that humanity’s great leap in material progress has come at a high cost to nature: we tear down entire mountains for their minerals; divert rivers and streams and drain swamps to provide water for modern agriculture and urban use; clear large amounts of forests for other uses, often disrupting crucial habitat for rare animal species; and too often dump our waste byproducts thoughtlessly into the air, water, and land.
Human ingenuity, technology, and innovation have largely succeeded, in wealthy nations at least, in approximating the abundance of the Garden of Eden.
But this insight contains a paradox. Environmentalism arose precisely because we have mitigated the material harshness of human life through the Industrial Revolution; as Aldo Leopold, author of the classic environmental book A Sand County Almanac, put it: “These wild things had little human value until mechanization assured us of a good breakfast.”iv It is no coincidence that environmental sensibility arose first and has its strongest influence in wealthy nations. The affluent society does not wish to be the effluent society. Meanwhile, the poorest and most undeveloped nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America today suffer the worst environmental degradation and have the least public support for environmental protection. The wealth and technological innovation (spurred more by markets than government dictates) of industrialized nations provides the means for environmental improvement and remediation. ...
... To the contrary, one of the most widely accepted ideas in the field today is a concept known as the “Environmental Kuznets Curve” (EKC), named for Nobel laureate Simon Kuznets, who postulated in the 1950s that income inequality first increases and then declines with economic growth as nations develop and grow. Over the last two decades, more and more economists have come to recognize and provide empirical support for applying Kuznets’s concept to the environment. The EKC holds that the relationship between economic growth and environmental quality is an inverted U-shape, according to which environmental conditions deteriorate during early stages of economic growth, but begin to improve after a certain threshold of wealth is achieved. ...
A group of friends and I are doing a small group study using From Success to Significance: When the Pursuit of Success Isn’t Enough. The following story is great food for thought:
… The first time she [Rosalind Cook] sank here hands into a mound of clay at the age of twenty-six, her soul said, “Ah-ha!”
“Shaping that clay into a meaningful form was like finding a piece of myself that had been missing for a long, long time,” Cook declares. But life was busy, and for years Cook considered sculpting terra cotta clay merely a hobby. She had plenty to do as a teacher of the blind before becoming a stay-at-home mother of three, especially since she also served on a plethora of school boards and fund-raising committees.
I realized I was trying to be who other people thought I should be, and I wasn’t looking at how God created me,” she says. “I pulled away from community work and reflected on what really gave me joy in life – and that was sculpting. But I still felt a bit guilty about loving it so much, until a missionary friend watched as I pulled out my clay one evening. I cried as I said to him, ‘I don’t understand how I can have so much joy in doing this! Where’s the significance? This isn’t saving souls. This isn’t doing anything for anyone. It just feeds me and brings me joy.’
“That wise man of God replied, ‘Rosalind, you are made in God’s image. He’s your Creator, and when you use the gifts of his image, that gives him pleasure.’
“From that day on, I gave myself permission to sculpt,” says Cook. “And I finally connected with its true significance in my life. I was forty-one. I cast my first bronze at forty-two and was able to sell it almost immediately.”
Today, Cooks’s prized bronze sculptures, which range from happy, playful children to full-sized images of Jesus, grace galleries throughout the world. She has donated many pieces to charities, raising far more money than any committee work she did.
“My art is a celebration of life and its Creator,” says Cook. “It gives me the opportunity to motivate people to give themselves permission to dream. When I gave myself permission to take joy in clay, God sculpted a new world for me in the second half of life. If you delight in your God-given passion, he will give you the desires of your heart – because he put them there! Don’t ignore what God is tugging at your heart to do; that’s like saying what he has created for you isn’t important. Pursue what gives you joy, and you will be amazed by the significance of what God will do through you.” (72-73)
At least two things struck me about this story. First, some of the saddest people I know are people who have been diverted from occupational options for which they had passion and talent, into doing more “spiritual” and “justice” oriented work because these are “higher callings.”
The church is to bring Christ into each and every sphere of life. We were called and ordained at creation to exercise dominion over the earth … to bring creation and human community to its fullness. It is our human vocation. Our baptismal call to carry on the works of Christ is not a replacement for that ordination. Rather we take Christian vocation into our particular participation in human vocation. Clearly some are called into particular types of specialized service (like pastors, evangelists, or justice advocates) but for the great majority of us our service is in the context of our particular human vocations.
Second, maybe you’ve heard the often repeated Freddie Buechner quote “"Vocation is where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need." This seems to me to take vocation in another unhelpful direction. This comes too close to suggesting that our daily work should be some deeply satisfying labor that each day touches us at our deepest level of satisfaction. That is just plain false. Work is not going to bring ultimate fulfillment and meaning to our lives. Some of us may have the privilege of supporting ourselves through work that is an expression of our deepest passions (as with Cook), most will not. For some, the thing we might feel most desirous of doing is not going to support us. (And from an economic standpoint we might say the thing the world most economically needs from us is not the thing we are most passionate about.) For others, our context and life circumstances may prevent us from pursing certain options. In many cases we can organize our lives to carve out space to indulge those passions but it will not be the source of our support.
Work is ministry … or maybe I should say that any ethical work can be ministry. But what defines it as ministry is not the nature of the tasks being done. What defines it as ministry is who the worker is serving. Even slave labor can be ministry:
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; 6 not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, 8 knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.
In short, I’m suggesting the notion of “higher callings” can lead us to needless dissatisfaction. Calls to work within ecclesial structures or “helping” institutions are not higher callings if they aren’t you’re calling. But using the measure that only work that meets our deepest passion can be your “highest calling” can lead to unrealistic expectations about the meaning and significance work can provide. True significance comes primarily through who we serve, not how we serve.
Public Religion Research Institute: Survey: Plurality of Americans believe capitalism at odds with Christian values
The new PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey was conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service amidst contentious budget negotiations in Congress.
Ambivalence about Compatibility of Capitalism and Christianity
Overall more Americans believe that Christian values are at odds with capitalism and the free market than believe they are compatible. This pattern also holds among Christians. Among Christians in the U.S., only 38% believe capitalism and the free market are consistent with Christian values while 46% believe the two are at odds. Religiously unaffiliated Americans look similar to the general population and to Christian Americans, with a plurality (40%) saying capitalism is at odds with Christian values, compared to 32% who say they are compatible; 14% say they do not know. There are significant differences by gender, party and income.
- For instance, half (50%) of women believe that capitalism and Christian values are at odds, compared to 37% of men.
A majority (53%) of Democrats believe that capitalism and Christian values are at odds compared to 26% who believe they are compatible. Among Republicans, only 37% say Christian values and capitalism are at odds, and nearly half (46%) say the two are compatible. Among Americans who identify with the Tea Party, a solid majority (56%) say that capitalism is consistent with Christian values; only 35% believe they are at odds.
Nearly half (46%) of Americans with household incomes of $100,000 a year or more believe that capitalism is consistent with Christian values, compared to only 23% of those with household incomes of $30,000 a year or less. ...
Of course, the absolutely critical question here is “What do you mean by capitalism?” The survey question, as it is asked here, is as much about what meaning people give to the word as it is what they think about economic alternatives.
