December 21, 2008

Economics, Part VII: Politics and the Economy

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I'm loathe to discuss the political side of economics mostly because I abhore politics and politicians. But I have to say this.

There was an awful lot of bantering of the word "socialism" in this past election; the lefties wanted us to go socialist, to make a "better" America, where there's no poverty and everybody is healthy and well-educated, all because of our benevolent government's wonderful policies. Please. As if a bunch of laws could do that; "give all your money to the government (because you have to, or we'll just take all of it instead of just most of it) and they'll make sure everyone gets what's 'fair.'" As if a bunch of independently wealthy politicians are the ones to decide what's "fair" for the lower- and middle-class. The righties didn't help either. Instead of advocating socialism, the righties warned of the "dangers" of socialism, that our freedoms will supposely be ripped from our grasp, our way of life "destroyed." No offense guys, but ... what? It doesn't work that way either. First, even if Obama wanted to build the perfect socialist state, he's got 200 years of history and a bipartisan(ish) government against him (not to mention thousands of years of human nature). Second, he can only do so much as President; the Legislative branch (Congress and Senate) and the Judicial branch both are supposed to keep him accountable to the Constitution and other laws. Third, he'll be done in at most, eight years. That's not enough time to become socialist. If the American people don't like it (remember, we are still some semblence of a democracy), we'll just vote in the candidate who is AntiObama (the antiObama ... antibama? whatever), just like we just voted out George W. Bush. Fear mongering by both sides was the issue in this (and past) elections, each side pushing to prove that, while they're obviously not perfect, they're better than "the other guy."

Lastly, and this is my point, why would electing a new president cause our freedom to be "ripped" from our grasp? Some say that it's that we're "surrendering" our freedom, and I'll concede the possibility of that point, because the only way for our freedom to be taken away is for us to give it away (I'm getting ahead of myself here, that'll come in the next post). We, as both individuals and as a community of Americans, are responsible for the maintenance of our freedom. Sarah Palin (of all people) said it well, I think, when she talked about the mortguage crisis:
I think we need to band together and say 'never again.' Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars. ... Let's do what our parents told us before we probably even got that first credit card: don't live outside of our means. We need to make sure that as individuals we're taking personal responsibility through all of this. It's not the American people's fault that the economy is hurting like it is, but we have an opportunity to learn a heck of a lot of good lessons through this and say never again will we be taken advantage of.
Later, she mentioned that Americans had been convinced by the banks to buy a $300,000 house when all they could afford was a $100,000 house. This is what I'm talking about: think. Be skeptical and ask hard questions. Use your ability to choose, to make decisions based on information. Question the sources of that information; people are biased just like you, and will phrase their statements in such a way as to favor their opinions (can we say "mainstream media" here without being too accusatory?).

And this brings me to today's news. My friend Greg mentioned a piece of that caught my attention too: Ford has decided (chosen) not to take the Government's bailout money. Instead, they have decided to restructure, figure out how to do their business better. In other words, they are choosing to allow the capitalist system to determine their fate. The government, meanwhile, sees fit to hand out money to companies that obviously haven't produced a superior product (can you say "GM"?). This is not to say that Ford has no other motives; everybody seems to be driven by economics these days, especially large corporations. Ford, though they're "in the hole" compared to companies like Toyota and Honda, must figure that this will not only boost their image (showing their confidence in their product), But perhaps it was also a wake-up call to improve on their methods and means, to spend the time to research better technology and actually produce a car or truck that can compete with foreign companies. They have chosen not to simply accept the status quo, but to actively attempt to change their situation without using the tax dollars of the customers they are attempting to woo. In short, they are being "responsible."

(to be continued ...)

December 18, 2008

Employment Purgatory

It's the waiting that kills me.

I have never been the sort of person that enjoyed waiting. I can do it, but mostly through grudging acceptance rather than joyous celebration. The anticipation of something unknown coming drives me crazy. Even in stories, I want to flip to the back and find out how it ends; suspense movies make me want to fast-forward and just get on with it (but I don't, because I'd get yelled at by other viewers).

Oh come, oh come Emmanuel

But it's worst when the waiting is for a major change. Right now, I have no job. I graduated a week or two ago, and have been job hunting since April. So far, two churches nearly hired me (but didn't), one told me they'd like to but couldn't (they needed somebody with counseling skills or something), and forty-four others either rejected me outright or are still pending. I'm hopeful of two of them at the moment, but there's no guarantee of anything. No guarantees.

And ransom captive Israel

I have no assurance that God will provide the amazing job that I want, where I want it, or when it's convenient. If someone ever tells you that God guarantees good circumstances to his people, that person is either deluded or deliberately misleading you. Lots of people in scripture were not given ideal circumstances. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, Moses was cast from his place as the son of Pharaoh into the wilderness, Israel was forced into exile from its homeland, Jesus hung on a cross, Paul was beaten, imprisoned, and stoned, and Stephen was martyred. There are no guarantees. I've led a comfortable existence; I grew up in a good home with godly parents and enough to live a comfortable, middle-class life. I received the best education, have a wonderful wife, and haven't yet had to live in a place without heat or electricity. I've never been homeless, but have always had my needs - and many of my wants - taken care of without an overbearing workload.

That mourns in lonely exile here

And yet the waiting is killing me. The more I study scripture, the more I see that God works through those uncertainties, those fears and doubts. As Calvin's dad would say, "it builds character!" To wait is to undergo a trial that tests faith, and through that testing, to build it. The more often God comes through for me, the more I persevere in trusting that He'll pull through with something (even if it's not at all what I was expecting), the more I grow to trust that he'll come through again next time. Sure, He could just make it all better right now, but would that do me any good?

Until the Son of God appears

My assurance is not in prosperity or well-being, but in presence. But assurance is not knowing for sure. Assurance is built on trust, on relationship. It's a functional thing - because I've known Jesus as long a I have, I trust that He'll be there. His words - "I'll be with you always, even till the end of the age" - are only words until they're backed up by experience. I took a leap of faith once, and He came through. Because He's proven himself already, I can trust that He'll come through again.

Rejoice, rejoice; Emmanuel shall come to thee, oh Israel

And so I wait in anticipation, wondering at what new thing God's going to do next. It still doesn't really feel easier this time around, though.

December 13, 2008

The Elephant in the Room

I'll get to writing something a little more lengthy soon, but for now, I leave you with this. White elephant parties are the bane of the Christmas Season for me. Not only do they exemplify the consumerism that's taken over the holiday, but they are basically just a step in-between your junk drawer and the landfill. So why not have fun with it this year and mess with the lady in the reindeer sweater that decided it'd be a good idea?

Also, an alternative Christmas letter.

Yes. Yes you can.