Thursday, October 29, 2009

The real value of money

I am reading an interesting book at the moment called "More Sex is Safer Sex: the Unconventional Wisdom of Economics" by Steven Landsburg. Landsburg looks at a variety of different statistical situations or dilemmas and examines the economical side of them, often then offering his own take on the cost/benefit analysis and what that means the "right" answer is. It is an interesting read for a couple of reasons: one he occasionally gets sidetracked onto his own issues and beliefs (fairly conservative with a strong belief in a lack of government involvement) but also because he presents some intriguing arguments into why some people should be having more sex, or why Scrouge before he gives his money away is helping more people than after he gives it away. For someone like me with little economic background I end up mostly having to trust his economic arguments because I do not have the expertise to refute him. It is good to occasionally be forced to trust what other people are saying reather than consistently trying to assert your own opinion. I also think it is a good exercise to look for flaws based on what another person thinks and not refute them simply by saying what you think instead.

It raises an interesting question to me though ... does money really determine the value of things as much as we think it does. Landsburg is seemingly aware of outside values ... he points to the fact that a person has a child inspite of all the negative economic effects of it and in fact rejoices in the birth of the baby. He is also aware that people marry for more reasons that simply economic gain or beauty of the potential partner. I think he struggles how to fully quantify that for his analysis. For the child he is simple ignores it, focusing instead on the cost/benefit to the rest of the community, assuming that the parent is already coming out ahead. But is money really the best measure of value? Or maybe the real question are there some moral absolutes that are more superceding the econmic value of something.

One argument that Landsburg looks at is child labor in third world countries. He seems to make the point that child labor is helping the families, that no one would willing subject their child to such work unless it was the only way to make enough for the family. He feels that those of us in the first world can afford luxuries like not having our children work, but that even in our own past it was necessary for children to work, and work a lot to make enough to thrive. By prohibiting child labor we are actually further impoverishing these countries by further limiting their means of production and thus ability to get richer, like we got richer. He points to the fact as wealth increases, child labor decreases, and seems to feel this will be a self-correcting system. I mean, the arugment could be made and in some ways has been made that slavery was a response of the south to remain economically competitive with the north during th 1850s, was it wrong of people to say that work should not be done by slaves? Is it possible to take some ethical values and impoes them on an economic system, for some of us to say we do not believe such a practice is moral right and we are not willing to be a part of it. Now, Landsburg is right that if we take such a stance we need to be aware of its effects ... if we are decreasing the potential of a country in some ways maybe there are other ways we need to work to improve it. At the same time, that does not mean we should feel that a simply economic analysis tells the whole story.

What I love about Landsburg's book is that he challenges me to think and pushes me with some hard "facts" that in the end remind me, my faith is not about facts, or simply things we can measure in real world dollars or units, it is tied to something greater, it is connected to a God that goes beyond money to offer us something of real value. We as Christians are challenged to look at the world as it is, and decide what ways our faith calls us to act differently, or live differently, regardless of what the economic pressures tell us.

Monday, October 12, 2009

There is a season ...

It is October 12th and I am sitting in a coffee shop watching large fluffy white flakes of snow fall on the ground. It is a beautiful picturesque scene ... other than the date on the calendar. I know from living in Minnesota most of my life that getting snow snow in October is not out of line. What is surprising to me is that the snow falling now is not the first snow. In fact it is landing in places on existing snow. We got our first snow on Friday night and somehow it is still around. I love snow, probably leftover from not making enough snow forts as a kid. Even now that snow is more of a hassle for driving and shoveling than it is something I play in I still enjoy the beauty it adds to the world. By the same token I love the cold, I find it invigorating and refreshing. Maybe my competitive nature enjoys something that challenges me, who knows, the bottom line colder whether just forces me to think harder about whether or not I should be going outside barefoot, or maybe it is time to retire the sandals for a bit. In the end I really just like winter.

So I find it odd that I am sitting here, in the middle of October loving the snow that is coming down but also feeling very much like now is not the time. I really feel like we missed the fall up here. Some of it was that I was gone for a week to the South and while I was gone the temp went from the 70s to the 50s and now into the 30s and 40s. Even adding that week into the occasion we really did not have a fall around here. Trees still have their leaves, many of them have not even fully turned yet. As much as I love the weather that winter brings, even I think there is a time for everything, and I am struggling to feel like now is the time for snow, now is the time for winter to start. I think we all need our rhythms, Ecclesiastes really does understand it, there is a time for everything. I guess my question is whether now is really the time for snow.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I was able to travel to South Carolina last week for a much needed vacation. It was also the kind of vacation I needed, one with few schedules or expectations, but instead filled with rest and relaxation. It was a good time with family in a beautiful rented condo by the ocean.

While there were a lot of things to enjoy during the week, perhaps one of the ones I enjoyed most was swimming in the ocean. In particular on our last day there the waves were finally reaching a decent height. Having little experience with the ocean I have not sense of what is normal or not, but I do know that I enjoy more waves to less, and these waves where finally getting to a size that was appealing to me. As the waves grew in size they began to provide a humbling reminder to me. Between my height and weight, I am a big guy, but those waves reminded me of something, in the grand scheme of things I am rather little.

The lectionary text for the month is Job, and I am reminded of God, speaking to Job from the whirlwind, reminded Job just how human he is, and just what that means in the grand scheme of creation. I think it is easy to forget this. To get the South Carolina I flew in a plane that soared through the sky at close to 500 mph. I saw an aircraft carrier and a submarine, reminders of how we seek to be masters of land, sea, and sky. We can do so much as humans that it is easy to lose our place, lose our perspective. Standing in the ocean, being pushed around by the never ending line of waves, I was reminded just how small we all are. For someone like me that was a good thing, it is good to remember our place in the world, one of God's children, but just one, and just a child of God.