Friday, April 29, 2011

Women of Faith

In this very large city where I live, there is an active interfaith community. One of the regular events is a Women of Faith dinner, held several times a year. The host religion invites women of all faiths to come to their building, learn about their religion, have a dinner—usually vegetarian to accommodate the various religious requirements, but also to be a cultural culinary experience. At the various tables where we eat, we discuss our varied religions. Usually there are some prompt questions to help get the sharing started.

I have been to six now: my own, a historic black church, then the Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, and last night Zoroastrians. Besides being very educational, each of these events has been personally spiritually uplifting. There is a sense of safety, of interest to learn without condemnation, of wanting to understand—a willingness to be friends.

At my table last night there were two Zoroastrians (immigrated from India and Pakistan, and very happy to be living here), a well-versed Catholic woman, a Unitarian, and young Muslim woman. Our conversation was a delight. The young Muslim woman, a third grade teacher at a Muslim school, was especially enlightening, since I haven’t been to a mosque yet. She grew up in Minnesota, plus spent a number of years on military bases, with her parents. So while her heritage is Indian (or possibly Pakistani, I forget), she is very American.

She is Sunni, but to her there is a fluidity among sects. In this city she says there is little separation between Sunni and Shia, as there is in many war-torn countries, and she would probably be welcome wherever she chose to attend in the city. But she is comfortable with the local mosque she knows, that feels familiar. About half of US Muslims, she said, are African American, and they do tend to worship separately, probably more for cultural than doctrinal differences.

She isn’t married yet, and her parents are leaving that to her—no matchmaker as they’d had in their generation. But dating is only for courtship, which so far hasn’t led to anything. She is young and pretty, so I’m sure marriage and family will come. All the subjects she teaches are in English, but she does believe in learning scripture verses in Arabic, for girls as well as boys. If this young woman were the face of Islam worldwide, I would see her religion only as peace and goodness. And it is likely this is true of the vast majority of people of her faith.

The Zoroastrians summed up their code as: good thoughts, good words, good deeds. I have no argument with that. In fact, every time I have attended a Women of Faith event, I have encountered women who abide by their faith tradition because they believe it makes them better people and brings them greater peace and happiness in life. Women of most faiths value truth, honesty, family, passing along their values to their children, respecting others, making good choices, and sharing with others.

Some time ago a friend my husband grew up with was working on a book about talking about religion, a way of asking questions, exploring without judgment, for greater understanding. It was a good idea, but as I read a couple of sample chapters I thought, that is what we do here. Let the women get together to share an evening together, and the result is peace, friendship, and understanding.

I am a firm in my own religion, and I believe that if everyone believed and lived according to my religion, we would have not only worldwide peace but also flourishing civilization. But since we don’t all believe the same, my plan B belief is that if everyone earnestly strived to live their own religion, emphasizing truth, goodness to one another, and strong families, then civilization would have more than just a fighting chance; it would just about be guaranteed.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Speaker for the Dead and Civilization

The particular purpose, or strength, of fantasy and science fiction is to create a parallel world that gives us an opportunity to examine our own world while we think we are examining something totally foreign. The original Star Trek series dealt with the classic conflict between heart and mind. Bones was the passionate emotional influence; Spock was the dispassionate intellectual influence. Kirk, representing the struggle we have, had to figure out how to balance the two.

A similar trio shows up in Harry Potter. Ron Weasley is the passionate emotional influence; Hermione Grainger is the dispassionate intellectual influence (although in the movies she portrays some typically emotional female tendencies that kind of distort her old in the trio). Harry, like us, must be influenced by both to find the right balance. But the books have other comparisons with our world as well. There is racial and class discrimination. There is a classic conflict between good and evil. “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities,” Dumbledore tells Harry when Harry is worried about similarities between himself and his arch nemesis, Voldemort.

So, anyway, I do occasionally read fantasy and science fiction, looking through that lens at our world. During the recent road trip I read Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card’s sequel (first sequel of several, I think) to Ender’s Game. There’s an introduction by Card in the paperback edition I read, and he makes some comments about science fiction in general, and about what he is attempting, that I thought were insightful.

p. xvi-xvii: Not only did they have no parents, few science fiction heroes seemed to marry and have kids. In short, the heroes of most science fiction novels were perpetual adolescents, lone rangers who wandered the universe avoiding commitments. This shouldn’t be surprising. The romantic hero is invariably one who is going through the adolescent phase of human life….
            The romantic hero is unconnected. He belongs to no community; he is wandering from place to place, doing good (as he sees it), but then moving on. This is the life of the adolescent, full of passion, intensity, magic, and infinite possibility; but lacking responsibility, rarely expecting to have to stay and bear the consequences of error. Everything is played at twice the speed and twice the volume in the adolescent—the romantic—life….
            Most science fiction dealt with adolescent heroes, yes—but only because most fiction deals with adolescents. This is not to say that fiction about adolescents is necessarily adolescent fiction, either in the sense of being for an adolescent audience or in the sense of being undeveloped or immature fiction. Still, most storytellers invent their fables about the lives of footloose heroes—or heroes who become footloose for the sake of the story. Who but the adolescent is free to have the adventures that most of us are looking for when we turn to storytellers to satisfy our hunger?
            And yet to me, at least, the most important stories are the ones that teach us how to be civilized: the stories about children and adults, about responsibility and dependency. Not being an adult myself, I had concentrated for many years on the child’s point of view, but with Speaker for the Dead I was old enough, and perhaps (finally) civilized enough, to create the small community of the family from an adult perspective—not necessarily the parent’s viewpoint, but rather the viewpoint of an adult who felt responsibility toward the family.

That’s the kind of story I’m interested in, the stories that “teach us how to be civilized.”

Much of the conflict in this book is coming to understand how different cultures think differently—as well as how individuals think differently. In Ender’s Game, Ender is trained to play an ever more challenging game, including players under his command. When he wins the final round, after years of training and playing, away from him family, he learns that he was in fact commanding an actual attack on a different civilization, the buggers, which were a threat to humankind. He had committed xenocide without even knowing it.

In Speaker for the Dead, he has traveled the universe, looking for a way to redeem himself. Three thousand years have passed since the xenocide (but he has experienced aging only up to age 35, because of the magic of traveling near light speed), and humankind regrets the xenocide that the “evil” Ender committed. On a new colony planet, another species of person, the piggies, kill two of the scientists there to study them. Ender goes there with the attitude that, if he loves them, he will understand them. This goes for the piggies as well as for the family in crisis he finds there, who have suffered the losses.

