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Monthly Archives: July 2008

BEN BERNANKE’S HUSH MONEY

 

By Dr. Gary North 
for Gary North’s Q&A forums: www.GaryNorth.com

The bailout of IndyMac’s depositors will probably deplete
10% of the FDIC’s reserves.

Congress will back up the FDIC if the FDIC ever (1) runs out of T-bills to sell (2) to raise money (3) to pay off depositors of insolvent banks. But where will Congress get this money?

From the Federal Reserve System, if lenders will not fork over the money.

The Federal Reserve System backs up Congress. This is the heart of the threat to the solvency of the dollar.

The $4 billion that the FDIC will pay to a handful of depositors at IndyMac is hush money. It is paid to them to silence every other depositor in the country. “Don’t spread rumors about any insolvent bank.” Why not? “Because, in a fractionally reserved system, all of them are technically insolvent.” They are all borrowed short and lent long.

NO PANIC . . . YET

The failure of IndyMac this month was unique. We have not seen a bank failure this large since 1984. In one sense, this reminded the general public that individual banks can go bankrupt.

The most common reason for bankruptcy is that the bank has lent money to purchasers of real estate, which is a long-term debt, yet depositors have the right to withdraw money at any time. The bank is lent long and borrowed short. Yet this is true of every bank. The ones that get caught, which is a rare event, have merely indulged in long-term lending more than the average bank.

The failure of an individual bank does not produce mass panic any longer. It has been so long since Americans have seen a bank run that they pay no attention to an rare bank failure.

Because the FDIC presently does have sufficient reserves in Treasury debt to sell and compensate depositors, depositors around the country are not tempted to go to their bank and demand currency.

The fact that the FDIC could cover the deposits of no more than a dozen banks the size of IndyMac does not disturb them.

They know nothing about the FDIC, other than the crucial fact: the United States government stands behind it. The government will re-capitalize the FDIC.

The experts who really do understand the nature of the bank deposit insurance program, as incarnated by the FDIC, know that the Federal Reserve System in turn stands behind the Federal government. So, there is no question that individual depositors in individual banks will be bailed out by the FDIC directly, or by the United States government through the FDIC if the FDIC runs out of T-bills to sell.

What will happen when the Federal Reserve System runs out of Treasury debt to sell or swap? It has unloaded almost 40% of its holdings since last December.

When that day comes, a lot of geese will get cooked.

TWO KINDS OF BANK FAILURES

There is an enormous difference — a literally life-and- death difference — between individual bank failures and a systemic banking failure. I do not believe we are facing a systemic banking failure. But we are facing more individual bank failures.

Americans have seen very few bank failures ever since the establishment of the FDIC in 1934. Depositors trust the FDIC to intervene and protect the money in their bank accounts. They do not withdraw currency from their accounts in a banking crisis because they believe that the FDIC will intervene to protect them. This confidence has kept almost all American banks from experiencing bank runs since 1934.

This is the most important of all “moral hazards.” A moral hazard is the expected subsidy from the government to protect investors from a major collapse that their own stupidity and greed has caused. All the talk by Ben Bernanke or anyone else about trying to avoid moral hazard is propaganda for the rubes.

Moral hazard is at the bottom of the banking system, beginning with the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.

The entire banking system rests on this premise: the banking system must be saved from bad investment decisions of reckless bankers whose banks go bankrupt, thereby causing doubts about the solvency of an entire system that is borrowed short and lent long, a system built on a lie: “We will pay you interest by lending out your deposit, but everyone can get his money back at any time.” This lie is more widely believed than even this one: “Of course I will still respect you in the morning.”

The FDIC was set up to use government money, if required, to protect bankers against two groups: (1) depositors, (2) foolhardy rival bankers who go bust. Bankers fear depositors’ decisions to withdraw currency, thereby imploding the fractionally reserved banking system. They fear busted banks because of the potential domino effect: “all fall down.”

WITHDRAWAL AND RE-DEPOSIT

When an individual withdraws currency from his bank account, he reverses the expansion process of fractional reserve banking.

For every paper dollar that an individual deposits, the banking system as a whole multiplies the quantity of money by nine to one. It may multiply it even more if this deposit is not in an urban bank. Similarly, when a person withdraws currency from his bank, and does not redeposit it, the banking system contracts the deposits by nine to one.

Who withdraws currency from a bank? You and I withdraw currency from ATMs, but we intend to spend this currency.
Whenever we spend it, it winds up in the cash drawer of a retail company. The company at the end of the day deposits this currency into its bank. So, the banking system as a whole does not experience contraction. The money supply therefore does not contract.

The only contraction that is permanent is the contraction of currency withdrawn from a local bank and then sent to relatives outside the United States. When this is done, there is a permanent contraction of digital money in the banking system.

But this rate of withdrawal is fairly constant, and so the banking system does not contract unexpectedly. This process actually reduces the rate of monetary inflation and the rate of price inflation in the United States. Immigrants send money to their relatives, and American consumers find that imported goods are paid for in effect by pieces of paper with Presidents’ pictures on them. Foreigners do not use the money to buy American goods, leaving prices lower in the United States than they otherwise would have been.

The banking system as a whole is not threatened by individual bank failures. The money that a failed bank has lent out does not disappear when the lending bank fails. It remains in circulation. The money that depositors might otherwise have lost is returned to them by the FDIC. So, individual bank failures do not alter the total money supply.

Those few individuals who deposited more than $100,000 in accounts at a local bank that fails will lose most of their money above $100,000. They have learned their lesson through IndyMac.

It is likely that wealthy depositors have already taken steps by now to defend themselves against further bank failures. They have spread the money around. If not, they are slow learners.

THE REAL THREAT

The problem with individual bank failures is not the threat of a collapsing banking system. The problem is that bank failures send a message to depositors: the economy is being managed by people who do not have good economic judgment.
Depositors begin to distrust the economy as a whole. It is not that they distrust the banking system as a whole. There is nothing they can do individually to pull the plug on the banking system as a whole, other than withdrawing all of their money from the bank and sending it abroad to people they barely know. This is not going to happen.

The threat to the banking system is that failed banks are a yellow flag to consumers. It warns them that the economy as a whole is at risk. Bank failures testify to the incompetence of supposed experts who manage the public’s money. When the average investor begins to lose confidence in the money managers, they may decide that discretion is the better part of valor. At some point, he will call his pension fund or stock mutual fund and tell the person at the other end of the line to sell the stocks.
He will have to buy something, and what he will buy will be short-term money market instruments. He may also buy U.S.
Treasury bonds.

The problem with this is that long-term money, meaning long-term capital to be used in long-term projects, will become less available. The government will spend any money that the public invests in Treasury debt. Businesses will find that it is more difficult to gain access to long-term capital. This will slow the rate of economic growth in the United States. This will remove the engine of economic growth. By moving their money out of the private sector, and especially out of equities, investors will contract the overall economy.

It is not that individual bank failures threaten the banking system as a whole. The banking system as a whole is a gigantic cartel, and this cartel has as its protector the Federal Reserve System. The Federal Reserve System is legally allowed to monetize anything it wants to monetize. It can buy any asset, and it can create the money to buy this asset.

The Federal Reserve can intervene to save individual banks, or large financial institutions. Not only can it do this, it is doing it on a constant basis. At some point, it will not be able to do this without monetizing assets that it cannot offset by the sale of existing Treasury debt in its possession. Beginning in December 2007, the Federal Reserve System has sold Treasury debt whenever it has increased its purchase of questionable assets that it has bought from banks and large financial institutions.
It has unloaded about 40% of its holdings of liquid Treasury debt. This has kept it from inflating the money supply at a dramatic rate.

At some point, it will run out of Treasury debt to sell to the general public in order to offset the increase of its purchase of questionable assets held by the financial system. At that point, the great inflation will begin.

This could be a year away. This could be a month away. All we know is this: when the Federal Reserve system runs out of Treasury debt to sell, its purchase of all assets will be inflationary. The banking system as a whole is protected. What is not protected is the purchasing power of the dollar.

In order to guarantee the survival of the banking system as a whole, the existing legal structure has created an enormous risk factor: the destruction of the dollar. Legal solvency can be maintained by the banking system as a whole, but this legal solvency comes at a price: the threat of the insolvency of the dollar itself.

This is always been true. The public has never thought this through. It is beyond the voters’ comprehension. Congress, which has authorized the legislation that has led to this system ever since passing the Federal Reserve Act in late December, 1913, has also not thought about the implications of this system of guaranteed legal solvency for the banking system. But the insolvency of the dollar is the ultimate implication of the legal structure of today’s fractionally reserved banking cartel.

The major threat to the banking system is from outside the banking system. The major threat is the insolvency of a major company that has guaranteed the bonds of private corporations and agency bonds of the United States government, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These supposed guarantees has made possible the system of bond portfolios that can be broken up into 125 levels of risk, with appropriate rates of return on each of the slices.
The system is so complex that no one understands it.

Hedge funds have invested in these assets, called collateralized mortgage obligations. They have borrowed from banks to buy them. The leverage of the hedge fund system is enormous. It is probably a hundred to one. The guarantees against loss that undergird the financial system are guarantees made by organizations that cannot possibly fulfill their contracts during an anomalous event, such as an attack on Iran by the Israeli air force. When the promises cannot be fulfilled, interest rates will rise for all American bonds except those of the United States Treasury. This will trigger additional demands placed on the guarantors of these contracts, which will threaten the solvency of the bond system.

At that point, bank capital will collapse as a result of the losses that the banks have sustained because they lent hedge funds money to invest in the bonds. The collapse of the Carlyle Capital Corp. earlier this year took less than a week. It was borrowed at least 32 to one by ten major banks of the United States. Those banks lost 100% of these their investment in one week.

When banks lose capital, they must either find a new investors, or else they must reduce their loans. When they reduce their loans, they refuse to roll over existing lines of credit to American corporations. This is the major threat to the system. It is not a threat of the bankruptcy of the banks; it is the threat of the reduction of lines of credit to American corporations — corporations that are dependent on these lines of credit.

In a financial panic, American investors will move from corporate bonds and stocks and put their money in Treasury debt.

This threatens the solvency, not simply of individual banks, but of individual corporations that are dependent upon lines of credit issued by specific banks. American corporations are not dependent on the banking system as a whole. They are dependent on continuing lines of credit from specific banks. They do not have time to renegotiate loans with other banks. They have to meet their payrolls. This will become increasingly difficult to do in the environment created by constant reports of individual failures of specific banks.

