Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Germany, Greece, and the Euro...

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Let the Greeks ruin themselves

Germany has Europe’s deepest pockets, but it does not want to pay to save troubled euro-zone economies

Feb 18th 2010 | BERLIN | from the print edition

LESS than a year before the euro became the currency of 11 European countries in January 1999, a declaration signed by 155 German-speaking economists called for an “orderly”—ie, long—delay. The prospective euro members, they said, had not yet reduced their debt and deficits to suit a workable monetary union; some were using “creative accounting” to get there, and a casual attitude towards deficits would undermine confidence in the euro’s stability.

Now the prediction is coming true, says Wim Kösters, of the Ruhr University in Bochum and one of the original signatories. ...

This dilemma is felt especially keenly in Germany. It was a wrench to surrender the Deutschmark, symbol of post-war recovery and economic success. On the eve of monetary union 55% of Germans were against it, making their nation the euro zone’s most reluctant founders. When a “rescue” is mentioned, all eyes fix on Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and most creditworthy borrower. Germans fear that a rescue of Greece would, in effect, extend their welfare state to the Mediterranean.

... A harsh austerity plan, they hope, will be enough to deter speculators—and to reassure their voters at home that Greece is not getting off lightly. The model is Ireland, whose brutal spending cuts restored market confidence without aid from its European neighbours.

A bail-out, Mrs Merkel fears, would break the bargain Germany struck in accepting the euro: that the single currency’s members would never jeopardise its stability nor ask Germans to pay for anyone else’s mismanagement. ...

The path out of the crisis is unclear. Greek bonds remain under pressure (see chart). Arguments rage over which chain reaction would be more damaging: serial bail-outs or serial defaults. ...

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How to save the euro

It requires urgent action on a huge scale. Unless Germany rises to the challenge, disaster looms

Sep 17th 2011 | from the print edition

... It is a sobering thought that so much depends on the leadership of squabbling European politicians who still consistently underestimate what confronts them (see article). But the only way to stop the downward spiral now is an act of supreme collective will by euro-zone governments to erect a barrage of financial measures to stave off the crisis and put the governance of the euro on a sounder footing.

The costs will be large. Few people, least of all this newspaper, want either vast intervention in financial markets or a big shift of national sovereignty to Europe. Nor do many welcome a bigger divide between the 17 countries of the euro zone and the EU’s remaining ten. It is just that the alternatives are far worse. That is the blunt truth that Germany’s Angela Merkel, in particular, urgently needs to explain to her people.

... A rescue must do four things fast. First, it must make clear which of Europe’s governments are deemed illiquid and which are insolvent, giving unlimited backing to the solvent governments but restructuring the debt of those that can never repay it. Second, it has to shore up Europe’s banks to ensure they can withstand a sovereign default. Third, it needs to shift the euro zone’s macroeconomic policy from its obsession with budget-cutting towards an agenda for growth. And finally, it must start the process of designing a new system to stop such a mess ever being created again.

... So far the euro zone’s response has relied too much on two things: austerity and pretence. Sharply cutting budget deficits has been the priority—hence the tax rises and spending cuts. But this collectively huge fiscal contraction is self-defeating. By driving enfeebled economies into recession it only increases worries about both government debts and European banks (see article). And mere budget-cutting does not deal with the real cause of the mess, which is a loss of credibility.

... Instead of austerity and pretence, a credible rescue should start with growth and, where it is unavoidable, a serious restructuring of debt. Europe must make an honest judgment about which side of the line countries are on. Greece, which is unambiguously insolvent, ought to have a hard but orderly write-down. ... Freeing up services and professions, privatising companies, cutting bureaucracy and delaying retirement will create conditions for renewed growth—and that is the best way to reduce debts.

How to prevent contagion? ... Core countries like Germany and the Netherlands have enough cash to look after their own banks, but peripheral governments may need euro-zone money. Ideally that would come from the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).... But it also makes sense to set up a euro-zone bank fund, together with a euro-zone bank-resolution authority. ...

None of this will work unless the Europeans create a firewall around the solvent governments. That means shoring up euro-zone sovereign debt. Spain and Italy owe €2.5 trillion. ... The ECB must declare that it stands behind all solvent countries’ sovereign debts and that it is ready to use unlimited resources to ward off market panic. That is consistent with the ECB’s goal to ensure price and financial stability for the euro zone as a whole. ...

Even so, this is a huge step. The ECB’s German officials have taken to resigning in protest at the limited bond-buying undertaken so far. ...

The issue now is not whether the euro was mis-sold or whether it was a terrible idea in the first place; it is whether it is worth saving. Would it be cheaper to break it up now? ... The sobering truth about the single currency is that getting in is a lot easier than getting out again. Legally, the euro has no exit clause. ...

Attaching hard numbers to any of this is difficult. Analysts at UBS, a bank, reckon that euro break-up could cost a peripheral country 40-50% of GDP in the first year, and a core country 20-25% (see article). ... [T]he immediate bill for a break-up of the single currency would surely be in the trillions of euros. By contrast, a successful rescue would seem a bargain. ...

German taxpayers might accept that the immediate costs of our rescue plan are smaller than break-up. But what they detest is the idea that it might let feckless Italians and Portuguese off the hook. Safe in the knowledge that the ECB stands behind their bonds, they may shy away from reform and rectitude.

Two risks flow from this. The immediate (and real) one is that furious Germans will demand that Greece is thrown out (or bullied out) of the euro to frighten the others. Such a horrific event would indeed scare Portugal and Ireland, but a threat to expel Italy or Spain is empty: they are too big and too tightly tied into the EU. Simply chucking out Greece because it was convenient would permanently undermine the security of small members of the EU. Besides, once Greece defaults and restructures, its economy stands a good chance of making a credible start on its long journey to economic health.