Ender is pretty nearly perfect at this stage in his life. And yet we do learn from him, as well as some of the author’s observations. So I’ll share just a few of those.

p. 45, concerning the childhood story of an encounter on a playground between bullies and a large quiet boy: “Of course they accused Marcão of having done it without provocation—that’s the way of torturers of every age, to put the blame on the victim, especially when he strikes back.”

p. 336, Ender to the piggy called Human:
To grow until all the space you can see is part of you, under your control. It’s the desire for greatness. There are two ways, though, to fulfil it. One way is to kill anything that is not yourself, to swallow it up or destroy it, until nothing is left to oppose you. But that way is evil. You say to all the universe, Only I will be great, and to make room for me the rest of you must give up even what you already have, and become nothing. Do you understand, Human, that if we humans felt this way, acted this way, we could kill every piggy in Lusitania and make this place our home. How much of your dream would be left, if we were evil?

p. 370, conversation between Ender and the 12-year-old boy Olhado, when the boy learns that he is the Ender of legend. Olhado begins: “It’s funny. Before you got here, the Bishop tried to tell us all that you were Satan. Quim’s the only one in the family that took him seriously. But if the Bishop had told us you were Ender, we would have stoned you to death in the praça the day you arrived.”
            “Why don’t you now?”
            “We know you now. That makes all the difference, doesn’t it? Even Quim doesn’t hate you now. When you really know somebody, you can’t gate them.”
            “Or maybe it’s just that you can’t really know them until you stop hating them.”

p. 371, when Ender, along with Olhado, places the last remaining hive queen of the buggers in the place on Lusitania he has prepared for her, so the xenocide he committed can be overcome. Olhado starts:
“And today we found the place to bring her back to life….Are you sure she won’t try to get even? Are you sure she won’t try to wipe out humankind, starting with you?”
            “I’m as sure,” said Ender, “as I am of anything.”
            “Not absolutely sure,” said Olhado.
            “Sure enough to bring her back to life,” said Ender. “And that’s as sure as we ever are of anything. We believe it enough to act as though it’s true. When we’re that sure, we call it knowledge. Facts. We bet our lives on it.”
            “I guess that’s what you’re doing. Betting your life on her being what you think she is.”
            “I’m more arrogant that that. I’m betting your life, too, and everybody else’s, and I’m not so much as asking anyone else’s opinion.”
            “Funny,” said Olhado. “If I asked somebody whether they’d trust Ender with a decision that might affect the future of the human race, they’d say, of course not. But if I asked them whether they’d trust the Speaker for the Dead, they’d say yes, most of them. And they wouldn’t even guess that they were the same person.”

Key ingredients in civilization are love, truth, and trust. Also in our world.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Commencement

I'm Back!

The last post, which I wrote Sunday evening, April 17th, and set to post the following morning, was not only the last time I could connect to the internet, it was the last chance I had to sit and write. A news fast (doing without) has reminded me of a better perspective. When I began the Spherical Model blog to support the website, I expected to write more often on culture/civilization issues than on political or economic issues, since civilization is key to success in the other spheres. But I get so easily distracted by current news that I have tended to bring up economic issues most often. So, I am retrenching at this point. I am sure timely issues in all three spheres will still come up. But I do intend to lean a little heavier on how to bring about civilization.

We had a great trip. The 25-hour drive (each way) was long, but some of the scenery was spectacular (some of it was wide open nothingness as well). The graduation for my son Economic Sphere was memorable. He has attended the same large private church-sponsored university Mr. Spherical Model and I attended some decades ago. So I’ve been to a number of commencement exercises there before. I heard Milton Friedman at a commencement once. Eudora Welty spoke at my convocation (the exercise by college where you actually walk and get handed a diploma—or diploma cover, the real thing comes later in the mail).

This April’s 6185 graduates represented all 50 states, 305 US territories (if I wrote that number right; how many territories do we have?) and 72 other countries. In the Economics program, from which Economic Sphere graduated, there were about a dozen girls among a hundred graduates. This was in the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, and in the Family Life major the odds were about opposite.

I love my alma mater; it was my goal as a homeschool teacher to prepare my kids so they would have the opportunity to choose this university. Entering freshmen average 28.2 on the ACT (that’s equivalent to about a 1250 combined score on the SAT). Back in the day, I received a scholarship with a score of 29, so in a world where standards are generally trending downward, more than ever is expected of the student body here. We were reminded of the unique mission: education should be “spiritually enlightening, intellectually enlarging, character building, and leading to lifelong service and learning.”

This commencement was significant in seeming very much like a church meeting. There is a lot of concern about the state of the economy and the world in turmoil, so there was less emphasis on secular and intellectual concerns and more on spiritual solutions. If there was an overall theme among the speakers, it was to follow Christ and serve others. Here are a few of the recommendations:

  • Go forth to serve.
  • Learn how to learn to become your own teacher.
  • The pattern for success and happiness includes:
    • Identifying and acting on principles to guide every aspect of life.
    • Don’t make exceptions to these principles.
    • Live so that the Lord can guide you to where He wants you to serve.
    • Smile—no matter how you feel.
    • Don’t complain—life is not always fair, but it is always charged with marvelous expectations.
    • Use the Savior Jesus Christ as your example for life.
  • Have faith, hope and charity.
  • Listen to the Holy Spirit.
  • Strive to keep learning, give thanks, and help others.

The Dean during the convocation mentioned that right now it is difficult to find jobs (Economic Sphere is still applying, which makes us nervous), and “you may not be able to pursue plan A. My advice is to have a plan B and a plan C.” Working hard on a different plan could eventually lead to the original plan A, or become your new plan A.

You could sense from the educators a love for the students, and a desire for them to become as effective and productive in life as possible. I am grateful that I have been able to send my children to a place that shared those desired with me—a place that leads pretty directly to civilization.


Monday, April 18, 2011

On the Road--Odessa

On the road trip we ended up in Odessa for a night. Mr. Spherical Model has some Iraqi engineers being trained in oil industry equipment and systems for several months, and he wanted to drop in and visit them. So I got to meet with them for a while and learn a little about their country and culture: Mustafa, Sajjat, Abduljabbar, and Hayder (I may have messed up their names).

Some of them were old enough to remember life before and after Saddam, which is something they note with many contrasts. Among the big dictators, they said, Saddam Hussein was worse than Hitler and Stalin; while they killed many of their own people, he killed one in five. It was never safe.

Hayder said he had a brother who left Iraq around 1991, after the first Gulf War, and ended up in Canada. This brother had a friend who wrote about the evils of Saddam’s rule in some publication, and one day on the street in Canada a truck came up and ran him down, killing him. The assumption was that it was the reach of Saddam Hussein even beyond the borders of a free country; the perpetrators were never found or prosecuted.

Many of the Iraqis are educated; these four are engineers, some with quite a lot of experience. But during Hussein’s rule they could not learn English, so dealing with the rest of the world was difficult. The government owned all the country’s resources, and they were hired to do work they were told to do, and that was all. Now they are learning English, improving their training, traveling and working with people from around the world.

