Saturday, August 11, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (19)

When the U.S. congress passed The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) in 2007, it is highly unlikely they anticipated triggering a cereal grain price jump of 67.4%, or that the rising food prices that resulted from the passage of the bill would end up plunging nearly 70 million people into extreme poverty.

What prompted the EISA? In theory at least, it was the desire to reduce dependency on foreign oil, scale back greenhouse gas emissions and keep the price of gas down. None of these are bad ideas. While I am as easily attracted to conspiracy theories as the next guy, I doubt the average elected representative planned on starving the third world to reduce U.S. gas prices.

But the unintended consequences of the Act have caused and continue to cause near-incalculable damage. This is where wisdom comes in.

9. Wisdom’s Call [Part 2] (Proverbs 8:12-21)

In connection with the EISA, hundreds of smart people did thousands of hours of research and wrote literally reams of reports and assessments. Actuaries produced calculations, projections and graphs. There was no lack of data. Information was plentiful. Brainpower was never in short supply. But everybody missed the boat.

Two Kinds of Wisdom

How does that happen? Wisdom [chokmah] prescribes a solution:
“I have counsel and sound wisdom [tuwshiyah]; I have insight; I have strength. By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly.”
To say “Wisdom personified has wisdom”, as Solomon effectively does here, may initially seem like he’s not telling us very much at all, but there is a little more going on in Hebrew than in English. There are two words for wisdom in play. In verse 11 the word is chokmah, the standard word used for “wisdom” throughout the book of Proverbs and elsewhere. In verse 14, it is tuwshiyah, an older Hebrew word found most often in the book of Job.

This latter word seems to have to do with how our plans work themselves out in the real world, as opposed to on paper or in our heads. In Job it is translated “the thing as it is” and “that which is”. In Isaiah it is translated “in working”. The idea seems to be something like this: the truly wise person discerns in advance what might happen when the rubber meets the road. He knows the difference between theory and boots on the ground. He goes into a fight taking into account what it feels like to be punched in the mouth, and how quickly he can expect to recover. He’ll be the one who sticks up his hand in the congressional hearing and asks, “Um, what happens to the food supply when all the land formerly used to grow crops is rededicated to the production of corn ethanol? What will people eat?”

Good Questions

These are good questions; the sort that in our world are rarely posed. Nobody asks, “If we built millions of big windmills to rid us of our dependence on coal, how will they work when there’s no wind?” or “Will they obliterate the bald eagle?” or “How much energy is required to build them and where will we get it?” Nobody asks, “If we abort all our babies, who will be funding the social safety net when we retire?”

In Wisdom’s economy, however, such questions are exceedingly relevant. Those who govern justly rule and reign by asking them in the nick of time, rather than finding out they should have asked them after something goes horribly wrong. It is impossible to rule justly without being the sort of person who looks at a decision from all angles and weighs up the potential consequences in the presence of God. Fathers need this sort of wisdom, as do elders and all those with significant responsibilities.

An illustration: Joseph displayed precisely this sort of foresight when Pharaoh asked him to interpret his dream. After doing so, he launched directly into a proposed solution for the problem he had outlined: “Let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt.” And not only did he offer a general outline, he had specifics in view: “Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years.” His proposal was both workable and effective, and it would allow Egypt and many sojourners from its surrounding nations, including his own family, to survive the coming famine.

This sort of wisdom is rare, but not unavailable. James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

Given the potential consequences, that seems like an awfully reasonable offer.

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