[Repost] Why Work?

I am on vacation this week so I’m offering some previous posts from the blog that remain timely. I’ll be back online on Monday.


In her essay entitled, “Why Work?” Dorothy L. Sayers writes a scathing critique of the West (specifically, England). Her words were written during the Second World War when all of England was experiencing what might be called drastic shortages of certain food stuffs. Sayers points out that all industrial capitalist economies are based on consumption. That is to say, there is no market for goods and services except that there are parties who wish to consume (i.e., use) these goods or services. I might attempt to go into business as a physic advertizing that I can achieve wonderful results for sufferers of the gout by treating it with leaches and blood-letting. Not have consulted the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I am fairly willing to say that there is not a strong market for this sort of thing. There are no consumers.

The central point of her critique is that consumer capitalism erodes the Christian doctrine of vocation. Why? Sayers claims that the advent of modern capitalism has produced jobs rather than vocations (“callings”). The industrial revolution provided massive increases in the efficiency of labor. By dividing labor tasks (i.e., conveyor-belt) the production of goods could be radically increased. The problem? Increased efficiency in production is negligible apart from a similar increase in demand for said goods. If there is no corresponding increase in demands then the price of the goods falls.

The result of these advances was the removal of the worker from the creation of an item/product. In other words where once the same wheelwright was responsible for the creation of a wheel from start to finish, now one person treats the wood, another steams and shapes it, another makes the spokes, another forges the iron band, another markets and another delivers it. The division of labor here can drastically increase the number of wheel produced, but at what cost to the worker?

Sayers critique is based upon a couple of presuppositions. The first is that each individual is called to a vocation and that this vocation must be morally good, creative, constructive, and provide fulfilment to that person. [By this logic, no one is called to the vocation of tele-marketer.] Second, this vocation is one of the chiefest purposes of this person’s life and therefore, in Sayers’ mind, “we live to work rather than work to live.” She has no time for, indeed she claims it is sub-Christian, to work simply for the purpose of getting a pay check.

At the time of writing this essay, massive amounts of money were being spent on the war in Europe. Sayers poses the question, will the material sacrifices made during the war endure when the war ends? If anything, the war proved that “man does not live by bread alone.” Even with very little affluence, comfort, or luxury, the British people managed to live good lives. Of course, the war itself was serving as the chief consumer at the time, and the majority of businesses (public and private) were directed at providing products useable in that market.

Of course, we know now that the Post-War Western hemisphere has plunged headlong into the type of consumption that Sayers decried in Pre-War Europe. Does capitalism then actually improve lives? Does technology actually make humanity more contented? This is, of course, difficult to gauge. However, I will concede the point to Sayers that the world would be a better place if there were more artists–those who work because they must, not simply to get paid. Of course, given that I am writing this in a coffee shop on a notebook computer with a wireless card shows that I enjoy consuming plenty of goods and services!

There are many people who work simply to get a pay check. Perhaps they need not do this. Perhaps they grow accustomed to the comfort of a certain (or at least relatively certain) amount of money coming into their checking account each month. They could do otherwise, but over time they give up on their dreams. It is, perhaps, here that Entrepreneurs can teach us (and Sayers) something. At the start, the only reason to start a company is because you believe in it (unless you are a fraud). When you’re working 60 hours-a-week for next to nothing, you are building the character and discipline that will regulate you when the profits begin. Entrepreneurs are artists. We can quibble about whether the services they provide are truly necessary/good/worthwhile (or whatever justification you might require for the consumption of a good or service), but most entrepreneurs believe in what they’re doing. And they are the financial bedrock of their communities.

It’s encouraging to know that from a Christian perspective, entrepreneur can be a virtuous vocation. Once upon a time I would have agreed with all that Sayers’ wrote. Now I see the wisdom and limitations of her words. It is, after all, the same moral compass that creates wealth both by fueling wealth-creating businesses and precluding mindless consumption of unnecessary or overly-wasteful goods and services.

Why do you work?

In her essay entitled, “Why Work?” Dorothy L. Sayers writes a scathing critique of the West (specifically, England). Her words were written during the Second World War when all of England was experiencing what might be called drastic shortages of certain food stuffs.

