Monday, September 30, 2013

Economic Growth: Blessing or Burden?

When we speak of economic growth, do we think of human flourishing, or of devastating poverty and environmental degradation? Can economic growth improve the lives of individuals without eroding local communities? These were some of the questions that arose during last week's discussion of a newly published book, Economic Growth: Unleashing the Potential of Human Flourishing, by Dr. Stephen L.S Smith and Dr. Bruce Webb, professors of economics and business at Gordon College.

This conversation, sponsored by the Center for Faith and Inquiry’s own Jerusalem and Athens Forum, brought together faculty and students to discuss ethical concerns associated with economic growth. Reflecting this topic’s the many dimensions, the discussion panel gave voice to a wide array of opinions and pressing questions. It featured a commentary from the authors and responses from Dean of Christian Life Dr. Greg Carmer  and Dr. Dorothy Boorse, professor of biology. Dr. Tal Howard, professor of history and director of the Jerusalem and Athens Forum, moderated the discussion. 

According to Dr. Smith, whose scholarship specializes in international economics and economic development, Economic Growth was crafted as an accessible, approachable study, easily read and enjoyed by college students in one sitting. Part of a series of books addressing matters of economic policy, Economic Growth argues that economic growth is an essentially good thing that should be harnessed to bring about human flourishing. Growth equals progress. As Christians, he suggested, we should “celebrate growth,” and focus on sustaining and promoting growth in developing countries. The virtues of economic growth are manifold, Smith posited during his remarks; they include the reduction of poverty and (contrary to popular belief) a net benefit to the environment. Higher incomes in developing countries lead to the implementation of better systems to care for the environment, and households with more financial flexibility are better equipped to address problems of pollution through their own purchasing power. Economic growth also allows for progress in the research and development of renewable energy sources.

Dr. Smith's co-author, Dr. Bruce Webb, whose expertise ranges from macroeconomics to environmental and Christian perspectives on economics, addressed a second component to the pro- economic growth argument. Dr. Webb focused on growth in developed countries such as the United States, where it is actually still very necessary to healthy employment rates and debt reduction. Flourishing, in any place, is God’s design. “God is a generous God… who wants us to flourish in the sense of prospering,” explained Dr. Webb. “We have been endowed with potential for creativity.” While we are not the ultimate creators, we are sub-creators with God, given the resources for human improvement.

The second half of the discussion was particularly animated. Although mostly agreeing with the correlation between economic growth and societal progress, Dr. Carmer and Dr. Boorse reminded the audience of economic growth’s potentially detrimental effects.

Dr. Carmer endorsed the book, commending its “patient teaching.” He reminded the audience, however, that our moral imperative as Christians is to “seek righteousness,” and as such we must consider the means of progress as well as its end result. Human flourishing, Dr. Carmer explained, happens primarily in communities, and unfortunately, economic growth often comes at a high cost—the loss of local culture, languages and character brought on by globalization; as well as human rights concerns such as the exploitation and enslavement of some industrializing communities. There are also environmental concerns such as deforestation, depletion of natural resources and loss of species. These drawbacks, Dr. Carmer posited, are not the inherent outcomes of economic growth, but they are part of its history. Growth, he concluded, must never come at the expense of an individual’s rights.

Dr. Boorse enthusiastically agreed with much of the book’s observations, but voiced her reservations about its conclusions regarding economic development’s positive environmental impact. She contended that, historically, the push for environmental stewardship has typically happened through the actions of people who protested and took a stand—often against economic and industrial powers. Human flourishing, Dr. Boorse reminded, should always be the primary aim of any economic growth, not just a byproduct.

The authors were then able to provide their response to these comments, acknowledging the concerns raised by Dr. Carmer and Dr. Boorse. Although faculty and students undoubtedly maintain differing opinions on the ethics of economic development, this thought-provoking discussion was effective in motivating individuals to reassess what it means to be Christians in the modern world. How does our Christian worldview shape our perspective on all issues, including economic development? How do we apply Scriptural truth, compassion and justice when approaching solutions to societal concerns? Thanks in part to events like last week's conversation, these are questions students and faculty at Gordon will continue to explore together.

Photo: Dr. Stephen Smith, professor of economics, speaks on his newly published book, Economic Growth: Unleashing the Potential of Human Flourishing, which he co-authored with Professor Bruce Webb.

Nora Kirkham ’16 is a sophomore history major at Gordon College and a writer in the Office of College Communications. She is a 'Third Culture Kid' raised in four continents and currently claims her home in Moscow, Russia. Her interests include history, international relations, literature and sustainable development. 


Friday, September 27, 2013

Economics & Business Organization: Career Development by Students

By Sarah Tang '16

“Strategize your success” has become the unstated motto of Gordon’s newly re-established Economics and Business Organization (EBO). The saying, however, is not to be mistaken as an urge solely for Business or Economics majors, emphasized the EBO’s new president, Libby Gronbach ’14. She and her team, working with their faculty advisor, Associate Professor of Business and Economics Alice Tsang, have reorganized this club in order to cater to students of all majors. In doing so they hope to build upon Gordon’s existing career development resources, creating opportunities for students from across academic disciplines to gain real-life professional skills.

