Thursday, September 29, 2016

More on Wealth, Poverty, and Politics

image from Amazon
Economist Thomas Sowell has a new edition of his classic book Wealth, Poverty, and Politics, and talked about it in the latest Uncommon Knowledge interview.

Peter Robinson starts the interview with a quote from the book, which serves as a theme:

It is not the origins of poverty which need to be explained. What requires explaining are the things that created and sustained higher standards of living.
In explaining what he means by that, Dr. Sowell says,

There are actually books with titles and subtitles about the origins of poverty. Well, the entire human species began in poverty. So I don’t know why we say, what is the origin? Perhaps the Garden of Eden or someplace. But more than that, you’re trying to explain why some countries are poor rather than trying to explain why other countries are more prosperous. There’s no explanation needed for poverty. The species began in poverty. So what you really need to know are what are those things that enable some countries, and some groups within countries, to become prosperous.
He further explains that there are unstated assumptions about income inequality that are false, but are left unexamined. To use another quote from the book,

One of the key implicit assumptions of our time is that many economic and social outcomes would tend to be either even or random, if left to the natural course of events, so that the strikingly uneven and non-random outcomes so often observed in the real world imply some adverse human intervention.
So, there’s this idea being promulgated that, because people are equal, their outcomes should be equal. But people aren’t equal. They are equal before the law—no class of humans more deserving of justice than any other—but people are different in intellect, drive, learning, creativity, desires, preferences, and circumstances.

Dr. Thomas Sowell
image from Uncommon Knowledge
And people are located in different places. Dr. Sowell talked about the Zaire River in Africa, which carries more water than the Mississippi. But it is full of falls and cascades that make it mostly non-navigable, while the Mississippi smoothly changes elevation by only about four inches per mile. People living by the Mississippi, then, have a water route that people living by the Zaire River do not.
He also talked about isolation, such as caused by mountains. People living in isolated Afghan mountain villages live at approximately the same level of poverty as people in isolated Appalachian mountain villages. And people who live discovered on isolated islands are found living very little different from stone age people. Isolation means less trade, less learning from others, less benefiting from others.

So it isn’t some rich person taking away from a poor person; it is a rich person doing what it takes to escape from poverty.

We basically know what those things are. One of the main sources of wealth is human capital. Here’s another quote from the book:

The welfare state reduces the incentives to develop human capital. And receiving the products of other people’s human capital is by no means as fundamental as developing one’s own human capital.” [18:30]
Following the quote, Peter Robinson asks “What is human capital, and why does the welfare state suppress the incentives to develop it?” Dr. Sowell answers, “Well, human capital is the ability to create the material things that constitute wealth.”

A classic example. In the 1970s, Uganda decided that the Gujaratis of India were just too wealthy and controlled too much of the economy. They sent them out, and they wouldn’t let them take their wealth with them. So the Gujaratis arrived mostly in England, destitute. And the Ugandan government has taken over all this material stuff. Over a period of a relatively few years, the Gujaratis were prosperous in England, and the Ugandan economy collapsed, because they didn’t have people who could do what the Gujaratis were doing. And so they no longer had the same production.
It's also one of the problems with trying to solve things by confiscating the wealth of the wealthy. All you can confiscate is the material wealth. You cannot confiscate the human capital.
Confiscating wealth from those who created it and giving it to those who didn’t create it only moves things around, not wealth-generating capabilities.

And income redistribution is wrong-headed in other ways. Talking about the concern that the top 10% have undue influence over society, Dr. Sowell says,

TS: 53% of American households are going to be in the top 10% at some point or other in their lives. You talk about these percentages as if these are ongoing, the same set of people in this bracket, and that bracket. Most Americans do not stay in the same 20% bracket for more than one decade.
PR: So it’s largely a life cycle: you’re poor when you’re young, and doing well when you’re old.
TS: Yes. And there’s nothing mysterious about that. Probably most people in this country, when they started out at entry level jobs were not making what they’re making when they’re forty years old. Heaven knows, I was making $2 a day to deliver groceries, and depended on tips for the rest. [17:20]
He later added,

Somebody said the other day that they want to ease the pain of people in poverty. The pain of poverty is what got many people out of poverty. [35:23]
Peter Robinson ended the interview by having Dr. Sowell read a passage from the book, which summarizes the fallacy of economic equality as a goal:

It is by no means obvious why we should prefer trying to equalize income to putting our efforts into increasing output. People in general, and the poor in particular, seem to vote with their feet, by moving to where there is greater prosperity, rather than where there is greater economic equality.
Rising standards of living, especially for those at the bottom economically, have resulted not so much from changing the relative sizes of different slices of the economic pie as from increasing the size of the pie itself, which has largely been accomplished without requiring heady rhetoric, fierce emotions, or bloodshed.
Does it not matter if the hungry are fed, if slums are replaced by decent and air conditioned housing? If infant mortality rates are reduced to a tenth of what they were before? Are invidious gaps and disparities all that matter? In a world where we are all beneficiaries of enormous windfall gains that our forebears never had, are we to tear the society that created all this apart because some people’s windfall gains are greater or less than some other people’s windfall gains? [40:34]
Thomas Sowell always offers up truth with good humor and common sense. So even when he says what he has said before, we enjoy it. Let’s summarize with a couple of basic economic principles:

·         Thou shalt not covet. [I wrote about this April 26, 2013]

·         Live the principles that build social capital. [I wrote about this February 24, 2012]

