Thursday, June 30, 2005

Valid Principles

One of the best ways to evaluate a decision is to test the principle that informed the decision. The best way to test a principle is to apply the principle in as many different circumstances and situations as possible and then determine if the principle is still valid. Sometimes, the more simple the application, the more clear the principle becomes.

For instance, in my previous post I wrote that Fair Trade was unfair because overpaying for one product keeps the price of other products artificially high which hurts both producers and consumers. Now, what would happen if we applied the principle of Fair Trade to another product or industry similiar to what Fair Trade has done to coffee.

Most professional golfers earn less than it costs them to live and/or support a family. While pursuing the dream of someday playing on the PGA Tour, many professional golfers will pay their bills with credit cards. Some will also borrow from family and friends. Most golfers who dream of playing on the PGA Tour will never earn a single penny on the PGA Tour and many will end their career in debt.

Now, if we apply the principle of Fair Trade to professional golf, the correct course of action would be to only support golf tournaments that pay all of the golfers a living wage. Right off the bat, most people would think it ridiculous to pay a golfer just for showing up, but what would happen if we did?

The first thing that would happen is more golfers would want to start playing professionally since they would be paid to show up regardless of the results.

The next thing that would happen is the cost of other products and services would rise because of all the people who are now playing golf and not producing the products and services they produced before we started paying golfers using the Fair Trade approach.

Finally, once the cost of products and services started to rise, we would need to also give all of our golfers a raise since they would not be able to support their family with the living wage we had been paying them before prices went up.

Fair Trade may sound compassionate and therefore the right thing to do. However, Fair Trade will only increase poverty in the developing world because it prevents workers and producers from doing a job or service that is really needed. The reason coffee producers are paid so little is because too many people are producing coffee. A few of the coffee producers need to find another line of work. Perhaps if some of the coffee producers started producing food instead of coffee, the price of food in Latin America would go down along with the rate of poverty.

Another question; should we apply the ONE Campaign principle of forgiving debt to all of the golfers who never earned a penny on the PGA tour?


Capitalism works because capitalism is fair; not perfectly fair as in everyone always gets exactly what they deserve, but still fair as in everyone is responsible for their own results, the benefits of extra effort goes to the person who makes the extra effort, and everyone has some control over the outcome produced by their efforts.

Socialism doesn’t work because socialism is unfair. Results in socialism are not a result of effort or even associated with effort. Socialism rewards the non-producers the same as the producers. Socialism discourages hard work because there is no incentive for one person to work any harder than anyone else.

Within capitalism, there are many socialistic structures. Governments, even in the free world, routinely take from some and give to others which discourages some from working harder and rewards others for not working at all. Employees on a straight salary tend to produce less than employees who get bonuses or employees who are paid piecework because the extra effort of the salaried employee is not rewarded while the extra effort of the piecework employee is rewarded.

Minimum Wage, Fair Trade, Welfare, Farm Subsidies, etc. all seem caring and compassionate on the surface, but the application of these concepts always results in unfair results. At the core of each of these programs is one person deciding what is right for other people.

Minimum Wage laws prevent an employer from hiring a new employee until the employer can pay what the government tells them they must pay. This sometimes results in a ready and willing employee being prevented from being employed by an employer who has a need for a new employee but not enough resources to pay that employee.

Fair Trade, while not a government policy at this point, unfairly rewards some coffee and other producers while penalizing other producers. If coffee producers can not earn a living producing coffee, they should start producing a crop that will allow them to earn a living. By switching from coffee to another crop, the price of coffee will rise as there are less coffee producers, and the price of the alternative crop will decline as there are more producers. Everyone will benefit. By artificially inflating the price of coffee, Fair Trade is preventing some farmers from producing a crop that is the most benefit to the producer and to society as a whole. Farm Subsidies are not any different than Fair Trade. Both are inherently unfair.

Welfare is the worst of all compassionate ideas. Nobody benefits when one person is forced by rule of law to give the results of their effort to another person who is rewarded for withholding effort. Hard work is penalized and laziness is rewarded when a government takes from some and gives to others.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Outsourcing

Who is our neighbor? The family next door, the guy down the street, the people across town, those in other Cities, other States, and other countries are all our neighbors. According to the Christian tradition and the teachings of Christ, everyone is our neighbor without exception.

Outsourcing is the business practice by American Corporations of employing foreign workers instead of American workers. It started decades ago when American manufacturers began building plants in the less developed countries in order to reduce their cost of production. It continues today with manufacturing, but now it also includes white collar workers such as accountants, computer programmers, and call center workers.

Outsourcing hurts the American workers who have their job moved to another country. It helps American consumers who are able to buy more for less and it helps American investors who can usually receive a larger return on investment for a short period of time until competition forces equilibrium between supply and demand.

The labor movement has been quick to denounce outsourcing as evil. Many believers who are sympathetic to labor and opposed to capitalism have jumped on the anti-outsourcing band wagon making the claim that outsourcing is immoral because it hurts people, which is true. But like most things in life, there is another side to the outsourcing story. Outsourcing also helps people. It helps workers in other countries support their families and it helps Americans stretch the dollar a little further.

There is an age old debate within the Christian Church between how much effort, time, and money should be spent on outreach and how much effort, time, and money should be spent on building up the Church. The tension is good because in the end we always end up doing both, even though we have to make compromises in the process.