I have little doubt that if were to do focus groups we would find that what people object to is greed, selfishness (frequently misunderstood as a synonym for “self-interest”), and predatory corporate entities … stereotypes associated with capitalism reinforced by academia (particularly in the social sciences and theology), by Hollywood, and positively reinforced by Ayn Rand devotees (including some who work in economic institutions.) Rodney Stark offers some helpful insight on the idea of capitalism in his book, The Victory of Reason:
Several thousand books have been written about capitalism, but very few authors explain what they mean by the term. This is not because no definition is needed; it is because capitalism is very difficult to define, having originated not as an economic concept but as a pejorative term first used by nineteenth-century leftists to condemn wealth and privilege. Adapting the term for serious analysis is a bit like trying to make a social scientific concept out of “reactionary pig.” Even so, no one has dealt with the development of the concept of capitalism and its elusive meanings so well as Ferdnand Braudel. The term “capital” came into use in the fourteenth century to identify funds having the capacity to return income, rather than simply being of consumable value. Thus, in the early usage, “capitalism” referred to the use of wealth (or money) to earn wealth (or money). …
I’ll insert here that elsewhere I’ve read that “capital” comes from the Latin caput, meaning “head.” It is about a “head” in the sense that we talk about a “head of cattle.” A cow can be consumed for meat and for its hide. It can alternatively be preserved as a productive source of milk, fertilizer, or more cattle. Continuing …
…Put another way, the word capitalism implied using wealth to provide income with the intention that the initial value of the wealth would not be reduced, as with money lent at interest. It is investment, the systematic risking of wealth in pursuit of gain, that distinguishes the capitalist from those who merely exact their wealth through rents, taxes, conquest, or banditry. But in addition to being investors, capitalists usually take a more active role in their enterprises as compared with a pure investor such as moneylender. That is, capitalists tend to invest in productive activities whereby new wealth is created. Moreover, capital (or wealth) is not merely money – which is why some prefer the term “capital goods.” Factories, land, ships, mines and warehouses all are obvious capital goods. But it is equally true that for a peasant a cleared plot of ground, tools, and an ox are capital goods in that they can be used to create additional wealth (such as foodstuffs). The same could be said of the spear or club of the Stone Age hunter or the basket carried by his wife when she went gathering. So if we don’t want to equate capitalism with any and all human activity, the definition must be narrowed. The term “capitalism” implies some degree of management, or supervising activities (as opposed simply to performing them); and these activities involve commercial complexity, duration, and planning, as well as a certain degree of autonomy in selecting opportunities and directing activities. But even after sketching these many aspects involved in capitalism, Braudel chose not commit himself to an explicit definition.
Although I am fully aware that is might be good strategy to let readers supply their own meaning of “capitalism,” it seems irresponsible to base and extended analysis on an undefined term. Therefore: Capitalism is an economic system wherein privately owned, relatively well organized, and stable firms pursue complex commercial activities within a relatively free (unregulated) market, taking systematic, long-term approach to investing (directly or indirectly) in productive activities involving a hired workforce, and guided by anticipated and actual returns. …
Consistent with this definition, everyone writing on capitalism (whether or not they actually define the term) accepts that it rests upon free markets, secure property rights, and free (uncoerced) labor. … (55-57)
My guess is that if you offered something along the definition that Stark offers, without using the loaded term “capitalism,” you would find far less negative reactions to “capitalism.”
Joseph Sunde asks some good questions over at Common Sense Concept. If this many Christians are opposed to capitalism, then why have they not left their comfy middle class existence, with climate controlled homes, cellphones and computers, college education, IRAs and 401Ks, etc., for the commune? My sense is that it is because the word “capitalism” is a Rorschach inkblot onto which they throw everything they dislike about modern economic existence.
Foreign Policy: More Than 1 Billion People Are Hungry in the World
An absolutely brilliant article. I've excerpted at length because it is such a long article but I would higly recommend reading the whole thing. It highligts well the challenge of applying simplistic models (whether "more aid" or "more markets") of economic devolopment .
But what if the experts are wrong?
… But what if the poor are not, in general, eating too little food? What if, instead, they are eating the wrong kinds of food, depriving them of nutrients needed to be successful, healthy adults? What if the poor aren't starving, but choosing to spend their money on other priorities? Development experts and policymakers would have to completely reimagine the way they think about hunger. And governments and aid agencies would need to stop pouring money into failed programs and focus instead on finding new ways to truly improve the lives of the world's poorest.
Consider India, one of the great puzzles in this age of food crises. The standard media story about the country, at least when it comes to food, is about the rapid rise of obesity and diabetes as the urban upper-middle class gets richer. Yet the real story of nutrition in India over the last quarter-century, as Princeton professor Angus Deaton and Jean Drèze, a professor at Allahabad University and a special advisor to the Indian government, have shown, is not that Indians are becoming fatter: It is that they are in fact eating less and less. Despite the country's rapid economic growth, per capita calorie consumption in India has declined; moreover, the consumption of all other nutrients except fat also appears to have gone down among all groups, even the poorest. Today, more than three-quarters of the population live in households whose per capita calorie consumption is less than 2,100 calories in urban areas and 2,400 in rural areas -- numbers that are often cited as "minimum requirements" in India for those engaged in manual labor. Richer people still eat more than poorer people. But at all levels of income, the share of the budget devoted to food has declined and people consume fewer calories.
What is going on? The change is not driven by declining incomes; by all accounts, Indians are making more money than ever before. Nor is it because of rising food prices -- between the early 1980s and 2005, food prices declined relative to the prices of other things, both in rural and urban India. Although food prices have increased again since 2005, Indians began eating less precisely when the price of food was going down.
So the poor, even those whom the FAO would classify as hungry on the basis of what they eat, do not seem to want to eat much more even when they can. Indeed, they seem to be eating less. What could explain this? Well, to start, let's assume that the poor know what they are doing. After all, they are the ones who eat and work. If they could be tremendously more productive and earn much more by eating more, then they probably would. So could it be that eating more doesn't actually make us particularly more productive, and as a result, there is no nutrition-based poverty trap?
One reason the poverty trap might not exist is that most people have enough to eat. We live in a world today that is theoretically capable of feeding every person on the planet. In 1996, the FAO estimated that world food production was enough to provide at least 2,700 calories per person per day. Starvation still exists, but only as a result of the way food gets shared among us. There is no absolute scarcity. Using price data from the Philippines, we calculated the cost of the cheapest diet sufficient to give 2,400 calories. It would cost only about 21 cents a day, very affordable even for the very poor (the worldwide poverty line is set at roughly a dollar per day). The catch is, it would involve eating only bananas and eggs, something no one would like to do day in, day out. But so long as people are prepared to eat bananas and eggs when they need to, we should find very few people stuck in poverty because they do not get enough to eat. Indian surveys bear this out: The percentage of people who say they do not have enough food has dropped dramatically over time, from 17 percent in 1983 to 2 percent in 2004. So, perhaps people eat less because they are less hungry.
And perhaps they are really less hungry, despite eating fewer calories. It could be that because of improvements in water and sanitation, they are leaking fewer calories in bouts of diarrhea and other ailments. Or maybe they are less hungry because of the decline of heavy physical work. With the availability of drinking water in villages, women do not need to carry heavy loads for long distances; improvements in transportation have reduced the need to travel on foot; in even the poorest villages, flour is now milled using a motorized mill, instead of women grinding it by hand. Using the average calorie requirements calculated by the Indian Council of Medical Research, Deaton and Drèze note that the decline in calorie consumption over the last quarter-century could be entirely explained by a modest decrease in the number of people engaged in heavy physical work.