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Debate Aftermath

It was the most-watched political event in the history of television, but I didn’t watch the presidential debate last night. I was traveling. But I probably wouldn’t have watched it anyway. I have only a peripheral interest, since the constitutional republic of the United States of America is not what these two candidates wish to preside over. One wants to rule over the United Socialist States of America—a country and concept I do not agree to be ruled by. One wants to rule over the National Dictatorship of America, which will be great, and yuge, believe it—except I don’t believe it.
Trump and Clinton first debate 2016
Image from here

I learned one thing during this past eight years: don’t listen to the speeches. I read, instead of watch or listen.  With Obama, it has had to do with his tone. I hear condescension, and disdain for me and people who believe as I do, because we are a hindrance to him and his anti-constitutional intentions. And there are the grating verbal tics—the ubiquitous ums and uhs, the use of “folks” that never sounds real, the use of a long a when the indefinite article a comes before a consonant, even though none of us talk that way normally, which means it’s an affectation or a teleprompter-reading problem. So even the little things grate. Listening is not only hard on me, it makes me harder on the speaker than I would be without the additional auditory and visual input.

And last night we had two of the most grating voices America could come up with. Hillary sounds like she is always yelling. She sounds stiff, stilted, and annoyed—as if it is beneath her to condescend to do this talking to the public that a campaign requires. The term harpy seems to have been created for such a voice. If she were saying things that were valuable to our constitutional republic, the voice would be something we would just have to be tolerant and forgiving of. But, in her case, the voice comes with lies, deceptions, and power-mongering. I think we’re justified in hating that voice.

Then comes the carnival barker voice of Donald Trump. Like a used car salesman, he hides the details and just says, “Believe me,” when he has provided nothing beyond is over-bloated personal opinion to go on. It is an unseemly voice, often speaking unseemly and anti-constitutional things. Some people find that voice entertaining on a reality TV show; it was unappealing to me even when that is all it was.

So, I did not watch. But I will be looking at transcripts. And I offer that as a better tool for judging how the debate went, if you care.

So that you can experience the debate without the talking over one another, and without the tonal problems, here is the full transcript.

Here is a partial transcript interspersed with an NPR attempt to fact check (so consider the source). 

I am beyond believing any presidential choice this year can get us out of tyranny, back up to northern hemisphere freedom. I am interested in what I can do to make my community, my state, and then my nation a place of freedom, prosperity, and civilization. 

This debate offers me no option for my vote. But if a future debate includes independent candidate Evan McMullin and, possibly, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson (who is not on my list to possibly get my vote, but who should be in on the debate), I might be willing to tune in. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Random Quotes

My quote file continues to grow. I add a quote every few days. Over eight years or so, that adds up. It’s the length of a short book. I don’t think I’ve done a post straight from the quote file since last November. So maybe it’s time for another sample.

I thought I’d offer up the last several. As always, they are somewhat random. Not so random that some are on cooking or cleaning. But random while related to The Spherical Model somehow, which covers the political, economic, and social spheres, so that covers a lot of ground. I collect them so I can read and think through these thoughts again. I hope you find them worth reading, and maybe keeping, as well.

“In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”—James Madison, Federalist 51

“A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion; to ignore the subject may be fatal cowardice for one as for the other. But if either comes to regard it as the natural food of the mind—if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else—then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.”—C.S. Lewis

“Truth withers when freedom dies, however righteous the authority that kills it; and free individualism uninformed by moral value rots at its core and soon brings about conditions that pave the way for surrender to tyranny.”—Frank S. Meyer

"Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge; I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers."—John Adams

“How does something immoral, when done privately, become moral when it is done collectively. Furthermore, does legality establish morality? Slavery was legal; Apartheid is legal; Stalinist, Nazi, and Maoist purges were legal. Clearly, the fact of legality does not justify these crimes. Legality, alone, cannot be the Talisman of moral people.”—Walter E. Williams

“[T]he whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. 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.”—Henry Hazlitt

"The difference between death and taxes is death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets."—Will Rogers

“Government has three primary functions. It should provide for military defense of the nation. It should enforce contracts between individuals. It should protect citizens from crimes against themselves or their property. When government—in pursuit of good intentions—tries to rearrange the economy, legislate morality, or help special interests, the costs come in inefficiency, lack of motivation, and loss of freedom. Government should be a referee, not an active player.”—Milton Friedman

“The Constitution is not a living organism. It’s a legal document, and it says what it says and doesn’t say what it doesn’t say.”—Justice Antonin Scalia

One doesn't fight only when one is optimistic. One fights because it is the right thing to do, and because America remains, as Lincoln said, "the last best hope of earth."—Dennis Prager, “A Dark Time in America,” May 3, 2016

It’s easy to be an American liberal. All that is required are hypocrisy and ignorance.
Ignorance is an absolute must, but especially ignorance of three things: economics, human nature and all of recorded history.—Matt Patterson, American Thinker, 9-5-2016 “How to Be a Liberal

“Who in their right mind looks at the Internet and says ‘You know what we need? We need Russia, China, and Iran to have more control over this.’”—Ted Cruz

“Prior to capitalism, the way people amassed wealth was by looting, plundering and enslaving their fellow man. Capitalism made it possible to become wealthy by serving your fellow man.”—Walter Williams

“Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands. Miracles do not cluster, and what happened once in 6,000 years may not happen again.”—Daniel Webster

“A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy.”—Samuel Adams (1776)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Timeless Constitution

Saturday was the 229th anniversary of our US Constitution. That’s remarkable, considering written constitutions in countries around the world have lasted an average of 17 years, since 1789. 

