Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Parables and Economic Statistics Make An Odd Mix

There's a strain of theology writing which seeks to be prophetic in drawing analogies between the economic situation and the gospels. I don't think that's a bad idea in principle, the economy is a part of the human experience and the gospels tell us, among other things, about how to treat our fellow humans. However, it seems like this approach can lead to some odd over-dramatizations. Take for example:

The recent reports on the economy seem hauntingly similar [to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus]. The rich man dresses in fine stock prices—“The Dow past 14,000 to within 75 points of a record high last week”—and dines sumptuously on profits—“Corporate earnings have risen at an annualized rate of 20.1 percent since the end of 2008”. Meanwhile, on the door step, sits poor Lazarus who would have eaten of the scraps of the rich man’s table but instead has had his “disposable income inched ahead by 1.4 percent annually” since 2008. Lazarus’ only companions are the dogs of sequestration that come and lick his sores: The economy is estimated to loose about 700,000 jobs without substantially affecting profits or stock prices.

Somehow, having one's disposable income increase by 1.4% each year just doesn't have the feeling of lying starving and covered with sores on a rich man's doorstep and wishing to eat the scraps he serves to his dogs, and that's not just because mixing wonkish numbers with biblical imagery seem odd.


Jenny said...

"...the dogs of sequestration..."

The sequestration makes me very angry, not because of the cut in the growth of government, but because it appears to me that the cuts are being carried out in a way to deliberately hurt the most people. The administration is willing to burn the people in order to make a political point. I wonder if Mr. Obama plays the fiddle?

Brandon said...

Yes, that was a bit baffling; I'm not really sure we're doing justice to the parable by treating it as an allegory for the selfishness of corporations in a sluggish economy!

Literacy-chic said...

I can't help thinking about the scene from Fiddler on the Roof in which Perchik is interpreting the story of Jacob as a communist parable. Not because I'm implying critique, just that the application of the Bible to economic situations is common to both--well, perhaps because both applications do have a tinge of the ridiculous.

Jenny said...

Not sure where to post this, but I'd love to hear your take on the disaster that is JCPenney's right now. Is it pricing or marketing or both?

Darwin said...


You know, I'd have to read about a bit before writing on it. That might be a fun pricing post.

What I recall off the top of my head is that they were trying to make the transition from a high promotion model (where their customers were trained to only buy on sale) to an every-day-low-price model. That's a strategy shift that is very difficult because it means re-training your customers.