Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

Waste Not Want

October 20, 2017

I didn’t see much report about this in the news over the summer, but it seems like a pretty big deal.  China has been a major importer of the world’s recyclable materials, but is making changes that will place major restrictions on the type and amount of material it accepts in the future.  I haven’t been able to confirm it, but I’ve heard anecdotally that China – until these changes take effect – has imported up to 40% of America’s recyclable material.

That should have a major impact on our country, seeing the massive amount of plastics we use.  It’s going to get more expensive, at least in the short term, to find alternate ways of dealing with losing a major market for our recyclables.  It hopefully will drive us to find better ways of handling them in the first place.  Oversees, it was routine to see multiple bins in the places we stayed.  The expectation was that the household would clean and divide up the types of waste.  Organic waste/table scraps in one bin, paper waste in another, plastics in another, aluminum in another, etc.  It was a little excessive compared to our policy where we live that we just throw all the recyclables into a single bin for weekly pick up.

Much of what we do and how we do it is driven by convenience.  But convenience has a price, a price we’ve been able to deflect somewhat, but which may get harder and therefore more expensive to mitigate.  Hopefully that will spur our American creativity and ingenuity to find better solutions than we have so far.  It would be nice to see us dealing with our own issues and consequences rather than just off-loading them to other countries.

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Aquaponics 2

October 19, 2017

We’ve taken one step forward and two steps back this week in our aquaponics venture.  I procured three large 55-gallon drums for starter tanks.  But I also discovered this week that the most popular and common form of fish for aquaponics – tilapia – is not permitted in the county we live in (gotta loooooovvvveeee California!).

I had suspected this to be the case for a few weeks now after scouring the Internet.  But I held out hope that exceptions might be made if the system was completely self-contained (as opposed to privately stocking tilapia in a pond on your property or something).  I referred to the California game and fish web site to begin with.  I called the contact number listed there.  But the number was actually some sort of nation-wide contact, so they had to transfer me to a California person.  That person had to transfer me to someone else, and that person transferred me to someone else, who gave me the name and number of the person she was transferring me to, and I left a voice mail with this person.  She responded within an hour or so to give me another name and  number where I left a voice mail.  This woman called back in a couple of hours and was extremely pleasant but confirmed there were no exceptions to the tilapia ban.  She e-mailed me a variety of resources that will be very helpful as we progress, and gave me the name of  a guy down in San Diego that I have e-mailed, asking for his next best recommendation for an aquaponics fish.

In the meantime I’ve started researching other options for fish.  Catfish seems to be the next-best option in terms of growing quickly.  But it’s a less popular fish to eat.  We’ll see what the San Diego guy recommends.

Challenging Vocations

September 27, 2017

As a ‘bonus’ for now being a vice-president, I got to hang around for an extra morning of meetings today!  Truth be told, I would probably have had to stay anyways, but still.  It’s a painful sort of gratitude, if you ask me.

Our District President was welcoming and providing some training to the Circuit Visitors (which was another of my titles – along with Grand Poobah – until very recently).  These pastors serve as the most local representation of the larger District and ultimately the District President, and are his go-to guys for helping out with situations good and bad that happen throughout the District.

He shared that currently there are 19 congregations in our District that are in the process of Calling a pastor.  Normally that number is higher but there were a lot of Calls and installations that occurred over the summer so the number is momentarily lower.  There are also another 40+ congregations who can’t afford to Call a full-time pastor.  He discussed how, due to the very high cost of living in coastal Southern and Central California, it is increasingly difficult to find pastors able to come here because they’re afraid they aren’t going to be able to afford to live here.  While our District provides guidelines to congregations to assist them in paying their pastors a living wage, some estimate that at least half of the congregations in the District are paying below the District recommendations, either out of necessity or ignorance.  He then commented that his word to guys considering Calls to this area is to advise them that they need to expect that their wives will have to work outside of the home to generate additional income so their family can survive.

And that reality sticks in my craw.