Sayers points out that all industrial capitalist economies are based on consumption. That is to say, there is no market for goods and services except that there are parties who wish to consume (i.e., use) these goods or services. I might attempt to go into business as a physic advertizing that I can achieve wonderful results for sufferers of the gout by treating it with leaches and blood-letting. Despite my not having consulted the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I am fairly willing to say that there is not a strong market for this sort of thing. There are no consumers.

The central point of her critique is that consumer capitalism erodes the Christian doctrine of vocation. Why? Sayers claims that the advent of modern capitalism has produced jobs rather than vocations (“callings”). The industrial revolution provided massive increases in the efficiency of labor. By dividing labor tasks (i.e., conveyor-belt) the production of goods could be radically increased. The problem? Increased efficiency in production is negligible apart from a similar increase in demand for said goods. If there is no corresponding increase in demands then the price of the goods falls.

The result of these advances was the removal of the worker from the creation of an item/product. In other words where once the same wheelwright was responsible for the creation of a wheel from start to finish, now one person treats the wood, another steams and shapes it, another makes the spokes, another forges the iron band, another markets and another delivers it. The division of labor here can drastically increase the number of wheel produced, but at what cost to the worker?

Sayers critique is based upon a couple of presuppositions. The first is that each individual is called to a vocation and that this vocation must be morally good, creative, constructive, and provide fulfilment to that person. [By this logic, no one is called to the vocation of tele-marketer.] Second, this vocation is one of the chief purposes of this person’s life and therefore, in Sayers’ mind, “we live to work rather than work to live.” She has no time for, indeed she claims it is sub-Christian, to work simply for the purpose of getting a pay check.

At the time of writing this essay, massive amounts of money were being spent on the war in Europe. Sayers poses the question, will the material sacrifices made during the war endure when the war ends? If anything, the war proved that “man does not live by bread alone.” Even with very little affluence, comfort, or luxury, the British people managed to live good lives. Of course, the war itself was serving as the chief consumer at the time, and the majority of businesses (public and private) were directed at providing products useable in that market.

Of course, we know now that the Post-War Western hemisphere has plunged headlong into the type of consumption that Sayers decried in Pre-War Europe. Does capitalism then actually improve lives? Does technology actually make humanity more contented? This is, of course, difficult to gauge. However, I will concede the point to Sayers that the world would be a better place if there were more artists–those who work because they must, not simply to get paid. Of course, given that I am writing this in a coffee shop on a notebook computer with a wireless card shows that I enjoy consuming plenty of goods and services!

There are many people who work simply to get a pay check. Perhaps they need not do this. Perhaps they grow accustomed to the comfort of a certain (or at least relatively certain) amount of money coming into their checking account each month. They could do otherwise, but over time they give up on their dreams.

It is, perhaps, here that Entrepreneurs can teach us (and Sayers) something. At the start, the only reason to start a company is because you believe in it (unless you are a fraud). When you’re working 60 hours-a-week for next to nothing, you are building the character and discipline that will regulate you when the profits begin. Entrepreneurs are artists. We can quibble about whether the services they provide are truly necessary/good/worthwhile (or whatever justification you might require for the consumption of a good or service), but most entrepreneurs believe in what they’re doing. It’s encouraging to know that from a Christian perspective, entrepreneurship can be a virtuous vocation.

So, why do you work? Is there something else you’d be doing if you didn’t have to get a paycheck? 

Is Globalism Dead?

You will find below a copy of a book review featured on the URBANA 06 website (www.urbana.org). —————————————————-
The Collapse of Globalism

Authors: John Ralston Saul
ISBN: 1585676292
Publisher: Overlook Hardcover
Number of pages: 224
Type of cover: Hard Cover

Summary:
reviewed by Paul Grant

Globalism collapsed between 1995 and 2002. During this seven-year period internal contradictions in the religion called Globalism began to come home to roost: ever-increasing inequalities, surging developing-world debt, and so on.

So goes the main argument of John Ralston Saul’s remarkable book. The Collapse of Globalism is the story of intellectual overreach: an economic philosophy that evolved into a proud theology of salvation for humankind. By eliminating all barriers to trade, the message was, globalism would unleash the forces of creativity in human hearts and would point those hearts toward wealth creation. Preoccupied with global economic opportunities, we would find bad activities like war, injustice and racism too costly to be continued. Thus globalism would lift the whole world out of poverty and would lead to democracy everywhere.

