Saturday, December 21, 2002


Frameworks for liberty and progress


kairos focus web:

Sadly, it is fair comment to note that, across the world, and over the long reach of history, the typical person in most societies has usually been oppressed, subject to the tyranny of princes, nobles, dictators or conquerors; and one or two bad harvests away from famine. The plight of minorities has, as a rule, been even worse. Also, until quite recently, slavery was a near-universal institution. (We must note here, that the modern anti-slavery movement argues that there may be more people in slave-like conditions – or even outright slavery – than at any earlier time in history!)

In short, it is liberty, justice and progress that need to be explained, not the opposite.

Breakthrough to Liberty & Prosperity

The key factors in the ongoing global breakthrough to progress are rooted in the renaissance, the Iberian breakout by sea at the turn of the sixteenth Century, the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, the protestant (especially calvinist) reformation, and the American Revolution:

1) The Renaissance began a ferment of change, through the spirit of critical inquiry that it fostered – though it was also marked by a peak of tyranny, such as has been notoriously summarised in Machiavelli’s infamous textbook for tyrants, The Prince.

2) The Portuguese and Spanish mariners stitched the world together by pioneering the sea trade routes that have created the modern world. So, though the emergence of a global world five hundred years ago also led to a half-millennium of colonial oppression (not least through the conquest of the native American peoples and the Atlantic slave trade), it set a basis for mutually beneficial trade that has helped uplift the standard of living for us all.

3) The scientific and industrial revolutions – environmental challenges and capital-labour conflicts notwithstanding -- led to an ever-growing cascade of knowledge and industrial innovations that have helped us to control infectious diseases, produce a cornucopia of products that are the basis for modern living, and have generally created the high-tech world in which we now live.

4) The protestant reformation and its daughter, the American revolution, are perhaps the most controversial items on the list. However, it is the plain record of history that, for instance, Duplesis-Mornay’s 1579 work, Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos drew out of the Bible the concept that rulers hold office under a dual covenant, with God and the people, and are therefore responsible to uphold justice in the community. In 1581, these ideas were incorporated in the Dutch Declaration of Independence , which championed freedom of conscience and the concept that princes are duty-bound to protect the rights, liberties and privileges of their subjects; who have a right of orderly revolution if the prince reneges on his pledge. This line of thinking was further developed in works such as Samuel Rutherford’s Lex, Rex and Locke’s works on government, and is deeply embedded in the 1776 American Declaration of Independence . For all its flaws, it is the success of the American Revolution that has led to the worldwide wave of self-government by a free people under principles of liberty, justice and equality. This revolution has also been strongly associated with market-oriented economics, which has decisively demonstrated that it is the basis for sustained economic growth.

The Bible-based Political Foundation of Liberty

The key political basis for such liberty and progress was aptly summed up by Thomas Jefferson in the second paragraph of the US DOI:

“WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.” []

The preamble to the US Contitution [1787] amplifies: “We the people . . . in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Consitution . . .” [NB: Note the theological significance of the capitalised phrase: “Blessings of Liberty.” Cf. Deut. 8:1 – 20, 28:1 – 68. It has been noted that the specific document most often cited by the Founding Fathers of the USA is the Book of Deuteronomy.]

Here, the central theme is based on the concept that rights are granted by our Creator – so no government can take them away – and that government is the servant of the people, to promote liberty and justice under God for all. So much is this the case, that when governments become oppressive or incompetent, the people have a collective right of reformation (or if necessary revolution) to restore sound government. Thus, we see the covenantal, servantly concept of government championed by the reformation and based on the Bible: the people, in solemn assembly under God and acting through representative leaders, institute governments, and hold them to account for their performance. [Cf. 1 Sam 8:1 – 10:26; 2 Sam. 2:1 – 4, 5:1 – 5 & 1 Chron 12:23 – 40, in the context of the Books.]

Jefferson’s use of “self-evident” needs some unpacking: the idea is not so much that the claims made in the US DOI are obvious to all, as that to deny them in theory or to subvert them in practice ends in absurdity.

Consequently, over the generations since the founding of the American Republic (and the further evolution of the Westminster-style Parliamentary system in response to its success), further waves of reformation have used the above principles to highlight and respond to various wrongs; especially relating to slavery, racism, oppression of women, and exploitation of the poor. (And, today, we see the patently absurd spectacle that, in the name of “choice” or “reproductive rights” forty million unborn children have been put to death through the US Abortion Industry since 1973. The rhetorical and judicial trick, of course, has been to deny the obvious fact that unborn babies are – just that: human beings with the God-given right to life. [Cf. Luke 2:26 – 45, esp. vv. 36, 39 – 45.] )

Moving on from Absolute Monarchy or Despotism

Despite its many flaws and compromises of principle, over the past two hundred and thirty years the American Revolution and Republic have blazed a trail that has led to the triumph in our time of the concept of democratic, representative self-government of free peoples, towards liberty and justice for all. So much is this the case, that the nature of political debate has shifted.

For, formerly, the standard form of government was the monarchy, often with unaccountable executive power. In contrast, the American experiment applied the principle of separation of powers found in the Bible and championed by leading political thinkers of the time: executive, legislative, representational, and judicial powers are divided across several bodies; which are regulated by a written constitution and accountable to the people through regular elections with broad-based franchise.

So successful has this been that it has now become the standard: “conservatives,” today, are not in the main monarchists, but rather those who favour sharply limited government within the above framework. Beyond them to the Right, we find the Libertarians and Anarchists, who view the state with increasing distrust, and wish to further curtail its powers; to the points where Anarchists would do away with it entirely.

As a result, especially since the fall of the Communist bloc in 1989 - 91,“left-wing” and “right wing” have increasingly come to denote a debate over the extent to which state and international intervention or regulation are justifiable, on what grounds: welfare of the poor, sustainability of development in light of environmental challenges, and the monopolistic threat of the dominant mega-corporation. Conservatives and Libertarians respond that, poverty (at least in the developed world) is increasingly a socio-cultural and behavioural problem rather than an economic one; that the classical, Keynesian welfare state is extremely expensive and ineffective in lifting people out of poverty; that free markets have proved that they are the only known, effective means to promote economic progress; that environmentally-motivated interventions are often based on flawed science, worse economics, and in some cases, outright fraud; and, that the state and international bodies have a very poor track record of performance relative to their rhetoric, so that the real agenda is often unaccountable bureaucratic power, thus tyranny.