Culturally, of course, the idea of women working outside the home has been championed not as a choice that a woman might avail herself of based on her interests and abilities, but rather a necessary demonstration of the equality of women.  Because feminism quickly jumped the rails ideologically, it defines equality between men and women as women doing everything that men do.  This assumption is remarkably misogynistic, ironically – that what a man does should be the basis for generating respect and therefore is the definition of equality.  Rather than demanding equality for women as women – in whatever vocational direction they prefer to go – feminism insists that only by working outside the home does a woman have any real worth, and that opting to work at home as a mother and spouse is demeaning and a betrayal of women everywhere.

How is the Church to respond to this redefinition of equality?  Rather than being created equal, we are only equal in terms of what we do.  I don’t have an issue with a woman or a wife working outside the home.  I don’t view them as inferior to men in their productive capacities in the workplace at all.  Nor do I espouse the mentality of men who assume or assert that a woman’s place must be in the home.  But I do have an issue with an ideological assumption in our culture that women will or even must work outside the home – whether for ideological reasons or economic reasons.  And I worry about a Church culture that goes along with this because it’s economically advantageous.

I’m blessed to serve a congregation that pays me enough to live on so that my wife can work in the home – raising our children, educating our children, and being a partner par excellence.   I say regularly that she has the harder job of the two of us, and I’m mostly serious.  And just like a man working by the sweat of his brow in a field or an office, the burden of responsibility she bears in her work takes its toll on her.  Only an idiot presumes that a wife not working outside the home isn’t working.   And only an equally ignorant person would assume that just because there isn’t a paycheck made out in her name every two weeks that the work she provides is worth any less than her husband earning a paycheck.  My paycheck is also hers.  Only by working together can we earn it.  We support one another.  This is our equality, that we support one another in complementary and different ways – not that we do exactly the same sorts of things.

This is the Biblical understanding of the relationship between men and women, a relationship that was damaged significantly in the Fall (Genesis 3), but is being restored in Christ, to the point where Paul can cryptically share that marriage is actually a representation of the relationship between Christ and his Church (Ephesians 5:32).  It is an equality that celebrates our differences and complementary natures that express themselves physiologically, psychologically, theologically, and in all sorts of other -allies that I’m too lazy to list.

So for the Church to say to a husband and wife we want you, but we want to force you both to work outside the home rather than honoring and supporting the roles that you have found work well for you and your family is dangerous to me.  We lament the demise of the family but are unwilling because of fear of cultural backlash to look at how the redefinition of family and gender roles has contributed to this.  We marvel that our kids and grandkids aren’t in church, yet we entrust their intellectual and social formation primarily to an institution that is now actively working against encouraging or even just respecting a life lived in faith.  We presume that the constant mantra of buy, buy, buy must be answered with dual incomes.

Again, this is not a diatribe against women working outside the home!  But it is intended as an alarm to a church that demands this.   The work of the Church should not come at the expense of the family.  The family is the original and first Church, and the Church would do well to remember this and promote and support the family in every possible way, rather than seeking to put the family in service to the Church.  I would far rather, if I had a congregation of young parents, that instead of spending all their time at congregational functions and events they would spend time together at home intentionally as a couple and a family.  That they would take on the major responsibility for raising their children in the faith and nurturing faith in one another.  The Church should stand ready to assist in this, but it is a dangerous turn when the Church ends up putting programs ahead of the relationships those programs should serve.

I will be having conversations with our District leadership in my new capacity to explore and discuss this issue further.  There isn’t much to be done about it officially since our congregations are self-governing.  But we certainly can and should, I believe, adopt an attitude that challenges congregations who make these sorts of assumptions and place these sorts of expectations on the families they wish to serve them.  Sacrifices for the Gospel shouldn’t surprise us.  But it ought to surprise and dismay us when the Church is the one demanding the sacrifice.

 

Aquaponics 1

September 26, 2017

We try to eat healthy, and more and more we have developed concerns about the things that are in the food we eat, and most particularly in the meat.  We’ve considered various options for doing some self-sustainable food production.  Gardens were of limited success as people lost interest in them and would forget to water them.  Chickens seemed challenging given that we have two medium-sized dogs.  I suggested raising rabbits for meat but my wife has firmly nixed this idea.