Most telling about all these promises was the blind optimism of it all: Globalism’s true believers felt (and continue to feel), that history was on their side, and that the sooner we aligned our systems to favor unlimited global trade, the sooner our problems would disappear.

Ralston Saul gnashes against such inevitabilities, believing instead that the options available to humans to shape their own destiny in the world have yet to be exhausted. During the nineties, he says, more and more people began to believe the same: that the infinite expansion of global trade was indeed not inevitable, or even desirable. At a more local level, people began to doubt the necessary connection between free trade and democracy. China has done quite well with free trade without succumbing to democracy, and many international corporations can function just as well under tyrannies as under democracies.

I witnessed the collapse of Globalism, as John Ralston Saul defines it, during my years at the University of Wisconsin, one of the great activist schools. Between 1995 and 1999, I hung out with students determined to stop a mine in northern Wisconsin from polluting a nearby wildlife refuge. It was a unique story, as erstwhile political enemies (Native tribes and non-Native sportsmen) joined up with lefty college students to agitate on a local level against an international mining consortium. Eventually the Natives won, but only after a lengthy battle for the hearts and minds of everyday Wisconsinites.

On campus, the Crandon Mine struggle was able to command student attention for several years in a row – eons in college-years – long enough for a full anti-globalist movement to emerge, which later merged with the local branch of the Green Party and took up all range of wild political causes.

But for those few short years between 1995 and 1999, a local debate became a battlefield for a global debate. In order to protect a small swamp in the north woods from cyanide leeching, these students had to grow up in a hurry, educating themselves about global economics, global treaties and more.

By 1999 protests were a daily affair. Students were getting much more sophisticated, and began branching out into struggles against the sweatshop production of varsity garments and other righteous (so we felt) causes. It came as no surprise then, when that November’s World Trade Organization summit in Seattle exploded in riots.

The bigger surprise was that the riots were such a surprise to the WTO. Had they really been living such an isolated existence that they didn’t recognize the burgeoning hostility to unfettered Globalism in the very heartland of the economic world, the United States?

Apparently they had. According to Ralston Saul’s account, the leading proponents of Globalism were far more than capitalists; they were true believers of a religion. This religion’s great evangelists, like Thomas Friedman, Milton Friedman and others, see evidence for economics’ primacy in all world events, including political, cultural, and even spiritual. In April 2004, for instance, Thomas Friedman said in an interview:

[H]aving spent the last two years on 9/11, post-9/11, pre-Iraq, Iraq, and post-Iraq – I really had lost the thread of the globalization story, and I found it in Bangalore, on my last trip to India.1

Wrong. This is an attempt to understand a nation’s rapid development as Globalism. Look beneath the surface, and India’s growth looks a lot more like Japan’s post-war explosion, or any of several other national economic miracles. Such growth serves the global economy only incidentally, but is quite focused on building a nation – in this case the second-largest nation in the world. Meanwhile, the largest (China) and the third-largest (the United States) both cherry-pick their global economic commitments, while resolutely tending to their own national interests. If Ralston Saul is to be believed, such local self-interest is normal, growing, and is not dangerous in itself.

The great strength of this book lies in Ralston Saul’s pragmatic understanding of life. Globalism, like Marxism before it and other ideologies since, tried to shoehorn humanity into a materialistic model, usually with dehumanizing results. Since people and cultures won’t ever be reduced to economics, Ralston Saul has expanded his survey to account for complexity. He is the first philosopher I have read who has given sufficient thought to the incredible rise of Christianity across Asia, Africa and Latin America.

He fails, however, in his insistence on viewing the growth of the church around the world as evidence of the failure of the social safety net. How about taking African and Asian spiritual decisions at face value? Is it not possible that people in those countries have the same intellectual capacities as Westerners, and choose to follow Jesus for greater reasons than insecurity in the face of national debt? By preemptively dismissing the possibility that real truth, real salvation, and real power for real life lies behind such growth in the church, he reduces converts’ humanity by doubting the freedom of their choices.