To this, we now must add the religious dimension, as the dominant secularist outlook views with deepest suspicion those who view and value the biblical, reformation framework embedded in the principles of democracy. For, they fear the imposition of religiously motivated tyranny in the name of promoting godliness, decency and morality in the community. (The islamist agenda to impose the supremacy of Allah and his warriors over all peoples across the world, such as Mr bin Laden has set out to do, in such minds, underscores the danger. For instance, cf. Barbara Ehrenreich on “Christian Wahhabbaists” and contrast a balancing commentary on the tyrannical tendencies of secularism and the way "pure" democracy tends to deteriorate into mob rule under the influence of manipulative demagogues such as Alcibiades of Athens.)

Choices to Build the Caribbean's Future

Thus, we see several hard choices for the Caribbean:

1) “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” However, “who will guard the guards?” Clearly, it is hard to motivate people as a whole to sustain the effort required to understand issues soundly and keep watch over our public servants’ stewardship. This is the classic principal-agent challenge in economics, and there are no easy ways to so align the interests of the people and the state that public servants will consistently pursue the public interest. [Cf. Luke 16:1 – 15.] We must therefore reserve and jealously guard the right to demand public accountability, and to institute reformation as appropriate. The freedom of the press, the right to free and fair election, and the rights of peaceable assembly and petition for redress of grievance are vital to this process. However, all across the region, we have often allowed would-be political messiahs and their parties to so dominate the process and deceive us, that we face a crisis of governance. So, if we are to preserve (or even enhance) our liberties, we will have to devote time and effort to straighten out our thinking and set about the essentially spiritual task of renewal, leading to reformation rather than riot, rebellion or revolution ending in tyranny.

2) Unchecked secularist materialism is clearly inimical to the preservation of “the Blessings of Liberty”: what rights – other than “entitlements” granted by the state (and thus subject to withdrawal by the same state) – can a random bit of rubbish cast up by the evolutionary chaos of the universe have? Similarly, in the name of progress through relieving oppression and poverty, the twentieth century saw the imposition of the worst tyrannies of all time; as judged buy the over 100 millions who paid with their lives for Communist and Fascist/National Socialist [i.e. Nazi] political pipe-dreams. The sad case of Afghanistan under the Taliban shows that religious tyranny is no better. For that matter, classical times, the middle ages, the renaissance, reformation and enlightenment periods were so marked by strife, injustice and tyranny that it is clear that liberty was hard won, and is easily lost. Therefore, if we are to preserve and enhance the liberty we enjoy, we need to study the history of liberty, and resolve to maintain and sustain it across time. In this task, the church must play a vital role, and so it will need to move on beyond escapism to engagement of the task of discipling and reforming the nations under the Lordship of Him whose Spirit brings liberty.

3) Poverty and oppression are parallel, interacting challenges. They are compounded by the facts that economic equality (through re-distributionist policies and politics) and the growth and innovation that are required to create and sustain growth are significantly incompatible. For, as the collapse of Communism and the crisis of the Welfare State have clearly shown, attempts to impose centrally controlled allocation of production, distribution, incomes and consumption choke on the volumes of information and rate of processing required; resulting in wasteful, expensive, oppressive bureaucracies that are always crying out for even more power and control because what has not worked so far did not go far enough. That leaves one player on the field: market-based allocation; balanced by well-judged government regulations and a charity/volunteer/civil society sector that targets upliftment of the deprived within the context of sustainable development. Some form of what has been called “communitarianism,” in short.

4) “Sustainable development” indicates that the region’s environmental challenges cannot be ignored. Notwithstanding the hype and heat that have surrounded the environmentalists, the issues of biophysical environmental damage, coupled to socio-cultural and economic breakdowns that they have raised have a solid core. If we fail to soundly address these core issues, soon, we will suffer devastating consequences. In particular, we must find a more sensible approach to providing the energy that drives our economies and lifestyles, to forests and watersheds, to coastal and marine zone development and management, to urban and rural communities, to tourism and to industry and agriculture. Again, these require study, development and testing of effective solutions through a programme of demonstration projects, and the onward implementation of well-tested, proven approaches that will help us lift our region out of economic stagnation without sacrificing our liberties or our environment in the process.

A tall order. But one which we must pursue. Therefore, we will next begin to look at some specific ways forward.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

Hard Choices, #2:

Balancing Governance, Liberty, Progress and Sustainability


kairos focus web:

The Acts 27 case we have been exploring highlights the basic fact that we often must make decisions constrained by our uncertainty about the future as well as the finiteness of resources.

Thus, individuals, groups, organisations and societies are forced to set up ways to decide the alternatives to pursue in the face of uncertainty, scarcity and conflicting opinions. (This last point highlights the need to have enough liberty that alternatives – especially those that are unpopular or unpalatable (but may often be sounder/more sustainable) -- are heard and considered.)

This brings us to the issue of governance: the business of governing – incorporating but going beyond the state and its organs and officers. (Here, it is helpful to note that the root of “government” is the Greek word kubernete, used in Acts 27 as the technical term for the “steersman” of the ship, the officer who was responsible for its technical navigation through the trackless and potentially stormy seas to safe harbour.)

As Acts 27 also illustrates, sustainable governance is tied to issues of liberty and justice, to the strong desire for progress that animates us all, and to the resulting processes of recognising challenges; identifying opportunities and alternatives; hearing diverse perspectives; making decisions and implementing them. For, it was vital that Paul was heard, even though his warning was not heeded; for this then gave him credibility in the crisis, which saved the passengers when the sailors would have abandoned them on a ruse.

Immediately, this highlights the importance of “liberty and justice for all.” For, quite often the soundest path is not in accord with the wishes of the powerful or of the majority. So, if the minority, down to one individual, is not heard and protected in a family, or an organisation or community, then the quality of information on which decisions are made is liable to suffer.

But sometimes, community decisions reject sound counsels because they are unpalatable – the reason why Scriptures warn of false leaders who “tickle our itching ears with what we want to hear.” In cases such as in Acts 27, where a wiser alternative had been heard, it allows the stakeholders and decision-makers to recognise their error and change their estimation of whose counsel they should heed. Of course, if a fatal error has been made, remorse may come too late; there is an incentive to get the decision right the first time!

In short, if a community wishes to consistently make sound decisions, the principles of liberty and justice should constrain the power of decision-makers and the feelings/passions of the majority. So, if an organisation or community wishes to consistently make sustainable progress, it will have to accept the hard choice of hearing out and protecting those whose counsels it may not wish to hear. Further, it will have to undertake the arduous task of assessing the quality of both popular and unpalatable proposals, and consistently decide to take the prudent path in the face of uncertainties, risks and scarce resources.

