Monday, May 26, 2014

The Zero Sum Game Fallacy - is China a threat to the US?

As you may be aware, I have been working on my MBA in Sustainable Development over the past year and will continue to hit it hard this summer.  While some courses have been long and boring, more have been invigorating and challenging.  One of the things that I am growing to love about economics is how nonpartisan, factual, and logical it seems to be - it seems to fit well with my personality type.   I've especially enjoyed macroeconomics, which looks at economies at a national level.  I'm thankful that my professors know of the work that I am doing and have allowed me to focus on Africa along with a faith aspect to my papers.  I just completed a paper on the economic history of Africa, which is fascinating.

But there is one subject that continues to come up which I have found to be especially helpful, especially giving the changing dynamics of the world economy today.  And that is the fallacy of the "zero sum game." You may be aware that recently the much awaited International Comparison Summary of World Economies was recently released by the World Bank.  In this report, it is projected that China may economically surpass the US not by the year 2019 as was earlier predicted, but by the end of this year, 2014.  (By the way, did you know that China was the largest economy in the world in 1890?  They are simply reclaiming their crown from the US, 125 years later.)

Only so much wealth in the "pie."
This announcement caused many people in the US and other countries to react with some agitation.  The idea that China has had such quick growth feels threatening to many.  But does it need to?  The sense of threat often has the assumption at its foundation in a fallacy called the "zero sum game." The zero sum fallacy is the belief that as one person gets richer, another person gets poorer - that the amount of wealth in the world is like a pie and as one country grows their wealth or share of the pie, that the pie slice for another country must get smaller.  The belief is that they work in dynamic relationship to each other. This is not only seen in how we view country economies but also in terms of how we see poverty and wealth in individuals.  Sometimes we focus on wealth distribution - taking wealth away from the wealthy - as opposed to wealth creation for the poor.  When we do that, we are again believing that there is only so much wealth available in the "pie" and it must be redistributed, as opposed to focusing on the more long term solution of helping the poor create their own wealth, which is renewable.  I teach in my classes that wealth is a renewable resource from God, based on Deuteronomy 8:18 which says, "But remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth and so confirms his covenant which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today."  Wealth is not something that God gives once and then needs to be held on to with tight fists.

The individual pieces of "pie" (wealth) can grow.
One of my professors said in his lecture that we should celebrate when other countries do better!  The pie can grow.  China's success does not mean the US demise.  India's growth should not threaten the US.  These are good things!  Even though these economists are not Christian, they are celebrating greater equality in the world.  Let's be happy about this and celebrate those countries who have struggled so hard and long with poverty and are now beginning to emerge.  For many of us who have been involved in poverty alleviation or giving to charities in developing countries, this news should bring great joy!

Whether or not this growth will last for China or other rapidly growing economies is one thing that economists are considering, however.  For example, the Chinese are currently saving at 50% as a population (the US saves lower than most other countries, at about 18% factoring in retirement, etc.  People don't save when things are going well; remember the US recession in 2009?  Prior to that recession, the US was at a negative savings rate for personal savings - spending more than they earn - however when the recession hit, people remembered the importance of savings and the savings rate began to increase again.).  Personal consumption in China is pretty low,  however as incomes begin to increase, the Chinese are expected to begin to want home ownership, social security, and health care, to name a few.  As people begin to spend instead of save, it will also affect national economic growth, potentially causing a slow down.  Just something to watch as well.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Health Update

Update on Michael:

There are not many people who have a heart attack and continue to work and function without missing a beat.  There are not many people who carry on while the right coronary artery closes due to bursting, caused by extreme stress, and the heart muscle begins to die off.  I have never heard of that before (not that that says a lot).

That was the diagnosis of the cardiologist this week.  A portion of Michael's heart was "destroyed" through a heart attack some time ago and is now "dead and gone."  There was no need to try to do open heart surgery for a bypass as that muscle is now dead and is turning into scar tissue.  His heart is now functioning at about 70% of a "normal" heart.  This means life changes for the rest of his life as it relates to medication and monitoring of his heart.  And therein lies another problem.  Michael is a rare person whose body doesn't register pain in a heart attack (called silent ischemia).  The sudden news of a heart attack with a now compromised heart is scary enough, but learning that your body doesn't sound any warning or alarm complicates it further.  The cardiologist kept telling Michael to "pay attention to your body," but how does one do that when the body is not communicating?  The value of pain is so important.  We don't like it but pain does save lives.  I reread Philip Yancey's book, Where is God When it Hurts on the way home last week and was reminded about the value of pain.  So that the fact that Michael does not feel pain in his heart is an added concern.  The rest of his heart seems to be functioning well so he is beginning new medication treatments that will have to continue for the rest of his life, as well annual stress tests.

This news is very sobering.  It is a harsh reminder of our mortality.  It is scary to hear this type of news at any time and even more so a month before our wedding.  The part of the vows that say "in sickness and in health, til death do us part" is not a part that we want to have in our face too soon.  Michael does not want me to become a widow again.  He knows that had been one of my fears in getting into another relationship. So, a lot of feelings; a lot of fears; a lot of tears; a lot of unanswerable questions; a lot of reassurances going both ways.