The longer-term risk has to do with “more Europe”. Fans of political integration say that the only way to enforce discipline is to create a United States of Europe (see Charlemagne). ... The ten countries, including Sweden, Poland and Britain, that kept their own currencies may face a choice: to join the euro or be excluded from a new “core Europe”, which in effect starts setting policies. ...

... The euro has reached the point where nobody is going to get what they want—something that needs to be spelled out to the Germans more than anybody. ... For the ECB to stand behind less prudent countries may be unwelcome to Germans; but letting the euro fall to bits is much, much worse. Spell that out clearly to your voters, Mrs Merkel.

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The future of the EU

Two-speed Europe, or two Europes?

Nov 10th 2011, 2:23 by Charlemagne | BRUSSELS

NICOLAS Sarkozy is causing a big stir after calling on November 8th for a two-speed Europe: a “federal” core of the 17 members of the euro zone, with a looser “confederal” outer band of the ten non-euro members. ...

You cannot make a single currency without economic convergence and economic integration. It's impossible. But on the contrary, one cannot plead for federalism and at the same time for the enlargement of Europe. It's impossible. ... We are 27. We will obviously have to open up to the Balkans. We will be 32, 33 or 34. I imagine that nobody thinks that federalism—total integration—is possible at 33, 34, 35 countries. ... [T]he single currency is a wonderful idea, but it was strange to create it without asking oneself the question of its governance, and without asking oneself about economic convergence. 

... The European Union is, in a sense, made up not of two but of multiple speeds. ... But Mr Sarkozy’s comments are more worrying because, one suspects, he wants to create an exclusivist, protectionist euro zone that seeks to detach itself from the rest of the European Union. ...

In other words, France, or Mr Sarkozy at any rate, does not appear to have got over its resentment of the EU’s enlargement. At 27 nations-strong, the European Union is too big for France to lord it over the rest and is too liberal in economic terms for France’s protectionist leanings. Hence Mr Sarkozy’s yearning for a smaller, cosier, “federalist” euro zone.

This chimes with the idea of a Kerneuropa ("core Europe") promoted in 1994 by Karl Lamers and Wolfgang Schäuble, who happens to be Germany's current finance minister. Intriguingly, it is the first time that Mr Sarkozy, once something of a sceptic of European integration, has spoken publicly about “federalism”.... It echoes the views of Mr Sarkozy's Socialist predecessor, François Mitterrand.

... Mr Sarkozy probably wants to create a euro zone in France’s image, with power (and much discretion) concentrated in the hands of leaders, where the “Merkozy” duo (Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy) will dominate. Germany will no doubt want a replica of its own federal system, with strong rules and powerful independent institutions to constrain politicians. ...

Done properly, by keeping the euro open to countries that want to join (like Poland) and deepening the single market for those that do not (like Britain), the creation of a more flexible EU of variable geometry could ease many of the existing tensions. ... But done wrongly, as one fears Mr Sarkozy would have it, this will be a recipe for breaking up Europe. Not two-speed Europe but two separate Europes. ...

Mr Sarkozy’s words seem to have caught the attention of Joschka Fischer, elder statesman of Germany's Green party and a former foreign minister, who said that the EU at 27 had become too unwieldy. “Let’s just forget about the EU with 27 members—unfortunately,” he told Die Zeit, a German weekly newspaper. “I just don’t see how these 27 states will ever come up with any meaningful reforms.” Indeed, some think the euro zone itself might be smaller than the 17 members (Greece may soon default and leave the euro).

The speech that everybody is waiting for now is Mrs Merkel’s. The chancellor wants to change the treaties, and on November 9th she called for “a breakthrough to a new Europe”. ...

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The German problem

To save the single currency, Angela Merkel must take on her own country’s economic establishment

Nov 19th 2011 | from the print edition

... At her party’s conference on November 14th the chancellor, Angela Merkel, left no doubt about the gravity of the euro crisis (see Charlemagne). “If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” she said.

On the same day Jens Weidmann, the president of the Bundesbank, roiled financial markets with hardline comments ... [ruling out reliance on] the European Central Bank (ECB) as a lender of last resort to governments, arguing it would be illegal and wrong for the bank to hold down bond yields. ...

Mr Weidmann is not a lone ideologue. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s new Italian president, has ruled out acting as a lender of last resort to governments, albeit less categorically (see article). Mr Weidmann has his supporters among the Finns and the Dutch, too. But the rigidity of his argument is embedded in the solid rock that is Germany’s economic establishment, which holds that big rescues are counterproductive because they both dull governments’ incentives to act and create new dangers. ...

The problem is that the dogmatic prescriptions of the “German orthodoxy” are pushing the single currency towards collapse. If Mrs Merkel wants to save the euro, therefore, she must challenge her country’s economic establishment, and explain to voters why the revered Bundesbank’s rigidity is wrong. ... German orthodoxy ignores the possibility that rising bond yields are being driven by a self-fulfilling panic in financial markets. ...

The euro zone’s most recent plan—to amplify the existing rescue fund with financial engineering and money from China—has failed miserably. ... Either Europe’s governments will have to assume explicitly some joint liability for each other’s debts. Or they will have to do so implicitly, by allowing the ECB to counter a panic with purchases of government bonds: in effect, letting it act as a lender of last resort. The danger lies in eschewing both options. ...

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Is this really the end?

Unless Germany and the ECB move quickly, the single currency’s collapse is looming

Nov 26th 2011 | from the print edition

EVEN as the euro zone hurtles towards a crash, most people are assuming that, in the end, European leaders will do whatever it takes to save the single currency. That is because the consequences of the euro’s destruction are so catastrophic that no sensible policymaker could stand by and let it happen.

