Tag Archives: capitalism

Book Review: The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity, by Tom Nelson

The Economics of Neighborly LoveI expected there to be some overlap of between Tom Nelson’s The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity and the arguments and jargon used by the Institute for Faith, Works, and Economics. What I did not expect was to read a book full of claims, anecdotes, and quotes with very little support for the thesis. Nelson wrote this book to encourage people to use free-market capitalism to love their neighbors with Jesus; it is written, however, in a manner that requires the reader to already understand what he’s talking about and to already agree with it. Written to encourage “human flourishing,” Nelson does not articulate what “human flourishing” means. Rather than use evidence and hard data to support claims made in the book (he does use some Bible passages in and out of context to support a few things), Nelson uses quotes from others to say the same thing, but does not quote the data and reason for what other authors have written.

I certainly do not mean to imply that there is nothing good in this book—there is; but I would not recommend anyone spend money on this. While one may argue certainly argue that we continue to speak, write, and do things despite there being “nothing new under the sun,” I found no reason to read this book over the better reasoned, supported, more concise, readily available, and accessible material that already exists. Instead of writing the book, a blog post of overarching claims and a short bibliography would have been more helpful so that people may actually discover for themselves what it is Nelson desires them to understand. To that end, I would simply suggest perusing the IFWE website and reading the oft quoted When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, which will certainly serve any reader well.

 

*I received a temporary digital copy for review from InterVarsity Press via NetGalley.

Advertisements

Book Review: Just Capitalism: A Christian Ethic of Economic Globalization, by Brent Waters

Just CapitalismIn Just Capitalism: A Christian Ethic of Economic Globalization, Brent Waters argues in favor of a transition from nation-states to market-states as our current best economic option from his perspective as a Christian moral theologian. Several problems quickly arise in this text. I provide the following examples:

 

Problems with Waters’ Method:

1) Beginning with the introduction and extending throughout the book, statistical data is manipulated to support the author’s argument.

2) The author’s arguments are overly simplistic, as he acknowledges throughout, but urges the reader to be patient because he will eventually bring it all together in a fuller and more convincing manner. He eventually does not.

3) Examples of others’ arguments are most often on extreme ends of spectra, would likely not be used by critical thinkers today, and do not adequately address concerns of nuance lacking in the author’s own arguments. All too often it is stated that there is not enough time or space to work out much-needed nuance and the reader is simply referred to a number of other texts via footnotes.

 

Problems with Waters’ “Christian Moral Theologian” Perspective:

1) “Human flourishing” is defined by a particular “Christian” economic and political view that is more “of this world” in favor of the “haves” obtaining more to potentially aid the “have nots” than it is about following Jesus in the kingdom of God as it is now. It is argued that all should be able to meet their desired needs and wants, that this is impossible within any nation or community anywhere in the world, and thus global trade is necessary for “human flourishing” as defined by the author. This is simply ignorant of how many places in the world function and assumes everyone’s “wants” are going to be “good.” This also makes unnecessary the provision of God over and above our own efforts, something for which God has often chastised his people.

2) It is rightly argued that affluence is not usury (obviously, by definition) and can, given the right circumstances, be a good. However, any Christian theologian should know and take into consideration that not all are set on the same path, that we are not all called to have “more than enough” in this life, and that living according to the Way is primarily seen by taking up one’s cross, living humbly, and following Jesus’ example of sacrifice, all while relying on God and not oneself for provision. This should not be taken to mean that we do nothing, but the arguments in this book have little to do with the potential workings of God and, subsequently, a “Christian” moral theology.

3) The reader is expected to take the author’s argument that the Spirit can work through capitalism and globalization as evidence for their being the best way forward. This argument, however, has been and is used for many programs and methods Christians desire to perpetuate and need to stamp with approval—a tactic of “the end justifies the means” that ignores the fact that God can and does work in the darkest places that we cannot even imagine without justifying that darkness as “the best way forward.”

 

Problems with Waters’ Idealism Conveyed as Pragmatism:

1) For the author’s argument to work, all of the world’s kingdoms and nations would need to move to market-states simultaneously and be concerned with one’s neighbor in the same manner (as argued, that would necessarily entail one taking care of oneself and making sure oneself has more than enough before aiding one’s neighbor). It is accepted that not everyone will act as a Christian and that people will be hurt and oppressed in this system, even by Christians, but that it will be a smaller percentage than any other conceived way forward.