Several days ago I listed to an Uncommon Knowledge interview titled “Is the Constitution Out of Date?” Since the answer, to me, is obviously NO, I expected maybe something valuable I could share for Constitution Day. While Uncommon Knowledge offers a variety of opinions, they’re usually in the range we think of as conservative. The interview was with political scientist Terry Moe, author of the recent book Relic: How Our Constitution Undermines Effective Government—and Why We Need a More Powerful Presidency. He has been a fellow at the Hoover Institute. So I was surprised when his premise was that the Constitution is outdated. He made claims that we usually hear only from the opposition.

One of his main complaints was that the executive branch doesn’t have enough power. After nearly eight years of Obama’s illegal executive orders, that seems wildly wrongheaded. He suggests that the president should be able to put forth his agenda items, and get them fast tracked through the legislature. The legislators could still vote these things down, but they’d be required to put them up for a vote, without amendment, within a certain length of time.

If that was to be the only change, I might not put it in the southern hemisphere of statist tyranny. But he also asserts that because we are a democracy, we ought to make it easier to enact the will of the majority.

I was waiting for Peter Robinson, the interviewer, to say, “But we’re not a democracy.” I guess he was just trying to allow the interviewee to get his point across, but it got me talking back at the screen.

We are not a democracy—i.e., government by majority rule—we are a constitutional republic. That means we have a written law limiting government, to prevent the majority from imposing injustices on the minority. For example, an evil majority might choose to enslave a particular minority group; in a democracy, the majority vote would rule.

Our Constitution purposely limits government, and purposely lists some of our God-given rights that government must not infringe upon, and adds that any powers not enumerated as given to the federal government are maintained by the states or the individual citizens. That is on purpose.

Moe thinks the Constitution is just a relic of a formerly simpler society, when America was smaller and more agrarian. That those simpleton founders couldn’t possibly have prepared for our complex, technological society.

I’ve been reviewing Hillsdale College’s Western Heritage 101 course (free online), and listened to lecture 4 this week, on Socrates and Plato—which were read and understood by our founders. All of them. The founders heeded the Greeks’ warnings about the despotism of democracy.
In the follow-up Q&A session, lecturer Terrence Moore gives an example of how democracy leans despotic (starting at about 13:40):

You might say, “Well, we’ve gotten beyond that. We’re America. We can handle this.” Today is the day after the election. It’s Wednesday, and I’m reading an editorial that comes straight out of The Washington Times. Here is what it says.
“The most disturbing issue of the election was how President Obama managed to win re-election in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania and Michigan by talking about the highly unpopular bailout of General Motors, by taking billions of dollars in hard-earned money from taxpayers during a deep recession and giving it to a couple of huge companies, Obama managed to buy the votes he needed to eke out a re-election.”
“Taxpayers remain on the hook to the tune of $25 billion.”
That’s just the reporting, but here is what happened behind it, according to this author.
“This is the Achilles heel of a democracy. Politicians simply tax those who do not support them and give the money to those who do or give the money to those they would like to have support them. It is the end of the line. Game over.”
That’s a pretty bleak after-election sentiment, but it would not have surprised Plato, and it would not have surprised the Founding Fathers. So, among other things, the recent election should cause us to think very hard constitutionally about what kind of framework of government the Founding Fathers set up so that elections can’t be bought with other people’s money.
If it’s that kind of democracy, which is the kind that Plato describes, we’re in trouble.
So, we aren’t—or shouldn’t be—a democracy. Our Founding Fathers knew better. They purposely set up a government to avoid tyranny of the majority, which is easily swayed by lies, money, or enticements.

The progressive arguments are only worth considering if human nature has changed since our founding—or since Plato. Progressives seem to have a bias against anything that isn’t contemporary, which is a closed-mindedness that pretty well disproves their assertions.

Progressive arguments against the Constitution aren’t new; they’ve been around at least since the late 1800s to early 1900s, from the onset of the “progressive” movement. In other words, opposition to the Constitution has been claiming it is outmoded for about as long as the Constitution existed without that argument against it.

It is probably true that opposition to freedom has been claiming the Constitution was somehow inadequate since day 1.

Yet, unlike most of the constitutions in the world, ours continues. And to those who appreciate the skilled precision with which it was written, it is as timely today as it was in 1787.

As I was considering how to refute the claims of Terry Moe, the next morning I came across a piece with the title “No, the ConstitutionIsn’t Outdated,” by John York for the Daily Signal. My first thought was that York must be refuting the same interview I had seen. He isn’t; he just happens to refute Moe’s claims, because they are the standard attempts to denigrate our Constitution by those who would like us to have less freedom.