Outsourcing needs the same kind of tension and the same kind of outcome. We need to do both. We need to support foreign workers and we need to support local and American workers. Some people will only buy the least expensive products and services and some people will only buy American products and services. Hopefully, those two groups will balance each other out and the rest of us should consciously do both. We should be helping all of our neighbors, not just the guy next door.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Tim and Bono

Bono made some sense on Meet the Press Sunday. His full comments are available in the Transcript for June 26.

Selected comments I agree with:

”Yes, there's a lot of pressure on President Bush. If he, though, in his second term, is as bold in his commitments to Africa as he was in the first term, he indeed deserves a place in history in turning the fate of that continent around.”

”This is targeted, focused aid we're talking about now, only given to people who are tackling corruption.”

”This is the number-one problem facing Africa, corruption; not natural calamity, not the AIDS virus. This is the number-one issue and there's no way around it. That's what was so clever about President Bush's Millennium Challenge. It was start-up money for new democracies. It was giving increases of aid flows only to countries that are tackling corruption. That's what's so clever. It's--the implementation of the Millennium Challenge has not happened. It is in trouble. They recognize that. President Bush is embarrassed about that. They're trying to put it right. But the idea, the concept was a great one. Debt cancellation also has conditionalities built into it. People need to know this.
So no one is talking about aid in the old sense, the money down a rat hole thing. No one wants that. It makes matters worse, not better. This is new targeted aid. “

Some of his comments are still debatable:

”Prime Minister Blair and--published the Commission for Africa, which is a new analysis of aid and effective aid and how to spend it, and the need, he says, and most of the world agrees, is about $50 billion. And we can really turn things around on that continent but we have to have agreement from everybody, especially the United States, if we're to get there”

Why is $50 Billion the right number? Why not prove the methods being advocated are working on a small scale before implementing them on a large scale? I know there are many Africans who are desperate for relief, but this effort still looks more to me like welfare which has been proven time and time again to make matters worse every time and everywhere it is implemented.

”If he doesn't I fear that even the good work that he has started will be forgotten by history and that really makes me very, very sad, because I worked on a lot of this stuff, the AIDS initiative and the Millennium Challenge, and really want to see--I think he deserves his place in history here.”

President Bush will never get the credit he deserves from the members of the world community. Just like President Reagan, no matter how much President Bush achieves, it will be labeled as too little and too late.

”And remember the rest of the world are very suspicious about the G8 countries, about the industrialized world. They're not sure, you know, if we have any values. They're not sure who we are. They meet us with our military, they meet us with our trade, our movies, our, you know, commodities. But they need to meet who we are on a deeper level. And that's where they meet us with foreign assistance.”

Industrialization is not the only way out of poverty, but it is a way out of poverty. Anybody can grow a crop, raise a goat, and build a house if they are allowed to own their own land. Foreign assistance, if in the form of welfare, only creates bitterness. The values we export should be the value of freedom, not the value of dependence.

I like Bono. I wouldn’t be as upset with the ONE Campaign if they actually made a dent in African corruption. However, at this point, I have no reason to believe that aid to Africa will be any different this time than all of the previous times that created the problem. I trust America to do the right thing. Germany, France, and even Britain, don’t have the same track record.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Church Stakeholders

In a previous post, I wrote about the stakeholders in business. Then I described the conflicting desires of business stakeholders and how each stakeholder can't possibly get everyting they want. Today, I'm going to apply this concept to the Church.

Stakeholders in a Church are not as easy to delineate as stakeholders in a business. Churches always have leaders and usually have some sort of formal leadership structure, but the leaders of a Church are not the same as the owners of a business and the leaders of a Church should not have the same objectives as the owners of a business.

Churches also have employees, committed members, involved members, attendees, participants, visitors, uncommitted members, potential members, and potential visitors. Each set, sub-set, and individual person, usually have their own unique beliefs, needs, and desires, but each is still a stakeholder in the welfare and success of the Church.

Even without a formal business plan, it’s fairly easy to know the objective of most businesses. There are many different strategies, but every business tries to grow by increasing profits and reducing costs. Even with a formal ministry plan, it is almost impossible to know the goals of most Churches and there is almost never an agreement on the methods. The Churches that measure results measure what is easy to count; mainly heads.

A Church is definitely not a business. However, the root problem with most Churches nowadays is the same as the root problem with most businesses nowadays. Everyone in Church is looking out and advocating their own interests from their own perspective without much concern for the interests and needs of the other stakeholders. The place where the Golden Rule is taught is missing the practice of the Golden Rule.

Purpose Driven Pastors are demanding more commitment from sleep deprived members, attendees are expecting the Pastor to preach like Swindoll, leaders are expecting the Pastor to promote like Warren, everyone in Church is wanting more services, better music, and more social programs to meet their individual needs, and visitors are expecting to be catered to and pampered.

Just as a healthy business can’t possibly have the lowest prices, the highest salaries, and the greatest return on investment all at the same time, a Church can’t possibly have the commitment the Purpose Driven Pastor demands, the programs the members’ desire, and the care and concern visitors expect all at the same time.

When I observe Churches nowadays, I observe a lot of selfishness, similar to the “all about me” attitude in business. Quite frankly, even organizations as small as the family are suffering from this same problem. Possibly, the smaller family sizes nowadays is one of the reasons people are so selfish. With four brothers and four sisters growing up together, it never occurred to me that my family should ever do anything just for me. My brothers and sisters all seemed to feel the same way. We did most of what we did as a family.

