Can businesspeople be counted on to foster virtue?

Adam Smith explained his concept of the invisible hand thusly:

[Each individual] neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. [He] intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.
In short, self-interest promotes the public good.

Other economists have argued that economic integration between countries fosters peaceful relations; with broken relations comes the loss of mutually beneficial exchange. And other economists argue that for similar reasons a competitive market economy fosters social cohesion in ethnically or culturally diverse societies. Milton Friedman: "The great virtue of a free market is that it enables people who hate each other, or who are from vastly different religious or ethnic backgrounds, to cooperate economically. Government intervention can’t do that. Politics exacerbates and magnifies differences."

But can business human resource practices foster public virtue? A report in the Boston Globe suggests the answer could be yes. It reports on a study by Gretchen Spreitzer, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business:

Her analysis, based on surveys taken between 1981 and 2001, shows that empowered, satisfied employees tend to live in open, peaceful societies -- and that improvements in workplace empowerment often precede social changes. Employees, it seems, can take lessons learned in the workplace and apply them to social and political life.
...
She took measures of employee satisfaction from the World Values Survey at the University of Michigan, which collected data in 65 countries, from Argentina to Slovenia to Venezuela, for 20 years beginning in 1981. The survey consisted of some 200 questions such as "How free are you to make decisions in your job?" and "Do you follow a superior's instructions only when you feel they are correct?"

She then compared this with data collected by the Economist Intelligence Unit on levels of corruption and violent conflict. Spreitzer found that countries where workers reported having little voice in decision-making had higher levels of unrest, and that as measures of workplace satisfaction improved, over time, indications of contentment with civic life rose, too.

The question of causation remains open:
Spreitzer uses indirect evidence of empowering practices -- measures of job satisfaction, not tallies of the number of companies that have adopted specific practices. And there are other questions to consider: Do participatory management practices result in open societies, or are the businesses that use them simply more abundant in healthy, peaceable communities? And do positive changes in society reflect enlightened business practice or the impact of politically motivated changes induced by organized labor and other social movements?
And, to put a sharper point on one of those questions, Is it in the interest of business to adopt an empowered and participatory workplace if the wider community is not healthy and peaceable? Perhaps it is business practice that adapts to the culture that exists.

Poor bear brunt of sub-prime crisis

From Religion News Service:

Washington - The poorest counties in the U.S. are among the hardest hit by the subprime mortgage crisis, according to a study released Wednesday (Feb. 27) by the Christian anti-hunger advocacy group Bread for the World.

The report, titled "Home Ownership, Subprime Loans and Poverty," found a strong correlation between poverty rates and percentages of mortgages that are subprime.

In eight of the country's 15 poorest counties, which have poverty rates exceeding 40 percent, the percentage of homeowners holding subprime mortgages is even higher -- up to 60 percent, according to the study. Data in the study were compiled from a variety of sources, including the Corporation for Enterprise Development and the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council.

The Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, said the inequity reflects an ignorance of the biblical condemnation against usury.

"The principle underlying the biblical warning against usury was that financial contracts, as important as they are, are still less important than basic human needs," he said. "If you were lending money to a really poor person, you couldn't take his coat as security for the loan."

Read it all.

Why do people give?

The New York Times Magazine today is devoted to "Money", and it includes an article that should be read by every parish stewardship chair or nonprofit fundraiser. Written by the New York Times economic columnist, David Leonhardt, it focuses on the efforts by two economists to discover why people give, and what works in fundraising:

Not long after the 2004 presidential election, John List and Dean Karlan formed an unusual partnership, with the idea of teaching a little-known liberal group how to raise more money. Karlan, an economics professor at Yale who spent much of his time studying global poverty, was himself a liberal and disheartened by President Bush’s re-election. He had given money to this particular group in the past.

List, however, was a political iconoclast who, if anything, tilted to the right. He taught economics at the University of Chicago, which can fairly be described as the center of conservative economic philosophy, and he had recently finished a stint as the environmental expert on President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers. When he and I were talking on the phone last month, he referred to Karlan, who is a friend of his, as “a left-wing nut” and then let out a laugh.

But List’s interest — and, in truth, Karlan’s main interest — wasn’t to help the liberal group get more money. It was to try to find an answer to a gnawing question: What makes people give their money away?

List and Karlan considered the usual answers (to make the world a better place, to see your name printed in the back of an annual report and the like) too pat, too simple — and sometimes just wrong. Over the years, whenever one of them asked fund-raisers why they did what they did, the responses were vague and unimpressive. There didn’t seem to be much empirical evidence to support the strategies employed by most fund-raisers. So the two economists wondered whether charities were wasting a lot of effort.

Among their findings: challenge grants and "matches" work to motivate givers, but only to a point:

When Karlan and List got their results, however, they realized that the conventional wisdom about matches was only partly right. The existence of a matching gift did very much matter. In their experiment, 2.2 percent of people who received the match offer made a donation, compared with only 1.8 percent of the control group. That may not seem like a big difference, but it is — more than a 20 percent gap between the two response rates, which is certainly large enough to justify making the effort to solicit a hefty matching gift.

But the size of the match in the experiment didn’t have any effect on giving. Donors who received the offer of a one-to-one match gave just as often, and just as much, as those responding to the three-to-one offer. That was surprising, because a larger match is effectively a deeper discount on a person’s gift. Yet in this case, the deeper discount didn’t make an impact. It was as if Starbucks had cut the price of a latte to $2 and sales didn’t increase.

But the ultimate issue is what these two are really interested in, why do people give:

The results of the matching-gift experiment provided List and Karlan with precisely the sort of subtlety that they hoped to uncover. It also spoke to that fundamental question about philanthropy: Why do people give? Is it really to make the world a better place, to give back to the community as a token of gratitude? Or is giving instead about something less grand, like seeing your name on a building, responding to peer pressure or simply feeling good about yourself? To put it bluntly, is charitable giving a high-minded form of consumption?

In the late 1980s, an economist named James Andreoni argued that the internal motives for giving were indeed more important than many people had acknowledged. He came up with a name for his idea — the “warm glow” theory — and it stuck. In the warm-glow view of philanthropy, people aren’t giving money merely to save the whales; they’re also giving money to feel the glow that comes with being the kind of person who’s helping to save the whales.

. . .

Andreoni’s argument was a merely theoretical one, but the experiment by List and Karlan suggested that it was correct. Donors did not, in fact, seem to do a rational analysis of how they could best help promote liberalism. And there was one more layer to their results that made the findings even more striking. In blue states — defined as those that voted for John Kerry — even the existence of a matching gift had only a minor effect. It lifted the response rate by about 5 percent. In red states, though, a matching gift increased donations by about 60 percent. For isolated liberals living in states that had just voted for Bush’s re-election, the glow that came from joining up with another liberal seemed to be much stronger. “Giving is not about a calculation of what you are buying,” Karlan said. “It is about participating in a fight.” It is about you as much as it about the effect of your gift. As much as fund-raisers say that they understand these mixed motivations, charities often continue to behave as if donors were automatons. Thus the existence of big matching gifts.

Along similar lines, Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has conducted a mischievous experiment on the relationship between religious giving and religious observance. . . .

To see how typical his father was, Gruber dug into surveys that ask people about how they spend their money and their time. Sure enough, his dad was typical. When the tax code changed in the early 1990s and made the deduction for charitable giving more valuable, the average churchgoer gave more money — and attended services less often. Gruber called his research paper “Pay or Pray.”

Read it all here.

Does conservative theology hurt your pocketbook?

Lisa Keister has scanned the Bible and found nearly 2,000 verses in the New Testament that touch on the topic of money. It's those very verses that may be keeping many conservative Protestants from building up long-term wealth, she says.

Keister was surprised that when demographic factors -- such as education, age and race -- were held as constant, religion still proved to be an influential factor in wealth accumulation. Conservative beliefs had a larger impact among black Protestants, she found, but also remained significant among whites.

Read it all.

Why do the poor stay poor?

Drake Bennett of The Boston Globe writes:

In the community of people dedicated to analyzing poverty, one of the sharpest debates is over why some poor people act in ways that ensure their continued indigence. Compared with the middle class or the wealthy, the poor are disproportionately likely to drop out of school, to have children while in their teens, to abuse drugs, to commit crimes, to not save when extra money comes their way, to not work.

To an economist, this is irrational behavior. It might make sense for a wealthy person to quit his job, or to eschew education or develop a costly drug habit. But a poor person, having little money, would seem to have the strongest incentive to subscribe to the Puritan work ethic, since each dollar earned would be worth more to him than to someone higher on the income scale. Social conservatives have tended to argue that poor people lack the smarts or willpower to make the right choices. Social liberals have countered by blaming racial prejudice and the crippling conditions of the ghetto for denying the poor any choice in their fate. Neoconservatives have argued that antipoverty programs themselves are to blame for essentially bribing people to stay poor.

Charles Karelis, a professor at George Washington University, has a simpler but far more radical argument to make: traditional economics just doesn't apply to the poor. When we're poor, Karelis argues, our economic worldview is shaped by deprivation, and we see the world around us not in terms of goods to be consumed but as problems to be alleviated.

Read it all.

Give it 4 Good

Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation are asking people to use all or some of their economic stimulus checks to make a gift to something that will help others around the world. According to their press release:

Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation invites you to become part of a movement for economic sanity and moral accountability.

Join others across the nation and give 100%, 10% or even 0.7% of next month's so-called "economic stimulus" check to an organization of your choice working to acheive the Millennium Development Goals.

Just visit Give it 4 Good to find out how.

At Give it 4 Good, you will find resources for deciding where to give, advocacy actions, how to spread the word, resources for starting conversations about consumerism in your congregation and family ... and much more.

Once you have taken the pledge, spread the word. Email your friends and family and tell them you have taken this important step. Let the people at the nonprofit you have designated know so they can encourage others to Give It 4 Good. Put a button on your website and a flier in your congregation.

Go to the site -- and take the pledge. Then keep checking back to see who has Given it 4 Good, how much has been given and where the money is going to Make Poverty History.


On the first day of the campaign 91 people took the pledge and at least $23,454 has been pledged for the MDGs. A Facebook site is here.

Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation (EGR) is a small organization of Episcopalians ... a grassroots movement of connection and collaboration for creative ministry following Christ by heeding his call to seek & serve him in the extreme poor around the world. Focusing on the Millennium Development Goals as a vehicle for this ministry EGR offers resources for action for individuals, churches and communities.

See the MDGs below:

Read more »

Blue laws and church attendance

What did the repeal of blue laws do to church attendance? Some economists looked at the data and they found what you would expect--a reduction in church attendance:

In their study, which appears in the May 2008 edition of The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Gruber and Hungerman show what happens when religious services must compete with shopping, hobbies and other activities.

. . .

The economists used data from the General Social Survey on religious attendance and from the Consumer Expenditure Survey to show a very strong reduction in religious attendance and a decline in religious contributions once the blue laws were repealed. They found no change in other charitable activity, Gruber notes.

To confirm their findings and to complete the economic portrait, the authors also analyzed budget data for four major Christian denominations over the past 40 years. Church expenditures declined significantly since the repeal of the blue laws, they found.

Read the MIT press release here. Hat Tip to Economist's View. The full article can be found here (but at a price).