A euro break-up would cause a global bust worse even than the one in 2008-09. The world’s most financially integrated region would be ripped apart by defaults, bank failures and the imposition of capital controls (see article). ...

Yet the threat of a disaster does not always stop it from happening. The chances of the euro zone being smashed apart have risen alarmingly, thanks to financial panic, a rapidly weakening economic outlook and pigheaded brinkmanship. ...

Add the ever greater fiscal austerity being imposed across Europe and a collapse in business and consumer confidence, and there is little doubt that the euro zone will see a deep recession in 2012—with a fall in output of perhaps as much as 2%. That will lead to a vicious feedback loop in which recession widens budget deficits, swells government debts and feeds popular opposition to austerity and reform. Fear of the consequences will then drive investors even faster towards the exits.

Past financial crises show that this downward spiral can be arrested only by bold policies to regain market confidence. ...

Without a dramatic change of heart by the ECB and by European leaders, the single currency could break up within weeks. Any number of events, from the failure of a big bank to the collapse of a government to more dud bond auctions, could cause its demise. ...

The only institution that can provide immediate relief is the ECB. As the lender of last resort, it must do more to save the banks by offering unlimited liquidity for longer duration against a broader range of collateral. ... One promising idea, from Germany’s Council of Economic Experts, is to mutualise all euro-zone debt above 60% of each country’s GDP, and to set aside a tranche of tax revenue to pay it off over the next 25 years. Yet Germany, still fretful about turning a currency union into a transfer union in which it forever supports the weaker members, has dismissed the idea.

This attitude has to change, or the euro will break up. ... Debt mutualisation can be devised to stop short of a permanent transfer union. Mrs Merkel and the ECB cannot continue to threaten feckless economies with exclusion from the euro in one breath and reassure markets by promising the euro’s salvation with the next. Unless she chooses soon, Germany’s chancellor will find that the choice has been made for her.

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25 NOVEMBER 2011

BY John Muellbauer, Official Fellow, Nuffield College; Professor of Economics, Oxford University (Originally published at VOXEU)

For months economists have been arguing that Germany holds the key to ending the Eurozone crisis. Should it relax its anti-inflation stance and allow the ECB to inflate away sovereign debt? Or should it write a cheque of its own to the EFSF? Neither, says this column. ... Eurobonds are the answer – but with conditions.

... The German Ministry of Finance could offer a two-year loan to the Italian government at 3% above what it pays, and promise that next year, if the Italian reform programme is showing visible signs of success, the spread could fall to 2.5% and then to 2% if progress continues. With backsliding, the cost would rise. This solidarity gesture would be highly profitable for the German taxpayer. The conditionality of the offer would keep the new Italian government committed to reform, aiding Italy’s credibility as a Eurozone member. Conventional Eurobonds, meanwhile, with the same funding costs for every country but with risk collectively underwritten, would likely be a recipe for disaster. They would encourage lax fiscal policy, backsliding on reform, and moral hazard. ...

Conditional Eurobonds would institutionalise, for all Eurozone countries, the simple example above of Germany lending to Italy. The conditional Eurobonds, issued on new borrowing, would be collectively underwritten by member governments of the Eurozone. ... The proceeds of the payments could be distributed in several ways. In the simple example of a bilateral loan from Germany to Italy, Germany would retain the entire spread. With multilateral underwriting, all Eurozone countries would receive shares of the payments into the central fund. The shares would be determined by the size of their own borrowings and their spreads relative to Germany. Per unit of borrowing, less risky countries such as France would receive more than riskier countries such as Belgium, but less than Germany itself. ...

A hugely important point about conditional Eurobonds with spreads is that they address the German fear about the Eurozone becoming ‘a transfer union’. The point is also not made clearly enough that this kind of bond, by creating the right fiscal incentives, allows a kind of fiscal decentralisation or subsidiarity....

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Beware of falling masonry

The crisis in the euro area is turning into a panic and dragging the zone into recession. The risk that the currency disintegrates within weeks is alarmingly high

Nov 26th 2011 | from the print edition

FIRST Greece; then Ireland and Portugal; then Italy and Spain. Month by month, the crisis in the euro area has crept from the vulnerable periphery of the currency zone towards its core, helped by denial, misdiagnosis and procrastination by the euro-zone’s policymakers. Recently Belgian and French government bonds have been in the financial markets’ bad books. Investors are even sniffy about German bonds....

Worse, there are signs that the euro zone’s economy is heading for recession, if it is not there already. Industrial orders in the euro zone fell by 6.4% in September, the steepest decline since the dark days of December 2008. ...

European banks are dumping the bonds of the least creditworthy, and other assets, in an attempt to conserve capital and improve cashflow as a full-blown funding crisis looms. Governments are promising ever more severe budget cuts in the hope of pacifying bond markets. The direct result of these scrambles is a credit crunch and a squeeze on aggregate demand that is forcing Europe into recession. ...

Consider the three ingredients for recession: a credit crunch, tighter fiscal policy and a dearth of confidence. ... A downturn of such severity will hugely increase the pressures within the zone. Investors will be even less willing to finance banks, as more garden-variety loans to businesses and householders turn bad. As unemployment rises, tax receipts will go down and welfare payments up, making it harder for governments to rein in their deficits and hit the targets they have set, and causing bond markets to question their solvency more pointedly still.

... With a few exceptions, the benchmark cost of credit in each euro-zone country is related to the balance of its international debts. Germany, which is owed more than it owes, still has low bond yields; Greece, which is heavily in debt to foreigners, has a high cost of borrowing (see chart 2). Portugal, Greece and (to a lesser extent) Spain still have big current-account deficits, and so are still adding to their already high foreign liabilities. Refinancing these is becoming harder and putting strain on local banks and credit availability.

