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September 22, 2011 / passiveprogressive

Mapping Poverty in Walla Walla, Washington

The beginnings of a recent research project I’ve started, a community partner in Walla Walla wanted one map with the town’s neighborhoods:

June 6, 2011 / passiveprogressive

Redefining Progress: The Application of Pro-Poor Growth in Southern Sudan

Introduction: A Frontier on the Global Stage

Not so long ago it took two to four weeks for supply trucks to travel from the border town of Kaya to Rumbek – the war-torn temporary administrative center for the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) (Fisher 2005). During the rainy season from March to October trucks could be stuck for months in meter-deep mud (Mann 2011). It is tempting to picture these aid missions as sojourns into a lonesome frontier or modern repetitions of The Heart of Darkness. This characterization would be misguided. Southern Sudan may lack infrastructure, but it is also an international stage; satellites scan the landscape for military movement while farmers use Sat-phones to keep up on maize prices (Ngigi 2008). Behind the scenes, Multi-National Corporations from China, India, and Saudi Arabia jockey for resources (The Economist 2011). With the help of foreign aid, the truck route from Kaya to Rumbek now takes twelve hours to complete (Fisher 2005). If one thing is certain, it is that the international community will play an important role in Southern Sudan’s future.

This paper aims to examine a foreign aid strategy that is intuitive yet controversial and revolutionary: Pro-Poor Growth (PPG). Though there are competing strategies that have attempted to co-opt PPG, I argue that the consideration of wealth inequality should be the primary priority of international benefactors in Southern Sudan. To approach this topic we will first examine the challenges Southern Sudan faces from the perspectives of foreign aid organizations. In the second section of this paper will concentrate on how different actors within the international community understand PPG and what makes it a radical departure from previous strategies. Finally, we will look at how PPG could manifest itself on a practical level in Southern Sudan.

The limitations to foreign aid theory are undeniable. Even a brief survey of Carolyn Nordstrom’s Global Outlaws demonstrates the lack of control NGOs and other development organizations have over their resources in the instance of Angola. Why bother discussing theory when its implementation is so far from perfect? There are two answers: first because PPG represents a redefinition of the roles played by developed and under-developed countries, and second because this redefinition has given a voice to those receiving aid and opened up opportunities to place aid where it is wanted. Success of these ideas in Southern Sudan will likely determine future aid strategies, and by extension, the global community.

Background: The Struggle for Peace, then Prosperity

Conflict runs deep in the Sudan. A truck driver arriving in Rumbek would see the shells of houses still vacant from the years of civil war with the North that killed over 1.9 Million Sudanese (Fisher 2005). Since independence in 1956 Sudan has experienced only sixteen years without major conflict (USAID Sudan 2005).

While many factors contributed to the years of war, certainly the most prominent is the centralization of the Northern government in Khartoum. Douglas Johnson, a historian of the Sudan describes how the government worked to, “[create] groups of peoples with a lastingly ambiguous status in relation to the state.” (Johnson 2003). Johnson goes further to show us that this is not a new phenomenon; Khartoum has exploited the South since at least the 18th century. After two civil wars a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was reached in 2005 between the North and South. The agreement stipulated that Southern Sudan could hold a referendum to secede from the north after six years. This past July, 99% of South Sudanese voters chose secession. The GoSS is set to be fully independent from the North by July 9th, 2011 (Kron, 2011). Inequality has proven to be a major factor in Southern Sudan’s known history.

The GoSS faces many challenges, though arguably the most important is the creation of equality and growth – even in rural areas. Already a faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has broken off and attacked cattle farmers (Richmond 2011). There is a very real possibility that the new government in Juba will be just as isolated and oppressive with its citizens as that of Khartoum.  Several hurdles will continue to challenge the ability of the GoSS to integrate in the short term. Firstly, the GoSS receives 98% of its national revenue from oil. Though extremely valuable and a potential for growth in the region, oil prices are also fairly volatile. The result is that long term planning becomes extremely difficult. But even if one were able to fund projects that benefit rural areas, as we saw above, transportation of goods continues to be a lengthy endeavor. Thus the ability for poverty relief efforts to coordinate based upon information in rural areas is severely hampered  (USAID Sudan 2005).

