About jthielen88

Montana born & raised. Boston educated. Texas workin'. Worldly minded.

I wrote the fol…

Aside

I wrote the following post on a blog post from a Christian that I really enjoyed for it’s openness to perspective.  I recommend reading his post.  Happy reading!
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Disclaimer:  I’m gay and am a former believer.  “Former” being a direct result of the persecution and hatred that was displayed toward me.

I don’t think this dialogue needs to go away, but *both* sides need to stop their doomsday rhetoric.  Just because you look at a situation and interpret it it neither means that you are right, nor that the other person is wrong.  It’s a difference of perspective… that’s all.  I think where you and I agree is that we agree it should be the church’s function to help Christians strengthen their relationship with God given the reality that we are all sinners.  Sin is sin, regardless of the “level of severity.”

But the church by its very nature (good vs. bad, moral vs. immoral, black vs. white) is interested in moral imperatives, not dialogue about interpretations.  THIS, like everything, has pros and cons.  I will not partake in the “all or nothing” approach that we are used to in these sorts of discussions.  It’s this features that gives the church the resolve to be able to persist throughout the ages because if we pay homage to rituals and adhere to practice, these rituals and practices will continue through the ages.  Said differently, it is more likely to not be destroyed by social trends.

However, everything comes at a cost.  And the cost here is (usually) the dialogue and interpretation through the ages that allows would allow the church to be relevant to those people who live more in present society and are more swayed by social shifts.  Right or wrong, as we teach kids to be independent thinkers and “higher order thinking” we are telling them to consider all the facts and come to their own conclusions.  But ut-oh… this makes it harder for the church to be relevant when it now has to explain in a logical *and current* manner.  When the church can’t or doesn’t make this convincingly, they are more likely to be skeptical or even dismissive.

But my main complaint is that in being nit-picky about the level of “sin” again distracts us from the bigger picture… which is that the Christian God calls us to love one another and help one another regardless of their sinfulness.  The current rhetoric takes us away from this.  Why?  Because the rhetoric keeps us from feeling empathetic toward one another and empathy is the prerequisite to love.  The rhetoric only allows us to judge, not understand.

I propose that it would be best if we all came to the same table and just said, “We’re all imperfect.  But I love you anyway, man.  You’re hurting and I’m hurting and this isn’t what God wants for us. So let’s not judge each other but just get to know each other.”  This will build a loving, Godly community.

Assumptions about Right and Wrong

I have begun my summer celebration by setting my reading list and getting to ‘work’ (pun intended).  Within one book, “What The Dog Saw” by Malcolm Gladwell, I found an interesting chapter about what at first seemed to be a very counter-intuitive investment strategy.  I immediately felt inclined to send it to my uncle (a hard-core republican who works for an investment firm) and wanted to write him a note.  Here is part of that note:

Reading it [“What The Dog Saw”], I came across a fantastic chapter about investment.  Having been an Econ major I remember all about risk management and I know that that is a huge part of your job.

What struck me most about the article was it made me look at myself and others and ask not “What and how do we make decisions?” because that is complicated in itself.  However, it did get me thinking this:  all decisions are made on a set of assumptions we have created based on pure experience and schooling… then we base decisions off of mainly logic that builds off those assumptions.

But what if our assumptions aren’t wrong… but simply that there is an alternate (and usually ‘opposite’) way of teasing reason out from those assumptions?  Is that “wrong”?

I don’t know about you, but I think often times it comes down to what “feels right.”  Time and time again I find that I may not agree with someone, but I always find they are trying to do “right”… even if it’s just a feeling…

I feel this is just one more step in trying to understand instead of just demonize the “others” in my mind– republicans, for instance.

What “Hill Country” is Missing…

I currently live in San Antonio, Texas. Texans love to boast about “Hill Country.”  I’ve been there and it’s nice.  It really is.  But right now I can’t help but miss the Rockies… not the baseball team, but instead their namesake.  I wish I could go get lost in a hike, go waterskiing with the family, spend a few nights at my aunt and uncle’s cabin… or even just go for a drive.

ImageWhy do I feel so inclined?  There is something that just brings you back to earth… gets you out of your head and into the present tense.  It’s calming.  It reminds you of your humanity… that you are just a steward of the planet and that you are inevitably going to die just like everything else in nature.  But it also reminds you that all great things take time.  That balance is always important because in balance comes serenity.

Can’t help but think that what the Hill Country is missing is mountains.