What if we did aquaponics, I suggested.  Aquaponics creates a self-sustaining ecosystem based on fish and plants.  Fish are raised (sometimes for food, which is our intention, and sometimes not to eat) and their water is cleaned and filtered by pumping it through growing beds where the ammonia and nitrogen of the fish waste is filtered out through growing medium, which in turn allows plant roots to access these nutrients.  The only ongoing input into the system is food for the fish and additional water to offset evaporation.  Even with evaporation the total water usage is supposed to be far less than growing a vegetable garden in a piece of land (unless you get a lot of rain and don’t need to water the plants on your own, I suppose).

The family loved the idea.  We like the idea of growing more of our own food and thus ensuring that it is free of pesticides and herbicides and hormones and antibiotics and whatever else gets into our food these days.  We also like the idea of learning together how to build the system.  It could be a business opportunity for the kids as they get older, consulting and building systems for other people as well as potentially – if our system grows large enough – sustaining a business to local restaurants eager for local, healthy fish.

There’s a lot of information on the Internet about how to do this.  It isn’t complicated, beyond getting the system created and connected with PVC piping, pumps, drains, etc.  I’ve decided to chronicle our journey in case it’s helpful to others.

Step number one was to ensure that our water was as healthy as possible.  We’re on city water, which provides a certain level of filtering and treatment, but which results in chlorinated and fluoridated water.  While the fluoridation may not be a big deal, the chlorine is.  So last week we had a plumber remove the salt-based water softening system that came with the house when we bought it, and installed a two-stage water filtering system instead.

Just that step alone has taken nearly a year of research!

There are so many options out there!  Some systems – like the one in the house when we bought it – can cost thousands of dollars.  Or you can go online or to Home Depot’s web site and find filtering systems for under $100.  How do you make a decision?

Mainly, it seems to depend on where you’re getting your water – and thus how much sediment filtering you need – and what you specifically hope to filter out of the water.  We examined filtering systems, not water softening systems.  Some options combine the two or allow you to custom-design systems that do both.  We decided we didn’t want the softening, just the filtering.

Because we’re on city water, the particulates and sediment in the water have already been filtered out to certain standards.  Municipal water sources should publish annual water quality reports available online or by direct request from your water supplier.  Had we been on well water, I would have opted for a three-stage filtering system to filter out more of the sediment, but a two stage option seemed to be fine for a city water connection.

I investigated a system that would filter out fluoride as well as chlorine, but it was significantly more expensive.  There’s plenty of debate about the role of fluoride in our drinking water, with very little consensus or evidence to back up the various perspectives.  I decided we could buy a counter-top filter specifically designed to filter fluoride to replace the Britta filter we currently use, which doesn’t filter fluoride.

Finally, I decided on the i-Spring whole home two stage filter, sometimes referred to as Big Blue.  More specifically, it’s model WGB22B.  Rationale:

  • Reasonably priced
  • Reasonably priced filters
  • Large filters that will hopefully last a bit longer than some smaller models (hopefully 6 months considering the size of our household and the hardness of the city water)
  • Filters chlorine
  • 5 micron filtering
  • Good water flow rate (up to 15 gpm)
  • Certified to NSF/ANSI standards
  • Includes a sediment filter as well as a carbon block filter that handles the organic filtering as well as chlorine filtering
  • Good ratings on Amazon

Now that we have this in place, we have improved water which will be healthier for the fish.  Chlorine is an unhealthy thing for them that would need to be removed.  While it can be removed to some degree with time and agitation, we decided we wanted to benefit from chlorine filtering for ourselves, not just for our fish!

The next step will be to purchase the tank that will hold our fish.  I’m planning on either a 55-gallon drum-style, food grade plastic barrel that we might cut in half to create two tanks, or a larger, 275-gallon food grade IBC tank.  I’ll keep you posted as we take our next step!