Parts of the country now, they tell me, are quite safe. Basra, in the south, is considered very safe and stable. In the north, where there is still some fighting, things aren’t as safe. However, they made sure I understood that practically all Iraqis are in favor of the current post-Hussein government and want it to succeed. Those fighting are from other countries, mainly Saudi and Iran, who are fighting each other on Iraqi soil.

They are sometimes astonished at the cost of things here. For what it cost to go to an emergency room recently, they could have visited a doctor five or six times. (Mr. Spherical Model is giving them insurance cards; that was one of the purposes of the drop-in visit. And he explained about going to a doctor or clinic instead of a hospital.) Sales tax is another little culture shock; you see a price and think you have enough to pay, and then when you check out you find out it costs more. Personally, I think there should always be both the price and the price you pay on everything.

One little nagging detail is that their current government is so new, not everything is up and functioning. Electricity is spotty. They get maybe four hours a day. It was hot here today, about 95 degrees, and we really needed air conditioning. I don’t know how they can survive with only an occasional dose of cool air. I asked what they do, and they said, “We drink hot tea,” because there’ no cold water.

Driver’s licenses are another glitch of a government not fully up and running. Over there, when a license expires, they don’t worry about it; they just drive without a license, and that’s acceptable for the time being. But since they’re in the US, without a driver’s license, they can’t rent a car. And in Odessa that is very limiting. No driving to Carlsbad Caverns for a tourist weekend. No going much of anywhere. And they are here for months at a time without their wives and children, so passing the time is a challenge. Restaurants that meet their (mostly vegetarian) needs is also a challenge, but they seem content to do their own cooking.

They have been hearing about tornadoes on the news, which devastated some parts of the Midwest and North Carolina (oddly enough) this weekend. They wondered why we don’t build all our building of cement and have steel plates that can come down over the windows whenever there is a threat. I don’t know if we can adequately answer that. It’s too expensive, and concrete isn’t that attractive. And if a tornado hits, it’s like an explosion, so maybe nothing can do more than mitigate damage. You just get in a sheltered room and hope it doesn’t hit. “Like being bombed,” they said.

Their openness, friendliness, and willingness to learn and meet with the world was very encouraging. Mr. Spherical Model says he thinks they are fairly representative, at least of southern Iraqis. I hope that is true; I believe it is.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Road Trip

Since I began this blog Friday, March 4th, I’ve been posting every weekday and some Saturdays. But that schedule is about to be somewhat interrupted. Mr. Spherical Model and I are taking a road trip to go see our son Economic Sphere graduate with his Economics degree (and then bring Social Sphere home for the summer).

I had envisioned writing during the drive, and then posting at night at motels along the way, but that might not be possible. And when we arrive at our destination, we’ll be staying with my mother, where phones are connected to walls and the last computer there (which my mother did not use) was pre-pentium chip antique. So when I can post is anyone’s guess.

In the meantime, I suggest reading anything and everything by Thomas Sowell, for economic and political commentary (Uncommon Knowledge is soon to do another interview with him, so that’s something to look forward to). And for civilization info, try exploring information available at United Families International and check out their Family Issues Guides.

I’m still hoping I can check in several times during the next week and a half. And I expect to post regularly again after that.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Atlas Shrugged and the Sphere, Part III

This is Part III of my response to Atlas Shrugged, to get you ready to see the movie that opens today. (See Wednesday and Thursday's posts for Part I and Part II.) Economically, the philosophy of the book is fairly sound. When you’re figuring out whether an economic policy is in the northern or southern hemisphere of the Spherical Model, the primary question to ask is whether the person who makes the money decides how to spend it. Ayn Rand’s philosophy definitely places spending power in the hands of the producer of the wealth. So, definitely northern hemisphere.

Socially/morally, however, there are essential pieces missing. The book claims self-interest and independence as the highest morality. But there’s much of life that this philosophy doesn’t reach.

Dagny symbolizes much of what the author is taking us through. So, what Dagny misses, we can assume Ayn Rand is missing. Dagny is sexual but infertile. She has a sexual relationship as a 17-year-old with the older D’Anconia (technically statutory rape, but presented here as a positive, with them both thinking it through as the logical behavior). There are no negative consequences for the out-of-wedlock sex, nor even a hint that there could be negative consequences. A pregnant teenage Dagny might not have become an industrial giant at 30.

Dagny later has a sexual relationship with the married Hank Rearden. It is consensual, and his marriage is a sham, portrayed as a trap caused only by the rules set by the looters (no possibility that the institution of marriage has values in itself beyond and before the looters’ search for power). This relationship goes on for a couple of years, ending only after Dagny meets John Galt and therefore turns her sexual desires to him, because as the most desirable female (based on her productive ability and problem-solving brain power) she must logically fit with the most desirable male.

Oddly enough, when D’Anconia, who (despite the playboy rumors he had been creating about himself) has been saving himself for the time when he can reunite in honor with Dagny, because there is no other woman for him, finds out about Rearden, he’s OK with it and concedes relationship defeat without resistance. Again, when he sees Dagny’s desire for John Galt, whom D’Anconia loves for his value system, he’s totally fine with that. He will, apparently, go the rest of his life without a mate, because he didn’t quite deserve Dagny, and no other woman could possibly be worthy. And he has no resentment or jealousy. Hmmm.

And when Rearden sees her again, after her month lost at the Colorado colony, he guesses, almost without a clue, that she has found someone else, and he simply has no problem with it. He will, apparently, go the rest of his life without a mate, because he didn’t quite deserve Dagny, and no other woman could possibly be worthy. And he has no resentment or jealousy. Hmmm. (Yes, that is an uncanny and unlikely repeat of D’Anconia’s behavior.)

The Colorado colony has very few women. Of those mentioned, one is a famous actress, very skilled in her craft, married to Ragnar Danneskjold, childless. The other is, ironically, a homeschooling mother; she left the outer world where the government was preventing her from teaching her children except as government required. (I related to her.) Almost all of the disappearing industrialists involved in the brain strike just happen to be unencumbered by wife and family. It is suggested that no more women are likely to be allowed into the colony. Galt mentions that husband and wife have a mutual agreement in what they offer one another, so marriage isn’t necessarily a parasitic relationship (a token respect for marriage, at least). So when Rand mostly excludes women from Galt’s world, it may be that she thinks women in large part are not logical enough, not independent enough, not self-interested enough, not productive enough. Men unencumbered by family tend to be better human specimens, in her view.

The colony men seem to be perfectly content with the absence of women. Heads up: a movement that does not/cannot reproduce and pass along its philosophy to the next generation will die off after the current generation.