Beyond India, one hidden assumption in our description of the poverty trap is that the poor eat as much as they can. …
… In Udaipur, India, for example, we find that the typical poor household could spend up to 30 percent more on food, if it completely cut expenditures on alcohol, tobacco, and festivals. The poor seem to have many choices, and they don't choose to spend as much as they can on food. Equally remarkable is that even the money that people do spend on food is not spent to maximize the intake of calories or micronutrients. Studies have shown that when very poor people get a chance to spend a little bit more on food, they don't put everything into getting more calories. Instead, they buy better-tasting, more expensive calories. …
… All told, many poor people might eat fewer calories than we -- or the FAO -- think is appropriate. But this does not seem to be because they have no other choice; rather, they are not hungry enough to seize every opportunity to eat more. So perhaps there aren't a billion "hungry" people in the world after all.
… Should we let it rest there, then? Can we assume that the poor, though they may be eating little, do eat as much as they need to?
That also does not seem plausible. While Indians may prefer to buy things other than food as they get richer, they and their children are certainly not well nourished by any objective standard. Anemia is rampant; body-mass indices are some of the lowest in the world; almost half of children under 5 are much too short for their age, and one-fifth are so skinny that they are considered to be "wasted."
And this is not without consequences. …
… The poor often resist the wonderful plans we think up for them because they do not share our faith that those plans work, or work as well as we claim. We shouldn't forget, too, that other things may be more important in their lives than food. Poor people in the developing world spend large amounts on weddings, dowries, and christenings. Part of the reason is probably that they don't want to lose face, when the social custom is to spend a lot on those occasions. In South Africa, poor families often spend so lavishly on funerals that they skimp on food for months afterward.
And don't underestimate the power of factors like boredom. Life can be quite dull in a village. There is no movie theater, no concert hall. And not a lot of work, either. In rural Morocco, Oucha Mbarbk and his two neighbors told us they had worked about 70 days in agriculture and about 30 days in construction that year. Otherwise, they took care of their cattle and waited for jobs to materialize. All three men lived in small houses without water or sanitation. They struggled to find enough money to give their children a good education. But they each had a television, a parabolic antenna, a DVD player, and a cell phone. …
… We often see the world of the poor as a land of missed opportunities and wonder why they don't invest in what would really make their lives better. But the poor may well be more skeptical about supposed opportunities and the possibility of any radical change in their lives. They often behave as if they think that any change that is significant enough to be worth sacrificing for will simply take too long. This could explain why they focus on the here and now, on living their lives as pleasantly as possible and celebrating when occasion demands it. …
Beyond the Ordinary: Six flags over Jesus? Worshipers flock to megachurches
Does it seem as if megachurches are taking over the religious landscape these days? Here in Louisville, Southeast Christian Church regularly draws 21,000 worshipers to services at three locations. It’s hard to imagine anyone living in the area who doesn’t know at least one person who attends there. And the press seems to pay a lot of attention to these 200-pound gorillas. They’re hard to ignore. Peter Smith, the reporter covering religion for the local paper, has discussed Southeast Christian three times since the beginning of the year.
... Most congregations are small; most worshipers attend large congregations. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? But it’s true. There is a substantial gap between where the largest numbers of people worship and the size of the typical congregation. This gap means that what a typical congregation looks like is remarkably different from what the typical worshiper experiences. Most congregations are small—about six in ten congregations in this country have fewer than 125 people in worship. But most worshipers attend large congregations—the largest ten percent of congregations attract half of all worshipers.
What is typical? These facts show that “typical” means something very different when talking about worshipers than when talking about congregations.
So we might reasonably ask if this article contradicts the article I posted yesterday about the growth of home churches, 'Simple Churches' Find A Foothold Across The U.S. The answer is no. My understanding is that there is an increase in the number mirco-churches and in the number of people attending megachurches. It is the mid-sized churches (and churches that are small through attrition) that are in decline. Niche congregations provide a sense of close community and megachurches offer extensive programmatic opportunities. Mid-sized churches are often too big to be a close community and to small to offer programs and services.
Christian Century: Chick-fil-A on doing unto others
CEO Dan Cathy of the Chick-fil-A company has a new service model: the Sermon on the Mount.
"Here's the deal," Cathy announced recently at the second annual Imagination Summit in California:
All of us were created in God's image. Because we are created in God's image - [which] is to be treated with honor, dignity, and respect - we desperately in our deepest part of who we are...desire to be treated respectfully... And so any business person that has that insight retools their whole service experience around honor, dignity and respect...and will [have] people tweeting, facebooking...and you can have a cult brand.
Despite the recession, Chick-fil-A has reported double-digit sales increases in the last four years. According to Cathy, the company's business strategy is predicated not on maximizing end profits but on a desire to glorify God by being good stewards of their customers. Whatever else it is, this religious take on business isn't just a hindsight application of the prosperity gospel--for years, Chick-fil-A has been the only national fast-food chain that observes the sabbath.
Still, the faith rhetoric smacks of utilitarianism. "You don't have to be a Christian to work at Chick-fil-A," said company founder S. Truett Cathy (Dan's father) in 2007. "But we ask you to base your business on biblical principles because they work." ...
We are consistently confronted with income statistics that say the U.S. income inequality is widening and that while the rich have gotten richer the poor are getting poorer. But measures of income and inequality are notoriously slippery. The numbers are almost always reported in terms of household pre-tax incomes without consideration of taxes, transfers, or changes in household compostion over time.
Richard V. Burkhauser has just published a report that contains research on the minimum wage and income inequality in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management called Evaluating the Questions That Alternative Policy Success Measures Answer. That article contains the following table. The column on the left shows the unadjusted change in household income by quintile from 1979-2007. The right column shows the change adjusting for household size, taxes, transfers, and non-cash benefits.
The Conclusion of the report says:
The iconoclastic research of Card and Krueger at the heart of their book Myth and Measurement, published in 1995, resulted in a rejuvenation of interest by a new generation of researchers in better determining the behavioral and distributional consequences of minimum wage increases. After 15 years, this new generation of research provides more plausible evidence that such increases are a poor way of helping the working poor, especially when compared with increases in the Earned Income Tax Credit.
The iconoclastic research of Piketty and Saez has had a similar impact on the income inequality literature. It too has resulted in a rejuvenation of interest by a new generation of researchers in better measuring levels and trends in income inequality. What Burkhauser et al. (in press, b) and Tables 1 and 2 demonstrate is that it is not primarily differences between the CPS and IRS data that are responsible for the dramatically different levels and trends in income and income inequality found by researchers using these data sets, but in the questions they have used these data to answer. It remains to be seen which of these questions will be more salient in informing future public policies meant to affect trends in the level and distribution of income. What is certain is that you can’t answer questions about how the household size–adjusted resources available to people have changed using answers to a different question.
RICHARD V. BURKHAUSER, who is at Cornell University, presented this Presidential Address on November 5, 2010, at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, Boston, MA.
Huffington Post: 'Simple Churches' Find A Foothold Across The U.S.
... No matter what you call them, house churches, or "simple" or "organic" churches, have long thrived in Third World countries where clergy and funds for church buildings are scarce. Now, however, they are attracting a small but loyal following across the U.S.
It's not that Americans can't find a conventional church congregation. Rather, millions of believers are leaving the pews for small, regular weekly gatherings where they pray, worship, study Scripture and support each other's spiritual lives.