An additional concern is the lack of healthcare facilities within the South. While essential to well being, these institutions also serve as key data collection points. Doctors are able to assess nutrition and more general causes of suffering that are often helpful to aid efforts. Without these facilities the government is often simply unaware of areas where it could benefit its people. Finally, the GoSS must tackle the problem of food production and distribution if it is to prevent its people from rioting and its own troops from raiding. Certainly, the citizens of South Sudan face challenges of violence, famine and disease more directly – however, the scope of this paper merely concerns itself with challenges from the developmental perspective.

But the GoSS is not alone in confronting its development challenges. Organizations such as the Joint Action Mission (JAM), World Bank, IMF, and USAID have been involved extensively in various development projects. However, the philosophies with which these groups have approached Southern Sudan differ greatly, and have evolved significantly over recent years (see Table 2). During the 1990s Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) were inflicted upon developing nations through many development institutions, namely the WTO, IMF and World Bank. The development goal was to make nations more attractive to foreign investment. This often meant privatizing public resources for the sake of efficiency, keeping labor costs low, and warding off inflation with tight monetary policy (Williamson, 1990).

Recently however, European development strategists have been contributing a new perspective: development should be about increasing equality. This is perhaps reflected in practice by the fact that per capita, Europeans contribute $167 to foreign aid per year, while neo-liberal countries such as the U.S., Japan, Australia, and Canada contributed a mere $64 per capita (Lopez 2009). With Norway as the chair of the JAM, these values of increased social programs have clashed with the neo-liberal consensus on economic growth policy (more on this later). For now, however, it seems as though institutions with neo-liberal backgrounds have been following the lead of the JAM. For example, rather than formulating top-down structural adjustment strategies, the JAM helps to facilitate meetings between aid organizations an Community Social Organizations (CSOs) in order to determine the priorities of the base. Currently, the JAM is in the process of collating a Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) although interim versions have already been published as guiding documents (Arenas-García 2010).

But despite an attempt to solicit new opinions, García notes that, “the priorities proposed in the iPRSP bear a high resemblance with the World Bank’s own strategy for Sudan.” Further explaining that many of the proposals collected for the interim PRSP were solicited in the form of a loan application. A methodology that shifts input for the PRSP towards traditional neo-liberal policy would necessarily undermine the participatory nature of the current aid strategies. Ideally, aid recipients would be able to clearly communicate their needs to development administrators such as the World Bank.

As we will see in the following section, one of the biggest critiques and potential failures of PPG is its cooption into the pro-growth (as opposed to pro-equality) development camp. Given the centuries of oppression from a centralized government that has been felt in Southern Sudan, development strategies ought to actively target inequality. A failure to do so at the juncture of independence would almost certainly add decades to Southern Sudan’s history of political alienation and conflict.

Pro-Poor Growth: A New Take on Foreign Aid Priorities

In 2003 a Google search for the string “pro-poor growth” yielded just over 3,000 results. Eight years later a similar search yields closer to 10.5 million (Lopez, 2009). But despite the increase in attention PPG has received, there is still debate about its purpose. There are two camps in this battle of ideologies: the first is more conservative and harkens back to the rhetoric of structural adjustment and neo-liberalism. Supported by the World Bank and IMF, this interpretation considers economic growth that benefits the poor in any way to be PPG. In order to distinguish between the two, we will refer to this set of values as simply “Pro-Growth.” It is important to note that this definition does not consider income equality. For example, a country may experience an overall 5% increase in income per capita, though with the poorest 10% experiencing only a 0.5% increase income. Under the “Pro-Growth” interpretation, pattern would still be considered pro-poor, despite the fact that all data demonstrates an increasing wealth gap. However, proponents of this definition often argue that overall economic growth should not be sacrificed for the sake of equality (Lopez 2009).