If nothing else, Rand shows that she doesn’t understand the male mind, productive or not. Nor does she understand that industrial capacity is not necessarily the most desirable trait in a woman for every productive man. Nor does she understand or value procreation, which is absolutely essential for continuation of the human species, and that in its natural form with mother and father raising their own children into adulthood is essential for inculcating the values that allow for civilization.

The fact of life is that, when a parent brings a child into this world—which is the natural and likely consequence of a sexual relationship, no matter how unlikely Rand made it in 1069 pages—the parents then, for the sake of the child, for their own happiness as parents, and for the sake of civilization, owe it to that child to relieve the child of the impoverished, shelterless, unlearned state he is born in until the child grows to adulthood, at which time making the decision to be independent is an option.

Swearing Galt’s oath, not to expect anyone to live for him (provide for him) isn’t an option for a child. Swearing not to live for someone else isn’t even relevant when the youngster can’t even live for himself yet. Is the child immoral for this inability? I can’t wrap my mind around that possibility.

If, after bringing the child into the world by making decisions and acting in a way to beget the child, the parent keeps the oath not to live for another (provide for him), is that moral? It’s hard to imagine a culture larger than two people in which that wouldn’t be considered neglect.

I think we should be able to say, then, that Galt’s oath is not the most moral way in a society that includes children and therefore has the possibility of continuing. So there are limits to the morality of self-interest. Let’s consider that Galt (and therefore Rand) may be wrong about self-interest being the highest morality, and there may be a higher morality that he fails to recognize.

There’s another unlikely detail about the heroes in Atlas Shrugged: every one of the producers, even among more minor characters, is tall, slender, strong, brilliant, never ill or out of energy. Hmmm. Again, not real life.

In Rand’s world, “good” people, the ones who use their brains to solve problems and accomplish things, for which they rightly expect to be compensated, are never ill. So they have the ability to make the choice Galt requires of them. While not ideal, it is acceptable to be only smart and not brilliant, as long as one is faithful and hard working, earning one’s keep.

The Galt theory of economics is better than looters taking from the producers. In our current circumstances, this theory is so superior to the legalized theft being forced on us that it is very appealing. But its sterility lifts it, on the Spherical Model, only just above the equator, not above the 45th parallel. Producers should be free to profit from their work; but for civilization to result, there must also be religious and philanthropic people, giving freely not to looters or moochers, but to those willing but unable to produce for themselves: children, elderly, infirm—non-producers for no fault of their own. To ignore these groups and let them starve is immoral—as immoral as the unrealistic sexual promiscuity Ayn Rand supports. The choice to share must be voluntary, not imposed by guilt or legal theft; but Galt refuses to allow the giving, calling it immoral. He is wrong to prevent it, and so is Rand.

In short, Galt’s oath to “never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine” is seriously inferior to, “I swear to live my life for the sake of God, protecting and providing for my family as He expects of me, and relieving the suffering of his weakest children as I am able, while I accept His redeeming sacrifice for me and try to live worthy of His love.”

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Atlas Shrugged and the Sphere, Part II

Today is Part II of our review of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. In Tuesday’s post I introduced what we’re doing this week, and in Part I in Wednesday’s post we covered some of the main characters and a little plot and theme. Today we cover more of the philosophy, including the three factions, as well as John Galt’s oath.

Atlas Shrugged depicts a clash of three philosophical factions. First are the looters, the inane intellectual elites, many of them at that Rearden party that functioned in the plot to give us the opportunity to hear from so many of them; included in this faction are the moochers, those who just receive the results of others’ work and take for granted that they should.  The looters, who take one step after another to limit the ability of producers to produce while pressuring them to do the impossible, are only occasionally beyond believable. We see so much of their philosophy and political behavior in our world this very year. Maybe every time the President speaks, for example. I refer to these two groups in “The Political World Is Round”:

[They] are a symbiotic mix of people demanding that government provide for their needs—health care, education, housing, redistribution of wealth, regulating use of resources, even making jobs: the demanding needy, we could call them—along with the elites who are willing to pander to the demanding needy in order to increase their personal power: the would-be dictators.

These looters are the enemy to the other two philosophical groups.

The second faction is made up of the producers, represented by Rearden and Dagny, who continue to produce in the face of the opposition. There are various smaller characters, industrialists, in similar positions, determined to keep producing, against all odds, as long as possible.

Then there is the third faction, the strikers, to which D’Anconia belongs. It is led by a character named John Galt. We hear his name often in the book; the phrase “Who is John Galt?” is used with a shrug of the shoulders to mean, “Oh well, there’s no explanation or hope for our problems.” Dagny uses the name John Galt for the line of rail built of Rearden metal, as an in-your-face insistence that the rail will work, an ironically anti-defeatist name in the face of doubt. About two-thirds of the way through the book we are introduced to the John Galt behind the legend. The phrase about him began more than a decade earlier following his standing up against an unfair collectivist takeover of the factory where he had been working. Upon leaving he promised that he would fight those ideas until he completely defeated them.

He spent the next decade-plus identifying the brain power in the nation. He recruited two schoolmates, D’Anconia and a Norwegian named Ragnar Danneskjold, to join him. D’Anconia sets out to follow the looter philosophies to the letter in an effort to get rid of his copper fortune—so that the looters, the evil first group, will have nothing to exploit. Ragnar employs himself as a feared pirate. What he is actually doing is stopping the transfer from producers to non-producers, and building up in the form of gold whatever wealth he can identify as the profit confiscated from the producers, so they will have start-up capital when the time comes to start over.

Galt and his key partners have an uncanny knack for turning up at the offices of any producer just as he reaches the end of his rope. Suddenly each producer disappears, leaving nothing behind. When the government looters recognize the pattern of producers disappearing, they make a law against it, of course to no effect.

Dagny and Rearden also recognize the pattern. They believe that someone, a destroyer, is somehow convincing these producers to leave, and it makes life for the remaining producers progressively more difficult. They promise to each other that they will not give in to the destroyer; they will survive and never give up, no matter what.

Much of the book chronicles the steps taken against them by the progressive looters, one government act after another, making inevitable an end when they disappear with the rest of the brain power of the country. (And did I mention that the US is the last producing country because the rest of the world has already succumbed to the looters and therefore are starving?)

Poverty, unemployment, and industrial devolution continue apace throughout the book. The worse the government-caused chaos, the more government insists it must control things during the time of crisis (startlingly prescient, or simply a description of the Marxist pattern?)