That societies, organisations, families and individuals who take the habitual diligent care to do these things, on average, make better progress than those that do not should not be surprising.

However, there is also an inner tension between government and liberty that must be addressed. This brings us to two landmark passages in the history of the balance of liberty and government.

First, Rom. 13:4 – 7:

“For [the civil authority] is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”

And, the Second Paragraph of the US Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organising its powers in such form, as shall to them seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness . . .”

Sometimes, it has been held that these two great passages are irreconcilable, as the first seems to advocate servility, and the latter, revolution.

In fact, they are flip sides of the same coin. The key insight to show this is Paul’s remark that the governor is “God’s servant to do you good . . . an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” That is, Paul sets out the proper role of government: promoting justice, liberty and progress, through administering justice – especially through restraining or defeating wrongdoers who would reduce a society to chaos. The US DOI concurs when it states that governments are instituted to protect our God-given rights, and forfeit their lawful authority when they become destructive to such justice. It proposes the remedy that we see so often in the OT’s Historical and prophetic books: reformation in the first instance, revolution if there is no alternative. (The US DOI, contrary to much popular opinion, is in fact strongly rooted in the Bible, as filtered through the Reformation, especially its Calvinist forms.)

In our day, thank God, neither of these has to be violent: a free press, freedom of assembly, and free and fair elections create a basis for peaceful change towards a better path.

So then, lawful, democratic, sound governance under principles of justice and liberty is a condition for sustainable progress in the community.

This brings us to hard choice # 3: how to so structure the institutions of society that progress is possible.

Friday, November 29, 2002

Hard Choices, No. 1 -- Supplemental:

Debate on Climate Change

(twelve years ago . . . )

kairos focus web:

A good place to begin to look at how the Global Warming debate began, the key isues, and what is the state of play is the Cato Institute paper by Dr Richard Lindzen, the introduction to which follows:

The Cato Review of Business & Government


Global Warming: The Origin and Nature of the Alleged Scientific Consensus

Richard S. Lindzen

Richard S. Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Most of the literate world today regards "global warming'' as both real and dangerous. Indeed, the diplomatic activity concerning warming might lead one to believe that it is the major crisis confronting mankind. The June 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, focused on international agreements to deal with that threat, and the heads of state from dozens of countries attended. I must state at the outset, that, as a scientist, I can find no substantive basis for the warming scenarios being popularly described. Moreover, according to many studies I have read by economists, agronomists, and hydrologists, there would be little difficulty adapting to such warming if it were to occur. Such was also the conclusion of the recent National Research Council's report on adapting to global change. Many aspects of the catastrophic scenario have already been largely discounted by the scientific community. For example, fears of massive sea-level increases accompanied many of the early discussions of global warming, but those estimates have been steadily reduced by orders of magnitude, and now it is widely agreed that even the potential contribution of warming to sea-level rise would be swamped by other more important factors.

To show why I assert that there is no substantive basis for predictions of sizeable global warming due to observed increases in minor greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and chlorofluorocarbons, I shall briefly review the science associated with those predictions. MORE

Thursday, November 28, 2002

Hard Choices, No. 1:

Energy, Development and Sustainability


kairos focus web:

Because energy is a measure of the ability to do work – impart ordered motion or structure to matter – it is an integral aspect of economic activity and development. It is also at the centre of the major debate over the sustainability of our civilization, in the light of the threat of human-induced damaging climate change. As a result, in 1997, a global convention on climate change was adopted in Kyoto Japan, now known as the Kyoto Protocol.

However, extensive debates rage over the proposed alternatives, energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, largely because of the feared economic impacts in the face of scientific uncertainties.

The immediate context of the Acts 27 case can easily focus the problems:

“6 [We landed at Myra in Lycia, Asia minor, where] the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. 8 We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.”

Sailing ships are renewable energy-powered technologies, and at that time were used in the wheat export trade from Egypt to Rome; in turn, the bread made from the wheat was used to feed (thus pacify) the idle masses in that city: “give us bread and circuses.”

However, as can be seen above, often such technologies are not reliable. Thus, delays and weather hazards were an unavoidable part of the ancient sea-trade; greatly increasing costs. Consequently, when coal-fired steam engines were first used extensively in the 19th Century, it transformed sea trade through reduced costs and increased reliability, vastly expanding the impacts of such trade on the world economy.

But, in light of the scientific debates over the past few decades, it is often argued that the development resulting from the harnessing of fossil fuels is unsustainable, due to impacts on the global climate system. Accordingly, international agreements and regulations have been put in place, and the question of sustainable energy is high on the agenda.

Countering these arguments, libertarians often argue that the science is debatable, and the potential economic damage due to the intermittent nature of many forms of renewable energy in particular is all too is plain. Additionally, alternative energy systems often have such high capital costs per unit of energy delivered to uses, that the net cost is higher than for fossil fuels, which adds to adverse economic impacts. Further, they point to an encroachment on individual liberty; even suggesting that many environmentalists are actually “watermelons”: green outside, red – i.e. socialist – inside.

And the debaters have points on both sides: there is considerable evidence (though a lot of hype as well) that our energy systems are causing damage, and many environmentalists do not sufficiently appreciate the critical importance of the market and individual liberty in economic development. Additionally, the present global climate models are very much still works in progress, and even a full Kyoto implementation would delay the trends projected by the models by only several years.

So, we face a hard choice: liberty, sound stewardship of our common world, and an appropriate degree of regulation.

Maybe, too, the key to a breakthrough is the same point just noted, that science and rechnology are works in progress: if we invest appropriately in research and development, we may be better able to solve the problems over the next decade or so. Another tradeoff.

Thus, a brief study of energy brings us to hard choice number 2: how to balance governance, liberty, growth, godliness, and sound stewardship of our world.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Straight Thinking 101, part 8

Making Sustainable Decisions in a world of Finite Resources


kairos focus web:

The essential economic problem is the finiteness of resources, so that we must trade-off one desirable thing against another: consumption and savings/investments, for instance. As the ongoing case in Acts 27 shows, this is compounded by uncertainty: we are often forced to choose alternatives, where we cannot know the consequences beyond reasonable doubt and dispute.

On the ship in Fair Havens, the issue, as we saw earlier, was that the probable state of the weather was uncertain, specifically it was at least possible that a good wind would come up and stay long enough to make a better harbour before the winter storms set in. However, Paul challenged this thinking, because the likely damage from being caught in such a storm far outweighed the likely benefits from taking the risk of sailing out.