Churches need to get back to being a family where the interests of all of the stakeholders are understood and balanced without having a goal of being the best at anything. A little more grace, a little more patience, a little more understanding, a little more humility, and a lot more walking in the footsteps of others will go a long way towards practicing the Golden Rule.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Balance Sheet

My Finance Professor at Pepperdine was quite brilliant. He spent all semester teaching ratio after ratio after ratio and teaching all of the rationale for making business decisions based on technical analysis. I love math, but I was still challenged by the logic of the ratios, so this Finance class was one of my favorite classes of all time. I really thought I was ready for a leading role in business by the time I finished my final exam in Finance.

The semester following the semester I took Finance, I took a Business Strategy class. My Business Strategy Professor was no where near as brilliant as my Finance Professor, but the first words out of his mouth made most of what I had learned in Finance the previous semester irrelevant. He started the Strategy class by telling us, "The business is not the balance sheet." It made sense to me when he said it then and it makes even more sense to me now; twenty years later.

A couple of weeks ago General Motors announced plans to cut 25,000 jobs. It’s not clear from the news reports how many people will actually become unemployed as a result of the changes, but it is fairly clear that the decision is being made by the finance side of the business for the financial investors because it doesn’t make very much long term strategic sense.

GM will not sell one additional car, they will not generate one additional loan, and they will not develop one new technology as a result of reducing jobs. GM will reduce expenses in the short term which may make the balance sheet look better, but they have also potentially lost 25,000 auto and loan customers, they have increased the cost of running the business per employee, they have created bad will with many of the remaining employees, they have signaled to all of their customers and competitors that they are in trouble, and they have reduced their ability to grow, among other things.

Forty years ago, most of the costs associated with an employee were variable costs. Salary, administration, and overhead all went up proportionally when an employee was hired and went down proportionally when an employee was fired. Today, with the exception of salary, health care, and taxes, many of the costs associated with an employee are fixed. Many of the administration and overhead expenses are the same regardless of the number of employees a company has.

GM is in many different types of businesses besides building automobiles. Every business needs employees in order to produce profits. Some businesses need more employees than others, but they all need workers. Strategically, it would make much more sense for GM to keep the employees and divert them to other businesses. Even if profits shrunk slightly in the short term, the long term benefits and goodwill from keeping people employed would far out way the risk of letting them go. The business still isn’t the balance sheet. Sadly, GM thinks it is.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Soooo Fast

When my girls were very young, everyone would tell us, "they grow up so fast". I usually responded by saying, "I know", while at the same time I was hoping there would someday come a day when I didn't have to change a diaper. That day has long since passed and now I'm hoping for the day when I can go to bed without having to tuck them in first. At the same time, I wish they weren't growing up so fast.

Even though my girls are younger than his, Steve at Thy Grace is Sufficient expresses how I am feeling some of the time better than I ever could. I'm sure my sadness will get even worse as they get older. They really do grow up toooo fast.

The Golden Rule

Do the owners of a company have a right to maximize their profits? Sure, owners usually have the most to lose when a company fails because they are paying the bills. Do customers of a business have the right to negotiate the best deal and receive rock bottom prices? Of course, customers are paying for the good or service and they can usually take their business elsewhere. Do employees of a business have the right to expect top dollar for their labor? That’s a crazy question, employees provide the sweat to get the work done; of course they should get top dollar. Now, what’s wrong with this picture?

Everything is wrong with this picture. Owners can’t maximize profit when they are paying top dollar and selling for the lowest price. Customers can’t receive the best price when the owner is paying the employees top dollar while trying to maximize profits. Employees can’t get paid top dollar when the owner is maximizing profits while selling for the lowest price. Practically everyone has forgotten the golden rule when it comes to business. Owners get the most blame for being greedy when they do eek out a profit, but employees are just as likely as owners to be greedy when negotiating a salary and customers are just as likely as owners to be greedy when negotiating a price or choosing a vendor.

The only moral way to conduct business is for owners, customers, and employees to all follow the golden rule. Sadly, there is not much business being conducted in a moral way these days because everyone is looking out for number one and very few of us are “walking in the footsteps” of our business partners. In later posts I will be arguing for the morality of what many Christians consider immoral, but for now I want to establish the premise that the bottom line is never the bottom line. Greed is a sinful emotion that needs to be controlled regardless of whether we are an owner, an employee, or a customer. Our business transactions need to be conducted according to what is fair, not what is best, if we want to be holy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Stakeholders in Business

Every business has three types of stakeholders. The stakeholders in business are the owners, the customers, and the employees. Some businesses have only one owner or one customer and sometimes the owner of a business is the only employee, but to be a business, an entity must have at least one of all three types of stakeholders. Potential owners, potential customers, and potential employees, can also be considered stakeholders, but not to the same degree as those who are already a part of the business.

Many of the people who work for a large corporation are also stockholders and customers as well as employees of the corporation. Employees of General Motors buy automobiles made by General Motors with money they borrowed from General Motors, financed by bonds secured by assets in the General Motors retirement plan. General Motors can't make a change to its business plan, without the change having an affect on all of its stakeholders.

The goal of every business and the role of senior management in the business should be to balance the competing needs of all of the stakeholders of the business. A change that would seem great for the owners of a business may be perceived as negative to the customers or the employees of the business. Likewise, a change that would seem great for the customers of a business may be perceived as a negative to the owners and employees of a business. And a change that would seem great to the employees of a business might be perceived as a negative to the owners or the customers of a business. For example, when employees are given raises, there is less capital that is retained by the business for the owners and there is less margin available for discounts to customers.