This is the famous and widely denied crowding-out effect.
The Federal government’s debt certificates are trusted; the private capital markets are less trusted. In order for the private capital markets to continue to operate in such an hostile environment, they will have to offer greater economic returns than Treasury debt. It will become more expensive for private companies to attract long-term investment, precisely because individual banks are failing.

Obviously, the companies would all fail if the banking system as a whole collapsed. The entire society’s existence would be at risk if the entire banking system collapsed. There is no a safe hedge against such a scenario. The division of labor would collapse. Cities would not be resupplied with goods.

It would be like all the disaster movies combined. It would take only a matter of weeks for the death rate to jump. So, anyone who talks about the collapse of the banking system who has not retreated to a small farm located 100 miles from a major city does not take seriously his own scenario.

The problem is not the collapse of the banking system as a whole. The problem is the crowding out by government, especially the Federal government, of capital that would otherwise have gone into the private sector. The threat is the long-term erosion of confidence in the private capital markets.

This is not a minor threat. This is a major threat. It threatens the long-term growth of the American economy. It threatens the long-term growth of an economy which is heavily indebted to foreign investors. When foreign investors perceive that growth has stopped, they are going to cease lending money to Americans to sustain their present patterns of consumption. The dollar will fall. The price of imported goods will increase.

The public will have to readjust its household budgets. When the public must readjust spending patterns, the result is recession.

In a major readjustment of their budgets, the result is a deep depression. We have not seen this since the 1930s.

When we read of more bank failures, we will grow more nervous. It is not that tens of millions of depositors will go to go down to their banks and take out currency. A few million people may do this to a limited extent, but most people will not.

This is because they do not have sufficient reserves in their bank accounts to enable them to take out $1000 in currency and not use that money to spend on household bills. So, they won’t do this. (You probably should.)

The long-run effectiveness of withdrawing currency to protect yourself from a complete collapse is essentially useless.

You cannot buy much in a complete collapse. Most things are produced and delivered based on bank credit. We are hooked.

The likelihood of the complete collapse of banks is extremely low. It could happen, but it is highly unlikely. What is likely in a scenario of failing banks is the increasing loss of public confidence in the private capital markets. When that happens, the rush to buy Treasury debt, which means the rush to hand over our economic future is to the United States Congress, will lead to the de-capitalization of the private companies that increase our standard of living.

THE REAL PRICE OF BANK GUARANTEES

The public has encouraged the United States government to protect voters from unexpected bank failures. Congress has complied. The banking cartel has welcomed this cooperation. The Federal Reserve System has inflated. The dollar has depreciated by 95% since 1914. This is a result of the creation of the Federal Reserve System, which was created in the name of stable money. In other words, it is one more example of Ludwig von Mises’ rule: whenever the government interferes with the market, the result will be the opposite of what the legislators said they intended to achieve.

The greater the threat to the individual banks’ solvency, the louder the public will demand additional government intervention. Congress will respond. The result will be the creation of a set of conditions in which the Federal Reserve System will have to monetize the overleveraged hedge fund system which has grown up over the last decade. It will find that it must monetize so much, so fast, on all sides, that it will not be able to offset the creation of new money by the sale of existing Treasury debt.

Bernanke has done his best to keep the helicopter full of fiat money from having to take off and do its work. But he cannot resist the demands of Congress once it is clear the public that a series of bank bankruptcies is threatening the public’s confidence in the economy as a whole. The banks are protected.

The purchasing power of the United States dollar is not.

Eventually, Bernanke’s hush money helicopter will fly.

So, we face a recession. We also face bankruptcies of overleveraged small banks like IndyMac. But the large banks are far more leveraged than the public understands. They have lent huge chunks of their capital to hedge funds that are leveraged 100 to one. A 1% move opposite to what a hedge fund has expected can wipe out 100% of a 100-to-one fund’s equity. It can be insolvent faster than you can say Carlyle Capital Corporation.

Warren Buffett says that the stages of the investment cycle is managed by three successive groups: first, the innovators; second, the imitators; third, the idiots. We are well into stage three.

CONCLUSION

In 1998, a weekend intervention by the President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank got a dozen banks to pony up $3.6 billion of new loans to keep the insolvent Long Term Capital Management hedge fund. The fund was leveraged 30 to one and would have to sell off $125 billion in assets at a loss. Since much of the portfolio was in assets that had fallen to zero — defaulted Russian bonds — this would be painful. Sales of the liquid assets would have tanked the international bond market.

The bailout gave the banks time to sell the still-marketable assets over the next two years.

Now the hedge funds are international. The obligations are in the trillions.

Who can bail out a large busted fund now? The banks are in hock to all of them, and one of them can bring down the system.

Bernanke will need a lot of hush money.


Gary North’s Economic Edge™

The Economic Edge, a publication of The American Vision, is emailed twice per week.

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In Sharpton case, ‘old shakedown theory’ resurfaces

The Philadelphia Inquirer

By Deneen Borelli
July 2008

Al Sharpton is making headlines again, but it’s not for one of his crusades. Instead, Sharpton, his National Action Network (NAN), and several major corporations that have donated to NAN have been subpoenaed in recent months by federal investigators.
While Sharpton’s attorneys reported Tuesday that the criminal probe over millions allegedly owed in taxes by Sharpton and NAN has been dropped in lieu of civil action by the IRS, federal authorities remain tight-lipped over the status of any investigations.

 

Critics have long accused Sharpton of obtaining corporate contributions by threatening racial boycotts.

 

Sharpton denies this, saying “That’s the old shakedown theory that the anti-civil-rights forces have used against us forever.”

 

But there’s plenty to wonder about. In November 2003, according to the New York Post, Sharpton picketed a DaimlerChrysler air show, threatening a boycott. After the company began sponsoring NAN’s annual conference in 2004, however, Sharpton bestowed an award on it for corporate excellence. General Motors and American Honda also began giving to the group after similar threats.

 

Sharpton’s not alone. Critics of Jesse Jackson claim he has perfected the art of the shakedown. Suspicions persist, for instance, about motives behind repeated generous contributions from mortgage giant Freddie Mac to Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. As the National Legal and Policy Center has reported, “Jesse Jackson’s relationship with Freddie Mac began in 1998 when Jackson accused Freddie Mac of racial discrimination and encouraged major shareholders to sell their stock. Freddie Mac began financial support for Jackson’s organizations and his criticism of Freddie Mac stopped.”

 

Freddie Mac donated $150,000 to a Rainbow/PUSH conference earlier this month, even as Congress was debating a bailout of the struggling firm and Fannie Mae, a bailout that the Congressional Budget Office says might cost taxpayers as much as $100 billion.

A 16-year crusade against Anheuser-Busch for not having enough minority beer distributors ended with Jackson’s sons being awarded a lucrative Chicago distributorship. Businesses that Jackson has criticized, including Toyota and NASCAR, have become sponsors of his annual Wall Street Conference.

 

At this year’s annual shareholder meeting of the JPMorgan Chase & Company financial services firm, I observed Jackson in action. During the meeting’s question-and-answer session, Jackson pressed JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon about the company’s commitment to diversity. Jackson asked Dimon how much of the $750 million spent on a recent merger went to minority contractors. As Jackson bluntly put it: “How much of that was done by black and brown lawyers?”

 

While Dimon could not specify a dollar amount, he emphasized that JPMorgan’s support of minority contractors has increased, as has the percentage of minorities in senior management positions.

 

Dimon could have not been surprised to see Jackson. This February, Jackson called Dimon about JPMorgan’s role in the then-upcoming initial public offering (IPO) of credit card giant Visa Inc.

 

In a follow-up letter to Dimon, Jackson wrote, “It is our understanding that just four minority firms are involved in the IPO syndicate at the third tier level, none as co-managers or even junior co-managers. . . . This is a major step backward for Wall Street and its commitment to inclusion. . . . There must be some sense of ‘equanomics’ [a Jackson term marrying "racial justice" to "economic equality"] in the IPO deal – which the representation of minority investment banking firms compares favorably to our consumer use of credit cards.”

Frustrated by what appears to me to be a long history of Jackson and Sharpton using semi-subtle campaigns to pressure corporations to donate, I spoke up at the JPMorgan shareholder meeting.

 

After Jackson spoke, I took his place at the microphone and asked Dimon and his board: “Will there ever be a day where you will stand up and say ‘No’ to Mr. Jackson and to his demands and messages of victimization and divisiveness? This is the United States of America, and this is not the 1960s. People should be hired based on their talents and they should be retained based on their results. There should not be color-coded hiring in the United States.”

 

Shareholders clapped. But, unlike Jackson’s, my question went unanswered.

 
 

The Impact of Scientific Information on Theological Thoughts

office16By Rev. Dr. Tommy Davis

  

Perhaps the most challenging field of study for the Christian is in the area of science.  The prevailing outlooks in the scientific arena pose a risk to those who are not grounded in the Word of God.  Many contemporary secular scientists who do not regard the biblical account as truth often contend that the truly educated scientist will not accept the biblical report of creation.  They also decree that science and the Scriptures are in conflict.

 

Over the years as scientific disciplines began to move from observation to assumptions, the theological impact was revealing itself in the church when ministers began to teach in a manner in an attempt to appease the intellectual establishment.  The naturalists endeavor to explain our present universe with all its intricacies without divine intervention may lead some to cast doubt on the written revelation —the Bible—and usually precede suspicion regarding the Person of Christ.

 

The effort to exclude God from His cosmic phenomenon have caused a serious error in the visible church.  However, some Bible-believing scientists remained as trailblazers to those believers who depend on the Word of God.

 

Robert Boyle (1627-1691), the father of modern chemistry, was a Bible-believing scientist as was Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) who penned the laws of thermodynamics.  These men understood that true science and the Scriptures are compatible, while assumptions may conflict with the biblical testimony.

 

The incorrect knowledge of science has led some professed Christians to base their racist ideas on these assumptions.  Evolutionary influence upheld racism within the churches.