2) Any system argued against can be (and often has been) in similar fashion to the author’s idealism and come out as “the best way forward.” If everyone cared for one’s neighbor as Christian’s ought, then Socialism and Communism could both potentially work quite well (remember, we cannot deny the Holy Spirit can work through [insert preferred system], right?)—arguably even better than capitalism given its bent toward greed rather than love of one’s neighbor. That is not to mean that all capitalists are selfish, greedy individuals, but it certainly opens the door to that possibility at least as much (probably more) than to loving one’s neighbor.

3) Given the author’s concerns for the neighbor, there are several non-capitalist and non-free-market exceptions that are found to be necessary goods for the overall system to work (e.g., a socialist education system and unspecified government intervention with trade, the environment, and community are included), which should prove obvious to any reader that the ideal system does not work if it cannot work.

4) The author admits in his final chapter that if he is wrong about the environment and the overabundance of natural resources believed to exist to provide for our ever-increasing selfish desires for more and more energy/power, his entire argument falls apart. I don’t think we need to wait to see the failure.

 

My wife is an economist; I’m a theologian. Though I have certainly gained insight into economic theory, systems, and jargon through my wife’s teaching and working through some of that with her in light of scripture, the lens through which I read this book is primarily that of a Christian theologian and what I believe to be honest, rational thinking. I concur with Waters that globalization can be a good and that giving people the freedom of choice and open borders (borders that are often militarily—or at least by the threat of violence—established) is a good thing. However, I believe this because God has given us all the freedom of choice and that violence is contrary to the way of Jesus (Waters comes from a more Reformed theological perspective, so we likely disagree on exactly what “choice” implies, and his pro-military stance is something I obviously believe to be contrary to proper Christian moral theology). I also don’t think this is something we can force upon others via one system or another. Entering the kingdom of God is voluntary (again, Reformed folks will disagree here); likewise, the way Christians live should demonstrate the same method of volunteerism.

 

Regardless of the system(s) in which we live, we (Christians) are first citizens of the kingdom of God who should love our neighbor no matter the degree to which we “flourish.” The ideal human flourishing described by Waters and many others awaits us in the gift of eternal life when there will be no more fighting, separation, heartache, or tears of any kind. Given the words of Jesus, I do not believe this can or ever will happen prior to his return.

 

*I received a temporary digital copy for review from Westminster John Knox Press via NetGalley.

Why Soccer Hasn’t Risen (and Won’t) in the USA

This is an opinion paper based solely upon my own cross-cultural experiences and observances. If you have any data to support my hypothesis, I’d be glad to hear/read it! If not, I suppose I’ll listen to/read that, too …

 

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is in full swing, and team USA isn’t too shabby in its current standings. It even looks like they’re going to, unexpectedly, make it into the second round! But it seems most conversations, at least in my circles, surrounding team USA are about how much the nation doesn’t know or care about soccer. Sure, news outlets are always talking it up and encouraging further interest in the sport, but we all know it’s just filler until the next “top story” about someone rescuing a cat or something.

Big name players, if they can be called that in the US, try to promote the sport by hosting training camps and speaking up when given the opportunity, but it doesn’t seem to increase interest in the sport among the youth of the nation. Even the big move of the English heavy-kicker David Beckham and wife Posh Spice…I mean, Victoria…to Los Angeles hardly made a dent in the sport’s popularity. If you knew who he was, you were already a fan; if you didn’t, you probably still don’t…or you’re buying his underwear from his post-retirement business.

If you love soccer, you’re probably going to try and get your kids to love it, should you choose to procreate; and if you don’t love, you may let your kids play in AYSO or some YMCA after-school special to let them run off some energy and get more use out of that mini-van. But those who love soccer find it difficult to convert others, and soccer-moms/dads don’t encourage it beyond adolescence. Simply put, soccer fandom in the USA lives and dies with soccer fans having babies. Wow. I just said that.