Christians are not just employees of businesses. Christians are also owners and customers. Sometimes a business will fire an employee in order to increase profits which will have a short term negative effect on the fired employee and his or her family if they were not prepared. The firing will also have a short term positive effect on the business because the business will be able to lower prices or increase earnings. Some Christians have gained in the short term and some Christians have lost in the short term when an employee is fired. However, the long term effects are not known by any of the stakeholders. The fired employee may find a better and more rewarding job and the business may lose customers due to the business being understaffed. Conversely, the fired employee may never find a better job and the business may be able to invest the money that was being paid to the employee in a way that discovers a new technology creating more customers and more opportunities and more jobs for employees and more earnings for owners.

Sometimes owners of a business are greedy. There are a lot of business decisions that are made purely for short term profits. These greedy decision are much more short sited than they are evil. There are also a lot of decisions that are labeled as greedy even though the decision is in the best interest of all of the stakeholders. The decisions of a company in regards to it's employees, it's customers, and it's owners expose the soul of the company. In America we still have the right to choose who we work for, where we invest, and who we buy from. If we want a more ethical America, we need to work for, buy from, and invest in, businesses that balance the needs of all of their stakeholders. If our goal is to make the highest salary, buy the least expensive products, and maximize the return on our investment, we are getting exactly what we deserve; crappy businesses.

Business Matters

Dan at Cerulean Sanctum has been posting a series on "The Christian and The Business World" since June 7th. At this point, most of the material in his series has been his observations of the current business climate in America with a sprinkling of analysis and hints at the conclusions he will be drawing towards the end of his series. His observations have been very thorough. I think he has described an accurate and fair depiction of business in America circa 2005. His writing is slightly biased from the perspective of the employee, which is acceptable since most of us are employees, but it could use just a little more balance. I was hoping he would have more to say about the Church, but maybe he is still establishing the environment that the Church is a part of before he moves on.

I think Dan is writing about a very important topic for Christians in America. Our family, church, and work life are intertwined in such a way that what happens to one can’t help but effect the other two. Way too many churches define success in the same way and use the same terms and are run by the same people who are in charge of business in America. Perhaps some of this thinking and control needs to be analyzed and changed. I hope Dan’s series is a seed that starts the process.

Since Dan is now moving towards more analysis in his series, I’m sensing I may not agree with all of his conclusions. So, over the next few weeks, I plan on posting some of my own analysis and conclusions. I appreciate all of the thought Dan has put into his series so far and I hope he doesn’t mind if I piggyback and occasionally disagree.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


I guess becoming like South Africa would be an improvement if you are a Kenyan.

"Kenya would like to follow South Africa's lead in firing graft-tainted officials, but has not yet found one 'iota of proof' to take such steps, a government spokesman said on Thursday."

"Kenya, consistently ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world, has been under increasing pressure from its citizens and international donors in the past year to root out corruption in government ranks.""

What About Us?

Kenya wants debt relief too. Who is going to decide a fair way to forgive and not forgive debt?

Zimbabwe and South Africa

The President of South Africa seems to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.

"Mbeki is complicit in these totalitarian actions by Mugabe and the British Government must not let him get away with hiding behind a smokescreen of anti-colonialism."

"Miss Hoey, who chairs the all-party Zimbabwean parliamentary group, said that most agricultural and industrial sectors have collapsed under the onslaught of the regime's policies."

"Millions of pounds-worth of investment in good housing, small factories and machinery have been smashed. She said Zimbabwe was an even more sinister and dangerous country than when she visited it last time."

"Everything Mugabe's police and army do is done with virtually no media access and filming and reporting is perilous."

Britain Freezes Aid to Ethiopia Over Civil Unrest

Look's like Britain is suspending 20 million in aid to Ethiopia, but still sending 40 million. I wonder how many Ethiopians would have to be murdered by the Ethiopian government before all aid will be stopped. Here are the details.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Helping Africa fail, AGAIN!

Is the ONE Campaign promoting the Right Kind of Help?

Selected exerpts:

"For while humanitarian assistance undoubtedly saves lives today, and debt-write off and new aid have their place, they send the same signals Africa has been receiving for the past four decades--the entire continent is a basket case in need of aid."

"The Blair-Bush announcement of $674 million in aid for Eritrea and Ethiopia is worrying. While we except that food aid is warranted, the leaders of these two countries are among the worst in Africa, and we are rewarding them for bankrupting their agricultural economies through corruption, mismanagement, and communist collectivization. Yet on May 24 President Issias Afwerki of Eritrea even blamed the United States for his economic failure."

"In the last week Ethiopians killed 36 protesters who were up in arms over the failure to release election results on schedule. These results have been embargoed for several months so that its government can cook the books. In the meantime, they are declaring martial law. Did the Blair-Bush announcement give them license to conduct these acts? Probably so, given that United Kingdom has just suspended $54 million in new aid to Ethiopia."

"Moreover, aid transfers and debt forgiveness do little to change the basic institutional failures of the past 30 years that have made Africa poorer and sicker while the rest of the world has become richer and healthier."

"The danger in sending more aid to Africa is that the very governments that frustrate economic growth with laws and regulations, which entrench the power of political elites, will handle that money. Giving them more money empowers them further and ensures that they are removed from the populations that, theoretically, voted them into power."

"Africa does not need apologies, rock concerts, and aid plans. It needs the current leaders of its countries to recognize the importance of economic freedom and the rule of law. When these institutions are attacked, African leaders must defend them."