So, the decision was one where two desirable, but partly conflicting objectives had to be traded off:

(1) The desire for a more comfortable port and better harbour

(2) The desire to avoid being caught in a winter storm

The Centurion asked the experts (who obviously had been recommending the venture) and, with majority support, the ship set sail when a gentle south wind showed up.

We know now that this was in fact an unwise choice, but how could a better – more sustainable – decision have been made?

The obvious answer is: “when we have all the facts, and have heard all the alternatives.” Unfortunately, this is impossible for finite men in the face of windows of opportunity that may slam shut while we deliberate and study.

So, we need a criterion for decisions under uncertainty.

Walter Williams, in a WND commentary ( , states the required criterion well:

“Suppose leaving your workplace you see a full-grown tiger standing outside the door. Most people would endeavor to leave the area in great dispatch. That prediction isn't all that interesting, but the question why is . . . . [Most of us wouldn’t] endeavor to obtain more information, like petting him on the head and doing other friendly things to determine whether he's dangerous. Most people would quickly calculate that the likely cost of an additional unit of information about the tiger exceeds any benefit and wouldn't bother to seek additional information. In other words, all they need to know is he's a tiger.”

That is, the decisive issue is whether it makes sense to “buy” an additional piece of information on the likely consequences of a decision. If the likely benefit is exceeded by the likely cost, then it is prudent to decide based on what you already know, believe and suspect.

In short, we trade off the expected costs and benefits of additional information that could make a difference to the decision in hand.

Similarly, and echoing the productivity equation discussed Monday, we should also ask what is the balance of costs and benefits for a venture of an additional unit of:





technology, and

natural resources.

That is, the appropriate place to stop investing in more ideas and things in a situation where we want to better meet our needs, is the point where the next unit added would cost more than it would benefit. (NB: the proper measure of that cost is the net benefit from the next best alternative use of that additional unit – the “opportunity cost.”)

So, a sustainable decision will meet the criterion of being a net benefit across time, relative to available likely alternatives and outcomes.

However, lurking beneath this is the capacity question: Are we able – that is, qualified -- to make the required judgements/decisions, and are we able to carry out the tasks that the decision requires? Do we have the required resources? Can we acquire such further resources as would be needed?

Every one of these economic questions clearly constrains the ability to better meet our present needs, and to see to it that future generations can meet their needs. Further, the implications of these questions force us to address the “supply” – that is, productive capacity -- side of the economy.

Returning to the general form of the productivity equation:

Y/L = A . f ( K/L, F/L, H/L, N/L )

So, if an economy is to be sustainable, it must address:

Y/L – does it produce enough per worker to meet the consumption and investment needs of this generation, with room for future ones to have a better hope?

A – does the country have a balance of current technology and ongoing innovation that makes it globally competitive across time in its key industries? And, as current history shows, it is only those countries where the potential rewards to the risks of innovation are high (that is, market-based economies that respect entrepreneurship and do not confiscate entrepreneurial profits) that have been able to remain in the forefront of the still evolving high-tech world.

K/L – What is the configuration of physical equipment available to the labour force? Is it able to support production that meets the global price-points for the markets? (And, since Caribbean countries are largely commodity producers and import substituters, the question is whether our cost structures are able to meet global prices, and whether we are migrating to more differentiated products with more value built in.)

F/L – Is there enough financial investment to sustain present plant, equipment and the skill level of the labour force? Are we adequately investing in the required migration path to high value-added industries and products? What is happening with the Research and Development required to create those new products across time?

H/L – Is the average level of education, training and experience of our labour force (especially in strategic industries) competitive? Or, are we forced to pay for a lot of rework and scrap, that drives up costs? Is our output of consistently high quality relative to the global standard? What about investments in the future labour force, through education and training? More subtly, what is the quality of relationships in our families, firms, institutions, schools, businesses and communities; for, much of the human capital exists in our ability to work together effectively. As a friend once said to me: things don’t add up, because they subtract and divide – if we undermine and devour one another, it is ultimately to the detriment of us all. (Cf. Gal. 5:13 - 26, in light of Jeremiah 29:1 - 7.)

N/L -- Our economies, notoriously, are heavily dependent on natural resources endowments: our land, sun, rain, watersheds, minerals, coasts, and seas. However, in many cases, we are heavily dependent on exploiting these resources directly to make our living, often through markets where there is an abundance of low-cost competition and/or substitutes. We must both better husband our environmental resources and shift our economic capacity to the high value added sector.

Clearly, these are stiff challenges, and they force hard choices in the face of a complex, perplexing, uncertain world.

But, if the Caribbean is to succeed, we must make those choices.

To those choices, we will next turn: the business of reformation and transformation towards truly sustainable societies in the Caribbean.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Straight Thinking 101, part 7

Economics and Sustainability of Development Initiatives


kairos focus web:

In Acts 27:10, Paul warned: “I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to the ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” Thus, he brought into focus, not only the risk to life implicit in the proposed voyage down the coast from Fair havens, but also its economic consequences.

This set of linked concerns highlights one of the key factors in sound thinking about sustainability: biophysical, socio-cultural and economic factors interact in complex ways, and so the chains of interaction should be borne in mind in decision-making. In particular, since decisions often affect us through economic consequences, we need to understand and respect the implications of economics for sustainability of development.

Several basic points about economics are therefore relevant:

(1) Economics, as a discipline, is about the allocation of finite – often, scarce – resources among competing uses. That is, the issue is not whether one use or another is desirable, but that the finiteness of resources may force us to trade off more of one for less of another: more capital investment now means less consumption for now, but may so promote growth and development that, later, we will have more to consume than if we do not “band we belly” and save some resources for investment. (Let us think about whether we have often implicitly chosen to consume now, sacrificing options to consume later; personally and as nations in the region.)

(2) Similarly, there is often a tradeoff between rates of economic growth and provision of welfare transfers to the less well off, and impacts on the bio-physical environment. So, Caribbean societies need to consider the alternatives, and choose how best to balance growth, consumption, welfare and impacts on the environment. (Suffice to say, the East Asian countries that have broken through to “Newly Industrialised” status over the past two decades copied development ideas of the Caribbean’s Nobel-prize winning Economist, Sir Arthur Lewis, and have had quite high rates of savings and investment for a long time. That is, the East Asian Miracle . . . was not by magic. As Genesis put it: “By the sweat of your brow, shall you eat bread.”)