We learn, about 2/3 of the way through, when Dagny learns it, that the disappearing brains are actually colonizing in a hidden valley in Colorado, building up their own society based on principles of John Galt. He has an oath that he lives by and insists that others who join him must live by: “I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

Dagny crashes a small plane in the valley. She stays there for a month, enjoying the company of those who have chosen to live by the oath, and hearing their philosophy day and night. But at the end of the month, her love for her railroad and her hope that she can keep it by enduring to outlast the looters, keeps her from taking the oath. So, by the standards of Galt’s colony, she remains an outsider. Since they are the intellect of society on strike against the policies that enslave them, they refer to her as a scab, as crossing their strike line. But they get along well, because their view is that it’s just a matter of time until she understands what they already see.

There are a couple of lectures that reveal Rand’s philosophy more directly than storyline. One is a response, at a wedding party, by D’Anconia to a reference to money being the root of all evil. He spends half a dozen pages soliloquizing (pp. 380-385 in my copy), on the virtues of money. Worth reading. Another is a lecture by John Galt, over radio that they have seized, that covers pages 923-979. If you want a briefer version of Rand’s philosophy of objectivism, without reading the whole of Atlas Shrugged, this might be the place to get it.

We won’t get around to talking about various symbols: a breaking copper wire, a flame that burns in a mountain, among others. But there is a lot of literary richness in the book that makes it worth reading.

As an explanation of why free enterprise, hard work, and self-interest are morally superior to socialism (or state enforced legalized theft), the book is invaluable. So why don’t I give it a ringing endorsement? That’s what we’ll cover tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Atlas Shrugged and the Sphere, Part I

Today is Part I of a three part reaction to Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged, in celebration of the movie coming out this Friday. (See yesterday’s post for more about the movie and my intro to this series.) As I said yesterday, the theme isn’t hard to identify: self-interest is a virtue. And the purpose of the book is to lay out a philosophy that contrasts starkly with philosophies of our day that lead to dependence for the weak and enslavement for the able. Here in Part I we’ll introduce the main characters and a bit of the plot as it begins to reveal the philosophy.

Here’s a thumbnail version: It is 1950s US (I believe the film has updated to today). Dagny Taggart is the great granddaughter of Nat Taggart, who started the biggest and best transcontinental railroad. Her brother, James, is the nominal president of the company, but it is Dagny who makes it run. Every problem that comes up, she finds a solution. James claims that his skill is managing the political relationships that will make things right for them, but at each step in a very long story, he agrees with the politicians who make purposeful efforts to make Dagny’s job less possible. He is worse than useless.

Francisco D’Anconia spent the summers of his growing up years with the Taggarts. He is the heir of an Argentine copper mining fortune. But at the beginning of this story, he has been apparently ruining the family fortune while pursuing playboy entertainments. Those who have depended on his uncanny ability to find good fortune everywhere are disappointed, first in a Mexican mining failure, followed by other failures. Dagny has come to hate him, who had been her first love in her late teens.

Then there is Hank Rearden. He worked from the ground up to learn to make steel, building his own corporation, Rearden Steel. And then he improves upon his learned expertise by creating a new stronger metal called Rearden Metal. It is lighter and stronger, and there are great things to be made from it. Dagny Taggart is the first to take a chance on it, building a line of Taggart railway, including a bridge, of the new metal.

Rearden is married to patrician socialite Lillian, and while it isn’t much of a marriage, early in the book (only 120-some pages in) he attends a dinner party she is giving at their house for all the social luminaries. The Taggarts attend, and D’Anconia drops in as well.

This dinner party sets up the philosophical struggles for the rest of the book. The enemies to Rand’s theme, various philosophers, writers, businessmen, politicians, say things like:

·         “I am in favor of a free economy. A free economy cannot exist without competition. Therefore, men must be forced to compete. Therefore, we must control men in order to force them to be free.”—Dr. Pritchett, when asked his response to a piece of legislation called the Equality of Opportunity Act
·         “Reason, my dear fellow, is the most naïve of all superstitions. That at least has been generally conceded in our age.”—Dr. Pritchett again
·         “Our culture has sunk into a bog of materialism. Men have lost all spiritual values in pursuit of material production and technological trickery. They’re too comfortable. They will return to a nobler life if we teach them to bear privations. So we ought to place a limit on their material greed.”—Balph Eubanks, described as a literary leader of the age.
·         “Only those whose motive is not moneymaking should be allowed to write.”—Eubanks again.
·         “Plot is a primitive vulgarity in literature.”—Eubanks again.
·         “When the masses are destitute and yet there are goods available, it’s idiotic to expect people to be stopped by some scrap of paper called a property deed. Property rights are a superstition. One holds property only by the courtesy of those who do not seize it. The people can seize it at any moment. If they can, why shouldn’t they?”—Bertram Scudder, magazine editor who had written a nasty piece against Rearden but is now socializing in Rearden’s house at Mrs. Rearden’s invitation.

A couple of additional significant things happen at this party:

·         Rearden has given his wife a bracelet, a somewhat crude looking chain, the first product of Rearden metal, symbolizing the success following his decade of hard work. Mrs. Rearden wears it mockingly, among her other jewelry. Dagny Taggart recognizes its value and makes a trade, exchanging her diamond bracelet for it.
·         D’Anconia appears. As for his explanation to James Taggart of the failure of his mine in Mexico, D’Anconia explains, “I don’t know why you should call my behavior rotten. I thought you would recognize it as an honest effort to practice what the whole world is preaching. Doesn’t everyone believe that it is evil to be selfish? I was totally selfless in regard to the San Sebastian project. Isn’t it evil to pursue a personal interest? I had no personal interest in it whatever. Isn’t it evil to work for a profit? I did not work for a profit—I took a loss. Doesn’t everyone agree that the purpose and justification of an industrial enterprise are not production, but the livelihood of its employees? The San Sebastian Mines were the most successful in industrial history: they produced no copper, but they provided a livelihood for thousands of men who could not have achieved in a lifetime, the equivalent of what they got for one day’s work, which they could not do.”

D’Anconia makes it clear that he is acting precisely as the philosophy and pressure of the day require. He is doing it purposely. He is doing it on principle. Eventually we learn why.

Tomorrow we identify the three factions and learn who is John Galt.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tax Freedom Day and the rest of the week

For some time I’ve been planning something special for my Friday, April 15th, blog post. Yes, it will tax day (speaking of which, today is Tax Freedom Day, meaning that up until today, the average taxpayer has been an indentured servant to the federal government; he rest of your year’s earnings can go to state and local taxes and your personal choices). But also on Friday is when part I of the film version of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shurgged hits the theaters (trailer here). Eventually maybe I’ll see the movie, and say something about it, if it’s worth commenting on. But I thought this would be a good time to look at the book, which I read summer before last at the urging of my son Political Sphere.

My first reaction was, “I did it!” It’s a marathon read: 1069 pages in tiny type in the paperback 50th anniversary edition I lugged around for a month. So, while I’d like to say it should be required reading of every educated person, I understand any hesitation to pick it up and give it a try. It’s long, certainly longer than it needs to be. And it’s more philosophy through storytelling than entertainment.