Amartya Sen's low opinion of ethanol

Amartya Sen teaches economics and philosophy at Harvard and received the Nobel Prize in economics in 1998. He writes today's New York Times about the global food crisis:

Much discussion is rightly devoted to the division between haves and have-nots in the global economy, but the world’s poor are themselves divided between those who are experiencing high growth and those who are not. The rapid economic expansion in countries like China, India and Vietnam tends to sharply increase the demand for food. This is, of course, an excellent thing in itself, and if these countries could manage to reduce their unequal internal sharing of growth, even those left behind there would eat much better.

But the same growth also puts pressure on global food markets — sometimes through increased imports, but also through restrictions or bans on exports to moderate the rise in food prices at home, as has happened recently in countries like India, China, Vietnam and Argentina. Those hit particularly hard have been the poor, especially in Africa.

There is also a high-tech version of the tale of two peoples. Agricultural crops like corn and soybeans can be used for making ethanol for motor fuel. So the stomachs of the hungry must also compete with fuel tanks.

Misdirected government policy plays a part here, too. In 2005, the United States Congress began to require widespread use of ethanol in motor fuels. This law combined with a subsidy for this use has created a flourishing corn market in the United States, but has also diverted agricultural resources from food to fuel. This makes it even harder for the hungry stomachs to compete.

Ethanol use does little to prevent global warming and environmental deterioration, and clear-headed policy reforms could be urgently carried out, if American politics would permit it. Ethanol use could be curtailed, rather than being subsidized and enforced.

Read it here.

Government policy does make a difference. World rice prices have tumbled since Cambodia -- one of many countries to institute export controls on rice -- removed its rice export ban. Meanwhile, the U.S. house and senate this month passed the Farm Bill with veto proof majorities.

Tithing on the decrease

The Religion News Service reports new evidence that tithing is on the decrease, which is affecting churches of all types:

A recent poll by pollster George Barna shows that only 5 percent of Americans say they tithe, or give at least 10 percent of their income to religious congregations and charitable groups. According to other studies on church giving, congregants give an average of 2.58 percent of their income to their churches. That's down from 3.11 percent of their income in 1968, according to studies published by Empty Tomb, a ministry that studies church finances.

"Tithing is in decline," said the Rev. William Hull, a research professor at Samford University and a Baptist minister. "The older generation was taught to tithe. It's not being taught very much any more."

In addition to evidence of a drop in charitable giving, churches also appear to be losing "market share" to other charities:

Decades ago, the church was a focal point of philanthropy. Now parachurch ministries, schools and charitable agencies compete for those dollars, he said.

"The church has been losing market share," said Sylvia Ronsvalle, executive vice president of Empty Tomb. "That concerns us. There could be a crisis in the very heart of the church."

Many major mainline denominations are suffering budget shortfalls. "The churches don't get enough money to send on to headquarters," Hull said.

Read it all here.

Inconspicuous consumption

Virginia Postrel has a fascinating column in this month's Atlantic Monthly. she describes research that confirms what many may have noticed already: conspicuous consumption is associated with lower class, not higher class status:

Writing in the much poorer world of 1899, Veblen argued that people spent lavishly on visible goods to prove that they were prosperous. “The motive is emulation—the stimulus of an invidious comparison which prompts us to outdo those with whom we are in the habit of classing ourselves,” he wrote. Along these lines, the economists hypothesized that visible consumption lets individuals show strangers they aren’t poor. Since strangers tend to lump people together by race, the lower your racial group’s income, the more valuable it is to demonstrate your personal buying power.

To test this idea, the economists compared the spending patterns of people of the same race in different states—say, blacks in Alabama versus blacks in Massachusetts, or whites in South Carolina versus whites in California. Sure enough, all else being equal (including one’s own income), an individual spent more of his income on visible goods as his racial group’s income went down. African Americans don’t necessarily have different tastes from whites. They’re just poorer, on average. In places where blacks in general have more money, individual black people feel less pressure to prove their wealth.

The same is true for whites. Controlling for differences in housing costs, an increase of $10,000 in the mean income for white households—about like going from South Carolina to California—leads to a 13 percent decrease in spending on visible goods. “Take a $100,000-a-year person in Alabama and a $100,000 person in Boston,” says Hurst. “The $100,000 person in Alabama does more visible consumption than the $100,000 person in Massachusetts.” That’s why a diamond-crusted Rolex screams “nouveau riche.” It signals that the owner came from a poor group and has something to prove.

But this doesn't mean that the very rich don't consume. They obviously do, but their consumption is more hidden from public view, and status is determined by something more complex than cash:

Russ Alan Prince and Lewis Schiff describe a similar pattern in their book, The Middle-Class Millionaire, which analyzes the spending habits of the 8.4million American households whose wealth is self-made and whose net worth, including their home equity, is between $1 million and $10 million. Aside from a penchant for fancy cars, these millionaires devote their luxury dollars mostly to goods and services outsiders can’t see: concierge health care, home renovations, all sorts of personal coaches, and expensive family vacations. They focus less on impressing strangers and more on family- and self-improvement. Even when they invest in traditional luxuries like second homes, jets, or yachts, they prefer fractional ownership. “They’re looking for ownership to be converted into a relationship rather than an asset they have to take care of,” says Schiff. Their primary luxuries are time and attention.

The shift away from conspicuous consumption—from goods to services and experiences—can also make luxury more exclusive. Anyone with $6,000 can buy a limited-edition Bottega Veneta bag, an elaborately beaded Roberto Cavalli minidress, or a Cartier watch. Or, for the same sum, you can register for the TED conference. That $6,000 ticket entitles you to spend four days in California hearing short talks by brainy innovators, famous (Frank Gehry, Amy Tan, Brian Greene) and not-so-known. You get to mingle with smart, curious people, all of whom have $6,000 to spare. But to go to TED, you need more than cash. The conference directors have to deem you interesting enough to merit one of the 1,450 spots. It’s the intellectual equivalent of a velvet rope.

Read it all here.

Abortion, sex selection and crime

University of Chicago economist, Steven Levitt (also a contributor to Freakonomics) once wrote an intriguing (but controversial) paper arguing that the legalization of abortion in the 1970's was a major cause of the reduction in crime in the United States in the 1990s. Freakonomics now has a post that suggests that China's "One Child" policy, and the resulting sex selected abortions, is having the opposite effect in China:

If Roe v. Wade contributed to the U.S. crime drop of the 1990’s, could China’s one-child policy be having the opposite effect today?

When the Chinese government instituted the policy in 1979, it touched off a wave of sex-selective abortions as pregnant couples decided that if they could have only one child they would benefit most from having a boy. That helped leave modern China with the largest gender imbalance in the world. Today, there are 37 million more men than women in China, and many of the boys are growing up unable to find a job or start a family.

So what are these “surplus” boys doing to fill their time?

In The New Republic, Mara Hvistendahl reports that as the first generation of one-child boys have reached adolescence, the youth crime rate in China has more than doubled, as idle and frustrated boys turn to crime “without specific motives, often without forethought.”

We’ve looked at the effect of unwantedness on children. But what happens when unwantedness hits a generation of men as they get older?

Read it all here.

Development talks fail

International development agency Christian Aid says the blame for the collapse of the latest Doha Development Round talks in Geneva lies squarely with major agricultural exporting countries putting self-interest above other considerations according to a report in Ekklesia.

The talks were supposed to result in a deal that would help poorer countries develop through trade.

Read more »

Uncomfortable questions

Steven (Freakonomics) Levitt, Ronald Fryer and their co-authors ask an uncomfortable question: "What’s it like to grow up with one parent who is black and another who is white?"

Here's part of how Levitt describes their results:

The really interesting result, though, is the next one.

4) There are some bad adolescent behaviors that whites do more than blacks (like drinking and smoking), and there are other bad adolescent behaviors that blacks do more than whites (watching TV, fighting, getting sexually transmitted diseases). Mixed-race kids manage to be as bad as whites on the white behaviors and as bad as blacks on the black behaviors. Mixed-race kids act out in almost every way measured in the data set.

We try to use economic theory to explain this set of facts. I can’t say we are entirely successful. If we had to pick an explanation that best fits the facts, it would be the old sociology model of mixed-race individuals as the “marginal man”: not part of either racial group and therefore torn by inner conflict.

Read the rest of the blog post at Freakonomics where there is also a link to the paper.

What's next? Will Levitt be asking how the children of gay couples fair? It is an empirical question that has not been answered.

Here's a more comfortable question: Will church attendance boost your child's GPA? Researchers say, yes:

"There are two directions you can go with this research,"[said Jennifer Glanville, a sociologist at the University of Iowa]. "Some might say this suggests that parents should have their kids attend places of worship. Or, if we use it to help explain why religious participation has a positive effect on academics, parents who aren't interested in attending church can consider how to structure their kids' time to allow access to the same beneficial social networks and opportunities religious institutions provide."

Calling on churches in tough economic times

In a Religion News Service article appearing on Crosswalk, Kirsten Campbell discusses the double bind that can hit churches in hard economic times:

For faith-based organizations, widespread economic woes might seem to have the potential to create a complicated situation: At the same time that more people may call upon them for assistance, those who routinely provide funding to charitable groups may be less able to respond.

Historically, however, church-member giving doesn't necessarily decline in a recession, according to empty tomb, inc., an Illinois-based research group that studies religious giving. This "probably has to do with the fact that churches are generally seen as the layer immediately beyond the family in terms of responsibility, accountability, relationships," explained Sylvia Ronsvalle, executive vice president of empty tomb.

Churches find their flocks are not recession-proof

The San Diego Union Tribune took a look at how congregations in San Diego country are dealing with the consequences of the current economy. With falling home prices, a credit crunch, skyrocketing fuel costs and stagflation, congregations must deal with shrinking budgets while helping their members deal with hard times.

Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church has cut its budget, laid off a half-dozen staff members and is being bombarded with requests for prayers by members faced with losing homes and jobs.

North Coast Church in Vista, one of the county's largest evangelical congregations with multiple venues, began holding workshops on how to write résumés and do job interviews after members began mentioning that they were facing downsizing or unemployment.

And at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral near Balboa Park, the congregation is meeting in small groups to study a book about living more simply. Later this year, the church will launch a program on how to budget.

God may be recession-proof, but his flock is another story.

Throughout San Diego County, many religious communities find themselves tightening their own fiscal belts as well as ministering to members squeezed by rising costs, a diminished labor market and escalating home foreclosures.

The Episcopal Cathedral noticed what was happening and decided to take a direct approach:

“We really made an effort to say, 'Look, folks, just let us know if you need to reduce your pledges,' ” said Chris Harris, the cathedral's canon for congregation development.

Others were invited to give more, if they could. It seems to be working. “I think we've righted our ship pretty much,” Harris said.

The cathedral also launched a two-part education program. The first phase, going on now, involves having the congregation meet in small groups at members' homes to study a book about living more spiritually and simply. The next phase will be a nuts-and-bolts budgeting program to teach people how to live within their means.

At a small group session Tuesday night, five cathedral members gathered at a Hillcrest condominium to talk about how their net worth should not equal their self-worth.

Read the rest here.

It's the end of the world as we know it?

The current economic news is causing a lot of anxiety about job loss, fewer donations to churches and non-profits, and what the future holds.

Paul Solman of PBS writes:

Anxiously scanning the Business section of [The New York Times] on Sunday, I came across this headline: Amid Potential Chaos, a Light-Hearted Break. Below was a subhead: "For those who need a little bit of levity on a tense day, we present some mood music." If you clicked on the video box below, a song began to play, its lyrics flashing on the screen in various colors: REM's It's the End of the World as We Know It.