Within this definition is the tacit belief behind most foreign development efforts in the post-World War II era: improvements to the upper levels of the economy will trickle down to benefit the poor. This belief is not inaccurate. In a study conducted by Martin Ravallion that correlated annualized Gini coefficients and levels of income across forty-seven countries, no indication of increasing income equality was found. In general the poor experienced improving conditions, but they also remained stationary with relation to the rest of society (Ravallion 2006). In a more specific study, it was found that the priorities of neo-liberal development, such as openness to global markets, membership in the WTO, and limited government have had merely neutral or slightly negative results, prompting the international development community to re-evaluate its priorities (Lopez 2006b).

The alternative, second interpretation of the strategy argues that aid is only “pro-poor” if the percent of the population living below the poverty line experiences an increase of income that is greater than the median increase of income. In other words, if the poorest members of the population are actively being brought up to speed with the wealthy in terms of income growth, then a strategy could be termed PPG. Proponents of this strategy point to the fact that countries with high initial rates of inequality often take much longer to develop, despite the fact that the poor benefit from a certain amount of the trickle-down effect (Lopez, 2006b). This camp of development theorists sees the poverty traps created by, “rich and poor clubs” in impoverished countries as a barrier to the distribution of resources (Lopez, 2009). The effect of inequality on rate of growth is still a subject of intense debate, though there are certainly a few theorists who suggest it is essential to development.

Ravallion, for example, posits that the reduction of poverty is dependent upon the rate of growth in the economy and the elasticity of inequality. Using this hypothesis he was able to construct the following equation:

Rate of poverty reduction =

[Constant x (1-inequality index)θ ] x Ordinary growth rate

In this equation the inequality index would be replaced with the country’s Gini Coefficient – a measure of income equality ranging from zero to one, with one being the most unequal. Using a sampling of sixty-seven different countries’ poverty reduction rates, annualized Gini coefficients and ordinary growth rates, a constant of -9.33 was calculated. Θ is a value greater than one that represents the notion that higher levels of initial inequality will have a decreased influence over the elasticity of poverty reduction if inequality increases.

The most important aspect of this equation is the recognition that a high Gini Coefficient – where the wealth is concentrated in the upper percentiles of the population – will lead to a slow rate of poverty reduction. Using this equation in conjunction with the average world growth rate of two percent, we are able to compare a series of Gini Coefficients and see their respective poverty reduction rates:

Using the mean poverty rate of the developing world, which currently stands at forty percent, Ravallion shows that the time it would take to half the poverty rate in an a country with a Gini Coefficient of 0.3 (e.g. Ukraine) would take 10.5 years, while the same task would take 57 years in country with a Gini Coefficient of 0.6 (e.g. Central African Republic) (Ravallion, 2006). As Ravallion notes, the model is imperfect due to its generalizations across multiple economies. Nonetheless, it draws a long ignored connection between inequality and the rate of growth a country experiences, providing an economic justification for closing the wealth gap.

Despite its potential, there are two major critiques of PPG that should be taken note of: first that it disables the tangible growth that comes from top-down economic policies, and second, that as it improves the lives of the poor, it also integrates them into a volatile world economy. The first critique seems to be empirically untrue as long as aid is provided with reasonable consideration for the economy as a whole. In fact, increases of income tend to circulate between more people in rural, impoverished areas before dissipating into the global economy (Lopez, 2006b).

However, the second critique is particularly concerning for Southern Sudan as it has in fact weathered recent food crises particularly well. In a similar example, during the Indonesian economic crisis of the late nineties, the poor saw a relatively unchanged level of income while the rich and middle experienced a rapid decline of income (Ravallion, 2006). According to food distribution scholar Jayati Ghosh, “countries, such as Sudan, have apparently been able to withstand the overall volatility and keep prices relatively stable throughout the period.” (Ghosh, 2010). But with poverty rates estimated at between fifty and ninety percent in most regions, it seems as though food independence has provided stable prices but an incredibly inadequate source of nourishment (USAID Sudan, 2005). But Ghosh is correct in pointing out that Southern Sudan could be worse off; since the trade-liberalization development projects in Mexico, the Mexican government has been repeatedly forced to import corn and wheat to prevent starvation (Ghosh, 2010). The recognition of the potential to destroy organic mechanisms that benefit the poor is an essential to foreign aid missions. However, as we will see in the coming section, reconciling protection and liberalization is a difficult process.