The higher the cost of funding becomes, the more money flows out to foreigners to service these debts. This is why the issue of national solvency goes beyond what governments owe. The euro zone is showing the symptoms of an internal balance-of-payments crisis, with self-fulfilling runs on countries, because at bottom that is the nature of its troubles. ...

The prospect that one country might break its ties to the euro, voluntarily or not, would cause widespread bank runs in other weak economies. Depositors would rush to get their savings out of the country to pre-empt a forced conversion to a new, weaker currency. Governments would have to impose limits on bank withdrawals or close banks temporarily. Capital controls and even travel restrictions would be needed to stanch the bleeding of money from the economy. Such restrictions would slow the circulation of money around the economy, deepening the recession.

External sources of credit would dry up because foreign investors, banks and companies would fear that their money would be trapped. A government cut off from capital-market funding would need to find other ways of bridging the gap between tax receipts and public spending. It might meet part of its obligations, including public-sector wages, by issuing small-denomination IOUs that could in turn be used to buy goods and pay bills. ... Scrip of this kind becomes, in effect, a proto-currency. In a stricken euro-zone country, it would change hands at a discount to the remaining euros in circulation, foreshadowing the devaluation to come. To pre-empt further capital outflows, a government would have to pass a law swiftly to say all financial dealings would henceforth be carried out in a new currency, at a one-for-one exchange rate with the euro. The new currency would then “float” (ie, sink) to a lower level against the abandoned euro. The size of that devaluation would be the extent of the country’s effective default against its creditors.

... [T]he likeliest trigger for a disintegration of the euro is unknowable. But there are plenty of candidates. One is a failed bond auction that forces a country into default and sends a shock wave through the European banking system. ... Another danger is a disagreement between Greece and its trio of rescuers (the EU, the IMF and the ECB) over the conditions of its bail-out. ...

The few left in the euro (Germany and perhaps a few other creditor countries) would be at a competitive disadvantage to the new cheaper currencies on their doorstep. As well as imposing capital controls, countries might retreat towards autarky, by raising retaliatory tariffs. The survival of the European single market and of the EU itself would then be under threat.

Such a disaster can still be averted. The ECB might launch a programme of bond-buying on the pretext that a deep recession in the euro area threatens deflation. If done on the scale that the Bank of England has undertaken, it could restore stability to Europe’s panicky bond markets. ... But any lasting stability for the euro must lie with governments, particularly in the degree to which they are willing to give up fiscal sovereignty in return for pooling liabilities. Germany stands firmly at one extreme of this debate. Its chancellor, Angela Merkel, wants big changes to force probity..., but has opposed the idea of jointly guaranteed “Eurobonds”. German officials have argued that any open-ended commitment to joint liabilities would encourage errant governments to profligacy, violate Germany’s constitution and raise its borrowing costs. Even now, the head of the Bundesbank, Jens Weidmann, appears to believe that the imposition of fiscal rigour will be enough to restore calm to Europe’s bond markets.

... Another new proposal is intriguing—thanks, in part, to its provenance. Germany’s Council of Economic Experts recently proposed a “European Redemption Pact”. This scheme would place the debt, in excess of 60% of GDP, of all euro-zone governments not already in IMF rescue plans into a jointly guaranteed fund that would be paid off over 25 years. Modelled in part on the federal government’s assumption of the debt of America’s states begun by Alexander Hamilton in 1790, the fund would provide joint liability for these debts under strict conditions. ...

At its peak, the redemption pact would be huge: the joint liability would amount to €2.3 trillion. But it would technically be temporary. For all these safeguards, Germany’s government has so far poured cold water on the idea. But time is running out. And the scale of the impending catastrophe demands radical answers.

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Can Germany save Europe? Will it?

By Thomas Mucha, Created 6220-11-29 13:22

An extraordinary plea today aimed at Berlin. It comes from an unlikely place.

Europe's ongoing debt crisis took another very dramatic turn today.

And it came from a most unlikely place, considering Germany's long and difficult history: Poland.

Here's what Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski said in a speech Monday in the German capital, as reported by the Financial Times [3]:

"I demand of Germany that, for your own sake and for ours, you help it survive and prosper,” he said. “You know full well that nobody else can do it. I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity. You have become Europe’s indispensable nation."

... It's an incredibly lucid and forthright account of the troubles facing Europe (and Germany) right now, so I'll point you to three more key points that the Polish diplomat made.

... Sikorski ended his Polish pep talk with this dire warning:

"What, as Poland’s foreign minister, do I regard as the biggest threat to the security and prosperity of Poland in the last week of November 2011? It’s not terrorism, and it’s certainly not German tanks. It’s not even Russian missiles which President Dmitry Medvedev has just threatened to deploy on the EU’s border. The biggest threat to the security of Poland would be the collapse of the eurozone."

Thrive by thrift...

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G.K. Chesterton’s Distributism

Posted By Dale Ahlquist On August 11, 2011 6:32 AM

The word “economy” and the word “economics” are based on the Greek word for house, which is oikos. The word “economy” as we know it, however, has drifted completely away from that meaning. Instead of house, it has come to mean everything outside of the house. The home is the place where the important things happen. The economy is the place where the most unimportant things happen. ...  
There is another rather neglected meaning to the word “economy”: the idea of thriftiness. ... Chesterton points out that inside the word thrift is the word thrive.9 We can only thrive within our means, just as we can only be free within the rules. The modern understanding of the word economy is, once again, just the opposite. It is about accumulation instead of thrift. Even worse, it is about mere exchange. It is about trade, and not even about the things that are traded. It is about figures in a ledger. It is about noughts. It is about the accumulation of zeros. It is more about nothing than it is about something.

