Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Offense

We need to take the offensive in whatever beliefs we hold dear. We must not allow others to ask us the questions, putting us on the defensive, and defining the terms of debate. We must play that role.
In related news, Friedman says in "The Relation between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom,": "Underlying most arguements against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself." So, the first question we are to ask is: Do you believe in freedom? If their answer is no, we are to reply: Good, then hold still while I rob and kill you.
JN

Paganism

Today I'm reading the first chapter to John Hood's book, The Heroic Enterprise" for Dr. Cordato's class. The intro to this book contains many references to one of the most important books I've ever read, Henry Grady Weaver's "The Mainspring of Human Progress." You should read it.
Hood was talking about how "corporate social responsibility advocates say, responsible and ethical companies must balance profit-seeking and other goals." It prompted this margin note:
The shift is always toward making institutions responsible rather than individuals. This personification of institutions doesn't stop at that, but insists that institutions be super-human. This is deification, and as there are multiple institutions in any society, amounts to Paganism.
JN

Sunday, January 29, 2006

I was on Chris' or Travis' site recently when someone maliciously posted a link to an unaffiliated website. This was my response:

The web site offered is www.thenewliberator.com and it is a site devoted to something called liberation theology. Might seem foreign to many here in SPEL world, but it is a movement with some strength and some intellectual credibility. Someday when I finish my Undergrad work at NCSU I will move on to Duke Divinity to figure these guys out.
They are right that there is a fundamental connection of ethics to economics. My contention is that the connection is law. And I don't mean government, probably something more like law vs. government.
Dr. Cordato made the point in class recently that often the difference is between focussing on the ends to justify the means, or making sure that the process is legitimate.
The liberation theologians want to see justice and usually start out with a concern for "the least of these" which is good. But they lack the correct models for interpreting what they see, and so they make a mistake in arriving at their conclusions. Conclusions like "all capitalism is immoral, greedy and selfish, and founded upon those motives!"
The most fatal flaw made by these theologies is to demand equality be enforced by the STATE.
Jesus never made such an arguement. He encouraged those whom had been blessed to recognize that those blessings came from God, and that it was the responsiblity of His followers alone to care for the "least of these."

The lesson to be learned is that proper models of economics and law lead to a less confusing ethic.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Simplicity

One of my goals for this blog, and my life, is to reconcile the Christian Ethic with Classical Economics. Tonight I was reading from Richard J. Foster's Celebration of Discipline which has nothing to do with spanking at all. It is a modern exploration of what have classically been referred to as the Christian Disiplines among which is Simplicity.
To a Christian simplicity is similar to humility. Simplicity is perhaps the outward expression of an inner humility. We want to be focused and inwardly unified. The passions should be held under control and the efforts of human energy should be singularly directed.
One of the more tangible effects of a simple life is greater self-control when it comes to consumption. If we are more interiorly satisfied, we will look to outward sources of satisfaction less. We become less motivated by material gain, and more motivated by inward gain.
This all appears grim to a dismal scientist. What! Will the invisible hand cease to move if such simplicity were to be praticed on a large scale?!? (Though I doubt such a movement should ever arise.) Does this mean that Christians should be anti-Capitalists? Many have made the very arguement.
No! Rather, the christian ethic in this instance, causes the individual to behave more as a firm than a household. The product a Christian seeks to produce is imitation of Christ. To this end he operates more efficiently than the average individual. On what basis?
A factory designed for building airplanes may also build automobiles. But what will it produce more effieciently? Airplanes, of course.
If human beings have a purpose it is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We operate at maximum efficiency when we are doing this. Pursuit of self is less efficient on the one count that it is not what it was designed for.
On the second count, pursuit of self is inefficient because it is not focused on any particular end. There is no garuanteed model to imitate, therefore much energy must be expended in deciding on a course of action. Various values will have to be tested and tried, and empirical evidence is often influenced by lurking variables in legion.
Ah! How often has the unsimplified man asked "What is the will of God?" You do not know because you have not decided within your will what you want to do. You have not decided that you do, indeed want to follow the will of God.
Augustine said, "Love God with all your heart, and then do what you will." By simplifying the inner man we push aside selfish, wasteful, inefficient desires and focus on more enduring sources of satisfaction.
Do we cease to consume, then? A man must eat. Must we live in poverty? There is a difference between poverty and simplicity, though they sometimes occur simultaneously. Mother Theresa, for example, lived amongst the poor. Yet she flew all over the world. That cost money. How dare she fly in an airplane when all that money could have been used to help the poor! Nonsense. Such an attitude adopts the pagan view of the world that there is a limited amount of wealth, and that if some of it is spent on one thing, then there will be none to spend on another thing. When the Bible states that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, it is making an economic statement. There is an unlimited amount of wealth avaiable in this world. There is only a limited amount of human energy to develop that wealth.
Do we doubt that new and renewable sources of energy will ever be discovered? Why? Electricity as we currently use it is less than 300 years old. The internal combustion engine is only 200 years old. We have only been using oil in large quantities for 100 years.
A simple man can enjoy the greater luxuries of life free from guilt. He can walk amonst the poor without arrogance. He can stand before great men without pretense or fear. He can buy what he likes and like what he buys because he has bought it for himself and not to please another man but it is to bring him closer to fulfilling the vision he has been given that he has bought it. He refrains from buying things that are wasteful, or that are intended to mask an internal insecurity. He does not buy upon impulse.
Most of the anti-Capitalists are not protesting out of similar motives. Many have a genuine concern for the poor, which is commendable. But all too often this concern turns to patronization. A simple person has no motivation towards this sort of power play. Rather, they acknowledge the poor, and rightly respond to the needs of the poor man in a way that draws attention to neither the poor man nor himself. In a way that preserves the dignity of the poor man and magnifies the image of God within both of them. And the simple man can walk past the poor man whom he is not to help without the pangs of guilt.
For Jesus did not heal every blind or leporous man nor every infirm woman. Neither does He call us to assist every poor man.
But I am rambling... and I don't want to carry this too far. Suffice it to say that the Christian discipline of simplicity squares nicely with Capitalism as it is properly understood and indeed brings that capitalism into a more efficient operation as less energy is devoted to creating the appearance of wealth, and more is devoted to actual improvements in standard of living for all, especially the least of these.
JN