It did bring me a smile - at 11:30 p.m., no less - but also a question from my wife, Boston Globe language columnist Jan Freeman: "IS it the end of the world as we know it?" she asked.


According to Solman it boils down to "belief," in Latin, credere, which is the basis of the word "credit."
Any financial system more sophisticated than Robinson Crusoe's is built on credit: "I'll take your promise to pay me tomorrow in return for the use of your wealth today." That's how a farmer gets money for his seed corn before the crop comes up. That's how the high-tech firm rents its offices and pays its workers when its new software is no more than a gleam in its eye. That's how traders in Mesopotamia sent yarn across the desert around 2500 B.C. (The credit terms were pressed into clay tablets that still exist.
....
What has happened is simple: Lehman became the sleazy corn farmer or the pie-in-the-sky techie or the Ur weavers who got lost in the Tower of Babel -- a borrower with no credibility. To stay in the game, Lehman would have to pay more and more for its loans. That would eat into its capital - its investors' money. The less capital it had, the more collateral it would have to plunk down for the money it had already borrowed. And if it tried to sell the loans it had invested in, those loans would crash in value, making the situation worse.

Read it all here.

Rabbi Michael Lerner editor of Tikkun Magazine writes of the fear pervading the country and ideas for citizens to overcome the paralysis and denial that fear induces and to act in this election year:

The fear is palpable. Those of us in the non-profit sector feel it deeply already, because with the predictions of collapse surrounding us, many magazines are reporting drops in subscribers, and many change-oriented organizations are suffering from a drop in membership or donations. And it's likely to get worse. There are predictions that even with the hundreds of billions likely to be spent to ameliorate some aspects of what we face, there might be as many as five million people who will be losing their homes in the mortgage crisis, and millions more losing their jobs as small businesses collapse.
....
Once again, the responsibility is on ordinary citizens to stand up and talk back to the politicians in both parties, and to do so in a way that demands a new set of values to run our economy, so that materialism and selfishness is put on the defensive and caring for each other becomes the central motif. It is only when some serious political leaders are willing to make that the center of their campaign, to demand that love, generosity and caring for others is the shaping force determining their policies, that the American people will be able to take that part of their consciousness that wants such a world but believes it impossible, and finally transcend their fears and act on their highest desires rather than sinking into the other fearful part of their consciousness that leads them to seek magical solutions in repression and denial of much of what they know about the failures of the economy and of our foreign policy.

Read the rest of this newsletter here.

For Episcopal clergy and laity who have pensions from the Church Pension Group it is reported that the Church Pension Fund is absolutely secure with more than enough funds to meet obligations and even in these times provide an increase of annual benefits and an increase in the life insurance coverage for those who are retired and dependent upon the fund. Read more here.

Faith and Wall Street, continued

Over the weekend we heard from Christianity Today (here) about the phenomenon of people on Wall Street turning to God because of market volatility. Today we have a piece from Reuters that spotlights Trinity Church Wall Street, the Episcopal church so close to Ground Zero, among others. Observations included more people coming to services, more of them wearing business suits to lunchtime services, and among regular worshippers, "more strained faces" according to a nearby synagogue.

That is hardly surprising, said Reverend Mark Bozzuti-Jones of Trinity Church Wall Street, given that people don't know if their employers will survive from one day to the next.

"The economic financial crisis is a reminder that we cannot put our faith in riches, that we cannot put our faith in money," Bozzuti-Jones said in his sermon at lunchtime on Friday, which he devoted to coping with the financial crisis.

A handful of men in suits and ties and women in business attire were among dozens of people at the Episcopal church, which was hit by debris from the World Trade Center collapse on September 11, 2001.

The church, which normally attracts tourists and a few financial workers, experienced an upturn in visitors this week, Bozzuti-Jones said. In the past few days he had requests for help to pay rent from those who had lost their jobs.

"People are just sitting there, praying or crying and definitely exhausted. There has definitely been an increase in the number of people who have come in," he said in his office after the service.

Read the whole thing here.

English archbishops on Marx and the markets

Rowan Williams has written a searching moral examination of the free market financial system which has been badly caricatured in initial news reports. It contains this sentence: "Marx long ago observed the way in which unbridled capitalism became a kind of mythology, ascribing reality, power and agency to things that had no life in themselves; he was right about that, if about little else." How anyone gets from this mild criticism to headlines proclaiming that the archbishop has praised Marx, is difficult to fathom. You can read it for yourself in the Spectator, whose own headline writers have done Williams no favors.

A key passage:

To grant that without a basis of some common prosperity and stability, no speculative market can long survive is not to argue for rigid Soviet-style centralised direction. Insecure or failed states may provide a brief and golden opportunity for profiteering, but cannot sustain reliable institutions.

Without a background of social stability everyone will eventually suffer, including even the most resourceful, bold and ingenious of speculators. The question is not how to choose between total control and total deregulation, but how to identify the points and practices where social risk becomes unacceptably high. The banning of short-selling is an example of just such a judgment. Governments should not lose their nerve as they look to identify a few more targets.

Behind all this, though, is the deeper moral issue. We find ourselves talking about capital or the market almost as if they were individuals, with purposes and strategies, making choices, deliberating reasonably about how to achieve aims. We lose sight of the fact that they are things that we make. They are sets of practices, habits, agreements which have arisen through a mixture of choice and chance. Once we get used to speaking about any of them as if they had a life independent of actual human practices and relations, we fall into any number of destructive errors. We expect an abstraction called ‘the market’ to produce the common good or to regulate its potential excesses by a sort of natural innate prudence, like a physical organism or ecosystem. We appeal to ‘business’ to acquire public responsibility and moral vision. And so we lose sight of the fact that the market is not like a huge individual consciousness, that business is a practice carried on by persons who have to make decisions about priorities — not a machine governed by inexorable laws.

Meanwhile, John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, is blasting "short sellers," whom he refers to as bank robbers. Sentamu will preach tonight at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

The archbishops' criticisms of the financial system have generated considerable press coverage in England, and Simon Sarmiento has a round up at Thinking Anglicans. Reuters is on the Sentamu statement, which some UK stockbrokers don't care for.

The Guardian has one comment on each bishop's statement.

One observation on these issues in the Anglican context: Neither archbishop has much of an audience in the United States. Most of those likely to agree with their economic critique, their interest in the Millennium Development Goals, their concerns about global warming and their opposition to a univalent American foreign policy, are alienated from them by their unwillingness to speak out against the flamboyant homophobia of other Anglican leaders such as Peter Akinola of Nigeria, Henry Orombi of Uganda and Mouneer Anis of Egypt. Those who cheer the archbishops' tacit embrace of bigotry disagree with them on most of the political issues. The conservatives get the better end of this deal. The archbishops opposition to the Bush administration makes nothing happen, while their opposition to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in the Church has devastating effects.

Without commenting on the arguments they are advancing here--it isn't clear that either of them understands short-selling--one is still left to wonder how to respond when the archbishops say something one agrees with?

"Three cheers for the abettors of bigotry!" ?

"God bless your irrelevant hearts!" ?

Greed as a sin in the modern world

Peter Steinfels has an interesting essay in the New York Times about modern views of greed as a sin:

Greed is a notion, in fact, that comes positively bristling with religious and moral assumptions that modern culture does not quite know how to handle. Greed, a k a avarice, has long been ranked among Christianity’s seven deadly sins. In some accounts, it is the deadliest, the “root of all evils,” according to St. Paul. Similar judgments can be found in the other great religious traditions.

But in the 17th and 18th centuries, European thinkers in search of political stability and order looked beyond the religious strictures that had manifestly failed to repress unruly rulers’ passions for power, pleasure and possessions.

Perhaps, it was argued, these passions could serve as checks on one another — and soon passions were being viewed, well, dispassionately. That is, they were re-envisioned as more rational “interests.”

Finally, pursuit of commerce and economic interests were generally supposed to tame and channel the wasteful pursuit of glory and domination that had bred wars and royal display.

It was a remarkable mutation, described brilliantly by Albert O. Hirschman in “The Passions and the Interests” (Princeton, 1977): Greed disappeared and was reborn, domesticated, as self-interest.

Greed did not really disappear, of course; it just became the province of moralists and novelists, like Carlyle and Dickens, and of preachers and politicians to this day. Those who dealt with economics, practically or theoretically, have preferred another concept.

. . .

Despite all the current talk of greed, then, one wonders whether it is not a kind of specter, flitting in and out of sight, momentarily frightening and yet finally bereft of the religious and moral conviction that might give it body and weight in the nation’s deliberations.

In “Wall Street,” Gordon Gekko may have sounded a bit like Milton Friedman when he said that greed “works” and “clarifies” and “has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

But he did not actually say, “Greed is good.” What he said in the movie was “greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

Economics has given us a lot of better words, from self-interest to incentive to profit. They do not mean the same thing as greed, but they have displaced it, obscured it — and certainly demoted it from being a deadly sin.

Read it all here. So how do we really think about "greed" as a sin in our modern world?

Archbishops' criticism of financial system continues to reverberate

The Financial Times carries this tidbit:

"Market freedom has become an absolute, a kind of fundamentalist religion in itself," Dr John Sentamu said, the Archbishop of York, adding: "You know the joke about how many economists it takes to change a light bulb. The answer is: 'None. The market will sort it out."

But not everyone in England considers the criticisms of western financial systems by the Archbishops of and York and Canterbury a laughing matter, especially since the Church of England has benefitted from short selling, a practice that Sentamu lambasted in a speech last week.

Again, The Financial Times has the story:

The Church of England faced charges of hypocrisy yesterday over its leaders' attack on short selling and debt trading after hedge funds pointed out that it uses some of the same practices when investing its own assets.

Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church, said it was right to ban short selling, while John Sentamu, archbishop of York, called traders who cashed in on falling prices "bank robbers and asset strippers".

Hedge funds pointed to the willingness of the church commissioners to lend foreign stock from their £5.5bn ($10.2bn) of investments - an essential support for short selling - and derided the pair for not understanding shorting. "They are trying to shoot the messenger and . . . deflecting attention away from the dramatic incompetence of bank executives," said Hugh Hendry, of hedge fund Eclectica Asset Management. "Short selling is the pursuit of truth."

The Washington Post says the archbishops' criticisms are part of a larger debate about greed fueled by the fall of some "flamboyant financiers."

Perhaps, but one still wishes that they were better informed.

Bishop Alan Wilson and Bishop Pierre Whalon do an excellent job in demonstrating that Archbishop Williams' comment about Marx was misconstrued (seemingly deliberately) by the media, but Giles Fraser's column in Church Times points out the weakness of Archbishop Sentamu's argument about short selling--without naming any names.

Is there a role for the Church in the financial panic?

Most clergy are not trained in economics. And the last thing the country needs is well-intentioned moralistic advice from poorly-informed people. (See Sentamu, John.) Yet as the financial crisis in the United States deepens, and people lose money they had set aside for retirement, or for their loved ones' college educations, it seems peculiar that neither the Christian left nor the Christian right has had much to say about the ideas and behaviors that brought about our financial panic. Obviously, there is a role for the Church in consoling people during times of loss and uncertainty, but does the Christian tradition provide any intellectual resources for times such as these? Greed isn't great. But is that the best we have to offer?

