31 January 2008

Speaking from Ignorance

If there is one thing that truly annoys me, it is doctors waxing eloquent concerning subjects about which they are not authorities. Even worse, when they are speaking from ignorance. A lot of folks do this sort of thing, but when doctors do it, they speak to their patients in such a way that their word is taken as gospel truth.

But it is often not much more than speculation based on anecdotal evidence, which means they may or may not be correct.

This little rant is, by the way, being brought to you by the letter V and the article on autism that appeared in the January 28, 2008 issue of Parade Magazine.

But before I tear up the vaccination portion of the article, allow me to share an anecdote of my own. We no longer vaccinate. We made this decision for ethical reasons {which you can read about here and here if you are interested}, though we also suspect there may be some long-term health benefits as well.

When I told our doctor our children would no longer be vaccinated, she seemed angry to me. She immediately accused me of reading "antivaccination websites" and doing all my research on the internet. {Of course, she later encouraged me to read certain articles written by government employees that were on the internet, so apparently the internet isn't completely incredible.} Her next pointed question was very interesting to me; I will never forget it: "Is this because of autism? Because vaccinations don't cause autism. We don't know what causes autism. I think researchers will eventually find that there is a gene that is turned on by a childhood virus."

Now, let's put on our logic hats and think about this statement. We don't know what causes autism, but vaccines are not the cause. If we do not know the cause, how can we possibly say that something is not the cause? I suppose the only way that statement could be made, scientifically speaking, is if there was a controlled, double-blind study that proved, beyond doubt, that vaccines do not cause autism.

I have yet to discover such a study. {If you know of one, by all means email it to me.} Now, I have found an interesting article by a physician who claims that none of his wards have autism because he does not vaccinate them. Of the 30,000 to 35,000 patients his organization has seen over the years, they have never seen a case of autism in an unvaccinated child. He, by the way, fully admits that his evidence is only anecdotal. Generation Resuce's survey of 9,000 boys in California and Oregon found that vaccinated boys had a 155% greater chance of having a neurological disorder like ADHD or autism than unvaccinated boys. Of course, this sounds to me like they proved that vaccination is only a contributing factor. If being vaccinated only increases the chances of autism or another neurological disorder, then vaccines are probably not a primary cause.

But do you see how my physician had no right to say what she said? In fact, when I explained our ethical reasons against vaccination, she acted like I was completely insane. This means that she is vaccinating children out of ignorance--she has no idea how vaccines are made, what they are made from, or why someone might question the ethics behind the system.

So back to the Parade Magazine article. In answer to the question, Do vaccines cause autism? Parade says:
Parents in these groups have reported a sudden and dramatic social disconnect—including loss of language—in children who previously seemed to be developing normally. The change occurred soon after the children were given the first dose of the MMR vaccine {to prevent against measles, mumps and rubella}, typically at around 12-15 months. These parents adamantly believe that their children’s autism was caused by something in the MMR vaccine or in combination with other vaccines containing the mercury-based preservative thimerosal. They insist that the timing of the onset of autistic symptoms is not a coincidence.

While some physicians and scientists support the vaccine-autism link, the overwhelming majority of medical professionals and mainstream medical organizations maintain that vaccines do not cause autism. This is the position of the Institute of Medicine {IOM}, National Academy of Sciences, CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics and NIH. After reviewing the research, the IOM concluded that the evidence “did not support an association between autism and the MMR vaccine.”

In fact, even autistic children who never received the MMR vaccine first show symptoms at around the same age as those who are vaccinated.
I would love to see an independent study that "reviewed the research." After all, these governmental organizations have a vested financial interest in being able to say that vaccines do not cause autism, among other problems. If vaccines cause a problem, they have to pay each child. That is the purpose of the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program directed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

To say that vaccines are perfectly safe, by the way, is to deny that such an organization exists and pays money to children who are injured by them.

Now, to clarify, I am not saying that I know for sure that vaccines cause autism. I certainly do not know what causes autism, though a new friend of mine, who cured her severely autistic child of autism {he is no longer anywhere on the spectrum}, will tell you quite seriously that many children diagnosed with autism or PDD actually have childhood Celiac disease. I am simply tired of doctors and governmental agencies saying something is fact when, to my knowledge, there are no double-blind scientific studies proving the case to be one way or the other.

So if you ask your doctor a question, and your doctor says that "x is not true," ask for research that you can read. Sometimes, even a doctor speaks from ignorance.

30 January 2008

My Dearest Husband

My Dearest Husband,

I have a request I wish to make from you, but first I feel I should explain the situation here at home. After all, you spend many hours in your cozy little cubicle. You don't see what it is like here. With her. In such a panic.

Let me explain.

It all really started, not with you, but with the Attack of the Wind Sock. It was Friday morning, and the children were outside to play. The weather really looked like it had cleared up, so I sent them out. They were climbing the walls. They needed to go out.

So I sent them. As I said.

And they played. They played quite well! That is, until the wind kicked up. Of course, I was doing chores. I didn't really notice the wind. For a while, I think they enjoyed it. But then it got quite blustery. And then there were gusts. And our sweet children didn't complain.

That is, until I heard A.'s high-pitched shrieking.

I ran to the door, convinced she must be terribly injured. Instead, I found her white as a sheet and shaking with fright. The wind sock had blown down and attacked her with the wind's full force! It was wrapped around her neck like a scarf; I could see it's red and yellow fluttering as I ran to the door.

She couldn't get it off, no matter how she tried. And she was so very scared.

So I brought them inside. I comforted her. I thought that everything would be fine, that the Attack of the Wind Sock would quickly become a distant memory.

But you just had to drive in the lesson, didn't you? You and that son of yours.

The wind was so powerful all weekend, and I kept little A. inside. But I wasn't feeling well on Sunday morning, and so you took E. and A. to church alone. By yourself.

The morning had started off clear and calm, but during the service, the wind kicked up violently. It was as strong as ever, toppling trees and causing minor damage all over town. And you and E. just had to take a tour and survey the disaster before returning home.

With A.

Why, oh why, did you take her with you? I am sure she was silent through the entire drive. You probably forgot she was there. And even I didn't think much of the situation when she ran inside and greeted me with a concerned, "Mommy, twee fall down! Twee fall down!"

I didn't think much of it, that is, until playtime came around this week. A. didn't want to go. She thought of every excuse for getting back into the house. She needed to go to the bathroom. Twice. She needed a drink. She was convinced she was hungry. When I finally got her boots on and insisted she needed fresh air, she stood right next to the door, holding the door knob, and screamed any time a breeze caused a single leaf to stir.

When I finally calmed her down enough to understand her words, I realized she was yelling, "Thewe is wind! Wind!"

She is terrified.

I have spent two days explaining that there is no wind, but only a gentle breeze, and aren't breezes just lovely? No. According to A., breezes are not lovely. They remind her of the wind. The wind, she is convinced, that will return and blow down all the trees in our backyard. She also believes they might fall on her.

So my request is simple. Next time you and The Boy feel the testerone-induced urge to go and witness any death and destruction that is being caused by a storm, please first drop off any girl child who might be with you.

Just in case.

Love,
Your Wife

29 January 2008

Economics in One Lesson {Week Four, Part I}

There is a lot packed into this week, and so I'm going to break this into smaller posts. I admit to losing a bit of steam here at the end. It is also Book Week for me: I had committed to finishing up Secret Believers and Economics in One Lesson all at the same time. I was having momentary delusions of inordinately obedient children {who were also very clean and required less laundry than ever} and spare energy and time.

January was so much better back when I was imagining it in December.

Anyhow, this week starts out with a discussion of minimum wage laws. Actually, this brings it full circle since I insisted on discussing the minimum wage during my week one post. Here we are again, in greater detail.
...a wage is, in fact, a price.
This is a great place to start off. Now we can think of the minimum wage as a form of price-fixing, which we already know doesn't work. The minimum wage is the government-as-benevolent-dictator ordering businesses to pay a minimum price for a certain job. And the government has decided that, no matter what the job, they, in their omniscience, know for sure that the price is always appropriate at a minimum of $x.
The first thing that happens, for example, when a law is passed that no one shall be paid less than $106 for a forty-hour week is that no one who is not worth $106 a week to an employer will be employed at all. You cannot make a man worth a given amount by making it illegal for anyone to offer him anything less. You merely deprive him of the right to earn the amount that his abilities and situation would permit him to earn, while you deprive the community even of the moderate services that he is capable of rendering. In brief, for a low wage you substitute unemployment. You do harm all around, with no comparable compensation.
Cindy already picked out this quote, and I think her thoughts are well-worth the time spent reading. However, I couldn't resist quoting him here as well.
When such consequences are pointed out, there are those who reply: “Very well; if it is true that the X industry cannot exist except by paying starvation wages, then it will be just as well if the minimum wage puts it out of existence altogether.”
Part of why people reason this way is because of the argument that starvation wages are not a family wage. A man cannot raise a family on such a wage! This is the real, underlying objection.