Eat & Run

July 21, 2017

I thought this was an interesting article about how recipients of food stamps tend to run out of money for food within a week or two, meaning that for at least half the month, they don’t have any of these funds to purchase food with.  The article purports to explore how and why this is, and emphasizes that because funds are dispersed in a single installment, people have trouble budgeting properly and therefore spend too much immediately and run out of funds.

What it doesn’t explore is what people are buying with this assistance.

For three years, as part of a Christian communal living experiment, my family lived in one of the poorest neighborhoods in St. Louis.  My observations are anecdotal rather than deliberate, but have stuck with me all the same.  What we saw the neighborhood children eating constantly was junk food.  Sodas, hot fries, Cheetos.  Constantly.  We never saw them with fresh fruit or vegetables or any other sort of food (unless we shared ours with them).  We know that these children lived in households that depended on food stamps – the vast majority of our neighborhood did.

Certainly the issue of telling people how to spend their assistance is a tricky one at best, but if the issue of running out of money is due not just to budgeting problems but also spending that assistance on low-nutrition snack food instead of food that can actually improve your health and last more than a few minutes, then doesn’t our government (who created and funds the food stamp program using taxpayer dollars) have a duty to at least help people know how to spend their assistance wisely?

When I looked into our state’s web site for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program I didn’t see any information about good ways to spend the assistance wisely.  Perhaps that information is provided in another format beyond the web site, but perhaps it’s not being provided at all.

I’m sure that there is money used to lobby against any type of restriction on how food assistance is spent (beyond current limitations on alcohol, cigarettes, etc.).  I’m sure that companies that manufacture potato chips and soda would take issue with having their products declared off-limits for food stamp monies.  But if the issue is actually how to help people and make sure they’re getting the food they need, does it make sense to ignore the issue completely?

Path to Success

July 15, 2017

Thanks to Gene Veith’s always-excellent blog for steering me towards this study and this commentary on it.  The Reader’s Digest summary is this – if you want to avoid poverty, the best thing you can do is complete the following steps.  Complete all of them and complete them in order.  Skipping or rearranging them could be disastrous:

  1. Graduate at least from high school
  2. Start working full-time
  3. Get married
  4. Only after getting married do you have children

Once upon a time this was common sense and it was reinforced culturally.  Nowadays these steps are likely to be dismissed out of hand, but the statistical data presented in the study is pretty impressive.

 

Forcing Equity

December 9, 2016

We like the idea of a level playing field, even though we know that it is rarely practical or even desirable.  Whose job is it to enforce equity in the workplace?  Who gets to define what that even means?

The City of Portland has taken it upon itself to define equity and enforce it by imposing a 10% surplus tax on businesses where the CEO makes more than 100 times the median pay of all their combined employees.  As many as 550 companies based in Portland could be affected by this ordinance – the first of its kind in the nation.  The tax rate would increase if the differential was greater than 100 times.

Now, I agree that executive pay seems ridiculously disproportionate.  But I also wonder about the limited nature of this kind of rule.  Certainly disproportionate compensation is not limited to the realm of business.  What about public servants, legislators and presidents?  Should their compensation – including all the special perks and privileges of security and healthcare and retirement – be linked somehow to what the average city employee gets paid?

What about celebrities?  Why should a big-name music or film star command tens of millions of dollars to make a movie?  Why shouldn’t their salary be determined in relationship to what the lowest-paid positions in the studio or on the project are paid?

Are these environments somehow excluded from the idea of equity?  Should they be?

I’d like to think that industry will be self-correcting, that at some point businesses are going to say, Look, as concerned as we are about the bottom line it’s just irresponsible to pay our top execs these wild sums of money.  Maybe consumers should be made more aware of the wage differential in the companies that they do business with.  Would I buy a different brand if I knew the cheaper price tag was because they weren’t paying their CEO $70 million a year plus stock options?  Would I choose another brand even if it wasn’t cheaper?

