Nils von Kalm

My take on faith, life and how it all might fit together

Category: Economics (page 1 of 3)

Why are Australians so angry?

“Why are Australians so angry? We’re one of the richest nations on Earth, with one of the highest standards of living. We live in a free and democratic society where political views can be expressed without fear of being jailed or gagged.”

This article starts by comparing a trip to Bali with life in Australia. As I’m currently in Bali, this really resonates. Why aren’t our enormous riches making us happy? Why do we feel so entitled to everything being done our way? Aren’t our riches and freedom enough for us?

Living life for others is what makes us happy. The pursuit of happiness in itself is a pursuit without a destination. Happiness is a by-product of living a life of service for others. Loving our neighbour, even our enemy, gives us a joy that is not dependent on circumstances.

In a materialistic society we look to externals to give us our sense of wellbeing. Externals can and do give us a level of satisfaction (like being on holiday in Bali), but they will never give us what we really desire. There is always a level of dissatisfaction with life just under the surface. Acknowledging that is a sign of emotional health.

Emptiness, including boredom at times, is a gift. It is not healthy to always seek to fill the emptiness inside us. Until we realise that, we will remain angry and seek to act it out rather than choose the more healthy option of acknowledging it and seeing how we can choose to love our neighbours. Nothing less than the survival of the planet depends on it.

Australians are among the luckiest people on earth. What are we so angry about? | Brigid Delaney’s diary

I’m driving to Denpasar airport in Bali (or rather being driven, I am still learning to drive) and it’s a nightmare. I see three near-collisions. Yet no one is honking their horn. There are hundreds of cars and motorbikes jammed into a terrible road yet the streets are actually kind of quiet.

Why Australia is stingy and getting stingier

The below article in yesterday’s Age newspaper in Melbourne said a heck of a lot about how stingy our Federal Government has become in recent years in terms of our care for those living in poverty around the world.

Why Australia is stingy and getting stingier

Australians like to think their government is a big-hearted foreign aid donor. A recent opinion poll found voters believed our overseas aid budget to be about 10 times bigger, on average, than it actually was. In fact, Australia has never been an especially open-handed donor compared with many other wealthy countries.

While the article is excellent in what it points out, there is so much more to add. Here are some more facts about why cuts to our aid budget simply don’t make sense on so many levels, including economic ones:

1. Vanuatu
2. Tonga
3. Philippines
4. Guatemala
5. Solomon Islands
6. Bangladesh
7. Costa Rica
8. Cambodia
9. Papua New Guinea
10. El Salvador

Vanuatu, the beautiful tourist destination for many Australians, is the riskiest country in the world to live in, with natural disasters on average affecting more than a third of the population each year.

Countries are ranked in this report using the world risk index, which takes into account not only the frequency of natural disasters in each country, but also how well equipped the country is to cope with and recover from the effects of a disaster.

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  • The more foreign aid we give, the better it is for Australia. It’s in our national interest. The Australian Government agrees that its aid program is in our national interest. The Department of Foreign Affairs website says that, “the purpose of the aid program is to promote Australia’s national interests by contributing to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction”. This is quite apart from the fact that it’s just the right thing to do. It’s sad that we have to appeal to our own self-interest to get our Government to hear this stuff, but that is the reality. It is better for Australia if there is less poverty in the world because it frees us up to trade and invest in countries that are able to do that. And it promotes stability.

To reduce our foreign aid giving simply doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, for the reasons stated in the article linked to above, and in my points.

What do you think? Are there any other reasons we should increase our foreign aid?

Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

George Monbiot has written another insightful article, this one on the problem of neoliberalism, and the fact that most people in our neoliberal society don’t know what the term means.

Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

Imagine if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism. The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. Mention it in conversation and you’ll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it.

Here are my thoughts on some of the points Monbiot makes:

  • “Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.”

Just like communism reduced people to cogs in a machine, neoliberalism, or market capitalism, does the same. We become consumers whose value lies in how much we contribute to the ongoing efficiency of the economic machine. We are not seen as having inherent dignity in ourselves.

  • “When political debate no longer speaks to us, people become responsive instead to slogans, symbols and sensation.” Think Tony Abbott and ‘stop the boats’ in Australia.

The rise of Bernie Sanders is as much a response to the current climate as is the rise of Donald Trump. The failure of the Left has been seen by them and is responding in the rise of Sanders.

“Like communism, neoliberalism is the God that failed”. I remember when communism fell over in the late 1980s, Jim Wallis said the same would happen to capitalism one day. It might take another generation, but we are seeing it happening now before our eyes.

  • “it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed.” Perhaps one option (and there may be others along the lines of what people like Bernie Sanders are putting forward) is Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth.

