Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Economics at the Jesus Creed: Michael Kruse 4

posted by Scot McKnight

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This series is by Michael Kruse and it concerns economics — a basics in economics. Most of us, and I include myself, no next to nothing about how economics work and so this series is here for the education of all of us. (Thanks Mike.)


Division of labor, mechanization, and trade has given rise to prosperous societies. Economic prosperity is spreading around the globe. Most people welcome the improving material quality of life. But is this prosperity sustainable? Commodities and natural resources are limited. We are told to reduce consumption so there will be more for others … we should “live simply that others simply may live.” It seems so intuitively obvious. But is it true? Malthusians would be inclined to think so.

 

Scholar and clergyman Thomas Malthus, published the first edition of his landmark work, An Essay on the Principle of Population, in 1798. Malthus was skeptical of his contemporaries’ optimistic visions for human improvement. His historical analysis showed that agricultural resources grow arithmetically (i.e., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 …) while populations grow geometrically (i.e., 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 …). Population outgrows the supporting resources. Societies must either expand their territory or experience a check on population size via war, disease, or famine. Greater prosperity tends to follow these checks as population comes back into balance with resources. That leads to new population growth and the cycle repeats itself. This is the Malthusian trap. It is a fairly accurate characterization of the world’s experience prior to the Nineteenth Century.


Looking
forward, Malthus failed to anticipate two things. First was the nascent revolution
in agricultural and industrial productivity. For the first time, agricultural productivity
outpaced population growth. For instance, in the United States, the ratio of population
to acreage of cropland in production stayed fairly constant until 1910. Total
cropland in production then was 310 million acres. The population increased
threefold over the next century. Keeping the ratio constant, 700 million more
acres of cropland would have been needed … a land area equivalent to the land
area east of the Mississippi River. How many acres are in production today?
Approximately 310 million acres … and we export more than we import. Productivity
has increased dramatically. Globally, appropriation of land for agricultural
production is still increasing as the population grows but the rate of appropriation
has slowed since the 1960s.

 

The second
issue Malthus missed was innovation and substitution. The Bronze Age did not
end due to a lack of bronze and the horse and buggy age did not end due to a
lack of horses and buggies. Neither will the fossil fuel age end due to a lack
of fossil fuels. As technologies become too expensive or problematic,
innovations are made and substitute products are brought into the market.

 

Turn back
the clock one hundred years in the United States. Urbanization is underway and
accelerating. We can project that the population will grow as much as threefold.
Personal transportation is powered by horses. As the cities grow, we will need
more horses with corresponding increases in feed and water. The problem of
manure filled streets means increased odor and unsanitary conditions. If we project
the status of life in 1900 forward into the future it is unsustainable … absent innovation! Even before 1900,
inventors had been experimenting with motorized buggies. Twenty-five years
later we overcame the transportation obstacles (though new challenges soon emerged.)
 

 

Imagine
telling most people thirty years ago that the world would soon be connected by
an audio/visual/data communication infrastructure built on sand. (Fiber optic
cable is made of glass, which is made of sand.) It has reduced the need for other
commodities like copper while empowering communication at levels unthinkable
not long ago. Should we have frozen life at 1900 living standards (or some
other date) and figured out how to sustain that world? Should we be locking in
the world of 2009 today?

 

Economist
Donald Hay noted twenty years ago in Economics
Today: A Christian Critique,
that nearly everything we use today could eventually
be made and powered by renewable resources. The economic pressure has not been
sufficient to move us in that direction but as people become more prosperous,
environmental concerns rise in priority, creating demand for more
environmentally friendly technologies and products.

 

Also
consider that as a commodity becomes scarce its price should rise. Yet as we
look at the price of commodities, their inflation adjusted prices have been on a
century long trend of decline. Prior to the price shocks of 2008, major commodities
cost a fraction of what they did a century ago and, despite occasional spikes,
the trend for the foreseeable future is declining real costs. Commodities are
actually more abundant today than they were a century ago because there has
been greater incentive to locate and extract them.