Why is soccer so popular in most every other nation in world? It’s part of the culture, and it has been for a very long time. You don’t need a reason to love soccer; you just do. You grow up with a nation, a league, and a team. You play before, on the way to, during, and on the way home from school, and then you play some more. Anywhere there is relatively flat ground (emphasis on the “relatively”) and a ball (any ball will do…or anything you can kick will do), there is soccer (real football) to be played. It can be “played” virtually anywhere, and no special equipment is required. Casual play is not determined by equipment, space, or spacing rules; simply kick a ball between a couple predetermined objects on either side of the available space and you score. But you can’t slow down. The sport builds on non-stop action and well-rounded athleticism, which also encourages a healthy and fit body.

The most popular sports in the USA focus on short bursts of energy separated by mandatory down time, fouls, disciplinary action, and strategizing, often with the stopping of a game-clock, if there is one at all (I’m looking at you, baseball). Sure, soccer has its fair share of penalties and posers pretending to be hurt to keep the ball dead, but other than a possible few minutes being added to the clock, the game goes on. If you go to a soccer game, you can expect to be out in less than two hours from start to finish, including a break at halftime! The USA likes high scoring games (bigger is better), and soccer matches often end scoreless or very few goals. A goal equals one (1) point, and “0–0” or “0–1” doesn’t look like much. (Perhaps applying an arbitrary number of points (seven?) per goal would work better for the American mind. Maybe “0–7” looks better.)

The USA also likes athletes who are narrowly focused: heavy-hitters (fat or thin), immovable walls (it doesn’t matter if they can walk very far), those who can move really fast in a straight line (they don’t need to be dexterous), and the like. Of course, there are exceptions, but this seems to be the preference. You don’t need to be “healthy” or well rounded to be a great athlete in the USA; you just need to do one thing REALLY well, and most often not even for very long—there are always breaks to be had.

Breaks: we like our time-outs! We like to see the clock stop, but I think what we really enjoy is manipulating time, the game, and the other side in our favor. (Perhaps that speaks to a bit more than I’ll mention in this post.) We don’t have much respect for, “You have ‘x’ amount of time to do the best you can. Go.” We want it our way, right away. And if someone wronged us, we want to make sure it’s checked, double checked, and righted (instant replay) because we’re American and we’re entitled to our rights! (Has an instant replay amendment been added to the Constitution yet? That’s probably a bit too “Big Brother” for now; maybe in the next generation.)

Let’s take a time-out of our own for a moment. American media pushes agendas and the popularity of most things. Being spoon-fed is such a part of American culture now that people rarely use their “freedom of speech” to express their true preferences. They often wait to be told what their preferences are, and then they repeat the popular expression because…that’s what you do. Marketing is a booming and quite profitable business in itself. It is evident when one takes a look back in time at television and radio shows of the past, for example, and compare the times between commercials as they were then and now. We are inundated with advertisements—being told what we like, want, and need. Okay, time-in.

When we consider that most of us get our sports entertainment via some form other than actually being at the live game and the aforementioned big business of marketing, it’s no wonder we like our sports with a lot of pauses! These provide ample opportunity to push something else in the consumer’s face. In fact, being at the game does not guarantee immunity! I was at a baseball game last week (don’t ask…) and I can’t count the number of audible advertisements and images of something to buy on walls and the big-screen (apparently the away team were a bunch of Girl Scout cookies because those were the pictures that were shown next to their names). You can cram a lot of advertisements into an American sporting even. A lot.

Soccer defies and denies competition with itself. You cannot pause for a commercial break for at least forty-five minutes (halftime), and with as few great scoring moments that occur during the games you don’t want to get up to grab a snack or hit the bathroom. Come prepared or risk missing the big moment. It’s that simple. You know what you like, want, and need during a soccer game? Soccer. It’s that pure.

So, to the point, why hasn’t soccer risen (and won’t rise) in the USA? Answer: Companies that present soccer games can’t suck every possible penny out of the viewer, and that doesn’t work with capitalism. That’s just not American. To start, the only way to make big money is through merchandise, and you can’t sell merchandise without creating a culture that desires it, and that culture is not going to be created because it can’t make money because… You get the idea. Until we can learn as a society to enjoy something for itself without an outside force telling us what to enjoy and how to enjoy it, Americans will forever keep soccer confined to obscure homes, pubs, and the occasional mini-van-driving suburban communities that like to watch their kids mosh in centerfield.

 

I look forward to your nasty responses. Love me.  :)