Our separation of economy from the home is part of a long fragmentation process. ... We have separated everything from everything else. We have accomplished this by separating everything from the home. Feminism has separated women from the home. Capitalism has separated men from the home. Socialism has separated education from the home. Manufacturing has separated craftsmanship from the home. The news and entertainment industry has separated originality and creativity from the home, rendering us into passive and malleable consumers rather than active citizens.

There is more to Distributism than economics. That is because there is more to economics than economics. Distributism is not just an economic idea. It is an integral part of a complete way of thinking. ...

It takes a complicated key to fit a complicated lock. But we want simple solutions. We don’t want to work hard. We don’t want to think hard. We want other people to do both our work and our thinking for us. We call in the specialists. And we call this state of utter dependency “freedom.” We think we are free simply because we seem free to move about. ...

The Distributist ideal is that the home is the most important place in the world. Every man should have his own piece of property, a place to build his own home, to raise his family, to do all the important things from birth to death: eating, singing, celebrating, reading, writing, arguing, story-telling, laughing, crying, praying. The home is above all a sanctuary of creativity. Creativity is our most Godlike quality. We not only make things, we make things in our own image. The family is one of those things. ...

But Chesterton’s Distributist ideal not only called for mothers to stay at home, it called for fathers to stay at home as well. The home-based business, the idea of self-sufficiency would not only make for stronger, healthier families, but a stronger, healthier society. ... A home-based society is naturally and necessarily a local and de-centralized society. ...

Though Chesterton would argue that a Distributist society would be most fully realized if it were based on a Catholic worldview, he would not insist upon that basis as essential for achieving such a society. In fact, he would argue that such a society is more congenial to the different religions than any other societal plan. Freedom of religion, as it now supposedly exists under a huge centralized government, actually needs to be “enforced” by that government. The result, as we have seen, is that religion has actually been stifled where the government watchdog is there to “guarantee” the freedom. ...

The dilemma of Distributism is the dilemma of freedom itself. Distributism cannot be done to people, but only by people. It is not a system that can be imposed from above; it can only spring up from below. ... If it happens, it seems most likely that it would be ushered in by a popular revolution. In any case, it must be popular. It would at some point require those with massive and inordinate wealth to give it up. ... The Christian argument, if taken seriously, should be more terrifying to a rich man than a mob with axes and torches. ... The central figure of the Christian religion said quite unambiguously that it is easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. No matter how the rich man may try to breed smaller camels and manufacture larger needles, no matter how hard he snorts and stomps, he cannot get around the reality that to cling to his riches is to put his soul in peril. ... As Chesterton says, “The obligation of wealth is to chuck it.”13

But the rich are a small part of the problem–only because there are so few of them. The larger part of the problem is the mentality that drives so many people to chase after money. Again, religion provides a practical solution. There is a commandment that states, “Thou shall not covet.” This little known commandment would have to be rediscovered and re-emphasized in order to build a Distributist society.

Down with physicalism...

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‎"Intention is ascribed by language users; it is not inherent in physical systems. Language users are physical systems in which intention (i.e. linguistic reference and representation) is inherent."

Down with physicalism, up with analogy.

This is where my head is...

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Up with economy, down with chrematistics!

Below is the TED Talk for Open Source Ecology. Have a gander. It has me drooling.

The book that got my wheels spinning in this direction is Eric Brende's Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology. My recent posting of Matthew Crawford's essay on "the case for working with your hands" is also part of this impulse. Wendell Barry's new book What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth is also good stuff.

My larger philosophical impulse is an increasing absorption with distributism, as my recent various quotations about economic matters should indicate. Distributism is often mocked for being impractical, but the Open Source Ecology shows how hollow that accusation is. I have been reading numerous posts at The Distributist Review and have a stack of books on economics and social equity ahead of me. I have long been skeptical of the ideology of overpopulation fear-mongering, and one aspect of the debate is hunger and economic equity. The problem with global population is not whether resources are adequate--they are!--but how the resources are distributed and tended by global peoples. It was not until recently, however, that I realized the direct link between my own standard-and-style of living and the problem of unjust economic distribution.

There is a lot of talk nowadays about redistribution, but I think that misses the point on two fronts. First, since America long ago ceased being a quasi-distributist polity, the redistribution many people want remains confined in the capitalistic strictures that distributism opposes. Second, distributism allows for economic prosperity and entrepreneurship--indeed, distributists believe a distributist economy is what grounds entrepreneurship in the first place!

Hence, distributism avoids the errors of socialism (i.e. negation of private property and absolute centralized regulation of property development) and avoids the errors of capitalism (i.e. the intrinsic centralization of capital apart from individual families' autonomy over their own property as a potentially total domain of "real value"). It is a central tenet of Catholic social teaching that the family is the nucleus of human society, and in so far as distributism puts families, as opposed to the state or consumers, first, puts me largely in the distributist camp.

In any event, perhaps being a husband and father-to-be has given me the focus and personal attachment to see how simply living and living simply are great sources of joy, and how I myself can live out our abiding Adamic call to stewardship of Creation.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Working with your hands...