"Yet the way in which nearly every African leader has supported Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's destructive policies indicates that Africa's leaders continue to live in the past, and in so doing consign their people to a future of decades of suffering."

"Regardless of the pressure from Bono and his friends, or disasters in Ethiopia or Zimbabwe, blanket debt-write offs, and massive aid increases will not help. Only aid tied to democratic reforms--especially reforms of property right structures--will likely deliver results. The fact that there is no private property in Ethiopia is the reason its economy is such a mess."

Fair Trade

Something that would help every country, impoverished or not, is Fair Trade. Governments should not be in the business of picking winners and losers. The only concern of any government should be to ensure that everyone plays by the same rules.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

David Frum's Diary on Africa Relief

David Frum's Diary on National Review Online has been making some excellent points about Africa in two of his journal pieces.

Here are a few excerpts:

Zimbabwe was given every chance to succeed - open
access to global markets on a preferential basis, massive foreign aid from all quarters, technical assistance in whatever field was requested. We started out with an educated elite - many of whom had lived abroad for a number of years. We had a diverse economy based on mining, agriculture, industry and commerce. We were virtually debt free. The world was at our feet but we blew it.

"Today Zimbabwe is a basket case - we cannot feed our people, we have destroyed over half the formal sector jobs in the economy, our industry is in tatters, all other sectors of the economy either shrinking or stagnant. Our social services are a mess and life expectancy has halved. We are poorer than we were 30 years ago and there is no sign of an end to the decline and all pervading despair.

"No amount of aid or debt relief or trade concessions are going to help this country get out of the hole it is in - only a radical change of direction and leadership will do that and I am afraid that this same analysis applies to many countries on the continent.

"People talk of a 'Marshal Plan' for Africa, failing to recognize that countries like Zimbabwe have been the recipients of more aid per capita than was applied to Europe in 1945. People talk about debt relief - we are not servicing our debt at all at present, the US$7 billion in debt that we owe is virtually free money anyway. It's not even trade - African countries have had access to European markets on an extremely preferential basis for 25 years and yet only a tiny minority have taken up the opportunities available.

"Our collapse is self-inflicted, its home grown, and until this sort of nonsense is addressed by the global and the African community, there is no hope for countries like Zimbabwe, the Congo, Sudan, Somalia and so on. We are our own worst enemies and we must fix what is wrong here at home in Africa, before we can make effective use of the generosity of the developed world and the new global village that offers such marvelous opportunities and freedom.

"When it comes to the wholesale theft of national resources and the subversion of the rule of law and democracy, our leaders are in a league all by themselves. We have become adept at manipulating the media and foreign governments and the multinational agencies such as the World Bank and the UN. To this long list we perhaps should now add the G8 leadership and Bob Geldof. We allow African leaders to strut across the platforms of the world stage as if they were acting in the real interests of their people and not acting simply as self-serving tyrants.

"Quite frankly until African leaders themselves put their own houses in order there should be no talk of assistance of any kind. It is ridiculous that Ethiopia with its rich agricultural resources has been supported by massive food aid for over 20 years. Just take a look at Nigeria - one of the oil giants of the world yet threatened with instability and rising poverty that belies its wealth and status.

"Development and poverty alleviation take discipline, honesty, openness and democracy in national political life. It takes hard work and commitment and the strict observance of the rule of law and the guarantee of investor rights and business contracts. If African leaders applied these principles to their own and their public lives they would bring prosperity and freedom

The debate over African aid has been influenced enough by the experience of the past half century that aid proponents feel they must make at least some nods toward issues of accountability and governance. But they say they can't do more than nod because impoverished countries like Benin or Niger can hardly be expected to generate capable public sectors and independent civic institutions overnight. Fair enough, maybe. But South Africa has--or has had--a capable public sector and independent civic institutions. The problem there is that the political authorities are at work traducing and destroying those assets for their own selfish advantage.

Monday, June 13, 2005


I’m a little disturbed this morning that I couldn’t find a single article which lists the African nations that will have their debt relieved by the G8 nations. I’m a little perturbed this morning that I couldn’t find a single article that names a single institution that will be writing off the debt to the unnamed African nations. I’m a little disheartened this morning that so few reporters, and so few advocates, and so few politicians, give a you know what about the details of the G8 debt relief package to Africa.

I’m finding out this morning that good intentions, no matter who gets hurt, is what makes the world go around; not moral governments, not inquisitive reporters, not knowledgeable skeptics, just big hearts and gutless leaders deciding what to do with money they didn’t have to earn in order to control. Money someone else had to break a sweat in order to earn; money someone else was counting on; money a lot of deserving and poor people will now never see.

Every transaction between one person or one institution who lends money to another person or institution or government has consequences. The lender postpones investing or spending their money for the period until the loan is repaid. The lender usually gets a fixed rate of return in order to offset the effects of inflation and provide a small return as an incentive. This incentive is what keeps funds available to be lent. The borrower gets the benefit of using money that has not been earned by agreeing to pay back the original loan along with an interest charge. In effect, the lender is postponing the gratification of using their money and the borrower is receiving unearned gratification.

Not every borrower is poor and not every lender is wealthy. There are many wealthy borrowers throughout the world and there are also many poor lenders throughout the world. Financial markets evaluate the risk associated with a loan in order to allow lenders to decide how much risk they are willing to exchange for a certain amount of return. Those who are poor have the opportunity to enjoy more of the fruits of their labor if they are willing to postpone enjoyment and accept a small amount of risk.

