And... As far as I can tell, almost everyone in Holland feels the same way. Below is just one of the bicycle parking lots in a town I was at yesterday. They actually have entire underground parking garages for bicycles! Wild!
We've been taking trips in groups just in case someone has a problem with their bike and they are an hour from Oisterwijk, our home location for the next few weeks.
As you can guess, even in a community of so many bicyclist, we stick out like a sore thumb. I don't know if it is because we ring our bells on our bikes to wave at people and say "Hello", and instead in Holland it means "Watch out" or "move, I'm coming through". Or if it's the fact that we don't wear our shirts half the time because we want to get a tan when everyone else is fully clothed and on their way to work or the store... either way, when we are riding through town in our big bicycle brigade, i feel as if we're being looked at as creatures that has never been seen before. Quite humorous to say the least.
Home Sweet Home! They grow a fair bit of corn outside of the town we're staying in... it's kind of funny but it does make me feel more at home.
We started International Trade & Finance this week which has been very interesting. I love to see how we are interacting with the world through trade and how we, as the U.S., have such a huge impact on the rest of the world. I've been reading several essay's and articles about globalization and international trade and what a Christian Perspective looks like in these areas. It's been very encouraging to me to see that Christianity and God can and should play a huge role in this process. I just read an article today that was Written by an atheist titled "As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God." He was not being facetious, but was honestly stating the need for Christian morality to drive globalization in Africa. This has also been the thought of many other respected economists not only for globalization in Africa, but globalization in general, no matter what country we're talking about.
Personally, this makes me very happy. Being a supporter of Free Market economy myself I see the need for some sort of moral guiding principles and a small governing role to set guidelines in market exchange. I am a Christian by thought and practice, so I would make an argument that the moral guiding principles for market exchange can be found in the Bible. Many have the view that Free Market exchange and capitalism are the tools to make the rich, richer, and the poor, poorer. I believe that this undoubtedly has been the case since the top 1% of the world population is richer than the bottom 56% of the world population combined. To even think that these two groups mentioned above live on the same planet is astounding. 5/6 of the World lives on $2 or less a day... I can't argue that some of this is at the expense of capitalism. By capitalism, I mean private companies using and abusing some 3rd world countries.
On the other hand a "restrained" free market exchange can be an indispensable tool to give the poor a hand up if used in the proper way. In Brian Griffiths essay "The Challenge of Global Capitalism, A Christian Perspective", he explains that the basis of the early Jewish economy was land, and when the promised land was settled, each family was allocated a plot of land. The laws took great care to protect property rights, but these rights were never absolute the ultimate ownership of the land belonged to God and property rights carried obligations. Freed slaves were not to be released empty handed but given resources to look after themselves. Those with wealth were to give generously to those in need. Those who borrowed were not to be treated as debtors. When fields were harvested the edges of the field were to be left unharvested for the poor and the stranger.
The right to property gave each family the freedom to buy and sell, to save and invest, to take risks and innovate. But it was not a laissez-faire system (An economic theory that argues that an economy works best when it is governed solely by market forces). Restrictions were imposed on the labor, capital, and property markets to ensure that each individual and family was treated on the basis of justice. The sabbatical year was an occasion when the land was to lie fallow, slaves were to be freed, and debts forgiven, and land returned to its original owner. One of the consequences of this redistribution was that each family retained permanent stake in the economic life, which was land, in the community. It was a way of preventing the development of a permanent underclass. Restrictions were also imposed on the capital markets to prevent the exploitation of people in need.
This is some of God's standard for economic life, and because of that, it contained principles which have relevance for us even today. It respected the dignity of the individual, their right to own private property and their freedom to do business. It was organized by way of a simple market economy set up with an agriculture background but still has relevance today. It was a market economy that was guided by some regulations to ensure justice.
There is hope! The UN has stated they are trying to make what they believe a tangible goal of achieving universal primary education by 2020. That means that every kid that is born in 2020 and after will be able to obtain a 6th grade education. In today's world education is the same as owning land back in the time of the Jewish economy I was talking about above. Technology is blamed for 80% of the continuing separation between the rich and the poor. So when you give a person some sort of education you are giving them a chance in today's economic system.
The other problem I see on the horizon is that globalization can cause materialism and selfishness. Do we really want to spread the same thing that we fight as Christians in America. Is there a way to use globalization to spread the gospel and improve living conditions without spreading materialism? I think it's possible. One thing to watch is that with increased income there is a direct correlation with spending on unnecessary materialistic things. The Bible warns us about this... When a man acquires more worldly possessions he starts to hang on to his life and falls in love with the world. Our goal as Christians is to not hang onto our life and separate ourselves from the world in that way.
I guess that's something to think about. Namaste.