These groups operate without a building, a budget, an outside authority or, often, even a pastor. Many are lay-led groups where they like to say they "do church," rather than "go to church."
Participants are not "Christmas & Easter Christians" -- folks who pour into the buildings on peak holy days and fade away a week later. Instead, "they're intensely active believers who want to take charge themselves and find something that feels more authentic," said Christian
research expert George Barna, author of a new book, Maximum Faith.
"If you look at the Bible, the church we have today is nowhere to be found. The original form of church was the house church. Older people want to find a more personal experience of God and young people don't want the congregational structure or process. People don't want to just read the responsive reading when they are told to," Barna said. ...
New York Times: New Time Warp for ‘Doctor Who’
The namesake character in “Doctor Who” can travel through time and space, but he cannot outrun the Internet.
When new episodes of that long-running BBC science-fiction drama were broadcast in Britain last year, executives at the BBC America cable channel observed a major spike in illegal file sharing of the show in the United States. Some stateside fans, it seemed, were unwilling to wait the two weeks between the British and American premieres. Many other “Who” fans who did wait were frustrated by online spoilers on blogs and Twitter.
The BBC’s solution is to compress time and space. Taking a page from the same-day worldwide premieres of blockbuster films, the new season of “Doctor Who” will start on Saturday not just in Britain, but in the United States and Canada too.
“Frankly, there are compelling reasons to do it more quickly,” said Perry Simon, the general manager for channels at BBC Worldwide America, citing an opportunity to make the telecasts feel like worldwide events for fans. But the main reason relates to online piracy.
“The moment it airs in the U.K., it’s open season for pirates around the world,” Mr. Simon said. “It’s the dark side of living in a global media village.” ...
Yet another interesting impact of globalization and the internet. I watched the season premiere on Saturday.
I've been DVRing some episodes on BBC America for later in the week. I'll need something to watch while all the William and Kate nonsense is going on. ;-)
New York Times: As Consumers Cut Spending, ‘Green’ Products Lose Allure
When Clorox introduced Green Works, its environment-friendly cleaning line, in 2008, it secured an endorsement from the Sierra Club, a nationwide introduction at Wal-Mart, and it vowed that the products would “move natural cleaning into the mainstream.”
Sales that year topped $100 million, and several other major consumer products companies came out with their own “green” cleaning supplies.
But America’s eco-consciousness, it turns out, is fickle. As recession gripped the country, the consumer’s love affair with green products, from recycled toilet paper to organic foods to hybrid cars, faded like a bad infatuation. While farmers’ markets and Prius sales are humming along now, household product makers like Clorox just can’t seem to persuade mainstream customers to buy green again. ...
While young adults are carefree and full of hope for the future and the over-50s have come to terms with the trials of life, the research indicates that those in the middle feel weighed down by the demands on them.
The study found "a substantial dip in happiness during the middle of people's lives is the equivalent to becoming unemployed or losing a family member".
The conclusions come in a study of how people perceive their wellbeing. ...
... Studies around the world have shown that happiness tends to dip in midlife, he said, and that this was not just a phenomenon confined to the Western world. ...
As someone who has now passed fifty, no, I don't think middle-age people are grumpy ... but what #&@% fool keeps doing these idiotic surveys! I can tell you that in the good ole days ... ;-)
Newsweek: Dead Suit Walking
If this isn't the Great Depression, it is the Great Humbling. Can manhood survive the lost decade?
... The suits are “doing worse than they have at any time since the Great Depression,” says Heidi Shierholz, a labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute. And while economists don’t have fine-grain data on the number of these men who are jobless—many, being men, would rather not admit to it—by all indications this hitherto privileged demo isn’t just on its knees, it’s flat on its face. Maybe permanently. Once college-educated workers hit 45, notes a post on the professional-finance blog Calculated Risk, “if they lose their job, they are toast.”
The same guys who once drove BMWs, in other words, have now been downsized to BWMs: Beached White Males.
Through the first quarter of 2011, nearly 600,000 college-educated white men ages 35 to 64 were unemployed, according to previously unpublished Labor Department stats. That’s more than 5 percent jobless—double the group’s pre-recession rate. That might not sound bad compared with the plight of younger, less-educated workers and minorities, but it’s a historic change from the last recession, when about half as many lost their oxford shirts. The number of college-educated men unemployed for at least a year is five times higher today than after the dotcom bubble. In New York City, men in the 35-to-54 kill zone have lost jobs faster than any other group, including teenage girls, according to new data from the Fiscal Policy Institute. ...
Also, see chart about a survey, Sorry, He's Toast
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (CNN) -- Garum Tesfaye is one of Addis Ababa's "newspaper landlords," a group of entrepreneurs in the Ethiopian capital who rent out papers to people too poor to buy them.
Surrounded by worn-out copies of old newspapers, stacks of gossip magazines and the crisp print of the latest news, Tesfaye sits attentively, checking his watch every now and then.
Near him, a pedestrian bridge provides shelter from the sun to dozens of avid readers who quickly, albeit meticulously, get their dose of the latest news.
For 20 to 30 minutes, these readers can get their hands on a newspaper for a fraction of the price of having to buy it. If they keep the paper longer than their allotted rental time, they have to pay extra.
A newspaper in Addis Ababa costs about six birr (35 U.S. cents) to buy. In contrast, it costs only 50 Ethiopian cents (less than one U.S. cent) to rent one. ...
Marketing Daily: Green Gap Is Bigger Than Ever
... But as thousands of companies try to link their marketing messages to Earth Day, scheduled this year for April 22, a new study from OgilvyEarth finds that the vast majority are not having any impact on consumer behavior.
While 82% of Americans have "good green intentions," only 16% are dedicated to fulfilling them. And the 66% -- or "the Middle Green" -- are pretty much ignored by marketers. Overall, 82% have no clue how to estimate their carbon footprint, and 70% would rather cure cancer than fix the environment.
"Many of the environmental messages are not just failing to close the Green Gap, but are actually cementing it by making green behavior too difficult and costly from a practical, financial, and social standpoint," the agency says in its release of the new study, called "Mainstream Green: Moving sustainability from niche to normal." "Many of the world's leading corporations are staking their futures on the bet that sustainability will become a major driver of mainstream consumer purchase behavior. Unless they can figure out how to close the gap, there will never be a business case for green."
The problem, the agency found, is that green continues to feel like a niche position. "Existing green marketing is either irrelevant or even alienating to most Americans," it notes. "Half of Americans think the green and environmentally friendly products are marketed to "Crunchy Granola Hippies" or "Rich Elitist Snobs" rather than "Everyday Americans." ...
My sense is that too much of Green marketing has relied on two "unsustainable" strategies. First is fear. "You have to buy my product becasue if you don't terrible things will happen." That only lasts so long. Second, conspicious environmental sheek. Just as some people practice conspicuois consumption ... buy products as an identity statement ... others "go green" as a way of making an identity statement. And just as conspicious consumption is partly intended to shame those who can't match their lifestyle, there is a frequently a moralistic condescension by greenies about others' lack of greeness.
I think a better strategys would be to first emphasize cost savings because many green ideas can save money. Second, green needs to be fun. Environmentalists need to lighten up a little. Going green needs to be seen as something fun you are missing out on if you don't participate.