My personal history included graduating as an English major, so literary analysis is something I was actually trained to do. Even at the time I was doing it, I wondered what value there is in writing about someone else’s writing. But as it turns out, not only do I kind of enjoy doing that as part of the reading experience, it also is a vehicle for identifying thought, examining it, and being able to clearly articulate opinions—about many things, not just literature. So I actually assign myself such essays from time to time (and treat myself to a monthly book club as well). It’s better without a teacher assignment or grade hanging overhead while doing it.

Atlas Shrugged was a book that required my writing about it afterward, just to hold some of my thoughts about it. But I’m looking at this reaction now as a blog post, and it’s too long. So I’m serializing it. Starting tomorrow I will have a three-part reaction to the book, which I hope you will find enjoyable and enlightening.

Here’s a head’s up on what’s coming. The theme isn’t exactly hard to identify: self-interest is a virtue. The purpose is to correct philosophical errors that lead to dependence for the weak and enslavement for the able. However, while there are some interesting and arresting ideas in the philosophy within this very long read, from a Spherical Model point of view, there are also some glaring flaws. We’ll spend a day introducing characters and basic plot points, then the three philosophical factions, and finally where the philosophy fits on the Spherical Model and why.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Budget Strategy

I think I’ve mentioned that I’m not an expert at strategy. I like to deal with principles. When people like Dick Morris and Karl Rove relish in the game of playing for power, I roll my eyes and think, “Why can’t we just do what is right and let the chips fall where they may?” But I recognize that there is a need for political strategy—as a process of getting the principled message out and persuading people to adhere to the principles. When the opposition controls much of the media, just putting out the message isn’t enough. It must be put out where it can be heard in a context that will allow open minds to hear and consider it.

So I’m thinking about the current budget debate and wondering whether strategists do indeed know more than I do. With control of both houses of Congress and the White House prior to the November 2010 election, democrats failed to do their basic duty and put forth a budget for 2011. So the recent near government shutdown was about only what is left of the 2011 fiscal year. The Republican-led House passed the budget a couple of months ago, I believe with about $61 billion in cuts—a tiny fraction of what I think the cuts should be. Democrats in the Senate were refusing to budge beyond a miniscule (by comparison) $6 billion or so. They countered with unbelievable whining like, “They want to kill women.” Seriously. (See it here.) 

I personally would have enjoyed a government shutdown. We could use a holiday from government intrusion. Government shuts down 10 holidays a year, and no one much notices. There have been many shutdowns over the years; Carter presided over several. Essential services continue. But our ridiculous commander-in-chief threatened to refuse to pay military personnel—who have always been considered essential and have never been included in a government shutdown. I think that was blustery posturing, and we could have fought it. Do Americans really think that the Republicans want to shut down pay for the military? Obama is not Clinton—his lies are clumsy. Thirty-nine percent of the population already strongly disapproves of his job as president (while only around 16% strongly approve). Even the fawning media couldn’t sugarcoat the president’s threat to servicemen and their families. So I wanted everyone on the side of fiscal conservatism to stand firm.

The result was a compromise of around $39 billion in cuts, with no government shutdown. Really, did we need to compromise?

On the other hand, strategists will say that the bigger battles loom ahead: refusing to raise the debt ceiling once again, putting forth a more reasonable 2012 budget, and pressing for Ryan’s plan to cut $5.8 trillion in spending by 2021.

I like what I’ve seen of Ryan’s plan. In Charles Krauthammer’s piece this week, he debunks the demagoguery; it’s worth a read: here. Ryan’s plan has essentially no chance of passing with a Democratic-led Senate, which literally equates any cut in spending to a cut in their power. Putting this plan out there now makes it part of the debate going into the 2012 election. With nothing to counter it but a promise to print more money no matter how it affects the economy, it is at least something solid Republicans can stand strong with.

I like things simple: we need to cut the budget—drastically—so why not cut it to what is actually allowed by the Constitution? Then the only question is, do we do it incrementally or suddenly? As drastic as Ryan’s plan is said to be, it looks incremental to me. But with a better Senate and White House, at least it might be a step in the right direction that we can actually take. I would feel better about it if someone who actually understands strategy can convince me we’re making progress.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Civilization Quote Day

It’s a Friday, so maybe we need just a little something to think about over the weekend, instead of a long article. Today’s quotes are from my collection with the theme Civilization.


“If our community does not beget men who have the power to make sound social principles generally acceptable, civilization is lost, whatever the system of government may be.”—Ludwig von Mises


“The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.”—Fred Astaire


“A question of some doubt might be raised…as to the rights and duties of society towards its members, infant and adult. Is it a right or a duty in society to take care of their infant members in opposition to the will of the parent? How far does this right and duty extend? To guard the life of the infant, his property, his instruction, his morals? The Roman father was supreme in all these; we draw the line, but where? Public sentiment does not seem to have traced it precisely. Nor is it necessary in the present case. It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible asportation and education of the infant against the will of the father.”—Thomas Jefferson, 1817, Bill for Establishing Elementary Schools, in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. By Albert Ellery Bergh


“Evidence continues to accumulate that the persistence of problems like poverty and welfare dependency is strongly associated with the rise in the number of children born out of wedlock.

“To a striking degree, the challenges of the federal budget are linked to and aggravated by the fracturing in family budgets brought on by the failure of families to form and government policies that neglect the best adhesive to repair that fracturing—the bonds of marriage. The state of American families went unmentioned tonight but it is vital that this conversation, and its implications for the State of the Union, happen with a new urgency at the national level.”—Chuck Donovan, response to SOTU January 25, 2011, for The Heritage Foundation



Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hands Off My Macroeconomics

I’m always a little excited to see that a new issue of The Intercollegiate Review has arrived. In case you’re not familiar with this “Journal of Scholarship and Opinion,” it is published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. ISI is a non-profit educational organization, “whose purpose is to further in
successive generations of college students a better understanding of the values and institutions that sustain a free and humane society.” They provide online information, lectures, publications, conferences, and more. They are champions of “limited government, individual liberty, the rule of law, a free market economy, personal responsibility, and moral standards”—my kind of people. The Intercollegiate Review is cost-free but priceless. (ISI.org, and The Intercollegiate Review is here)

A few years back I read Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, and began an interest in Austrian economics (which you can learn more about through the Ludwig von Mises Institute online: Mises.org). So when I saw an article in The Intercollegiate Review mentioning Hayek’s book, I turned there first: “Economic Policy and the Road to Serfdom: The Watershed of 1913,” by Brian Domitrovic, assistant professor of history at Sam Houston State University. I’d like to share a few chunks of the piece here, talking about America’s golden macroeconomic era, and what we can learn from it.