(3) Economist John Hicks was fond of observing, “Investment is a flighty bird.” For, launching and developing a business enterprise is a voyage into the unknown future, with all the risks and uncertainties implied. Thus, if there is a perception that the ratio of risks to returns is not good enough, investment will go elsewhere. So will jobs and prospects for economic growth – thus, a brighter future. (We hardly need to call specific Caribbean countries that exemplify this by name. Not least, if farmers have little prospect of owning their land, they have little reason to put in the effort and investment to develop and care for it. Similarly, businessmen who fear robbery on the street or face hostile Government ministers who claim that “capitalists are the enemy of the people” and threaten to expropriate businesses for ideological reasons will be only likely to invest if their business is something that has the returns to risk of say Ganja or Cocaine. Oops – is that why those businesses are booming across the region?)

(4) This brings us to the supply side of the economy. Basically, if the cake is not made, we cannot slice it up. Therefore, there needs to be a balance of factors in enterprises and the economy as a whole, that promotes productivity and sustains competitive advantages so that Caribbean industries – agricultural, manufacturing, tourism, other services, the hi tech sector, etc – are able to create the wealth that we need if we are to provide a decent standard of living for the people, provide relief and hope to the poor, and look after our environment properly.

Pardon the bit of Math below, as it will help us focus the efforts we need to put in place:

Productivity per worker (Y/L) in the economy is based on:

(1) Level of innovative/productive technology in the economy (A) – aka “total factor productivity”;

(2) times a function – f -- of:

(a) financial and physical capital per worker (F/L, K/L)

(b) average level of training and experience – human capital -- per worker (H/L)

(c) natural resources used per worker (N/L)

Symbolically: Y/L = A . f ( F/L, K/L, H/L, N/L)

Citing from Professor Skaggs, of U of IL:

“The growth equation separates the factors affecting growth into two categories: Ideas and Things . . . Ideas can be used simultaneously by many people. An idea is like a recipe. Many different bakers can use the same recipe at the same time, even though they cannot all use the same material inputs or ovens. Ideas can be shared. Because of this, good ideas can produce large effects on output per worker. Huge numbers of workers can benefit from the same good idea. Things can be put to only one use at any given time. An oven is extremely important to cake production, but adding a single oven will have a limited effect on the well-being of all bakers in the economy. Since things cannot be used by everyone at once, they have smaller effects on Y/L. (See Paul M. Romer, "Theory, History, and the Origins of Modern Economic Growth," AEA Papers and Proceedings, May 1996: 202-06.)”

He continues, referring to the work of Nobel Prize-winner Robert Solow, Adam Smith and Joseph Schumpeter:

Investment in things: Physical and natural resources capital and human capital development feeds productivity -- Solovian growth

Ideas and improved production process and product technology can also feed growth, especially as they make large-scale, highly efficient and innovative production possible.

In light of these factors, it seems the Caribbean has too often discouraged investment and innovation, and so is frequently forced to rely on natural resources-intensive production and products, in an age where much of the value in products and services is in the technology and sophisticated industrial transformation that turns sand into PC microprocessors and bauxite into jumbo jets. Further, too often, people in our region do not value education and training enough to exert the effort to get enough of a good enough quality that it makes a difference in actual production -- hint: learning enough to chat about it is not enough.

Unsurprisingly, we have lagged the world over the past two decades.

How can we make a change?

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Straight Thinking 101, part 6

Wise Decisions and Sustainable Development

It is clear from the case study in Acts 27, that the decision made to sail from Fair Havens, driven as it was by desire for comfort and progress, was unsustainable. For, very rapidly, it led to a destructive crisis, one which could so easily have been avoided had prudence prevailed over wishful thinking and agenda games. By contrast, wise decisions would have led to a more sustainable outcome, as could be illustrated by many modern Caribbean examples.

From such , we can easily deduce the key valid insight on sustainable development, as was provided through the Bruntland Commission in 1987:

Meeting the needs of this current generation (with fairness) while not compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. (This is in fact an application of Jesus’ Golden Rule – to do to others (including the poor, powerless and voiceless of this and future generations) as you would have them treat you. [Matt 7:12])

A clarification of the operational implications of the key "SD" principle is helpful:

(1) "SD" initiatives in a community seek to create an ever-growing capacity to meet human needs across time, while not destroying the integrity of the biophysical environment. These efforts must also preserve or even enhance critical community-building democratic values, in particular: equity, liberty and justice.

(2) So, if development initiatives are to achieve sustainability, they must be constrained in light of the resulting tradeoffs/balances of significant beneficial and harmful impacts on the current and future generations, as well as those on the biophysical environment.

(3) The striking of such tradeoffs and balances - e.g. between rates of economic development and growing capacity to mitigate or remedy biophysical and human environmental damage - is best achieved through bringing to the table a truly representative cross-section of the stakeholders in the community, in a policy development context that understands and respects the critical importance of markets for economic development.

(4) These factors and constraints require the implementation of a transparent (i.e. open, fair, truthful, accountable and trustworthy), highly democratic participative process for identifying, developing, implementing, monitoring, managing and evaluating such projects and programmes.

In terms of straight thinking, these points immediately suggest that specifically Christian ethical principles, applied in light of sound insights on how nations are developed and how to balance development with sustainability considerations can help show us a way forward.

To that, we will next turn.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Straight Thinking 101, Part 5

Decisions, Wisdom and “Sustainability”

So far, we have been using the case of Paul’s journey to Rome [Acts 27] as a prisoner on board a ship as a case study for making decisions in a world where what the facts are is hotly contested, and in which participants in the decision-making process often have divergent interests and values.

Game Theory, as we saw last time, has given us a useful framework, through viewing the decision-makers (and those who influence them) as playing a game with Nature, where the outcome, or payoff is the result of the decision taken and the environment it encounters as nature evolves to a particular state. So, for instance, in our case, the ship on which Paul was, having faced unfavourable winds for several weeks, had slowly crept into Fair Havens, on the S. coast of Crete.

But, the Harbour was unsuitable, probably because of a lack of good wintering accommodations, and also there was the question of exposure of the ship to damaging weather. So, it seems, the thought was, to slip down the coast to Phoenix, a more commodious harbour. (If a good, i.e. N or S wind came up, it could be done in a day or two.)

Paul, seeing an unwise course of action, had initiated a council of ship. He pointed out the lateness of the season, and the potential for a devastating winter storm, but the professional seamen were willing to run the risk, even though the weather was clearly marginal, and the majority were clearly desirous of a better port. So, the Centurion went with the majority and the experts.