York lays out the basic argument and refutes it:

As Richard Stengel, former president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, wrote in a splashy 2011 article in Time Magazine:
Here are a few things the Framers did not know about: World War II. DNA. Sexting. Airplanes. The atom. Television. Medicare. Collateralized debt obligations. The germ theory of disease. Miniskirts. The internal combustion engine. Computers. Antibiotics. Lady Gaga.
Stengel’s list is instructive as it gives the reader a sense of the changes liberals think our Constitution does not adequately account for. Take for instance: “airplanes, the atom, the internal combustion engine, and antibiotics.” These all represent technological or scientific innovations unknown to the Founders that, purportedly, have some relevance to structuring a government.
Some scientific and technological changes do require that we think carefully about the Founders’ intent when they were writing the Constitution. For instance, new technologies allow police to peer into homes without physically entering them, intercept an email or a text message, or track your car from their computer back at the precinct. Whether these things constitute a search or seizure of citizens’ “houses, papers, and effects” under the Fourth Amendment is an important question the Founders do not answer for us directly.
But by no means are we merely left to guess how the Constitution speaks to these modern conditions. Through the Founders’ own writings contained in the Federalist Papers, notes on the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention and correspondence, thoughtful judges and legal scholars get a clear sense of the spirit behind the words on the page.
Given the Founders’ concern that government would use warrantless searches to harass and condemn political dissidents, it is hard to imagine James Madison or Alexander Hamilton would approve of warrantless wiretaps, drone flyovers, and email dragnets conducted by federal agencies.
Much of the rest of York’s piece deals with social/cultural issues. And he reassures on that front as well:
While the Constitution was not meant to steer the development of American culture in every sense, the Founders did think a free society demanded certain qualities of character among the citizenry: habits of self-governance, respect for the rights of others, and reverence for the law. But within those brackets is allowed some latitude for culture to develop organically and locally without the heavy hand of government at the helm.
If he were using Spherical Model terms, he might have said that the culturally civilized ability to rule ourselves is a necessary prerequisite to freedom and prosperity. It’s close to what James Madison meant in Federalist 51, which York also quotes:

From Federalist 51, image from here

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
I agree with York’s final conclusion, that

human nature is still as fallible as it was 229 years ago. Thankfully, our nation was blessed with a generation of men who had insight to perceive the essential character of man vis-à-vis government and the wisdom to craft institutions rooted in those unchanging realities.

I thank God for the miracle of our Constitution, and the men who were prepared to write it. I pray that we can honor God by appreciating and restoring that miracle.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Aims and Intentions of Socialism

Mr. Spherical Model has collected, over time, old talks to listen to during workouts or long commutes. We were listening to some of those during a road trip last month, and one of those I knew I’d want to come back to, to share here. It has me thinking about socialism, what that is, and how that contrasts with what we want as free human beings.

We’ll start with a few portions of this speech. It’s Marion G. Romney, in March 1966, in a speech at Brigham Young University. He was at that time one of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [Yes, he is related to Mitt Romney, but I’m not sure of the exact relationship, probably cousins.]
Marion G. Romney

The title of the speech is “Socialism and the United Order.” We’ll mostly deal with the definition of socialism here. But, simply, the United Order is a way of caring for the poor, the way it was done in the days of Enoch. In today’s terms, it will suffice to understand that in our Church, we pay a tithe (a tenth), plus fast offerings (approximately the cost of meals we miss while fasting), plus welfare activities.

I’ve said before, sometimes it helps to use definitions from older dictionaries, and that’s what he provides for us, along with a few other references giving us background and history:

Webster defines socialism as a political and economic theory of social organization based on collective or governmental ownership, and democratic management of the essential means for the production and distribution of goods. Also a policy or practice based on this theory.
George Bernard Shaw, the noted Fabian socialist, said that socialism, reduced to its simplest legal and practical expression, means the complete discarding of the institution of private property by transforming it into public property, and the division of the resultant income equally and indiscriminately among the entire population.
George Douglas Howard Cole, noted author and university reader in Economics at Oxford, defining socialism for the Encyclopedia Britannica, says that “because of the shifting sense in which the word has been used, a short and comprehensive definition of socialism is impossible. We can only say,” he concludes, “that socialism is essentially a doctrine and a movement aiming at the collective organization of the community in the interests of the mass of the people by means of the common ownership and collective control of the means of production and exchange.”
Socialism arose out of the economic division in society. During the 19th Century, its growth was accelerated as a protest against the appalling conditions prevailing in the workshops and factories, and the unchristian spirit of the spreading industrial system.
The Communist Manifesto, drafted by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels for the Communist League in 1848, is generally regarded as the starting point of modern socialism. The distinction between socialism, as represented by the various socialist and labor parties of Europe and the New World, and communism, as represented by the Russians, is one of tactics and strategy, rather than of objective. Communism is only socialism pursued by revolutionary means and making its revolutionary method a canon of faith.
Communists, like other socialists, believe in the collective control and ownership of the vital means of production and seek to achieve, through state action, the coordinated control of the economic forces of society. They differ from other socialists in believing that this control can be secured and its use in the interests of the workers insured only by revolutionary action, leading to the dictatorship of the proletariat and the creation of a new proletarian state as the instrument of change.
A major rift between so-called orthodox socialism and communist socialism occurred in 1875 when the German Social Democratic Party set forth its objective of winning power by taking over control of the Bourgeois state, rather than by overthrowing it. In effect, the German Social Democratic Party became a parliamentary party, aiming at the assumption of political power by constitutional means.
In the 1880s, a small group of intellectuals set up in England the Fabian Society, which has had a major influence on the development of modern orthodox socialism. Fabianism stands for the evolutionary concept of socialism, endeavoring by progressive reforms and the nationalization of industries to turn the existing state into a welfare state. Somewhat on the order of the Social Democrats in Germany, Fabians aim at permeating the existing parties with socialistic ideas, rather than by creating a definitely socialistic party. They appeal to the electorate, not as revolutionaries, but as constitutional reformers seeking a peaceful transformation of the system.
The difference in forms and policies of socialism occur principally in the manner in which they seek to implement their theories. They all advocate the same things, in this respect at least. First, that private ownership of the vital means of production be abolished, and that all such property pass under some form of coordinated public control. Second, that the power of the state be used to achieve their aims. And third, they all claim that with the change in the control of industry will go to a change in the motives which operate in the industrial system.
I highlighted the summary there at the end. Let’s put them in bullet points, to see them clearer:

1.       Private ownership abolished, all property under public control.
2.       State coercive power used to accomplish its aims.
3.       The change in control of industry will bring about a change in motives for productivity.
What are the aims and intentions? The purported aim is to even things out, to do away with poverty. The way they're going about it will never hit that target. But, should we, as a good people, want to do away with poverty? Yes. In the Spherical Model, the economic goal is prosperity—the polar opposite of poverty. But you don’t get north by going south, or east.

