Category: Economy

John Cobb and Jennifer Grancio

Spiritual Bankruptcy, by John Cobb, was the focus of several posts, beginning 9/25/22. One Cobb sentence lingers with me: Being religious tends to confirm existing patterns of behavior or even those of ancestors rather than encourage drastic innovation.

I thought of Cobb when I heard Barry Ritholtz interview Jennifer Grancio, CEO of investment company Engine No. 1. Grancio’s company sees sustainability as essential for long-term profitability. It’s just common sense, but some corporations don’t think enough about the long term. It made me wonder if I helped my congregations think enough about the long term.

Cobb and Grancio come from different perspectives to share a common theme, described in Wikipedia’s article about Cobb: A unifying theme of Cobb’s work is his emphasis on ecological interdependence–the idea that every part of the ecosystem is reliant on all the other parts. Cobb has argued that humanity’s most urgent task is to preserve the world on which it lives and depends….

Engine No. 1’s first project was Exxon Mobil, which Grancio and company believed had not addressed long term issues facing a changing oil and gas industry. They successfully elected three new directors to the Exxon board, noting … the changes it has made … including maintaining capital allocation discipline, setting more aggressive GHG emissions reduction targets, and increasing resources for its Low Carbon Solutions business unit.

From “Can Engine No 1 lead Wall Street to ‘beyond investment as usual’?” by Billy
Grider, Climate & Capital Media, April 13, 2022

This digital age

The underlying theme for Tuesday’s meeting about how to deal with rapid technological change was this: It’s a great time to be alive! Just as the industrial revolution brought greater complexity, this digital age brings a similar thoroughgoing change, with pluses and minuses of technical specialization. Some jobs disappear while others are created.

My friend Ernie named seven ethical issues for us to consider. Here are two: (1) workers displaced by smart machines; and (2) growing inequality. These require creativity regarding education, work and income. How do we educate for breadth and depth, while adapting to rapid change? How does our system of work adapt when machines generate much of the world’s wealth?

One change I’ve noticed is the increasing number of people in university teaching roles who are Professors of Practice, including Joyce Vance (University of Alabama School of Law), Ben Jealous (University of Pennsylvania School of Communication) and Andrew Weissmann (New York University School of Law).

From Never Forget Our People Were Always Free, by Ben Jealous, 2022

Humbly confident adaptability

How can we use technology for ethical, healthy purposes while limiting its destructive uses? The daunting nature of rapid change can keep us humble while we muster the confidence to face the future with adaptability that is purposeful and flexible.

John E. Kelly III, in Thomas Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late, describes three eras of computing: (1) a tabulating era (1900s-1940s), with single purpose mechanical systems to count, sort and interpret data; (2) a programming era (1950s to 2007) of computers, the Internet and smart phones; and (3) an emerging cognitive era, with the capacity to write multiple algorithms that could teach a computer to make sense of unstructured data … and thereby enhance every aspect of human decision making.

Three examples: (1) the rise, fall and re-purposing of IBM’s Watson; (2) Nick Saban’s complex “process” that adapts to changing excellence in athletic acumen and skill; and (3) the Internet of Things (IOT) via the “cloud,” a word for connected data storage systems. The insurance industry is excited about self-driving vehicles because this technology will be safer than human drivers. I’m excited because it may get here before the kids take away my keys,

From “How Champions Think: Coach Nick Saban and the Process Thinking Mental Model,” by Ryan Duffy, Knowable, April 4, 2022.

Sustainability

Sustainability has become a big theme for governments, for businesses and other institutions, and in the investing world. I first heard the word ecology as a college sophomore in 1970. I first heard of nuclear fusion as a potential power source while living in Huntsville, Alabama (1987-1991).

Six years ago, during a political tug of war between supporters of coal-fired power plants and supporters of renewable energy, I studied several electric utilities as potential investments. I found the 2017 State of the Electric Utility Survey Report, which revealed that the electric utility industry had moved full-throttle into natural gas, solar and (to a lesser extent) wind. The operative motif was to secure a wide variety of energy sources to make power. “Sustainability” was the key word in 2017.

Now, fusion as an energy source is moving closer to reality. Coincidentally, today I’ll participate in an online meeting where two friends will present “It’s a Great Time to Be Alive! Recent Rapid Advancements in Science and Technology.” They’ll discuss 14 scientific discoveries and the acceleration of new discoveries and new knowledge. I’ll share more in future posts. It is a great time to be alive!

From “Scientific community buzzing about Lawrence Livermore Lab fusion breakthrough,” by Wilson Walker, CBS San Francisco, December 12, 2022

A gift horse

The old saying, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” came to mind when I read the Wall Street Journal editorial board’s “Trump Is the Republican Party’s Biggest Loser.”

I’ve criticized the former president early and often, primarily because I’m convinced he has severely damaged the soul of the nation and the state of the world. The Journal’s editorial board sees Trump through the lens of damage done to the GOP, to Wall Street and to the financial markets.

Trump has brought out some of our worst instincts, but he has also awakened some of our best instincts, which were evident in the midterm elections, prompting Robert Kuttner to ask, “Did We Just Save Democracy?

The Journal cites, by chapter and verse, races the GOP coulda, shoulda won if Trump’s ego hadn’t prevented more moderate, common sense candidates from being “primaried” due to his egoic vengeance. The article’s thesis sentence is “Trumpy Republican candidates failed at the ballot box in states that were clearly winnable.”

The Journal’s opinion piece is an important caution to Democrats that their success on Tuesday was not entirely due to their efforts. They had some help from Mar-a-Lago.

From “The meaning and origin of the expression: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” from The Phrase Finder

Freedom from, freedom for

Colonists came to America for many reasons. Some sought freedom from poverty or debt. Some sought freedom from religious persecution. It’s a good exercise to ask: “What do I seek freedom from and what do I seek freedom for?” “Can I be truly free if I don’t wish for everyone the right to be free?”

