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"Colonial Dress (detail)," by Susan Stockwell , 2009 :: via WHATTHECOOL
by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

Amy Julia Becker is a remarkable young writer whose book A Good and Perfect Gift, a memoir about discovering that her first child had Down Syndrome, comes out this fall. She sent me an email asking how I handle speaking requests, and especially the question of how to handle the occasions when invitations come without any apparent plans to compensate her for her time. With her permission, here’s a slightly expanded version of what I wrote in response.

I have a pretty standard reply when I receive speaking requests that require travel outside the Philadelphia area. It starts this way: “My speaking fee is $2,500/day or partial day, plus travel expenses, which I work hard to keep to a minimum.” If I have reason to expect that they will be taken aback by that number, I add: “I realize this may be out of the reach of some academic or nonprofit budgets.” (Note that I don’t offer to reduce the amount. :) ) I sometimes also emphasize: “I’m all yours during the time I’m with you—please feel free to pack my schedule! I’m happy to wash dishes if that would be helpful.” (That’s true! I actually like washing dishes. Not many groups take me up on the dishwashing, but a lot sure do take advantage of the packed schedule, and I love it.) And I often add: “My family and I have decided to focus my volunteer speaking time on the Philadelphia area, where I never charge at all. However, this means that when I do travel, I have to charge my full fee.”

Now, there are a few exceptions worth noting. I often make different arrangements when my travel is connected with my day job at Christianity Today—this approach applies to the roughly half of my time that I spend on my own speaking and writing. Another exception is that in the months following the publication of a new book (which will happen, God willing and me writing, late next year) I generally do several events, ones that my publisher’s marketing team feels are especially significant, for little or no compensation except travel. It’s a recognition of all the investment they are making in the book. I only do this in consultation with the publisher, though.

Also, there are a handful of people who are most significant in my own life and growth, with whom I want to spend as much time as possible in order to sustain and deepen the relationship. If discounting my fee or waiving it altogether means we get to do something together, then I’ll do so.

This approach is hard won over several decades of experimenting and learning from my mistakes—in particular, things I found myself desperately wishing I had not agreed to do. :) To be honest, in my experience there are few times where traveling any great distance to speak without payment is actually a good idea. As for the specific amount I charge, it’s based on essentially one criterion: an amount just high enough that even if my hosts were to do a terrible job preparing for my visit (alas, that does happen from time to time), I could happily cash the check and know that if nothing else was accomplished, the income had helped to set me free to do other things at other times without worrying about money. For various reasons the amount has gone up over the past few years, but interestingly, the higher I’ve set that number, the more lasting fruit my work has seemed to bear.

That said, I think the least important thing in my whole approach is the dollar amount I charge—much more important are the principles behind it. Most important is the commitment Catherine and I have made that in Philadelphia, we will discourage churches and ministries from paying me altogether. We have decided we are called to “tithe” our time as well as our money, and we want to tithe our time in the place where God has placed us and where there are the greatest chances of building and nurturing ongoing relationships. So with my fellow Philadelphians I set all these considerations aside and try just to serve generously and wholeheartedly, expecting nothing in return—and that, too, interestingly, has borne a lot of fruit in the form of joyful friendships and partnerships of a sort I could only dream of when we moved here eight years ago.

While it is likely that you have heard at least one sermon on how to think in a Christian way about sex, and the requirements of church budgets make money an annual topic, chances are you have never a sermon on how to be stewards of cultural power.

Culture Making, p.226

from "Glitch Trading," by Tim Maly, Quiet Babylon, 8 May 2010

The point is that 60% of stock trades are being done by machines, operating according to a set of algorithms and inputs, which (I’m pretty sure) do not include natural language parsing of the news.

Yet whenever the stock market makes a move, the financial press constructs post hoc narratives that explain what’s happened as a reaction to the news of the day, as if the news is what was was motivating the trades. For example, here’s Reuters confidently explaining today’s nose-dive in terms of various events that made headlines, none of which are a computer glitch. (15 minutes later, Reuters tweeted the alternate explanation.)

