Archive for December, 2011
28 Dec 2011
In case you hadn't noticed, our economy is in a bit of a pickle. And our economy is also built around charging interest on loans of money.
The Old Testament included a ban on lending at interest. Instead, a person's capital could be used by others as part of a profit-sharing agreement, or through a rental or hire agreement.
Way back in 1993, economist Paul Mills published a paper on this biblical prohibition of interest. The paper focuses on the bad consequences of an economy based on lending money at interest, as follows:
- It is unjust and destabilising. Unjust, because the lender gets no reward for lending to a successful business and (generally) suffers no harm from lending to an unsuccessful business. And destabilising, because lending at interest encourages further borrowing and investment during a growth period and places high burdens (causing bankruptcies) when profits are low.
- It encourages the allocation of finance to the safest borrowers (e.g., large firms and wealthy individuals) rather than to the most productive borrowers. This is a consequence of the first point.
- It encourages financial speculation in assets and property. "When the price of an asset in relatively fixed supply begins to rise, buyers borrow to purchase more of it," and I think we know what happens next.
- It leads to an inherently unstable banking system. Banks can guarantee the savings they hold only through the possibility of government bailouts.
- It encourages a "short-termist" investment strategy. "[T]he pervasive influence of interest tends to bias business investment towards quick-return, short-term projects even though longer-term, more risky ones may offer greater benefits in the long run."
- It concentrates wealth into fewer and fewer hands. "Interest automatically acts to transfer wealth from net borrowers to net lenders. Not surprisingly, the former tend to be the less well-off and the latter tend to be the richer members of society."
- It leads to a rapid flow of financial capital across regions and countries.
The question now is: how can ordinary members of society support a shift away from an interest-based (and debt-based) economy? Probably there are some answers out there...
19 Dec 2011
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying
J.S. Bach, Mass in B minor, Gloria
13 Dec 2011
As folk at CERN prepare not to announce the discovery of the Higgs boson (apparently), other folk have been discussing whether it's worth the money.
On the Today Programme, Lucie Green and Adam Rutherford discuss the cost of figuring out how the universe works, making the assumption (understandably) that for some reason we actually want to understand how the universe works.
Meanwhile, on the Guardian website, Jon Butterworth seems to argue that this kind of research is valuable because the technology of the future will be built on the fundamental physics of today, and because if we are good at solving this kind of question (such as whether the Higgs boson exists), we will probably be not too bad at solving other (more useful) questions.
But if you leave the economic, technological and societal spin-offs to one side (and factor that into the cost), is there any value in simply knowing stuff about the universe, such as what we are made of, how big the universe is, and how we got here?
Surely the answer to that must be "yes". Tell anyone that you are doing research in astronomy, and they find it fascinating. (In my experience, they then go on to tell you about some recent discovery that you knew nothing about, which is always slightly embarrassing!) Research into fundamental questions about the universe really does make a positive difference to people's lives.
But how does this happen? How exactly will my specific piece of research enrich people's lives? And how do we figure out how much new research we need? Do we even need any new research, or do we know more than enough already?
6 Dec 2011
Here are two attempts to summarise the Christian gospel. Do either of them seem familiar? What are the most striking differences? Are there any points of disagreement? Is the second one (or the first one) unnecessarily long? Does the first one (or the second one) miss out anything essential for a gospel summary?
- God is perfect.
- We are not perfect (sin), and we cannot achieve perfection by our own efforts.
- We will spend eternity either with God ("heaven") or apart from God ("hell"), depending on whether or not our problem (imperfection) has been dealt with.
- The good news is that God sent his Son, Jesus, to make a way for us to be made perfect. He did this by dying to take away the sins of those who trust in him and by rising from the dead.
- If we stop trusting in our own efforts and trust in Jesus (if we "repent"), we will be forgiven and spend eternity with God.
- God created the world so that we would know his love and live in harmony with each other and with the world around us.
- We do not love God and we do not want to live in harmony with each other and with the world around us (sin), and we can't fix that problem ourselves.
- At some point, God will sort out all the problems in the world, and we will spend eternity either here on the earth ("earth"), or we will be thrown out ("hell"), depending on whether or not our problem (unloving heart) has been dealt with.
- The good news is that God sent his Son, Jesus, to make a group of people who will know God's love and live in harmony with each other and with the world around them. He did this by dying to take away the sins of those who trust in him and by rising from the dead.
- If we receive God's gift of a new heart (if we "repent"), we will be forgiven, and we can begin a life of love here on the earth that will last for all eternity.