 

Thomas Huxley (1825-1895), a British biologist, was a devoted evolutionist and well respected scholar of his time.  Perhaps no other “collection of dust” have mushroomed the evolutionary theory.  Shortly after slavery was abolished in America, Huxley wrote:

 

“No rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average Negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man.  And if this be true, it is simply incredible that, when all his disabilities are removed, and our prognathous relative has a fair field and no favour, as well as no oppressor, he will be able to compete successfully with his bigger-brained and smaller-jawed rival, in a contest which is to be carried out by thoughts and not by bites.”1

 

Nominal Christians who put more trust in the creature (man) rather than the Creator believed Huxley’s cosmology.  Before Huxley’s outlook was published, a European missionary named Henry Townsend who went to Africa opposed the ordination of a black Bishop.  Mr. Townsend said, “The superiority of the white over the black man, the Negro has been forward to acknowledge.  The correctness of this belief no white man can deny.” 2

 

When the Church of England appointed Samuel Crowther as the first West African bishop on June 29, 1864, the missionary further stated:  “There is one other view that we must not lose sight of, viz., that as the Negro feels a great respect for a white man, that God kindly gives a great talent to the white man in trust to be used for the Negro’s good.  Shall we shift the responsibility?  Can we do it without sin?”. 2

 

Having his theology saturated with evolutionary dogma (believing in the ‘lower races’), was the sponsorship of a position not supported by Scripture.  This viewpoint served as a launch for the liberal Democratic Party who believes that African-Americans cannot survive without government programs sponsored by white liberals in positions of authority.  A true scientific journey always arrives at a loyal biblical position.

 

When science is incorporated in an effort to decrease the misery of man with the use of medicines, one may find encouragement; and when knowledge is applied to make life easier through the use of technology, this is confirmation that we have dominion over the lower order of God’s creation —-namely, the earth, plants and animals.  Science, rightly applied, finds comfort in the Word of God.

 

Blaise Pascal (b.1623-1662) a French mathematician, physicist and theologian, expressed that the Christian’s God does not consist merely of a God who is author of the order of elements and mathematical truths.  Pascal understood that he was serving a God of love and consolation.  Pascal paved the way for the modern computer by conceiving the calculating machine.

 

Civilization has benefited from the scientific achievements, but we must be aware of the leaven that often permeates controlled conclusions.  If we are not careful, the student of the Word of God may imbibe a worldview totally in contrast with Scripture.

 

The skillsman, whose mind has been shaped by the presence of the Holy Spirit, will make use of true scientific conclusions. Such hermeneutical ability will harmonize the sacred text and shed light on contemporary trends that sustains the reality of the Lordship of Christ.

 

Biologists tell us that Oysters produce pearls because of being wounded.  The Oyster’s internal reaction by utilizing inherent chemicals to repair the damage produces a pearl.  Theologically, through trials, the Christian grows into a more mature relationship with Christ.  Christ was even “wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).

 

The Oyster confirms that when external events in our lives offend us in some physical or spiritual way, there is a repair process already present.  All we have to do is utilize it.  The end result will be a life that glorifies God — a pearl of great price.

 

 

 

Scientists also tell us that the water molecule is polar as opposed to linear.  Such molecule is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.  Since the water molecule is shaped like a “V”, it has a positive end made up of two hydrogen atoms, and a negative end (oxygen atom). 

 

This composition causes each end to be attracted to one another resulting in a weak bond.  The tightly compacted molecules make water dense in its liquid form.  Compacting would not occur if this molecule were not polar.

 

Dissimilar to other matter, when water drops to freezing, the bond changes to hexagonal which causes a volume increase so that the solid form of water is less dense.  This will cause ice to float rather than sink.  Theologically, we must consider the water molecule as an act of mercy.  If ice were to sink, all our lakes, rivers and seas would freeze—thus eliminating all marine life.

 

After the flood, God declared: “While the earth remained, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). 

 

When the Ice Age began after the Great Flood (repeat winters), life could not have continued long after if ice did not float since water is the central ingredient that sustains natural life.  Without it, plants cannot grow, and humans along with the animal kingdom would starve.  Therefore, God made ice to float, thereby allowing nature to replenish through the use of water.

 

Lastly, everything reflects the acumen of an Intelligent Designer namely, all three members of the Trinity that make up One God.  All intellectuals in this field should agree with the Psalmist: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and stars, which thou has ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visiteth him” (Psalm 8:3-4).

 

1. Huxley, Thomas: Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews (New York, Appleton, 1871)  p.20

2. Olson, Ted. “Bishop Before His Time.”  Christian History 2003 p. 13-15

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

Transferring Intellectual Capital


Why It’s So Hard to Teach Students These Days

Professor Mark Bauerlein looks at “The Dumbest Generation.”

By George Leef

July  2008

Several years ago, Tom Brokaw wrote a best-seller, The Greatest Generation, a tribute to the Americans of the World War II era. After reading Mark Bauerlein’s new book The Dumbest Generation, you have to wonder if history wouldn’t have turned out much worse if the “Millennial Generation” – today’s youth and young adults – had been in charge during the 1940s. We might be taking orders from Berlin.

Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University, has dealt with young people for years and is dismayed at what he sees: “While the world has provided them with extraordinary chances to gain knowledge and improve their reading/writing skills, not to mention offering financial incentives to do so, young Americans today are no more learned or skillful than their predecessors, no more knowledgeable, fluent, up-to-date, or inquisitive, except in materials of youth culture….”

He continues: “They read less on their own, both books and newspapers, and you would have to canvass a lot of college English instructors and employers before you would find one who said they compose better paragraphs.”

A strong indictment, but Bauerlein backs it up.

Whereas we have been progressing technologically, he believes, we’ve been retrogressing intellectually – young Americans especially. That makes life difficult for teachers and professors, but more importantly, it bodes ill for the nation’s civic health.

In fact, the technology that has revolutionized communications is a key component of the problem. The Internet and its various offspring have largely supplanted books and other traditional sources of information. Among other changes it has brought about is that for the first time in history, it’s possible for adolescents to spend nearly all of their time if they choose (and many do) in the company of other adolescents. In our wired world, kids can come home from school but remain in almost constant touch with their friends via cell phones, instant messaging and so forth. That means the ability to tune out their parents and other adults who not only have different –i.e., mature – perspectives, but who also might discourage the sloppy linguistic and mental patterns of adolescence. Sadly, many young Americans live almost entirely in a world revolving around their friends, clothes, pop music, TV, and Facebook.

Ah, but what about all the good educational material available on the Internet? Mostly, the young ignore it, Bauerlein observes. Furthermore, what good content exists is being influenced by the sorry reading habits of young people. Those habits are marked by short attention spans, a very limited vocabulary and unwillingness to look up new words, an aversion to lengthy passages, and a preference for “scanning” rather than close reading. Internet material is generally written with those habits in mind.

School textbooks have been trending toward ever-increasing simplicity for many years (lots of pictures and bullet points, less and less prose) and the Internet has thrown that trend into high gear. Consequently, when young people confront the writing in assigned books in college courses, serious magazine articles, and even newspaper editorials, they mostly shy away.

Bauerlein isn’t blaming the technology or the young people. It’s the adult world that is responsible, starting with those who have glorified “youth culture” going back to the 1960s. Many writers in effect said that it’s America’s adults who need to learn from the nation’s youth and not the other way around. That line was a political tactic in the 60s and 70s since the “youth movement” was overwhelmingly leftist.

The glorification of youth was strongly reinforced by “progressive” educational theories emanating from our leading schools of education – theories insisting that the proper role for teachers is to act simply as “facilitators” who guide students in “constructing their own knowledge.” Supposedly, active young minds would do that if they were free to follow their own natural inclinations.

That theory took hold first in the lower K-12 grades and rapidly spread upward. Many college professors resisted it and continued to assign challenging reading material, only to discover that students either wouldn’t read it or if they tried, just couldn’t grasp it. As a result, professors have widely lowered their standards to accommodate the a-literacy of their students. In turn, that means that our supposedly highly educated populace actually contains a small and declining number of people capable of functioning at a high intellectual level.

Why is it that so many young Americans now have trouble reading? Bauerlein argues that the main culprit is poor vocabulary. To be able to understand serious written material (such as true college texts), it’s necessary to have a command of English well beyond the simple vocabulary found on Internet screens and the dumbed-down school readings students are used to. He explains, “Years of consumption of low rare-word media, then, have a dire intellectual effect. A low-reading, high-viewing childhood and adolescence prevent a person from handling relatively complicated texts, not just professional discourses, but civic and cultural media such as the New York Times Review of Books and the National Review.”

To sum up, even though Americans now have more formal education than ever – more classroom time, more degrees – the young generation is quite poorly educated. It isn’t just that they don’t know much, but that they’re not much interested in acquiring knowledge and ill-equipped to comprehend anything that isn’t written in the simplest of modes. Hence the unflattering title of the book.

One implication is that college professors who want to teach the way they were taught encounter indifference and even hostility. Another Emory professor, Patrick Allitt, has written a book on the difficulty he has in getting students to engage with his subject, American history. I reviewed his I’m the Teacher, You’re the Student here.

Another, more serious implication is that we’ll have fewer people in the future who will be able to defend our culture against the inevitable attacks upon it. Bauerlein writes,

Two generations on, we see the effects of the sovereignty of youth, and one of them bears upon culture wars to come. Put bluntly, few members of the rising cohort are ready to enlist in them properly outfitted with liberal learning and good archetypes. An able culture warrior passes long hours in libraries and public debate. He knows the great arguments, and he applies them smoothly to the day’s issues….It is the rare under-30-year-old who comes close to qualifying, even as a novice. They don’t read enough books and study enough artworks or care enough to do so. They don’t ponder enough ideas or have the vocabulary to discuss them.”

Some might brush this book off as mere grumbling by a disaffected professor, but it isn’t that. Bauerlein’s point is much deeper than the common complaint about lazy students. We’ve had a national educational melt-down and are apt to suffer grievously for it.

What to do? Bauerlein doesn’t conclude with an optimistic chapter on how we can turn things around. He does suggest that colleges should stop treating students like customers to be coddled. Those who can handle serious academic work should be required to do so and those who can’t but are willing to try should be helped as much as possible. If colleges were to start raising their fallen standards, we would expand the cohort of people who are capable of serious thinking, of defending the culture, and of countering demagogues.

Perhaps because it’s so obvious, Bauerlein doesn’t also say that it would help matters greatly if parents of young children would do all they can to avoid letting them become hooked on the online, a-literate lifestyle that does so much to create mental weaklings.

The Dumbest Generation is a badly needed diagnosis of what may be America’s most serious long-run problem.

