Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Economic Recovery or Spiritual Awakening

WARNING: THIS BLOG HAS BEEN WRITTEN UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF A LOT OF CAFFEINE AND LITTLE SLEEP!

During the election cycle...you remember that, right? It was when you couldn't watch 10 minutes of TV without seeing repeated commercials for candidates...commercials that usually contradicted each other...sometimes back to back...OK...now that you remember the election cycle...One of the statements made during that cycle was by then-candidate Barack Obama. He described the situation (way back then) as "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression." I'm not going to go all stat-geek on you and question the accuracy of that statement...others have already done so (http://www.reason.com/blog/show/129762.html).

Rather, I wonder why there is such an emphasis on our current economic crisis needing to be "the worst." I think it is because we want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. And, while it may not be "fun", being a part of "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression" gives credibility to the stamina and perseverance of a segment of the US Population known more for its weaknesses than its strengths. To whom, pray tell, am I referring? Baby Boomers. That larger than life, wonderful bunch of post-WWII, hippy-era folks who are suddenly coming to the end of their careers and realizing the utter emptiness of it all. For them, their HAS to be something they have accomplished, something they have withstood, besides building a retirement account and a house with a three car garage...only to see their slacker son/grandson (the one sleeping on the sofa and who prefers body spray to showers) inherit it.

This economic crisis finally provides the opportunity Boomers have been wanting - a chance to prove to their old man that - just because they didn't serve in WWII and protested Vietnam - they really are resilient after all. Now, perhaps I am being a bit hard on the older generation...I'm a Buster you know...a Gen-Xer...a, well, whatever we are called. I'm in that next group down the age chart...and we aren't much better. Listen, here's the deal...we have no business comparing ourselves to the people who lived through the Great Depression...do we have 25% unemployment? NO. Have we seen our GDP contract by 33%? NO. Sorry...the stat-geek lives!

What we have seen in "this economic crisis" is a reduction in our expendable income. For Boomers (and Busters), "economic crisis" means we go on a shorter vacation. It means we complain because we paid $4 a gallon to drive to our vacation destination. (NOTE: we paid it...but we complained!) It means we pay a little higher interest rate on our new car loan. (OR, it means that we may have to actually demonstrate the capacity to pay off a debt before we are extended even more credit! the audacity!) It means we cannot believe the airline is going to charge us extra money to take our luggage to the resort in the Caribbean...how dare they!

Now, what does all this have to do with spiritual awakening? I was in a meeting about a month ago and heard this statement: "With every economic crisis in American history there has also been an increase in evangelical churches and converts." In other words, when our toys and financial security are removed, people start to ask the "big questions" once again. You know: who are we? where did we come from? what is the point of all this? Of course, I suspect things will have to get worse (i.e. a REAL economic crisis) before that happens. But, you see, it is when financial security disappears that people turn to God. It is then that they realize that the money, the company, the 401K, the cars, houses, etc were all a facade...and the desire to be a part of something that is REAL and BIGGER than their own lives remains stronger than ever.

So...if you are a follower of Christ I ask: do you want an economic recovery or a spiritual awakening?

3 comments:

Aaron Ginn said...

Listen, here's the deal...we have no business comparing ourselves to the people who lived through the Great Depression...do we have 25% unemployment?

Hey Rob! Actually we're getting close to that number. There are several ways to calculate unemployment. The rate most often quoted in the media is called U3 unemployment. This number is currently around 7.6%. However, the broadest measure of unemployment is called U6. This number includes those people who have (a) fallen off the unemployment rolls because they have been unemployed for longer than six months, (b) have given up looking for work because they can't find work, and (c) are working part-time because they have to and cannot find full-time work. This is the measure of unemployment that was used during the Great Depression when employment peaked at over 20%. Currently, that number stands at 15.4%. We're not that far away from 20%. In fact, that number is up from 9.9% last year, an increase of 55% year-over-year. At this rate we will blow through 20% sometime this year.