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May 24, 2009

The Case for Working With Your Hands

... Many of us do work that feels more surreal than real. Working in an office, you often find it difficult to see any tangible result from your efforts. What exactly have you accomplished at the end of any given day? Where the chain of cause and effect is opaque and responsibility diffuse, the experience of individual agency can be elusive. ... 
... High-school shop-class programs were widely dismantled in the 1990s as educators prepared students to become “knowledge workers.” The imperative of the last 20 years to round up every warm body and send it to college, then to the cubicle, was tied to a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy. This has not come to pass. To begin with, such work often feels more enervating than gliding. More fundamentally, now as ever, somebody has to actually do things: fix our cars, unclog our toilets, build our houses. 
When we praise people who do work that is straightforwardly useful, the praise often betrays an assumption that they had no other options. We idealize them as the salt of the earth and emphasize the sacrifice for others their work may entail. ... But what if such work answers as well to a basic human need of the one who does it? ... Beneath our gratitude for the lineman may rest envy. 
This seems to be a moment when the useful arts have an especially compelling economic rationale. ... The current downturn is likely to pass eventually. But there are also systemic changes in the economy, arising from information technology, that have the surprising effect of making the manual trades — plumbing, electrical work, car repair — more attractive as careers. The Princeton economist Alan Blinder argues that the crucial distinction in the emerging labor market is not between those with more or less education, but between those whose services can be delivered over a wire and those who must do their work in person or on site. The latter will find their livelihoods more secure against outsourcing to distant countries. As Blinder puts it, “You can’t hammer a nail over the Internet.” Nor can the Indians fix your car. Because they are in India. 
... One shop teacher suggested to me that “in schools, we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement. Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”  
A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. ... Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.” I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work.  
The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid. This is not my experience. I have a small business as a motorcycle mechanic in Richmond, Va., which I started in 2002. ... I have found the satisfactions of the work to be very much bound up with the intellectual challenges it presents. ...  
After finishing a Ph.D. in political philosophy at the University of Chicago in 2000, I managed to stay on with a one-year postdoctoral fellowship at the university’s Committee on Social Thought. The academic job market was utterly bleak. In a state of professional panic, I retreated to a makeshift workshop I set up in the basement of a Hyde Park apartment building, where I spent the winter tearing down an old Honda motorcycle and rebuilding it. The physicality of it, and the clear specificity of what the project required of me, was a balm. Stumped by a starter motor..., I started asking around at Honda dealerships. Nobody had an answer; finally one service manager told me to call Fred Cousins of Triple O Service. “If anyone can help you, Fred can.” ...  
Over the next six months I spent a lot of time at Fred’s shop, learning, and put in only occasional appearances at the university. ... I was rediscovering the intensely absorbing nature of the work, and it got me thinking about possible livelihoods. 
As it happened, in the spring I landed a job as executive director of a policy organization in Washington. This felt like a coup. But certain perversities became apparent as I settled into the job. ... As its figurehead, I was making arguments I didn’t fully buy myself. Further, my boss seemed intent on retraining me according to a certain cognitive style — that of the corporate world, from which he had recently come. This style demanded that I project an image of rationality but not indulge too much in actual reasoning. As I sat in my K Street office, Fred’s life as an independent tradesman gave me an image that I kept coming back to: someone who really knows what he is doing, losing himself in work that is genuinely useful and has a certain integrity to it. He also seemed to be having a lot of fun. ... 
After five months at the think tank, I’d saved enough money to buy some tools I needed, and I quit and went into business fixing bikes. ... The business goes up and down; when it is down I have supplemented it with writing. The work is sometimes frustrating, but it is never irrational. ...
As in any learned profession, you just have to know a lot ... [and] you have to be embedded in a community of mechanic-antiquarians. ... My most reliable source, Fred, has such an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure European motorcycles that all I have been able to offer him in exchange is deliveries of obscure European beer. ... 
[M]echanical work has required me to cultivate different intellectual habits. Further, habits of mind have an ethical dimension that we don’t often think about. Good diagnosis requires attentiveness to the machine, almost a conversation with it, rather than assertiveness, as in the position papers produced on K Street. Cognitive psychologists speak of “metacognition,” which is the activity of stepping back and thinking about your own thinking. It is what you do when you stop for a moment in your pursuit of a solution, and wonder whether your understanding of the problem is adequate. ...  
This active concern for the motorcycle is reinforced by the social aspects of the job. As is the case with many independent mechanics, my business is based entirely on word of mouth. I sometimes barter services with machinists and metal fabricators. This has a very different feel than transactions with money; it situates me in a community. The result is that I really don’t want to mess up anybody’s motorcycle or charge more than a fair price. ... The core experience is one of individual responsibility, supported by face-to-face interactions between tradesman and customer. 
Contrast the experience of being a middle manager. ... Like the mechanic, the manager faces the possibility of disaster at any time. But in his case these disasters feel arbitrary; they are typically a result of corporate restructurings, not of physics. ... Survival depends on a crucial insight: you can’t back down from an argument that you initially made in straightforward language, with moral conviction, without seeming to lose your integrity. So managers learn the art of provisional thinking and feeling, expressed in corporate doublespeak, and cultivate a lack of commitment to their own actions. ...  
How was it that I, once a proudly self-employed electrician, had ended up ... a “knowledge worker” at a salary of $23,000? I had a master’s degree, and it needed to be used. The escalating demand for academic credentials in the job market gives the impression of an ever-more-knowledgeable society, whose members perform cognitive feats their unschooled parents could scarcely conceive of. On paper, my abstracting job, multiplied a millionfold, is precisely what puts the futurologist in a rapture: we are getting to be so smart! Yet my M.A. obscures a more real stupidification of the work I secured with that credential, and a wage to match. When I first got the degree, I felt as if I had been inducted to a certain order of society. But ... it turned out to be a more proletarian existence than I had known as an electrician. In that job I had made quite a bit more money. I also felt free and active, rather than confined and stultified.  
A good job requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world. Academic credentials do not guarantee this.
Nor can big business or big government — those idols of the right and the left — reliably secure such work for us. Everyone is rightly concerned about economic growth on the one hand or unemployment and wages on the other, but the character of work doesn’t figure much in political debate. ... Yet work forms us, and deforms us, with broad public consequences.  
The visceral experience of failure seems to have been edited out of the career trajectories of gifted students. It stands to reason, then, that those who end up making big decisions that affect all of us don’t seem to have much sense of their own fallibility, and of how badly things can go wrong even with the best of intentions.... In the boardrooms of Wall Street and the corridors of Pennsylvania Avenue, I don’t think you’ll see a yellow sign that says “Think Safety!” as you do on job sites and in many repair shops, no doubt because those who sit on the swivel chairs tend to live remote from the consequences of the decisions they make. Why not encourage gifted students to learn a trade, if only in the summers, so that their fingers will be crushed once or twice before they go on to run the country?  
There is good reason to suppose that responsibility has to be installed in the foundation of your mental equipment — at the level of perception and habit. There is an ethic of paying attention that develops in the trades through hard experience. It inflects your perception of the world and your habitual responses to it. This is due to the immediate feedback you get from material objects and to the fact that the work is typically situated in face-to-face interactions between tradesman and customer. ...  
Ultimately it is enlightened self-interest, then, not a harangue about humility or public-spiritedness, that will compel us to take a fresh look at the trades. The good life comes in a variety of forms. This variety has become difficult to see; our field of aspiration has narrowed into certain channels. But the current perplexity in the economy seems to be softening our gaze. Our peripheral vision is perhaps recovering, allowing us to consider the full range of lives worth choosing. For anyone who feels ill suited by disposition to spend his days sitting in an office, the question of what a good job looks like is now wide open.