This fascinates me. Most stock market trading is being done by machines, but the stories we tell ourselves are about humans responding to new information. You can’t interview an algorithm about why it made a certain choice. In the absence of that knowledge, it seems clear that the financial press just makes educated guesses and acts as if correlation is causation. It’s speculative fiction.

from "Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy," by Steve Rubenstein,, 26 February 2010 :: via The Morning News

About the same time that Ibnale was handing out umbrellas, Brett Lockspeiser took $100 worth of dollar bills to the 16th Street Mission BART Station and held up a sign.

“I will give you $1 for you to give to someone else,” the sign said. Throughout the evening rush, Lockspeiser stood in the station, trying to give away dollar bills.

“Everyone though I was trying to scam them,” he said. “They wanted to know what I was up to. I told them they just had to promise to give the $1 to someone else.”

After three hours, Lockspeiser had managed to give away only $52. One passer-by did not take the $1 but, suspecting that Lockspeiser was down and out, handed him a pair of socks.


No one wishes for hardship. But as we pick through the economic rubble, we may find that our riches have buried our treasures. Money does not buy happiness; Scripture asserts this, research confirms it. Once you reach the median level of income, roughly $50,000 a year, wealth and contentment go their separate ways, and studies find that a millionaire is no more likely to be happy than someone earning one-twentieth as much. Now a third of people polled say they are spending more time with family and friends, and nearly four times as many people say their relations with their kids have gotten better during this crisis than say they have gotten worse.

A consumer culture invites us to want more than we can ever have; a culture of thrift invites us to be grateful for whatever we can get. So we pass the time by tending our gardens and patching our safety nets and debating whether, years from now, this season will be remembered for what we lost, or all that we found.

A Freakonomics Blog post by Justin Wolfers, 29 January 2009

The latest recession indicator: more people are searching Google for “coupons” than for “Britney Spears.” And it’s not that Britney is getting less popular. By this measure, the recession began in March 2008. Check out the full time series, here.

"My Money, My Currency," by Hanna von Goeler :: via Monoscope
"Frank, Perth, Western Australia, 2006," from the series Suburban Splendor, by Graham Miller :: via Flak Photo
by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

When you start seriously studying the ways American give money, as Christian Smith and his colleagues did for his recent book Passing the Plate, one of the first things you realize is that they give very little.

One of the next things you realize is that they give money mostly to people like themselves, who lead organizations that benefit people like themselves, for causes that matter to people like themselves. And when they do escape from such self-referential giving, it is largely in response to crisis and sentimentality rather than an intentional approach to lasting investment.

Catherine and I have tried over the years to make sure that our giving doesn’t just end up being a tax-deductible subsidy of organizations that serve people like us. We think of it very much like investing. We want to have a “balanced portfolio” in three important dimensions.

1. We want to balance our giving between organizations based in the United States and those based outside (mostly in the developing world, where a dollar often goes incredibly far).

2. We want to give equally to organizations that have non-white-Westerners in major leadership roles and to organizations that are led by people who look like us.

3. And we want to support some organizations where the gift we can afford to make is greater than 1% of their budget (so that we’re making a noticeable impact on their total need) and others where our gift is a smaller portion (but is likely to be used efficiently).

As this snapshot shows, we missed our target this year on domestic versus international giving, but did well on the other two categories. We’ll try to make up the difference in 2009.

Having disciplines like this in place helps us to make good choices among the many opportunities we have to give. And it’s fun to make the little pie charts, too.

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

Every three months—in March, June, September, and December—the Crouches do something absolutely essential to our spiritual health as a family. We give away a substantial amount of money.

I am not reticent about disclosing the exact amounts that we make, save, spend, and give. In fact I believe that no church or Christian community can be healthy without talking about real dollars rather than the absurdly vague hand-waving that often passes for discussion of financial stewardship. Several times over the past few years I have handed out a complete Crouch family income and expense statement to fellow members of our church. Not so much because we are models of stewardship—we are by many standards absurdly wealthy and absurdly stingy—but because I am convinced that our spiritual health requires transparency and vulnerability in this area. And believe me, distributing a complete statement of how you have handled your money (or, more precisely, the money God has entrusted to you) is transparent and vulnerable!