The market in Africa and South America is not working now, just as it has not worked in my lifetime, because lending decisions have not been based on market forces. My guess is that very little of the debt has been going to entrepreneurs who could actually make life better in these developing countries. My guess is that the debt is going to governments who don’t allow free markets and free people to make free spending, working, lending, and investing decisions. My prediction is that this won’t be the last time we will be seeing Brad Pitt and Bono claiming American’s aren’t doing enough for the rest of the world. If only Pitt and Bono knew what they were talking about.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Reasonable People

For the last few days, I have been pestering Steve at Thy Grace is Sufficient about The ONE Campaign. I want to thank him for giving this issue more thought. He has been doing some heavy reading and some heavy lifting and has now posted his latest thoughts in his piece: The One Campaign, Pros and Cons.

I never meant to imply that AIDS and poverty in Africa were simple issues or that The ONE Campaign was too simple of a solution. I love this cause, but I reject many of the methods of this campaign. Sometimes doing something, even with good intentions, is the wrong thing to do when it causes more harm than good. Free people taking advantage of free markets is a solution that works every time to reduce poverty. The redistribution of wealth through force is a temporary band-aid that creates a long term great big fat festering sore everywhere and every time it has been unleashed on a population of people.

"... whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." is the rationale Steve is using for supporting the campaign. Reasonable people can always find disagreement about certain methods. However, every proposal made by The ONE Campaign will definitely hurt someone without even knowing if someone else will be helped. Some of the “someone’s” that will be hurt are “the least of these”. Don’t we also have a minimal obligation to at least not cause more harm and more suffering?

I hope Steve will forgive me for being such a pest.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Game of Golf

Golfers will really enjoy this article: Cooler (club) heads prevail

Selected quotes:

"When they used to use the little tractors as tee markers at the John Deere [Classic], that got pretty ugly," Lowery said. "Guys just mangled those things, just reduced them to matchsticks. The pineapple tee markers at Sony have also taken a beating. You'd walk up to a tee there, and one of the markers would be nothing but a stump, the pineapple vaporized, and you'd start chuckling and say, 'Well, I guess Steve [Pate]'s been here.' "

"I think that's because the guys today don't really know the proper way to throw a club," said Bolt, always the showman, in a recent interview. "First, you've got to helicopter a club. Throw it so it spins parallel to the ground. Don't tomahawk it, not if you plan on hitting it again. Those tomahawk jobs almost always break. Plus, I've had more than a few jagged shafts lunge back at me for revenge when I've broken them like that.

"Second, always throw clubs down the fairway, so you don't have to waste energy and suffer the indignity of walking back for the darn thing. I always suggest putters for beginners because not only will those suckers really fly, but I haven't met one yet that didn't deserve some abuse."

Such displays are completely alien to today's tour, though Sweden's Jesper Parnevik recalled a moment of somewhat premeditated mania from early in his career. "One of my first years on the European Tour we were in Spain and I was over a 3-foot putt, and this Spanish guy up in the TV tower wouldn't stop talking on his cell phone," Parnevik said. "I screamed at him, and he didn't stop. He just kept right on chattering away, very loud. So, finally, I marked my ball, very calmly, picked it up, and threw it at him up in the tower. Unfortunately, I missed the putt. More unfortunately, I missed him."

Artful Criticism

Last week I posted this piece where I described this post from The Internet Monk as my favorite post of all time.

In his piece, The Internet Monk laments the inability of most Christians to be effective critics. He believes that a major reason most Christians don’t have the skills necessary to effectively criticize anything is because most Christians don’t practice and develop the skills needed to be effective.

Today, I want to highlight my second favorite post of all time. The honorable mention goes to Rob Asghar at Dime Store Guru for his brilliant two-part piece describing a letter of criticism he wrote to a social justice minister. In ”questions for a social-justice minister” and then ”More questions for the social-justice champion” Rob is not only effective in making his points, he turns his written criticism into a work of art. I especially like the way Rob affirms as he criticizes. As I read his pieces, I realized I needed to rethink some of my own assumptions as I vacillated between agreement and disagreement. The letter may have been written for someone else, but it hit home with me. Hopefully, I can someday learn to emulate Rob's technique.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Dead Trees and Beautiful Daughters

I've been tagged... by Bonnie at Off the top to answer a few questions about my book reading life.

I’m embarrassed to say, but I guess not too embarrassed to write, that I don’t spend much time with dead trees these days. My wife thinks I’m trying to kill the ficus tree in our back yard, but that’s a different story. I honestly don’t remember the last book I bought or the last book I read cover to cover. I have been reading to my daughters for the last six or seven years. The youngest is finishing kindergarten this year and she is turning in to a voracious reader who would rather read to me than have me read to her.

My favorite book from this period in my life is Goose and the Mountain Lion. It is a work of precision word-smithing by Marion Harris and beautifully illustrated by Jim Harris. It was a gift to my daughters from their grandmother who passed away in January which adds to why I think it is so special.

My second favorite book is Elmo's Counting Game. I had a lot of fun talking like Elmo as I read the book to my girls and they learned how to count.

I won’t be tagging any of my blogging buddies. No need in embarrassing any other computer-only readers.


Some of life’s best principles are absolute gems on the micro or personal level. However, oftentimes when a principle that is beneficial on a personal level is applied to a macro or governmental level, it creates a disaster. Charity and debt relief are two such principles meant for the micro and not for the macro.