 

Malthusian
visions of societal collapse from exhausting resources have been a recurring
theme over the past two centuries. Writing in 1865, noted British economist
Stanley Jevons claimed that Britain would run out of coal by the end of the
century and oil would not be able to meet the demand. Writing in the late 1960s,
activist Paul Ehrlich wrote “The Population Bomb,” predicting massive
population growth, exhaustion of fossil fuels and other commodities, and the collapse
of agriculture. It would all lead to massive famine, war, and chaos, by
century’s end. The Club of Rome and the Carter administration’s Global 2000 Report echoed these
concerns.

 

Similar
Malthusian predictions have resurfaced in recent years under some versions of
sustainable development. If by “sustainable” we mean development that protects
bio-diversity, reverses deforestation, doesn’t foul the atmosphere, and doesn’t
turn the planet into a toxic waste dump, then, yes, we need more sustainable
development. But if we mean exhaustion of energy sources and commodities, then
we have barely scratched the surface of the earth’s energy sources and we are
only beginning to understand the potential of engineered substances that have
wide application. Economic growth is not a threat.

 

I think most
mainstream economists would embrace the above characterizations, although they
might vary considerably in how they weight the challenges we face. Personally,
it seems to me that we run two dangers. One is obliviousness to the
environmental impact of our economic actions and the failure to incorporate environmental
costs into our economic systems (and that is a tricky thing to do.) The other
is a Malthusian anti-technological mindset that wants to halt economic growth,
innovation, and trade. To me, both are an abandonment of our cultural mandate
to be stewards over creation and bring it to its fullness. Furthermore, living
simply (which has profound wisdom for holistic health) will not help others
simply live. Redistribution within a zero-sum game is the wrong framing. What
others need to simply live is productive, sustainable, and growing economies.

 

That’s
enough from me. Are you persuaded by the
economists’ observations of a dynamic system that involves continuous
innovation and substitution? What else needs to be considered that I’ve
omitted?

 

 



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Jjoe

posted September 30, 2009 at 8:46 am


I don’t see the danger from a Malthusian anti-technological mindset. I see danger stemming from a pro-technological mindset that says no matter what harm we do, we’ll find technology to save us.
This paradigm affects our personal behavior in two ways. It allows us to avoid taking any personal responsibility for a problem, and it tends to concentrate wealth by allocating resources based on how much money the person with the problem has.
The environment is an example of the first instance and health care is a great example of the second. Rather than spend $X on something simple, boring and effective like baby vitamins or ultrasound exams, we’ll spend thousands of times as much on a cancer treatment that benefits a very tiny few people.



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paul

posted September 30, 2009 at 9:07 am


I like your discussion of the environmental costs. I agree we need to factor this in.
Also, I like your discussion on the zero sum game and technology. This should be taken into account.
I do have a question though. Do we also need to factor in human injustice into the system? What about greed for today that ignores all sorts of problems that will come in the future?
I think the Malthusian mindset that you are describing might be a response (for some) to injustice and greed. For example, we may have enough food and money and resources to take care of those alive today in our world. But people are still starving and hurting all over the world. Why? The situation is more complex than I do justice to in this paragraph, but part of the reason people are in poverty is because of our injustice and greed that we allow to be apart of our daily lives (or course poor choices play in as well). So “live simply so others may simply live” may be a reminder of pushing back against greed/injustice by giving of what we have to help others. Not because it is a zero sum game, but because of sin in the world (both in people and in systems) doesn’t seem to always allow for resources to be distrubted evenly to those who are in need, even if those resources exist.
What do you think?



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John D'Elia

posted September 30, 2009 at 9:08 am


No comments save two: I’m enjoying this series of discussions, and I’ve been following it closely enough to think that this is the 4th installment and not the 3rd. Am I delusional about that?