Christianity Today: Church 2 Church
... Joe Wittwer's church, Life Center in Spokane, Washington, wanted to help their new friends in El Salvador, but they weren't sure how.
In the past, the pattern would have been for Wittwer and his church to swoop in and start paying the monthly mortgage, or just write a check for $18,000 to get rid of the mortgage altogether.
But that kind of "help" often ended up having negative unintended consequences. The North American churches, loaded with money, were cast as the saviors or experts sent to rescue the helpless "junior" partners. While this approach might solve a short-term problem, it rarely produced long-term solutions or fostered healthy relationships.
Now, a "Church to Church" (C2C) initiative, developed by Compassion International and the Willow Creek Association (WCA), is attempting to help churches avoid these past pitfalls by promoting genuine cross-cultural church partnerships.
C2C is simple: Compassion International matches a WCA church from North America with a church that's running a Compassion program in a village in India, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Peru, Bolivia, Uganda, Kenya, Haiti, or the Philippines.
Compassion International provides training that helps the churches avoid one-sided, dependent relationships that are based on giving money and fixing problems rather than building friendships and finding ways for ministry to flow in both directions.
Such partnerships aren't easy. Differences in language, expectations, communication, and distances (which sometimes span 11 time zones) can create profound misunderstandings. Despite these barriers, C2C has initiated 65 of these globally, and another 40 church partnerships are planned by the end of 2011. ...
A very interesting piece. They are addressing many of the misgivings I have about churches that engage in short-term missions.
Here is an interesting economic lesson on supply, demand, and market prices from the book of 2 Kings, Chapter 7. (HT: Freakonomics) Just to set the scene, Samaria is under siege from Aram. Famine has set in. Food prices are exorbitant. Cannibalism has begun:
2 Kings 7
1 But Elisha said, "Hear the word of the Lord: thus says the Lord, Tomorrow about this time a measure of choice meal shall be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria." 2 Then the captain on whose hand the king leaned said to the man of God, "Even if the Lord were to make windows in the sky, could such a thing happen?" But he said, "You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat from it."
3 Now there were four leprous men outside the city gate, who said to one another, "Why should we sit here until we die? 4 If we say, 'Let us enter the city,' the famine is in the city, and we shall die there; but if we sit here, we shall also die. Therefore, let us desert to the Aramean camp; if they spare our lives, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die." 5 So they arose at twilight to go to the Aramean camp; but when they came to the edge of the Aramean camp, there was no one there at all. 6 For the Lord had caused the Aramean army to hear the sound of chariots, and of horses, the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, "The king of Israel has hired the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to fight against us." 7 So they fled away in the twilight and abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys leaving the camp just as it was, and fled for their lives. 8 When these leprous men had come to the edge of the camp, they went into a tent, ate and drank, carried off silver, gold, and clothing, and went and hid them. Then they came back, entered another tent, carried off things from it, and went and hid them.
9 Then they said to one another, "What we are doing is wrong. This is a day of good news; if we are silent and wait until the morning light, we will be found guilty; therefore let us go and tell the king's household." 10 So they came and called to the gatekeepers of the city, and told them, "We went to the Aramean camp, but there was no one to be seen or heard there, nothing but the horses tied, the donkeys tied, and the tents as they were." 11 Then the gatekeepers called out and proclaimed it to the king's household. 12 The king got up in the night, and said to his servants, "I will tell you what the Arameans have prepared against us. They know that we are starving; so they have left the camp to hide themselves in the open country, thinking, 'When they come out of the city, we shall take them alive and get into the city.'" 13 One of his servants said, "Let some men take five of the remaining horses, since those left here will suffer the fate of the whole multitude of Israel that have perished already; let us send and find out." 14 So they took two mounted men, and the king sent them after the Aramean army, saying, "Go and find out." 15 So they went after them as far as the Jordan; the whole way was littered with garments and equipment that the Arameans had thrown away in their haste. So the messengers returned, and told the king.
16 Then the people went out, and plundered the camp of the Arameans. So a measure of choice meal was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord. 17 Now the king had appointed the captain on whose hand he leaned to have charge of the gate; the people trampled him to death in the gate, just as the man of God had said when the king came down to him. 18 For when the man of God had said to the king, "Two measures of barley shall be sold for a shekel, and a measure of choice meal for a shekel, about this time tomorrow in the gate of Samaria," 19 the captain had answered the man of God, "Even if the Lord were to make windows in the sky, could such a thing happen?" And he had answered, "You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat from it." 20 It did indeed happen to him; the people trampled him to death in the gate.
I'm not sure what lessons to draw from the story. Certainly one lesson as that when there is an economic correction underway it is best not be a government gatekeeper for economic acitivity. ;-)
What lessons do you see?
Economic Historian Gavin Kennedy responds to a question from one of his readers about Adam Smith's use of the invisible hand metaphor. Smith used the metaphor once in "The Wealth of Nations" and once in "Theory of Moral Sentiments" (and also once in his "History of Astronomy.") On neither occassion was it used to refer to the operations of markets. Kennedy documents the usage of the metaphor in his post. He concludes his post with:
Yes, I accept that this is somewhat different from the modern texts read by students and taught by modern economists (and widely believed in the media). But Oscar Lange (a Marxist) and Paul Samuelson (an exponent of the capitalist mixed economy) introduced the modern version of Adam Smith’s use of the IH metaphor in the 1940s and it was boosted by modern theories of welfare economics and general equilibrium. For this the IH metaphor was hijacked, so to speak, to give their theories an authoritative pedigree back to Adam Smith.
Lost Legacy works tirelessly to draw attention to what Adam Smith actually wrote against the stubborn resistance of most of my colleagues who defend their modern version eloquently with many other modern theories, though none of them are related to Adam Smith’s meaning. I base my case solely on Smith’s works, which is the best guide to his meaning.
Everytime I hear the invisible hand metaphor used to describe markets and ascribed to Adam Smith, I think of all the times I've heard someone say "Our response should be an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth ... just like Jesus says in the Bible." The words are there, but have those who recited them read the whole book and appreciated the context?
It is true that markets have an astounding coordinating capability that has generated an amazing abundance. There is something seemingly provodential in markets. Even John Chrysostom percieved this. But methinks deification of markets goes a bit to far.
Christian Science Monitor: Why churches are a hotbed for finance education
Personal finance classes offered by churches are often well-attended by the congregation. Some of the things that make these classes successful can be helpful to people who don't attend church, too.
Over the last few years, I couldn’t help but notice that several churches in my local area have run personal finance programs of various kinds, such as Financial Peace University and so on. Having sat in on a few of them, I can certainly say that they’re often well-attended, with enthusiastic people taking notes and often asking good questions, too.
This left me wondering why churches are such a hotbed for personal finance education. I’m not so much interested in the reasons why churches would host such events, but why churches happen to be the place where such events find great success. More importantly, is there anything useful in that relationship that could be applied to those who seek financial success without such groups?
In order to figure this out, I’ve had conversations with a few different pastors and a lot of different church members over the past year along these lines. Why does your church host personal finance programs? Do you feel they’re successful? Why do you feel that they’re successful?
The answers were actually pretty consistent – and fairly insightful. ...
Christian Science Monitor: Where solar power can't fly, artificial photosynthesis might
... One emerging option [for aircraft fuel] is artificial photosynthesis – after all, if fuel is a better way to store energy, then why not turn sunlight directly into fuel instead of electricity?