I came across a quote from economist Walter Williams yesterday:

Prior to capitalism, the way people amassed wealth was by looting, plundering and enslaving their fellow man. Capitalism made it possible to become wealthy by serving your fellow man.
Capitalism is essentially never evil; it is about using the fruits of your own labor. Capitalism requires private property. It comes down to the contrast between freedom and slavery. A free man lives his life, and pursues his goals without coercion. What he accumulates, his wealth—the surplus beyond what he needs to get by right now—is the fruit of his life. To take that takes away that part of his life he spent accumulating that wealth. To force a person to work to accumulate someone else’s wealth is slavery.

We need clearer ways to say things. Bernie Sanders appealed to many young voters this year by telling them they deserve things like free college tuition, free health care, much high minimum wages, and less difference between them and the rich. Donald Trump this week is promising six weeks of paid maternity leave.

So let’s translate these a little more accurately:

·         If government gives you free college tuition, government enslaves some other worker(s) to pay for your tuition.
·         If government gives you free health care, government enslaves some other worker(s) to pay for your health care.
·         If government guarantees you a minimum wage, government outlaws jobs worth less than that minimum amount. If a business owner is forced to pay more for a worker than the worker provides to the business, the business owner is enslaved to work without his due income—he is enslaved.
·         If government promises you six weeks of paid maternity leave, government either outlaws jobs that don’t bring in to the business enough surplus to pay for the leave, or government enslaves the business owner to provide that leave, even if it causes the bankruptcy of the business.
·      As Margaret Thatcher so aptly put it, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.” She also said,

People want to live in peace…real, lasting peace…the peace that comes from independence of the state and being able to run your own life, spend your own money, and make your own choices (1925—April 8, 2013).
Marion G. Romney acknowledges that, even in 1966, America had already gone a long way toward socialism. He says,

We have also gone a long way on the road to public ownership and management of the vital means of production. In both of these areas the free agency of Americans has been greatly abridged. Some argue that we have voluntarily surrendered this power to the government. Well, be this as it may, the fact remains that the loss of freedom with the consent of the enslaved, or even at their request, is nonetheless slavery.
Socialism claims to be for equality, and for freedom from poverty. But socialism is really about slavery: coercing some people to work for the benefit of other people. And there will be slaveholders—those who want to rule. The power-mongers. The tyrants.

Whatever socialism claims to intend, it can’t get anywhere positive by taking away our God-given freedom. Freedom, prosperity, and civilization are better alternatives every time than slavery, poverty, and savagery.

Monday, September 12, 2016

In the Fifteen Years...

A few days ago we were driving down the freeway and came upon this billboard. Interesting question, I thought.

During the early days after the attack, we Americans were remarkably united. There weren’t two ways of looking at things: we were attacked, unprovoked, on our own soil, with the intention of killing as many Americans as possible, and causing us to cower in fear. The enemy’s goal then, and still, is either our totally annihilation or total submission.

That didn’t work, because we’re Americans. We stood up, fought back, and rebuilt.

But the billboard question is relevant, because after just the first year or so, there was a separation between Americans who love America and want to be good citizens, and Americans who disapprove of America as a constitutional republic and insist America is evil until it is fundamentally transformed, preferably into a democratic socialist regime. We’re separated into those who became better citizens of America and citizens-in-name-only who do not pledge allegiance to the Republic.

Good citizens of America know the Constitution better now than we did in 2001. We pay more attention, contact our representatives more often, and speak up more often.

Good citizens vote more regularly, and more informed, than they voted before 2001.

Good citizens support our first responders—the police and fire department, the FBI, and other protectors—and acknowledge the daily risks they take to keep us safe. Good citizens support our military, who have risked and sacrificed so much to fight the enemy abroad, to avoid having to fight the enemy here.

Good citizens tend to be puzzled by the growing number of fellow Americans who assume, without evidence, that America is more racist and stratified than ever before (and more than just about anywhere else), and that America’s intentions internationally are imperialistic and oppressive. We’re puzzled by the twisting that calls evil good and good evil, and the pervasive media that assumes we all agree on these twists.

How could there be this divide, when we were so united after the attack that is still fresh in our minds after 15 years?

Maybe it isn’t fresh enough in some minds. Maybe that’s why we have to keep memorializing this day.

This painting, “Out of the Ashes,” by Ken Turner, continues to be my favorite image of 9/11. There are a several versions of it, one in NYPD headquarters, another in NYFD headquarters. The ghost images, different in each version, represent actual people who died in the attack and the aftermath.

Several years ago there was a Darryl Worley song, “Have YouForgotten,” shared among the citizens around 9/11, with images to remind us. The words are still  appropriate; this is the chorus:

Have you forgotten how it felt that day
To see your homeland under fire
And her people blown away?
Have you forgotten when those towers fell
We had neighbors still inside
Going through a living hell?
And you say we shouldn't worry 'bout Bin Laden.
Have you forgotten?