Disaster followed, as we analysed last time: of the three plausible states of nature – (1) continued becalming, (2) good and sustained winds that would allow them to make Phoenix, and (3) initially favourable winds rapidly succeeded by an approaching winter storm front – they made the decision that exposed them to the worst outcome: slipping out to sea, only to be caught in a severe winter storm. We can almost reconstruct the thinking:

"Not exactly a prudent course of action, but one understandable in light of the prospect of a better accomodation, if only we cut a corner or two and run the weather fine: a day or so of good sailing wind would do. After all, we got away with it before . . ."

This brings us to the wider issue of sustainability: what happens when a path is pursued across time, and underlying trends and odds have a chance to act.

For, as a general rule of thumb, unwise decisions are generally unsustainable. And, even when we “get away with” such decisions a time or two – and think ourselves to be ever so clever – over time, the odds catch up with us, especially if we become more and more reckless. Until, disaster strikes with the sudden ferocity of that Nor’easter that caught the ship on which Paul was a prisoner.

(Resemblance to events in our personal lives, to the fate of institutions and business, and even nations, across the Caribbean, is NOT coincidental. The recent sniper shootings in DC are only the latest instance.)

But, why do we so often choose to do what is in the long-run, a path to disaster?

Simply put, and as was hinted at above, because we do not always immediately suffer the consequences of foolish or wicked actions. So, the pleasures of sin for a season deceive us into pursuing paths that seem right to us – they work to our advantage, don’t they -- only to end in shipwreck later on.

At institutional, community and national scales, it becomes a bit more complex. For, the powerful, wealthy and clever are often able to export the damaging consequences of decisions made to others in the institution or community. But, across time, the underlying environmental trends – political, economic, socio-cultural and moral, technological, and biophysical -- inexorably play out. [To be concrete -- as a Jamaican who has lived through the breakdown of one of the most promising of all developing countries in the 1960's --would Jamaica's decision-makers make the same moves again, if they could re-live the 1960's and 70's? There was no shortage of sound advice! Similar cases could be multiplied all over the region.]

For, actions have consequences in a world that obeys underlying laws of nature, and of Nature’s God: laws that govern politics, economics, ethics, biophysical environment as well as science and technology.

This is the underlying basis for the validity of the Bruntland Commission on Development’s 1987 definition of Sustainability as development that meets the needs of this current generation (bearing in mind issues of fairness) and that does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Lurking under that principle lies Kant’s Categorical Imperative: that we must act so that if our example carries universally the result would be beneficial – think of what would happen in a world where everybody habitually lied about anything that was to their advantage. The resulting chaos would make having a society worth living in impossible! (Resemblance to current situations across the Caribbean and beyond is not coincidental.)

Deeper still, lies the Golden Rule of Christ: Do to others as you would have them treat you. (Matt 7:12, cf. Lev. 19:18.)

How does that play out on the ground? In the recent JTS/CGST Annual Ethics Lecture, I noted:

“ the two principles reveal why many Caribbean development initiatives over the past generation have proved to be unsustainable: they have been ethically unsound. For, development-oriented decisions and actions taken at individual, institutional, community and national levels have far too often been carried through without clear and consistent ethical reflection, leading to policies and actions that are insufficiently constrained by recognition of their likely impacts and consequences on other persons (especially the poor, the powerless and the voiceless) and on the environment. So, as the consequences of self-serving, shortsighted choices have played out on the ground, and as the poor examples set by top-level decision-makers have spread out across the wider society, chaos has too often followed.” [JTS/CGST Ethics Lecture, March 2002.]

But, in a world full of Atheists and Agnostics in Decision-making positions, power and not morality is likely to control decisions.

Therefore, next time, let us think about how to respond to the impacts of such a divergence in views and values, using sustainability as a bridging concept.

Friday, November 15, 2002

Straight Thinking 101, Part 4

Decisions in a World of Uncertainty, Risk and Debate

Over the past couple of days, I have been busy, so pardon the delay. But, note the newly uploaded web site.

In many decision-making situations, what the facts are is an open question, often hotly contested by highly articulate adsvocates and spin-doctors. Thus, we are forced to act in the face of uncertainties, risk and probabilities.

Operations Research offers a framework for making such decisions, based on Game Theory: playing a “game” with Nature as the opponent.

For instance, let us again consider the situation of Acts 27, from a decision-making perspective:

NATURE: The relevant environmental factor was the weather. We can identify at least three plausible states of Nature, given that it was late in the year, so the first winter-storms could have come at any time.

(1) Continued adverse winds until the first winter storm closed down sailing for the winter. (This would have locked the ship up in Fair Havens, regardless of intent.)
(2) A day or two of good sailing wind, as that would suffice to get the ship within striking-distance of the more commodious harbour, Phoenix.
(3) Initially favourable winds, but as a precursor to the first winter storm – what happened in the event.

DECISION-MAKER: This would have mainly been the Centurion, as influenced by the Experts (Ship Owner and Kubernete/steersman), the majority and Paul. Here, there were two options:

(A) Sail for Phoenix, if the winds became favourable. (The majority opinion.)
(B) Stay put in Fair Havens. (Paul’s alternative.)

We know that in the event, we had the match A-3, leading to disaster. However, this is after the fact. How can one decide wisely before the event?

Basically, we can set up a so-called “payoff table” showing what outcomes would be likely from A or B if Nature went to states 1, 2, or 3:

A: In state 1, there would be no opportunity to sail before the winter weather set in. If 2 ocurred, then the ship would have been in a better, and probably safer, harbour. Of course, as happened, we ended with A-3, a disaster.

B: Safe, but not comfortable, and the ship could possibly have been subject to damage.

The next step in deciding is to assess the likelihood or prudence of the outcomes, and to decide on the best alternative. Here, if one knows the probabilities attaching to states 1, 2 or 3 it would be helpful in quantifying the options. (One way to do this, is to ask the experts to indicate how often out of say six seasons the weather would play out as 1, 2 or 3.) But, the usual case is that such “subjective probabilities” are at best educated guesses, and the down-side vulnerabilities may exceed the upside benefits.

In that case, we should assess the range of opportunities and threats, and if possible, estimate what is more or less likely to happen. Then, we could weight the potential benefits and potential costs, to give an expectation, by summing up benefit/cost x probability. (For instance, if we bet $100 on a six on a die, for $1,000, we can expect, on average, to gain $1,000 if we get a 6, with a 1/6 chance, but stand to lose five chances out of six, so we expect to gain: 1/6 x $1000 + 5/6 x (-$100) = $ 83 per throw. One may lose most of the time, but on average, one would gain. That is how businessmen and investors make a living. Profit is often based on returns to the risk of enterprise.)