Moving Beyond Theory: Pro-Poor Growth in Practice

To implement development on the ground, benefactors wishing to help Southern Sudan combine resources in Multi-Donor Trust Funds (MDTFs) that are administered by the World Bank. The funds are then distributed to UN Organizations, the GoSS, and NGOs. At first these organizations experienced difficulties in working together – particularly because the World Bank had set standards of accountability that were very difficult for aid organizations to attain. However, the Bank “has admitted not being satisfied with its own management…” and has since made an effort to re-evaluate the tradeoffs of lower accountability standards and faster response times (Arenas-García, 2010).

On the implementation front, organizations such as USAID and the UN have been working to organize the types of aid based on “multi-sectoral” approaches rather than by geographic region. Aid agencies are responsible for tackling certain types of problems and tracking indicators across regions (USAID Sudan, 2005; Klasen, 2003). In this section I will examine three key development sectors – agriculture, gender equality, and healthcare – and discuss how pro-poor growth might be achieved.


Agriculture represents a crucial yet highly condensed economy in which much of the trading and profit is done by the largest wholesalers in the industry. In 2008 Margaret Ngigi conducted a series of interviews to determine the inequality present in the grain, sorghum, and maize markets.  She then used this data to form Lorenz curves that demonstrate overall inequality within these markets:

The horizontal axis of the Lorenz curve represents the relative percentile of traders while the vertical axis represent the total volume of trade. Thus, a steeper curve indicates a higher level of inequality while a shallower curve indicates greater distribution of resources. In the example of the sorghum market, the largest 12% of traders account for approximately 70.7% of the trade volume (with a Gini Coefficient of about 0.91). In contrast, the Maize market demonstrates a higher level of equality with the upper 10% of traders accounting for about 27% of the total trade volume (Ngigi, 2008).

As we saw from Ravallion’s equation, the greater the inequality in an economic system, the slower the poverty rate declines with growth. In this situation, PPG gives us the insight to recognize that foreign aid programs targeted at maize programs could have a significantly faster impact than in the sorghum market. Ultimately, this development is needed to ward off food riots and violence.

Gender Equality

Pro-poor growth has also been instrumental in advocating for women’s rights on an economic basis. PPG theorist Stephan Klasen emphasizes that, “had Sub-Saharan Africa … closed the gap [in gender-equal education], real per capita annual growth between 1960 and 1992 would have been 0.4-0.6 percent faster.” (Klasen, 2003). But here too there is dissent on how PPG should be implemented; in his 2006 paper, Klasen points out that examining average income glosses over gender inequalities that are prevalent in developing countries.

Instead, Klasen suggests that we should measure general well being not through economic measures, but through measures of capability. This measure of development, attributed to Amartya Sen, is more concerned with a community’s ability to provide education and healthcare to its members regardless of race, class, or gender. For practical reasons, it is difficult to separate an individual’s economic consumption from the rest of their household. In contrast, surveys that test for specific capabilities and limitations of an individual with a community are far easier to implement (Klasen, 2006). Regardless of the measurements used, the principles of PPG remain the same: increased equality helps to reduce poverty as a whole.