Matthew B. Crawford lives in Richmond, Va. His book, “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work,” from which this essay is adapted, will be published this week by Penguin Press.

Action without agents?

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To paraphrase Maritain: "...because all law is a promulgation of reason, ... there must be an eternal reason behind the eternal law; and since the natural law is nothing more than our participation in the eternal law, there must be some principle of reason behind the natural law."

Morality is value-laden action. Action is behavior ordered towards an end or ends.

If moral claims are absolute, they are also eternal. That is, if there are absolute moral principles, there are absolute principles of action.

There are absolute moral truths, and therefore also absolute principles of action.

Action, however, cannot exist without an agent. As such, absolute principles of action exist only because an absolute principle of agency exists. Morality is absolute, therefore there exists an absolutely moral agent, which all men call God.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The wrong baby...

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A worried woman went to her gynecologist and said:

'Doctor, I have a serious problem and desperately need your help! My baby is not even 1 year old and I'm pregnant again. I don't want kids so close together.'

So the doctor said: 'Ok and what do you want me to do?'

She said: 'I want you to end my pregnancy, and I'm counting on your help with this.'

The doctor thought for a little, and after some silence he said to the lady: 'I think I have a better solution for your problem. It's less dangerous for you too.'

She smiled, thinking that the doctor was going to accept her request.

Then he continued: 'You see, in order for you not to have to take care of 2 babies at the same time, let's kill the one in your arms. This way, you could rest some before the other one is born. If we're going to kill one of them, it doesn't matter which one it is. There would be no risk for your body if you chose the one in your arms.'

The lady was horrified and said: 'No doctor! How terrible! It's a crime to kill a child!'

'I agree', the doctor replied. 'But you seemed to be OK with it, so I thought maybe that was the best solution.'

The doctor smiled, realizing that he had made his point.

He convinced the mom that there is no difference in killing a child that's already been born and one that's still in the womb. The crime is the same!

Love says, 'I sacrifice myself for the good of the other person.' Abortion says, 'I sacrifice the other person for the good of myself.'

By: Life is Dangerous: Let's Ban It

Various good and not so good things...

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‎"Whereas Belloc sang loudly and proudly of the European peasant, the man who went to Mass, worked in his fields, lived above his cows and horse, and delighted in ordinary living and the common tasks of sowing and reaping, baking and brewing, all rooted in the traditions of his ancestors, Jung was obsessed with the idea of the "superman," the type who ... would produce 'a new elite that would revolutionize human culture and lead it to a new utopia' -- a man to be made by reviving ancient occult practices."


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‎"[S]ome opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class: for the ancient working-mens guilds were abolished..., and no other protective organisation took their place. Public institutions and the laws set aside the ancient religion. Hence by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hard-heartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which ... is nevertheless under different guise, but with the like injustice, still practised by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labour and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the labouring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself."

-- Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum §3, May, 1891

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"The [OWS] protestors are not mad because they are not rich, but because they can’t subsist. They stand against giving away their hard-earned money to the likes of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Ben Bernanke, and the financial firms on Wall Street. ... Without plans for managing the OWS protest and what demands to sign onto, big business and big government will step in and choose the agenda for the protestors. ... What ought OWS to do? It needs to adopt a Distributist platform of local accountable government, local business, local infrastructure, local banks, and justice. The Distributist plan is the only one that cuts across liberal and conservative lines; it is the only plan that defends our sovereignty, encourages jobs of our own, and subsistence. Some people will be rich in a Distributist economy, but Distributism doesn’t aim on being rich. It aims on private, productive property."
-- "Occupy Wall Street" Posted By Ryan Grant On October 17, 2011 6:12 AM

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Atheism and autism: Controversial new study points to a link between the two

I've had this hypothesis for years. The (atheist and autistic) populations are roughly equally proportionate among humans. Both groups struggle with analogy and narrative, struggle with "seeing wholes" instead of mere parts, and struggle to recognize personal agency behind gross movements. And don't forget The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, a fictional glorification of the autism that is atheism (or vice versa, in the protagonist's case). Article's worth a look. I was going only by rough demographic data, so a cognitive analysis sounds neat.

