Thursday, December 24, 2009

Some Good News for the New Year in Gadsden County

I bought a copy of the Havana Herald this week to read some more of the details of the new biomass electric generation plant announced for Gretna. In addition to the many construction jobs, there apparently will be at least a few dozen permanent employees in one of Florida's most economically hard-pressed counties. What struck me was that political leaders from Gretna, Gadsden County, and local representatives in the state legislature were present with the corporation's executives at the announcement. So, at least so far, this facility has not faced the NIMBY (Not in My BackYard) opposition that the failed Tallahassee biomass plant suffered. If that remains true through to completion of the facility, that will be the basis for a nice case study.

Friday, December 18, 2009

In the mean time

The last post "Social Justice and the Family" sought to shine some light on how the broken situations in life that beckon for justice are often a result of broken or uninvolved families. After Christmas we will explain the evidence more carefully than a simple overview, but, in the meantime check out this interesting pro-social campaign called True Dad and there are more clips on Director John Papola's website if you're interested.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Social Justice and Family

We are about to embark on an adventure that hasn't happened in quite some time ---this is a co-written post by Mark and Doug.

(This is Doug) Next semester I'll be teaching the Social Justice Living and Learning Community my Economics of Compassion class. Fundamentally we'll be talking about what justice is and how it should be achieved; but, one of my primary goals is to convince students that no matter discipline they're passionate about they can bring about justice. Think of it this way:

If there is a song that is beautiful and someone asks me to sing that song I would reply, "I can't do justice to that song". This statement implies that there is a perfection in the song that I can't quite reach. If I could sing the song really well then I could do the song justice. Likewise, justice in the world deals with correction and restoration towards a more perfect ideal. For Christians this is God's Kingdom and God's glory. Like St. Ireanaus said, "The glory of God is man fully alive." Whatever we can contribute to that goal is a contribution towards justice.

Specifically, what I have noticed in teaching the class are the tremendous number of times I traipse down the path of economic programs and political discourse only to uncover that a large factor in the brokeness of poverty (lack of education, low wages, etc.) have root in a fractured, uninvolved, or non-existent family. Then, I consider that whether my students choose to become economics majors (and some have to my delight) they will be able to make a significant impact in achieving justice or bringing God's Kingdom to earth. They can do so through music therapy, counseling, family and child sciences, pastoring, or a number of other avenues. They have a tangible impact. And, the justice they bring forth is quite relational. For some reason economists are not expected to bring much in the way of relational justice, but rather top-down redistributive justice.

(This is Mark) But it has been over 40 years since one of those present at the creation of the Great Society, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, worried about the effects of governmental dependency on the structure of the family. Not to be outdone by the Great Society( and at almost exactly the same time), the American Middle Class openly embraced a massive social transformation in the acceptance of routine (no-fault) divorce. Somewhere in the ballpark of 35 - 40 percent of American children are now born out of wedlock, and divorce is distressingly common. Now, across our desks comes a new report from the (Great Society rooted) Brookings Institution, which says that there are three straightforward policy areas that should be at the top of our list for creating economic opportunity:

1 ) improving education,
2 ) improving the earned Income Tax Credit, and
3) reintroducing and strengthening the forgotten cultural sequence of (first) education, then marriage, and then (and only then) children.

Education and tax reform are the standard fare of economists and other policy wonks. Doug and I don't have any problem understanding how a school district can seek to hire and retain good teachers or how Congress can change to tax code, but exactly how are we supposed to undo 45 years of transformed cultural norms on marriage and the family?

The Brookings study isn't revolutionary. It reflects a strong consensus. (Doug here) Recently I listened to a Podcast on American Enterprise Institute on Social and Cultural Studies. The speaker was World Magazine Editor Marvin Olasky and he talked about relational justice. The timing of speech melded perfectly with the increased realization that top-down approaches to helping those in need neglected this family component. He cites President Obama's speech from 2008 on Father's Day, some of which is included below and stresses the importance of family. Statistics used by Obama? Children growing up without a father are 5 times more likely to end up in poverty and commit crime, 9 times more likely to drop out of school, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.

This will generate several other posts. This is a significant problem and one that I hope can be rectified by a culture that seeks to be more aware of social justice issues. For my students, I hope they understand the immense purpose involved in pursuing justice through their development of expertise in other areas. For economists, I hope we can begin to realize that top-down approaches are not the solution to these deep cultural issues with family.

Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it. But if we are honest with ourselves, we'll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing - missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it. -President Obama

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Video Will Make Him a Rock Star

Doug and I both present our students with the portfolio of ideas about economic development represented by economists Jeffrey Sachs, Paul Collier, and William Easterly. Easterly is the author of two books, including The White Man's Burden (an intentionally sarcastic title), about the massive failure of traditional Western aid program to benefit the typical poor person in Africa. Indeed, Easterly is squarely in the camp that Western aid has probably been counter-productive.

Doug recently showed me this You Tube video, the coming attraction for a documentary on Easterly and The White Man's Burden. Interestingly, the movie is produced by Damascus Films, whose trademark is "From Saul to Paul in 24 frames per second." Given that so much Christian discussion on helping Africa starts and stops with "giving aid", this has the potential to be transformative.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cooperation is Natural

Earlier this week the NY Times published an article "We May Be Born With an Urge to Help". The article is based on Michael Tomesello's book Why We Cooperate which argues that children display helpful behavior prior to any parental training to prime such behavior. Moreover, Tomesello finds that this desire to help is not enhanced by rewards. This would seem to be a signpost towards nature of man. Is man inherently good, evil, or both? This presents an interesting theological question (which they do not come close to answering I think).

I had to give some thought to it before I felt like I really understood what was at play in the cooperation and helpfulness: TRUST.

What we believe about other people is enormously important. Children will trust another adult, even if that adult is not their parent, but, a stranger. Children have faith in other people. Because they have not experienced a deterioration in trust or faith in others they do not act strategically in how they help others. Instead, they just recognize a need and act in a helpful way.

I think this provides some insight into the verse, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven" -Matthew 18:3

What holds us back from helping? Lack of trust? Judging Attitudes? Fear of being rejected?