And here I feel the urge to step back and think a bit.

I have always considered minimum wage to be payment for entry level jobs. It baffles me that a man would earn minimum wage for a long period of time. Does this sort of thing really happen? It must, I suppose, if we are making the argument. But my question is why? Are these men unmotivated? Are they poor workers? Do they lack the ability to think strategically?

When I was a teenager, I lived in a town where there was a potato shed. The pay was minimum wage. The hours were long and hard. And many of the teen boys did this as their summer job. These boys grew up, and got jobs that paid more. The minimum wage job was entry level. Does this make sense? Moreover, the push to make such jobs pay a man's wage is completely denying the facts: a sixteen-year-old boy is perfectly capable of doing the job.

Hazlitt says we cannot make a man worth more. I say we cannot make a job worth more.

This bring me in my mind to a wonderful book Si and I read a few years ago: Business By The Book by Larry Burkett. At the time, we were considering a business idea {one we decided we couldn't afford due to government's heavy hand in the form of minimum wage laws, disability insurance laws, and the like}. One of the most profound thoughts in that book was the idea of who a businessman should hire. The idea was that, if he couldn't afford to pay a family wage, he shouldn't hire a family man. We toyed around with trying to hire homeschooled teenagers. We knew they would be good employees who valued a Christian work environment. The job was only worth a certain amount, and so we were determined that if we opened our business {which we didn't}, we would hire folks that could afford to and would benefit from working for such a price.
There is no escape from the conclusion that the minimum wage will increase unemployment.
There is also no escape from the fact that a minimum wage hike makes the value of every dollar above the wage worth less. Let me try to explain using some basic math. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that minimum wage is $6 per hour. And let's say that I am paid $10 per hour. That means that I make about 66% more than minimum wage.

Now, some savvy politician tries to buy votes by promising a minimum wage hike. He's elected, and he succeeds in keeping his promise {astonishing for a politician, I know}, and now the minimum wage is $8. But I still make $10. Which means that I now only make 25% more than minimum wage. Suddenly, my job isn't as bright and promising.

When a great majority of citizens suddenly get a wage increase, spending will go up, which will cause inflation, which will make my dollar worth less. This is a basic economic principle. So my $10 becomes worth less {worthless??} in both the short and long term.

Now, I can see one possible criticism of this argument being that my approach is comparative. I admit that it is. But this isn't born of a desire to keep another person down. Not at all. This is simply doing the math and revealing a fact about the situation.

After all, I actually earn slightly more than zero dollars per year, and I highly suggest other mommies do the same.

But if I was a grown woman working for $10 at a somewhat-skilled job, and this goes back to my entry level argument above, I wouldn't expect the pay for a teenager folding burritos at Taco Bell to creep up on me like that!
A nice problem, moreover, will be raised by the relief program designed to take care of the unemployment caused by the minimum wage law. By a minimum wage of, say, $2.65 an hour, we have forbidden anyone to work forty hours in a week for less than $106. Suppose, now, we offer only $70 a week on relief. This means that we have forbidden a man to be usefully employed at, say, $90 a week, in order that we may support him at $70 a week in idleness. We have deprived society of the value of his services. We have deprived the man of the independence and self-respect that come from self-support, even at a low level, and from performing wanted work, at the same time as we have lowered what the man could have received by his own efforts.
This is such a great point, I just had to paste it in. Now Hazlitt is looking at things in a more spiritual light. He is acknowledging that there is greater dignity in a man working for a low wage than there is for him to live in state-subsidized sloth.
We cannot distribute more wealth than is created. We cannot in the long run pay labor as a whole more than it produces.
And this, my friends, is the next disaster headed our way. There are many industries that simply must phase out, for instance, defined benefit plans for retirees {this was the precursor to the 401K, where workers and companies together save actual money in the present to be used at a later date in the future}. Defined benefit plans typically depend on current employees paying for current retirees. The idea is that future employees will return the favor. But all ot that is dependent upon the industry's growth which is not a future certainty. So the entire plan is first of all risky and second of all, if the industry contracts, cause for the bankruptcy of the industry itself, which threatens not only former employees, but current employees, potential future employees, and customers alike.

Secondly, this the danger of Social Security. Because Baby Boomers decided they preferred having fun over having children {plus they were told that there were "too many people"}, we are coming upon a time when there will be more old people than young people. This means the young people must work double--once for themselves, and once for an older person who has a legal claim on that younger person's money.
Real wages come out of production, not out of government decrees.
Again, I emphasize the danger of Social Security and other programs, both public and private, that run on such principles. We cannot, as a nation, afford to subsidize people who do not work. And yet this is done in many forms every day.

How Does the Church Respond?

Okay, so this is the first time I have added such a section at the end, but I really feel compelled. After all, all this talk about money and wages can make it seem like there aren't actual people who are working for low wages, who are struggling. I already admitted that, in an ideal world, the lowest pay would be given to our youngest members, and as those members increased in maturity and skill level, they would begin to earn more.

But what if there is a man in my own congregation who is working for minimum wage, and trying to raise a family on it? What then? If it is not the government's job to help, it is because this jurisdiction {caring for the poor and needy} was given to the Church.

I think that, first of all, we need to say there is no simple answer. Perhaps the first thing a church must do is find out the cause of the situation. Is the man disabled? The church should offer assistance. Is he illiterate? Teach him to read. Does he need better speaking skills? Teach him English. Is he computer illiterate in a technical world? Give him some training. Did he simply grow up in a family that never challenged him, never taught him how to reach a goal, and never helped him identify his own gifts and talents? Then the men of the church must exhort, encourage, and lift him.

Also, some financial counseling might be in order. After all, when money is scarce, there are two approaches: make more...or spend less. In our family, my husband is in charge of the former while I manage the latter. Some folks have no idea how not frugal they are, and the church can help them here as well.

The churches are full of people who can offer all of this help and more. What makes this solution beautiful is that, unlike a government program, it will deal with the man as an individual, real person who has a body, a mind, and a soul. It will deal with sin, character, and real, physical needs all at the same time. It is not just a superior solution, it is the only real solution, and it is the solution that best aligns with God's Word.

28 January 2008

Secret Believers: Glimpse of Another World

Rarely do I read a book that I wish to recommend to everyone. Usually, I read books that I would recommend to certain people, or perhaps to no one at all {not because I do not like them but because the mere mention of their title or subject matter causes the eyes of people around me to begin to glaze over}. I admit I am interested in more subjects--more ideas--than most people I meet.

But Secret Believers is different. If you are a Christian, I highly suggest this book. It is perhaps the most encouraging book I have ever read.

I don't think I realized how jaded I was concerning the Muslim issue until reading this book. I see myself in its pages, right there with the Christians who forgot {and forget} that Muslims really can be converted to Christianity. This is what I mean when I say the book is encouraging: it revealed to me that there are true conversions in the Middle East, and those true conversions give me great hope.

But today, I think I will focus a bit on suffering. It is easy to forget what the Church in the Middle East goes through every day. It isn't just the overt persecution that got to me--there is ongoing, unrelenting social pressure from all sides. They are truly a second class, and they need our prayers.

Today, I will give quotes from the narrative portion of Secret Believers. I edited a couple of them to better explain the context. As you read these quotes, I encourage you to pray for our brothers and sisters living in the heart of the Muslim world.
Under the philosophy of dhimmitude, Christians were permitted to exist, but they were penalized by extra taxes and second-class status. {p 17}
"When it rains, we put bowls and basins on the pews and floor. Now, look at the walls." They walked over to the nearest wall and Butros observed the cracks and peeling paint. "You see, yes?"

Butros nodded. He understood the problem. Any church that wanted to make repairs needed to get permission from government authorities. And permission was almost never granted.

"Do you know how many years we've tried to fix the roof or the bathroom? I can't remember the first time we filed for a permit. And yet look outside." The priest grabbed Butros by the arm and led him out the door of the sanctuary and pointed to the building abutting the church. "Anyone can get permission to build a mosque. They built that four years ago, even though there is another mosque two blocks away. Look at those loudspeakers pointed right at us. Sometimes during our services, they turn on the speakers and try to drown us out with their noise."

