Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bike-Share Program

Here is an article from the NY Times that I thought was interesting. The NY state senate didn't go for a proposal from NYC mayor, Michael Bloomberg, to start charging a fee to motorists who want to drive in downtown NYC. This fee would have been a way to discourage traffic and pollution, while increasing revenues. Since it doesn't look like congestion pricing will happen in the near future, the author of this piece looks at a policy that encourages different types of transportation in the city and that may reduce traffic and pollution: a bike-share program. He looks to a Parisian program that has just started that makes over 10,000 bikes available to people at over 750 locations throughout the city for a small fee. These bikes can be returned at any of the stations, eliminating the hassle that would come with returning bikes to the station from which you took them. I thought this idea was really creative; it not only encourages a healthy lifestyle, but it will also help remedy traffic congestion and pollution from cars.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Humility and Obedience

I just finished reading The Rule of St. Benedict for my Western Civilization class. This rule is a document that St. Benedict wrote to guide monks in their daily, communal life. I have never taken much interest in the monastic life because I viewed stories of their asceticism as a bit over the top. While I'm not sure if my views on flogging one's self have changed from reading this document (it doesn't really address corporeal self-punishment), it has helped me to understand the monastic life better and to appreciate headship and our understanding of obedience in the People of Praise.

There may be many motives for one to enter into the monastic way of life: fear of God, desire for salvation, ambivalence about the world and love of God. Benedict recognizes all of these motives as legitimate ones for entering into monastic life. However, the first three motives are self-interested ones--ones that are motivated by the self. Over the course of a monk's life, if his training in the monastery is successful, these three motives should drop away, leaving only the love of God as one's motivation. The way that the the first three motives are stripped away is through obedience and humility. Being completely obedient to the abbot, the rule and the community of the monastery strips a monk of his pride and self-will; no longer does he do what he would will, but submits to the will of others. After ascending through the steps of humility by obedience and various other actions, a monk will "arrive at the perfect love which casts out all fear (1 John 4:18)." and, "Through this love, all that he once performed with dread, he will now begin to observe without effort, as though naturally, from habit, not longer out of fear of hell, but out of the love for Christ, good habit and delight in virtue."

I think the process that Benedict outlines is really beautiful, and yet very hard for modern people to understand and appreciate; submitting to another in obedience can be seen as weak and dangerous. Unfortunately, history has left us with many bad examples of leaders who, in demanding total obedience, did not have the best interest of their people at heart (Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini...). People are afraid to trust leaders and follow any individual aside from themselves. Praise God that we can put our complete trust in him without fear that he will lead us astray and that the People of Praise has a set up where we can submit to one another in love and obedience, helping us to grow in humility and love of God.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Economics and Christianity

For the past 3 weeks I have been taking an accelerated microeconomics class; I have crammed a whole quarter's worth of material into 3 weeks and it has been one of the most challenging things that I have ever done! It has been great though because it took me to the end of my rope--I could only study so much econ everyday and really only absorb as much as my brain could physically handle. I had to rely on the Lord to help me understand material in an area that was foreign and unnatural for me. The Lord was faithful and through him alone did I finish this course!

From what I have learned, I think that economics provides people in the world with a relatively accurate model that helps them predict the actions of self-interested, rational individuals. However, in his recent talk on the Cross, Paul DeCelles says that as Christians, we need to have a different economy. I have been trying to reconcile this idea with the way that economics assumes individuals act and how we, as Christians should approach business and economics.

One thing that got me started on thinking about this was when I was chosen to participate in a class experiment that would illustrate the concept of relative wealth. This concept--anyone who knows better than I, please correct me--says that people seek to acquire wealth, not only for what it can buy them, but for the ability it brings them to be wealthier than others. This concept is illustrated in the fact that most people would chose to make $100,000 while others make $90,000 than to make $110, 000 while most others make $120,000. While in the second case people would have $10,000 more than the first, they would rather make quantitatively less money, but have more than most people. This basically assumes that people are jealous and greedy.

In the experiment that my professor, another student and myself worked out in class, I was given $10. I had to chose an fraction of this amount to give to the other student that the other student could accept or reject. If he rejected the amount, neither he nor I would receive any money and the experiment would leave us both empty handed. If he accepted the deal, we would both walk away with our respective sums. My choice, then, had to take into account how much this other student would punish me for being stingy in the amount that I gave him. If I gave him $1, which would have been $1 more than he had before, would be punish me by rejecting my offer and depriving me of my share of the remaining $9? What about if I gave him$2 or $3? In the end, I played it conservatively and gave him $5, which he gladly took. once

After class, I got to thinking about this experiment. What would my professor and the class have thought if I had given this other student all $10, leaving myself with nothing? What if the Lord had wanted me me to give this other student all of the money? What if I had said that the Lord had wanted me to live in poverty and that I didn't want this money? Such behavior would be considered irrational by economists--they would never predict such actions.

I do not doubt that economic modeling is a very useful tool in the world. However, will it be useful in our cities? What about in our businesses? Will we market and price things based on the concept that people are self-interested? I'm still not really sure what I think about all of this, but I know that the Lord is calling us to do things that are not "rational" by the world's standards: we forgive debts, give to those who ask and embrace poverty and humility. I'd like to see the economic model for Christian society...although there's probably not much of an incentive to do so.

If anyone followed this and is interested in having more conversations about this, please comment.