More significantly, no ethic lies behind Ralston Saul’s essay, save boring, unsalty utilitarianism. The requisite quotes from the Qu’ran are here, along with Confucius’ admonitions concerning modesty in ambition. Unfortunately, history belongs to the ambitious, and as Ralston Saul himself notes, intellectual vacuums are always filled. To set about describing the collapse of globalism with no greater ethic than enlightenment humanism is the safe way to go. Perhaps that’s to be expected for someone out to bury a tried-and-wanting ideology. But our day is one experiencing a vacuum at the highest level. Where are those Christians willing to fill it with a whole-life vision for the healing of the nations? This is your hour.

The Collapse of Globalism is a wise and mature book, restrained enough that occasional low punches ring with power (example: at one point Ralston Saul describes irresponsible speculators as being “overburdened with gonadal energy”). It might not be a book for newcomers to the discussion, but Ralston Saul’s extended essay should not be missed by anyone concerned with global economic justice.

1 YaleGlobal, April 4, 2004

Economic Development as Witness to the Gospel

Can MBAs Make a Difference among the Poor?

Micro-Enterprise Development in the Central African Republic

By John Terrill and Al Erisman

During June 2006, John Terrill, Director for InterVarsity’s Professional Schools Ministries, and Al Erisman, Director for the Center of Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University, led an exploratory MBA missions project to the Central African Republic (C.A.R.). Other team members included Francis Friend, Urbana Operations Manager; Susan Tseng, InterVarsity graduate from Harvard Business School, now working in the healthcare industry in New York City; and Ilka Montross, a 2006 graduate from Vanderbilt University’s (Owen School of Management) MBA program.

Our team partnered with Integrated Community Development International (ICDI), a ministry focused on water-well drilling, orphan care, AIDS education and prevention, Christian educational radio broadcasting, and micro-enterprise development (MED).

The purpose for the project was twofold. First, we sought to support ICDI in its efforts to understand more clearly the climate for enterprise development, as well as shape and guide its own micro-enterprise initiatives in the C.A.R. In impoverished countries like the C.A.R., micro-enterprise development is one of the most effective vehicles for spiritual, social, and economic transformation. We interviewed approximately 140 individuals working in business, education (including the IFES group at Bangui University), government, non-government organizations (NGOs), and the church. Our team also met and interviewed villagers and village leaders to understand the unique economic challenges of village life. The final product of all of this research will be an economic assessment of the country and recommendations for next steps for ICDI in the development of its MED program.

Second, we assessed whether work in the C.A.R. could be a viable long-term project for future InterVarsity teams, especially groups of MBA students, graduates, and faculty. We believe it does, and we are tentatively planning to send a team during June 2007. These kinds of projects, which utilize the unique skills, experiences, and training of business practitioners, are part of a larger, growing movement called Business-As-Mission (BAM). Given the forces of globalization in the world, the BAM movement seeks to harness the unique opportunities available to business practitioners for holistic transformation in the lives of people, institutions, and countries around the world. The Open for Business track offered at Urbana 06 is specifically geared to explore such possibilities.

Located in Central Africa, the C.A.R. is slightly smaller than Texas and is completely landlocked. Its capitol is Bangui, a city of nearly 800,000 people.

The C.A.R. (formerly a part of the Federation of French Equatorial Africa) gained independence from France in 1960. With a population of 3.7 million, it is one of the poorest countries in the world and represents one of the most underdeveloped regions in Africa. In 2000, annual per capita income was $310 (US). The Central African Republic is near the bottom of the world in spending on healthcare, education, law enforcement, and other basic human services.

The factors that work against economic development in the C.A.R. are varied and include: government corruption and financial instability, lack of security, the spread of AIDS, lack of medical care, lack of schools, absence of transportation and banking infrastructure, fundamental poverty, and lawlessness. The church, which is quite large (estimates vary from 30-80% of the population identifying itself as Christian), also at times impedes economic progress by focusing exclusively on issues of personal salvation and not on issues of Christian faith and daily life. This result is people going to church on Sunday, but divorcing issues of faith from work on Monday. We heard this from a number of leaders across various segments of society, including Dr. Augustin Hibaile, a former pastor and present Executive Director for CIDEL, a Central African Ethics Forum and Advocacy Group.

To give you an indication of the general instability and financial problems of the government, the Central African Republic has suffered four military mutinies and a six-month war over the last ten years. In addition, our team learned during our visit that retired government workers who paid into social security at a 17% annual rate over many years draw no money at all, and many sources told us that government workers have not been paid a full wage for forty months.