Another stat that shows that the current downturn compares favorably to the GD can be found on this page from the Federal Reserve:

http://tinyurl.com/ctemmy

This graph shows that in November, the CPI (consumer price index) fell by 2%. As you can see from the graph, the last time CPI fell this much in a month was during the Great Depression.

Finally, one major difference between the GD and now is that during the GD, consumer and federal debt was manageable. Today, the consumer is burdened with more debt than ever before and we have a national debt of nearly $11 trillion. Add to that that consumer savings is virtually non-existent now compared to the GD, and we are arguably in far worse shape than 1929.

This doesn't mean that more bailouts are a good idea. All they will do is delay the inevitable. We have lived beyond our means for far too long and have spent our children's and grandchildren's wealth due to our desire to have it all and have it now. Unfortunately, we are going to have to learn to live with less than we have in the past. Hopefully, the next few years, we Christians will learn that the best things in life cannot be bought with a credit card or a HELOC, but they are found by following God's commandments and doing His will. The next few years are going to be difficult, but we'll get through it and be better for it.

Aaron Ginn said...

Rob, I forgot to mention one other thing. The percentage of part-time workers is higher now than it has ever been. Take a look at this graph:

http://tinyurl.com/8ykkp6

This is largely because employers do not have to provide benefits to part-time workers so it makes more financial sense for them to employ five 24-hour a week employees than 3 40-hour a week employees with benefits. Also, because our standard of living has declined so much in the U.S. that most families need more than one income to provide for their family. One reason why the current unemployment numbers do not have the same meaning as they did during the GD is that fewer people than ever are working full-time jobs. Instead, of three people working 40-hour workweeks at Starbucks, we now have five people working those same 120 hours of work. This has the effect of causing the unemployment numbers to drop, but there are fewer good jobs available to everyone. You can argue about whether or not employing more people for fewer hours is better than employing fewer people for more hours, but the fact is that there are fewer fully employed people than ever before. That's not good.

Pastor Rob Pochek said...

Aaron,
I appreciate the contributions of a fellow stat-geek! Thanks for the links. Very interesting, indeed. The unemployment numbers in our county reflect an upward climb as well. Some of that is due to "temporary layoffs," but a good portion is due to legitimate job loss. I don't want to suggest that jobs are not being lost in our current economy or that people are not experiencing real pain. Rather, I want to offer the following:

1. Economic downturns and spiritual renewals show a correlation in much of American history, so we as believers need to be thoughtful about how we pray. Are we concerned enough about the spiritual condition of our nation that we would pray that God use whatever means necessary - including economic difficulty - to turn hearts toward him?

2. Boomers (and Busters) are so used to affluence, that any threat to it is considered an "economic crisis." A visit to a third world country would shock most of us into the realization that there are very few "poor" Americans, by world standards. Indeed, a visit to www.globalrichlist.com will demonstrate that the person working 25 hours / wk at Starbucks, making $8 / hr is richer than 86% of the world's population. That is not to excuse low wage jobs, a lack of benefits, etc, but to recognize the truth that that America - despite her challenges - is still the best place on the planet to live.

3. In light of the above, believers need to be diligent to reduce debt, live a modest lifestyle, and seek to advance the kingdom with our "wealth."

4. The best thing the federal government can do about this economic downturn is NOTHING.
As Robert Higgs so accurately points out, our recovery from similar situations was much quicker WITHOUT federal help:

"Our greatest need at present is for the government to go in the opposite direction, to do much less, rather than much more. As recently as the major recession of 1920-21, the government took a hands-off position, and the downturn, though sharp, quickly reversed itself into full recovery. In contrast, Hoover responded to the downturn of 1929 by raising tariffs, propping up wage rates, bailing out farmers, banks, and other businesses, and financing state relief efforts. Roosevelt moved even more vigorously in the same activist direction, and the outcome was a protracted period of depression (and wartime privation) from which complete recovery did not come until 1946."
From Higgs article in the Christian Science Monitor, Feb 9, 2009...accessible at http://news.yahoo.com/s/csm/20090209/cm_csm/yhiggs.

At the end of the day, we are in agreement, that the next few years will be difficult...but, God will still be reigning and his people will not be forsaken!