Butros sighed. He'd heard similar complaints throughout the country. The condition of church buildings was deplorable. {p 30}
The Islamic texts taught that Christians should either pay the jizya, a special tax levied on Jews and Christians, or embrace Islam. Or they should be killed. {p 35}
"At one time, this area was a larged walled compound with a school, a hospital, and homes for the missionaries," Butros explained as he parked behind the church building. "The government nationalized the school and hospital many years ago and expelled the mission organization that ran it. All that remains today is the church, and we are very grateful for its presence in the heart of the capital city." {p 57}
"In some Muslim countries there is no church, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia to name two. At least here, you have an established church where you can meet legally."

"Legally maybe, but under their control," Butros answered. "They certainly do not want to give us the freedom to develop, to flourish, to grow."

"So you are under the eye of government authorities?" Andrew asked for clarification.

"Worse than that. We live under constant societal pressure," Yusef answered. "We are always aware that we are being watched, and that someone wants to prevent us from doing ministry." {p 58}
He was shocked to learn that the Christians were not allowed by the Muslim majority to draw water from the village well. The only water available to Christians was from a small well in the church compound, but it was not enough. {p 60}
"The situation in Suq al Khamis is tense right now. Muslim fundamentalism is on the rise. Young men are calling for a greater commitment to Islam. They are demanding that the government repeal Western-style laws and submit only to Sharia law. The government is concerned about their influence. In some nearby villages there have been attacks against churches and Christians businesses."

Father Alexander spoke and Butros translated: "If we let Muslims [{who claim to have converted to Christianity}] into our church, we endanger the whole congregation. The police can close down the church. The extremists could gather a mob and burn the church down, and also our homes. It has happened. And the police will not stop them." {p 63}
"Muslims who become followers of Christ pay a high price...[E]ven the genuine converts, they are considered infidels according to Islamic law. By helping them, the church commits a criminal act in the eyes of Islam. If it's discovered that a pastor baptized a former Muslim, that is considered deserving of death." {p 64}
This was the first of what Butros knew would be several long days waiting in government offices so bureaucrats could tell him he needed to fill out another form or provide them with another document. Sometimes the process was legitimate. More often the official wanted bakshish, a bribe to speed the process along. {pp 74-75}
"When my father came home, he and my brother searched my room. They found a Bible and a couple of other books about Christianity, and with the correspondence course, they burned them in the backyard and made me watch. They tore the Bible apart page by page and threw it in the first. 'This is what we think of Christianity,' my brother said as he tore the pages and burned them. 'We don't want this in our house. This is vulgar, immoral.'"

Salima started to cry again, and Nadira pulled a couple of tissues from the box and placed them in the girl's hand. Salima went on to tell about the terrible months that followed. Her father beat her. Her brother removed the television, stereo, and books from her room, and for many weeks she was locked in her room, not permitted to leave. {p 80}
The wife worked at a hospital. She said, "I was denied a promotion because of my husband's conversion. They threatened to have him arrested if I protested."

Another man held his son on his lap as he told how he had been a Christian for three years. "My wife is still a Muslim and her parents are putting pressure on her to leave me and take the children and go back home." {p 89}
"The police surely knew [the crimes we committed], but they left us alone. The Christians have no rights. What can they do?" {p 92}
"Before they are baptized, they could go back to Islam. After baptism there is no going back. It's a death sentence. Any Muslim can kill them." {p 94}
"What possible charges could they face?"

Butros blew out a puff of air, then stopped and looked up at the sky that was turning red in the east. "They could be accused of insulting a heavenly religion. It's illegal to put down any religion, though it's interesting that the law is only enforced when Islam is the religion attacked. They could be accused of threatening national security. They could be accused of blaspheming the Prophet. They could be accused of desecrating the Quran."

"Obviously they haven't done any of those things."

"It doesn't matter. All it takes is one angry Muslim to make the accusation, to say he saw them tear pages out of a Quran or something like that. Or they could be accused of proselytizing, trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. They could be accused of holding an illegal meeting. Or they could just hold them without charges."

"How long can they hold them without charges?"

"Sixty days. But sometimes they extend the incarceration for another sixty days. And then another. They may or may not ever appear in court. And you can be sure they'll be tortured. That's common practice."

"Are their lives in danger?"

"Could they be killed while in prison? Yes. It has happened." {p 118}
It didn't matter that his country had signed the charter of the United Nations that says all citizens enjoy freedom of religion. The laws of Islam superseded all other legal systems. Not only did these officials not respect his freedom to choose what he believed, they treated him as subhuman because of his decision. {p 120}
"[T]here have been other parts of the country where Christian girls were kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. Sometimes they are kept as slaves to the family. Someitmes they are given to a man as a wife and also forced to do slave labor. {p 133}
Carefully the priest explained the challenges that the two would face if they married. "In the eyes of the government, you are both Muslims. Neither of you have changed your identity cards, have you?" Both shook their heads. "Of course not. It is almost impossible to do--unless you are a Christian and become a Muslim. The good news is that means you won't have problems getting a marriage license. It's a lot harder if you have different religions on your cards.

"There is another problem." Both looked up at him. "I don't know if this is the right time to bring it up, but you should think about this before you marry. Your children will be considered Muslims. You need to think about how you will handle that."

They were silent as they thought about this; then Ahmed said, "I want our children to grow up as Christians. This is very important."

"In your home, fine, your children will be Christians. But what about when they go to school? If they have Christian names but their ID cards say Muslim, teachers will ask questions. And how will they relate to fellow students?" {pp 152-153}
As a minority consisting of only 5 percent of the population, it was expected that Christians would be repressed by the Muslim majority. But lately the threats had become more overt. Imams were preaching more provocative sermons, calling Christians infidels and the West enemies of Islam. Local cells of the Muslim Brotherhood were taking a higher profile, and though the government publicly advocated a moerate position, allowing the Christians had historically always been part of the region, local police authorities were generally letting the radicals have their way. Fundamentalists were insisting that women cover their heads, closing down theaters and stores that sold alcohol and pork, and in some cases attacking churches. Young women seemed to face the greatest danger--there were increasing incidents of kidnapping and forced conversions to Islam. There were also cases, especially in larger cities, of inducements to convert to Islam--promises of a better job or a free apartment were attractive incentives to a poor Christian man. {p 170}

24 January 2008

The Lorax and the Unfettered Marketplace



I meant no harm. I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.
I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads
of the Thneeds I shipped out. I was shipping them forth
to the South! To the East! To the West! To the North!
I went right on biggering...selling more Thneeds.
And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.

Dr. Seuss in The Lorax


I am, generally speaking, in favor of a free market. I am sure this comes across in my writing. I know I was hard on Hazlitt when it came to technology, but this doesn't mean I think there should be laws prohibiting technology. I simply think families and businessmen alike would be served well by a heavy dose of wisdom when approaching such things.

Let me begin at the beginning. Did you know that Jamestown was a socialist settlement? If the little village proved anything, it was that socialism doesn't work even on a small scale.

So we here in America learned early on that the only way to encourage hard work is to let a family reap the benefits of that hard work. I have always considered this biblical. The basic law of sowing and reaping. The Bible says that if a man refuses to provide for his own household, he has denied the faith and this is worse than being an unbeliever. Perhaps more direct is the idea that the early church was given a rule: If a man does not work, let him not eat.

Now, we all know that the Bible has plenty of verses concerning the care of the poor. So all I can conclude by reading these verses is that it also encourages individual responsibility.

However, comma...

Like Dr. Seuss, the unrestrained marketplace frightens me a bit. Especially now that this refers not to individual freedom as much as it does to the freedom of huge, faceless, global corporations--corporations that are impossible for Little Old Me to hold accountable if they do something wrong.

This is why we all sigh as we sit by and watch large companies redefine marriage, rename Christmas, or push abortion and birth control and daycare. If we think the politicans are the only ones molding culture on the large scale, we forget that some companies can pass a tolerance policy, and these companies might have more employees than some of the smaller states have citizens.