 

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Civil religion on steroids

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In this election cycle, religion is showing up in novel and surprising ways. We have seen religion playing a prominent role since Evangelicals broke their isolation in the late 1970s. Since then, we have seen the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, Preacher Pat for President and, on the Democratic side, Reverends Jackson and Sharpton. In the campaign for 2008, we have a Baptist minister advertising his “Christian leadership” as he surges ahead in Iowa, and even Hillary Clinton (amazing grace!) has found religion.

Barak Obama is employing religion in an especially interesting way. Rather than invoking the Savior or pointing to Him, the junior Senator from Illinois is claiming to be the Savior…or at least supporters who are intimately close to him are doing so.

It seems that Obama may be transforming from a man of faith into an object of faith. In his column, “Obama the Messianic,” (The New York Post is more aptly titled “Oprah the Apostle”), Rich Lowry observes Oprah’s anointing of Sen. Obama as what she called “the one” who was to come. You can view the video here, or at BarakObama.com.

In a her long introduction to the candidate before a packed South Carolina stadium, Oprah Winfrey said, “We need politicians who know how to tell the truth. But more important, we need politicians who know how to be the truth.” (The emphasis was hers.) Barak Obama, a professing Christian (though his Evangelical orthodoxy is at least open to question, such that even David Brooks can see it), is surely familiar with Jesus’ messianic claim to divinity, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Michelle Obama seems to be following this Messianic theme (I have not been able to locate the source): “We need a leader who is going to touch our souls, who’s going to make us feel differently about one another.” Of course, Jesus does that. It’s called spiritual regeneration — being born again. To Michelle, Obama is the Life. To Oprah, he is the Truth.

What does the prophet Barak say? In a South Carolina church a few weeks ago, he said that, through the new politics that he will bring, we will “create a kingdom right here on earth.” Did the congregation gasp as they should have? I doubt it.

The American Revolution was, as Martin Diamond put it, one of “sober expectations.” It recognized the sinful depravity of man and designed a constitution that could bring out the best in us and manage the worst in us. It was the French Revolution that promised “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité,” a Republic of Virtue. Obama’s rhetoric, and that which he is condoning, places him in the radical French tradition which led of course to the Terror and to Napoleon’s tyranny. Excessive expectations for what is possible to achieve through politics always do. Hillary Clinton is more practically political, less inspiring, and even more selfish, and in those respects — believe it or not — she is a safer candidate. (A previous reflection on the longings of the soul and immoderate politics, “Community and the Longing Soul,” is relevant here.)

Oprah then suggests that Obama is perhaps not a god or a person within the Godhead, but rather a more highly evolved form of our species. “We are here to evolve to a higher plane. And the reason I love Barak Obama is because he is an evolved leader who can bring evolved leadership to this country.”

In the immediately preceding statement, Oprah claimed that Obama would not only love our country, but also love our enemies: “All human hearts are the same. Every mother losing her son in every country feels the same.” This simply repeats the peacenik arguments from the 1980s that, because “the Russians love their children too,” there is actually no threat of war coming from the Soviet Union. They skipped over the fact that even that argument depended upon maintaining credible nuclear and conventional threats. Oprah’s own argument does not, of course, account for the women who have supported their children in their suicide bombings. Nor does it account for the little influence that tender hearted women have in our enemy nations. But not to dwell too long on an entertainer’s silly remark.

She then adds that, “We need a president who cares about our friends and also cares about our enemies.” Does Senator Obama stand behind this statement? Does he propose that, when he is President, he will be above politics, above the America-world distinction, the friends-enemies distinction? Would he see himself as representing not just American interests, but in some way the worldwide common good? Does he understand that there are irreconcilable conflicts between national interests or between various local aspirations? He is so unseasoned, and he presents himself as being so idealistic, that I would take nothing for granted.

 
 

Obama: wolf in sheep’s clothing


Felicia Benamon

Felicia Benamon
July 26, 2008


“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”Matthew 7: 15, 16 (NIV)

Barack Obama bellowed before a crowd in Germany, “The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christians and Muslims and Jews cannot stand.”

Obama’s words do not speak of freedom. A coming together under one banner, the banner of “working together,” Mr. Obama believes that the world has a responsibility to unite.

Newsflash, no country will want to drop their way of life to unite under one cause (or rather it is hype). That is what Barack Obama is advocating…to drastically change the way we are used to living.

Each country is entitled to have a defining border to defend its land. Each country has a right to say that a person who has violated its laws and is not officially a citizen, should be deported. Each country has a right to separately deal with problems as they come.

Every country is vastly different in traditions, the way in which they govern, etc.

No one should be pushed to forge a bond between religions, or rather, to water down their faiths to merge in one mind set. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism…the ideology of these religions vary from each other and an effort to break down the walls will be futile.

True, every human being is a child of God and one should embark on friendships with someone of a different faith, but that doesn’t mean that one should forget about the tenets of their faith. Faith largely guides one’s steps in life.

If you do not believe such an effort is being made to erode the differences in the major faiths, pay close attention to the “interfaith” movement that is making its way throughout America and the world. That said, all faiths are not equal and a joining at the hip of world religions to achieve world peace is not the answer.

Free will. That’s what Jesus Christ offers mankind. Mankind must not be suckered into committing to more and more when much has already been given and squandered.

As long as there are corrupt dictators and corrupt regimes making life miserable for their citizens, this world will be in turmoil. Unless corruption and evil is eliminated, then committing more money, resources, energy, and human sacrifice will not make a difference.

Barack Obama must respect the right of the individual to make decisions as to religious pursuits. He must respect the right of a country to make decisions as to how it will handle its welfare and its way of life. So long as governments don’t oppress their people, Obama shouldn’t ignore the traits that make us different and unique.

Considering the wreck the world is in these days and what is transpiring on the horizon, Barack Obama’s words are ominous. It may seem that he is playing “uniter of the world” but Obama’s actions should he become president would further divide and then weaken and disable America.

Barack Obama’s Global Poverty Act, S. 2433, is scheduled to be hashed out in the Senate in the near future. During a weak economy, Obama is proposing through this bill that the US give more money to help poverty stricken nations. America has given enough in terms of humanitarianism. If anything, we need to put the focus back on America, and help our own people. And should this bill pass, who knows how much leverage the UN will have in American affairs.

Unemployment is at 5% and we have a presidential candidate that is more concerned with other nations’ problems. Again, unless mass corruption abates, then the problem of starvation, ethnic cleansing (mass murder), and poverty will continue. No amount of money will make the problem disappear. After all, shouldn’t this quote mean something?:

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

There is a sizeable amount of Americans who are dissatisfied with both nominees for president. No matter what the media would have us all to believe (that Americans are largely set on Obama), people are not happy with either parties or the fact that the media is one-sided in that Obama is getting an extreme amount of coverage.

The reason Barack Obama is able to make such remarks in Germany is because voters are largely ignorant to what changes may occur if Obama were to be voted in as president of the United States.

We must be educated as to what changes are being put into place that will cause us to lose the very nation we have enjoyed for 232 years. We are on the brink of collapsing and there are those who are working to speed up our demise.

It’s time to make some noise; we have 4 months left until the general election. One way Americans can get their power back is to be INFORMED and then use the information to fight back…fight we must.

Related Reading

Obama’s $845 billion U.N. plan forwarded to U.S. Senate floor
http://worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=70308

Global Poverty Act: S. 2433
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:s.02433:

Tell your Senator to oppose Barack Obama’s Global Poverty Act: S. 2433
http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm


Felicia Benamon is a conservative columnist who writes from a political perspective, but occasionally deviates to write about other concerns facing her country. A patriotic American, Felicia hopes to motivate others to be more conscious of the current state of affairs in America, and to hold true to the wonderful traditions that make America great.

Felicia comes from a military background and is proud to support the men and women who put their lives on the line daily to protect American citizens and who reach out to help those in need across the globe.

Write to Felicia at: FeliciasDesk@aol.com

© Copyright 2008 by Felicia Benamon
http://www.renewamerica.us/columns/benamon/080726

 
3 Comments

Posted by on July 27, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

Where is the BIGGER candidate?


Felicia Benamon

Felicia Benamon
July 24, 2008


“America needs someone who’s bigger than their speeches.” — Kevin Costner, Swing Vote

As I viewed the coming attractions to the upcoming movie Swing Vote, the above quote couldn’t ring more true. Barack Obama has made the spotlight as he is known for his snazzy speeches and eloquent words. John McCain is giving lip service to the specific crowd he happens to be speaking before at the moment.

To try to build on his eloquence of speech, Barack Obama wants to convey that he can handle international matters and maintain a strong US foreign policy by embarking on a whirlwind Mid-East trip. But all it really is behind the scenes is a political stunt as Obama is trying to appear presidential.

To add to the quote, America also needs a presidential candidate who will put Americans first. However many flaws John McCain exudes as the Republican nominee, he continues to campaign in America. Meanwhile, Barack Obama decides to take his presidential campaign to the Mid-East and now to Germany as he is to give a speech before adoring crowds.

Obama has wowed Americans and is now trying to incur favor on an international scale. The problem is, other countries do not have a say in American elections. What a slap in the face to Americans for Barack Obama to deviate from the campaign trail to make nice with world leaders.

It is a testimony to a man’s priorities and character when he truly reaches out and keeps his attention on the people who will be deciding his fate in an election. I will give props to John McCain for at least keeping the focus on America and remaining humble by not pretending he already has the job.

The Obama overseas love-fest is being fed by the mainstream media. Several mentions have been made of Obama “stealing McCain’s thunder.” Those comments shouldn’t be brought up. If American elections are to be fair, both candidates should be given equal airtime and equal consideration.

There is an immediate attachment to Barack Obama by the mainstream media of course, but a bias in an election (or anytime for that matter) shouldn’t exist. No biased comments should be broadcast.

The arrogance of Barack Obama falls in line with the media’s persona and so, they are covering his every move with glee. Sadly, that speaks to the lack of integrity in media these days.

Where does the American voter fit in all of this? Well it is our responsibility not to feed on the hype. So Barack Obama is taking a Mid-East trip? Let him go and find himself. Then maybe he can come back and be truthful before Americans and REALLY tell them what he plans to do if he wins the presidency. Because all we are seeing is flash and glamour with Obama.

So yes, America DOES need someone who is bigger than what the American public is getting right now. Americans don’t need inflated egos in the White House. America doesn’t need someone who feels he has to sell himself overseas to get ahead in the polls. If the candidates feel they have the adequate skills to perform well in office in terms of foreign policy, they wouldn’t need to do a world tour to get a feel for the presidency.