Some January 6 insurrectionists said, “This is our 1776.” They were “taking back” their country (from those perceived to have taken it away from them). I draw a direct line from the 2017 Charlottesville chants, “You will not replace us” (aimed at Blacks and Jews, etc.) to the 2021 storming of the Capitol.

Thomas Hughes sought freedom (a fresh start) for English gentry’s “second sons” when typically all the estate went to the eldest son. His utopian vision was expressed in an 1880 east Tennessee settlement he named Rugby after his beloved alma mater. Like many utopian experiments, Rugby fell short.

But the vision of an ideal community lives on in “Historic Rugby,” which we visited last week (a few miles west of US Highway 27) from Elgin, which is between Oneida and Wartburg. It’s now part of the Big South Fork National Park and Recreation Area. It’s easier to imagine utopia than to create it.

The quest for democracy may begin with a personal quest for freedom from something (such as poverty or tyranny). But democracy endures only if those who have found, won or created freedom are committed to freedom for everyone. Today, All Saints’ Sunday, reminds us that we’re all in this together.

Steeple of Christ Church (Episcopal), from a 5-minute video, “Historic Rugby Revisited,” Tennessee Crossroads Episode 2740.1, available on YouTube

Conservative?

Lately, several layers of reality have converged around the word conservative. Applications include politics, economics, religion, investment strategy, physical health, business practice, personal ethics, family relationships, etc., etc.

George Will has done important work around the word conservative. He left the Republican Party because he believes it is no longer faithful to conservative principles. I believe William Buckley and Barry Goldwater would concur if they were still with us.

Truly conservative people conserve important institutions, committed to changing them for the better. In his heyday, fans of George Wallace saw him as a conservative and saw his nemesis, Federal Judge Frank Johnson as a judicial activist.

Wallace in his heyday was committed to preserving segregation. Johnson, a Republican appointed by Eisenhower, was committed to preserving the US Constitution. It’s important to ask every self-proclaimed conservative what he or she seeks to preserve.

From “Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only,” by Brent Budowsky, The Hill, May 5, 2021

OT and WOW

The Old Testament, according to a Jewish rabbi I heard speak long ago, maintains that the benchmark for an ethical community is how well it treats those without rights. In ancient Jewish society, the three major groups without rights were widows, orphans and wanderers (aka homeless, refugees).

Empires consolidate power by taking away rights, as in Putin’s Russia and his war against Ukraine. Who are the “widows, orphans and wanderers” in American society today? An era of rights-expansion begun by Brown v. Topeka Board of Education (1954) is being reversed by today’s US Supreme Court, by various state legislatures and by leaders of the national Republican Party.

I’m grateful to the Christian communities who have touched my life by keeping this OT quest for justice alive. I’m grateful for the exposure I’ve had to Judaism through the OT, through several synagogues over the years, and through numerous Jewish rabbis, Jewish scholars and Jewish friends.

From The Home for Little Wanderers

Kenotic faith

This concludes several posts about Sallie McFague’s 2013 book, Blessed Are the Consumers: Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint. One of my many takeaways from the COVID-19 pandemic is that the underbelly of the American heritage of individual freedom is that we are prone to chafe at requests for restraint in the interest of the common good.

Restraint relative to public health practices, restraint relative to environmental degradation, and restraint relative to consumption of vital resources may be dismissed as “woke” ideology. It isn’t heard as an extension of the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament or Jesus’ self-emptying (kenosis). This is a sad byproduct of today’s hyper polarization.

McFague devotes an entire chapter to an exploration of “kenotic theology.” This includes sharing scarce resources among the needy, with a particular focus on food, “the lowiest, most basic need shared by all living beings.” She wrote: Like “Teilhard de Chardin, I have come to realize that I cannot love God or the world, but must love both at once.”

The chapter concludes: The classic doctrine of Christian discipleship, that, made in the image of God, human beings should embody the kenotic love of God, means that our own bodies must be on the line. In other words, food (and the whole planetary apparatus that goes to produce food for the billions of creatures) should become the central task at all levels, personal lifestyle changes, and public policies.

From “Tomorrow’s Gods: What is the future of religion?” by Sumit Paul-Choudhury, BBC Future, August 1, 2019

Self-emptying

Sallie McFague explores “self-emptying” in various religions and Christianity in particular. I first heard the word kenosis in seminary, which enriched my understanding of the Philippian hymn. It enriched my self-understanding. McFague helped me (in my late life) to see kenosis in a much broader sense, such as restraining our consumption as consumers. She wrote: …kenosis, self-emptying, is a way to get to the goal of moderation.

Kenosis provides an alternative model of understanding our place in the scheme of things. She offers this: …the kenotic way of being in the world contrasts the imperial, market-oriented, consumer way. Kenosis, self-emptying, is not an ascetic, world-denying practice of the saints; rather, it is a catchall term for the way the world works: it works at all levels through restraint, pulling back, sharing, reciprocity, interrelationship, giving space to others, sacrifice. This way of being in the world is the opposite of self-aggrandizement at every level, from the personal through the public to the planetary.

McFague gives three examples of sainthood as living a fully integrated life: John Woolman, Simone Weil and Dorothy Day. In a world too often puffed up, “full of air,” and “full of itself,” McFague offers the counter-cultural approach of self-restraint, which puts others (and the planet) ahead of consumption.

Tomorrow: a final word from McFague about kenosis.

Sallie McFague spent her later years in British Columbia, where she discovered nurse logs, a form of self-emptying. From “Understanding the Magic of Earth Logs,” by Elisa Parhad, Garden Collage, January 26, 2017