However, in some cases, like Russian roulette, even though the chance of a negative downside is 1/6: one bullet and five empty chambers when one pulls the trigger; the loss is so high that we would probably decide to minimize our exposure to a catastrophic outcome. (In yet other cases, the outcome is a mixed bag, so it may be wise to see how to minimize regret: the “if I had only known . . .” on either the upside or the downside.)

In the case in Acts 27, Paul’s initial advice was probably prudent, even if the gentle South Wind had lasted long enough, as the potential loss was so serious – as the Apostle pointed out.

Where does this leave us?

(I) We have defined a framework for decisions under risk/uncertainty. (NB: “risk” is used when we can assign probabilities to potential states of nature, and “uncertainty” is used when we don’t know enough to assess such odds.) Basically, the rule is: decide in light of options and the likely range of outcomes given environmental factors and trends.

(II) We see that good information is the basis for good decisions, and that probability, or at least a set of scenarios outlining options and outcomes is better than nothing.

(III) Finally, it is often wise to postpone final decision until there is sufficient information to make a clear decision, or at least till it is evident that the likely cost of further delay and investigation outweighs the likely benefit.
But, as the case of the ship in Acts 27 shows, often we do not think through the implications and likely outcomes of our decisions, and decide based on what the powerful want to hear, or who is popular, or what tickles our itching ears with what we want to hear. Or, we may be unduly influenced by personal interests or factional agendas.

Shipwreck has too often followed.

This brings us to the next point, for next time: “sustainability” in decision-making, and the prospects for sound development of our region.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Straight Thinking 101, part 3:

When is a “Fact” a Fact?

Early this morning, I caught Donald Rumsfeld on CSPAN, thanks to having to baby-sit a misbehaving’ PC that ate my Corel Draw 8 CD at 1 am – and won’t give it back.

Rummy was in fine fettle for an International Business Leaders’ Forum, and straightaway said two things that caught my ear:

(1) The Media-tried and convicted “Unilateralist” Dubya has assembled the largest coalition ever assembled – 90 countries – in the War on Terror. And, he did so while refusing to entangle himself in conditionalities that would make the coalition pointless and ineffective.

(2) In situations such as the world now faces, decisions have to be made under pressure of the very highest stakes, in a very limited window of time, and with high uncertainty, in the light of sketchy and often contradictory information.

That takes us right back to the relevance of our Acts 27 case on straight thinking in collective decision-making. For, as we saw last time, the Centurion of the Imperial Household had gone with the experts and the majority, only to see the ship – having set sail on a gentle south wind to creep along the coast to a more commodious harbour – caught up in a 14-day, hurricane-force Nor’easter. [The Greek word is”typhoon”!]

Now, with the ship in a damaged and sinking condition, Paul the Apostle/Appeals Prisoner again intervened, with a prophetic message. This time, he had a far more receptive audience.

And, duly, the ship soon approached land:

Acts 15:27 On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.

In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, "Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved."

So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away.

Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. "For the last fourteen days," he said, "you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food--you haven't eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head."

After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Altogether there were 276 of us on board.

When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.

When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could.

Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.

The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul's life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land.

The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety. [27 – 44.]

Notice how the Apostle’s prophetic leadership injected hope into the confused and desperate situation, and gave the Centurion the wisdom to spot and pre-empt the seamen’s ruse that would have abandoned the passengers to the hazards of the sea. Here again, we see “experts” acting in their own interest.

Then, the soldiers (who would have been executed if prisoners escaped) wished to kill the prisoners, as they had the power to do under the laws of Rome. Again, we see self-interested, even unjust advice and intent to abuse power (over a prisoner who it was obvious was innocent!). The Centurion demurred, putting his life in the hands of Paul.

Thus, all 276 souls were saved, but only because good advice was discerned and acted on, in the face of self-interested and even deceitful counsels by experts and power-brokers.

Clearly then, what the “facts” are is often hotly contested in a crisis, and so there has to be a decision on who to trust. Thus, we see the critical importance of integrity, and of the courage to stand alone when bad counsel is being given.

What disasters could have been avoided if the Centurion had taken sound, but unpopular advice at the first! But, he did learn from experience, whose counsel to trust.

So, when we see the multitudes of yakking and mutually contradictory opinion-makers, experts, advisors and consultants of our time, we would do well to heed the issue: no advisor is better than his facts and reasoning.

Further, where we must go on balances of probabilities – as is true in most real-world cases -- it is sounder to go with prudence and with the counsel of men of high integrity, when much is at stake.

Had this been heeded in many of our region’s countries, it would have saved us much grief.

Next time, let us explore the issue of the balance of probabilities a bit more, for down that path lies a great deal of wisdom.

Monday, November 11, 2002

Straight Thinking 101, Part 2

As the case of Paul on the ship in Fair Havens Crete shows [Acts 27:9 – 15], the majority is not always right.

Neither is the minority. Nor the experienced, nor the educated, nor the powerful . . . .

So then, we need criteria to discern sense from rubbish, wisdom from folly, if we are to make sound decisions as individuals, families, businesses, institutions and communities. A good place to start is with the question: how do arguments persuade/prove?

As Aristotle pointed out in his The Rhetoric, that brings us to the three main persuasive appeals:

(1) Emotions – very persuasive, but no better than the accuracy of the underlying perceptions that trigger our feelings or desires.

(2) Authority – 99% of practical arguments depend on authorities (starting with the Dictionary) but no expert or official is better than his facts and reasoning.

(3) “Facts” and reasoning – it is only when claimed facts are true and representative of the truth, and the reasoning from them is logically valid, that the conclusions are soundly arrived at.

That brings us to the next issue, for next time: how can we tell when a “fact” is just that?

And, just in case you think you have it all figured out, try out This quote from Vox Day today in World Net Daily’s News site:

“I am extremely confused by the way that the media is reporting on the current war with Iraq. Over a month ago, I noted that Turkish armored divisions had invaded Northern Iraq and were holding some 15 percent of the country. This weekend, Debka has reported that U.S. Special Forces, in company with elite British and Iranian military units, are fighting Iraqi forces in Southern Iraq in an attempt to gain control over the Euphrates River crossings. Combined with the training exercises in Jordan, this means that Hussein's main forces will soon be completely surrounded ... which is a very strange situation for a war that supposedly hasn't started yet.”