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JKG

posted September 30, 2009 at 9:24 am


Michael,
This is interesting stuff, and you’ve done a masterful job of describing the context.
Your question is both very simple and very deep. The system is indeed dynamic, and clearly has benefited from innovation and substitution. I am not persuaded, however, that development will continue as it has. I have several observations about the models that drive my concern. They might qualify as omissions.
The models are too linear. They assume substitution or extension. This is not necessarily the case. We have reached a point of technological change that is non-linear. Nuclear weapons, genetic manipulation, nano-technologies — these are game-changers that don’t just make things faster or better. They expand the field, and not in a good way.
We are environmentally and socially at the limits of linearity. Not because we are out of resources, but because the system has become too large and complex. The systemic consequences of any particular set of actions are not longer certain–there are too may interactions to model accurately.
Lastly, we are not good at forseeing the unintended, collateral consequences of our actions. Cleaning up the leftover horse manure as we transitioned to automobiles was easy. Cleaning up the PCBs and asbestos and mercury has been expensive and complex. Cleaning up the CO2 problem may be impossible. Who knows what the consequences of cleaning up nano-technologies will be?
Is that enough for now?



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Travis Greene

posted September 30, 2009 at 10:09 am


I agree that we will probably come up with technologies that will allow us to use resources sustainably. What boggles me is when that fact is used as an argument for not coming up with technologies that will allow us to use resources sustainably.



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ChrisB

posted September 30, 2009 at 11:03 am


Jjoe,
Do you realize our air and water are much cleaner today than they were 30 years ago?
Once basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) are met, people start becoming more concerned with 2nd tier things, among them environmental issues (that this is 2nd tier seem unfortunate, but it is true). Starving people don’t care about recycling. Affluent people do.
Travis,
People don’t oppose “technologies that will allow us to use resources sustainably;” they oppose government mandates to that effect because government is detached from notions like cost, profitability, and efficiency. The market creates these things when they are appropriate.
Government can encourage their creation by making them more profitable or whatever, but ham-handed government action (e.g., cap and trade) tends to be like using a tourniquet to treat a paper cut.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted September 30, 2009 at 11:04 am


JJoe #1
?I see danger stemming from a pro-technological mindset that says no matter what harm we do, we’ll find technology to save us.?
I think you are catching only one half the tension I?m describing. I wrote:
?One is obliviousness to the environmental impact of our economic actions and the failure to incorporate environmental costs into our economic systems (and that is a tricky thing to do.)?
I not suggesting choosing between binaries but rather that both risk harm and good from technological innovation form a risk assessment dilemma. Embrace too little risk and we give up great good that could be achieved. Act with to much risk and we could cause great damage.
It is not always possible to anticipate the future impacts of our decisions. Wipe out recurring infectious diseases and you get massive global population growth as we did in the Twentieth Century. Provide abundant food supply and labor saving devices and obesity emerges. Build a car and you radically improve the mobility people have. Build too many and soon you begin to have a pollution problem.
Should we have not sought these technological advances even with the additional challenges they bring?



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Victor V Claar

posted September 30, 2009 at 11:29 am


An example I like of resource use is wood.
Three hundred years ago, we used wood for nearly everything. We constructed our homes with it. We made all of our transportation vehicles with it. We built our furniture with it. We even burned it as fuel for our home heating and our cooking.
Three hundred years ago, if we had been able to project that the US population would be over 300 million people strong, we would have predicted that the nation’s wood supply would have been utterly consumed decades and decades ago. True, it was a new nation then–one with lots of natural forests. But there is no way we could have kept using wood at the per-person rates of 300 years ago, let the population grow to over 300 million, and expected a single tree to be standing today. In fact, my understanding is that the state of West Virginia has been clear-cut, over the years, three times.
Yet we still have trees.
Science and good stewardship by profit-seeking timber companies together have combined to guarantee we will not be without trees. Science has let us use other materials besides wood for fuel, construction, and transportation. And profit-seeking timber companies know that renewing the forests maintains their livelihood. (In fact, most forest fires occur on government-owned land, not in privately-held forests. Timber companies keep their forests clean of debris so that their potential profits do not literally go up in smoke.)
I agree that trusting markets and prices to keep the environment safe is a bit like trusting free trade to make life better for all. But the track record in both cases should encourage us all and give us greater hope and peace–rather than “worry and woe” as Steve Bouma-Prediger has put it.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted September 30, 2009 at 11:36 am