The problem with unfettered market capitalism is that it is an amoral system. It doesn’t take into account human nature, the fact that humans are ultimately committed to their own self-interest. That’s why it needs people in poverty to survive.

The Big Short is long on the human predicament

Left to right: Tracy Letts plays Lawrence Fields, Wayne Pere plays Martin Blaine and Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

We all remember the Global Financial Crisis, or GFC, as it was called. It was a time when the world stood on the brink of economic catastrophe, to the point that it was being talked about as leading to another Great Depression such as the world suffered in the 1930s.

The Big Short is the story of why the GFC happened, and how a few people saw it coming but no one listened to them.

The movie is based on the 2010 book of the same name by Michael Lewis. It stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. 

What this movie highlights is the problem of human greed at its worst, and the evil which is unleashed when people simply don’t care about anyone else but themselves.

The housing bubble of 2007/08, which led to the GFC, highlighted the problems of an economic system that is unregulated and doesn’t take into account human nature. The problem with unfettered market capitalism is that some people have to remain poor for others to get rich. It is an amoral system, which, when left to its own devices, produces unprecedented greed the likes of which took the world to the edge of the economic cliff just those few years ago.

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Why you need to chill out more

 

 

This little clip from ABC News 24 speaks to the common disease of our over-stressed age.

A common comment we ask people when we greet them is “Are you busy?” I do it myself sometimes. It also goes to something I have mentioned before: FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.

We live in a culture where we have so many options that attract us, where advertising is designed to make us perpetually unhappy by creating felt needs in us to the point where we are never satisfied until we have that next product.

A culture which is built around the god of economic growth, where the economy is king, is a culture that will quickly become addicted to making money and getting ahead.

And speaking of addiction, when we have so many options available to us, so many options to titillate us and satiate our insatiable appetites for more, addiction will be rife.

Long may we remember what is really important to our psyches, to what Christians have often called our souls (though we have incorrectly understood our souls to be that which will go to heaven when we die. Jesus never meant the term “soul” to be understood in that way).

Indeed, what does it profit us if we gain the whole world but lose our souls in the process? In a culture that is fixated on the self as number one, the old wisdom of denying yourself, embracing life on life’s terms and following in the footsteps of Jesus is not popular, including in our success-oriented churches.

What is central to being human is relationship and connection. In a word, love. Loving connection with a Source of Love outside of ourselves and greater than ourselves is what the soul needs. And when that love is then directed in connection towards others, humanity lives at peace.

Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. It is much more interesting than that. The words of God in the flesh 2,000 years ago ring true in our over-busy and over-stressed 21st century culture.

What does the end of poverty look like?

wealth povertyA few days ago a colleague at work sent through a fascinating article by the son of Warren Buffett. Some quotes from Peter Buffett’s article are as follows:

  • “People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?”
  • “What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it.”
  • “Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.”

Fascinating points. When we work for a better world, are we just dragging people into a consumerist way of life which perpetuates the very poverty we want to alleviate? As Buffett says, doesn’t this all just feed the beast? What does the alleviation of poverty look like? Is it like the new society described so beautifully in Isaiah 65?

This is why just bringing people out of poverty is not enough. Changing structures which keep people poor must also take place. If there is no advocacy, then the work of development and relief is pointless.

What this reminds me of is Tim Jackson’s book, Prosperity Without Growth, in which the author lays out a blueprint for a system that works in a world of finite resources. A book well worth a read, along with the above-mentioned article.

Do you want to change the rules?

This is just obscene. Change the rules.

What scares young people?

Interesting article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald about the lack of passion in today’s Gen Y, written by a Gen Y. If you’re a Gen Y, what do you think? Do you agree with the author’s views?

Bono – 10 for the next 10

It’s a new year and I thought a good way to start it here would be to link to the thoughts of Bono on what the next decade could hold in store for us. Whether you think the decade has just ended or we still have a year to go, leave that debate behind for a few moments and have a read of the thoughts of one of this planet’s more soulful minds (I particularly like his thoughts on the upcoming soccer World Cup and the beautiful game’s ability to bring the world together, if only for a short time).

Did Christianity Cause the Crash?

Photo by Tracy OlsonThe feature article in the latest issue of The Atlantic discusses the influence of the prosperity gospel on the financial crisis. It also talks about some of the ideas behind this doctrine and, worse, some of the racist behaviour of banks teaming up with pastors to rip off Latinos and African Americans.

The article makes the point that among the many reasons given for the crash is one “that speaks to a lasting and fundamental shift in American culture-a shift in the American conception of divine Providence and its relationship to wealth.”