The most impressive half century in American—arguably world—economic history was that which followed the Civil War: the nearly fifty years form 1865 to 1913. The American economy expanded at a yearly rate of 3.62 percent from 1865 to 1913. By way of comparison, from 1913 to 2008 (also a peak-to-peak period), the American economy grew at 3.26 percent per year. The difference of about four-tenths of a percent per year proved enormous. Had the United States maintained the trend that held in the half century after the Civil War, it would now be about half again richer than it is now, in the second decade of the twenty-first century.…

The greatest decades of economic growth in American history were the 1870s and 1880s, when the economy expanded by two-thirds each time. There was one significant recession in this period, in 1873. It was overwhelmed so soon and so comprehensively that the 70 percent real growth gained in the 1870s amounts to the largest of any decade in the peacetime history of the United States.

As for the “panic of 1873” of textbook lore, that year brought a big drop in output, with people thrown out of work. The episode was a function of the incredible depreciation of the dollar that had been undertaken in the Civil War, when (following decades of price stability) the Union government printed greenbacks so quickly that the dollar suddenly lost half its value. After 1865, the U.S. government pledged to restore the value of the dollar against gold (and consumer prices), but doubts about this led to speculative investments to hedge the uncertainty and ultimately produced the asset crash of 1873.

In the wake of the 1873 bust, however, the dollar slowly reclaimed its value, just as the U.S. government had pledged. The price level declined by 1.4 percent per year on average for the next two decades, such that by the 1890s, a dollar saved before 1860 achieved its original purchasing power. As for unemployment, the term was not coined until the tail end of the century for a reason. The United States was importing tens of millions of immigrant workers on account of labor shortages given the growth boom….

[G]rowth was high; recessions were rare, shallow, and short; prices changed little as employment boomed—that it effectively defined the kind of results that governmental macroeconomic management should aspire to. The irony was that there was precious little macroeconomic management at all for most of this era. We can say with statistical precision that there has never been a golden era in American macroeconomic history like the 1870s and 1880s.

There were two other significant recessions in the half century after the Civil War. These occurred in 1893 and 1907. Both cases correlated to governmental overtures to introduce macroeconomic policy. In 1890, the United States signaled that, despite having attained the very price level that had held for decades before the Civil War, as well as having watched growth cruise at more than 5 percent per year for the long term, it was now going to monetize a new asset, silver. The prospect was of too much currency in the economy (1873 redux), and the markets quickly swelled and crashed. The recovery from 1893 stayed tepid while President Grover Cleveland spent his term trying to end the silver lark. Aggregate output was flat from 1892 until the next election year, 1896; in the latter year, free-silverite William Jennings Bryan succeeded Cleveland as Democratic nominee for president. The strong recovery began only when, with the election of Republican William McKinley in 1896, the United States committed to dropping the program for the extra silver money. Overall, growth was slower in the 1890s that it had been in preceding decades—33 percent for the decade, a typical twentieth-century number. But from the year McKinley was elected until 1907, growth came in a 4.6 percent per year, approaching the 1870s-1880s standard of 5.2 percent annually. This is tantamount to saying that the real trend of yearly growth in the post-Civil War period was not 3.62 percent but something like 5 percent per year—because 5 percent held as long as the government stayed out of the way. [Emphasis mine.]

I know that was a lot of numbers. But the point illustrated is that the free market brings about world-record-setting growth and prosperity, and government interference always causes lower growth and less prosperity. There’s more in the rest of the article, including the damage done by instituting the income tax in 1913, the depression and recovery because of hands-off policy in 1920-21, and then the interference that resulted in the Great Depression.

At Spherical Model I try to identify principles that will provide us the greatest freedom, prosperity, and civilization. I believe the U.S. Constitution is an inspired document that limits government in the very ways that lead to the best outcomes. But usurpation by power mongers slowly (and sometimes quickly) erodes our society. The Constitution limits economic interference to safeguarding the wealth of citizens: law enforcement, protection from invasion and piracy, preventing refusals of trade between and among the various states, and standardizing measures and coining money to make exchanges equitable. The 1913 amendment is now part of the Constitution, so taxing for the purpose of raising revenue to pay for the Constitutional services is also included—but any collection of taxes to redistribute wealth, provide “charity,” or anything else not spelled out in the Constitution is theft. And this theft will ALWAYS deteriorate our freedom, prosperity, and civilization. As the IR article shows, there is plenty of evidence to prove the principle true.

I suggest we once again try living by the Constitution and then see the prosperity that follows.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

You Keep Using That Word...

One of those words you hear people use that you’re pretty sure they don’t really understand: draconian. Basically we understand it to mean harsh or cruel (like the aptly named Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter’s world). But when I heard it on the radio today, it struck me as inappropriately used. So I googled the word and the derivation.

Draco was an Athenian statesman more than 600 BC, who wrote laws down, apparently for the purpose of making them less arbitrary, so redress of grievances would be available to any literate citizen. That doesn’t seem harsh or cruel. He also identified the difference between homicide and involuntary manslaughter, which is a good thing for the law to consider. But then he decided slavery was a good punishment for defaulting on a debt, and many minor crimes merited the death penalty. I didn’t come across examples of these minor crimes, so I’m guessing petty theft. So it was cruel punishment beyond the heinousness of the crime that the word draconian applies to.

So when you hear someone debating the budget battle in Congress, and they accuse the Republicans—who suggest a $61 billion cut in a $3.8 trillion budget that is nearly $1.7 trillion out of balance just this year—of wanting draconian cuts, you need to do your best Inigo Montoya impression and say: “You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Regulation--Too Much of a Bad Thing

From time to time my son Political Sphere has suggested that every regulation that the government undertakes could be better done by the private sector through free enterprise. Since I grew up with a conventional public school education, that seemed kind of heretical to me at first. What about food and drug safety? What about preventing monopolies? But I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m slowing being convinced.

There’s a chapter of Rollback, Thomas Woods’ most recent book, where he outlines the failures of government regulation. I thought it might be instructive to briefly go through a few.

Let’s start with monopolies. Supposedly robber barons are lying in wait, ready to undercut the smaller competition until they can dominate by monopoly and raise prices to gouge the consumer. The thing is, that pretty much never happens (outside of government-enforced monopolies). As Woods points out, “When economics professor Thomas DiLorenzo actually examined the data, something economic historians had not actually bothered to do, he found that the industries that were accused in the late nineteenth century of being dominated by ‘monopolies’ were in fact lowering prices and increasing output—the opposite of what the textbooks tell us monopolies are supposed to do. In the 1880s, output in the alleged ‘monopolized’ industries grew seven times faster than the rest of the economy” (Rollback, p. 142). So, maybe regulation against monopolies is in fact unnecessary.