Paul #2
I sympathize greatly with your question here. My education and passion has been in the area of economic development for the less advantaged. We need to distinguish between relief, rehabilitation, and development. My central point is that ?living simply that others my simply live? tends to frame things as zero-sum, where our gain is someone else?s loss and the solution is we do with less so others get more.
As Christians, It think we absolutely need to be doing more and too much of what we are already doing in gifts and mission trips is offering relief where rehabilitation and development are needed, thus dehumanizing those we seek to help and creating dependencies. Furthermore, redistribution is not as easy at it first appears. Great corruption, dysfunctional social structures, and lack of physical infrastructure are characteristic of societies with mass poverty. The societal soil from which a sustaining economic eco-system might spring is so unhealthy that aid is like trying to flowers in a bed of rocks. The societal soil needs tending for relief to work.
My passion to minister to the least of these is a big motivator for me in wanting to know how economic systems work. I?m with you that we who have the resources need to be less absorbed with material and status comforts. I just concerned that when we frame the issues incorrectly, no matter how well intended or seemingly justice oriented, we often thwart the good the might be done and even do unintended harm.



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EricG

posted September 30, 2009 at 11:39 am


Michael,
I was worried when I started reading your post, but was more happy with the balancing comments you made at the end. I also cringe when I hear “live simply so that others may simply live,” which ignores the economic realities. But from my perspective, the far greater danger today is from the collective action problem we have related to the environment; comments at the beginning of your post could be read to suggest too much optimism that markets will self correct the problem.
Much of economics is targeted at dealing with exernalities, which are costs we as individuals do not internalize when we make decisions. Economic degredation is a prime example: As an individual, I don’t internalize the entirety of the cost of the waste I myself generate. Neither does anyone else. So, if we are each acting in our own self interest, we generate far more waste than is efficient. Markets cannot self correct for this sort of externality in all instances. Carbon emissions is a prime example, where we really need global government intervention to correct market failure. This is fairly standard economics-type analysis, and I’m concerned that we not downplay it.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted September 30, 2009 at 12:04 pm


JKG #4
What you are describing is probably beyond the context of this post and series but it is at the core of the questions we need to be engaged in. That is why we need to have healthy dialog between science, economics, and theology, … and why the absence of such a dialog is such a travesty in the church.
I’m concerned about everything you mention. But I add the additional cost: The good we fail to do because we are too risk averse. There are great unknown costs and benefits no matter what our choices with innovation.
Have you read sociologist Anthony Giddens Runaway World: How Globalization is reshaping our lives? Here is a lengthy quote from his chapter on how we deal with risk and finding the middle way between scaremongering (overstating risk) and cover-up (understating risk):
“Let me move towards some conclusions and at the same time try to make sure my arguments are clear. Our age is not more dangerous ? not more risky ? than those of earlier generations, but the balance of risks and dangers has shifted. We live in a world where hazards created by ourselves are as, or more, threatening that those that come from outside. Some of these are genuinely catastrophic, such as global ecological risk, nuclear proliferation or the meltdown of the world economy. Others affect us as individuals much more directly, for instance those involved in diet, medicine or even marriage.
An era such as ours will inevitably breed religious revivalism and diverse New Age philosophies, which turn against a scientific outlook. Some ecological thinkers have become hostile to science, and even to rational thought more generally, because of ecological risks. This isn?t an attitude that makes much sense. We wouldn?t even know about these risks without scientific analysis. However, our relationship to science, for reasons already given, won?t and can?t be the same as in previous times.
We do not currently posess institutions which allow us to monitor technological change, nationally or globally. The BSE debacle in Britain and elsewhere [cover-up charges because of slow response to mad cow disease] might have been avoided if public dialogue had been established about technological change and its problematic consequences. More public means of engaging with science and technology wouldn?t do away with the quandary of scaremongering versus cover-ups, but might allow us to reduce some of its more damaging consequences.
Finally, there can be no question of merely taking a negative attitude toward risk. Risk always needs to be disciplined, but active risk-taking is a core element of a dynamic economy and an innovative society. Living in a global age means coping with a diversity of new situations of risk. We may need quite often to be bold rather than cautious in supporting scientific innovation or other forms of change. After all, one root of the term ?risk? in the original Portuguese means ?to dare?.” (34-35)