In Libby’s words, “Being at Gordon before going out to the real world is a true advantage. Gordon enables us to become ethical workers who are also testimonies of Christ… that is what will truly set us apart.” Libby, Vice President John Buckley ’15, and Head of Logistics Ashley Zavras ’14—all transfer students—were encouraged upon their arrival at Gordon by their faculty’s passion for building up students to become Christian professionals, and they decided to use the EBO as a platform to help broaden that impact even further to benefit their classmates.

In partnership with Career Services and the Business and Economics Department, the EBO will meet every other Wednesday evening to host student workshops focusing on interviews, resume writing and network building, led by the College’s staff and professors along with experienced Boston area professionals. The club will also head to Boston this fall and New York City in the spring to establish further connections, especially with Gordon alumni.

The EBO’s advisor, Professor Tsang, saw the group as a natural outgrowth of Gordon’s Economics and Business Department. “Anytime you have to compete for something, whether it is a seat at a prestigious graduate school or an internship, or job at a reputable firm, you must have solid communication skills, including writing an outstanding resume and presenting yourself well at interviews,” Professor Tsang said, “This is expected of everyone, no matter what your major is.”

Being part of the club is also a great way to build connections within the Gordon community. As Libby puts it, “We don’t know where each person is going to end up, and they could be great connections to have.” 

Ultimately, the restructured EBO was born out of a desire to cultivate career opportunities and share essential professional tools among Gordon students. “I do believe many more Gordon students should take advantage of what the College has to offer to help with their career development. Through its many networking events and training activities, EBO is helping Gordon students learn about the demands or requirements of different professions and be better prepared to meet the challenges of the workplace after their graduation,” said Professor Tsang, concluding that many among Gordon’s faculty and staff are themselves valuable resources of wisdom from whom students can learn a great deal.

Gordon has always committed to sending out students who are committed to excellence all they do, from their intellectual inquiry to their Christian witness; and this year, the Economics and Business Organization has become part of that effort—an ambitious undertaking initiated and coordinated by Gordon students with an eye toward a bright future.

Photo: Gordon's newly revamped Economics and Business Organization helps students from every discipline prepare for careers after college.

Sarah Tang '16 is a sophomore Communication Arts major at Gordon from Hong Kong and a writer in the Office of College Communications. 


Friday, September 13, 2013

Bistro Two Fifty-Five: An Instant Campus Favorite

By Nora Kirkham ’16

It’s half past three on a humid Wednesday afternoon in the reference room of the Jenks Library. Students and faculty alike have retreated indoors from the ninety-degree heat and are standing in a crowd among tables of cold drinks and deserts. While the Jenks Reference Room is known for being a favorite study spot among Gordon students, there is a different mood filling the room—a hum of anticipation, excitement and chatter. Acoustic music from a Gordon-based band, Cub Scouts, plays in the background. On the wall, a gleaming logo reveals why we’ve all gathered here: The grand opening of Jenks’ new café, Bistro Two Fifty-five.

The Bistro, which takes its name from the College’s address, first began service in a “soft launch” phase on Tuesday, September 3. With a modern coffeeshop feel, Two Fifty-five’s café stools and broad tables provide an ideal for setting meetings and study groups. Its menu features a variety of food options including soups, baked goods, sandwiches and salads. Of course, there are all kinds of fair trade coffee and tea, from hand-packed espresso to frothy chai lattes. The Bistro’s food and drink offerings also happen to be very good. (As a student and regular consumer of café drinks, I know this for a fact.) It has rapidly become the place for students who need a caffeine boost or snack before heading to class.

Designed to be a place of community, fellowship and learning, Bistro Two Fifty-five has been a warmly welcomed addition to the Jenks Library. At the Bistro’s opening, President D. Michael Lindsay explained, “Learning happens in community fostered by sharing a cup of coffee.” Students no longer have to trek from Lane Student Center to Jenks if they want to enjoy a coffee while completing homework. Virtually any Gordon student on campus will tell you that the Bistro’s existence has made life as a student that much easier.

Bistro Two Fifty-five is a testament to the collaborative efforts of the student body and library faculty. Gordon College Student Association President Branden Figueroa ’14 was a key player in seeing the student body’s desires for a café fulfilled, and he submitted plans for the venue to President and Cabinet.

Student response to the new café has been incredible. This year, the Bistro received a tremendous amount of applicants seeking to work as baristas. Those who do work at the Bistro have said they enjoy their new job and its close proximity to classrooms.

As this academic year progresses, Bistro Two Fifty-five will no doubt continue to be a hot spot on campus for learning and fellowship. In this place between stacks of books and cappuccinos, we’re finding one more thing to love about Gordon.

Photo (left to right): Ribbon cutting with Director of Library Services Dr. Myron Schirer-Suter, GCSA's 2012–2013 president, Ben Wright ’13, current GCSA President Branden Figueroa, and Gordon College President D. Michael Lindsay. 

Nora Kirkham ’16 is a sophomore history major at Gordon and a writer in the Office of College Communications.