The alarming increase of the prosperity gospel in the United States is seen in the fact that ‘other Christians’ apart from Penetecostals, among whom this doctrine has had its most influence are stung with this virus as well. Pew research has found that “66 percent of all Pentecostals and 43 percent of “other Christians”-a category comprising roughly half of all respondents-believe that wealth will be granted to the faithful”

One of the main peddlers of the prosperity gospel is Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest megachurch in the US. The article makes the observation that he uses very little Scripture in his books and sermons. I find this true of most preachers of Osteen’s persuasion. I have also found that when they do use Scripture, it is almost always from the Old Testament. Not that the Old Testamen is not as much the Word of God as the New Testament, but you will very rarely hear one of these preachers quote Jesus – quite ironic for people who claim to be his followers. Osteen’s message is more like positive thinking than Scriptural commands to take up our cross and follow on the road.

As with any heresy though, the prosperity gospel contains grains of truth. The problem is that they’re twisted to be made to say pretty much the total opposite of what they actually mean. Take this comment by Osteen that we should “wake up every morning and tell yourself, “God is guiding and directing my steps.” This is more like a ‘my will, not Thine, be done’ attitude. Rather, a biblical attitude says to wake up every morning and ask God to guide my steps that day. His will, not mine, be done.

In an article last year about the financial crisis, I said that 

“one of the reasons the prosperity gospel is so disastrous is because, when events like this come along, they will turn alot of people away from God as they become disillusioned with what they have been taught about God’s apparent desire for them to be wealthy.”

The hope for these people though is that, as Rikk Watts has said, “if someone is running from a false view of God, are they further from him or closer to him?’ Interesting thought to ponder.

In detailing the influence of the prosperity gospel on the financial crash, the article points out that

“in 2008, in the online magazine Religion Dispatches, Jonathan Walton, a professor of religious studies at the University of California at Riverside, warned: Narratives of how “God blessed me with my first house despite my credit” were common … Sermons declaring “It’s your season of overflow” supplanted messages of economic sobriety and disinterested sacrifice. Yet as folks were testifying about “what God can do,” little attention was paid to a predatory subprime-mortgage industry, relaxed credit standards, or the dangers of using one’s home equity as an ATM.”

Continuing this point, it adds,

“Demographically, the growth of the prosperity gospel tracks fairly closely to the pattern of foreclosure hot spots. Both spread in two particular kinds of communities-the exurban middle class and the urban poor. Many newer prosperity churches popped up around fringe suburban developments built in the 1990s and 2000s, says Walton. These are precisely the kinds of neighborhoods that have been decimated by foreclosures, according to Eric Halperin, of the Center for Responsible Lending.”

The article also makes the point that “most new prosperity-gospel churches were built along…areas that were hard-hit by the mortgage crisis.” Another researcher quoted in the article, Kate Bowler, “spent a lot of time attending the “financial empowerment” seminars that are common at prosperity churches. Advisers would pay lip service to “sound financial practices,” she recalls, but overall they would send the opposite message: posters advertising the seminars featured big houses in the background, and the parking spots closest to the church were reserved for luxury cars.”

Perhaps the most evil legacy of the prosperity gospel is that its adherents will stoop to the most pernicious form of racism to get their dollars, exploiting the poor and non-white Latinos and African Americans. The article says that,

“at least 17 lawsuits accusing various banks of treating racial minorities unfairly were already under way. (Bank of America’s Countrywide division-one of the companies Garay worked for-had earlier agreed to pay $8.4 billion in a multistate settlement.) One theme emerging in these suits is how banks teamed up with pastors to win over new customers for subprime loans.”

The prosperity gospel has its roots in the USA, but its tenticles have spread to all parts of the world, from Africa to Australia. It is not good news; it is a ‘gospel’ which is held captive to a culture in which the dream of material wealth is the highest goal of humanity. It is a nationalist, me-centred heresy. Consider the following from the article:

“In their new congregation, their pastor slowly walks them through life in the U.S., both inside and outside of church, until they become more confident. “In Mexico, nobody ever told them they could do anything,” says Lin, who was himself raised in Argentina. He finds the message at prosperity churches to be quintessentially American. “They are taught they can do absolutely anything, and it’s God’s will. They become part of the elect, the chosen. They get swept up in the manifest destiny, this idea that God has lifted Americans above everyone else.”

The false view of faith that sees their riches as a gift from God is another common form of delusion amongst those held captive. Researcher Tony Lin says,

“I wasn’t very surprised when the whole subprime-mortgage thing blew up. I’m sure a loan officer never said, ‘God wants you to have a house.’ But you’ve already been taught that. Now here comes the loan officer saying, ‘Sign here, and this house will be yours.’ It feels like a gift from God. It’s the perfect fuel for the crisis.”

The financial crisis has done little to dampen the evangelistic fervour of the prosperity gospellers. From the distance, from the sidelines of the noise and glamour of the churches from which this message is proclaimed, whispers the quiet voice of the Man of Sorrows – ‘“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money”.

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