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dopderbeck

posted September 30, 2009 at 12:06 pm


Great post, Michael. I think you’re right about the repeated failures of Mathusian predictions due to the growth of technology. You’ve also properly noted the caveat that technological innovation can produce externalities such as environmental costs that always have to be factored into any welfare analysis (as EricG # 10 rightly notes).
I’d like to go even a bit further add an “eschatological” dimension here: I suspect that God’s creation of the “new heavens and new earth” will somehow involve the transformation and provision of unimaginably wonderful technologies. I might even do a riff on the “Tree of Life,” present in Eden and in the New Jerusalem, as in part a symbol of the gift of technology unadulterated by sin.
In the present reality, I’d offer one additional caveat, however, which comes from my work as a law-and-technology scholar: we can’t necessarily assume that the means of producing new technologies that fueled the industrial, information, and biotechnological revolutions will continue to be successful. We may already be seeing in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals that (a) we’re butting up against some knowledge plateaus; and (b) private markets supported by strong intellectual property regimes simply aren’t incentivizing the development and diffusion of essential medicines to most people, because of, among other things, price elasticity of demand.
In short – there are some pretty significant market failures arising from the present system, which leads to a good case for government regulation.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted September 30, 2009 at 1:12 pm


EricG #10
I actually had two paragraphs in my original draft dealing with externalities and the critical role of free democratic societies being push external costs back into market calculations. My guess was that people would raise the issue in the comments … or I could if they didn’t. :-) I’ve been trying to keep these posts to less than 1,000 words and I’ve succeeded only once. :-)
dopderbeck #12
I think our economic system, and the legal framework that supports it, has been in a continuous state of evolution.
I’m not certain that government regulation will necessarily be the answer. Have you read recent books like “Wikinomoics”? The idea here is that companies like IBM and P&G are moving away from intellectual property rights based models toward open source approaches, making their money on the consulting and marketing competencies while taking advantage of the expanding learning that comes from being open source. If they succeed in these models, intellectual property rights may recede as an impediment. Will this spread to biotech?
I think back to the 19th Century, and earlier, and one of the primary obstacles to amassing the capital necessary for large private enterprise was unlimited liability of investors. We adapted to limited liability options. Hernando DeSoto chronicles the rather serendipitous development of Anglo-Saxon property rights. If development plateaus because of intellectual property rights, then I expect we will adapt there as well. It’s unclear to me how it all plays out.



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dopderbeck

posted September 30, 2009 at 2:28 pm


Michael (#13) — a significant problem you’re overlooking here is regulatory capture. Intellectual property rules have moved towards stronger and stronger levels of protection, often without any rational economic / policy basis. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is Exhibit A here. Other examples include the extension of trademark law to “dilution” and the nearly whole-cloth adoption of U.S. / European IPR standards in the TRIPS Agreement. There are very strong arguments to be made that the best explanation for most of these moves is not economic efficiency, but rather the fact that a handful of strong lobby groups (e.g., the entertainment and Pharma industries) have captured the regulatory process.
Wikinomics is largely a myth, IMHO. In some pockets of the software and publishing industries, open source models have proved effective, but they are not portable (IMHO) to areas such as biotech. Even in the software / computer technology industries, open source methods often are employed for strategic reasons (i.e., precluding a competitor’s patent claims by dumping technology into the public domain) that aren’t necessarily efficient.
For more, see my articles, “The Penguin’s Genome, or, Coase and Open Source Biotechnology,” 18 Harvard J. Law & Tech. 167 (2005) and “The Penguin’s Paradox: The Political Economy of International Intellectual Property and the Paradox of Open Intellectual Property Models,” 18 Stanford L. & Pol. Review 101 (2007).