 

Reflections on Women & Politics

Big thumbs up to the women, both democrats and republicans, in elected positions.  For constituting half of our population it only makes sense that their views and experiences should be a vital part to policy.  They have had to overcome very significant stereotypes in order to get where they are.  From my perspective of growing up in a single-parent household under my mom and also learning the struggles of the women in my family I have come to realize that women are not daintily delicate (with an implication that they need to be protected), but instead they are often times the rock of society and thus have strengths that we need to draw upon.  They provide for their family’s emotional needs, they play the “mediator” in most family conflicts, they work relentlessly to support their partner and children in their endeavors… all while taking care of basic needs of their family.

It perplexes me, then, that women still are nowhere near 50% of elected positions in state legislatures, governorships, or in congress.  I truly don’t care their ideological perspective… but instead the very important representation of half of our country.

Let me give you an example:  the women’s reproductive rights vs. religious liberties.  I know it’s a hard thing to discuss… but it’s something that we must because both things are very important.  However, it makes my blood boil that within this discussion only males seem to be able to participate.  Take the congressional hearing that took place earlier this year.  This patriarchal view should to be said… but what about the other side?  What about women’s voices?  Or, better yet, religious women’s voices!?

Melinda Gates here speaks about contraception on a global scale, but her message resonates on a local one.  Contraception is an important part of family planning and gives women the power to make the best choices for their family.  She is catholic herself, but she has an interesting perspective:  that it is religion’s job to help guide moral truths but not to take choices away from family and women.

For being a country that prides itself on “freedom” why is it that we are so quick to take it away from half of the population without (1) consulting them and (2) drawing upon their strengths to help us create the policy and direction of our country.  Women need not be silenced, but seen as an integral part of the process.

Why Nothing Gets Done in DC

Congress’ approval rating is at an all-time low.  Wisconsin has been blowing up regarding the recall election.  Citizen’s United has made it easier for big money to influence elections in a big way.

But that’s what it always comes down to in politics, right?  Getting elected.  Usually we think that the primary focus of a politician is to win their own seat.  There is a new era in politics, however, where it’s not just getting elected to your seat that is the primary focus, but instead the presidency means more.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., then issued his fellow Republicans these marching orders: “Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.” from ‘Obama and Congress: Bipartisan Talk Meet Reality’ on NPR

I know most of you are thinking, “yeah whatever blah blah blah politics is politics.”  But don’t you see what the underlying message is?  That the primary focus is not to pass laws that make our nation better off now, but instead to put that off until they can “have it their way.”  It’s so easy then to cast a vote because all you have to ask is, “Does this bill make Obama look good or bad?” and the answer is pretty black or white.  It’s much harder to vote for/against a bill based off of whether it’s good for our society.

We should all remember that the grass is always greener on the other side.  Let’s say that Romney does become president.  Will democrats be willing to work with them?  Probably not after the Republicans have been refusing to compromise.  In fact, a republican win under this strategy would only convince democrats that it could work for them so then they will become obstructionists.  This is a never-ending and dangerous game.  And nothing can or will get done.

Politicians need to realize that the Presidency isn’t that goal.  That, in fact, they can do good through compromise and doing what they were sent there to do… to legislate, not get someone elected president.

How Economic Inequality Harms Society

You ask around to see what people think is the greatest threat to our society and you will get a myriad of answers:  terrorists, globalization, democrats/republicans, government in general, McDonalds, global warming, growing government deficit etc.

But I would propose to you that as a developed nation that our greatest threat is economic inequality.  We have gone through our industrial revolution and it’s later stage of worker’s rights/workplace safety… our suffrage movement and our civil rights movement (while there is still gay/transgender rights lack of rights, wage differences are relatively small compared to pre- suffrage/civil rights movements).  In short, we are a developed nation that has significant wealth as well as basic worker and minority protections in place.

Why Economic Inequality Is Harmful

I’m going to pause here and before you start yelling, “Karl Marx Commie!” and “wicked socialist!” and ask you to consider three ways to think about:

1.  Do you believe in the “American Dream”?  If you do then you should know that the United States has one of the *lowest* mobility rates to move up the economic ladder than almost any other OECD nation.  You are more likely to be in the same economic condition as your parents than in any other rich nation.  Thus, the American Dream should really be called the Swedish Dream or the Denmark Dream (ooooo… alliteration… I like it).  BUT WAIT.  They are socialist.  Hmmmm…
2. There are considerable links between ALL quality of life indexes and levels of inequality.  As inequality (usually measured by the Gini coefficient) increases, the quality of life of the society decreases.  Sad cat.
3.  There is one quality of life index that affects everyone… Don’t you like low-levels of crime and a safer society?  Because it has been found that when there is less inequality within a given community crime rates drop.  Do you want children to be underdeveloped from infancy simply because a mother must be driven back to work immediately after pregnancy?  This creates a child who biologically is already at a disadvantage.  Disadvantaged children are more likely to commit crimes (why do you think that there is a huge drop in crime rates 20 years after Roe V. Wade?  See Freakonomics for evidence)