What about a situation where every employee gets paid $500,000 but the CEO gets $60 million.  Should the company still get dinged even though the janitor is being paid half a million dollars a year?  And why is it the city gets the benefit of this surplus tax?  Why isn’t it returned to the employees who are making less than the mean of the scale used to assess the tax?  How is that surplus tax revenue going to be used?  Not to fund raises for city employees, by any chance?  Hmm.  What a conundrum.

I get itchy when a small group of people decide that they can define and create equity.  At the heart of things it means that a small group of people outside the company have a better understanding of what is fair than those within the company, or at least those who create and control the company.  Why might that be?  What enables people on the outside to know what fair is better than other people?  How was their education and upbringing different?  Where did they get their source of values from, and how do they know they can trust them?  How well do they understand the dynamics that create this sort of inequality?  I certainly don’t profess to understand, and perhaps nobody else really does either.

I’d be far more comfortable with the idea that we teach kids from an early age that it’s good to be creative and industrious and that you ought to enjoy the benefits of your labor, but that there is a perspective to all of this as well.  You should get a bigger return for taking the risks and pushing the envelope, but at some point, it just seems silly to keep increasing that return while not including others in the benefits.  Life isn’t fair, not by a long shot.  Trying to force it to be fair – and arbitrarily drawing a line that says this is fair and this is not – is often a flawed approach, even if the goal is admirable.

Thinking Theologically

September 13, 2016

How does one bring theology to bear on a topic of modern concern, such as how much to pay an employee?  Here’s one example of people attempting to use Scripture and theology (Jewish, not Christian) to help arrive at an answer.

There are lots of possible take-aways from this article, but at least at a basic level we should recognize that what we deal with today in our society and culture isn’t completely separate and different from what people dealt with thousands of years ago.  The fact that we have smart phones and drive cars doesn’t separate our investigation of the meanings of fairness from folks who used donkeys and by and large weren’t literate.

Certainly we have to be careful when we extrapolate from Scripture, which mandates individual behavior in a communal setting, and apply such principles to corporate behavior.  We might wish to argue that a corporation isn’t a person, but a collection of people and therefore under a different set of rules and obligations.  But people create corporations, and if Christians are creating them, we ought to expect that while the corporation may not be Christian in an overt sense, it  will be crafted with those sensibilities in mind.  In other words, incorporating isn’t a loophole out of following Biblical directives for someone who professes God’s Word to be the guiding word in their life.

 

Gleaning Wisdom

August 13, 2016

If we had a youth group at our congregation, I would firmly suggest that they go to work doing something like this.  Helping to minimize food waste and get fresh produce to those who need it most and can afford it least sounds like a perfect community project.  Everybody wins!  It isn’t glamorous or easy, but what a big difference it can potentially make to so many people!

Money Where Your Mouth Is

May 11, 2016

This is a fantastic article showcasing what is possible when people care enough to give of themselves to minimize food waste.   I often have people ask me why God would decide that so many people would be born into poverty and starvation.  This is exactly my response – it isn’t that God hasn’t provided more than enough food for everyone.  It’s that through active and passive sinfulness, we waste his bounty.  We take it for granted.  We use it as leverage for personal or communal gains.  We don’t have enough time to be bothered with the details.

I wonder if there isn’t grant money available to pay for some folks who would coordinate with local farmers and groceries to pick up food that would otherwise be destroyed, and convert it to meals ready to eat (not to be confused with the military MRE pouches!).  Lots of places focus on getting the raw materials of food to poor people (often-times heavily processed food rather than real fruits and vegetables).  What if a group of volunteers committed to the next logical step – making the meals?  I know places that do this on a small scale – but wouldn’t it be great to have outposts like that in every neighborhood?  So you could pick up a complete meal and bring it to your neighbor who is sick or homebound?  Literally, is there anyone who couldn’t benefit from a free (or low-priced) meal created from food that otherwise would be destroyed and wasted?  If nothing else it would cut down on people’s food budgets each month.

What an amazing God we have, who provides so abundantly.  Forgive us for being too blind to see all that You have provided!