The problems facing Southern Sudan’s health care system are enormous. Before the referendum to secede, “Sudan had a GDP per capita of $1,000, which is 25% higher than the average in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, its health outcomes are nearer to countries [with a per capita GDP of] $400.” (Arenas-García 2010). Even as the GoSS attempts to distribute its oil revenue towards healthcare, the results of traditional government directed health care are often prejudiced towards the wealthy. As the Economic Commission for Africa reports,

Evidence has shown…that allocations through [tax revenues] are often biased against the poor, resulting in poor quality facilities offered to the poor, that are not exactly free as costs of transport need to be covered privately. (ECA 2003)

In addition, concerns of corruption and bureaucracy hampering the overall outcome of health expenditures make central distropution a sub-standard way of achieving PPG. Instead, the ECA recommends a community based healthcare system, which could be managed locally yet funded by the government. Such management would allow communities to negotiate the tradeoff of resources that often occurs between fighting disease and providing Primary Health Care that prevents infant and maternal deaths (ECA 2003). This type of recommendation emphasizes the concept that PPG is not simply about enacting a government-formed economic recovery plan; it seeks to actively engage those who have been most alienated from the political process.

Conclusion: Expanding the Global Community

Communities have been developing towards better standards of living for the majority of recorded history. Indeed, all of the nations that are now involved in coordinating the Joint Action Mission in Sudan were at one time “developing” regions. But Southern Sudan and majority of Sub-Saharan Africa are developing in a manner that is distinctly global. Development is no longer achieved through an individualistic process, but rather as cooperation between an “under-developed” nation and the global community.

For nations such as Southern Sudan, years of poverty under oppression have finally resulted in the possibility of self-governance and recourse to a political process. However, the threat of development policy that increases inequality and alienation should not be underestimated. For the moment, Southern Sudan possesses the power of being a development priority with international attention – this could prove to be extremely beneficial. Under the guiding principles of Pro-Poor Growth that emphasize maximum equality and participation in the aid process the Government of South Sudan has the potential to realize its goal of providing a better quality of life for its people.

Works Cited

Arenas-García, Nahuel. Pro-Poor Growth & Development in South Sudan: Post-CPA Aid Mechanisms, Poverty Reduction Strategies and the Role of the World Bank. Paper, Institute of Studies on Conflicts and Humanitarian Action, 2010.

Dollar, David and Kraay, Aart. Growth Is Good for the Poor. Research Report, Washignton, D.C.: World Bank, 2002.

Economic Commission for Africa. Financing for pro-poor Health Policies: An Inquiry into making financing health policies work for the poor. Strategy Report, Economic Policy Research Center, 2003.

Fisher, Jonah. “Southern Sudan’s Unlikely Capital.” BBC World News. Jan 21, 2005. (accessed April 12, 2011).

Ghosh, Jayati. “The Unnatural Coupling: Food and Global Finance.” Journal of Agrarian Change 10 (2010): 72-86.

Johnson, Douglas. The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2003.

Joint Assessment Mission Sudan. “Framework for Stustained Peace, Development, and Poverty Eradication.” Synthesis, 2005.

Klasen, Stephan:

“In Search of the Holy Grail: How to Achieve Pro-Poor Growth?” In Toward pro-poor policies: aid, institutions, and globalization, by Nicholas Herbert Stern, Ivar Kolstad Bertil Tungodden. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Publications, 2004.

Pro-Poor Growth and Gender Inequality. Discussion Paper, Ibero-America Institute for Economic Research, Göttingen: Georg-August-Universität, 2006.

Kron, Josh. “Sudan Leader to Accept Secession of the South.” The New York Times. February 7, 2011. (accessed March 23, 2011).

Lopez, J. Humberto:

A Normal Relationship? Poverty, Growth, and Inequality. Policy Paper, Washington, D.C.: Wold Bank, 2006b.

“Pro-poor Growth in an Era of Globalization: a Review of What We Know (and of What We Don’t).” In Globalization, Development and Integration: A European Perspective, by Milica Uvalic & Amy Verdun Pompeo Della Posta, 51-64. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Mann, Steven. “Ten Reasons to Repair Roads in Southern Sudan.” World Food Programme – Logistics. Feb 10, 2011. (accessed March 15, 2011).

Ngigi, Margaret. Structure, Conduct, and Performance of Commodity Markets in Sudan: Linkages to Food Security. New York: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2008.

Ravallion, Martin. Pro-Poor Growth: A Primer. Research Report, Washington D.C.: World Bank, 2006.