Nathan Lewis, a chemist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, has built PV cells that split water molecules to generate hydrogen gas, a fuel. His cells convert sunlight into chemical energy 10 to 40 times more efficiently than most crops.
"It's reasonable to say that within our first five years we will have working prototypes that can be manufactured at scale," says Mr. Lewis.
The challenge will be combining that hydrogen with carbon dioxide to form hydrocarbons found in diesel or jet fuel. It's chemically possible, but might require a dozen steps. ...
Just 1% of start-up companies create 40% of new jobs - a far smaller number of companies than had been thought - a World Economic Forum (WEF) study has found.
... The WEF Entrepreneurship_Report , in collaboration with Stanford University and Endeavor Global, said: "After avoiding the collapse of the global financial and economic system, governments around the world are now focused on building a foundation for future growth."
It said the purpose of its report was to provide insight into how to successfully foster entrepreneurship, with "the ultimate goal of improving economic growth, prosperity and quality of life".
The WEF study highlighted eight different key growth strategies for early-stage companies.
It said one key finding was that the similarities in early-stage companies around the globe are far greater than their differences. ...
Walmart, that bastion of cheap food, clothing, and everything in between, has corporate-responsibility goals that put every other big box retailer to shame. When Walmart asks its 60,000 suppliers to shape up, the world listens; a demanding packaging goal will have companies the world over scrambling to fit the requirements (for both Walmart and the inevitable copycat retailers that jack up their requirements later). In Walmart's 2011 Global Responsibility Report, we get a glimpse at just how far along the company is in meeting its ultra-ambitious goals. It's making exceptional progress.
Goal: Reduce our global plastic shopping bag waste by an average of 33% per store by 2013 (2007 baseline)
Convincing people to part with their beloved plastic bags is no small feat (outside of San Francisco, of course, where bans are a way of life). But Walmart has managed to do it. In 2010, the retailer cut down on plastic bag waste across its global operations by approximately 3.5 billion bags. This is a 21% reduction from the company's 2007 baseline--meaning the 2013 goal isn't out of the question. ...
Goal: We will partner with suppliers to improve energy efficiency by 20% per unit of production in the top 200 factories in China from which we directly source by 2012 (2007 baseline).
Believe it or not, Walmart has already managed to achieve this goal (with a little help from the Environmental Defense Fund). ...
Goal: In the U.S., Walmart will double sales of locally sourced produce, accounting for 9% of all produce sold by the end of 2015.
This goal, announced in October 2010, is still "in progress," according to Walmart. The chain says that it will measure success based on the amount of produce sales within the state of origin versus overall dollar amount of produce sales. ...
The first two are great. I'm still mystified why locally source produce is such a desired end.
(This post was originally posted on Feb. 29, 2008. I have had more hits on this post than any other post in six years blogging and that stems from the fact that Greg Mankiw provided a link at his site back to this post. With todays' public discussion about taxes today, and in honor of tax filing day, thought I would give a reprise .)
The 2005 total effective federal tax rate as a percentage of the 1979 rate:
The effects of the Bush Tax Cuts ? The 2005 total effective federal tax rate as a percentage of the 2000 rate.
As repeatedly noted, the cuts cut a greater percentage for the bottom quintile than for the top. (32.8% vs. 8.9%) Even more interesting is the total effective federal tax rate for households with children:
The 2005 total effective federal tax rate as a percentage of the 1979 rate:
As I showed in a post last month, the top 1% of taxpayers pay 40% of federal income taxes. The top 25% of taxpayers pay 86% of income taxes.
Finally, keep in mind the New York Times article two weeks a ago that pointed out that while the bottom quintile has $9,974 in income per household a year it spends $18,153. That means non-cash assistance (as well draws on savings in the case of retired or unemployed payers) nearly doubles the actual income of the bottom quintile.
Rather than populist outcry over "tax cuts for the wealthy," maybe we need to look at the whole package of consequences that come from tax policy. Is the final objective really to have all taxes paid by the top 1% of society?
Nielson Wire: Report: The New Digital American Family
According to a new report from The Nielsen Company that looks at family dynamics, media and purchasing behavior trends, American households are getting smaller, growing more slowly and becoming more ethnically diverse than at any point in history. Diversity in all its dimensions defines the emerging American Family archetype, with no single cultural, social, demographic, economic or political point of view dominating the landscape. In short, Ward and June Cleaver have left the building. The white, two-parent, “Leave It to Beaver” family unit of the 1950s has evolved into a multi-layered, multi-cultural construct dominated by older, childless households.
- High income families view less TV but spend more time viewing with kids, using time-shifted media four times more often than low income households.
- Mobile serves as a key source of connectivity within the Hispanic community. They are more likely than the average household to have cell phones with Internet (55%) and video (40%) capabilities and text more than any other race or ethnicity, sending 943 texts per month.
- African-American media habits are TV- and mobile-centric. They own four or more sets per household and spend almost 40 percent more time watching TV, especially premium cable channels, than the U.S. average. African Americans also run up more mobile voice minutes per month—1,261—than any other group.
- Asian-Americans exhibit a huge appetite for online media, logging 80 hours on the Internet and viewing 3,600 web pages, 3.5 times more than any other ethnic group.
- Marriage is so 20th century! In 1960, 72 percent of the adult population was married. By 2008, that number plummeted to 52 percent. The college educated have the highest marriage rates; those with a high school education or less, the lowest rate.
For more, download the report The New Digital American Family.
Yahoo! News: Last Supper was a day earlier, scientist claims
LONDON (AFP) – Christians have long celebrated Jesus Christ's Last Supper on Maundy Thursday but new research released Monday claims to show it took place on the Wednesday before the crucifixion.
Professor Colin Humphreys, a scientist at the University of Cambridge, believes it is all due to a calendar mix-up -- and asserts his findings strengthen the case for finally introducing a fixed date for Easter.
Humphreys uses a combination of biblical, historical and astronomical research to try to pinpoint the precise nature and timing of Jesus's final meal with his disciples before his death.
Researchers have long been puzzled by an apparent inconsistency in the Bible.
While Matthew, Mark and Luke all say the Last Supper coincided with the start of the Jewish festival of Passover, John claims it took place before Passover.
Humphreys has concluded in a new book, "The Mystery Of The Last Supper", that Jesus -- along with Matthew, Mark and Luke -- may have been using a different calendar to John. ...
TIme magazine has a feature article on Rob Bell and his book "Love Wins." (Or, as I like to refer to it, "HarperOne Wins.") I have stayed out of this event at my blog. It is not a topic to which I've devoted extensive study but I do have my own perspective. I haven't read the book and probably won't any time soon. From what I hear of the book, I suspect I'm probably in sympathy with Bell against narrow exlcusivism but I have the sense from people I respect that his take on hell, and his analysis of Greek and certain Scriptures, is not done well.
If you want a truly informed and civil discussion about the book, then I strongly recommend Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog. McKnight is a New Testament theologian at North Park University and is going chapter by chapter through the book. He just finished chapter seven. Here are links for the series so far:
... The princesses -- Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty from the Walt era of Disney animation, and Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana and Rapunzel from more recent years -- were once simply movie heroines. But since Disney introduced the Disney Princess brand in 2000, they have become a $4 billion business, gracing 26,000 products, from "Tangled" hair pieces and pretend-wedding veils to pink-castle alarm clocks and pink TVs topped with tiaras.