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly broadcast this prescient segment last week. It includes the following exchange involving Jim Wallis, the Rev. Jim Martin and host Bob Abernathy:

Fr. MARTIN: ... I still believe in the capitalist system, and as Adam Smith would tell you, self-interest is what motivates that. So I'm not saying that needs to be set aside. What I'm saying is that the capitalist system, as we've seen, is not perfect, and you do need regulation, you do need the government to step in and care for such things. You know, we look at education, and people are fine with the common good there. I think we have to expand our notion on what the government, on what society needs to do in terms of their responsibility to the poor.

WALLIS: I think government should encourage innovation, but it must limit greed. Self-interest and success is one thing. Losing sight of what is best for the common good is another thing. So capitalism run amok here is really what's happening, and so restoring a sense of what's good for all of us is, in fact, the best business model. So we've lost something here.

ABERNETHY: So, which is to say oversight by Congress and by the firms themselves?

Fr. MARTIN: Right.

WALLIS: Yeah, and social regulation is going to be necessary. But I would say self-regulation will, too. Jim is right. We've all got into this culture of greed, the culture extolling greed as a value. In D.C., property values have doubled in four years. So what do they say? Take your equity value and take a loan against that and buy another house, and then you can rent that and pay for your mortgage and then buy a third house. The prophets say you add house to house to house to house -- the whole thing falls apart, and that's what's happened, from Wall Street right down to a lot of our own families.

Is their advice specific enough to be helpful?

Catholic Bishops on moral aspects of financial crisis

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a letter to the Bush Administration and Congress on the current economic situation:

Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, urged the Bush Administration and Congress, September 26, to consider the moral aspects of the current financial crisis.

He stressed responsibility, accountability, awareness of advantages and limitations of the market, solidarity, subsidiarity and the common good, in the search for just and effective responses to the economic turmoil, while considering its human impact and ethical dimensions.


The letter follows below:

Read more »

Is the financial collapse a sign of moral collapse?

Conservative evangelicals believe that the crisis on Wall Street is the direct result of the moral crisis on Main Street.

Ed Stoddard, writing for Reuters, explains:

The narrative goes roughly like this: the "collapse" of the traditional family, widespread divorce and a "permissive" culture have led to a disregard for personal responsibility.

A culture focused on instant gratification -- through the overuse of credit cards to buy consumer goods, for example -- has also lost other "traditional values" such as thrift and hard work.

"You can't have a strong, vibrant society when you don't have strong, vibrant families. It's a crisis of commitment, it's a crisis of responsibility," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative lobby group with strong evangelical ties.

"If you don't live up to your responsibility you are going to see that in the broader culture. You see this on Wall Street," he told Reuters.

It is a view that has been echoed by other conservative commentators, on Christian radio stations and on popular "Talk Radio" programs.

"To spend more than you've got is not the way we brought up our kids ... You have a whole credit industry that grew up around people wanting what their parents had without working 20 years to get it," said Gary Ledbetter, spokesman for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

The immediate significance of this narrative may show up in the House of Representatives on Friday when they vote on the latest version of the financial "bailout/rescue" package passed by the Senate last night.

The next place this narrative may show up is in the voting booth. It remains unclear how conservative Christians and evangelical Protestants will react to McCain's support of the package, even though they've been energized by his pick of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Tying "values" to economic problems is one way that religious conservatives can keep some focus on the "culture" issues they have long fought over as public attention is riveted on Wall Street, job security and house prices.

Upholding "traditional" values which they say have been under assault since the 1960s informs much of their outlook, ranging from their opposition to abortion and gay rights to a professed aversion to heavy debt loads.

"Although debt is not a sin, it also is not a normal way of life, according to Scripture ... debt is a dangerous tool that must be used, if at all, with extreme caution and much prayer," says the conservative evangelical advocacy group "Focus on the Family" on its web site.

While, at first blush, it may appear that the narrative of moral decay leading to credit frenzy appears to co-exist nicely with the views of, say, the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is not so simple. Long ago, these same preachers conflated their theology with a politics that valued deregulation and embraced unfettered capitalism.

"Essentially the Christian Right did not do serious biblical reflection on economics, it just borrowed its model from the Republicans," said David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta.

"Conservative Christians who accepted the unregulated free market ethos must bear some of the responsibility for its consequences," said Gushee.

Washington Post: Evangelicals see moral decline in Wall St. woes.

Ministry for a meltdown

Samuel Freedman's "On Religion" column in the New York Times this week was devoted to how the financial meltodown has created "teachable moments" for all faiths:

Several weeks ago, before the earth cracked open on Wall Street, Imam Khalid Latif had a chat with one of his regular worshipers at the Muslim center at New York University. This young man, a business student, had a theological complaint to register. Why did Islam make such a big deal about the principle of mutual benefit? What was the matter with just taking care of yourself?

About 10 days later, with the landscape marked by the bankruptcy, emergency sale and federal bailout of some of the nation’s most venerable financial companies, a more abashed version of that same student returned. “Now I know why I can’t define security by the number of zeroes on my paycheck,” Imam Latif, N.Y.U.’s Muslim chaplain, recalled the man saying.

Presented with the spiritual equivalent of what educators call a “teachable moment,” Imam Latif spoke to the student about the humility, perseverance and especially the Islamic concept of sabr, meaning “patience.” He offered a hadith from the Muslim tradition: “Patience comes at the first sign of calamity.”

Variations of the imam’s conversation have been proceeding in virtually every faith these last few weeks, especially for clergy members who have a following among the investors, executives and employees of the shaken financial industry. They are practicing ministry for a meltdown.

. . .

As the United States staggers from its credit binge to a straitened future, the religious holidays demand their own form of self-denial. Jews fast on Yom Kippur and, for the most observant, the Fast of Gedalia, which comes the day after Rosh Hashana. Devout Muslims did not take food or drink during daylight hours for the entire month of Ramadan, which ended this week.

“The purpose of the fast goes beyond a physical one,” Imam Latif said. “It puts into perspective a lot. When you have that drink of water at sundown, when you eat that date to break the fast, you have a deeper appreciation of what you have.”

The Rev. George W. Rutler, pastor of the Roman Catholic Church of Our Saviour in Midtown Manhattan, has been giving a similar message to the younger of his parishioners. Unlike the older generation, which lived through the Great Depression, these men and women had known nothing except exuberant days for investment banks, hedge funds and the stock market.

“They’re just astonished; they have no historical reference,” said Father Rutler, the former national chaplain of Legatus, a group of prominent Catholic executives. “I’ve said to them: ‘You’re part of history now. And in the future, you will learn to be more practical about value.’ This was a necessary purge, painful in many ways.”

Read it all here.

Does the market corrode us?

The John Templeton Foundation asked thirteen thinkers this big question: Does the free market corrode moral character?

Some samples from a few of the answers:

Read more »

Financial crisis drives church members to seek help online

Anglican Communion News Service reports:

Web users looking for support during the current financial situation have boosted traffic to a Church of England website section focusing on debt advice by over 70 per cent, and increased visitor numbers to the Church’s online prayer page by more than a quarter.

The Matter of Life and Debt website section - containing a new ‘debt spiral’ feature so visitors can work out if they are one of the many families who will be seriously affected by the credit crunch, and useful advice for those worried about debt - has seen a 71 per cent increase in traffic in recent weeks.

Breaking the taboo

In Alban Weeky, from the Alban Institute, James Hudnut-Beumler writes:

In many congregations, talking about money is taboo. That we don't talk about money doesn't mean we don't worry about it, though. In fact, most Americans worry about it constantly. Are we saving enough? Will Social Security be there for us when we are old? Will the nursing home costs for our aging parents clean us out just in time to prevent us from sending our children to college? And now, how will the mortgage lending crisis and the sharp declines in stock values affect me and my family?

Many people keep such worries to themselves or share them only with their spouses. Sometimes we turn to a coworker for understanding, but rarely to a pastor or to the church and its members.

One of the best ways people can be the church together in a money-dominated age is to break the taboo against discussing money and money worries. If we are concerned with having enough money to care for others or ourselves, or with meeting payments, let's confess those concerns to our brothers and sisters in a supportive setting. A burden confessed is a burden shared.

For another take on this issue visit Ways of the World.

For more information on the fundamentals of the issue listen here.

The faith-based economy

On the Social Science Research Council's blog Immanent Frame, Arjun Appadurai writes:

Last week as I listened, along with many other Americans and others around the world, to President Bush’s most recent effort to reassure us about the current economic meltdown I had a “Road to Damascus” moment. It happened as I heard Bush repeat the word “faith”: faith in America’s institutions, faith in its workers, faith in capitalism, faith in our capacity to survive other disasters (such as 1929 and 2001). And, of course, the faith we needed to weather the recent crisis and get to the other side, such faith, in Bush’s rhetoric, being not only the need of the moment but the fulcrum for the journey to recovery.

I instantly saw that a great feat in reverse discourse engineering had occurred: we had moved into the era of the “Faith-Based Economy.” ...

[N]ow we are in a new Weberian moment, where Calvinist ideas of proof, certainty of election through the rationality of good works, and faith in the rightness of predestination, are not anymore the backbone of thrift, calculation and bourgeois risk-taking. Now faith is about something else. It is faith in capitalism itself, capitalism viewed as a transcendent means of organizing human affairs, of capitalism as a theodicy for the explanation of evil, lust, greed and theft in the economy, and of the meltdown as a supreme form of testing by suffering, which will weed out the weak of heart from those of true good faith. We must believe in capitalism, in the ways that the early Protestants were asked to believe in predestination. Not all are saved, but we must all act as if we might be saved, and by acting as if we might be among the saved, we enact our faith in capitalism, even if we might be among the doomed or damned. Such faith must be shown in our works, in our actions: we must continue to spend, to work hard, to invest, and, as George Bush long ago said, “to shop” as if our very lives depended on it. In other words, capitalism now needs our faith more than our faith needs capitalism.

A rabbi on the financial meltdown

Pete Tobias, the rabbi at the Liberal Synagogue Elstree, has an essay on spiritual implications of the economic meltdown:

There's a rabbinic quote about wealth and possessions that I've never really understood. It reads: "There are four types of person: one who says 'what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours' - this is the average type. One who says 'what is mine is yours and what is yours is mine' - that is an ignoramus. One who says 'what is mine is yours and what is yours is yours' - this is a righteous person. One who says 'what is yours is mine and what is mine is mine' - that person is wicked."

I also don't understand very much about global finances, but it seems to me that our economic wellbeing has been governed by a system - and people - who largely fall into the second category: ignoramuses who say what's yours is mine and what's mine is yours. They pass around large and often imaginary sums of money that don't belong to them and lend it to other people, who then find themselves unable to give it back. Quite what the consequences of this are going to be for our world remains to be seen, but it is already clear that something very dramatic - alarming even - is taking place all around us that could yet have drastic effects on our society and on each of us as individuals.

. . .

And we are seeing also the manifestation of another of nature's cruel aspects: the greed and folly of human nature. A society built on the acquisition of material possessions, constructed around the beliefs of those who tell us that it is possible to buy now and pay later; that what's theirs is ours and what's ours is theirs - but please can they have what's theirs back now. But we can't give it back because it was never ours in the first place.

What we do have, and what we need to rediscover, are the values of community - social capital - that have underpinned human development throughout the ages, even as our greedy economic system has run away with itself and carried us along with it in more recent times. As our human nature has driven us to seek the acquisition of ever-greater quantities of riches and possessions, so it has blinded us to the more profound qualities that are available to us. "Who is wealthy?" ask those same rabbis who might now be shaking their heads at the folly of an economic system run by ignoramuses. "Someone who is satisfied with what they have," is their reply.