This has been a very difficult week.  I'm so glad I came home - I needed to be here in person for this.  I think I am feeling a little more peace about it than Michael is at this time.  I am already so thankful and grateful for what Michael has brought into my life.  Each day is richer because of him.  And we will continue to trust God even though He obviously doesn't guarantee health or long life. I think this event is further proof of how amazing Michael is in terms of his ability to survive very difficult circumstances.  I think it is further proof of how amazing and complex the human body is, even when it disappoints us.  And I think it is even further proof of our amazing God - He knew when this heart attack happened and He knew when we would discover it - He was not surprised by any of this.  He chose to keep Michael alive at that time.  Please continue to pray for Michael as his body begins to adjust to the new medications and their side effects, and as his mind adjusts to the fact that he has had a heart attack and there is a new normal that needs to be considered.

Update on Alfred Kibairu 

Alfred is showing signs of improvement.  He is still in the hospital but hopes to be released this week.   His skin has been drying out slowly - I have included a couple of pictures to show how devastating this has been to his body.  His mouth and lips have been the slowest to heal, which has continued to give him problems for eating.  Alfred was thin before but now he is very thin.

Please pray for continued healing for Alfred.  If he checks out of the hospital, they will require the bill be paid before he will be able to leave.  The total medical bills to date are around $3000 USD.  So far approximately 80% of that amount have been covered and we praise God for that!  We still do need another $600 US however and so please pray with us that these funds will be found so that he can return home, rejoin his family, continue his recovery, and eventually get back to work. Again, if you feel led to contribute any amount, please go to, click on "Donate" and enter "20065M."

Thanks to so many of you for your messages of encouragement and prayers in this past week!

Monday, May 5, 2014

And the team takes a hit...

The ICM Marketplace Ministry team, having moved with great strength over the past six months, has gone from three people to one in the course of a week.

A healthy Alfred and I, worshiping in Kakamega in April
Alfred Kibairu, the ICM Marketplace Ministry Coordinator, fell sick approximately four weeks ago.  It started while we were on a trip to Kakamega to do mentoring and he complained of back pain.  He went to the doctor the next day and was told it was pneumonia.  Huh?  When asked why, he said the doctor told him that it was probably pneumonia because of the sore muscles, and he put Alfred on an antibiotic.  Then other symptoms began to pop up, and the doctors put Alfred on other meds.  Then last week, while I was conducting a training outside of Nairobi, he lost his ability to walk (extreme pain in his feet), lost his ability to hold things (hands were numb), his vision became significantly impaired (eyes were very bloodshot and cloudy), and he broke out in what he called a rash all over his body.  We got him to a better doctor and then to a hospital in Kitale.  However, hospital standards in Kitale are very low (he had to crawl on his knees down the hall to use the restroom and stayed in his street clothes the entire six days in the Kitale hospital) and we saw no sign of improvement.  They continued to treat the symptoms and not test or look for any underlying causes.
A not-so-healthy Alfred

This past Thursday we convinced him to go to a better hospital in Eldoret.  My car acted as the ambulance as I tried to avoid the many potholes to get there as quickly yet pain free as possible.  The hospital looked and felt great - it felt a bit like a hospital in the US.  Unfortunately, the cost also reflected the costs of US hospitals (not quite but on the salaries here, the same) and after 48 hours, Alfred felt he had to move again to a lesser hospital due to the high bill.  The cost of his treatment thus far is about 100,000 KSH (about $1200 US - a huge amount).  They have done a number of tests for which we are still awaiting the results, but it seems to be a rare condition called Steven-Johnson syndrome, a severe reaction to a drug he took.  The "rash" as Alfred called it, is actually blisters all over his body, like 3rd degree burns.  The skin is now moving from his body in chunks, making open wounds all over his body, susceptible to infection.
The blisters that are covering his body.

Please pray for rapid healing for Alfred and wisdom for the doctors.  Alfred is married and has two children - one aged 8 and the other just over one year old. 

Upon my return to Kitale on Thursday night, after having been on the road for thirteen hours that day and being sick myself, I got online with Michael, only to find out that he had some discouraging news from the doctor that day as well, relating to some potential cardiac issues.  After some more extensive testing and discovery of some potential problems on Friday, which is requiring yet more testing, I decided on Saturday morning to go home early and be by his side.  By the time you see this blog (I'm writing it in the Amsterdam airport on Sunday morning), I will be back in Grand Rapids.  We pray that the more invasive testing that will take place this week will tell us that everything is okay, but it is scary to be sure.  I have made several such scary trips in my life now and the amount of fear that explodes in me is palpable.  Michael, of course, is nervous as well.

So my return is several weeks earlier than planned.  Jeff Bloem is holding down the fort right now - a capable man for the job!  He drove me to the airport on Saturday, then transported Alfred to a third, more affordable hospital.  Many in Kitale have commented that Satan must not be happy with what we are doing for such attacks to take place.

Regardless, we covet your prayers and hope to report better news next week!

[If you feel led to contribute to Alfred's hospitalization costs, please go to, click on "donate" and in the comment section, write "20065M - Alfred Kibairu."  That is one way hospital and life insurance works here - the community contributes as they can, when they can.  That way, when you get sick or have a funeral, others will also contribute.]