Richmond, Matt. “Southern Sudan Clashes Kill 72 People.” Bloomburg. May 10, 2011. (accessed May 12, 2011).

The Economist. “The Surge in Land Deals: When others are grabbing their land.” The Economist Online. May 5, 2011. (accessed May 5, 2011).

USAID Sudan. Strategy Statement. Washington, D.C.: USAID, 2005.

Williamson, John. “What Washington Means by Policy Reform.” In Latin American Adjustment: How Much has Happened?, by John Williamson. Institute for International Economics, 1990.

March 16, 2011 / passiveprogressive

No Bull, Just Pig

Maybe not the most flattering of photos, but the Virtual Pig Dissection website will help students around the world with their studies in biology.

My most recent project has been the construction of a website that allows students to virtually explore the dissection process of a pig fetus without actually having to get messy. The original website was constructed with Adobe Shockwave, which has since become partially obsolete (and was fairly processor intensive to start with). To make things easier for all users, I converted the Shockwave site into plain HTML.
The Virtual Pig Dissection (or VPD) is used by students who are uncomfortable with touching the real animal, are prohibited from doing so by their religion, or whose schools simply can’t afford to do the real exercise.
Check it out here!
February 22, 2011 / passiveprogressive

Carol Cohn: Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals

In this study of the defense community, Carol Cohn finds that theorists have used language and almost sexual excitement to construct a world in which gaming weapons is the only end.

Cohn begins by conducting participant observation, but soon finds herself excluded through the very language in which nuclear defense theorists communicate. This is not to say that conversations in the world of defense are callous and terse, indeed our author found many of her conversations to be quite charming and eloquent. Rather, Cohn claims that,

What hits the first was the elaborate use of  abstraction and euphemism, of words so bland that they never forced the speaker or enable the listener to touch the realities of nuclear holocaust that lay behind the words.

For example, Cohn speaks of her conversations regarding the MX missile, a delivery system capable of carrying up to 10 warheads. While there was significant scorn within the defense community when Pres. Reagan dubbed the weapon, “The Peacekeeper”, theorists often referred to it themselves as a “damage limitation weapon”. Cohn claims that the purpose of this language was to mitigate the visions of Holocaust produced by such a powerful device.

While technically nuclear defense theorists were correct in so far as the purpose of the MX missile was to destroy Soviet silos — thus preventing fallout from a second strike — it seems as though their language perverts the  perception of the actual function to the point where it could bias strategic thinking.

But it was not only the euphemistic language that Cohn found bizarre, it was the fact that theorists had created a language that was used not only to state personal credibility and objectivity, as well as the fact that this language denied certain concepts, such as peace. Rather, the term peace had been substituted with the word, “Strategic Stability”. The key difference of course is that “stability” implies an innate human desire for war that is only prevented by mutually assured destruction. In essence, theorists had rendered the idea of “peace” silly to the point of dropping it from their professional vocabulary.

But this isn’t just semantics, the language that Cohn observed created a framework in which the most horrific topics could be discussed without the slightest regard to the potential human suffering. Furthermore, the more she engaged in the vocabulary used within the defense community, the less she was able to explain previous ideals that she had held regarding the value of human life. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that the defense theorists did not calculate the outcome of nuclear war in terms of lives lost, but rather in who had the ability to carry out the most strikes.


February 19, 2011 / passiveprogressive

The Ends of Separation: How Luther and Hobbes Prevent Tension Between Church and State

