Thursday, March 17, 2011

Financial Investment and Christianity: What local churches have yet to connect?

(Photo from Life.com)


On Monday, it was reported that 'Japan's Nikkei plunges 6.18% in earthquake aftermath'. I posted this news to two closed e-groups to generate discussions.

Imagine your investment portfolio covers Japan (if you don't already have), will you as a Christian, pull out your share from the Japanese market at this moment?

If you don't, you suffer loss. If most of your portfolio is in the Japanese market, and if the market got way off worse, your investment might get wiped out.

If you do, Japanese financial market will suffer on top of the natural disaster they are facing.

The third way is of course to speculate on the market to profit from the disaster which cause further economic pressures in Japan (which speculators are constantly doing around the world through techniques like 'carry trade'). The Japanese government has since pumped trillions of Yen into the country as a measure to prevent speculation that would strengthen the Yen. Having strong Singapore Dollars might be good news to Singaporeans because imported goods become cheaper. While, for Japan to have strong Yen is a bad news because its economy depends largely on export. Strong Yen means Japanese goods become expensive, and this would cut global demands. Even though trillions of Yen is pumped into the market, the Yen kept surging, hitting 'post-World War II high'. For that, the Japanese officials has started to blame speculators yesterday.

This Japan case is of course just a scenario to highlight the issue of Christians' attitude towards financial investment. We have heard a lot of being good stewards and the importance of socio-corporate justice. So, does such a scenario post a dilemma at all? How do you, as a Christians with an investment in Japan, love your Japanese neighbor?

I received different responses on those two e-groups. Some fiery, others were despaired. Yet all of them share one same conviction: The financial market is a network that is so huge that no one can control it (despite the fact that the G7 is now attempting to control the Yen) and relates to it like how one relates to a personal neighbor. Therefore individual Christians who have investment in the financial market should be left with practical wisdom, focusing on gaining profit. In fact, profit is the motivation to enter into the market in the first place.

In other words, these responses are simply saying that individual Christians' management of financial investment has nothing to do with ethics or the Christians' calling to love one's neighbor by the virtue that the financial market is so big and messy.

Nonetheless many of these responders are the same people who constantly wanting to seek changes in local and international politics, which are huge networks of messes too. It seems that there is a detachment in their Christian ethics from the economics. Take for example present Christians' veneration of William Wilberforce. The respect given to Wilberforce by present believers often detaches his lifelong work in abolishing the slave trade from the deep economic implication of which slavery was but a huge messy network back then. As the saying goes, "Great Britain's empire was built on the back of slaves."

This observation prompted me to wonder about two questions:

(1) Have the local Christians so wanting to protect their own financial interest that they failed, if not unwilling, to see the connection between Christian ethics and the global messy financial market?

(2) Have local churches so wanting not to upset the congregation that the church leaders do not even bother to try to see the connection between Christian ethics and the global messy financial market, not to mention to preach about this from the pulpit?

I have no answers to these questions and do not intend these questions to be implicit critic of Christians and churches. I'm just highlighting what I have observed and some of the questions that came to me, hoping that they are in any way probing to us.

(If you are wondering why this blog's activity has been slow in the past two weeks, that's because I have started an e-platform for sharing of information, mutual inspiring, and to provide a safe place for discussion. If you are interested to join, let me know. I am more active there.)

3 comments:

rapid said...

dude, this is like a secondary school kid's rant abt economics. which is ok, since u r a theological student. but then u went to draw some simplistic links with christian ethics, pretending to be a critique fr within. oh yes, u did put the disclaimer that u did not intend this to be an "implicit critique" but in actual fact, u did after all! alas, it is easier to throw questions than to provide solutions...

come on, u can't be serious abt asking individual christians to refrain fr 'pulling out' fr the financial mkts out of ethical considerations to 'support the japanese economy'? classical economic prob like free riding will dispel your argument given the small % of individual christians in the first place. moreover, individual investors have never been mkt movers compared to institutional investors... so your suggestion is counterproductive and economically naive. u sound like one of those good-hearted christians who want to do good but ultimately fail to deliver the good.

and even if japanese financial mkts do not tumble, it does not guarantee that funds will be channeled to relief efforts. most funding for relief efforts are raised directly fr donors and not through the financial mkts. in fact, the probability of those that will gain fr financial mkt stability are big corporations rather than individuals who suffered losses from the quake/tsunami/nuclear.

speculation is not necessarily bad. it provides liquidity to buisnesses (which is a public good). excessive speculation is, and therefore must be regulated. self-regulation (which is essentially an extension of your argument) has proven not to work after the global financial crisis due to moral hazard.

fyi, a strong yen is not necessarily bad as japan imports a lot of components for its final products from other developing countries before exporting them out again. u need to do a more indepth study on the import-export networks to know the final impact on its growth. and the jap gov did not intervene to dampen the Yen, but to calm the market.

instead of shifting the burden to the church, u should be dabbling with issues of state vs mkt and at least as a theologian, distinguish between the response of the church as an institution and as individuals. i have no idea how u arrived at observations like "individual christians want to protect their own financial interest" and "local church afraid to upset congretation"... these are just generalizations which do not contribute anything positively to either the church or the global economy...

i was hesitant initially to give my comment, knowing that it might end up like another of your pseudo-intellectual blog post which hide your ignorance behind big words and vague statements. but then again, since u also did not contribute anything positive, so what the heck?!

Sze Zeng said...

"this is like a secondary school kid's rant abt economics. which is ok, since u r a theological student."

"u went to draw some simplistic links with christian ethics, pretending to be a critique fr within."

"u sound like one of those good-hearted christians who want to do good but ultimately fail to deliver the good."

" your pseudo-intellectual blog post which hide your ignorance behind big words and vague statements."

Wa... what a list of pathetic worthless rhetorical devices to which to respond is simply a betrayal of one's allotted time, if not intellect.

rapid said...

just as i expected... the easy way out :) at least i took time to sift through your "pathetic worthless rhetorical devices" (against the church: i wonder why?!) to provide u with some economic "perspectives".