Thursday, November 18, 2010

Downward mobility - bad, or good?

In prior generations, there was always an expectation that the younger generation would do better than their parents. And for a good part of U.S. history, that was true. But that changed:

In 1973, however, average real wages began stagnating and during the 1980s the growth in the inequality of family income accelerated (Levy and Murnane, 1992; Karoly, 1993). Academics and the popular press expressed increasing concern that the middle class was disappearing (Thurow, 1987; Duncan, Rodgers, Smeeding, 1991 and 1992) and that "The American Dream" was vanishing (Dentzer, 1991; Samuelson, 1992). The expectation of upward mobility seemed to be dimming, and the fear of downward mobility growing (Vobejda, 1991; Koretz, 1992; Brownstein, 1992).

What are the macroeconomic consequences to a society with downward mobility?

Increasing downward mobility can also cause serious economic problems. The downwardly mobile must reduce consumption, investment, and savings. Such cuts by a substantial segment of the population could dampen future economic growth. Even those not downwardly mobile could feel more at risk, possibly depressing consumer confidence.

Therefore, U.S. governmental policy, whether executed by a Republican or a Democratic government, is designed in some way to preserve (or restore) upward mobility.

But not everyone thinks that downward mobility is a bad thing.

I recently referenced the core values of Stevens Creek Church. One of those core values was something called "downward mobility." While the church's website doesn't explain the concept, I did find a detailed explanation:

It is easy to assume that relationship with God translates into entitlement. Career advancement, upward mobility, assignments or calls to bigger churches with larger salaries and more prominent leadership positions are popular expectations of clergy. Their competition for prestigious pulpits and powerful positions threatens their witness. Their drive for the honored and well-compensated positions contributes to the weakening of congregations located in mission fields. Small, impoverished congregations become temporary stepping stones in the pursuit of prominent places.

Insights from the social sciences fill contemporary books on effective leadership. But although the social sciences provide helpful tools for understanding the dynamics of leadership, they must not be foundational for leadership in the church. Without a firm theological foundation, leadership is only a sophisticated means of upward mobility through institutional advancement. Much of the material I read sounds more like James and John pursuing prominence than Jesus calling us to a life of servanthood and downward mobility; it has more to do with the pursuit of power than the implications of leadership as the power of love.

It should be noted, however, that this is more of a microeconomic example of downward mobility. If the church truly believes that it is a small part of the entire society, then a world could exist in which all of the Satan-worshippers pursue upward mobility, the Christians pursue downward mobility, and everyone gets their rewards.
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