Read it all here.


Homeless numbers rise

USA Today reports an alarming rise in the numbers of homeless especially families.

More families with children are becoming homeless as they face mounting economic pressures, including mortgage foreclosures, according to a USA TODAY survey of a dozen of the largest cities in the nation.
Local authorities say the number of families seeking help has risen in Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Minneapolis, New York, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle and Washington.

"Everywhere I go, I hear there is an increase" in the need for housing aid, especially for families, says Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates federal programs. He says the main causes are job losses and foreclosures.


Read it here

Supporting a right to food

The Anglican Journal reports on a conference linking the right to food with trade and investment:

Earthquakes, floods, rocketing food prices and bank failures are issues consuming the early part of the 21st century, and have led religious groups and civil society organizations, as well as high ranking United Nations and World Trade Organization (WTO) officials, to meet and discuss their impact in Geneva on Nov. 24 to 25.

The Geneva-based Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) said on Nov. 21 it was one of the organizers of the conference, which would focus on finding ways to conduct trade and investment that support the right of all people to food. The alliance is one of the increasing efforts by church or religious-backed organizations to engage with the inter-linked food, climate, trade and financial systems that are said to aid or stymie human development.

The EAA said it was an initiator of the Geneva conference, along with other civil society organizations from around the world. Olivier de Schutter, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, and Pascal Lamy, the director general of the WTO, are expected to address the conference.

The conference aims to bring together different constituencies that work on agriculture, trade and human rights in order to deepen understanding of the impact of trade and investment on the right to food. The gathering will explore the impact of climate change, agro-fuels and the recent food and financial crises.It will also seek to develop new approaches to trade and investment that emphasize human rights.


Read more here.

Hunger increasing

PBS program Religion and Ethics features an interview with President of Bread for the World, the Rev. David Beckham:

KIM LAWTON, guest anchor: As President-elect Barack Obama put his economic team together this week, there were more signs of the magnitude of the financial crisis across the globe. According to a new report from the Christian anti-hunger group, Bread for the World Institute, the number of people who are living in extreme poverty has increased by 100 million in less than two years. And the number of hungry people has increased by more than 75 million. The report said the world is facing a hunger challenge unlike anything seen in the past 50 years. And it called on Congress and the new Administration to revamp U.S. foreign assistance in order to more effectively reduce global poverty and hunger.

Joining [Lawton] is Reverend David Beckmann, president of the Bread for the World.

David, it seems like we hear all the time reports about hunger and how it’s on the rise. What makes this year different?

Reverend DAVID BECKMANN (President, Bread for the World Institute): Well, actually the world’s been making progress against hunger. Over the last several decades, the proportion of the world’s people who are undernourished has been coming down steadily. But the economy that’s been hurting a lot of us is also doing a lot of damage among poor people around the world. So, over the last several years, we’ve seen an increase in world hunger of 75 million people. So, the widow in Mauritania who used to eat two meals of sorghum a day, she’s now eating one meal of sorghum soup.

LAWTON: And even in the U.S., we’re hearing reports that hunger is on the rise here as well?

Rev. BECKMANN: Absolutely. The economy is really tough on poor and hungry people. In on own country, you can go to the nearest food pantry — they’ll tell you. The government’s just coming out with data on hunger in 2007. So we know that last year, the number of hungry children increased by 50 percent. And that’s before the economy got really bad.

LAWTON: You all make the case for more foreign assistance or better foreign aid. Is that a hard sell in a time when people are really concerned about the situation here? You know, is it hard to say, “We need to help people overseas,” when they’re worried about, you know domestic hunger?

Rev. BECKMANN: I’m encouraged. We did a poll of voters on Election Day and 70 percent of American voters said they would like our government to spend more money to deal with the global hunger crisis. I think people know it’s the right thing to do. Certainly when we celebrate Thanksgiving we’re reminded of that. I think we also know it’s not smart to neglect misery in far-off places. And we’ve seen how the whole global economy is interconnected. So it’s good for our economy to pay attention to the global dimensions of development. Bread for the World’s members are churches across the country — are campaigning to make foreign assistance more effective. We think in a time like this we’ve got to make sure that our foreign aid is just as effective as it can be, and that more of the aid is getting to people who are struggling to overcome hunger and poverty.


Watch the interview and read it here.

What is your food pantry experiencing?

Financial crisis hits churches

Churches around the country are discussing how the economic news in the US and around the world will affect giving to the local church and in turn the dioceses and national organizations. Although endowments can fill in the gaps in bad years, how will a long term recession affect the ability to carry on ministries. Many turn to the church in hard times for direct assistance, for spiritual and emotional support, increasing demands on leadership. See previous story in The Lead.

The Boston Globe reports:

The next few weeks, between Thanksgiving and New Year's, will be a key indicator of how dramatically the nation's financial crisis will affect religious organizations. Contributions to date have been stable or up for many denominations and congregations, but this period is the high season for American philanthropy, in part because people are motivated by the spirit of Christmas to be charitable, and in part because people are try ing to amass tax deductions as the year closes.

"Seventy percent of our budget comes in December, so we live by faith, or by hope," said the Rev. Jim Antal, president of the Massachusetts conference of the United Church of Christ, which is the state's largest Protestant denomination. Antal has summoned all clergy to a January gathering for a brainstorming session about pastoring congregations during a downturn. "I can't tell you what's going to happen," he said.
....
Multiple congregations and denominations are planning for things to get worse. Jewish synagogues are reviving congregation-based job networks that were last used during the real estate recession of the early 1990s, and the Episcopal Church is setting aside money to help congregations that get into trouble.

Many organizations are also already cutting. The Catholic Diocese of Worcester has imposed new restrictions on building projects. The Unitarian Universalist Association has put off planned maintenance work on its Beacon Hill headquarters. The Archdiocese of Boston has been steadily cutting staff. The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has cut staff and spending. And religious colleges are cutting too, including, most recently, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, an evangelical institution on the North Shore that announced Monday it was laying off employees and reducing spending.


Read the article here.

Michigan Lutheran and Episcopal Bishops issue statement

The Michigan Liberal reports that the Bishops of the Episcopal dioceses and the ELCA Synods of Michigan have together issued a statement about the crisis in the automobile industry.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Michigan is suffering from the impact of the deepening economic crisis. Our churches are places of solace and assistance for people affected by this situation, and we see so many in need. Already reeling under the strain of 9.3 percent unemployment rate--the nation's highest--the uncertainty of the future of the Detroit Big Three is devastating for our state.

As Christians we are often referred to as communities of hope. It is with that hope, grounded in our faith, that we see this crisis as an opportunity to move forward. We support the strengthening of our economy and the auto industry for the short and long term and ensuring justice for workers who have for so long been the cornerstone of our nation's economic engine.

According to a recent study by the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Michigan, it is not just the auto workers who would be impacted by a contraction of the Detroit Big Three. As many as 790,000 workers in the manufacturing supply chain across the country could lose their jobs. These losses would only further amplify the economic crisis both here in the United States and around the world affecting workers in every sector of the economy.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

Now is not the time for our country to continue walking on the other side of the road, ignoring the plight of our economically battered-workers. This is the time to reach out as the Good Samaritan did to care for another even at our own expense.

When Congress considers its options for action, we hope that they focus on ensuring a path that benefits the most workers possible and securing both the short and long term success of the auto industry by not using funds already dedicated to helping the industry retool for better environmental efficiency.

There are hard decisions to be made, but we hope that any assistance given to the automakers will attempt to balance the immediate needs of workers with the long term viability of our economy by concentrating on long term stability through restructuring and on the strength of the company as a whole.

While our nation's decision makers labor to chart the right course for the economy, our churches continue to do what we are called to do always - minister to those in need and pray for both those in need and those making the hard decisions about our nation's future. We commend your prayers and action in this matter.

Faithfully,

Bishop Robert Gepert, Diocese of Western MI

Bishop Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr., Diocese of MI

Bishop Todd Ousley, Diocese of Eastern MI

Ms Linda Piper, Chair, Standing Committee, Diocese of Northern MI

Bishop Kenneth Olsen, Southeast MI Synod

Bishop John Schleicher, North/West Lower MI Synod

Bishop Thomas Skrenes, Northern Great Lakes Synod

Read it here.

Economists ponder Christmas gift-giving

A roundup of economists blogging on Christmas gift-giving:

Are men or women more tolerant of inappropriate gifts?

Christmas Signaling - What do our gifts say?

Weak Social Theories - Modeling gift giving without giving too much away

The Point of Tipping? - How to tip the newspaper deliverer

Markets in everything: Boxing Day edition - How to allocate seats for the holiday family dinner

Non-Sequitur of the Day - Should the government use gift cards to stimulate the economy?

Our Daily Bleg: What Do You Get an Economist?

Advice for the Generous - Greg Mankiw receives advice on worthy charities

The Potlatch Scandal: Busted for Generosity (see, also, the critical comments)

Churches and ministries adjust as donations fall

Faced with substantial declines in fourth-quarter giving by parishioners, many churches and faith-based organizations have been forced to curb their spending and outreach programs, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

A new study from the Barna Group, a consultancy in Ventura, California, found that during the past three months, one out of every five households had cut its faith-based giving. As a result, churches could see donations decline by as much as $5 billion and revenue by as much as 6 percent during the fourth quarter of the year. "The enemy of charitable giving is insecurity," said Paul G. Schervish, professor of sociology and director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College. "Right now, we can't even project the end of the recession, like we did other recessions."

The number of religious groups in trouble is growing. Focus on the Family, a faith-based organization in Colorado with a $5 million deficit, laid off more than two hundred workers in November, while Seventh Day Adventist Church leaders have instituted a wage freeze and a 20 percent reduction in travel. Elsewhere, falling donations recently forced the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh to hold a "special collection" for Catholic Charities in response to a 40 percent increase in calls to the agency's emergency assistance program.

See the complete Philanthropy News Digest report here.

Tough times and a turn to God

From the Montclair (NJ) Times:

Parishioners sometimes come up to the Rev. John Perris after Sunday worship and pull him aside.

"I need to have a conversation with you. I have started to cut back," they’ll say.

"Not everybody will tell me that they lost their job," said Perris, pastor at St. James Episcopal Church on Valley Road. "But whether the economy is awful, or when there are other things happening, people are still coming to church."

The neo-Thoreuvians

It turns out that foresaking material possesions is as likely to turn you into a crank as a saint, writes Michael Agger in a book review for Mother Jones magazine.

I don't mean to throw cold water on earnest self-improvement. But maybe we should set about such tasks in a way that doesn't reek of personal branding. Thoreau, after all, left the cabin behind, which earned the respect of Robert Louis Stevenson: "When he had enough of that kind of life, he showed the same simplicity in giving it up as in beginning it. There are some who could have done one, but, vanity forbidding, not the other; and that is perhaps the story of hermits; but Thoreau made no fetish of his own example." While that doesn't mean not writing a book, it may mean not letting the rigor of your experiment get in the way of the lessons.

The theology of enough

John Madeley, an economic journalist and former lay member of the General Synod of the Church of England, suggests in the Guardian group blog Comment is Free that the recession is a good time to think theologically about how much is enough:

Time to revisit John Taylor's classic work Enough is Enough, and to look at recession from a wider perspective. In this book Taylor develops the theology of enough. The dream of the Biblical Hebrew people, he points out, is summed up in the word shalom, "something much broader than peace, the harmony of a caring community, informed at every point by its awareness of God".