This year I came across a new one. The song isn’t new, but the rendition along with the images is new. It’s Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence,” done grittier, with the images we shouldn’t forget. Worth watching in remembrance.

Another video I hadn’t seen is from a girls’ dorm room at NYU. They record what’s happening after a plane crashed into the first tower. They don’t yet understand what is going on; they think it is a freak accident, and while they’re shocked, they’re still pretty calm. Then the second one hits, and someone receives news that it’s terrorism, and the panic hits. This is not for the faint of heart, but it bears watching, to remind us we weren’t exaggerating the magnitude of the attack. The link is here.

On Glenn Beck’s show today, he interviewed a man who survived the attack on the Pentagon, because he had stepped out of his office to use the restroom. He was badly burned, but no one else in his office survived.  I think he is allowing this episode available for viewing without a subscription, at least for a time.

I think we need to keep these images in mind. Not so we can remain angry and vengeful. But so that we can recognize that there is a real battle still going on—between good and evil. Good citizens will be very clear about which side they’re on.

“A people that no longer remembers has lost its history and its soul.”—Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Time to Pray

It’s always time to pray. And this political season makes the need even more urgent.

But today I’m talking about a specific threat to religious freedom.

I got word yesterday from a friend about a situation at our local school district board meetings. These meetings have begun with prayer since the school district began. All of the board members (mostly not conservative, or not as conservative as the population in our area) want to keep the prayer. But they have been contacted by the Freedom from Religion Foundation with the threat of a lawsuit if they continue to allow the meetings to open with prayer. The district lawyer has recommended that they change from prayer to a moment of silence, in an effort to avoid spending taxpayer money (that should go to educating students) on defense against the lawsuit.
image from here

My friend is recruiting people to attend the meeting and recite The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) during the moment of silence.

For local readers who might be interested, the meeting is this coming Monday, September 12th, at 6:00 PM at the Instructional Support Center, 10300 Jones Road, Houston, Texas.

There has been some back-and-forth on an email loop, which I’m finding enlightening. I have a few overarching questions:

·         What religion is being established by the US Government when a local independent school district in Texas has a prayer, offered by citizens of various religions, to begin their public board meetings?
·         Why is the threat of a lawsuit treated as a lawsuit lost?
·         Why are people who are so intolerant that they organize and sue to stamp out any vestige of religion in their country—even in a place where they are not present and have no interest—not held accountable and thrown out of court for their attack on the Constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens?
From my friend’s email, here is what we know so far (edited to omit names):

At the last school district Board Meeting, the traditional prayer was replaced by a Moment of Silence. When I asked why the change, I was told that the school district was contacted by the Freedom from Religion Foundation and that they threatened the school district with a lawsuit if they did not discontinue the prayer at the Board meetings. Speaking with the Superintendent and the Board Chairwoman, I was told that the Board was unanimously in favor of keeping the prayer; however, the CFISD attorney recommended that the Board not put the taxpayers at risk, therefore the Board decided to end the traditional prayer at the Board meetings.
As a result of that decision, I have contacted several organizations that specialize in religious liberty and found one, the American Center for Law and Justice (Jay Sekulow’s Group), that was interested in the issue, but needed to speak with someone from the Board, and I forwarded that information to the school district attorney.  So far, I have gotten no update from the Board on this situation.
My friend explains how this foundation could even know whether we have a prayer at these meetings:

In the State of Texas, School Boards in cities with a population over 10,000 people are required to video their Board Meetings and make them available to the public.  This makes it easy for groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation to target school districts even through the group doesn’t represent anyone within those districts.  The Superintendent told me that our school district was the largest ISD [independent school district] in the state that still had prayer as a part of the Board meetings.
I believe it is time that we stand up to liberal organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation before they systematically remove all mention of our nation’s religious heritage from our schools.
There has been some communication since the first email with the district lawyer. She says,

I will give the caveat that I think proliferation of a discussion about planning to pray during the moment of silence could possibly be used against the school district in the future unfortunately. 
Another friend in the loop offered additional suggestions:

It would seem to me that if a group of citizens wish to speak, as is always available on the school board agenda, at an open Board meeting, and that speech is a prayer supporting the students, teachers, and leaders of our community, that is a positive action for all.
The courts have routinely affirmed that if prayer or other expressions of faith is student initiated, that is a clear First Amendment right.
A group of us doing the same, expressing our faith in support of the community at a Board meeting, is a parallel—citizen initiated. A simple, routine traditional event in our culture.
Then if the Freedom from Religion Foundation wants to stop it, they need to take action against our group and not waste tax payer money. Obviously, they become the aggressor against first amendment rights. The Board can be passive as the courts have repeatedly declared.
I think this writer has a good point. There is more that can be done in future meetings. And there’s something to be said for citizen-led action.