And then I got mad.
I got terribly mad.
I yelled at the Lorax, "Now listen here, Dad!
All you do is yap-yap and say, 'Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad!'
Well, I have my rights, sir, and I'm telling you
I intend to go on doing just what I do!
And, for your information, you Lorax, I'm figgering
on biggering
and BIGGERING
and BIGGERING
and BIGGERING


I think we all are a little uncomfortable with how big many companies have gotten. And we know intuitively that this means they are outside of our control. Why is it that I can't seem to find a toy for my children that isn't made in China, a socialist nation that forces abortion on its women? Why is it that I feel I must buy second-hand clothing or make it myself if I wish to be certain that it wasn't made by a slave? Why is it that we find that all the food and cough syrup and toothpaste that have been contaminated, either on purpose or simply through carelessness are made who knows where by who knows what company, and there is no real way for the consumer, or even our government, to hold these people accountable?

This, my friends, is the reason why I long for the days of small-town business. Free market? Yes! Absolutely! The unfettered marketplace, but on a small scale, where, if the local shoemaker forced his wife to have an abortion, we could drive our wagon one town over in protest. The individual is incapable of holding a global economy accountable.

In The Lorax, the Once-ler was environmentally irresponsible. He poisoned the pond and the sky. He chased all of the animals out of the area. He cut down every last Truffula Tree. And this is another fear we all have concerning unfettered big business.

And I think it is perhaps a good place to end. Back in the Garden of Eden, before everything went wrong, man was commanded to have dominion over the earth, which is quite different from destroying it utterly. Taking dominion, or part of the process of taking dominion, is sometimes called the Cultural Mandate. My husband writes about this in his upcoming book, so I will try not to steal his thunder here. My point here is simple:

Jesus is the answer.

I don't mean to be trite, but a free economy can only be good and pure and virtuous when it is full of redeemed, sanctified participants. The more participants that are being perfected daily, the better the economy will be. Which is why it is backwards to talk about fixing the economy. Many problems of our day, including the economy, are solved first by solving the problems of the heart.

Our culture is postChristian, meaning that nonChristians are no longer as influenced by Christianity as they once were. And this has an impact on everything, including how businessmen act within a "free market." {Not that our market is free, for it is not, and liberals in both parties, but especially the one with a name starting with D, would love a chance to bind it up even more.} If we are not guided by clean consciences and a thirst for what is good and true and beautiful, we will be guided by vice, and uninhibited vice is almost as scary as socialism.

22 January 2008

Economics in One Lesson {Week Three}

Today is an interesting {ironic?} day on which to be discussing economics. I was watching the overnight markets last night {after my dad alerted us to the situation} with interest. Asia was off, then London, Germany, and France. One article I read said that investors were panicking and running to the "safety of government bonds." Ah, yes, the "safety" of buying an institution's debt.

I think I can safely say we are seeing a bit of the downside of government tinkering in the market, rescuing irresponsible banks, printing fiat currency, etcetera.

On to Hazlitt! What shall we discuss today?

Parity Prices and the Great Depression

The argument for parity prices ran roughly like this. Agriculture is the most basic and important of all industries. It must be preserved at all costs. Moreover, the prosperity of everybody else depends upon the prosperity of the farmer. If he does not have the purchasing power to buy the products of industry, industry languishes. This was the cause of the 1929 collapse, or at least of our failure to recover from it.

I am unfamiliar with all the ramifications of parity prices. However, Ben Bernanke himself took responsibility for the Great Depression. That is, he said that the Federal Reserve caused it. At Milton Friedman's Ninetieth Birthday Party, Bernanke said, "Regarding the Great Depression. You're right, we did it. We're very sorry. But thanks to you, we won't do it again."

Now watch him lower rates today. But I digress. My point is that blaming the Great Depression {and the 1929 crash} on parity pricing overlooks Friedman's assessment that the cause was overall irresponsibility on the part of the Federal Reserve.

I would say it was the mere existence of the Federal Reserve.

But moving on...

Fairness Only Sought When Prices are Unfavorable to Agriculture

Another evidence is that when agricultural prices go above parity, or are forced there by government policies, there is no demand on the part of the farm bloc in Congress that such prices be brought down to parity, or that the subsidy be to that extent repaid. It is a rule that works only one way.
I think this sufficiently reveals that true fairness is not being sought, but rather benefit to one industry {in this instance, agriculture}. Whenever the government tries to meddle and make a situation "fair" for one industry or special group or whatnot, it inevitably makes the same situation "unfair" for others outside said group. This is why free markets are preferable: they are natural rather than artificial.

Rising Prices Thanks to Uncle Sam

But what we are discussing is a rise in farm prices brought about by government intervention...Suppose the wheat which would otherwise sell at $2.50 a bushel is pushed up by this policy to $3. 50. The farmer gets $1 a bushel more for wheat. But the city worker, by precisely the same change, pays $1 a bushel more for wheat in an increased price of bread. The same thing is true of any other farm product.
This type of situation now extends beyond food. We now have the government subsidizing the production of corn for the purpose of "encouraging" E85 fuel production. They are also giving "credit" to automakers that produce cars capable of utilizing E85. I have now read articles blaming rising food prices on the skyrocketing price of corn. This is because corn is often fed to cattle and chicken. If the price of the corn is higher, steak, milk, eggs, and chicken will all cost more. Meanwhile, the price of the diesel gas in the truck that brought you your meat and dairy is also rising. So the government, through its intervention, has actually raised the total cost, without solving any actual problems, which is fairly typical of big government.

By the way, I guarantee you that the free market will produce a solution to the fuel problem. Government intervention slows this process down by distracting us all with corn and E85 and whatnot. The true answer, the best and most workable solution, is probably something totally different. But we will probably ignore it for at least a decade because we have so much invested in E85.

Saving the X Industry

THE LOBBIES OF Congress are crowded with representatives of the X industry. The X industry is sick. The X industry is dying. It must be saved. It can be saved only by a tariff, by higher prices, or by a subsidy.
As a refresher, I thought I'd mention my past post concerning the Discount Window. This is the most popular version of "Save the X Bank." We might be seeing more of this scheme in the days to come. Remember: opening the Discount Window is a tax on us all, a tax in the form of inflation.

Government Subsidies

It is obvious in the case of a subsidy that the taxpayers must lose precisely as much as the X industry gains. It should be equally clear that, as a consequence, other industries must lose what the X industry gains. They must pay part of the taxes that are used to support the X industry. And customers, because they are taxed to support the X industry, will have that much less income left with which to buy other things. The result must be that other industries on the average must be smaller than otherwise in order that the X industry may be larger.
This is hard for our culture to see today, especially when most of us have our hands in the money jar in some way, even if we wish we didn't. Let's make this personal for a moment. How has my life taken money from the taxpayer? Did I go to a goverment school? Did I use a goverment grant or goverment interest-rate-controlled loan to pay for college? Did I use WIC when we were poor and had our first child? Did I work for a company with government grants as a primary source of income? Did I work for the government? This would include working for a government school or university, any governmental agency, and any agency contracted by the government {like social work or foster care}. Does my disabled child receive state aid and state subsidized therapy? Is my apartment rent-controlled? Do I live in low-income housing?

I remember I once looked around my Sunday School class at church and realized that, of all the people with jobs {many of us were mommies}, only two or three had jobs that were not government jobs. We really do all have our hands in the money jar.

My point about all of this is that if our income comes from the taxpayers, we have to realize that there is a taxpayer somewhere who is poorer because of us.

Let Them Die

it is just as necessary to the health of a dynamic economy that dying industries be allowed to die as that growing industries be allowed to grow.
I think the challenge for our generation will be to let the government schools, especially in their current form and with their current prevalance, die their natural death. But this applies to many industries, I'm sure.

What Things Cost

This process is the origin of the belief that prices are determined by costs of production. The doctrine, stated in this form, is not true. Prices are determined by supply and demand, and demand is determined by how intensely people want a commodity and what they have to offer in exchange for it. It is true that supply is in part determined by costs of production. What a commodity has cost to produce in the past cannot determine its value. That will depend on the present relationship of supply and demand.
This is why Si and I are making an offer on a short sale property today that is a hundred thousand dollars below the asking price. Today is a bad day, economically speaking. There are many beautiful houses on the market in our area, and many of those are short sales {meaning the bank already realizes that the current "owners" owe more on the property than the current market says it is worth}. It does not matter that it probably cost more to build the house than we are offering. It does not matter that the owners probably owe more than the asking price, even. What matters is what Si and I, and other buyers out there, are willing to pay and are able to afford.

This is easier to see in real estate, which is why I use the example. Now, let's extend it to the infamous widgets. Say you and your family produce a very special widget and it is near and dear to your heart. You love your widget and you firmly believe that it is worth $20. So you build your little internet website and you list your widget at $20. Let's say you sell a couple, and you get compliments from those customers, but you aren't selling anymore.