Friday, November 08, 2002

Straight Thinking 101, part 1:
Community Decision-making –is the Majority opinion always sound?

If we are to build a sound future for the Caribbean, we must first learn how to think soundly and act wisely. In particular, we must learn how to make good collective decisions, whether in the home, the office, the institution or the community.

This was again brought home to me in a recent conversation, during which the opinion was strongly expressed that the essence of Democracy is majority rule – and considerations about protecting the minority or the individual from the dangers of mob-rule [e.g. lynchings] kept on meeting with dismissals as to why the concerns were irrelevant.

So, I felt very concerned, and it seemed to me that we need to look again at Straight Thinking 101.

To see my point, perhaps the following account from Paul’s trip to Rome as an appeal prisoner will make it clear:

Sailing [from Crete] had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast. So Paul warned them, "Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also." But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship.
Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest. When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the "northeaster," swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. [Acts 27:9 – 15.]

Here, the decision-maker and the majority, swayed by experts who were all too willing to run dangerous risks to gain a more comfortable situation, ignored sound godly counsel, and took the path of folly as soon as opportunity presented itself.

Shipwreck was the result.

Parallels in our region over the past generation, sadly, are all too common.

For, if a decision fails to follow counsels of wisdom in light of the factors, trends and issues in a situation, it may well win enough support to be effected. But, all the hubris in the world – overweening pride such as was shown by Athens at the height of its political, economic and military power in the time of Socrates – is incapable of overcoming forces that are beyond human strength.

So then, let us heed Sophia:

Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech:
"How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you. But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you-- when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
"Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me. Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm." [Prov 1:20 – 32.]

Thursday, November 07, 2002

Why KairosFocus?

The Caribbean -- especially Jamaica -- is at kairos. Crisis-point: danger, plus opportunity to shape the future.

So -- and echoing the ANC of South Africa -- it is a time for reflection so that we may accurately understand our past, act wisely in the present, and build a sustainable and desirable future.

First of all, we must squarely face the historical importance of, and contemporary leadership failure of the church. For instance, Dr Hilary Beckles (a leading regional Historian), as he spoke to yet another regional crisis — that of Cricket — commented in Caricom Perspective in the mid-90's: "There is no [Caribbean] political movement that connects its manifesto to the idealism of the historic struggle for social change with justice. As a consequence, the region's 'labour parties' have become anti-labour, and workers everywhere are running for shelter and leadership within the walls of a revivalist evangelical christianity [sic] that now commands the communities' largest social gatherings.The death of social idealism, and the triumph, for example, of 'born-again religious escapism,' signal the abandonment of the youth to apolitical social engagements . . . " ["Rethinking West Indies Cricket: Notes on the Third Paradigm." Caricom Perspective, No. 66, 1996; p.75.]

Perhaps, these words are too sweeping and sharp, but they raise concerns we must squarely face.

So, to context: when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and then when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, socialist economics and Marxist ideology were exposed and abandoned as deceitful, destructive, futile delusions. This easily explains the wistful nostalgia of many of our region’s Post-Marxist intellectuals, who are now forced to reckon with “the death of social idealism.”

Then, in the early 1990’s, we heard of a New World Order, an era of free trade-driven global Capitalist prosperity and peace. However, paradise did not arrive with the Internet. For instance, many of the formerly Communist nations soon fell into economic, ethnic, and military turmoil. As one sad result, "Ethnic Cleansing" has now entered our language.

Global environmental challenges and economic earthquakes soon followed. These issues are of particular concern to the Caribbean, for we are especially vulnerable to global economic downturns, and to the intense hurricanes and rising sea level that are projected as likely consequences of global warming. This is sobering, because economic troubles and natural disasters have repeatedly caught us napping, exposing inadequate preparation and poor management.

As a direct result, Caribbean countries have, on the whole, been economic underachievers over the past thirty years, especially since the oil price shocks in 1973 and 1979. [The Dominican Republic's sustained high growth rate has been a major exception.]

So, almost everywhere in the region, traditional agriculture — sugar, bananas, cotton, spices — is in serious decline. The competitiveness of our manufacturing industries is an open question. Nor has tourism, now our dominant industry — it accounts for a fifth of our employment and up to a third of national income in some countries — proved to be a cure-all.

Consequently, the stability of our economies and currencies is threatened, especially as the World Trade Organisation's rulings against the traditional protective European tariffs that favour our bananas begin to work out on the ground. For, competitiveness is the new global theme song, and inefficient or inferior producers — in this case, us — will simply be run down, run over and forgotten.

On the social front, our illegitimacy rates have sometimes climbed to over ninety percent, reflecting even more alarming declines in self-control, sexual morality and family life. Education, too, is a major concern, in the face of a new high-tech age. Further, crime is clearly trending upwards, accelerated by our increasing materialism, the illicit drug trade and one of our few unwelcome imports: deported criminals.

Dramatic changes are also taking place in the Caribbean’s spiritual climate. While many of our educated people are still skeptical over any form of spirituality, the inner emptiness caused by modernism’s failed attempt to dismiss God as a fairy tale has created a great hunger for spiritual experience.

But since the church often seems to be just as discredited, irrelevant and outdated as Marxism, "New Age" spirituality — repackaged paganism — is rapidly spreading across the world, including in our region. Islam, too, is aggressively responding to the hunger, and is working hard to win converts and build a strong base in the Caribbean. Even Hinduism is now taking a far more assertive stance, especially in the Southern Caribbean, where it has a strong ethnic base.

In short, there is clearly a multi-dimensional regional crisis, one that is largely taking place at the expense of the church. And, thus far, we have largely been silent or shallow.

So, the challenge to the church now is whether we can be like the "men of Issachar who understood the times and knew what Israel should do." Or, will we be like the Pharisees and Sadducees: "You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times"? [1 Chronicles 12:32, vs. Matthew 16: 3b.]

For, in times of severe crisis — as we now face in the Caribbean — men lose confidence in their abilities, institutions and leaders. So, as communities and nations grope blindly, hoping for a vision of the way out of distress, they are open to new leaders and messages.

While this naturally provides a powerful opportunity for the gospel, if it is correctly and wisely applied, it also often makes us vulnerable to "blind leaders of the blind." Such misleaders will "tickle [our] itching ears" with what we want to hear, but they are only capable of leading us into the nearest ditch. [Cf. Luke 6:39, 40 and 2 Tim. 4:3, 4.]

And so, to our task.