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Monday, December 29, 2014

Curing Poverty Chapter 1: The goal

I'm currently reading The Poverty of Nations by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus that was published about a year ago.  It was on my reading list, and my daughter bought it for me for Christmas.  I've begun to read it and will give a summary as I go.  In the last post I introduced the book.

Chapter 1
Per capita income must increase for a nation to become wealthier.  More goods and services need to be created.  That is, goods that have a monetary value must increase in number.  If people bake bread at home and eat it, per capita income does not increase.

This measure does not give any indication of how well the wealth is distributed in a country, however.  We do not know whether the wealth is in the hands of a few, or in many hands.  For a nation to become more wealthy, the wealth needs to benefit many people.

Wealthier nations are able to afford cleaner water, air and better medical care.  So while more wealth is not the only answer to better lives, it is a necessary starting point.

The rest of the book is a description of how the GDP (gross domestic product) can be increased.   But in summary, a country needs to continually produce more goods and services each year.  The country will have to figure out for itself what those goods and services need to be.

The authors interact with other goals that have been suggested about how to eliminate poverty.  These include more aid, more equal distribution of wealth, discovering new natural resources, debt forgiveness, better trade terms, more fair trade goods, and restraining multinational corporations.  the authors show briefly why these are not adequate for lifting a nation out of poverty.  More substantial objections will be explored later in the book.

Of particular interest in terms of current American cultural and political thought is the morality of profit.  The Occupy Wallstreet movement is in the recent past, and many in America have recently begun to think that profits are evil.  The authors point out (p. 53) that ". . . profit is not immoral, but is a measure of morally positive value that has been added to the nation."  When two or more parties agree mutually to buy and sell and one makes a profit, then the other has agreed that the value is fair and that they are willing to pay it.  Profits then reflect an increase in value over raw materials because of human talent, training, and hard work.

How then can a nation increase the amount of goods and services that it produces?  How can more garments be produced?  More food, refrigerators, or whatever?  This will be dealt with in the rest of the book.

Grudem and Asmus point out several historical examples of nations that have become more wealthy.  Britain, Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea, all come to mind.  They mention the Industrial Revolution and how it eventually benefited England, but they don't mention the social destruction that went along with it as well.  I hope that they address these factors as the book unfolds.

Biblically, the authors point to the wife of Proverbs 31 who seems to be an entrepreneurial capitalist.  They also point to the Creation mandate of Genesis 1 where Adam and Eve are commanded to subdue the earth and implies that they were to use the resources of nature for their own benefits.  The New Testament also points to the importance of working.

Chapter two: Wrong Goals:  What won't work

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Curing Poverty Introduction

Every year especially at the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season I give thought to those who are less fortunate than I am materially.  There is so much food, so many things in my life, and yet there are many around the world who have little or not enough of food, water, and other things that make life more enjoyable.

I give thought to what I can do to help those people.  I have been interested in micro finance and have contributed money that way in the past.  And yet I have read articles that lead to me believe that those avenues may not be as helpful to lifting people out of poverty as we would hope.

So it was with great interest that I became aware of a book The Poverty of Nations by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus that was published about a year ago.  It was on my reading list, and my daughter bought it for me for Christmas.  I've begun to read it and will give a summary as I go.

Within my lifetime (55 years) the Western world has given at least 500 billion dollars to Africa, yet that continent remains mired in poverty.  What has happened?  Surely that much money should have raised the average African to at least being out of poverty.  But that's not what has happened.  In this book, the authors show how nations (not individuals) can leave poverty behind them.  They examine these factors (seventy nine total) and show both economically (Barry Asmus) and Biblically (Wayne Grudem) why these principles work.

The authors want to provide a sustainable solution to poverty for nations.  It is important that the solution last  - so it must be sustainable.  The authors realize that within nations there will be inequality of wealth, and that some nations will be wealthier than others.  That is the way life is, but it is important (and Biblical) that people not be left in poverty.  The focus of the book is on "national laws, national economic policies, and national cultural values habits because we are convinced that the primary causes of poverty are factors that affect an entire nation." (p. 26)

It is important that these changes come from within the poor nation itself.  Outsiders cannot impose solutions, nor should they act in ways that will lead to dependence by the poor nation (paternalism).