Charity is beautiful to behold when the giver and the receiver get to look each other in the eye. The giver gets the gratification and joy of knowing they have helped and made life better for a fellow human being who is in need. The receiver gets the appreciation from knowing someone else cared enough to make a personal sacrifice in order to help. The receiver in one situation will often become the giver in another situation. Acts of grace are multiplied as giving is passed on.

Debt relief on a personal level is very similar to charity on a personal level. The lender and the debtor can look each other in the eye and know that the lender is making a sacrifice and the debtor is benefiting from the sacrifice. It is a beautiful act of grace when a person is forgiven a debt by another person.

The further people get from the eye to eye contact when performing acts of charity and debt relief, the less these acts are blessings and the more destructive these acts become. Welfare, at it’s core, is the act of forcing one person to pay the expenses of another person. The key word here is force. When a person is forced to pay the expenses of someone else, they don’t have a sense of gratification, they end up with a sense of bitterness. When a person is allowed, again through the force of law, to receive the benefits of someone else’s work, they no longer feel gratitude, they feel entitlement. Debt relief is very similar. Customers of lending institutions are forced to subsidize the other customers who default on their loan. The defaulter does not learn a lesson and no one is blessed.

The ONE Campaign | About the Campaign would be outstanding if it encouraged Americans to voluntarily reach into their pockets and give. However, it does not. The ONE Campaign is about forcing some people to pay the expenses of others.

I am surprised by the number of people I respect in the blogshere who have signed the Declaration. I am saddened that so many good people think it is acceptable to force others to pay for a cause they consider worthy. I am disheartened that the eighth commandment is so easily overlooked by Christians. I’m hoping some of the signers will reconsider.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Why One Percent?

Sometimes in life we feel compelled to get involved and help out an important cause. Sometimes in life, we need to take baby steps in the right direction, trusting God, even when we haven’t resolved all of the problems or issues that could arise from our actions. Sometimes in life, it is better to do nothing than it is to do something when the something that we do ends up making matters worse.

Every computer programmer knows that we don’t start out by writing a complete application. We start out by designing a prototype. Then we code and test, one method, and one procedure, and one routine at a time. We make sure the parts of our prototype have each been proven to work before we combine them to produce the prototype. Once the prototype is completely coded, we test it by using very specific sets of test data, not an entire universe of data. If, and only if, the prototype works exactly like it was imagined and designed, do we move on to the actual computer application. The application then goes through the same process as the prototype, with even more pieces and more testing before it is ever used on real data.

The promoters of The ONE Campaign | Why One Percent? are asking Americans to fork over a very huge amount of personal and national resources even before they have designed and proven a prototype is working. There never has been a computer program or anything else that works solely based on good intentions. The ONE Campaign won’t either. Let’s make sure it is working on a small scale before we make matters worse.


Phil Dillon at Another Man's Meat describes welfare from a first person point of view in Freedom - The Best Antidote for the Tyranny of the Welfare State.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Capitalism's Truths

My readers may want to give Capitalism's Truths a look. Day after day, Josh has been hammering out very good economic lessons. Leave a comment, too. He's way too smart to be so lonely.

Contrarian View From the Pew: Duck

If it looks like a duck, and if it quacks like a duck, more often than's a duck. The ONE Campaign sure looks like a big fat global welfare quacker to me.

Once again, good intentions seem to be getting the best of common sense. Welfare doesn’t decrease poverty; never has and never will. How can we expect God to bless a government program that conflicts with the eighth commandment? Stealing from some in order to give to others is still stealing. Government sanctioned stealing is no more moral than putting on a black suit and visiting your neighbor in the middle of the night.

The best way to reduce poverty is to increase freedom; not reduce freedom by placing a greater burden on tax payers and workers around the world. Do people never learn, or is this just more proof that most people care more about how they are perceived by others than they care about the truth? Good intentions sometimes leads to disastrous results when the good intentions are not accompanied by effective methods. There is a real danger that poverty, AIDS, and dependence will all be increased in Africa with this proposal just like poverty and dependence were increased in America during welfare’s heyday.

There are sensible, effective, and moral methods we can use to decrease global poverty, though. First and foremost, we should open the borders of the United States to more immigration. Some of the money immigrants earn in the United States will make it’s way back to the immigrant’s country of origin where it will help to increase economic opportunities. We should also reduce taxes across the board in the United States which would increase investments in under-developed countries, and also increase spending in America on goods imported from other countries.

Freedom is a time tested method for reducing poverty and improving lives. Welfare is a black hole that destroys families and increases poverty. We should be promoting freedom, not welfare.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Emily Post: Salute

In the military salutes are not voluntary. As a private in the United States Marine Corp, I hated saluting; especially when it meant saluting a butter bar. I had a gut level feeling of inferiority when I had to salute someone who wasn’t much older and probably not any more accomplished than I was. However, something inside of me had changed by the time I was promoted to Sergeant. As a Sergeant, saluting no longer felt subservient, saluting became a sign of respect; a sign of mutual respect as my salute was returned.

My blogroll links are my way of saluting fellow bloggers. I want to acknowledge the bloggers who I consider exceptional; those who either write exceptionally well or who have a unique and interesting perspective. There is a lot of sameness in the blog world. I prefer unique, especially uniquely good.