As for health and safety issues, free enterprise is a lot more efficient. This is true with airlines, financial institutions, workplace safety in the spectrum of industries, and even highway safety and food and drugs. In every case Woods cites, free enterprise tends to improve its own conditions sooner and better than government regulators can. And in many cases the regulators do a worse job than the private sector.

Remember when safety belts became required? The decrease in fatalities per mile since then has been 3.5% per year. Great! Except that the decrease in fatalities from 1925 to 1960, prior to the regulation, was 3.5% per year. The decrease is from better safety features provided by the industry, and greater consumer demand for those features—not from the government regulation.

What about OSHA? That had to help, right? Not exactly. In the 25 years prior to OSHA, the decline in frequency of workplace fatalities was 70% larger than in the years following implementation of OSHA. Positive effects of OSHA are negligible, but costs have been significant. According to professors Thomas Kniesner and John Leeth, “The most optimistic figures show OSHA currently creating three times more costs than it generates in benefits” (Rollback, p. 150).

That doesn’t mean there should be no quality and safety standards. But Woods suggests that private organizations, such as Underwriter Laboratories, can give their seal of approval. Many of us turn to Consumer Reports for unbiased information before making a major purchase. Such independent organizations could do a better job than government for a wide array of industries.

So why is it that industries are often the ones lobbying for more regulations? Good question. Years ago I attended a graduation ceremony with economist Milton Friedman as the speaker. There were a lot of great nuggets in that speech that I’ll probably pull out from time to time. This is one: “The two greatest enemies of free society are intellectuals and businessmen—for opposite reasons. Intellectuals want freedom for themselves but no one else. Businessmen want free enterprise for everyone else, but special consideration for themselves.”

When a business, usually a large business, asks for more government regulation, it is asking for additional shackles to be put on its smaller competition. It is forcing the upstarts to use capital on details (often unnecessary but costly details) that the large corporation can absorb now that it is big but didn’t have to when it was small. It allows the big business to win or keep market share not by competing with better products or more efficient service, but by placing roadblock in the way of the competition.

One example Woods gives is the lobbying against eliminating estate taxes by such luminaries as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. They aren’t selfless benefactors for taking this position. “For one thing, the estate tax will never hit Microsoft, since, as a publicly held corporation, its owner will never die. Moreover, if repeal of the estate tax were to be made revenue-neutral, additional taxes to make up the shortfall would likely fall on corporations. So if you head a large corporation, you might not want to see the estate tax repealed” (Rollback, p. 157). As for Buffett, he specializes in buying up successful small businesses. Estate taxes often put inheriting owners in the position of being desperate to sell—just the situation Buffett thrives on.

The word “regulation” does indeed appear in the Constitution: “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several states…” as well as “To coin Money, regulate the value thereof…”  It meant to make standard, or regular. In other words, it was to be the rule (not the exception) that there would be commerce between and among the states. Somewhere along the way it took on the current meaning of “control every detail directly or indirectly related to any sort of commerce.” With the original meaning, the federal government would simply settle any dispute between, say, Virginia and North Carolina, if one of them were to refuse to trade with the other.

If we limited the federal government to the actual powers granted to it in the Constitution, the free market would do its job of raising the standard of living for all of us.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Simple but Not Easy Solutions

There are some simple solutions—and non-governmental solutions at that—for some of the world’s bigger problems. However, simple does not necessarily mean easy. Here are a few:

AIDs in Africa: Regardless of medical breakthroughs, this disease can be eradicated in Africa if every person refuses to have sex outside of marriage and refuses to marry anyone who has had sex outside of marriage. Within a single generation the disease would be gone. Impossible? Not impossible, but improbable until the people change their culture so that adultery is no longer condoned and expected, but shamed. I read a book a couple of years ago called Influencer, The Power to Change Anything, by Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, and McMillan (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Influencer&x=13&y=21), which illustrated a couple of very difficult problems in Africa (as well as elsewhere) that were solved, or at least greatly reduced, by using cultural change. It was not an obvious approach, but it worked. (Worth reading.) I don’t think AIDs was mentioned in the book, but I believe the approach could work.

AIDS in the US could be eradicated the same way, with the addition that illegal drug use (and needle sharing) is an additional cause, so if everyone also refused to use illegal drugs, the problem could be solved here in a generation as well. Not to mention the drug war would be over, because with no market the illegal dealers would leave. Simple cultural solution, but not easy.

How about poverty? There is a formula for getting out of and/or avoiding poverty in the US:
  1. Don’t have sex before age 20.
  2. Have sex only within marriage.
  3. Stay married.
  4. Obtain at least a high school diploma.
(I did not make up this formula. I know the family expert I got it from, but at the moment I’m not able to lay my hands on the documentation, so I’ll have to keep looking.) Following that formula works more than 90% of the time, maybe 98%. Failure to follow this formula does not guarantee a lifetime of poverty, but it does greatly increase the probability. For those who already live in poverty who fail to follow the formula, their odds of getting out of poverty are discouraging at best. The answer, then, is not more government aid; the answer is passing along the cultural capital of morality, along with at least minimal education in basic math and reading. Again, the answer to poverty is simple, but not easy.


Speaking of education, at a time when high school graduation rates hover around a mere 50%, and among those graduates are a shockingly high number of functional illiterates (young people cheated out of the education they were guaranteed), I have a simple but not easy solution. Let every parent personally direct the education of their own children. Thank heavens this was the pattern when our nation was founded, when it was difficult to find a non-reading adult, or a person who couldn’t figure basic math well enough to carry out his trade, and when a surprising number of learned men valued liberty and God-given rights. The pattern was to be homeschooled through the first reading and math levels, then possibly share costs with other parents at a local private school. Then a young person chose a profession and apprenticed to learn in more depth in his field from a master. The professionals and leadership class were trained by private tutors. (For more, consider reading A Thomas Jefferson Education, by Oliver DeMille, (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Influencer&x=13&y=21#/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_2_26?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=thomas+jefferson+education&sprefix=thomas+jefferson+education&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Athomas+jefferson+education). I was at a homeschool conference once, in the market area at a booth where this book was being sold, and the educator there told me that it was the “most subversive book in the room.” That might be an exaggeration, but I did find the book useful as a parent/teacher.)

What about parents who can’t or won’t educate their own children? How about we trust the combination of free market and philanthropy to handle the problem? Businesses, and the population in general, have an interest in an educated populous. If we could provide scholarships to the hard-working indigent, we might identify the very individuals that should have greater opportunities. And we might be able to at least pass along basics to those who, because of their own will combined with their background, are destined to remain in the lower classes, to give them the skills for making an honest if meager living. This is a step up from what we’re offering now by way of government institutions.