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JKG

posted September 30, 2009 at 4:55 pm


Michael (#11),
Thanks for your acknowledgment and willingness to engage such difficult topics! I have not read Giddens’ book, but am intrigued by the excerpt. I do not agree with his assessment of the relative risks of this age, however. Without wanting to get into the details (it’s been a very busy day), the concern is one he brings up: that our age differs in that many of the risks are of our own making. The exception I take to his analysis has to do with the nature of the risks.
On an individual basis, it may very well be that our life risks are the same, or even reduced, relative to earlier times. The risks of human-induced catastrophe are, however, much greater today… and they are not a priori quantifiable because of the system non-linearities and complexities I mentioned before (in #4). We are unleashing technologies for which we simply do not understand the aggregate societal risk.
Economic incentives then compel us to externalize those costs and risks for the sake of profitability. The lack of legal protections then allow those externalized risks and costs to fall on those least able to bear those costs. These are the fundamental issues we need to be addressing.
I do not come at this from a purely academic perspective. I have worked in systems engineering positions in a variety of industries for 30 years. I cut my professional teeth doing modeling of severe events in the nuclear power industry (yes… like Chernobyl). No matter how clever the technology, or the scientist, or engineer, or economist, the truth is that “my solution today will be your problem tomorrow.”
So the question I would pose back to you is this: how do we bring the Gospel into our deciding what policies and technologies are needful or helpful in this world?
Blessings and thanks,
JKG



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Michael W. Kruse

posted September 30, 2009 at 6:01 pm


dopderbeck #14
I look forward to checking out your articles.
I’m not that knowledgeable about intellectual property rights. I knew a little more about the field 10-20 years ago. Part of what drives my reflection on these issues is my work in the ’90s, developing standardized business information products that used dial-up databases like Dow Jones News Retrieval, Dialog, Newsnet, Investext, etc., for high-end clients. I attended trade shows and investment banking conferences where I heard industry experts declare with absolute certainty that certain market realities could not come true only to watch them emerge over the last decade. :-)
In addition to your articles, do you have any books you could recommend that a laymen could read?



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Michael W. Kruse

posted September 30, 2009 at 6:48 pm


JKG
“how do we bring the Gospel into our deciding what policies and technologies are needful or helpful in this world?”
Holy cow! How much time do we have to discuss this. :-)
My objective here is far more modest but I think it points to the starting point of your question. More scientists, economists, and theologians have to become cross-disciplinary. We need to make space for civil dialog where we can genuinely learn from the various disciplines … get beyond bumper sticker level dialog.
Awhile back I read “Where We Stand: A Surprising Look at the Real State of Our Planet” by Seymour Garte. It is true that as societies get wealthier they focus more on environmental concerns. But as Garte correctly points out, most of the changes in environmental improvement did not come from benevolent corporations. It was the presence of strong political structures where people could press their case (protecting their property rights and public good) in the political sphere to have environmental impacts pushed back into market transactions. Once that became the reality then industries had incentives to change and did so with considerable efficiency. Industries that get built on the model that causes problems in the future clearly have vested interested in preserving the status quo when the future comes. That is why democratic capitalism is so important.
You wrote:
“Economic incentives then compel us to externalize those costs and risks for the sake of profitability.”
Yes but who decides and who truly knows what those externalized costs are? What if costs are pushed on industry that we later find out were not real? Great good may have been sacrificed.
Take the climate change issue. Let’s assume the IPCC stuff is generally correct and over the next century we are going to experience a trillion or more dollars in damage because of what unfolds. Bjorn Lomborg claimed in the Washington Post recently that developing countries turning back CO2 levels to 1990, as is being proposed, will cost 40 trillion dollars, and that will make only a marginal change in the global temp by 2100. Elsewhere he has suggested that prudent steps toward carbon reduction while spurring economic growth would raise the world’s poor to economic levels where they can cope with the changes (today’s Nigerian in poverty is the economic equivalent of today’s average European in 2100.) Meantime, we work to adapt to do minimal environmental harm as possible.
What if turns out our climate models are wrong after all? What will we have sacrificed for our errors? Because we never see the world we didn’t create, we find it hard to incorporate it into our calculus but is potentially very high.
“… the truth is that “my solution today will be your problem tomorrow.”
That is true. But the choice not to innovate is a “solution” and it will be someone else’s problem tomorrow. :-) My primary point is there is no tidy way address the issues. There are no formulas.
On a different angle, I think one area where we need serious reflection is a theology that addresses what it means to live in a post-materialist age (where basic material provision is no longer the driving force for most.) The biblical world and most of the reflection of the past 2,000 years is from an economic reality that no longer exists. I don’t think most theological reflection has caught up to this.