Disclosing these details online is a different matter. Somehow our culture has gotten things exactly upside down. We are vulnerable and transparent online in ways we never would be in person. This is cheap transparency, based on virtual intimacy, and I won’t indulge in it here.

But at this time when the whole world is reeling from the effects of an economic crisis brought on, among other things, by a series of extraordinary conspiracies of silence about the truth of money—including millions of Americans taking on debts they could not reasonably expect to repay, thousands of companies taking risks they could not calculate using financial instruments no one could understand, and most recently hundreds of investors entrusting their wealth to a man who refused to tell them what he did to make it grow—it seems worth saying that by far the best thing Catherine and I have done with our money, in fat years and lean years, was to give some of it away, and to try to order our lives so that we could give away more and more.

So during these last days of the year, I want to celebrate the cultural goods created by the amazing non-profit organizations Catherine and I have the privilege of supporting. I’ll also post a few thoughts about how we give, and why—in the hope that as all of us prepare for whatever 2009 may bring, we will enter it with the joy of people who have entrusted everything to the one who gave everything for us. Merry Christmas.

Fred Rogers testifies before a senate committee in 1969, arguing for the importance of funding for PBS :: via GOOD

from "Jury bars auction of Mary Pickford's Oscar," by Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times, 16 December 2008

And the Oscar for best Hollywood courtroom drama goes to . . . the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The golden statuette was awarded Monday by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury, which ruled that if Mary Pickford’s heirs want to sell it, they have to offer it to academy officials for $10 instead of auctioning it off for as much as $800,000. Academy leaders took a Rancho Mirage woman, her daughter and a cousin to court after the women announced plans to sell the Oscar presented in 1930 to the silent-movie star known as “America’s sweetheart” and donate the proceeds to charity.

from "A Lot of Lattés," by Ron Sider, Books & Culture, November/December 2008

[According to the new book Passing the Plate,] twenty percent of American Christians (19 percent of Protestants; 28 percent of Catholics) give nothing to the church. Among Protestants, 10 percent of evangelicals, 28 percent of mainline folk, 33 percent of fundamentalists, and 40 percent of liberal Protestants give nothing. The vast majority of American Christians give very little—the mean average is 2.9 percent. Only 12 percent of Protestants and 4 percent of Catholics tithe.

A small minority of American Christians give most of the total donated. Twenty percent of all Christians give 86.4 percent of the total. The most generous five percent give well over half (59.6 percent) of all contributions. But higher-income American Christians give less as a percentage of household income than poorer American Christians. In the course of the 20th century, as our personal disposable income quadrupled, the percentage donated by American Christians actually declined.

In Chapter 3, the authors evaluate nine frequently offered hypotheses to explain this modest giving. They conclude that five have substantial validity: 1) many Christians have not seriously wrestled with their own tradition’s theological teaching on giving; 2) many churches simply accept low expectations for giving and therefore provide little communal support for generosity; 3) some Christians question the reliability of the churches and organizations requesting funds; 4) because of near total privatization and lack of accountability in the area of charitable giving, there are no real consequences for stinginess; 5) most Christians give on an occasional basis when they feel like it, rather than in a disciplined, planned, structured way.

from "The pendulum swings towards regulation," by Lawrence Summers,, 26 October 2008 :: via Gregory Mankiw

Economists do not understand what drives productivity growth very well. However, we know these facts: productivity grew rapidly after the second world war and then sometime between the late 1960s and mid-1970s it slowed dramatically only to re-accelerate to record levels in the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, even before the downturn, underlying productivity growth appeared to be slowing.

The most plausible explanation is that an array of transforming investments and technologies – the interstate highway system, widespread air travel and the expansion of electronics – were spurs to growth during the postwar period. Eventually their impact dissipated and, as energy costs rose, growth slowed until the information technology revolution kicked in during the 1990s. Unfortunately, the IT supply shock that powered the economy in the 1990s and early part of this decade appears to be diminishing.