They've also come to dominate the marketing of girlhood, helping to create a culture in which 3-year-olds wear glittery lip gloss and 8-year-olds fret over their looks, says Peggy Orenstein, author of "Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture" ($25.99, Harper).
"It launched this whole princess industrial complex," said Orenstein, an Oberlin College graduate who wrote the book after her daughter came home from preschool having memorized all the names and gown colors of the Disney princesses. "The new emphasis . . . really narrows girlhood and femininity to being about spa birthday parties at 4 and princesses and pinkness and makeovers." ...
... "The issue is how it has played out," she says. "Increasingly, it is telling girls at an unprecedented young age that they should express themselves through appearance and sassiness."
Sassiness, Orenstein says, is girl-marketing code for "sexiness." She refers to a 2007 American Psychological Association report on the sexualization of girls, which states: "Research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed moods." ...
The Economist: Higher education: The latest bubble?
... A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes how Shai Danziger of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and his colleagues followed eight Israeli judges for ten months as they ruled on over 1,000 applications made by prisoners to parole boards. The plaintiffs were asking either to be allowed out on parole or to have the conditions of their incarceration changed. The team found that, at the start of the day, the judges granted around two-thirds of the applications before them. As the hours passed, that number fell sharply (see chart), eventually reaching zero. But clemency returned after each of two daily breaks, during which the judges retired for food. The approval rate shot back up to near its original value, before falling again as the day wore on. ...
Something to keep in mind if you ever have to go to court.
Wall Street Journal: There Is No Male-Female Wage Gap
A study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30 found that women earned 8% more than men.
... Thus the mantra that women make only 77% of what men earn for equal work. But even a cursory review of the data proves this assumption false.
The Department of Labor's Time Use survey shows that full-time working women spend an average of 8.01 hours per day on the job, compared to 8.75 hours for full-time working men. One would expect that someone who works 9% more would also earn more. This one fact alone accounts for more than a third of the wage gap.
Choice of occupation also plays an important role in earnings. While feminists suggest that women are coerced into lower-paying job sectors, most women know that something else is often at work. Women gravitate toward jobs with fewer risks, more comfortable conditions, regular hours, more personal fulfillment and greater flexibility. Simply put, many women—not all, but enough to have a big impact on the statistics—are willing to trade higher pay for other desirable job characteristics.
Men, by contrast, often take on jobs that involve physical labor, outdoor work, overnight shifts and dangerous conditions (which is also why men suffer the overwhelming majority of injuries and deaths at the workplace). They put up with these unpleasant factors so that they can earn more.
Recent studies have shown that the wage gap shrinks—or even reverses—when relevant factors are taken into account and comparisons are made between men and women in similar circumstances. ...
Luckas is the executive director for conservative forum but from what I've read of economists I think she is mostly right. There may be some something undesirable about the differing choices the sexes make in employment in the aggregate but the issue of discriminating pay for identical work is minimal.
Adam Smith's Lost Legacy (Gavin Kennedy): On Adam Smith’s Alleged theism
I am working hard on my chapter for the forthcoming Handbook on Adam Smith (Oxford University Press), edited by Chris Berry of Glasgow University.
Among my notes of scholars who take an entirely different view to mine (roughly that Adam Smith deliberately hid his private and critical views on the religion throughout his adult life because of the existing dominance of the church on all aspects and all levels of life in Scotland and England which made its zealous members censorious and at times violent). I have read closely the views of Brendon Long (PhD from Cambridge in Theology), of which examples can be found at: ...
... In fact, throughout his life he remained familiar with the (moderate) Calvinist doctrine and its interpretation of the Bible that his mother expected from him (he is known to have had an excellent retentive memory) and he demonstrated exactly this in Moral Sentiments, his lectures (including those on rhetoric in Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1763) , and his Lectures On Jurisprudence (1762), and, most importantly, in his History of Astronomy (1744-c.48), which generations of readers – and modern scholars – have failed to recognise because, like Brendon Long, they read his Works already convinced that Smith was religious or are in denial about his scepticism.
But strip away that presumption and read his Works as a Calvinist zealot searching for heresy might, and you find more than a few signals that Adam Smith hid his scepticism almost too well for the less accomplished men he was up against. He knew his Bible and doctrine better than most and I attempt to show this in my chapter.
New York Times: Burden of student loans squeezing grads
In some circles, student debt is known as the anti-dowry.
Student loan debt outpaced credit card debt for the first time last year and is likely to top a trillion dollars this year as more students go to college and a growing share borrow money to do so.
While many economists say student debt should be seen in a more favorable light, the rising loan bills nevertheless mean that many graduates will be paying them for a longer time.
“In the coming years, a lot of people will still be paying off their student loans when it’s time for their kids to go to college,” said Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of FinAid.org and Fastweb.com, who has compiled the estimates of student debt, including federal and private loans.
Two-thirds of bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with debt in 2008, compared with less than half in 1993. Last year, graduates who took out loans left college with an average of $24,000 in debt. Default rates are rising, especially among those who attended for-profit colleges.
The mountain of debt is likely to grow more quickly with the coming round of budget-slashing. Pell grants for low-income students are expected to be cut and tuition at public universities will probably increase as states with pinched budgets cut back on the money they give to colleges. ...
And there is this little detail ..
Unlike most other debt, student loans generally cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, and the government can garnish wages or take tax refunds or Social Security payments to recover the money owed.
Acton PowerBlog: Water is not a human right
It sounds draconian and contrary to the beliefs of many humanitarian organizations, including the United Nations which declared water as a basic human right in 2010. However, if we expect to take the correct steps forward to solve the global water crisis, then water must be treated as a commodity not a basic human right.
In his book, The Mystery of Capital, and also in an essay published in the International Monetary Fund, Hernando de Soto explains why capitalism has failed in many third world and developing countries and continues to succeed in many Western countries.
According to De Soto, by assigning property rights, people are held accountable when any sort of damage of property is committed. Such accountability is accomplished through the legal system: ...
... While De Soto’s arguments look at property mostly as land and buildings, his principles can also be applied to water. Treating water as a commodity and granting it property rights will reduce pollution and help create more sanitary sources of water. Once water becomes a commodity, the legal system will have the justification to prosecute any industry or individual that damages the water supply because it will be destruction to property. When water is a human right, and nobody owns the rights to the water, then there is nobody to prosecute because everybody owns the water and can freely do with it as he or she pleases.
Many are familiar with the economics behind the tragedy of the commons. Just as the commons were over-used, water will be depleted if we continue down the path of treating water as a basic human right. ...
The Globalist: Brazil’s Potential in the Rousseff Era
In 2003, President Lula inherited a poor, resigned nation on the verge of an economic implosion. Eight years later, Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, leads an emerging, optimistic nation. Dan Steinbock explores how Brazil can realize its full growth potential in the post-crisis landscape.
One interesting note is the continued decoupling of the rest of the world from the American economy.
When Lula won the presidency in 2002, Brazil’s main trading partners were the United States (25.5%), the Netherlands (5.3%), Germany (4.2%) and China (4.2%).
Over the eight years, the U.S. share collapsed, while the Chinese share more than tripled. By 2009, Brazil’s main trading partners were China (13.2%), the United States (9.6%), Argentina (7.8%) and the Netherlands (5.0%).
Steinbock's presription for Brazil's economic health?