Friday, January 20, 2006

Munich

I posted the following in response to a discussion at
http://www.cafehayek.com
about Steven Spielburg's movie Munich

Rule of law requires a fair trial by a jury of peers, something Americans are becoming less and less aquainted with these days. My curiosity has been aroused enough to want to see this movie now.
The Zionists (not all Jews are Zionists, you know) certainly may have legitimately begun their modern settlement of Canaan (Palestine being the name given to this land by Europeans)by buying the land. However, with the advent of their war for independence methods were employed that were less than you know what.
Does the Jewish secular mentality have a place for just war theory? The Libertarian tradition had its roots in this theory by virtue of its emergence from the Catholic Christian tradition. As Libertarianism, European, and popular American thought (ironically, especially evangelicals) loses its connection with just war we make vulnerable many, if not all, of our inherited rights. America lost its conscience in this regard during the Civil War when Union soldiers were encouraged by their officers to attack and impose force upon civilians. The southern gentlemen (let it be known now that I was born and raised a Yankee, now abiding in the Containment Area for Relocated Yankees known as CARY, NC) would not have considered such action against an enemy an option. It was the fascist (read: do whatever appears necessary) government of Abraham Lincoln that allow such attrocities to go unpunished and launched such a culture upon on unsuspecting world. The Great White Fleet, Commodore Perry, and every American military action since then have gradually eroded what little was left of just war opinion on this continent. Now we consider torture of our enemies legitimate, and invasion of citizens privacy constitutional.
We must remember that the nature of constitutional government arises from a tradition honoring worldview and that most constitutional law before America was unwritten. We must look beyond our written constitution to the traditions it was founded upon to interpret what is written and protect the liberties we hold dear.

Hayek's Ethics

I read an essay "The Principles of a Liberal Social Order" by Hayek this week, and I have a few musings. I dare not call them thoughts, for they are not fully developed enough for that yet.
Economists try to stay away from Theology. Too bad, because Theologians tend to stay away from economics lest they appear greedy. (Not that I know any particularly wealthy economists.)
Hayek's ethics seem to root in Kant's theology. He uses this base to develop his economic arguements. My contention is that the use of Kant is unnecessary, and possibly detrimental. Modernist arguements fall deafly on postmodern ears.
Of course, the evangelicals haven't all figured this out yet either, and they are busy writing apologetics that don't recognize this or economics.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Protection

Issues keep coming back to protection. Protection from other governments, from risk, from swindlers.Always there is a shift away from personal responsibility. Fear fuels this shift, and is utilized by the government to exploint its citizens. The wolf must protet its sheep from other wolves.
The Christian Ethic demands personal responsibility and each individual's responsibility for the least of these. Rather than the few (government) being responsible for the many (citizens), we should have the many (empowered) protecting the few (the least of these).
JN

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Wages

Why aren't more economists entrepreneurs. Probably because we can't spell entrepreneur...

But really, it's a fair question. Perhaps entrepreneurs already get intuitively what economists sit around and philosophize on. Or, perhaps it is beacuse once we're all done drawing graphs we're too tired to do anything else. There's not much of a market for graphs.

