Thursday, August 22, 2013

Giving is greater than the gift

“What really makes the economy work is creativity, and creativity always comes as a surprise to us,” George Gilder, supply-side sage, tells Jerry Bowyer of Forbes. That is, the process of wealth creation does not begin with demand. None of the groundbreaking inventions were the result of market demand. The printing press, the steam engine, the light bulb, the airplane, the microprocessor—the market foresaw none of these revolutionary technologies.

Rather, wealth creation begins on the supply side. It begins with a sacrifice, a risk, a man’s passion to pursue his imagination, to apply his talent and ingenuity to pre-existing materials. He invests time and resources into creating a product or service in the hopes improving people’s lives. If he is successful, he will trade his creation to someone for something he values more. In the end, both parties to the transaction see an increase in value.

An increase in value is not guaranteed. The creation often fails to discover compensatory demand. Experimentation, cost-cutting, and enhancements, requiring further commitment and risk, might effect the emergence of a market. Then again, it might not. But only when one gives up is failure assured.

Failure was the “wicked, lazy” servant’s fear in the parable of the talents. Jesus tells of a man who entrusts his property to his three servants while he goes on a journey. When he returns, two of them have doubled their master’s investment, putting his money to work. But the last servant hoarded the money. He received his master’s gift and did nothing with it. The master condemns him for his lack of initiative: “Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

This seems harsh, unless you remember the master’s gold is a metaphor for the message and the teaching of the Son of God. Spreading the good news of Jesus is the duty of His disciples. They have been entrusted with the truth, as the servants of the parable were entrusted with their master’s gold. The two servants follow their duty to share God’s word with others, and the blessings accrue exponentially, beyond their sum total, reflecting back on them, showing them to be faithful stewards.

Hence the master’s pleasure at seeing the returns on his investment. He rewards them by “[putting] them in charge of many things” and invites them to “share your master’s happiness.” “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance,” he says. What is the giver losing but a little time? Compare that to the gift of Jesus to the person receiving it.

One of the greatest gifts anyone gave me was to talk to me after church service in a time in my life when I realized I needed God. That investment, minuscule to him, but life-changing to me, has paid off a billion times over. Giving is greater than the gift.

Wealth accumulates in the same way. Gilder writes in Wealth and Poverty:

As a rule of society it is best if the givers are given unto, if the givers seek some form of voluntary reciprocation. Then the spirit of giving spreads, and wealth tends to gravitate toward those who are most likely to give it back, most capable of using it for the benefit of others, toward those whose gifts evoke the greatest returns.

This principle of giving applies in a broader sense to life. It is not only a main attribute of Christian discipleship and of economics, but of man as social animal. Associations do not spontaneously arise from people’s expressed desire for companionship. They start with an offer of the self: a kind word, an invitation. Keeping company with others occupies people for hours without them realizing it, without costing them anything. The worst poverty is not a want of money, but a want of good company.

Fareed Zakaria, attempting to explain economic immobility in America, misses the point in his own piece:

What’s intriguing is that many of the factors that seem to explain the variation [of economic mobility] across countries also help explain the variation across the United States. The most important correlation in the Harvard-Berkeley study appears to be social capital. Cities with strong families, civic support groups and a community-service orientation do well on social and economic mobility. That’s why Salt Lake City — dominated by Mormons — has mobility levels that compare with Denmark’s. This would also explain why America in general fares badly; the United States has many more broken families, single parents and dysfunctional domestic arrangements than do Canada and Europe.

“Strong families,” “civic support groups,” “service orientation,” all hallmarks of tight-knit communities organized around a procreative, pro-active principle: in Salt Lake City’s case, Mormonism. But when Zakaria gets around to offering a solution to economic immobility, he doesn’t offer up Mormonism, religion in general, or any system of mutual increase through giving. He writes: “the United States spends much less on the education and well-being of poor people, especially poor children, than any other rich country — and that retards their chances of escaping poverty.”

So, big, bloated government, the middle man monstrosity more interested in serving its interests, like “education,” and projecting its power than in letting the people manage their own affairs. Big government, the “gift” the keeps on taking.

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