The authors recognize that wealth is not all that there is to life.  Many poor people may be better adjusted and happier than many wealthy people in their own countries or in other countries.  It could also be argued that although we in the USA may be very wealthy materially, that we are in fact very impoverished spiritually and in our relationships.  Nevertheless, it is not good that there are so many poor people in the world who are unable to feed themselves and their families, or who are stuck with the barest essentials while others have so much more.

Why don't economists agree on the solutions(s) to poverty?  The authors list six reasons and interact with them.

  1. Some do agree with our authors, and they list several works that could be read.
  2. Some economists are "professional donors."  That is, they give away others' money and have a stake in the system continuing as it is.
  3. Pure economists only address economic concerns and do not address cultural, moral, or spiritual values.  The authors of this book believe that all these factors are important for lifting people out of poverty.
  4. Some people do not believe that certain cultural values are better or worse than others.  All cultural values are equal.  
  5. Some people believe that wealth comes becomes of accidents of geography.  The book Guns, Germs, and Steel is one such approach.
  6. Planners (I am so glad they included this part) believe that government experts can adequately plan economies and thereby create wealth.  If it hasn't worked well before (or at all) it is because the wrong experts have been in place.  Sounds like the current administration in Washington!! 

So what can I, as an American do?  First, it is my hope that by reading this book and summarizing it for you, I can raise your awareness of the issues.  Perhaps an influential person in a poor country will read these posts, and then read the book and take action in their own country.  Second, you and I can influence our leaders in the West and businesses that deal with poor countries to put in place policies that will actually benefit these poorer nations.  We can also encourage the elimination of policies that do not help and may actually keep poor countries in poverty.  Third, as we work through the book, hopefully there will be other ways that we can help that become more obvious.  Lastly, we in the West are not guaranteed to remain prosperous.  We may be leaving some of the principles that have helped us create our wealth.  So it would be wise of us to examine our own culture to see what we can do to not squander the wealthy inheritance that we have been given.

Dennis Prager interview with Wayne Grudem on the topic and the book.

Chapter 1 is next

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Washington DC visit

My wife and I returned a couple of days ago from a trip to the nation's capital.  We had smooth connections and uneventful transportation going and coming.  Our daughter, a veteran of many European travels, arranged the travel and hotel for us.  Hooray for Alison!  Nice hotel in Bethesda as well with easy connections downtown.

We used the Old Town Trolleys for two days there as we went through the actual city and to Arlington.  The guides are knowledgeable, friendly and interesting.  The price I thought was reasonable.  You can get on and off at any stop.  You really get to know the town well.

We also used the Viatour buses.  Again, the guides were friendly and knowledgeable.  The buses were comfortable.  The first tour was to Gettysburg.  We were able to see and learn a lot.  The only downside was the lack of time to sightsee the shops in the town itself.  Oh well.  Didn't need more souvenirs anyways!  The other Viatour was to Mt. Vernon and Arlington.  The only downside again was the lack of time at Mt. Vernon.  Three hours was not enough!  If you go, make it at least five hours.
The side of the building is marked with bullet holes, even 160 years later.

Devil's Den at Gettysburg

My wife and I were impressed by the simplicity and character of the Washington family, especially in contrast with many of today's leaders who seem eager to live like kings at public expense.

Washington's tomb

I really liked the Mall.  At one end is the Lincoln Memorial, at the other the Capitol.  They speak together of sacrifice, unity, and freedom in the Lincoln Memorial and the power invested in the people of the country in the Capitol Building.  Off to the side is the White House, speaking of the power of the Presidency but also the fact that presidents come and go, and that they are secondary to the people and the history of the nation.  They should serve with humility, not with arrogance.

In the center of the Mall is the Washington Memorial, drawing attention to the founding of the country and its leader at that time.  In between the two ends are many memorials to the men and women who fought and died, and to those who helped lead the country through difficult times to better times.

WW II memorial

Washington DC is a sobering place to go, a place for respect, thought, and reflection.  We have strayed far from the ideals of our founders, and are far from liberty and justice for all.  Yet we continue to strive for those ideals, and hope to leave the country in good shape to our children.

On a lighter note, I saw the insect below at Mt. Vernon.  It was as big as my thumb!  Lots of beautiful trees as well - Cedar of Lebanon, Cypress, and others I don't know.

In light of some of today's controversies such as the Hobby Lobby birth control mandate and the redefinition of marriage, I found the following quotes by our founders enlightening.  How far we have come!  Notice how the recent attempts by Obama and the LBGT community to force their views clearly go against what the founders intended.

"Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens...are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion...No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively." Thomas Jefferson memorial

While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious not to violate the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to him only in this case they are answerable.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to Benedict Arnold, Sep. 14, 1775
A collection of quotes attributed to U.S. President 
George Washington.

Friday, July 11, 2014

America: the Movie

Today my wife and I went to the theater and watched America narrated and directed by Dinesh D'Souza.

It's about an hour and a half long - plus the trailers of course!

It's worth seeing.  The first part of the movie explores 5 or 6 common criticisms of America including the treatment of the Native Americans, slavery, imperialism, capitalism, and the Mexican-American War.  Most of the remainder of the movie responds to these accusations.

If you are well familiar with American history you will recognize that the gist of D'Souzas arguments are well done, although short.  They would probably not convince someone on the Left because they are short answers and  the accusations against America deserve  longer, more careful responses.  Furthermore, history is more complicated than that one view of America is right and the other view is wrong.

Nevertheless, the movie is a good introduction to the answers to those accusations and hopefully the beginning of helpful dialogue.

Some important things to consider.
First, all the indictments of America are actually indictments against all of humanity.  There isn't an empire in world history that isn't guilty of all or most of the accusations made against America (maybe couched in slightly different terms).  Most world empires are far worse than we have been.

Human beings, the world over, are nasty creatures - prone to treat their fellow humans with cruelty and evil.  This sad fact is true of every society that I have heard of.  And as we saw after World War II, evil runs through every human heart.  Part of the American genius was to recognize this human weakness and write into our Constitution and laws safeguards against evil and power hungry humans.  We are forgetting this at our peril today and allowing too much power in the hands of the President at the expense of Congress.  Too much power is in Washington compared to the states.  And too much is in the hands of large businesses who are accountable to few, and certainly not the voting public.

Second, America is guilty of many sins - including some of those described in the movie.  What those critics of America forget, and the movie reminds us, is that these are not uniquely American faults.  Those who would criticize America alone for these faults are ignorant or hypocritical.  Nor should we expect that America will be a perfect nation now or in the future.  Searching for such perfect has led many people down many terrible roads.  Communism and the Nazis come to mind.

The high point of the movie for me as an American and as a Christian was in the description of Saul Alinsky's methods.

One of Alinsky's methods to help refashion America was to polarize the country and to not allow for forgiveness or reconciliation.  Sound like where we are?  People are more and more nasty to each other, the two major parties are moving further and further apart.  Yet when I talk to ordinary people who claim to be Liberals or on the Left, or who don't like Conservatives, it's amazing that we have so many things in common and so many similar goals.

Yes, there are hard core people on the Right and the Left who won't move at all.  But can I hope that those more in the middle can at least talk to each other and not see each other as evil monsters?  Perhaps we can love each other in spite of our differences and find solutions to benefit the entire country?

As Christians reconciliation is our task.  (See NT Wright's book Surprised by Hope)  We are heralds for a God who has gone to and is going to great lengths to reconcile a nasty, sinful human race to himself and then to restore and transform this world for them.

As Americans let's reconcile and forgive each other -- or at least talk to each other!  As Christians, let's do the same.  For the future of our nation and for the sake of the kingdom of God.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Some thoughts on immigration reform

Right now in the news there's a lot of talk about comprehensive immigration reform.  The President even threatens to take care of it himself if Congress won't.  Many people are very upset about the influx of children onto the borders and then further into the country.  Others say that we should welcome them all. And then there's the question about what we as Christians should do toward immigrants, especially those who are here illegally.

I doubt that most Americans know what the laws actually are for those who want to immigrate or what the reality is for those who come here, legally or illegally.  If we don't know these facts, how can Americans lobby our representatives for good reforms?

I also doubt that most of us have thought through what we want our laws to be and what the goals of immigration reform would be.  What do we want America to be like relative to immigrants:
  • A source of cheap labor?  
  • A drain economically? 
  • A refuge from tyranny and violence?  
  • A place to escape grinding poverty? 
  • An attraction to the world's brightest and best?
Do want to welcome everyone?  Can we?  What benefits should immigrants receive?  What would they owe us in return?  What do we do about those who are already here?  We hear of "amnesty" but it is not defined.

I wish someone out there - (news media do your job!!!)  - would tell the stories and make suggestions for change that is in as many people's best interests as possible and is feasible.

Then we can move beyond rhetoric and get real things done for the sake of real people and a real country, not just for political points for our side and against the other side.