"At every point" is a key phrase. It speaks of a "wholeness that is complete because every aspect of life is included", says Taylor. Economically and socially, the dream of shalom finds expression in the theology of enough, he adds: "There are many reference in the Old Testament to covetousness and greed ... ordinary covetousness is simply a persistent longing for something that isn't yours."

In the New Testament, a word that is commonly translated as covetousness, pleonexia, means excess or wanting more and more, says Bishop Taylor. Mark's gospel speaks of greed as an evil which makes a person unclean. In Colossians, Paul urges that greed be "put to death". He warns in Ephesians that no greedy person "has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God".

Read it all here.

Making money doing good

The Vestergaard-Frandsen Company, in Denmark, has found solving health problems and making products for the world's poorest and most unhealthy places can both save lives and make good business sense. The New York Times reports:

There are plenty of charitable foundations and public agencies devoted to helping the world’s poor, many with instantly recognizable names like Unicef or the Gates Foundation.

Read more »

A prayer for rich and poor in the current globlal crisis

By Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane

Dear God,

The crises that have overtaken the world in the recent past and which continue to rain havoc upon your people reveal how much lies in the realm of what we don’t know. Suddenly, it has dawned upon us that so much is hidden from the human mind. But we know that what is hidden from us is not hidden from you. We know also that you reveal secrets to those who seek you and acknowledge their limitations in always finding the correct solutions.

And so we pray that you raise leaders that are prepared to right the many wrongs that have beset us for so long, so that good may prevail over evil; equity over selfishness; integrity over hypocrisy; and fair play over greed and recklessness.

As the crises intensify, those who have will be tempted to hold on to what they have, become less generous and ignore even more the realities of the weak and vulnerable. So we pray that you do not lead them into that temptation but deliver them from their selfish tendencies and endow them with changed attitudes and new lenses through which to view the world. This way they may come to the realization that they are only stewards of the resources you have given to us. Unless they put these resources to the service of others, their accumulated value becomes corrupted, rusts and fades, ultimately losing much, if not all, their luster and market value at the stock exchange, in a twinkling of an eye. Dear God, we have seen it all happen before our very eyes.

We also pray that while the so-called ‘perfect storm’ rages on, the spirit of Ubuntu will prevail. You have taught us that true religion is to care for the widows and the orphans and all who are weak, vulnerable and in distress; who eke out a precarious living and barely survive. Through these crises you have focused attention on their plight by, in a strange way, threatening the complacency of those who have lived in comfort and by and large ignored the plight of the man, woman and child “who has fallen by the wayside”. As in the story of the ‘Good Samaritan’, they have passed by on the other side when children slept hungry, fed from rubbish heaps or died of malaria. Occasionally they have thrown a few alms in the form of aid, but without thinking deeply about the consequences of their actions or inactions. Often, they have hardly bothered to know how much of what they have given reaches the intended beneficiaries, which in the donor world, has become “holy ground”.

The gap between what is promised and what is given and that between inputs and outcomes, like the gap between the rich and the poor, is always widening. This is against your laws of love, kindness, justice and equity and our African spirit of Ubuntu.

Through these crises the plight of the over 1 billion people who live in exclusion, poverty and hunger and whose dignity is on the rocks has become a near-reality for those who live and pass on “the other side” in relative comfort and luxury. We pray, not that you take away this comfort completely, but that the lessons of the global meltdown may lead to a return to solidarity and the spirit of sharing for both the local and global community.

So we pray. Amen

Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane is the President and Founder of the African Monitor and former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.

Churches start giving financial advice

With the downturn in the economy people are struggling to learn how to manage their finances in a new and difficult setting. A somewhat surprising turn of events has significant numbers turning to their local churches to find support and advice.

CNN is reporting:

"Programs that teach debt elimination, financial literacy and money management are gaining popularity among the faithful who are seeking some stability in the midst of uncertain times.

[...]Khalfani-Cox, who provides [such a] program free for churches, said she is hearing from places of worship, both big and small, nationwide who want to offer resources to their members.

'In faith-based communities, if you ask pastors across the country, many will tell you that attendance is up; however donations are down,' said Khalfani-Cox, who is known as the Money Coach. 'People are turning to the church for help, whether it's help making their mortgage payment, putting in a prayer request, assistance in finding a job or just getting practical, day-to-day strategies for managing debt.'"

Read the full article here.

Is your local congregation using these sorts of programs to help folks who are suddenly struggling? (Ours is one of a number here in Phoenix so doing.) How has the response effectiveness been so far for you?

What's Jesus got to do with it?

From Politico:

After watching liberal allies of President Barack Obama flood the airwaves in support of the stimulus bill, a conservative third-party group is countering with a provocative new commercial using Jesus Christ to emphasize the scale of the $787 billion package.

The American Issues Project, which briefly aired a TV spot in last year's presidential race, will go up on Friday with a TV spot that marks the dollars spent with the passage of time.

“Suppose you spent $1 million every single day starting from the day Jesus was born — and kept spending through today,” says the announcer as an image of the three wise men flashes on the screen. “A million dollars a day for more than 2,000 years. You would still have spent less money than Congress just did.”

The Washington Monthly is amused.

Ethical lending helps some of those facing foreclosure

ABC News:

At the last minute, Moore found Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago and counselor Sandra Wells. "She told me 'I want to keep my house,'" Wells said, sitting in the home she helped save, "and that's all I needed to hear."

Read more »

The case against thrift

Judith Levine writes in Salon:

Mildred in Minneapolis calls in to offer pointers on buying food in dented cans, along with homeopathic cures for botulism. Betsy in Boston says she boils and reuses her dental floss. Norbert, outside Nome, Alaska, reaches the radio station by solar-powered Web phone to boast that he’s been boiling his floss since 1977. Tran, a Buddhist in Aspen, Colo., warns of the dangers of attachment.

And then the host, who today is focusing on personal economies during the recession, turns to me: "Isn't this all a blessing in disguise, Judith? Haven't we lost our way, and aren't we now discovering new, and better, values?" I'm getting such questions regularly these days; my 2006 book, "Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping," has unexpectedly made me an oracle.

Well, yes, sort of, I stammer. But, uh, actually, no. On one hand, who can argue that the grow-grow-growth consumer economy is outgrowing the limits not just of our bank accounts but also our finite Earth? Part of me is ecstatic to wave goodbye to the $20 martini and the 20,000-square-foot house.

And then there is the other hand.....

Church foreclosure rate rising

Young congregations are struggling across this country as their physical plant's construction debt, created when the economy was booming, is suddenly becoming a major drag on their ability to provide the programs that were fueling their growth.

According to this AP article:

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Offering "meat" for the Bishops' Pastoral Letter on the Economy

Terry Martin, Evangelism Officer for the Episcopal Church, follows up on the Bishops' Pastoral Letter. He offers some "meat" for the thoughts contained in the bishops' letter:

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Churches that default and those that don't

When the headlines trumpet the news of a church being foreclosed upon, it is something of a man-bites-dog story because it is so rare. Closer scrutiny shows that how a local parish is organized, their connection (or not) to a denomination, and their theology can be predictors as to which churches might fall into debt trouble.

Daniel Burke of the Religion News Service looked into churches that default and looked for patterns and what they might teach us.

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Can we look forward to a mixed society?

Two Episcopal churches in Del Ray beach lie within three blocks of each other, one white, one black. But they've barely encountered one another. But that's been changing.

Read more »

Economy prunes pulpit posts

The New York Times reports on the lack of clergy positions for graduating seminarians and the burden of seminarian debt as the economy worsens:

Read more »

Laid-off church workers lack safety net

In a difficult economy, churches suffer the same way that other small businesses do. Income is down in many places and that means that expenses need to be cut. Often that means cutting salary expenses. The problem is that many people who are laid off from church positions are discovering they lack the same safety net that other laid-off workers can count upon.

Read more »

Taking from the offering plate

Tough times call for creative solutions. A Texas congregation has responded to local needs by inviting people who need to do so, to help themselves to the offering plate as it passes by them.

But their generosity hasn't been limited to those who attend Sunday worship:

Read more »

Queen plants vegetables

Following in the footsteps of Michelle Obama, Queen Elizabeth plants a vegetable garden on the grounds of Buckingham Palace. The organic garden shows the royal family's awareness of the state of the economy and the need to combat climate change by using locally grown foods.

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An economist's review of the Pope's Encyclical Letter

The Pope's letter on the economy didn't create a big splash. Perhaps that's because it didn't say anything new. The Archbishop of Canterbury's remarks on the economy at General Convention garnered a similar reaction from the press -- that is, very little.

Tyler Cowen on the Pope's letter:

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Ending usury

Action in Montgomery (AIM) a congregation-based advocacy group in Montgomery County, Maryland, has joined with the 17 other groups in the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation in a campaign to cap credit card interest rates called 10 percent is enough.

Read more »

Micro-finance doubts arise

Micro-finance is a concept which has won its major proponent a Nobel prize. But it comes down to whether it is effective the empirical evidence has been scant. "Until now" writes Chris Blattman:

[D]oes microlending actually deliver on development and poverty alleviation?

Read more »

Religion has its benefits

The prominent economist Angus Deaton has done a new empirical study of the benefits of religion. Freakonomics has the story:

Read more »

Our common life and each other's toil

On Labor Day, we remember those who work.

In the Book of Common Prayer, the following prayer from Compline is appropriate:

O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Episcopal Church does not have an official Labor Sunday, still what Cathleen Falsani writes on God's Politics about what we can do to honor workers is worth acting on every day:

Read more »

Wage theft robs us all

For Labor Day, Religion Dispatches asked if you Want to Love Your Neighbor? RD cites the shocking treatment of workers and violations of fair labor laws:

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Worried about growing income inequality?

Perhaps you shouldn't be:

If inequality has increased substantially since 1993, the increase is confined to income changes for those in the top 1 percent of the distribution.
The very richest are getting richer than the very rich. Worrying about income inequality should be sufficient.

More at Marginal Revolution.

Religious leaders offering input to G-20

Religious leaders told their input is valued
By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Standing in the lobby of a Downtown hotel, a key adviser to the U.S. delegation to the G-20 Summit promised an array of religious leaders that he would carry their concern for the poor into the economic conclave.

Read more »

It's that time of year

It's that time of year. The time when dioceses issue updated clergy compensation guidelines in time for parishes writing their budgets for the coming year.

So why do clergy tend to be paid so much less than accountants? Is the answer that we value mammon over God? The economist Robert Whaples answers the question for his students:

Read more »

Romer walks the line between crazy and revolutionary

The economist Paul Romer walked away from a tenured position at Stanford to promote his idea of charter cities. He was recently interviewed by Freakonomics Blog:

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WWJD...about capitalism? asks Michael Moore

Michael Moore Asks the Question: What Would Jesus Do...About Capitalism?

By: Paul Raushenbush writing in his BeliefNet blog

Read more »

Micro insurance for developing countries

The Anglican Health Network (AHN) is using the network of Anglican churches, health programs and hospitals to create a micro-insurance program covering the health needs of people in developing countries. Oxfam America is experimenting with a crop insurance program for hundreds of farmers in Tigray Province in northern Ethiopia.