Martin Luther

Thomas Hobbes


In both On Secular Authority and Leviathan, Luther and Hobbes delineate the boundaries of secular and religious power with the purpose of framing their relationship in accordance with certain prescribed ends. For Luther, the best viable state is one in which citizens are ruled by secular law, but free from religious persecution. In contrast, Hobbes is of the opinion that there ought to be a public religion and that religious rabble-rousers are a threat to the state. In this paper I argue that despite both authors’ agreement that God’s laws apply to God’s kingdom while secular laws are used by the state, Luther sees this as justification for an injunction between government and religious belief, while Hobbes interprets it to mean that individuals do not have the right to public religious dissent. In order to resolve these diametrically opposed conclusions, I will first look at the authors’ different conceptions of human nature, followed by a critical examination of their opinions on the moral fortitude of the state, and finally examining the problems and solutions Luther and Hobbes feel religion contributes to society. I conclude by suggesting that while both authors’ theory of politics encompasses a certain degree of separation between government and free religious expression, Luther’s concept of this relationship is shaped by his conviction that there is an attainable, objective morality that comes from God, whereas Hobbes believes morality is derived primarily from the state. Accordingly, both authors move to defend their perceived source of morals.

At first glance, it may seem as though Luther and Hobbes have the same concept of human nature as chaotic and potentially destructive. Hobbes, well known in his proclamation that, “…during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition that is called Warre…” (Hobbes, 185). For Hobbes, men are constantly plotting ways to better themselves with little regard to the impact of their actions on others. Likewise, Luther observes that, “If there were [no law or government], then seeing all the world is evil and scarcely one human being in a thousand is a true Christian, people would devour each other.” (Luther, 5). We can safely conclude that for both Luther and Hobbes, human beings need to be restrained by their governments in order to prevent dismal anarchy.
But the key difference between Luther and Hobbes on the issue of human nature is that while Hobbes believes in universal equality of ability that causes situations in which, “any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies…” (Hobbes 184), Luther would disagree that any two men would quarrel. Naturally, the one-in-a thousand true Christians would be counted out of this group, as “Government…holds the Unchristian and wicked in check…” (Luther, 5). But this mention is not just a rhetorical throwaway that admits some perfect people do exist; for Luther, these people represent the only human beings qualified to achieve a truly moral existence. Indeed in a world of true Christians, we would not need secular law:

…if all the world were Christian, these words [of God] would apply to all and they would act accordingly. But since they are Unchristian…they belong under the other [i.e. secular] government.” (Luther, 6).