So, you do what comes naturally: you have a sale. This allows you to toy with a lower price without committing to it forever. You discover that when you put your widgets on sale for $15, you sell four {or twice as many}. So you decide to experiment with the price, knowing full well it cost you $9 to produce the widget so you "cannot" sell them for less than that. As time goes on, perhaps you discover that your widget sales skyrocket when the widget is $7.

This means that people do not really want widgets, and you need to get out of the widget business, fast. If they are handy, you should continue to make them for yourself. Make an excess and give them as gifts. But don't continue in the widget business.

This is why prices rise and fall and some "good" product lines are cut from production: because, in the end, the cost of production does not dictate the market value of the widget. Or the house. Or whatnot.

The Price-Fixing Beaurocrat

It is only the much vilified price system that solves the enormously complicated problem of deciding precisely how much of tens of thousands of different commodities and services should be produced in relation to each other. These otherwise bewildering equations are solved quasi-automatically by the system of prices, profits and costs. They are solved by this system incomparably better than any group of bureaucrats could solve them. For they are solved by a system under which each consumer makes his own demand and casts a fresh vote, or a dozen fresh votes, every day; whereas bureaucrats would try to solve it by having made for the consumers, not what the consumers themselves wanted, but what the bureaucrats decided was good for them.
Never forget: the politician who wants to give you cheaper gas prices, lower your rent {but not your taxes!}, and give you a better-paying job wants to be your parent, or perhaps your messiah. This is a power play of the worst sort, and once a politician is making decisions for you, your freedom is greatly diminished on a large scale.

Six of One, Half-Dozen of the Other

One of the most frequent is government loans to farmers to enable them to hold their crops off the market.

Such loans are urged in Congress for reasons that seem very plausible to most listeners. They are told that the farmers’ crops are all dumped on the market at once, at harvest time; that this is precisely the time when prices are lowest, and that speculators take advantage of this to buy the crops themselves and hold them for higher prices when food gets scarcer again. Thus it is urged that the farmers suffer, and that they, rather than the speculators, should get the advantage of the higher average price.
Okay...so next time we hear this we need to translate it as: the government is putting a speculator out of business. The government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that one person {the farmer} should be in the hoarding business and the other person {the speculator} should not. This is arbitrary.

Buying Agricultural Votes

When the government steps in, the ever-normal granary becomes in fact an ever-political granary. The farmer is encouraged, with the taxpayers’ money, to withhold his crops excessively. Because they wish to make sure of retaining the farmer’s vote, the politicians who initiate the policy, or the bureaucrats who carry it out, always place the so-called fair price for the farmer’s product above the price that supply and demand conditions at the time justify. This leads to a falling off in buyers. The ever-normal granary therefore tends to become an ever-abnormal granary.
Since I live in a place where huge amounts of food are grown, I find it pertinent to mention that while the government is out there fixing prices and holding crops off the market, there is another arm of government that makes it nearly impossible for farmers to do business. Namely, the environmental groups are constantly battling the farmers in our area over water supply. The result is that there are many small farmers with dead orchards on their properties. They simply couldn't afford to water them any longer.

With one hand they buy the vote and with the other they decide a rare salmon is more important than the nation's food supply, more important than people.

Free Trade or Free Trade?

Just what the government planners mean by free trade in this connection I am not sure, but we can be sure of some of the things they do not mean. They do not mean the freedom of ordinary people to buy and sell, lend and borrow, at whatever prices or rates they like and wherever they find it most profitable to do so. They do not mean the freedom of the plain citizen to raise as much of a given crop as he wishes, to come and go at will, to settle where he pleases, to take his capital and other belongings with him. They mean, I suspect, the freedom of bureaucrats to settle these matters for him. And they tell him that if he docilely obeys the bureaucrats he will be rewarded by a rise in his living standards. But if the planners succeed in tying up the idea of international cooperation with the idea of increased State domination and control over economic life, the international controls of the future seem only too likely to follow the pattern of the past, in which case the plain man’s living standards will decline with his liberties.

Inflation and Price Control

It is the wartime inflation that mainly causes the pressure for price-fixing. At the time of writing, when practically every country is inflating, though most of them are at peace, price controls are always hinted at, even when they are not imposed. Though they are always economically harmful, if not destructive, they have at least a political advantage from the standpoint of the officeholders.By implication they put the blame for higher prices on the greed and rapacity of businessmen, instead of on the inflationary monetary policies of the officeholders themselves.
This is a decoy. If politicians can blame greedy, profiteering businessmen, they can shift the eyes of the public from the Usual Source of public misery: the decisions the politicians themselves have made. Remember what I said in the Discount Window section: it is nothing but a tax through inflation. When we see inflation, we can be pretty sure our government has been printing more money. This is why they do not feel a need to balance the budget. They will simply have the Fed print any money necessary to carry on their special projects, and think nothing of the effects on the average taxpayer.

Who is Responsible?

The argument for holding down the price of these goods will run something like this: If we leave beef {let us say} to the mercies of the free market, the price will be pushed up by competitive bidding so that only the rich will get it. People will get beef not in proportion to their need, but only in proportion to their purchasing power. If we keep the price down, everyone will get his fair share.
I often think that arguments like this {made by rich politicians, mind you} are made to ease the consciences of those who have much. It is much easier to say that the government must make a situation "fair" than to say that, if I have much, I am responsible before God to share with those who have little.

However, virtue is cultivated in a culture when the people begin to care for each other. Passing the responsibility to the government is a sure way to cause warfare among the classes, jealousy, envy, strife...do we see that this cultivates sinful attitudes and behaviors?

The Forgotten Man, Again

What is forgotten is that subsidies are paid for by someone, and that no method has been discovered by which the community gets something for nothing.

Rent Control

Most important, unless the appropriate rent increases are allowed, landlords will not trouble to remodel apartments or make other improvements in them. In fact, where rent control is particularly unrealistic or oppressive, landlords will not even keep rented houses or apartments in tolerable repair.
And then the politicians will vilify these landlords as "slumlords" on the nightly news programs. {Hazlitt actually uses this example later!} I am sure there are some landlords that are truly terrible, but how many are strapped for cash due to government intervention? Our rent recently went up, but not because our landlord got greedy. To the contrary, his property taxes were raised, which meant that our previous rent caused him to lose money on the property every month. It is hard to pay more to live here, but we know we need to pay the owner enough to be able to do small repairs as needed.

Final Note for the Week

This week, when you hear a politician talk or read his words somewhere, try to reason out the ramifications of what he is saying. Don't take his word for it, and don't assume he is telling the whole story. If Obama promises you free {mandatory??} preschool and day care, think about the impact on the family, who will pay for it, and what will really happen to those children.

Think it through.

_______________________

Now go read the rest of the discussion.

18 January 2008

World Is Over: Obama Praises Reagan

National Review Online has the transcript of Obama's interesting marketing move:
I don't want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what's different are the times.I do think that for example the 1980 was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.
I have felt a series on Obama and the Christian brewing in my bones lately. He seems to have turned a lot of heads among the younger generation of Christian voters, and so I want to look at him a bit more closely. Something beyond pointing out that he is, indeed, a Fabian.

Obama is, in my opinion, quite the sly fox. After all, how many people can identify themselves with a popular figure {in this case, Reagan, who is quite popular among the masses} and still stand in opposition to everything said popular figure stood for? Obama is talented. He capitalized on the idea of Reagan, and all the accompanying happy feelings people have about the man.

Even the last portion of the last sentence of this quote takes my breath away:...we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing. Obama's fiscal policies would never, ever lead this country to actual "dynamism and entrepreneurship." But this is key: Obama doesn't say this. He says he wants to return to a sense of such things.

This is key to understanding Obama, and why I say he is a sly fox: he captures a mood, a hope, a vague impression, and a feeling. He does not capture truth or reality.

Next week, I'll try to break this down a bit. For now, let me leave you with this: it is quite obvious that Barak Hussein Obama isn't admiring Reagan's policies or ideas. He is, rather, applauding the fact that Reagan "changed the trajectory of America" and "put us on a fundamentally different path." Obama is speaking the words of a veiled revolutionary. Since he is a socialist, this whole quote begs the question of whether Obama thinks we are ready to forsake our freedom and move toward bondage, and whether he is the man to take us there.

17 January 2008

Secret Believers: I Like it Already!