I was reading an assignment for my Macro course by Bob McTeer from the Dallas Fed about wages. The assertion was made that all workers are paid an amount equal to their contributions. This is due to a tendency for the market to return to equilibrium (a purely theoretic state of existence according to Austrian Economists). I drew the following conclusions:
Workers are paid a wage equivalent to their contributions. True! However, most employees are giving away for free something they should be charging for. More should be in business for themselves but are unwilling to take the risk. Individual loss in wages (profits) is rent charged by the employer for managing various risks, such as taxes and insurance (variable costs) and leases and infrastructure (fixed costs). Unwillingness to manage one's own risk is akin to irresponsibility and paganism. Most low wage earners that don't seek more gainful employment don't do so because they believe it is the responsibility of the government to protect this aspect of their lives. So they don't own up to the responsibility.

Economists: I have a plan for us. We should read quacks. For every 4 scholarly books we read, we ought also to read 1 book by a quack. Start with Robert Kiosaki, the Rich Dad, Poor Dad guy, who has millions of followers getting rich. Then try Richard Maybury (whom this blog is inspired by) and his Uncle Eric books. Subscribe to his newsletter! It's full of wonderfully wacky, and quite relevant stuff.

Part of the disconnect between economists and normal people is that we get so distracted by the theory that we forget it is about money and the primary goal is for everyone to get as filthy rich as possible. By creating new wealth we will help alieviate suffering in this world.
JN

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Virtue vs. Value

I pay a lot of attention to writers' use of "value." I prefer "virtue." Values are economic in nature. Virtues are ethical. All too often, especially amongst conservatives, but liberals have adopted the language as well, the term vales is used in refference to ethics. Statists love values. These they can judge and prioritize, reject whatever does not produce the greatest outcome. Virtues demand conformity regardless of practicality.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Economics of Catan

My dad got me a game for Christmas, the Settlers of Catan. If you haven't played this yet, find a geeky friend and its likely he's got it. For those of you in the know, I have drawn some significant lessons from the game.
First is the robber. I have renamed mine the King. He wanders around the board and wherever he stops he taxes the locals. He doesn't allow any of his subjects to become too powerful (i.e. hold too many cards) and places a great strain on the economy. It's always bad when the King is moved, even if he is placed upon your enemy. Catan is a free-market universe, and demonstrates plainly that the way to wealth is trade. Without trade, both domestic and foreign (ports), it becomes nearly impossible to devlop new roads or settlements. When the king is rolled he takes away resources. If your enemy has less resources to trade, then you have less likelyhood to trade with that enemy for what you want.
The same concept of trade also makes four player games more fun. With fewer players, it takes longer to develop resources, even though individually each player produces at the same rate. In an economy, the more developers of resources the better. Think of the farmer again, why does he have so many children? To help him work the land.
But, there are a limited amout of resouorces, you argue. Myth. There are a limited amount of resources available using current technologies and information. What is lacking really is the human energy and creativity to go get those resources.
Creativity. Nothing evil is creative. God is creative, and evil is the absence of that creativity. Evil destroys. Kings do not create. They take resources, or redirect them, away from where they wouold naturally flow. A stream flows fastest when it flows straight. Near my house there is a park which has recently redirected a stream. They implimented something called meandering where the stream winds back and forth gradually, slowing the current to make an environment more suitable for certain fish species. When the stream was straight it flowed too fast for those fish. There is no more water in the stream than before, and no less, but it takes longer to get where it is going. Kings do the same thing. They divert resources.
In Scotland in the late mideval times the king was relatively weak. He would travel around the country visiting his various nobels and eating their food. He would bring his entourage with him as well, and tehy would eat the nobel's food, too. Usually the King would require certain changes to be made, and he would collect a tax and then move on. The nobel could only support the King for so long, it seemed. Perhaps the nobel started serving leftover veal as a hint that it was time for the king to go. I don't know. But the king would move on to the next noble's and stay awhile. This is precisely the manner of the Robber in Catan.
So long as the Robber remains in the desert, the people of Catan get along fairly enough. Sometimes they are disappointed about the development of their settlement, but that is no one else's fault. Sometimes players draw soldier cards. These are usually held in reserve until the Robber is placed on one of their resources, so that they can force him back off. The soldiers are primarily defensive. No one wants to use a soldier, for fear of retribution. There is an inherant danger to the use of force. If the Robber were never played, and soldiers were transferrable for resources, everyone's settlements would develop faster.
Certain resources are more esaily develpoed than others. A resource with a 6 or 8 on it produces 5 out of ever 36 rolls. That's pretty good. Other resources, like a 2 or 12 only produce 1 out of ever 36 rolls. These are in a sense, hidden resources. They are often neglected. Players prefer to build settlements other places besides on these hexes. But sometimes, the desire for a resource becomes great enough to demand placement of a settlement on one of these hexes. When it becomes necessary we will develop the resources that exist to suit ourselves.
Maybe someday, I'll develop a new set of rules for Catan: The Government - free Catan.
JN