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RJS

posted September 30, 2009 at 6:59 pm


Michael,
So I’ve got science, am working on theology…now you want to add economics to the mix! Are there enough hours in the day?



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Jjoe

posted September 30, 2009 at 6:59 pm


I just want to say what a pleasure it is to read such posts as these. It is a rare day indeed when you find such technological/economic knowledge on any blog, let alone a religious one.



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RJS

posted September 30, 2009 at 7:00 pm


(by the way – great posts)



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Michael W. Kruse

posted September 30, 2009 at 8:23 pm


RJS and JJoe
Thanks!
And RJS, I don’t think we need to be experts in each field. But if enough us learned enough common language, offered enough venues for dialog, and acted with civility, I think great things could happen.
Scot provides one such venue for this to emerge. Thanks Scot!



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STJ

posted September 30, 2009 at 8:43 pm


This series promises to be interesting, but it could be jazzed up “geometrically” if, say, growth-critiquing and fellow Christian economist Herman Daly were invited to go head-to-head with Michael Kruse. What do you think?
For what very little it may be worth…. Having grown up on free market writers like Milton Friedman and Henry Hazzlitt, etc., but with no formal training other than a few econ courses while getting a bachelors in finance, my recent attempts to deepen my understanding of these sorts of debates have led me to try and wrestle through the following books on my current reading list….
Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications, Herman E. Daly and Joshua Farley
Ecological Economics and Sustainable Development, Selected Essays of Herman Daly
The ABCs of Political Economy, Robin Hahnel
Economic Justice and Democracy, Robin Hahnel
Socialism after Hayek, Theodore A. Burczak (“Burczak is the only scholar working in the post-Marxist tradition that thoroughly understands and appreciates the Hayekian critique of socialism. He is on his way to answering many of our long-held objections,” writes Dave Prychitko. If that is so, doesn’t that say something rather pitiful about the state of academic discourse over the past several decades since Hayek began writing?!)
The Clashing Worlds of Economics and Faith, by James Halteman, a Mennonite believer and Wheaton econ prof. To sum up, Halteman believes that the best that a worldly system can offer is none too good, and we Christians need to model something better.
Where is all of this leading me? At the moment my tentative and very far from expert opinion is to think we’d have a WAY WAY more beautiful and livable and just world today if ingenuity and innovation from 1900 on had been channeled through the constraints that the ecological economists are proposing. We need a viable alternative to current forms of capitalism, but we will never pull it off without more people being radically changed and organizing themselves as followers of Jesus to mutually nurture and live out the values needed to make any alternative really work.
What I would REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY like is a blog moderated by a team of economics professors of contrasting “orientations” where laypeople like me could rather and go through books and articles together, ask questions, and hear various answers. The crunch I’m feeling is that these are matters that non-experts in a democratic society have a hard time getting a handle on, and yet we NEED to get a handle on them to make good decisions as citizens as well as believers in communities of faith.



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dopderbeck

posted October 1, 2009 at 10:24 am


Michael (#16) — if you actually make it through reading my articles, please let me know — I have a special prize for you!!
Re: books — there is an enormous amount of scholarship out there, which reflects, as you might expect, a wide diversity of viewpoints, with at least a half dozen major conflicting schools of thought. At a more popular / accessible level, Lawrence Lessig has written a number of helpful books, such as “Free Culture” and “Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace”). Lessig tells a “skeptical of IPRs” narrative that is pretty common in the legal academy, although by no means uncontested. A good general overview of IPRs that isn’t too technical an dincludes materials from the “pro-IPR” side is Robert Merges and Jane Ginsburg, “Foundations of Intellectual Property” (Foundation Press 2004).



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