Grace? Have you started reading yet? Only a couple weeks until our book reports are due. Do they allow reading in the ghetto? He he.

I have to say that this book got me from the very start. The first two-thirds or so {I am not done, but the Prologue explains this} is written as a narrative. I have read a portion, and I can testify that it gives a person a feel for what it might be like to live under the terror that is Islam. Many of the characters are composites, and every story is true. What a fearful thing it is to convert to Christianity in a Muslim culture. And what a miracle!

I am looking forward to the "answers" that will come at the end. I wonder what Brother Andrew's solutions will be to the problems the Christian Churches face in Islamic countries.

Here are a couple paragraphs from the Prologue to whet your appetite:
We are engaged in a fight. Actually a war. It involves the challenge of Islam. Millions of Muslims have settled in Europe and North America, and we must acknowledge that at least some of them hate the West. We've seen the evidence: September 11, the nightclub attack in Bali, the Madrid train bombings, the London subway attacks, Iran, Iraq. Thousands of people have died, and extremist groups like al-Qaeda promise that more attacks are on the way.

But this isn't the war it appears to be. It isn't the war Paul the apostle talked about with Timothy. Rather these events are a reflection of a spiritual war, an unseen conflict. How are we Christians going to respond? With guns and bombs? Is that really our only option? We can assure you this approach won't win a spiritual war. For one thing, it's purely a defensive, reactionary approach. It's time for Christians to go on the offensive.

If anyone else wants to join us in our reading of this book, let me know. We plan to finish and discuss by the end of the month.

15 January 2008

Economics in One Lesson {Week Two}

Before I start with quotes and commentary, allow me to first link to Cindy's post, where you will find interesting commentary and links to other people with interesting commentary on this book. I completely forgot to link to the post last week, and for that I apologize, especially if it means you missed out on reading more about this book.

Secondly, I must admit I read Rick Saenz's post last night. Is this cheating? Not necessarily, but sometimes it isn't a good idea if one is seeking to be original. Thankfully, everything worth thinking has already been thought and we here at Afterthoughts specialize in thinking the same thing, just afterwards.

On to the book!

AMONG THE MOST viable of all economic delusions is the belief that machines on net balance create unemployment.

Mr. Saenz, I thought, dealt with this most interestingly, and I highly suggest you click the link above.

Arkwright invented his cotton-spinning machinery in 1760. At that time it was estimated that there were in England 5,200 spinners using spinning wheels, and 2,700 weavers—in all, 7,900 persons engaged in the production of cotton textiles. The introduction of Arkwright’s invention was opposed on the ground that it threatened the livelihood of the workers, and the opposition had to be put down by force. Yet in 1787—twenty-seven years after the invention appeared—a parliamentary inquiry showed that the number of persons actually engaged in the spinning and weaving of cotton had risen from 7,900 to 320,000, an increase of 4,400 percent.
A couple thoughts here. First, Hazlitt is speaking of total employment, or persons employed by the industry rather than performing a craft. There is a definite difference, and though I can't seem to think it fully through right now, something tells me its important.

Secondly, an "increase of 4400%" might be explained a couple ways. First, there was surely population growth, both from immigration and through the natural course of {uninterrupted} human events. But, secondly, there was surely an increase of consumption. Whenever we begin to do things "more efficiently," an interesting thing seems to happen. We buy more of it. Whereas children used to have one to two sets of play clothes, one pair of pajamas, and one nice outfit for church, and one pair of shoes, they now have closets packed full of clothes for every occasion, very often double what they truly need, and a minimum of two or three pairs of shoes.

Something here tells me that we are not truly efficient. I have written about this before in regards to meal preparation, but I am determined to think this thought again. True efficiency would be doing more in less time and then moving on to do something else. When I think of it this way, it necessitates contentment. If it used to take me twelve hours to make my one church dress and a machine is invented that allows me to make it in three, efficiency is making one dress in three hours. It is not making four dresses. That is materialism or perhaps greed.

We can't look at technology honestly until we address its impact on the heart and soul of a man. Man is a spiritual being, and so a spiritual analysis is necessary.
By 1961 there was no sign that the fallacy had died. Not only union leaders but government officials talked solemnly of “automation” as a major cause of unemployment. Automation was discussed as if it were something entirely new in the world. It was in fact merely a new name for continued technological advance and further progress in labor-saving equipment.
We had a family friend who owned a small, family-run pharmacy. He needed a new pharmacist to keep up with demand. What he ended up with was a robot. In one sense, it is true that someone might have gotten a job {but didn't} because a robot was in existence that could perform the tasks. But what is nearer to the truth is that a robot existed that allowed the business to remain within the family. The robot, by the way, didn't belong to a union, demand triple-time holiday pay, or complain that the boss hurt its feelings. I think we forget that some people hire robots because it has become practically impossible to hire a real person without great difficulty.

In brief, on net balance machines, technological improvements, automation, economies and efficiency do not throw men out of work.
Mr. Saenz pointed this out, but I feel compelled to echo: on net balance is the key phrase here. However, if you were raised to be a weaver and weaving is all you know, being replaced by a weaving machine might do irreparable damage to you, especially if you are older. Machinery often encourages businesses to become big. Although this is not immoral in and of itself, an institution, and organization does not have a soul. By definition it cannot exercise true compassion.

[Machines] are likely to bring more unemployment {but this time I am speaking of voluntary and not involuntary unemployment} because people can now afford to work fewer hours, while children and the overaged no longer need to work.
I disagree. Man was created to work. Work existed before the Fall of Man in Genesis, and it has served him well in his fallen state also. All men, regardless of their age, need meaningful work to do. To the extent that machines allow us to dismiss this fact, to the extent that they encourage us to make childhood and old age a time of selfish pursuit, they are of a negative impact on the soul of our society.

This error lies behind the minute subdivision of labor upon which unions insist. In the building trades in large cities the subdivision is notorious. Bricklayers are not allowed to use stones for a chimney: that is the special work of stonemasons. An electrician cannot rip out a board to fix a connection and put it back again: that is the special job, no matter how simple it may be, of the carpenters. A plumber will not remove or put back a tile incident to fixing a leak in the shower: that is the job of a tile-setter.
Unions drive me crazy, and this is no exception. We accept this sort of nonsense partly because we have already accepted the idea of extreme specialization. Give me a Renaissance man any day, people!

Total national production, the wealth of everybody...
Hazlitt keeps defining wealth in terms of stuff. This seems to me to be a very narrow view. If I defined wealth in these terms, then I would have to look at our society and say it is very, very rich. After all, I have never seen so much stuff as I see being sold today. But my heart aches for the people, who have no depth and often seem incapable of thinking. Choosing a color for their iPod is the big decision for the day? Our country has forgotten what true wealth is and has given it up in pursuit of what moth and rust destroys.

The tailor does not attempt to make his own shoes, but buys them of the shoemaker. The shoemaker does not attempt to make his own clothes, but employs a tailor. The farmer attempts to make neither the one nor the other, but employs those different artificers.
That was Hazlitt quoting Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. I have never read the work, but I would say that this quote manifests a purely materialistic view of the world. Because life is spiritual, I can say with confidence that there is an intangible benefit to knowing how to do many various things for oneself. This is especially true if we begin with the family as the primary economic unit rather than the business. The second Si and I don't know how to fix something ourselves, it costs us money. But knowing how to do something oneself doesn't stop with monetary benefit. The soul of the man is expanded in the process. This is something specialization can never duplicate.

By buying English sweaters they furnish the English with dollars to buy American goods here. This, in fact {if I may here disregard such complications as fluctuating exchange rates, loans, credits, etc.} is the only way in which the British can eventually make use of these dollars. Because we have permitted the British to sell more to us, they are now able to buy more from us. They are, in fact, eventually forced to buy more from us if their dollar balances are not to remain perpetually unused.
So what happens when it isn't the English anymore, but the Chinese and the Middle East. What happens when we send money overseas to those who consider themselves our enemies, and that money comes back to our shores and doesn't buy a sweater but rather real estate? What now, Mr. Hazlitt? Or what happens when something can be purchased cheaper because the company is not employing machines, but rather slaves? Mr. Hazlitt is oversimplifying the idea of buying foreign goods.

Yet among the arguments put forward in favor of huge foreign lending one fallacy is always sure to occupy a prominent place. It runs like this. Even if half {or all} the loans we make to foreign countries turn sour and are not repaid, this nation will still be better off for having made them, because they will give an enormous impetus to our exports.