So there is a need to ensure that the pressure to increase spending is directed at areas where it will have the most transformational impact. We need to identify those investments that stimulate demand in the short run and have a positive impact on productivity. These include renewable energy technologies and the infrastructure to support them, the broader application of biotechnologies and expanding broadband connectivity, an area where the US has fallen behind.

The crisis has also reminded us of the lessons of the technology bubble, Japan’s experience in the 1990s and of the US Great Depression – that finance-led growth is problematic. The wealth and income gains from the easy availability of credit were highly concentrated in the hands of a fortunate few. The benefits also proved temporary. In retrospect, the fact that 40 per cent of American corporate profits in 2006 went to the financial sector, and the closely related outcome – a doubling of the share of income going to the top 1 per cent of the population – should have been signs something was amiss.


Gekko’s character was written to create an engaging, charming, but deceitful and brutal being. I have nevertheless run into quite a number of younger people, who upon discovering that I co-wrote the film, wax rhapsodic about it . . . but often for the wrong reasons.

A typical example would be a business executive or a younger studio development person spouting something that goes like this: “The movie changed my life. Once I saw it I knew that I wanted to get into such and such business. I wanted to be like Gordon Gekko.”

The flattery is disarming and ego-stoking, but then neurons fire and alarm bells go off. “You have succeeded with this movie, but you’ve also failed. You gave these people hope to become greater asses than they may already be.”

from "A race to use less gas in the long haul," by Ken Bensinger, Los Angeles Times, 8 September 2008

“In the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, carmakers all offered super-high-efficiency cars,” says Eric Noble, president of the Car Lab, an auto industry research and consulting group. “Now that consumers are clamoring for them, those cars are pretty much all gone.”

For the 1992 model year, car buyers had the choice of 33 cars that had a combined city and highway EPA rating of at least 30 miles per gallon. For the current model year, there are 12. And though the 1990s had its share of gas guzzlers, it’s notable that the two-wheel-drive Ford Explorer from 1992 had better fuel efficiency (17 mpg) than the same model in 2008 (which gets 16).

With demand for efficiency surging, carmakers are racing to improve their lineups. General Motors Corp., which currently doesn’t have any cars that top 30 mpg combined, said last month that it would spend $500 million to produce a new compact car for 2011, the Cruze, that would reach 45 mpg on the highway. That’s about 13 mpg below the rating for its most fuel-efficient Geo Metro 14 years ago.

from "Tricking People into Doing the Right Thing," by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, GOOD Magazine, 28 August 2008

Quit smoking without a patch. Committed Action to Reduce and End Smoking is a savings program offered by the Green Bank of Caraga in Mindanao, Philippines. A would-be nonsmoker opens an account with a minimum balance of one dollar. For six months, the client deposits the amount of money she would otherwise spend on cigarettes into the account. After six months, the client takes a urine test to confirm that she has not smoked recently. If she passes the test, she gets her money back. If she fails the test, the account is closed and the money is donated to a charity. MIT’s Poverty Action Lab found that opening up an account makes those who want to quit 53 percent more likely to achieve their goal. No other antismoking tactic, not even the nicotine patch, appears to be so successful.

Stop compulsive gambling. Over the past decade, several states, including Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri, have enacted laws enabling gambling addicts to put themselves on a list that bans them from entering casinos or collecting gambling winnings. The underlying thought is that many people who have self-control problems are aware of their shortcomings and want to overcome them. Sometimes recreational gamblers can do this on their own or with their friends; sometimes private institutions can help them. But addicted gamblers might do best if they have a way to enlist the support of the state.

Dollar a day. Teenage pregnancy is a serious problem, and girls who have one child, at, say, 18, often become pregnant again within a year or two. Several cities, including Greensboro, North Carolina, have experimented with a “dollar-a-day” program, by which teenage girls with a baby receive a dollar for each day that they are not pregnant. Thus far the results have been extremely promising. A dollar a day is a trivial amount to the city, even for a year or two, so the plan’s total cost is extremely low, but the small recurring payment is just enough to encourage some teenage mothers to take steps to avoid getting pregnant again. And because taxpayers end up paying a significant amount for many children born to teenagers, the costs appear to be far less than the benefits. Many people are touting “dollar a day” as a model program.