The lawyer does later respond to our current plans, with due lawyerly concern:

The audience reciting a prayer during the moment of silence gives me legal concerns for two reasons.  First, there is case law that invalidates moments of silence if they are a pretense to prayer.  If citizens audibly pray during the designated silence, this could call the practice into question and give rise to a challenge to its constitutionality.  Second, the meeting of the Board is a meeting in the public and not of the public.  As such, we routinely admonish audience members who interject during the meeting.  If we allowed audience members to recite prayers during the moment of silence, but did not allow other types of speech to be interjected during the meeting, I am concerned this could be challenged as an endorsement/establishment of religious speech.
The first, about case law: I think that means the way previous cases were ruled determines what the law is considered to be—rather than what the law actually says. Our supreme law, in case you’ve forgotten (apparently some judges have forgotten), says, as the first point in the First Amendment, that the Congress shall make no law that establishes a national religion, and Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Courts, in theory, can only rule on what the law is; they do not make it. So, of course the judicial branch of the federal government can make no law prohibiting the people in northwest Houston, Texas, from opening a public school board meeting with prayer, as they have always done.

As to the second point, the public does have a process for speaking at the meetings. It may require coming early enough to sign up to be put on the agenda. A person could sign up, ask to be placed first on the agenda, and then offer a prayer as their contribution to the meeting. Some out-of-state group observing only online (and only for the purpose of finding something to sue about) would have a hard time proving that the Board was complicit in the supposed sin of allowing prayer, since the Board doesn’t know what anyone is going to say until they get up to speak. Even if someone did that meeting after meeting, to disallow that person to do it would be to presume the person planned religious speech and disallow it on that basis, which would clearly violate the First Amendment.
Another email from the group reminds us that the US House has an Office of the Chaplain, and the House still opens its proceedings with prayer.

It simply is not illegal to pray in a public setting in America. It cannot even be claimed to be offensive to non-religious people who aren’t present and don’t belong to the community.

So why give in to the threat?

Because justice in America is expensive. Deep pockets often win over justice.

But we have a lawyer. I am making assumptions here about this lawyer’s daily workload, but isn’t this what we already pay her for?

Plus, my friend has already been recruiting nonprofit experts, such as ACLJ, who take on just this kind of case. They are able to do their pro bono work, because concerned citizens donate to the cause. (Just like concerned atheists donate to the cause of trying to eliminate religion from America.) We might be able to win justice without sacrificing taxpayer dollars intended to educate students.

This Freedom from Religion Foundation has spent exactly nothing threatening a lawsuit. The least we can do is let them spend their hard-begged-for donations on an actual lawsuit. We shouldn’t get the vapors at the first breath of a threat to our most essential basic freedom of belief.
image from here

Maybe we should use that belief, and trust that our God is a mighty God. We will honor Him. We will ask for His guidance in our Board meetings and other public gatherings. And maybe He will help us fight this battle.

It starts with a prayer, this coming Monday.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Employment Numbers

I was listening to a financial planning show on the radio. They were talking about employment and used the term U6, which I didn’t recognize. So I looked it up:

U3 is the official unemployment rate. U5 includes discouraged workers and all other marginally attached workers. U6 adds on those workers who are part-time purely for economic reasons. The current U6 unemployment rate as of August 2016 is 9.7%.
The source provided a handy chart comparing these three rates: U6 Unemployment Rate

I wondered whether the “as of August 2016” was what we got by August 1st or August 31st—which would have come out last Thursday or Friday. It looks like these are the latest, and the rates stayed the same in August as in July.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides basic data and some charts.

While I was thinking about employment this Labor Day weekend, I came across a Prager University video describing in more real terms what these numbers mean. Here's part of the transcript, but watch the whole thing below; it's only a minute and a half:

If someone has gotten so frustrated that they’ve stopped looking for work… or just decided that they won’t work anymore, they no longer get counted as unemployed.

So, imagine you had a town with 100 people, and 10 of them were unemployed and trying to find jobs. The unemployment rate would be 10%. Make sense?

So now imagine if five of those people got tired of looking for jobs and decided to move into their parent’s basement… the government would now say that the unemployment rate has gone down to 5%.  Yippee!  Wait now…that doesn’t make sense.

The people in the basement are no longer part of the labor force because they’ve given up… so the labor force participation rate goes down too…

Not exactly a reason to celebrate.

So while the unemployment rate is important, the labor force participation rate, which as you can see, tells the real story.

The U6 number relates, in a way, to the Labor Participation Rate, but it probably tells a fuller story to look at both.

Labor Participation Rate is defined as the percentage of civilians age 16 and older who are in the labor force (gainfully employed), seasonally adjusted. (Calculation formula here.) 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, before the start of the Great Recession in fall 2008, the rate was consistently around 66%. The recession dropped it a percentage point, where it lingered for a year. Then it dropped another point, where it stayed for two years. Then another point for a year. And it has been under 63% for three years now, hanging at 62.8 the past two months.

The Bureau chart only went back to 2006, and I wondered what it was like leading up to that. So I found a chart going back to 1950 (below). 

You have to go back to March 1978 to find that rate again. Before that it was historically lower, in large part to more women staying home.

It rose steadily until through 1989. Then it dipped a bit until the late 1990s. After reaching a 2000 high of 67.3, it dipped and hung around 66% until the Obama administration. From April 2009 it dropped steadily until September 2015, reaching a low of 62.4. So we’re supposed to believe 62.8 is a return to the labor force.

I think we’re supposed to believe this is a new normal. This is what the administration calls recovery.

Chart from FRED

A few weeks ago I reviewed the typical parabolic shape of a recession and recovery, and what I call the Trampoline Effect. If someone interferes with the bounce, with some misguided intention of “helping,” the result is taking the energy out of the expect bounce back up. I think the latest employment numbers are just more evidence of interference preventing recovery.

