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Aug 30, 2006


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I stumbled upon this site as I was in the process of doing some online research. Having lived for years outside the U.S. it is appalling how little understood the poor's truest needs really are. Needs/Wants are so confused in this culture.

Michael Kruse

"...how little understood the poor's truest needs really are."

I would be curious to know from your perspecitve on what the truest needs are.

Ted Gossard

Good thoughts. And great last paragraph. Frames it helpfully for me. Excellent point!

Michael Kruse

Thanks Ted.


I read your post with great interest and I have to say that you have a very good understanding of the subject area, and make some valid points. I am inclined to agree in particular with you on the framing of laws that protect and enshrine property rights. But there are just as many very pertinent issues that you do not mention as well - such as a fairer global trade regime. Finally, I have to say the religion angle kind of leaves me a bit cold and don't really understand why religion is particularly relevant to this issue.

Michael Kruse

Thanks Ka for your critique!

It was not my intention to play down the need for change in global trade arrangements. By mentioning things like ending protectionism in developed nations I was intending to be suggestive of the need for just these types of changes. I probably could have hit this a little harder.

Part of my hesitation is my own ambivalence over the free trade vs fair trade debate. In many cases those advocating fair trade are emphasizing that more developed nations have erected barriers that keep the rest of the world out of the market, thus the need for “fair trade.” By my definition, if the developed nations are erecting these barriers, they are not practicing free trade. So the answer is more free trade, which is the only fair trade.

“Finally, I have to say the religion angle kind of leaves me a bit cold and don't really understand why religion is particularly relevant to this issue.”

I appreciate your honesty here and I regret that I may have put you off. The context of these posts is a series (which I began last February) to explore the relationship of Christian theology to economics. The audience I have had in mind as I write these has been Christians who are struggling with how to relate their faith to economic issues. Thus, the theological angle.

When I was in MBA school not quite 20 years ago I was in a class where read a book that was collection of case studies in economic development efforts among the poorest of the poor. It was depressing. It was case after case of well thought out plans that failed. A whole semester of this. Then the prof basically said, “Okay. Now go out do economic development.”

One of the common themes I saw then and I have seen from others I know who do economic development is lack of vision by the poor. Economic development requires the ability to imagine a different future and then working toward making that future a reality. The poor have no vision beyond the immediate present. For those who have some glimpse beyond the present, they have zero hope of anything ever changing. Only by coming into contact with some transcendent reality who is at work in the world and champions a vision other than the “eternal present” the poor live in, can they begin to dream dreams and see visions.

I want to make clear that the aim is not transform the world into participants in Western Christendom. My point would be that whether the poor we work with ever give one whit about our religious beliefs, we are still under obligation to work for a world that empowers them to be the stewards God created us to be. I also believe it is important that I share why I am motivated to participate in their lives and why I see a different future for them. Whether the poor embrace that message is entirely up to them but the Church’s obligation to serve them is not optional.

I would also say that much of the argument I make here could be made from natural law and if may audience included a great many who are of other faith traditions (or no tradition at all) that is the more likely basis I would emphasize.

People are motivated by a host of reasons to engage in the efforts I listed and Christians need to link hands with all kindred spirits in this regard. My point is that by linking hands and engaging in these actions, Christians are living out the core of their faith.

I don’t know if this makes any sense but hopefully it sheds a little light on my frame of mind.

Thank you again for your observations!


Michael, Thank for the feedback to my comments. Your reply helped me understand where you are coming from. I want to start by saying that you did not put me off, maybe the words I chose were a bit stronger than what I actually feel. Maybe when I was younger I would have been more apprehensive of the religion angle, but I am more open to peoples beliefs now. Particularly if the beliefs can be a force for good. I take your point about the poor maybe needing a vision for the future. It may well be that religion can give them the faith to envisage a different future. I shall certainly reflect on that a bit more. It raises an interesting point about the nature of religion and its effects on economic development - I suppose this could fall into the "social capital" category of economic theory.

Michael Kruse

Thanks Ka. I really do appreciate your feedback.

I would add one piece that I did not fully articulate and that is that in addition to no vision there is often a tremendous sense of powerlessness in the face of tyranny and powerful social forces. To be tapped into the transcendent reality of an eternal God who stands with you can give incredible strength to stand in the face of seemingly hopeless opposition.

I recently read Rodney Stark's "The Rise of Christianity," which is largely a sociological analysis of how Christianity came to be. He points out that in 169, and again in 250, epidemics hit the Roman Empire that killed 25-35% of the population on each occasion. Most people fled the cities when the epidemics hit and abandoned anyone who developed the symptoms. The Christians stayed and took care of the sick and dying in a joyous spirit often going to their own deaths. The non-Christians witnessed this and reflected on the inability of their own gods to inspire such a response. Similarly, when Christians were executed for their faith, they did so with such fearless joy that it literally unnerved the authorities. As a totalitarian power, what do you do with people who are giving selfless care to others and are absolutely fearless, even joyous, in the face of death? I think the answer eventually became “join ‘em.”

Yes. I think the “social capital” idea is a good description from an economic perspective. Having the spiritual resources (social capital) to withstand and overcome odds.

Thanks again!

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