America …I urge you to see beyond the scheming of the media to place Obama as some “kumbaya” type of leader who will bring everyone together.

During these times of war, we need leader who will stand and say that violence and evil towards one’s fellow man will not be tolerated. At some point, the time of snoozing with various leaders (whether they be rogue or not) has to end.

America needs a leader who will stand and say, “Enough is enough. This is what I expect and what I’m about and if you don’t like it, oh well.”

Americans have been led by President Bush for 8 years, but again, arrogance has caused the president to falter and waver on many issues that are of concern to many Americans.

Where is the leader who will not operate out of arrogance, but out of strength born from humility? That’s the type of person Americans should consider giving the presidency to for 4 years or more. So in keeping with the quote that started this article, I say I agree…that we need a much BIGGER person running for president.


Felicia Benamon is a conservative columnist who writes from a political perspective, but occasionally deviates to write about other concerns facing her country. A patriotic American, Felicia hopes to motivate others to be more conscious of the current state of affairs in America, and to hold true to the wonderful traditions that make America great.

Felicia comes from a military background and is proud to support the men and women who put their lives on the line daily to protect American citizens and who reach out to help those in need across the globe.

Write to Felicia at: FeliciasDesk@aol.com

© Copyright 2008 by Felicia Benamon
http://www.renewamerica.us/columns/benamon/080724

 
 

HONEYMOONER POLITICS

 

By Dr. Gary North 
for Gary North’s Q&A forums: www.GaryNorth.com

In my previous report, I wrote of the United States as a dowager nation. But it is also a honeymooner nation politically.

Here is why.

When an American over age 60 hears the word “honeymooners,”
he thinks of Jackie Gleason, fist in front of Audrey Meadows’ face: “One of these days, Alice, one of these days . . . to the moon!” The honeymoon had ended long before. The show lasted for a mere 39 broadcasts, but we think of it as the family comedy show second only to “I Love Lucy.” There is a reason for this.

The honeymoon always ends, but marriages survive. Anyway, they did in 1955.

Honeymoons are great things. They are rare events, but most people, especially newlyweds, would hate to give them up.

The honeymoon phenomenon is the best known of a more fundamental psychological phenomenon. If we are to keep from making mistakes, we need to recognize its existence, and then learn to identify it when politicians promise us a honeymoon.

THE HEDONIC RATCHET

The broader phenomenon in the field of economics is called the hedonic ratchet. Let me describe how it works.

Someone inherits a great deal of money. He is now a rich.
For years, he may have dreamed about how his life would be better if he were rich. Then, without warning, he finds that he is rich. We all know the story from this point on: money cannot buy happiness. But it buys unhappiness in a unique way: by psychological adjustment. It is just like a honeymoon.

There used to be a popular television program called “The Millionaire.” Each week, a billionaire would write a check for $1 million to be handed to a designated person by his assistant, Michael Anthony. The show would focus on how this money would change the person’s life. It was popular because people dream of getting $1 million ($8 million in 1958), tax free, which the television show always qualified the money would be. As viewers watched the program, they learned that the money would produce a whole series of new problems in the person’s life. This comforted them for the fact that no one had given them $1 million. Because the show was geared to the late 1950s, it always had a happy ending. Anyway, that is the way I remember it. But in the real world, enormous riches inherited overnight produce stories of unhappy endings. Those are the stories that make it into the media.

Why is it that the new wealth does not fundamentally change the degree of happiness experienced by the recipient? One reason is that with greater wealth comes greater responsibility. This is inescapable. Wealth has a social function. If you own something, you must make decisions about how to use it.

Consumers are always bidding for either ownership or the use of your assets. Ownership therefore has a price. If you do not respond to the offer, you are paying this price. You are paying the price in the form of forfeited opportunities. Whatever you do with the wealth, you could be doing something else with it.

You cannot escape the responsibility of not doing something else with whatever you own.

But the honeymoon effect of the new wealth is more than just the added responsibility, although added responsibility is at the heart of the post-honeymoon reality. It appears that the human psyche adjusts to new conditions, whether good or bad. If we tend to view the world as a glass that is half full, it doesn’t matter how much goodness gets poured into the glass, we will still view it as half full. Psychologically speaking, the glass grows with every drop of goodness that gets poured into it.

Similarly, if we view the world as a glass that is half empty, no matter how much gets siphoned out of the glass, we still view it as half empty. We adjust downward.

Let me offer another example. Anyone with two good legs hates to consider what his life would be like if he lost the use of both legs. He does not like to think about it. He does not like to think about all the adjustments that he would have to make. He imagines that his life would be miserable if he did not have the use of both legs. But, from time to time, people lose the use of their legs. What we find is that most of them adjust psychologically after a year or two.

In the early stages of their affliction, they are not sure how they will learn to cope with their new burden. But, as they come to grips with their new condition, they adjust. They find ways to compensate for their loss. While they would like to get their legs back, they don’t regard the loss of their legs as the end of their lives. They don’t think of themselves as complete losers. They think of themselves as overcomers. While there are some people who do not make the adjustment, most people do.

This is one of the great advantages of the human psyche. We do adjust to bad conditions, and we learn to remain productive under these new conditions. We may even become more productive, because we are forced to work more intensely and improving our job skills, our relationships, and everything else that we thought we would have lost with the loss of these legs. If this were not true, then major losses would be disastrous for humanity. What we find, in the familiar phrase, is that man is a foul-weather creature. He seems to do better under adversity than he does with life on a bed of roses.

In the field of economics, we labor under a major perceptual disadvantage. First, economic change comes slowly. It comes at the margin. A fast-growing economy grows at 5% per year, and an economy does this only if it is recovering from near disaster levels. Much more common is 3% a year or 2% a year. When anything changes at 2% a year, we do not perceive it. The change comes, day by day and month by month. It comes at such a slow rate that we do not recognize that our lives are steadily getting better. Only when we look back at what life was 20 years ago or even 40 years ago do we understand the enormous power of 2% per year growth compounded. But our memories fade. We tend to forget how much worse off we were back in the good old days of our youth. We remember the good things, but we forget the bad things. We remember the good things, but we do not remember the bad things that we did not perceive at the time, precisely because we had no experience with something that is much better.

This illusion of stagnation — the same old rut– leads people to make a false conclusion. They look at the benefits that the free market economy has given them, and these benefits do not appear to be coming fast enough. This allows critics of the free market to come before the general public and tell them that things are actually getting worse. They tell them that nothing is ever going to change for the better unless they vote for a new form of economic ownership. They tell the public that the economy needs more regulation, or more low-interest loans, or more money to pay off old debts. They tell the public that the environment is getting much worse. The government needs to intervene in order to save the environment.

So, the constant improvement in our lives that comes as a result of free-market voluntarism is dismissed by the critics.

In its place, voters are told to demand the government to make things better.

POLITICAL ADJUSTMENT

This phenomenon combines with another aspect of the hedonic ratchet. We get used to a particular level of government interference in our lives. We adjust to it. It is really like losing the use of a limb. We find ways to compensate for what we have lost. We do not recognize that we are steadily losing our freedoms. The public gets used to the loss of a particular freedom, and then is persuaded to accept the loss of another, all in the name of greater security, or greater economic growth, or whatever the favored slogan is at the moment.

If we were to get into a time machine and move forward a hundred years, we would probably find that — in the absence of nuclear war or biological warfare — the world is much more abundant in terms of economics, yet more limited in terms of the loss of freedom. We would find ourselves initially overwhelmed by the abundance, but we also would find ourselves annoyed or even appalled by the loss of freedom. Then, we would adjust to both. We would assume that the greater abundance is normal, but we would also assume that the loss of freedom was a necessary price we paid for the greater abundance.

This is why the economics of government intervention never loses its appeal. No matter how much growth is generated by the free market economy, there are always critics of the free market who insist that we need new government regulations in order to sustain economic growth. We are constantly being asked to surrender our political liberty in the name of some great breakthrough in economic development.

Problem: there are no great breakthroughs in economy-wide economic development. There are constant improvements generated by free men who raise capital in free markets. Invention by invention, improvement by improvement, our lives get better at the margin. But because this is a slow process, and because of the hedonic ratchet, we do not perceive that this is a happening.

We therefore do not attribute are improving economic conditions to the free-market social order.

We are told by teachers in tax-funded schools, and we read in textbooks whose market is tax-funded schools, that Franklin Roosevelt saved capitalism from itself. We are told that the free-market economy is self-destructive. We are told that ever-increasing numbers of government regulations are mandatory to keep the free market from self-destructing.

We are never asked to read a single page in the “Federal Register.” This publication is published every weekday, and it usually is 200 pages long. Each page has three columns of fine print. These are new regulations imposed by the Federal Government on the American economy. We adjust. We surrender our liberties day by day without a whimper or a protest.

While the free market delivers the goods, the critics of the free market deliver the propaganda. While we get richer as a result of the voluntarism of the free market, we are told we get richer because of the active government intervention into the voluntarism of the free market. We are told that government coercion in the name of the People is what makes our lives tolerable.

We don’t believe this when we are the direct victims of this coercion, but this happens rarely except at the margin. It happens invisibly. We do not perceive the extent to which we are the victims. This is a result of the hedonic ratchet. We get used to our level of regulation, and we do not perceive the steady effects of increased regulation in reducing the rate of economic growth. We also do not perceive the rate of economic growth. The rate of growth is simply a statistical artifact reported at the end of the quarter or the end of the year.

This makes it very difficult for defenders of the free market to get the message to the vast majority of voters. The argument in favor of the market is sophisticated. It involves long chains of reasoning. Only a handful of economists ever come up with a truly brilliant image that is understood by the public, remembered by the public, and advances the public’s understanding of the benefits of the free market social order. The greatest master of these images was a French economist and politician named Frederic Bastiat. He died in 1850. No one has come close since then.

THE BATTLE FOR LIBERTY

The battle to preserve our liberty is a long one. The best way to win the battle is to shrink the state. This de-funds the propagandists who control most universities and the vast majority of pre-university education. We have not achieved this goal yet.

We have not come close to achieving this goal.