It should be immediately obvious that if the loans we make to foreign countries to enable them to buy our goods are not repaid, then we are giving the goods away. A nation cannot grow rich by giving goods away. It can only make itself poorer.
I thought Hazlitt did a great job with the issue of foreign aid and I would suggest reading the whole section. As an aside, I feel compelled to mention all this "giving to Africa" going on. People are starving there and so we sit and watch as our government {with the encouragement of Bono, of course} throws money at the poor country. The problems in Africa are primarily caused by poor economic policy, and pouring American dollars into the country does not help the problem. Especially when those dollars are placed into the hands of the same evil dictators that steal from their own people. I doubt the people will ever see those funds, and I wonder at our government's willingness to waste our own money.

If you want to help Africa, I suggest sponsoring a Compassion Child, which is a post I hope to write someday soon.

14 January 2008

R.I.P.

My childhood pet, a dog, passed away at the end of last week. Her name was Tawna, and my sister and I found her, a tiny puppy weighing not quite four pounds, eating a chocolate bar in a gutter near our home.

Can we keep her? we begged our parents. They said yes. I think they had no idea they were committing to almost seventeen years of love and care for this creature.

Tawna's constant companion was a cat named Evie who we aquired about a year later as a kitten. Tawna and Evie had both seemed near-death for years.

This is why I was only a little sad about Tawna's death. It was inevitable, and had been obviously so for quite some time.

My father is getting a bit of slack from some of the female members of our family regarding an email he sent out after Tawna's demise. Si and I found it humourous, but others are crying heartless.

I'll let you be the judge:
I thought it would be appropriate to bury the cat and our dog together but I was unable to catch the cat.

love

dad

11 January 2008

Si Reviews: Summer for the Gods

Si has been putting the finishing touches on his footnotes for The Book {which, by the way, should be coming out in the spring sometime if all goes as planned}. This in turn led to more research. I suppose a book is never really finished. It's just that at some point the author has to decide to be done.

What I think is the final book for the final bit of research is Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion by Edward Larson, Professor of History and Law over at the University of Georgia, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History.

Here is Si's review:





Summer for the Gods
4.5 out of 5 stars


Si says: Larson skillfully presents the multitude of issues--religious, political, legal and cultural--surrounding the famed Scopes Monkey Trial while debunking the church vs. science myths that spun off in the trial's aftermath. While the case did impact fundamentalists' emerging isolation from modern society, it was not a decisive victory for evolutionists, as Inherit the Wind implies. This was a balanced historical analysis that anyone interested in "the trial of the century" should read.

10 January 2008

Brought to You by the Letter Q

I was out of town on Baby Q.'s first birthday {December 31st} and so I never wrote a post about it. But I need to, I must, for how can a mother not reflect a little when coming upon the anniversary of her child's birth?

Q. has brought many {mostly welcome} changes to our life. There is one more little one giggling in the pile of people on the living room floor in the evenings, for instance. When folks ask me about the transition to three, I have to confess it was much, much easier than I had expected. I had heard some major horror stories. But then I also say that it was easy because she was easy, as far as babies go. I imagine transitioning to three could be a nightmare if the baby had colic!

But that is Q.: clean, neat, easy, and sweet. Even during our end of the year Food Poisoning Party, Q., the baby of the family, made it to the bucket and prevented many a midnight floor shampooing. She was our favorite child that week.

Q. also made us a "large" family in the eyes of others, which has been so interesting to us since we don't think three children is exactly something to panic about. Older moms at church {those Titus 2 women?} look at me and assure me that I must be exhausted or overwhelmed and that they have no idea what they would do if they were me. I joke with Si that I will count how many people tell us we "have our hands full" on the way from the parking lot to the church door. I actually had a woman tell me how sorry she was for me when I was out buying two different sizes of diapers this time last year.

Yes, Q. has given us a taste for how the world--and the church--really view children.

But I think the strangest change of all has been in Q. herself. There were the Usual Changes: going from a squeaky, helpless, weak babe, to a toddler who is, as I type, throwing toy eggs at her older siblings. But there was one other change that is most notable.

Does anyone remember that Q. was born with black hair? I had had dreams that this baby would have dark hair, so it was no real surprise for me, but Si was a bit in shock and put a hat on her for many days to "make her look right." You see, E. was born bald and was still bald on his first birthday. I don't think he had his first haircut until he was almost three, and by that time he had a head of strawberry-blonde curls. A. was born with strawberry fuzz and still has never had a haircut.

Q. has as much hair now as the others did at two. But the interesting thing is that her hair is no longer black. It has slowly faded and lightened. I remember saying something about my "dark-headed baby" and the woman I was talking to looked mystified. It was then that I realized that, somehow, Baby Q. had begun to look like the others.

Here is a recent photo {no faces...sorry, folks} of Q. with E.:





09 January 2008

Frugal Moments: School Books

Homeschooling can be pricey. Of course, buying real books {in comparison to buying textbooks} tends to be cheaper. But the fact remains that when a family needs to run a tight ship, all the little real books can add up in price.

While I was in Franklin, Tennessee this past week, my mother-in-law introduced me to a little bookseller in an older strip mall. {This is not to be confused with the seller downtown who has beautiful, leather-bound used editions going for $95 a pop.}

I initially feared this would be a waste of my time. This is because I asked the man in the store to look at my list {always carry a list} and he didn't recognize the name of the authors, including James Baldwin. Now, I don't think that everyone needs to know who Baldwin is, but a bookseller that looks at my list with confusion frightens me.

Thankfully, this man was not the owner of the store.

I was soon greeted by a warm older woman who grabbed my list and ran around the store gathering up books. And I walked away with six books for twelve dollars, which is a really great price when I consider I couldn't have bought two of them for that price new.

Before I tell you what I got, let me emphasize what I think is the key to book buying: carry a list. I have many book lists. One for me, one for Si, various children's books, and then there is the running list for school. Since we are starting Ambleside for school next year, I have made that list my priority. Even though I will eventually need all or most of the books on the Ambleside list {and many books are used for more than one year}, I limit myself to carrying the list for only the first two years. This way I am not spending money too far out into the future. Once we have all we need for Year One, I will begin searching for Year Three, and so on.

Here are my treasures. Only the last book is not an official Ambleside book. We are collecting children's biographies from the 1950s, and it was such a beautiful library copy, I simply couldn't resist. At three dollars, it was my most expensive purchase.





The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew

This one was only a dollar (even though it was hardback) because it had fallen to the floor and split the cover. A little packing tape should remedy the situation just fine. The pages are still tight, and that is the real test.




A Wonder Book: For Boys and Girls

Written by Nathaniel Hawthorne and possessing a frightening cover, I think E. and I might read this when the girls are sleeping.




The Door in the Wall





Mr. Popper's Penguins




The Story of Doctor Dolittle

There is a beautifully illustrated hardbound copy of this book {by Michael Hague, of course} that I hope to own one day {or give to one of the children as a gift}. But this little paperback will do nicely in the meantime.




Mr. Bell Invents the Telephone

I don't think this link is to the book I actually bought. What I have in my hot little hands is a cloth-covered hardback, beautifully embossed, unabridged {over 180 pages including the index} edition published in 1952 by Random House. Nice.

08 January 2008

Economics in One Lesson {Week One}

Reading Henry Hazlitt's work, Economics in One Lesson feels like coming home to me. So far, I already know all of this! This was an exciting revelation for me. I wasn't homeschooled, but we did eat dinner as a family, together, almost every night. My mom always told us to let my father talk. And so we listened. We sat nightly at the feet of a man whose work was closely tied to Wall Street and learned much more than I realized at the time.

If you want to know much of the content of said dinner conversations {rants?} during my formative years, read this book. Then, my writing of Back in the USSA will make sense to you.

Early on, Hazlitt defines economics as an art:
The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.
This is what I have been trying to do with my vain attempts at anti-socialist fiction: put a face to those who have been forgotten. If it is a fallacy to forget to consider all groups in regard to both the immediate and long-term effects to a given economic policy, then Socialism is the ultimate fallacy.

At this point, I must confess that there is so much in Hazlitt's work that I am tempted to go a million directions at once. I think I will just follow his work and choose some of my favorite excerpts for commentary and reflection.

Who is forgotten?