Read more »

Child labor and unintended consequences

Should I participate in boycotting countries that allow child labor? Economists Matthias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti say think before jumping to the obvious answer:

Read more »

Diocese of Sydney:
how to turn 160M into 44M

Anglican Church board failed on risk plan

From FaithfulNews.com of Australia

Phil Shirriff, chairman of the Glebe Administration Board, issued an apology to the diocese's annual synod for investment decisions that saw $160 million wiped from the value of the Sydney diocese endowment fund.

Read more »

Giving stays steady or increases in 2/3 of churches

The impact of the recession on churches in a variety of denominations is reported in a new study from the Alban Institute.

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Entrepreneurial spirits offer solutions to the religious

The swine flu scare has religions rethinking religious practices. Entrepreneurs see a market:

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God is a capitalist, bankers claim

Bloomberg, the financial news service is the unsurprising source of this story:

Barclays Plc Chief Executive Officer John Varley stood at the wooden lectern in St. Martin-in-the- Fields on London’s Trafalgar Square last night and told the packed pews of the church that “profit is not satanic.”

Read more »

And we do it for free...

Does this business have a prayer? asks AOL small business site:

Read more »

Archbishop of York praises Nestlé for Fair Trade Kit Kat

The Archbishop of York welcomes the Nestlé introduction of its Fair Trade Kit Kat bar.

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Why pay clergy?

Alban Institute discusses the issue of clergy salaries and what clergy do to earn their keep.

Read more »

Department of oops

Wall Street Journal reporting from India:

One lender, who wished to remain anonymous because his business is unregistered, gives borrowers short-term, collateral-free loans "as quickly as an ATM gives money," he boasts. Interest sometimes has to be paid on a daily basis and works out to an annual rate of 48%. The poor use his loans as a stopgap when they can't make their weekly microfinance repayments because their income was less than expected, he says.

Read more »

Naughty or nice?

James:

Has anyone calculated the economic value of people being nice?

Read more »

A moral case for financial reform

Writing for The Washington Post, John Gehring of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good says:

Read more »

Blue norms v. Red norms

It used to be true that shotgun marriages worked out just fine -- you could do well with no more than a high school education. No more. Jonathan Rauch explains the gist of Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture (Oxford University Press) by Naomi Cahn and June Carbone:

Read more »

Does immigration cost jobs?

FactCheck.org takes on the question of whether or not immigrants take U.S. jobs:

Read more »

No-fault divorce benefits women

New York just became the last state to adopt no-fault divorce, or, as Betsey Stephenson and Justin Wolfers prefer to call it, unilateral divorce. The pair have done extensive research in the area:

Read more »

A web site on faith and finance from St. Paul's, London

The Saint Paul's Institute at Saint Paul's Cathedral in London has launched an intriguing new web site that "seeks to foster an informed Christian response to the most urgent ethical and spiritual issues of our times: financial integrity, economic theory, and the meaning of the common good."

Read more »

Meaning afresh as Louisiana boats are ritually blessed

It is perhaps only more evidence for why we need ritual in our lives: that act of doing something one has done before, but, even though it's the same thing, being able to see it as one never has before.

Read more »

Millworker

A song for Labor Day from James Taylor, written for Working, a musical based on the book of the same name by Studs Turkel.

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The United States of Inequality

http://www.slate.com/id/2266025/entry/0/My friend Tim Noah of Slate has written a ten-part series on rising levels of income inequality in the United States. In the final part he asks whether income inequality is actually a bad thing, and concludes that at current levels, it is:

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Connecting the Nobel prize in economics to (mis)placement of priests

Messyeconomics is what Ezra Klein calls it. The economists sharing this year's Nobel prize won for their work on how the process of matching of workers to jobs can explain why high unemployment can be high while at the same time there are new hires. Their key insight is that neither workers nor jobs are homogeneous.

Read more »

Income inequality: too big to ignore

Robert H. Frank, economics professor at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, wonders in The New York Times why economists don't have much to say about the morality of the huge disparity in income levels in this country:

Read more »

Climate change and the importance of educating girls

A pair of climate change experts have discovered two less costly carbon-reducing options to alternative fuels, carbon storage, and forest conservation. $1 million on a combination family planning and girls education results in 250,000 tons of CO2 abatement. Of the other alternatives the best was reducing slash and burn of forests where $1 million spent results in a savings of 66,667 tons of CO2. Not considered in the list are cap and trade or taxes on carbon emissions.

Read more »

Balancing the budget on the backs of the poor

The leadership of the United Kingdom has decided to deal with its economic woes by enacting a series of substantial budgetary cuts in an effort to restart its economy by slowing the government's deficit spending. The Archbishop of Canterbury is warning the nation, and specifically the Prime Minister that balancing the budget by reducing services to the needy is "not fair" and probably (to use an American expression) half-cocked.

Read more »

How churches can navigate a tough economy


10 Steps for Churches to Navigate Tough Economy
By Steve McSwain in EthicsDaily.com

Read more »

Churches respond to recession

The recession is causing churches to respond by cutting budgets, programs and staff while the need for parishioners and neighbors increases. How is your church responding to changing economic times?

Read more »

More church-located businesses on the horizon?

From a recent Church of England communication:

A five-way partnership has today published guidance for churches interested in hosting community shops on their premises - The Guidelines and Best Practice for the Provision of Community Shops in Churches and Chapels.

Read more »

The morality of income inequality

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman writes:

Read more »

Sewanee reduces tuition by 10%

The University of the South - Sewanee has announced that they will reduce their tuition by 10%. View the two videos below to hear more about their rationale and decision:

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Methodist president to live on $1.63 per day

Churchmouse reports on the Live Below the Line campaign:

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Balancing the budget on the backs of the poor

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that:

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No country for the poor

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz explains a few of the reasons that income, power and opportunity flow primarily to the most privileged people in our country:

Read more »

Free riders in the sky

Many businesses and retailers have discovered that discount coupons that may get people into stores does not always translate into repeat business if no discount or freebie is involved. Churches don't offer coupons or giveaways, but have the same problem: people who use their services but do not support their ministries financially.

Read more »

Clergy, steal some sheep

From the HBR Daily Stat:

Financial incentives have a significant impact on ministers' efforts and their levels of service to parishioners, according to a study ... that looked at more than 2,000 Methodist pastors in Oklahoma.

Read more »

Debt, the economy and the church

Many in our churches are fearful when they hear the debt discussions and the seeming inability of Congress to move to a solution from their partisan politics. Those on fixed incomes, Social Security, military and government pensions fear that they will not receive any income for months. What are the consequences for our churches? How can we preach a message of "perfect love casts out fear"? This coming Sunday we hear the story of the feeding of the multitudes and Isaiah's vision of God's reign. Is our diet fear or abundance?

Read more »

Debt-limit legislation passes House and Senate

As the House and Senate pass the debt-limit bill and the President signs it, discussions continue as to who showed the most leadership and which party had concern for the most vulnerable in US society.

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Examining questions of growth on the brink of another crisis

Despite initial skepticism, the Rev. Andrew Studdert-Kennedy has come to believe that long-term economic growth is both sustainable and desirable. The Rev. Giles Fraser is not so sure.

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Study says the rich are less empathetic than the poor

If you have been following the political debate in Washington and Iowa, you might already have arrived at the same conclusion as a study featured in The New York Times.

Read more »

RC priests call for expanded leadership

Bosco Peters, on his Liturgy blog, reports of a growing trend of Roman Catholic priests to vocally call for change in leadership restrictions in spite of the consequences.

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Census Bureau report: Poverty, Income and Health Insurance

The US Census Bureau has released the latest income, poverty and health insurance statistics.

Read more »

Is "Christian capitalism" Christian?

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, writing in the Washington Post, discusses "Christian capitalism." Is it Christian? Is it an oxymoron?
Read it all here.

h/t to Susan Russell

Read more »

God and the global markets

Is God to blame for the global market meltdown? Charles Kenny writing in Foreign Policy magazine looks at the current discussion of God's involvement in economics and the "prosperity gospel:"

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Ministry and community banking

What might be the relationship of ministry and community banking? This piece from Duke's "Faith and Leadership" blog explores this question about community banking in Durham, NC.

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Occupy Everywhere

A student at Episcopal Divinity School is quote in this story about Occupy Boston, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street sit in the financial district of New York City.

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Religious leaders comment on Occupy Wall Street

UPDATED: 11:00 a.m. EDT

Religious leaders have begun commenting on the nature of the protests occurring in NYC and around the U.S. Tom Beaudoin, Harvey Cox and Cornell West add their thoughts:

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Occupy Wall Street: Feels like church

Marisa Egerstrom, an Episcopalian, Ph.D. candidate studying American religious history at Harvard University, a member of the Boston-based group Protest Chaplains, and has been involved in the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York and Boston writes at CNN that the Occupy Wall Street "feels like church."

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Clergy retire later, work longer

David Briggs, writing in the Huffington Post, says that clergy are retiring later and working longer for the same reason as the rest of the workforce--they can't afford it.

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The future of work is insight

Rich Lesser says on Big Think that “There is a knowledge revolution [going] on.” The question is what will we do with what we know? How do make meaning out of the knowledge at hand? How do we cultivate the insight that will drive our use of the incredible volume of information available to us?

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The discipline of failure

Scott Benhase, Bishop of Georgia, suggests that congregations cannot succeed until they learn how to risk failure and learn from it.

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Vatican calls for global economy oversight

The Vatican is calling for global oversight of world economy and overhaul of financial systems according to Laurie Goodstein, in The New York Times:

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Smash the idols of high finance?

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote an article in The Financial Times (UK) urging us to challenge the idols of high finance:

Time for us to challenge the idols of high finance
An article by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, published in The Financial Times newspaper

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Mopping up the St. Paul's Cathedral mess

The Bishop of London and St. Paul's Cathedral try to mop up the mess:

St Paul's seeks new direction and suspends legal action
Bishop of London backs away from further confrontation, recalling that the cathedral had been a 'symbol of freedom'

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St. Paul's releases briefly suppressed reports on bankers' attitudes

The Saint Paul's Institute has released a report on the attitudes of London's bankers on the ethical dimensions of their work. The report was briefly suppressed amidst the standoff between St. Paul's Cathedral--of which the institute is a ministry--and OccupyLondon protestors camped out in front of the cathedral.

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Bishop Robinson: OWS isn't anti-capitalist, Wall Street is

Updated: Bishop Robinson will be on the Rachel Maddow Show tonight at about 9:45 p. m., talking about Occupy Wall Street.

Bishop Gene Robinson says that the protestors occupying Wall Street aren't anti-capitalist. Rather, they are protesting the ways in which the capitalist system is corrupted by the financial industry.

Read more »

Nuns use their shareholder status to confront corporations

Shareholder activism is the conscience of corporations according to the New York Times

... Sister Nora Nash of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. ... the slight, soft-spoken nun had a few not-so-humble suggestions for the world’s most powerful investment bank.

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HoB chaplain cites faith in backing Occupy Boston

The Rev. Stephanie Spellers, priest to The Crossing, the emergent worship congregation at St. Paul's Cathedral in Boston, and chaplain to the House of Bishops, gave the keynote address at the Diocese of Chicago's convention on Friday. Here, she speaks about why she supports OccupyBoston.

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Trinity v. Occupy hits front page of The New York Times

The New York Times today carries a front page story by Matt Flegenheimer on the impasse between Occupy Wall Street and Trinity Wall Street.