Pete at Bryans Nonsense has left comments on my site and he has also had me on his blogroll for quite some time. Pete seems like a great guy to me. He is always respectful, kind, and knowledgeable. I’ve wanted to reciprocate his gesture, but I am uncomfortable with Pentecostals, especially unabashed Pentecostals like Pete. It finally occurred to me this morning that I don’t need to agree with the emphasis of Pete’s site in order to return his salute. I’m sorry it took me so long to return your salute Pete; this Marine should have known and acted better.

Friday, June 03, 2005

All Time Best Post

I don't know how I found this post or when I first read it, but it is one of the few posts I saved in my favorites. Every time I read it, I pick up something new. It is so well reasoned and well written that it is my favorite post of all time.

My award for the best post of all time goes to The Internet Monk.

Does anyone else have a favorite post of all time? Post it on your blog so we can do some heavy thinking next week.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Middle Age

I'm sure there are a lot of guys wishing they were DANICA PATRICK's boyfriend this week. Maybe it's a sign of middle age, but I'm wishing I was her agent!

National Influence

When it comes to influence at our National level, practically nothing is as it should be. Elected leaders should be in the business of persuasion, but they are not. Reporters should be in the business of collecting, organizing, and relaying the facts, but they are not. Commentators should be in the business of exposing the flaws in our system, but they are not.

Politicians like to give the impression that they are actively trying to change the minds of others and that they are open to new ideas. However, politicians aren’t really interested in new ideas or even any ideas; they are mostly interested in the influence that is derived from power. Political speeches today are about positioning, not persuasion. It is much easier, much more effective for getting votes, and much better for the campaign bank account for a politician to speak about what his constituents want to hear than it is for the politician to make an effort and risk loosing voters by trying to persuade voters or fellow politicians to change their mind. Power in Washington comes from riding the right wave, and collecting the money associated with the wave, at the right time.

Reporters try to give the impression that they are just reporting the facts, but every story has an angle and every story has a purpose whether or not it is acknowledged by the reporter. The stories that get told, the way they are told, the facts that get included, the facts that get omitted, the quotes that get included or not included, and the insinuations all make a story influential. For many years now, the National media has supported the more liberal causes and challenged the more conservative causes with their stories, but with the development of internet, the liberal monopoly has been broken. However, it has not been replaced with neutral story tellers; it has been replaced with even more partisan story tellers on both sides. Thankfully, more and more people are learning to read between the lines. Sadly, fewer and fewer people are willing to consider views that conflict with their own.

Commentators write and talk like they are making an effort to persuade. However, persuasion is the secondary concern for the national commentator. Face time and print space are the primary concerns of the successful national commentator. The successful commentator needs to develop an audience and maintain that audience. Just like the politician, it is much easier and much more effective for a commentator to appeal to his or her audience by advocating the causes of the audience than it is for the commentator to try to change the minds of the audience they’ve got. People listen to Rush Limbaugh to find out if he agrees with them, they don’t listen to him for his insight.

I can’t name a single elected official who is persuasive. I can’t name a single reporter who is neutral. Chris Wallace comes close. However, I can name a commentator who I think is somewhat different, and therefore effective at changing minds in a good way. Dennis Prager is persuasive because he doesn’t make much of an effort to persuade any of his callers to change their mind. He interviews his callers in order to bring clarity to an issue. He puts all of his effort into clarifying the areas of agreement and disagreement and the reasons for differences of opinion. There are commentators I agree with more than Dennis, but there is no one who has taught me more because he respects others by letting them make up their own mind.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Resisting Influence

In my two previous posts, I have first tried to differentiate the difference between “persuasion” and “influence” and then I have proposed that Christians should be reluctant to wield influence using techniques other than pure “persuasion” because all other methods involve manipulation and control which is sinful most of the time.

There is no doubt in my mind that way too often, believers, including myself, succumb to the sinful desire to manipulate and control others. As believers, we need to resist the temptation to manipulate others, and we also need to develop the judgment and discipline that is required to resist the manipulation of others. Sure, we have all heard and we all know we shouldn’t conform to the world, but I have never heard a clear definition anywhere of what it means to “not conform”. Most of us have houses, and cars, and clothes, and we play sports, and attend parties, and vacation, and recreate, just like all of the non-believers. I’m not sure we need all of our possessions or activities, but I would still maintain, “not conforming” has more to do with how we handle the influence of others than it has to do with what we possess or what we do for fun.

Most people, most of the time, are influenced by their own emotions and by the status of other people; not by truthfulness of an idea. I’m not claiming most people are dumb or that they don’t care about the truth, but I am claiming that most people balance the truth with their feelings about how they will be perceived by others, and often times the truth gets subjugated to the need to be perceived in a positive way by others. Madonna and Tom Cruise are influential because they have been able to reinvent themselves in a way that creates an image that is attractive and desired by a large part of the population. Leaders of political parties in the United States are influential because opponents within the party take a big risk of being alienated when they offer alternative ideas. Pastors, and Elders, and Deacons, and other leaders, in most Churches are influential for the same reason; opposition has consequences regardless of the validity of a new or different idea.

We can choose to go along in order to get along in society and in our churches, or we can choose to resist the influence of others. It’s not wrong to want to be like others when we are following the example of positive role models. It’s not wrong to have the same ideas as others when we evaluate an idea based on the merits of the idea. However, it is wrong to want to be like someone else because of how we will be perceived by others and it is wrong to support an idea solely because someone else who is influential has the same idea. We shouldn’t allow our emotional need for acceptance to influence our understanding or our support of the truth.