Yet there are breakthroughs. There were surely a breakthrough in the Soviet Union in 1991. That breakthrough came as a result of national bankruptcy. Overnight, the long build-up of bureaucracy finally led to the collapse of the economy. The hedonic ratchet had worked to expand the state, and finally the state achieved its inevitable result: the destruction of productivity. This is not its official goal, of course, but this is the result. Ludwig von Mises taught that the effect of every government intervention into the economy is to produce the opposite of the official goal which justified the intervention.

This built up in the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1991. It finally broke the Soviet economy.

This is the great defect of the ratchet up of political coercion. It is like a drug which addicts the user, and then ultimately kills him. Heroin addicts say the initial rush is never matched again. They try, but fail. Then they become addicted. This is what the politics of government intervention does to its victims. The heroin effect is the honeymoon effect is the hedonic ratchet effect. So is the loss of liberty.

Let me give you another example. Special-interest groups pay for the following public opinion poll: “Are race relations getting better today in the United States?” I think these polls are conducted annually. The media always report them dutifully.

The result is always the same: whites think that race relations have improved, and blacks think that race relations have not improved.

The pollsters never seem to ask the opinions of illegal immigrants. First, it is hard to track them down. Second, they speak Spanish. Third, they don’t think talking to Anglos who write down their answers on a piece of paper is a good idea. But there is no need to poll them. Illegal immigrants could solve their problem by returning to their countries of origin. If things were not better here, they could go back where they came from. The fact that they do not go back where they came from indicates that their level of satisfaction has improved in the United States, and this improvement is permanent.

I live in Mississippi. Five decades ago, race relations were very good from the point of view of the whites. They were not good from the point of view of the blacks. Today, the Ku Klux Klan is defunct. Nobody burns crosses on the lawns of blacks. There are mixed neighborhoods throughout the state.
When you drive into most of these neighborhoods, you cannot tell who owns the house from the appearance of the lawns. In my northern Mississippi town, this is assured because there is a lawn policeman. The lawn policeman drives up and down the streets and looks at the condition of the yards. Anyone whose yard offends him is given a notice. The notice tells him that he must cut his lawn. If he does not cut it within three days, the city comes in a cuts it, and sends them a bill for $150. This is a great incentive to cut your lawn.

Even without the lawn police, the neighborhoods look pretty much the same. Whites and blacks live next door to each other in peace. Since in modern American life, nobody knows the name of his neighbor two doors down, nobody cares one way or the other.

This would be perceived as an improvement of race relations by people who have moved into Mississippi since 1970. It is not perceived as an improvement by rednecks who lived here as young adults in 1958. Blacks who lived here as young adults in 1958 do regard race relations as improved, and they may even tell their grandchildren about the bad old days. But stories about the bad old days among blacks or whites or Asians are regarded as an annoyance by the teenagers being told the stories. Every society tells the younger generation that things are a lot worse than they used to be in terms of good manners of young people. Good mannered young people listen politely, and ignore it.

All this comes as a result of the hedonic ratchet. We get used to the good, and we get used to the bed. We don’t recognize the constant increase in the good, and we don’t recognize the constant increase of the bed. We adjust.

The crisis comes, as it came to the Soviet Union in 1991, when the compound growth of the bad finally overcomes the compound growth, if any, of the good. Then there is a breakdown.

This is painful at the time, but the result is liberation.
Economic growth in the Soviet Union since 1991 has been phenomenal. The Soviet Union went bankrupt in 1991 because it owed less than $100 billion to the West. Today, the central bank of Russia has over $500 billion in Western currencies, and this is growing constantly because Russia is sitting on top of the enormous quantities of natural gas and oil. It is fat city in Russia today. But, if you were to do a survey of the Russian man in the street, and ask him if things are better this year than they were last year, he would probably tell you that things are worse. After all, he is a Russian. Things are always worse in Russia. This is been true for as long as there has been public opinion in Russia. If we had winters like Russia has, things would be bad for us, too.

A SOLUTION

This is why we need organizations like the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The Mises Institute constantly publishes materials showing the benefits of economic freedom and the dangers of the loss of political freedom. It makes these materials available free of charge to the general public you can download these materials, print them out, and read them. They are changing people’s minds. A similar organization is the Liberty Fund. It also publishes lots of online books that defend the concept of economic liberty and political freedom.

There is no question that in this regard, the World Wide Web has created a revolution. It is much easier to get across to people the idea of liberty than it was in 1995. Furthermore,
1995 was vastly superior to 1965. The number publishing houses had risen. The number of books and materials defending the free market order was vastly larger than it was in 1965, and in 1965 it was much better than it was in 1935. There has been enormous progress in the development of literature defending freedom.

Nevertheless, the Federal government just keeps getting bigger.

We keep losing our liberties. What will be the result?

Unless we see a breakdown of the Federal government due to its own monetary policies and tax policies, my grandchildren will live in a world of reduced political liberty. The best thing I can hope for regarding their futures is at the free market will have provided far more ways around the bureaucrats that it has today. It has done this over the past 225 years, so I think the process will continue. The bureaucrats will pass their regulations, and innovative people will find ways of evading the regulations. We will become a nation of lawbreakers, but rich lawbreakers. This is what we’ve become over the past two centuries, and I don’t think it is going to change.

In terms of political liberty, the United States Constitution was a major setback compared to the Articles of Confederation. Yet we are all much richer than Americans were in 1788. We have ways of circumventing the bureaucrats that would not have occurred to the men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to establish a new government.

The only reason they were able to do this in 1787 is because they had control of the media. They locked out the media for three months and swore every member of the convention to secrecy.

No word leaked out of what was going on inside the room where the debates are being conducted. The Framers moved to the room to the second floor to make certain that nobody could listen to the debates by sticking his ear up against the window on the first floor. In other words, with today’s communication system, there is no way in the world but the Constitutional convention could never been pulled off. So, there was a great centralization of political power.

That centralization has continued unabated since 1788. It escalated dramatically in 1861, and it escalated again in 1914 and 1942. We do not perceive this, because the textbook writers are paid to propagandize for the loss of political liberty. They blame the increased economic growth on the increase of political centralization.

We are richer today that anyone was in 1787. That is because of the effects of the free market. We have far less liberty today than we had in 1787, but we have more ways of getting around the restrictions.

CONCLUSION

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that we are getting richer, and a recession, while painful, is not going to stop the advance of economic growth. The bad news is that the Federal Government will continue to spend more, interfere in our lives more, and take away more of our privacy.

Both phenomena have gone on since 1787, and it would be naive to believe that either of them is going to stop in the near future. But we can always hope that the second process will stop, and even be reversed. The trouble is, the most likely scenario for producing such a reversal is the complete collapse of the international economy and the bankruptcy of the nation- state.

The good news is you are going to get richer. The bad news is this won’t make you happier. Economists who have studied people’s responses to increases in wealth well find that very poor people do experience a permanent increase of satisfaction when they gain a new stream of income that is permanent. Their lives do become much better, and this remains a permanent aspect of their perception. But any increase in income beyond what is probably regarded as a lower middle class level of income does not permanently change the level of satisfaction that the individual says he has achieved.

My recommended strategy is to improve your personal economic circumstances, and to get out of the way of the Federal Government whenever you can. It’s not that this will make you happier. It is that you will be more productive.


Gary North’s Economic Edge™

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Posted by on July 24, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

Homosexuality: Questions and Answers

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Written by Sue Bohlin   
  Q. Some people say homosexuality is natural and moral; others say it is unnatural and immoral. How do we know?

A. Our standard can only be what God says. In Romans 1 we read,

God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion (Rom 1:26-27).

So even though homosexual desires feel natural, they are actually unnatural, because God says they are. He also calls all sexual involvement outside of marriage immoral. (There are 44 references to fornication—sexual immorality—in the Bible.) Therefore, any form of homosexual activity, whether a one-night stand or a long-term monogamous relationship, is by definition immoral—just as any abuse of heterosexuality outside of marriage is immoral.

Q. Is homosexuality an orientation God intended for some people, or is it a perversion of normal sexuality?

A. If God had intended homosexuality to be a viable sexual alternative for some people, He would not have condemned it as an abomination. It is never mentioned in Scripture in anything but negative terms, and nowhere does the Bible even hint at approving or giving instruction for homosexual relationships. Some theologians have argued that David and Jonathan’s relationship was a homosexual one, but this claim has no basis in Scripture. David and Jonathan’s deep friendship was not sexual; it was one of godly emotional intimacy that truly glorified the Lord.

Homosexuality is a manifestation of the sin nature that all people share. At the fall of man (Gen 3), God’s perfect creation was spoiled, and the taint of sin affected us physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually—and sexually. Homosexuality is a perversion of heterosexuality, which is God’s plan for His creation. The Lord Jesus said,

In the beginning the Creator made them male and female. For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh (Matt 19:4, 5).

Homosexual activity and pre-marital or extra-marital heterosexual activity are all sinful attempts to find sexual and emotional expression in ways God never intended. God’s desire for the person caught in the trap of homosexuality is the same as for every other person caught in the trap of the sin nature; that we submit every area of our lives to Him and be transformed from the inside out by the renewing of our minds and the purifying of our hearts.

Q. What causes a homosexual orientation?

A. This is a complex issue, and it is unfair to give simplistic answers or explanations. Some people start out as heterosexuals, but they rebel against God with such passionate self-indulgence that they end up embracing the gay lifestyle as another form of sexual expression. As one entertainer put it, “I’m not going to go through life with one arm tied behind my back!”

But the majority of gays sense they are “different” from very early in life, and at some point they are encouraged to identify this difference as being gay. These people may experience “pre-conditions” that dispose them toward homosexuality, such as a sensitive and gentle temperament in boys, which is not recognized as acceptably masculine in our culture. Another may be poor eye-hand coordination that prevents a boy from doing well at sports, which is a sure way to invite shame and taunting from other boys (and, most unfortunately, from some of their own fathers and family members). Family relationships are usually very important in the development of homosexuality; the vast majority of those who struggle with same-sex attraction experienced a hurtful relationship with the same-sex parent in childhood. The presence of abuse is a recurring theme in the early lives of many homosexual strugglers. In one study, 91% of lesbian women reported childhood and adolescent abuse, 2/3 of them victims of sexual abuse.{1} There is a huge difference, however, between predispositions that affects gender identity, and the choices we make in how we handle a predisposition. Because we are made in the image of God, we can choose how we respond to the various factors that may contribute to a homosexual orientation.