In order to realize its full BRIC potential, Brazil has to undertake seven critical steps. First, reduce the importance of the informal sector. Second, correct macroeconomic deficiencies (including the high interest rate and a relatively high government-debt-to-GDP ratio).
Third, reduce the notorious red tape. Fourth, streamline the labor code. Fifth, contain political corruption. Sixth, improve the quality of public services (e.g., education, justice and security). And seventh, develop new infrastructure.
In order to engage in the Asian trajectory of growth, however, even more reforms are needed, including far greater trade openness, significantly higher investment and savings and substantially lower public and foreign debt.
Zenit: Fertility Decline Continues
ROME, APR. 10, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Low fertility rates and an aging population will present Europe with a big economic challenge. This was one of the points made in a study published by the European Commission at the start of the month.
The "Third Demography Report" found that the number of children per woman has increased from 1.45 children, at the time of the last report in 2008, to 1.6. Nonetheless, this is still substantially below the level of 2.1 children that is required to maintain a stable population.
As well, life expectancy is increasing, which will push the trend to an aging population. Already in 4 countries -- Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia and Romania -- the population is decreasing due to a combination of more people dying than are born and emigration. ...
New York Times Economix: As China Grows, So Does Its Appetite for American-Made Products
SHANGHAI — America’s huge trade deficit with China has raised concerns about American competitiveness and jobs moving overseas. But a new study offers a glimmer of hope to Americans: Last year, American exports to China soared 32 percent to a record $91.9 billion.
A study by a trade group called the U.S.- China Business Council says China is now the world’s fastest-growing destination for American exports. ...
Allan Bevere, fellow blogger and kindred spirit, has a post today, The Totalizing Agenda of Empire, that plays off of some stuff I wrote a year ago. I've encountered few people who resonate with this concern I have about the totalizing trajectory of empire as much as Allan does. Can't wait to see his stuff when it's published. Thanks Allan.
Lewis Center Update: Mission as the Emerging Entry Point for New People
It is intriguing that the first connection people have with a congregation tends to change from time to time. ...
... We may be on the verge of another change, in which the entry point to a congregation for more and more people is through service and mission. This seems especially true for the young. For many young people, inviting their friends who don't attend church to "come to my church" may not be the most comfortable invitation to make or the one most likely to receive a positive response. On the other hand, few young people would be reluctant to invite any of their friends to join them for a service project sponsored by the church, and few young people will turn down such an invitation. The sense of commitment to help others among young adults is as strong as their excitement about most churches is weak.
It is too early to know if mission as an entry point to church will take hold in the way that Sunday School and worship did in prior times. But we do know that for increasing numbers of persons with a passion to serve and some disillusionment with the church, mission may be their most likely entry point – if churches are actually serving others and including new people in such service. We also know that, in this time when "belonging leads to believing," it is often only after a person comes to trust a community and to feel accepted by that community that there is much interest in what the community believes.
I've sensed this shift for quite sometime and I confess if leaves me conflicted. That people what to engage in service is good but creating service projects as an attractional tool is problematic. It can easily become another form of consumerism (ironically championed most vigorously by those who most loudly decry consumerism.) People end up "shoppiong" for experiences and congregtaions "compete" to offer the best service experiences. This is different then service flowing organically from the shared community of disciples following Jesus. The act of service becomes more about those who are allegedly serving than those allegedly being served.
Last week in Lousiville at the General Assembly Mission Council meeting we heard a fascinating presentation from Eileen Lindner that gave a statistical overview of the trends in the church, particularly as it relates to middle judicatories (or middle governing bodies). Lindner is Deputy General Secretary for Research and Planning of the National Council of Churches USA and editor of the NCC's annual Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches. My friend and fellow General Assembly Mission Council member, executive presbyter of San Diego Presbytery, has a done an excellent summary of her remarks:
There are six main factors in the decline of denominations in the last 50 years: ...
Middle Governing Bodies (MGBs) (presbyteries and synods) face STRESS factors from ABOVE: ...
Middle Governing Bodies (MGBs) (presbyteries and synods) also face STRESS factors from BELOW: ...
The question of ‘what does it mean to be a denomination?’ is changing rapidly
5 Emerging Aspects of Church Institutional Life ...
Check out Clark's synoposis at Insights Into the American Church.
There is presently a Special Offerings Advisory Task Force (SOATF) reviewing the role of special offerings in the life of the denomination. The SOATF made a presentation at the General Assembly Mission Council meeting last week and engaged the members of the General Assembly Mission Council in a focus group exercise. Special funds made up almost 20% of the GAMC's revevnue in 2009. The chart below was a focal point of the discussion. You can find more detail about the special offerings in the special funds annual report.
Economist: India's sex ratio
NEW data from the 2011 Indian census show that there are now 914 girls aged 0-6 years old for every 1,000 boys of the same age, or 75.8m girls and 82.9m boys. A cultural preference for sons and the increasing availability of prenatal screening to determine a baby's sex have helped contribute to a worsening in the ratio (from 927 in the previous census in 2001), which has been deteriorating rapidly even as the ratio for the population as a whole has improved. ...
World: Political clunkers
We should 'treat people as people,' says economist Victor Claar, and U.S. trade restrictions fail that test.
"Support by another means" examines the benefits and detriments of sending some U.S. products to Africa. I asked economics professor Victor Claar (Henderson State University) about other ways we can help the poor internationally. Claar co-authored Economics in Christian Perspective (IVP, 2007) and wrote Fair Trade? Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution (Acton Institute, 2010). He earned his Ph.D. at West Virginia University and taught for nine years at Hope College in Michigan.
As a Christian economist, what do you like about markets?...
At the end of the post is a link to a podcast of Olasky interviewing Claar. The whole thing is about an hour long with students asking questions at the end. It is a great window into how one economist sees the connection between faith and economics.
At last week's General Assembly Mission Council Meeting we saw a report on call trends in the PCUSA. Here are two graphs from the report.
In one discussion, Bill Carl, President of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, said that an increasing number of graduates are not looking for a call to an exsiting congregation. Instead, they are going out and gathering people together in communties for study, nurture, and worship. Many of these communities may not be what we typically envision as a PCUSA congregation. I don't know how to quanitfy his observations but clearly major shifts are emerging in how calls and congregational formation take place.
Economist: Black flight
Now it is the turn of America’s blacks to leave for the suburbs.
IN THE 1990s black Americans began returning in significant numbers to the South. This marked a reversal of the Great Migration, in which their parents and grandparents fled Jim Crow racism in the 1920s and 1930s for jobs in the industrial cities of the north-east, Midwest and West. But since 2000 the destination of many inner-city blacks has shifted again, according to details from the latest census. From Oakland to Chicago to Washington, DC, blacks are surging from the central cities to the suburbs.
Analysis of 2010 census data by William Frey, chief demographer for the Brookings Institution, shows that more than half the cities with large concentrations of blacks have seen significant declines in their black populations. About half of black Americans now live in the suburbs, up from 43% in 2000.
This is proving a mixed blessing. Well-educated blacks are finding better jobs, bigger houses and newer schools, just as white-flight suburbanites did in previous generations. But many lower-income migrants from the inner cities are finding poverty, crime and poor social services when they arrive in their new homes. In the past decade, poverty has increased more than twice as fast in the suburbs as it has in the cities. ...
Christian Science Monitor: April Fool's Day history: five best-ever pranks
April Fool's Day history has been marked by many good pranks, but here are five of the most creative ever. ...