The interferences we need to get rid of include Obamacare; regulatory agencies doing lawmaking, prosecution, and sentencing; environmentalist overreach; and an atrocious national debt. The list could go on. Let’s pray we get a reprieve sometime soon.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

To Chaos and Back

“We need to shake up the status quo.”

“We need to get rid of the whole system; it’s not working. Then we can start from scratch and do things right.”

This is the kind of argument being tossed around this election year—eight years into the Great Recession. And also the argument of anarchy groups like Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, white supremacists, and Islamist terrorists. If there is any seed of sanity under their attacks on civil society, it must be the burn-it-to-the-ground-and-start-over theory.

Clearly there are things to be dissatisfied about. But do we need to throw out our whole system? Our Constitution? Our economy? Our money?

If we did, would we be likely to create something better? That totally depends on who is doing the creating and what principles they follow.

Chaos is something we don’t like. It means we all fend for ourselves, safeguarding our own lives and property, with no expectation of help from a government. It is another form of tyranny: rule of the strongest and best armed. Not very different from the statist version of that, which guarantees that the government is the strongest and best armed and can therefore take your life, freedom, or property at will.

There’s the Marxist theory, practiced by Trotsky and Lenin, of purposely creating chaos (revolution, they called it) so that the very instigators of the revolution could step in and say, “Let me rule, and I’ll make everything better for you,” which translated means, “I will rule absolutely, and I won’t allow disorder or dissent.”

Rahm Emanuel said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” That was the same thing; use any sign of chaos, label it as bad (it often is bad, but people can be stirred up to think it’s critically urgent to get relief), and insist that more government control is the solution.

So there’s an oscillation between chaos (non-governmental tyranny) and governmental tyranny.

There’s an event in Pearl Bucks The Good Earth, where the general population is suffering greatly, living in tents and huts on the streets, while the wealthy rulers live in luxury behind great walls. At last the people can take it no longer. They riot and break in, oust (kill) the elites, take their belongings, and eventually use the confiscated wealth to buy land and settle down to work the land and begin building up their wealth. Then the next occupants of power and wealth begin doing the same things as before. The oppression caused misery. And then the chaos caused misery. And then the previously oppressed seize power and use it to oppress others.

Principles that would lead to general prosperity help when followed, but they’re hardly ever followed, and they’re hindered by those in power.

So, if we were to suffer some significant chaos here in America, what is the likelihood that would lead to greater freedom, prosperity, and civilization?

The Spherical Model helps us see where movement from statist tyranny to chaos takes us. Statist tyranny is in the southeast quadrant: principles of freedom and free enterprise are ignored, and control is in the hands of government at the highest levels, rather than the most local. Chaos is in the southwest quadrant: principles of freedom (honoring and protecting each person’s right of life, liberty, and property) are not followed, and control is in the hands of whoever seizes power through force.

The Spherical Model, looking at the
division between local and global interests

Movement from statist tyranny to chaotic tyranny is a lateral move, from east to west, while remaining in the southern hemisphere where God-given rights are not protected. When the people can’t take the chaos any more, they turn for relief to whatever strongman or organization claims to be capable of controlling the chaos. It’s a lateral move again, this time from west to east.

That is the typical story of human history. Moving north—toward freedom—is rare. It requires people who understand what it takes to move northward. We had such people at our founding—as if God had raised up people who would understand how to form a more perfect union:

·         Government must be strictly limited to its role of safeguarding our natural rights to life, liberty, and property.
·         Economics must be free-market, allowing everyone the right to pursue their choice of work, leading to entrepreneurism and innovation that benefit everyone. Government’s only role is in settling disputes and safeguarding property, which may include standardizing the form of money and enforcing laws.
·         Those unable to care for themselves are cared for charitably by families, churches, and philanthropy.
·         A critical mass of the people must be righteous. They must recognize that our rights are unalienable because they are God-given, not man- or government-granted. And God requires that people must live lives that honor God, family, life, property, and truth.
·         A critical mass of the people must raise children in families with married mother and father, to pass along the principles of freedom, prosperity, and civilization.
There are plenty of details within each of these principles, enough to fill books and college courses. But the basics are easily knowable.

So the question isn’t about whether creating chaos might be a good thing; it isn’t. But leaving the status quo with a bold and direct move northward—that would be a good thing. Such a startling change might appear to create chaos, but only while people readjust to something unfamiliar.

For example, getting rid of Obamacare would remove a huge burden and expense from the economy. But the immediate concern would be how to get health care to those who couldn’t afford it before Obamacare was forced on us as the solution. But the problem was there because of interference with the free market. There are free market solutions that could take hold: health savings accounts, choosing to pay directly rather than with insurance except for catastrophic coverage, insurance across state lines, insurance connected to the person rather than the employer. Add in some philanthropy and the market would do a better job than government interference ever could.

Another example would be education. Assume for a moment that education could be done entirely privately. Doing away with all government education would be drastic and chaotic—especially during the middle of a school year. Eventually the free market would meet the need. There are so many options now, because of online information. Free market solutions combined with philanthropy could also meet the needs of those who can’t afford education, so that the next generation doesn’t get stuck in uneducated poverty.

But the solution would seem drastic, and the adjustment might take some years to readjust. A learning child doesn’t have years to waste while the adults who should be educating them get their act together. However, removing the federal government layer immediately would do no harm, and would allow education money to stay within states. A movement toward local would be a good next step. More school choice, through charter schools, educational savings accounts, or homeschooling are just common sense.

The solution shouldn’t be toward chaos; it should always be northward toward freedom, free market, and civilization.