In chapter 2, Hazlitt applies the most basic economic fallacies:
A young hoodlum, say, heaves a brick through the window of a baker’s shop. The shopkeeper runs out furious, but the boy is gone. A crowd gathers, and begins to stare with quiet satisfaction at the gaping hole in the window and the shattered glass over the bread and pies. After a while the crowd feels the need for philosophic reflection. And several of its members are almost certain to remind each other or the baker that, after all, the misfortune has its bright side. It will make business for some glazier. As they begin to think of this they elaborate upon it. How much does a new plate glass window cost? Two hundred and fifty dollars? That will be quite a sum. After all, if windows were never broken, what would happen to the glass business? Then, of course, the thing is endless. The glazier will have $250 more to spend with other merchants, and these in turn will have $250 more to spend with still other merchants, and so ad infinitum. The smashed window will go on providing money and employment in ever-widening circles. The logical conclusion from all this would be, if the crowd drew it, that the little hoodlum who threw the brick, far from being a public menace, was a public benefactor.

Si was once at a meeting where the Public Information Officer for the US's largest pension fund declared that every one dollar paid to County retirees generated seven dollars of local economic activity once said dollar was spent. This never made any sense to us. Oh, sure, the person presenting such a "fact" had some sort of fancy equation to "prove" that this was true. But let's think through this, Hazlitt style.

Who was forgotten?

The taxpayer, naturally. And we have no estimate on how many dollars are stolen taxed to pay the one dollar to a retiree. After all, taxpayers are not writing a check directly to the retiree. No, there is a huge, cumbersome, beaurocratic middle-man that surely takes some sort of cut.

It is perhaps true that the one dollar generates seven dollars of local economic activity {which I take to mean that it changes hands seven times before leaving town}, but there was no estimate for how much economic activity would be generated by allowing the taxpayer to keep his own money and do with it as he pleased.

As an aside, there are also ethical considerations. Should a taxpayer be forced to pay for employees who are no longer working? When does a tax cross the line and become stealing, allowing one to live from the pockets of another?

Printing Money and Raising the Minimum Wage

Hazlitt also considers the idea of printed money:
Now money can be run off by the printing press. As this is being written, in fact, printing money is the world’s biggest industry—if the product is measured in monetary terms. But the more money is turned out in this way, the more the value of any given unit of money falls. This falling value can be measured in rising prices of commodities. But as most people are so firmly in the habit of thinking of their wealth and income in terms of money, they consider themselves better off as these monetary totals rise, in spite of the fact that in terms of things they may have less and buy less.

Suggested reading: The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve by Griffin.

Also, I would encourage my readers to think whenever they hear a politician promise to raise the minimum wage. I remember in high school I had a job that paid above minimum wage. And then the minimum wage was raised. Of course, my wage wasn't raised. So before the wage hike, I had made perhaps fifty cents per hour more than minimum wage, and after the wage hike the difference was perhaps twenty-five cents.

Raise your hand if you understand that the effect of this was that I made less money the second the minimum wage was raised. Think of minimum wage as a baseline. Any time it is raised, you have to figure out how to either make more or cut somewhere because your money just became worth less, which is frighteningly close to being worthless sometimes.

Famous magic words: "It's for the children."

Hazlitt touches another hot spot when he writes:
Many of the most frequent fallacies in economic reasoning come from the propensity, especially marked today, to think in terms of an abstraction—the collectivity, the “nation”—and to forget or ignore the individuals who make it up and give it meaning. No one could think that the destruction of war was an economic advantage who began by thinking first of all of the people whose property was destroyed.
Hazlitt was writing, I think, about fifty years ago. Today, everything is done "for the children." Say this magic phrase, and the California legislature will give you what you ask for. In fact, I feel an anecdote coming on.

California changed the carseat laws from 4-years-old or 40 pounds to 6-years-old or 60 pounds. Besides spending fifty or so dollars for an additional carseat, our family had to buy a new, larger car when our third was born, even though, under the prior law, we would have fit fine in our compact car. But the law is "for the children" and so there is no recourse. No one cares that the children will eat beans instead of steak because Dad and Mom had to pay for the new car they only bought to comply with a carseat law.

But it gets worse here on the Left Coast. Once families began buying bigger cars, the environmentalists began to wail. Evil SUVs were flooding our freeways. Why were parents driving these huge, gas-guzzling cars? No one made the connections between the SUVs, minivans, and the carseat laws. Instead, they criticized the parents who were doing what they could to comply with the law.

Will they change the carseat laws to enable three-child families to fit into a compact car? Absolutely not. Instead they will tell you that having large families should be frowned upon as an environmental misdemeanour. According to this logic, we should not have had Baby Q. {Toddler Q.? She's walking, you know.}

Which brings me to a point, and I am sure you were hoping I would make one sooner or later: almost every policy or political action is economic in nature. It is also spiritual in nature, but that is not what we are talking about today. A carseat law is not just a carseat law. In this case, it required thousands of dollars for our family and proceeded to encourage liberals to mumur amongst themselves about the evils of those families out there driving an SUV.

And so I would encourage you to think about how you vote. If you are voting for a bond measure, you are voting to take money from not only yourself but also your neighbor and give it to the government. If you are voting for a politician who wants to raise the minimum wage, you are actually voting to simply raise the baseline and your own money will be worth less {worthless?}.

And this is why Hazlitt says we must look at both the short term and the long term effects. This is why we must consider all groups, not just "the children."

Hazlitt writes:
For every dollar that is spent on the bridge a dollar will be taken away from taxpayers. If the bridge costs $10 million the taxpayers will lose $10 million. They will have that much taken away from them which they would otherwise have spent on the things they needed most.
Some things sound so good for me in the short term, but I have a responsibility to reason out the full effects of a bridge, or even a carseat.

The government as Robin Hood: taking money from A to give to B

The government spenders forget that they are taking the money from A in order to pay it to B. Or rather, they know this very well but while they dilate upon all the benefits of the process to B, and all the wonderful things he will have which he would not have had if the money had not been transferred to him, they forget the effects of the transaction on A. B is seen; A is forgotten.
Suggested reading: The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.

Taxes discourage productivity and the formation of new businesses

In our modern world there is never the same percentage of income tax levied on everybody. The great burden of income taxes is imposed on a minor percentage of the nation’s income; and these income taxes have to be supplemented by taxes of other kinds. These taxes inevitably affect the actions and incentives of those from whom they are taken. When a corporation loses a hundred cents of every dollar it loses, and is permitted to keep only fifty-two cents of every dollar it gains, and when it cannot adequately offset its years of losses against its years of gains, its policies are affected. It does not expand its operations, or it expands only those attended with a minimum of risk. People who recognize this situation are deterred from starting new enterprises. Thus old employers do not give more employment, or not as much more as they might have; and others decide not to become employers at all.
Once upon a time Si and I seriously considered starting our own business. When we did the math, the taxes levied by the state made the business a failure from the outset. We had dreamed of this beautiful family business which we felt would not only be an enjoyable endeavor, but enable us to train our son to be a good businessman as he matured and offer meaningful work to even our youngest members. Between high federal and state taxes, plus the burden of numerous OSHA restrictions, we decided owning a business was too much for us--we would never be able to afford employees.

Big Brother: meddling in home mortgages, breaking down character

Government-guaranteed home mortgages, especially when a negligible down payment or no down payment whatever is required, inevitably mean more bad loans than otherwise. They force the general taxpayer to subsidize the bad risks and to defray the losses. They encourage people to “buy” houses that they cannot really afford. They tend eventually to bring about an oversupply of houses as compared with other things. They temporarily overstimulate building, raise the cost of building for everybody (including the buyers of the homes with the guaranteed mortgages), and may mislead the building industry into an eventually costly overexpansion. In brief in the long run they do not increase overall national production but encourage malinvestment.
Does this sound familiar to anyone? I was so tired that I actually turned on the television for a while on Sunday night {first time in many months, I must say}. I was watching a local real estate show with interest. The two hosts seemed to think that this current real estate crisis came out of nowhere, was completely unexpected.

My husband was in loans for a few years, during the boom actually. We marveled that people would qualify for loans, but qualify they did. The rates had gotten so low, and the government had so loosened restrictions, that people were permitted to be foolish--to purchase houses they simply could not afford!

There were many economic consequences to this, but this time I simply must raise the spiritual issue: what sort of character were the banks {who were complicit with the government agencies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae} encouraging in our citizens? What sort of greed and materialism took root in many families during the boom? Let's forget the current bust for a moment and ask whether the boom--manufactured as it was by government employees tinkering with the system rather than real and true flourishing of the industry--was beneficial to the soul of the people.