Q. Wouldn’t the presence of pre-conditions let homosexuals “off the hook,” so to speak?

A. Preconditions make it easier to sin in a particular area. They do not excuse the sin. We can draw a parallel with alcoholism. Alcoholics often experience a genetic or environmental pre-condition, which makes it easier for them to fall into the sin of drunkenness. Is it a sin to want a drink? No. It’s a sin to drink to excess.

All of us experience various predispositions that make it easier for us to fall into certain sins. For example, highly intelligent people find it easier to fall into the sin of intellectual pride. People who were physically abused as children may fall into the sins of rage and violence more easily than others.

Current popular thinking says that our behavior is determined by our environment or our genes, or both. But the Bible gives us the dignity and responsibility missing from that mechanistic view of life. God has invested us with free will—the ability to make real, significant choices. We can choose our responses to the influences on our lives, or we can choose to let them control us.

Someone with a predisposition for homosexuality may fall into the sin of the homosexual behavior much more easily than a person without it. But each of us alone is responsible for giving ourselves permission to cross over from temptation into sin.

Q. What’s the difference between homosexual temptation and sin?

A. Unasked-for, uncultivated sexual desires for a person of the same sex constitute temptation, not sin. Since the Lord Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are (Heb. 4:15),” He fully knows the intensity and nature of the temptations we face. But He never gave in to them.

The line between sexual temptation and sexual sin is the same for both heterosexuals and homosexuals. It is the point at which our conscious will gets involved. Sin begins with the internal acts of lusting and creating sexual fantasies. Lust is indulging one’s sexual desires by deliberately choosing to feed sexual attraction—you might say it is the sinful opposite of meditation. Sexual fantasies are conscious acts of the imagination. It is creating mental pornographic home movies. Just as the Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount, all sexual sin starts in the mind long before it gets to the point of physical expression.

Many homosexuals claim, “I never asked for these feelings. I did not choose them,” and this may be true. That is why it is significant to note that the Bible specifically condemns homosexual practices, but not undeveloped homosexual feelings (temptation). There is a difference between having sexual feelings and letting them grow into lust. When Martin Luther was talking about impure thoughts, he said, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

Q. Isn’t it true that “Once gay, always gay?”

 

A. It is certainly true that most homosexuals never become heterosexual—some because they don’t want to, but most others because their efforts to change were unsuccessful. It takes spiritual submission and much emotional work to repent of sexual sin and achieve a healthy self-concept that glorifies God.

But for the person caught in the trap of homosexual desires who wants sexual and emotional wholeness, there is hope in Christ. In addressing the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul lists an assortment of deep sins, including homosexual offenses. He says,

And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 6:11).

This means there were former homosexuals in the church at Corinth! The Lord’s loving redemption includes eventual freedom for all sin that is yielded to Him. Some (rare) people experience no homosexual temptations ever again. But for most others who are able to achieve change, homosexual desires are gradually reduced from a major problem to a minor nuisance that no longer dominates their lives. The probability of heterosexual desires returning or emerging depends on a person’s sexual history.

But the potential for heterosexuality is present in everyone because God put it there.

Q. If homosexuality is such an abomination to God, why doesn’t it disappear when someone becomes a Christian?

 

A. When we are born again, we bring with us all of our emotional needs and all of our old ways of relating. Homosexuality is a relational problem of meeting emotional needs the wrong way; it is not an isolated problem of mere sexual preference. With the power of the indwelling Spirit, a Christian can cooperate with God to change this unacceptable part of life. Some people—a very few—are miraculously delivered from homosexual struggles. But for the majority, real change is slow. As in dealing with any besetting sin, it is a process, not an event. Sin’s power over us is broken at the moment we are born again, but learning to depend on the Holy Spirit to say no to sin and yes to godliness takes time. 2 Cor. 3:18 says, “We…are being transformed into His likeness from glory to glory.” Transformation (this side of eternity!) is a process that takes a while. Life in a fallen world is a painful struggle. It is not a pleasant thing to have two oppositional natures at war within us!

Homosexuality is not one problem; it is symptomatic of other, deeper problems involving emotional needs and an unhealthy self-concept. Salvation is only the beginning of emotional health. It allows us to experience human intimacy as God intended us to, finding healing for our damaged emotions. It isn’t that faith in Christ isn’t enough; faith in Christ is the beginning.

Q. Does the fact that I had an early homosexual experience mean I’m gay?

 

A. Sex is strictly meant for adults. The Song of Solomon says three times, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” This is a warning not to raise sexual feelings until the time is right. Early sexual experience can be painful or pleasurable, but either way, it constitutes child abuse. It traumatizes a child or teen. This loss of innocence does need to be addressed and perhaps even grieved through, but doesn’t mean you’re gay.

Sexual experimentation is something many children and teens do as a part of growing up. You may have enjoyed the feelings you experienced, but that is because God created our bodies to respond to pleasure. It probably made you feel confused and ashamed, which is an appropriate response to an inappropriate behavior. Don’t let anyone tell you it means you’re gay: it means you’re human.

Even apart from the sexual aspect, though, our culture has come to view close friendships with a certain amount of suspicion. If you enjoy emotional intimacy with a friend of the same sex, especially if it is accompanied by the presence of sexual feelings that emerge in adolescence, you can find yourself very confused. But it doesn’t mean you’re gay.

It is a tragic myth that once a person has a homosexual experience, or even thinks about one, that he or she is gay for life.

Q. Are homosexuals condemned to hell?

 

A. Homosexuality is not a “heaven or hell” issue. The only determining factor is whether a person has been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

In 1 Cor. 6, Paul says that homosexual offenders and a whole list of other sinners will not inherit the kingdom of God. But then he reminds the Corinthians that they have been washed, sanctified, and justified in Jesus’ name. Paul makes a distinction between unchristian behavior and Christian behavior. He’s saying, “You’re not pagans anymore, you are a holy people belonging to King Jesus. Now act like it!”

If homosexuality doesn’t send anyone to hell, then can the believer indulge in homosexual behavior, safe in his or her eternal security? As Paul said, “May it never be!” If someone is truly a child of God, he or she cannot continue sinful behavior that offends and grieves the Father without suffering the consequences. God disciplines those He loves. This means that ultimately, no believer gets away with continued, unrepented sin. The discipline may not come immediately, but it will come.

Q. How do I respond when someone in my life tells me he or she is gay?

 

A. Take your cue from the Lord Jesus. He didn’t avoid sinners; He ministered grace and compassion to them—without ever compromising His commitment to holiness. Start by cultivating a humble heart, especially concerning the temptation to react with judgmental condescension. As Billy Graham said, “Never take credit for not falling into a temptation that never tempted you in the first place.”

Seek to understand your gay friends’ feelings. Are they comfortable with their gayness, or bewildered and resentful of it? Understanding people doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them—but it is the best way to minister grace and love in a difficult time. Accept the fact that, to this person, these feelings are normal. You can’t change their minds or their feelings. Too often, parents will send their gay child to a counselor and say, “Fix him.” It just doesn’t work that way.

As a Christian, you are a light shining in a dark place. Be a friend with a tender heart and a winsome spirit; the biggest problem of homosexuals is not their sexuality, but their need for Jesus Christ. At the same time, pre-decide what your boundaries will be about what behavior you just cannot condone in your presence. One college student I know excuses herself from a group when the affection becomes physical; she just gets up and leaves. It is all right to be uncomfortable around blatant sin; you do not have to subject yourself—and the Holy Spirit within you—to what grieves Him. Consider how you would be a friend to people who are living promiscuous heterosexual lives. Like the Lord, we need to value and esteem the person without condoning the sin.

Note

1. Anne Paulk, Restoring Sexual Identity (Eugene OR: Harvest House, 2003), p. 246.www.regenbooks.org 

For further reading:

 

  • Bergner, Mario. Setting Love in Order: Hope and Healing for the Homosexual. Baker, 1995.
  • Paulk, Anne. Restoring Sexual Identity. Eugene OR: Harvest House, 2003
  • Dallas, Joe. Desires in Conflict. Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1991. (Particularly good!)
  • Konrad, Jeff. You Don’t Have to Be Gay. Pacific Publishing, 1987. (This is directed at young men. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.)
  • Satinover, Jeffrey. Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth. Baker, 1996.
  • Schmidt, Thomas E. Straight & Narrow? : Compassion & Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate. Intervarsity Press, 1995.
  • Worthen, Anita and Bob Davies. Someone I Love is Gay: How Family and Friends Can Respond. Intervarsity Press, 1996.
  • Regeneration Books has the best selection of homosexuality-related material:
  • There is also a “Gay Change Webring” on the internet. My favorite “jump in” site is Living Hope Ministries, an outreach in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Of particular interest are the online testimonies and especially an excellent message board for strugglers, overcomers and those who seek to encourage and uplift. www.livehope.org 
  • Another tremendously encouraging site is “Stonewall Revisited,” with a huge number of testimonies of overcomers and families of strugglers. stonewallrevisited.com 
  • Also see Exodus International’s Web site, which has a large selection of articles: exodus.to

© 2003 Probe Ministries International

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

Food for Thought

 


Renewing the culinary culture should be a conservative cause.

by John Schwenkler

Alice Waters might not seem like a conservative. A veteran of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement, who once cooked a $25,000-a-seat fundraising dinner for Bill Clinton, she eagerly compares her campaign for “edible schoolyards”—where children work with instructors to grow, prepare, and eat fresh produce—to John F. Kennedy’s attempt to improve physical fitness through mandatory exercise. Her dream of organic, locally and sustainably produced food in every school cafeteria, class credit for lunch hour, and required gardening time and cooking classes is as utopian as they come. The name she has given her gastronomic movement, the “Delicious Revolution,” strikes the ear as one part fuzzy-headed Marxism, the other Brooksian bobo-speak. This woman is not, as they say, one of us.

But a closer look tells a different story. In a 1997 talk, Waters quoted from an essay by Francine du Plessix Grey about the film “Kids,” which portrays the sex-, drug-, and violence-crazed lives of a circle of New York teenagers. Du Plessix Grey writes of being haunted by the adolescents’ “feral” and “boorishly gulped” fast-food diet: “we may,” she suggests, “be witnessing the first generation in history that has not been required to participate in that primal rite of socialization, the family meal.” Such an activity “is not only the core curriculum in the school of civilizing discourse; it is also a set of protocols that curb our natural savagery and our animal greed, and cultivate a capacity for sharing and thoughtfulness.” These teenagers “are deprived of the main course of civilized life—the practice of sitting down at the dinner table and observing the attendant conventions.”