What I am not saying…

I think your first thought is that if you are taking money from the rich in order to make if “fair” you are just going to give it to the poor.  Nope.  Sorry… I’m more of a realist.  I am both an economics major and I taught in an inner-city school for two years.  Just giving people money does not make their quality of life better, but it also doesn’t change their behaviors that can be applied in the job market.  (An anecdote:  I heard more than once from students that it was easier to live on food stamps than to get a good job.  This is the economic reality of the current welfare state we have created… perpetual poverty.)

So what can we do instead with money from the wealthy?  Better question is “What can’t we do!?”  My philosophy rests on the quote, “Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day.  Teach him how to fish and he can eat for every day.”  Here are some examples: Create jobs, increase access to quality education, teach low-income parents about childcare (Harlem Project), increase head start programs, increase student loan amounts for students whose parents have never been to college, fund programs that increase technical skills for people, recreate our low-income housing system (I have HUGE beef with putting a bunch of low-income people all together as it perpetuates the culture of poverty.  I’ve heard the New Zealand-style of public housing is interesting).  I think there are many wonderful avenues that are worth pursuing.

What should we do?

  1. Close tax loopholes – for two reasons (1) it is not fair for a wealthy person to be paying a smaller tax rate than the middle class simply because their wealth is derived from stocks instead of labor… making risky investments is not a cause for reward of lower tax rates (2) Supply-side economics have been shown not to work.  The wealthy get more wealthy and maybe create a few more jobs but generally just pocket their wealth.
  2. Put limits on how much CEO’s and upper-level management can make.  I’m sorry I’m not sorry that I don’t believe anyone’s job deserves $14.5 mil.  Especially when the evidence is at best unclear that CEO pay has a positive correlation to how well a business does (or even has a negative correlation in many cases).  This will be money saved and recapitalized into the company, creating more jobs.
  3. Create reasonable restrictions in the marketplace so that banks and businesses cannot do risky things like those that got us into this recession that has increased inequality (if you need evidence just google “sub-prime mortgages”).  I understand that we need the free hand of the market… but at the same time we can’t turn our head away and let it strangle us.  The markets are like a garden… they have so much potential and a lot of times you can just let them go grow, but it also needs to be tended to… with weeds removed and to make sure that one doesn’t overtake them all.
  4. Create more equal pay structures (adjusted for cost of living, of course) not only between industries/companies… but also within companies.  For instance, there is still a huge disparity between men and women for the same jobs (women earn $.78 to every dollar men earn… this is clearly unequal).

Why the “free market” itself will not create this

I have heard a few arguments.  Chiefly among them is that we should just let the markets decide.  However, the markets does not care how evenly resources are distributed and thus does not internalize the externalities that accompany higher levels of inequality (watch the ted talk if you want to know what those are).  Thus because the market doesn’t account for this the market is going to come to the wrong conclusion.  Why?  Because these are public goods (lower crime, education, health, etc).  This is why the government must fund them… if left to the market it would choose too low of a level.  Furthermore, we can see the current education system isn’t able to get rid of this disparity (in fact, it currently makes it worse as the quality of education differs drastically between communities).

A third argument is that we shouldn’t make wealthy people do charitable good.  We should just encourage them to use their money in their own way to achieve this good.  This logic fails for many reasons, but mainly because that wealthy people’s motivation is not to lower inequality.  Their “good” usually falls into public works projects (like parks), the arts, or other “hobbies.”  While these are definitely noble causes, they do not aim to decrease the threat of inequality of our society.  Furthermore, they usually don’t view things such as welfare programs positively, so they would not be likely to fund other programs that directly help the poor since they are viewed as “handouts.”

Our Future Reality

I’m no Marxist… I don’t believe there will be a class revolution to instill communism.  Partially because we have seen that communism is not an effective marketplace solution and mostly because people are consciously content with capitalism.  The harm comes psychologically subconsciously to those who born into the bottom (and before you judge them… remember how much your parents were able to give you that those at the bottom have not had.  In fact, just because they are born into a certain zipcode predestines them to a lower quality of education).

If we believe that we are a great nation, we need to remember that our greatness is really limited to how well we take care of each other.

http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html