Luther concludes that while Christians do not need secular law, they “help [others] to enjoy peace and see to it that…enemies are kept in check (Luther, 7), meaning that they follow secular law for the sake of maintaining order. This in turn enriches the system of secular law that protects Christians by keeping Unchristians in check.
Looking back towards my thesis, having a society in which freedom of religion is maintained is Luther’s priority because it is the only way in which positive morals can be imparted to the world. This necessarily means that, “Secular government has laws that extend no further than the body and earthly matters…” (Luther, 13). In contrast, Hobbes concept of humanity seems more homogenous; he is accordingly less concerned with making provisions for the rare good soul, and more focused ordering a society in the most stable way possible. This involves crossing Luther’s line in the sand around secular government.
For Hobbes, we have already seen that a state of nature without government is a lawless war of all against all, and while Luther certainly would agree that order is essential, Hobbes ties worship of god to worship of the monarch and government such that Luther almost certainly object. According to Hobbes, “The End of Worship amongst men, is power… God has no Ends: the worship we do him proceeds from our duty.” (Hobbes, 401). But for Hobbes, this does not mean that men cannot attempt to be gain power in connection with deities. This is particularly evident in his examination of the Roman emperor Numa Pompilius, who according to Hobbes, pretended to receive the counsel of the Nymph Egeria (Hobbes, 177). This gave Numa credibility, but more importantly led to, “…peace of the Commonwealth, that the common people in their misfortunes, laying the fault on neglect or error in their Ceremonies…were less apt to mutiny against their governors…” (Hobbes, 178). Hobbes goes on to note that the Romans were able to conquer the world in no small part due to their tolerance of religion and its ability to deflect tension away from the government. All religions were permitted, “unlesse it had something in it, that could no consist with [the] Civill Government.” (Hobbes 178).
However, a notable exception to this rule was “that of the Jewes; who (being the peculiar Kingdome of God) thought it unlawfull to acknowledge subjection to any mortall King… whatsoever.” (Hobbes, 178). Interestingly, Hobbes uses the same terminology Luther applies to the domain under which true Christians belong. While Luther would not have supported insurrection against a leader, he would have objected to the idea of a leader pairing with a deity himself in order to increase his own power; “For this is to compel people to believe that something is certain to please God, when it is not certain at all; on the contrary, it is certain that it displeases God…” (Luther, 13). Again, Luther is concerned that we are not living up to an objective standard that gods set for us, even if deifying our leaders could lead us to the prosperity of the Roman Empire.
It is interesting to note that while Hobbes agrees that it is in accordance with natural reason for us to respect God, it is also in our natural interest to respect and praise a sovereign (Hobbes 399). Indeed, his culture of worship construed afterwards defines public and private worship in an interesting light: “Pulique, is the Worship that a Common-wealth performeth, as one person.” One might compare this to the Church of England, but in any case it does constitute a state religion. In “private” religion however is, “in secret Free; but in sight of the multitude, it is never without some restraint…” (Hobbes, 401). However, Hobbes is ambiguous on what constitutes public and private space. Luther, for instance, suggests that true Christians ought to become involved in secular authority because, “if government and the Sword serve God, as has been shown above, then everything that government needs in order to bear the Sword, is equally a service to God.” (Luther, 12). In Luther’s concept of the human being as part of government, those who are morally flawless only serve to better the government through their proper values. Hobbes would be skeptical however, because the idea that someone is morally virtuous as a result of their religion makes issues of determining authority very difficult indeed. Luther admits that those who use religion for their own vendettas, no matter how righteous the cause, “is… not impossible, but very unusual and dangerous.” (Luther, 12). Hobbes agrees that miracles do sometimes occur, but like Luther, cautions against their use. The key difference is that for Hobbes, “…how great soever the miracle be, yet if it tend to stir up revolt against the King… is not to be considered otherwise than as to make trial as allegiance.” (Hobbes, 412). In essence, Hobbes believes that religious beliefs do not shield you against treason. It would be all too easy in Hobbes’ concept of human nature for a host of self-interested individuals to pose as false prophets and seize power.
In this essay I first examined the fundamental concepts of human nature that each author presents; Luther, making the argument that the only source of positive moral gain in the world comes from true Christians, while Hobbes chooses the organization of the state as his moral anchor. The assumptions that these authors make guide them to very close, yet not quite equal limits of the state’s ability to control religious beliefs. Luther concludes that though the state has power of worldly domain, it may under no circumstances interfere with spiritual life. Hobbes, on the other hand answers by telling us that the state has the ultimate ability to regulate public displays of religion, and that furthermore, the state ought to have some sort of public religion for all citizens. Although both authors do their best to resolve tensions between god and state, their interpretations are fallible to the point where there are suggestions, but no clear bright line between state and religious power; a challenge we have yet to overcome even in contemporary politics.

Works Cited

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. New York: Penguin, 1981.
Luther, Martin. On Secular Authority. 1523.

January 14, 2011 / passiveprogressive

The New Face of Bribery: Comcast “contributes” to congress

This week 97 elected representatives in Congress sent a letter to the FCC urging the approval of a merger between NBC and Comcast, a measure that would likely lead to a monopoly on information control in many areas of the country.

84 of those representatives received contributions from Comcast. Surprise?


January 13, 2011 / passiveprogressive

Economics Class: Cobbling Together a Production Function

The Cobb-Douglas production function is a staple source of torture for many people taking economics. The function is deceiving from the start: Charles Cobb and Paul Douglas didn’t even invent it, but rather tested it using available data.

It was invented by Knut Wicksell to relate the output of the economy with its inputs. Simple enough, right? Well, sort of…

In this post I will discuss the uses of the  Cobb-Douglas production function as well as some of its shortcomings.

The Equation:


Output is equal to Total Factor Productivity X Labor (raised to the elasticity of labor) X Capital (raised to the elasticity of capital).

Basically, output depends on three things: productivity, labor, and capital.

The Variables