 

Today’s children, Waters goes on to say, “are bombarded with a pop culture which teaches redemption through buying things.” But schoolyard gardens, like the one she helped create at the middle school a few blocks from my home in Berkeley, “turn pop culture upside-down: they teach redemption through a deep appreciation for the real, the authentic, and the lasting—for the things that money can’t buy: the very things that matter most of all if we are going to lead sane, healthy, and sustainable lives. Kids who learn environmental and nutritional lessons through school gardening—and school cooking and eating—learn ethics.” Good cooking, she writes in the introduction to her 2007 cookbook, The Art of Simple Food, “can reconnect our families and communities with the most basic human values, provide the deepest delight for all our senses, and assure our well-being for a lifetime.”

The proposal, put slightly differently, is that our attitudes toward food—which nourishes and sustains us, which binds us most fundamentally to place, family, market, and community—provide a measure of our respect for what Russell Kirk called the “Permanent Things.” We are not just what we eat but how we eat. The cultivation and consumption of our meals are activities as distinctively human as walking, talking, loving, and praying. Learning to regard the meal not merely as something that fills our bellies and helps us grow, but as the consummate exercise of beings carnal and earthbound yet upwardly and outwardly drawn, is a crucial step in the restoration of culture. The suggestion that the inculcation of such values might be an essential part of an adequate education ought to resonate beyond the confines of the doctrinaire Left.

Adopting an alternative view of food does not require rejecting the possibility of a free and prosperous market economy. Indeed, the rise of the New American Diet—meals eaten in a rush and very often alone, made from processed and prepackaged ingredients—was not solely or even primarily the product of Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Historian Harvey Levenstein has argued that the spate of government regulations in the wake of early 20th-century food-safety scares played a crucial role in the rise of industrialized agriculture and centralized food processors. Early nutritionists and home economists, many distinctly of the quack variety, found a key ally in their attempts to reform American cuisine in Herbert Hoover’s Food Administration. The goal of reducing consumption of scarce foods and eating in accordance with “scientific” principles was tied to the cause of Allied victory in the First World War.

Official dietary guidelines inevitably became the product of collaboration between government agencies and representatives of the industries that stand to benefit. The substitution of state-sponsored nutritionist technocracy for the collective wisdom of taste, instinct, common sense, and tradition is a perfect example of the triumph of Tocqueville’s feared “immense tutelary power” (“absolute, detailed, regular, far-seeing, and mild”). The same goes for the extraordinary industrialization and global “flattening” of our culinary economy, which Waters’s focus on community gardening, seasonal eating, and local markets is meant to combat.

Heavily concentrated industries demand expansive and centralized government. The converse is also true: bigger businesses are easier to regulate than smaller ones, and economies of scale are good for economic growth. “Get big or get out,” Dwight Eisenhower’s secretary of agriculture told American farmers—a directive updated to “bigger” by Earl Butz, the infamous Nixon agriculture secretary who instructed farmers to abandon crop rotation and plant “from fencerow to fencerow.”

Price controls and multibillion-dollar farm subsidies prop up corporate agribusiness and discourage smaller producers from trying to find alternative market niches. Real local autonomy—setting regulatory standards that do not conform to national or international ones, restriction or taxation of imports or exports, and preservation of place-specific forms of agriculture and animal husbandry—is undermined because it makes for economic inefficiency. The natural capacities of location, season, and culture to link people together and shape the ways they farm and eat are countered by artificial measures designed to maximize yield.

But it is exactly these social and cultural dimensions of our culinary economy—the centralization of processing and production into an ever shrinking number of multinational corporations, the incredible distances over which food travels before it reaches our tables (an average of 1,500 miles in the United States), the loss of idiosyncratic foods and food cultures, and so on—that should raise the greatest concerns for traditional conservatives. “Eating is an agricultural act,” writes Wendell Berry. But Slow Food International founder Carlo Petrini argues that it is also a political one—a deed no less significant than the ways we cast our votes. Hence even the smallest acts of resistance to the hegemony of the present system, where corporate representatives and industry-funded scientists at public universities collaborate with government officials on regulatory policies and nutritional guidelines, are crucial steps in recovering local culture and reconstituting our “little platoons.” This will nurture the ability to govern—or resist being governed.

The seeds of change are already being sown. Many American cities are transforming blighted urban districts with neighborhood farms that raise food not just for consumption by those who grow it but for sale in local markets. In 2007, a group of teenagers at a community farm in Brooklyn brought in $25,000, and a nonprofit organization that runs a one-acre plot in Milwaukee grossed over $220,000 in local sales.

The website LocalHarvest.org lists over 3,600 farmers markets in the U.S., and the number of Community Supported Agriculture programs, in which supporters pay a set fee in exchange for regular shares of the produce from a local farm, grew from 50 nationwide to over 1,500 between 1990 and 2005. Such efforts give growers and buyers the opportunity to relate to one another—one study showed that shoppers at farmers markets have 10 times as many conversations as those at supermarkets. These local ventures also provide families with fresh produce and allow farmers to diversify their crops and receive a far greater rate of return than when they deal with corporate middlemen.

Many of our best food writers are in full-throated rebellion against the corporate-industrial-governmental nutrition establishment. Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food deconstructs the pretensions of “food science” in often hilarious fashion and distills all you need to know about eating into three directives: Eat food (as opposed to things with unfamiliar or unpronounceable ingredients, packaged “food products” that make government-sanctioned health claims, and pretty much anything from the middle aisles of the grocery store); Not too much (go for quality over quantity, and eat at a table, with others); Mostly plants (in unprocessed form when possible). Nina Planck’s Real Food takes the traditionalist counterculture to the extreme by denouncing veganism and extolling the health benefits of everything from cheese, lard, butter, and raw milk to eggs, beef, chocolate, and wine. And Waters’s wonderful new cookbook offers a step-by-step course in keeping a kitchen and preparing a range of dishes that, though simple, require time and effort to put together and are a joy to eat.

There are, of course, elements of leftism and elitism here. Pollan, for example, has a puzzling line in which he condemns as “shameful” the fact that not all Americans “can afford to eat high-quality food.” It is sad, to be sure, and we should strive to remedy it, but life’s inevitabilities do not warrant our shame. And while Bill McKibben, in his brilliant communitarian manifesto, Deep Economy, takes care to insist that his program is not one that can be driven by top-down governance, Petrini very often rails against free markets, suggesting at one point in his Slow Food Nation that contemporary China’s “political homogeneity” and exploitation of labor and the environment are “the embodiment of perfect capitalism.” (The Chinese economic system, he says, is only “nominally communist.” One wonders what he made of the agricultural policies of the Soviet Union.) But that doesn’t alter the value of the Slow Food vision of a world of “gastronomes,” attentive to taste and cognizant of the sources of their food, and of thriving local markets driven by “economies of place.”

Proponents of a new way of eating are on shakier ground when they claim that a widespread turn toward small-scale and deindustrialized agriculture would not affect crop yields. McKibben proudly cites a study in which sustainable farming methods were found to lead, on average, to a near doubling of food production per hectare. He does not mention the many cases in which results have been less impressive. A much discussed study published in the journal Science in 2002 found that switching to organic farming reduced yields by 20 percent, though the possibility of lessening our reliance on petroleum may be worth the investment of some extra land. Reincorporating into the human food chain some of the millions of acres where corn and sorghum are now grown for ethanol production would also make a great difference.

But no reasonable person wants to remake the world or do away with modern agricultural technologies all together. The best solutions will come through honest, case-by-case engagement with the subtle demands of specific situations. As the UC Berkeley agroecologist Miguel Altieri puts it, a sound approach to agriculture “does not seek to formulate solutions that will be valid for everyone but encourages people to choose the technologies best suited to the requirements of each particular situation, without imposing them.” (That this could just as well be the summary of the ideal domestic or foreign policy ought to argue in its favor.) Respect for tradition and social and ecological responsibility can work together with technological innovation and capitalist resourcefulness to respect the ridges and valleys of regionalism in an increasingly flattened world.

Efforts to realize this vision ought to figure centrally in the projects of social and cultural renewal that traditional conservatives see as essential precedents to meaningful political reform. Neighborhood gardens, cooking classes in schools and church basements, and the promotion of local and co-operative markets are the kinds of projects that will build community; revitalize regional economies; encourage stable, healthy families; and instill the kinds of civic attitudes that make centralized government appear burdensome. These are not merely aesthetic or gustatory concerns, nor are they essentially private or familial ones: eating is part of our politics, too.

But things will have to take root in our kitchens first. It is here that Waters’s cookbook, which begins with the basics and consistently encourages the reader to modify recipes and vary ingredients with the seasons, provides as good an introduction as one could hope for. Each Friday, my wife and I walk with our 1-year-old son to a house down the street where we pick up a box of just picked produce and pastured eggs from a nearby farm. Nigel Walker, who runs the farm and also has a stand at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, was involved in a nasty public spat with Carlo Petrini after an essay in Slow Food Nation called the prices at the Ferry Plaza Market “astronomical” and “boutique-y” and its clientele “extremely exclusive.” But at $24.50, my family’s haul this week—lettuce, mixed leafy greens, arugula, potatoes, beets or summer squash, lemon verbena, cherries, peaches, carrots, strawberries, and chard—will cost us about $8.50 less than similar (but non-organic, less fresh, and markedly lower-quality) produce from the local Safeway.

As with many CSA’s, our farm box comes with a newsletter that suggests recipes for some of its more exotic contents. But of late we’ve been making a point to turn to The Art of Simple Food whenever possible. So carrot soup, summer squash gratin with homegrown herbs, marinated beet salad, and wilted chard with onions are likely candidates for the days ahead. Obviously this is especially easy to pull off in the hometown of Alice Waters and Michael Pollan, the birthplace of Chez Panisse and California cuisine. It is, however, increasingly within the reach of anyone who wants to try.

Renewing the culinary culture, and restoring the kinds of values that are necessary for the proper functioning of a healthy republic, is not the sort of thing that can be left to activists, environmentalists, and government bureaucrats. This is a conservative cause if ever there was one, and it is going to have to begin at home. The revolution is coming. And it’s sure to be delicious.   

_________________________________

John Schwenkler is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.

The American Conservative welcomes letters to the editor.
Send letters to: letters@amconmag.com

 

 
 
 
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