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The Rev. John Merz, Occupy-arrestee, writes his bishop

Updated at bottom with Bishop George Packard's latest blog entry.

The Rev. John Merz, priest in charge at Ascension, Brooklyn has written a letter to his bishop, the Rt. Rev. Larry Provenzano, and it has been posted on the website of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.

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Giles Fraser looks back without anger

The Guardian profiles the Rev. Canon Giles Fraser, who resigned as canon chancellor at St. Paul's Cathedral in London rather than be part of the team that assented to a once-planned, but since-dealyed police action against Occupy London.

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Responsible finance, economic justice and churches

Ekklesia offers a discussion paper on responsible finance, economic justice and the role of the church. From the abstract of the paper:

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Christians to form ring of prayer around Occupy London camp

UPDATE: St. Paul's joins effort to oust protesters while others form ring of prayer. From Ekklesia:

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Mitt Romney and the "safety net"

Mitt Romney recent quote that he is "not concerned about the very poor" has already been used in all sorts of ways, sometimes unfairly.

The actual quote in context was:

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Using our money as if God was watching

Tithing is generally understood as giving back for God's work ten percent of one's income? But what counts as income? Net income? Gross income? Do you count employee deduction to the United Way as part of one's tithe or separate? Our first impulse is write rules defining what income is.

That's what the IRS does.

Read more »

Goldman Sachs and the shaming sermon

Greg Smith, formerly of the investment securities and investment firm Goldman Sachs, left a burning sermon of resignation in the pulpit at the New York Times yesterday. Today it's still smoking.

Lamenting the culture shift at Goldman, Smith channeled his inner Jerry Maguire, writing about how...

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Bear market in God

Business Insider notes that construction spending on religious institutions is "Off the cliff."

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Unholy Mess: churches and finance

The Economistreports findings about the finances of the Roman Catholic Church:

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Is Apple a "sin stock?"

Forbes magazine asks a Jesuit priest, a techie, and a stock analyst if investing in Apple might support an immoral corporation.

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Where do you fall on the "world wage scale?

The BBC's News Magazine asks: If there were no rich and poor, and everyone had an equal share of the world's total pay packet, how much would they earn?

You can find out where you fall on the world wage scale.

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Church of England says bankers should repent role in financial crisis

Think Progress reports that the Church of England wants bankers to repent of their role in the financial crisis:

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Economics Nobel for saving lives

This year's Nobel prize in economics went to Al Roth and Lloyd Shapley for their work on markets without prices and the application of that work to real world problems.

The most significant application is Roth's work on kidney-exchanges. Society finds the buying and selling of kidneys as repugnant and prohibits it. Yet transplants save lives, and people die for lack of a willing donor.

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How much is enough?

Gary Gutting writes:

Is capitalism an enemy of the good life? Marxists and other radicals think so. Toward the end of How Much Is Enough?, Robert and Edward Skidelsky (an economist father and his philosopher son) quote one such thinker:

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Economic inequality, one of MLK's main concerns, is still with us

Martin Luther King, Jr., whom we celebrate tomorrow, died before he could lead the Poor People's Campaign. Forty-five years later, poverty continues to flourish in our wealthy nation.

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Wealth inequality: a tutorial

A few figures from this short film on wealth inequality:

The top one percent own half the country's stocks, bonds and mutual funds.

The bottom 50 percent of Americans own only half a percent.

The average worker earns in a month what the CEO earns in an hour.

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The "college premium" is driving income inequality

Timothy Noah, author of The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis And What We Can Do About It says factors that have enriched the top one percent of Americans, sometimes at the expense of the other 99 percent, constitute only half of the story of income inequality in the United States. Writing in The New York Times, Noah points out that p

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Advanced economies mean less food deprivation, except in the USA

The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project says a country with an advanced economy will also have less food deprivation. Except in the United States, which has the richest economy but where, according to the survey, 24% of Americans have trouble putting food on the table.

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Does charitable giving help the poor?

Dylan Matthews looks at charitable giving in the US and finds that only a third of all giving actually goes to the poor.

It's not just that the only people who itemize on their tax returns get to deduct their charitable giving, it's that most of the actual dollars go to people who are not poor.

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"Poverty is what makes the rich rich"

This formally inventive documentary traces "the history of poverty." Credible and delightful, it is an hour long, but worth your time. It suggests that poverty is defended on moral terms as the engine of the economic system: it is want that makes people work.

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How much inequality is too much inequality?

From Why Poverty?:

740 Park Ave, New York City, is home to some of the wealthiest Americans. Across the Harlem River, 10 minutes to the north, is the other Park Avenue in South Bronx, where more than half the population needs food stamps and children are 20 times more likely to be killed.

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Give us the money

A documentary from Why Poverty? on the efforts of Bob Geldoff and Bono to reduce global poverty. What did the accomplish? What did they do wrong?

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Income inequality: how it happened, what it costs, how to fix it

The Economic Policy Institute has come up with a handy click-thru animation on income inequality--how it happened, what it costs you personally, and how to fix it.

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A homeless man and his BlackBerry

Kat Ascharya writes a powerful article for Monildia on Mashable on our assumptions about homelessness and what we think people should have and not have:

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The UCC to divest fossil fuels stocks. Should the Episcopal Church?

The United Church of Christ has decided to divest itself of fossil fuels stocks or else retain those that meet certain standards.

The New York Times reports:

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Who owns Africa? A film from Why Poverty?

Sixty percent of the available arable land in the world is in Africa. But African leaders are caught between a desire to attract investment and the need to feed their people. Here's another excellent documentary from Why Poverty.

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Sequester creates severe hardship for Native Americans

As we seem to have settled into weary stasis regarding the government sequester, former Democratic Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota writes in the New York Times of the unjust hardship this has created for Native Americans. He contends that Indian country should be immediately exempted from the impact of sequestration:

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We've come for your car

A six minute video from Why Poverty:

What would you do if someone knocked on your door and said they'd come to take away your car?

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Nothing new under the sun

Luigi Pascali, an economist at the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics, says that history suggests that Archbishop Welby's call to drive pawnbrokers out of business by setting up competing church-based credit unions might be the right approach.

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The company that lives together is productive together

Enplug is an advertising-technology company whose office is a six-bedroom, three-bathroom Ranch-style home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. Twelve of the company's 37 employees, including the chief executive, live and work there—24 hours a day, seven days a week—without the commute and few outside distractions.

Is this a kind of secular monastic community?

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Churches launch campaign for garment workers in Bangladesh

A campaign to support Bangladeshi garment workers will be launched next week by churches around the world and led by the Church of Bangladesh, a part of the Anglican Communion, according to Anglican Communion News Service

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On Labor Day, a sign of hope for working Americans?

"Could this Labor Day mark the comeback of movements for workers’ rights and a turn toward innovation and a new militancy on behalf of wage-earners?" asks E. J. Dionne in his column today in The Washington Post.

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Voice, exit and managed decline

The Ümlaut discusses choices individuals have when they have grievances. While this article uses countries and businesses as a model, many instances come to mind in church as well as the marketplace:

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U.S. failing young adults

A New York Times op-ed is concerned with the high numbers of young adults who cannot find work and live in states that refuse to participate in the ACA insurance program. Because of cut-backs in funding for staffing many cannot get into job training programs and therefore cannot receive food assistance. Low-income childless workers under age 25 are ineligible for earned income tax credits and those over age 25 face income cutoffs and other restrictions

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Thou shalt not kill: the Pope on the economy

The Chicago Tribune reports on a new Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis:

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How should the church respond to Black Friday: a social media conversation

Perhaps it indicates the shallow nature of my faith, but the best ethical reflection I've been part of in the last two years have been social media conversations about Black Friday.

Last year on the The Lead blog here at the Cafe, we began to examine how the church should respond to the commercial bacchanalia that breaks out on the weekend after Thanksgiving and has now gotten its teeth into the holiday itself.

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We are not all in this together. Is that even possible?

The economic interests of the rich and the rest are at odds, writes Shamus Khan in
an op-ed for The New York Times. And since 1979, the interest of the rich have been served. After sketching in the economic background, Khan, an associate professor of sociology writes:

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Commemorating the homeless dead

A number of Episcopal churches participated in services memorializing people who died homeless this year. It isn't clear to me whether these services are coordinated nationally, or if they simply spring up in particular areas. Whatever the case, this is a movement that is ready for its moment.

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Alert to churches: unemployment benefits to expire

A not very happy New Year for many in the U.S. Congress left town to celebrate the holidays and left millions of Americans holding the bag:
Mother Jones

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Making those who are invisible visible

Artist Ramiro Gomez takes images of the good life, and then sketches in the invisible domestic workers who make the good life possible. Recently he spoke about his work with Kinsey Sullivan of Policy Mic.

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Stop stereotyping people who are poor

Archbishop Barry Morgan of the Church in Wales says people need to stand with those who poor and stop the use of stereotypes:

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Wealth inequality

Oxfam has released its latest report on wealth inequality and the rapid growth of poverty and its effects:

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Doomed to poverty? Gates says no

Bill and Melinda Gates refute the arguments that poor countries are destined to remain poor and that the gap between rich and poor will only grow larger. All Africa reports:

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Love on the Deregulated Market

As leading religious figures like Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, continue to advance a global dialogue on wealth inequality, capitalism, and faith in Jesus Christ, Giles Fraser offers a perspective on love in the deregulated marketplace of late modernity. Ahead of Valentine's day, Fraser invites us to consider those who may be without a date:

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Raising Utah's minimum wage

Lawmakers, faith groups, and even some business owners work to raise the Utah minimum wage. From Dennis Romboy's article in the Deseret News:

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Work ethic: Protestant no more

A new study says that the less religious a state's population is, the more productive and entrepreneurial the economy.

On Faith Blog at the Washington Post:

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The effects of income inequality on education and success in 18 charts

"Class haunts people from womb to grave, limiting their ability to flourish and pursue the good life as they define it. Confronted with the reality of our society’s entrenched class system, our national politics in its present state offers three responses. The first response is to deny reality altogether, usually in favor of an anecdote or two. The second is to accept that it exists, but pretend there is nothing you can do about it because those on the bottom are inferior (see Murray, Ryan). And the last response is to note it exists and offer lukewarm solutions that nibble around the margins of the problem without ever doing anything that might actually even things out."

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Equal Pay Day - but not in church

Diana Butler Bass has started a lively conversation at her Facebook page about Equal Pay in the church. Butler Bass writes:

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Toys get cheaper, while paths out of poverty grow more expensive

The Atlantic reports that costs for education, healthcare and childcare have soared, while prices for TVs, phones, DVD players and toys have gone down. Fascinating trend:

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Has the recession made people stingier?

A new report on giving in the recession from National Bureau Economic Research (paywall)

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Is contemporary capitalism compatible with Christianity?

In a Room for Debate column in the New York Times, several leading voices in theology and social ethics discuss the relationship between capitalism in its current form and Christianity.

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Pope Francis: Communists are closet Christians

In a recent interview, Pope Francis commented on the parallels between his social critique and Leninism.
He compared Christianity to communism, and commented that in recent years, communism had stolen "Christianity's flag."

"I can only say that the communists have stolen our flag. The flag of the poor is Christian. Poverty is at the center of the Gospel," he said, citing Biblical passages about the need to help the poor, the sick and the needy.

"Communists say that all this is communism. Sure, twenty centuries later. So when they speak, one can say to them: 'but then you are Christian'," he said, laughing.

Read the whole Reuters article here.

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