Lack of government financial resources in turn creates security problems in the country — bandits terrorize by blocking roads, ambushing travelers, and pillaging villages. During our visit, thirty-five C.A.R. soldiers were ambushed and massacred by rebel soldiers in N’deli, which sits along a major road connecting Gamboula and Bayanga. Lack of financial resources also leads to inadequate transportation systems. In spite of featuring a railroad on the 10,000 CFA bill (the common currency for six central African nations, including the C.A.R.), there are no railroads in the C.A.R. Most roads are in dilapidated condition (of the 13,700 miles of roads in the C.A.R., only 300 miles are paved), and dozens upon dozens of checkpoints make it nearly impossible to move products to market in a timely manner. We were told that a truck coming from neighboring Cameroon might need to be stopped and possibly be detained at a 100 checkpoints in order to deliver products to Bangui.

Complicating hope for significant economic development is an underdeveloped banking system that is inaccessible to most Central Africans. One report we reviewed indicated that an annual income of $400 (US) was required in order to open up a savings account. This locks out most citizens, since two-thirds of the population earns less than $1 (US) per day. AIDS also takes a terrible toll on the people and resources of the country. In the capital city of Bangui alone, with a population of almost 800,000, we were given an estimate of 100,000 AIDS orphans. Education systems do not offer much hope either. The C.A.R. ranks 168th out of 175 countries in the world on the Human Education Indicator.

Although there are many serious impediments to business, we see signs of hope for enterprise development in the C.A.R. There are good examples of entrepreneurs who are starting and growing business in the face of all these challenges. There is a growing desire by leaders across many segments of society to stand up to the corruption in the country (two deputy ministers told us that two national laws had been passed in the past year to combat corruption). And there are important changes taking place in the educational system as well. Bangui University is introducing new courses in business and entrepreneurship, and the local arts school is introducing courses in marketing to help artists with the business side of producing art.

Micro-enterprise development efforts that result in sustainable jobs, commerce, and small business are welcomed by the people of the C.A.R. and open up numerous doors for the gospel of Jesus Christ to take deep root. Many examples come to mind from the dozens of interviews we held while in the C.A.R. The women of Zako struck us as an especially encouraging example. The village of Zako, about 13 km from Bangui, has about 9,000 people under the responsibility of three chiefs. Six women from this village heard about the research we were conducting, and lacking transportation, walked to see us.

Starting in their village as an AIDS awareness group, the women of Zako recognized that they needed to help meet the financial needs of their families, as the salary of the men was not enough. To get started with an entrepreneurial venture, they taxed themselves, collecting the necessary funds to start a business producing tomato paste, soap, and handbags. They have overcome every challenge before them and have generated a profitable business. Armed with a business plan in hand, they approached our team with the request for a micro-loan to grow their business.

These women are wise beyond their education. They are imaginative in their product and marketing plans. They are not waiting for a handout but are moving ahead for something better with the resources they generate. They readily acknowledged that life in the C.A.R. is hard and dealing with so many orphans is a burden. But they are determined to make progress, and they inspired us.

There are several possibilities for the future. We are recommending that ICDI grow its MED capability, perhaps in collaboration with partners. Education will have to be a strong component of this growth because there is so little business education or experience in the country. One significant opportunity for making a difference in the C.A.R. is to find churches that are open to a more holistic view of faith. Through the church, it is possible to get out the message of the importance of daily work representing the Kingdom of God. This includes both avoiding negative things like corruption in business, and creating positive opportunities for people to meet needs for themselves and their neighbors through good work. One church, in particular, suggested we return and do some training sessions for their members on basic business skills and entrepreneurship.

As a team, we gained so much from our time in the C.A.R. The country has a rich cultural history. Worshiping and celebrating with the Central Africans was a gift that we will not soon forget. It is a country that remains hopeful, teaching us much about trust and faith amid the daily struggles of life and work. The C.A.R. is also a country with many courageous and gifted leaders, and we met many of them in our interviews. They fight for what is right, and they lead valiantly with limited resources and support. Providing a rich environment for the integration of Christian faith and business and the power of economics to enrich lives and bring healing, a mission project focused on enterprise development left our team with a much deeper sense of how our vocations in business are an integral part of God’s plan to bring economic, social, and spiritual vitality to communities around the world.