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A: If Natural Family Planning (NFP) is "just the same thing" as artificial contraception, why don't people who use contraceptives just use NFP?

B: Because natural family planning isn't as effective.

A: Nope, that's not the reason. NFP is certainly not as 'easy' as artificial contraceptives, but, when applied correctly, is just as if not more effective. Plus, it is a moral choice. Read this article about the effectiveness of NFP and this medical bulletin about NFP effectiveness.

B: I consider myself to be an expert in family planning. I assure you, it is not as effective.

A: I consider myself a lot of things, but I'll stick to professional research and sound moral doctrine.

B: I will not debate the moral doctrine with you. There is no point. But from a practical standpoint, not to mention a female standpoint, you are overreaching.

A: You can abstain from arguing morality, but first you need to remove your implicit moral pragmatism from your case. There are no amoral claims. Indeed, the point of my initial claim is to deflate a common canard against NFP, namely, that it is 'just like artificial contraception', or that it is 'just Catholic contraception', so, in an important sense, effectiveness is beside the point. Besides, what does the comment 'from ... a female standpoint, you are overreaching' mean? Is there a female standpoint? Is there only one female standpoint?

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Death. Skydiving. : Orgasm. Flirting.

If skydiving makes life richer because it sips from death, why not just guzzle from death, and be done with it? Adventure, as Maritain argued, is a species of argument for the immortality of the soul.

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The "rice gospel" gives way to the latex gospel.

Janet Smith, "Contraception: Why Not?" - Part 4 - Humanae Vitae

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Here's an idea: next time you have a question, ask your friend or spouse or family or, hell, even a guy on the street, before you ask the Internet.

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Higgs hunt enters endgame : Nature News & Comment by Geoff Brumfiel, 18 Nov. 2011

I have personally reviewed "the first 70 trillion collisions" mentioned in this article, and approve of the contents.

The sidelight graphic is intriguing: "Do you believe [in an entity that can only be observed at extremely high energy levels]?"

In a different dialect: "Do you believe [in an entity that can be known only at an infinitely high energy level]?"

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‎"Right now, China's economy is based on exporting to wealthy, developed countries. For that export-driven system to work, China's economy needs to remain weaker than those of its buyers. One of the biggest reasons that China sells so much stuff is because it can produce that stuff cheaply. But as China's growth accelerates and European and American growth slows due to financial crises, China is catching up with the developed economies faster than anyone had anticipated. If and when China gets too wealthy to continue exporting cheap products -- or if the developed economies become too weak to keep buying them -- it will be in big trouble."

-- "Crisis in Europe, Transformation in China" by Max Fisher, The Atlantic NOV 17 2011

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"The operating assumption for both neuroskeptics and neuro-believers alike … has to do with evil being exclusively a matter of conscious or freely-chosen thoughts or actions. This limited conception ignores, of course, the vast sea of human brokenness that lies beneath the surface of conscious awareness, that informs so many of our impulses and dreams and desires. Would that they would consult the Christian tradition! They might hear the unfathomable claim that people are both bound in their actions … and morally culpable. … [E]vil is not a construct or illusion, [but] runs deeper than any of us would care to admit, and that there is such a thing as living under a curse. They might also hear about the God who [redeems] those who can’t redeem themselves, people stuck in patterns that are no less destructive by virtue of their compulsiveness. They might hear, in other words, about the God who is both empathetic and just."

-- "That Simplistic but Somehow Indispensable Word: Neuroskepticism and the Replacement of… Evil" by DAVID ZAHL on Oct 4, 2011

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Walker Percy Interviews Himself by DAVID ZAHL on May 4, 2011 - From his piece “Questions They Never Asked Me,” collected in Conversations with Walker Percy.

Q: What kind of Catholic are you?

A: Bad.

Q: No. I mean are you liberal or conservative?

A: I no longer know what those words mean.

Q: Are you a dogmatic Catholic or an open-minded Catholic?

A: I don’t know what that means, either. Do you mean do I believe the dogma that the Catholic Church proposes for belief?

Q: Yes.

A: Yes.

Q: How is such a belief possible in this day and age?

A: What else is there? ... This life is too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then to be asked what you make of it and have to answer “Scientific humanism.” That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God. In fact I demand it. ... I asked for [the gift of faith], in fact demanded it. I took it as an intolerable state of affairs to have found myself in this life and in this age, which is a disaster by any calculation, without demanding a gift commensurate with the offense. So I demanded it. No doubt other people feel differently.

Q: But shouldn’t faith bear some relation to the truth, facts?

A: Yes. That’s what attracted me, Christianity’s rather insolent claim to be true, with the implication that other religions are more or less false.

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24 Nov. 2011 Australia inquiry after wrong twin foetus terminated

"An Australian hospital has launched an inquiry after staff treating a woman carrying twin boys accidentally terminated the wrong foetus.
"Doctors had told the woman that one of her babies had a congenital heart defect that would require numerous operations, if he survived.
"The woman chose to abort the 32-week foetus but staff injected the wrong twin." 
It gives me great piece of mind that in most abortions, the right baby gets sniped with accuracy. It would be a horrible thing to imagine numerous otherwise viable babies getting aborted for no good reason. Oh, wait....

Friday, November 25, 2011

Care about Obamacare?

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The Bell Tolls for Obamacare
By PETER FERRARA on 11.23.11 @ 6:08AM
The American Spectator

The key to the Supreme Court's upcoming ruling will be clear recognition of constitutional alternatives to Obamacare.

"I am predicting that the Supreme Court will strike down the entire Obamacare law on a 5-4 ruling. That starts with the individual mandate, which the Court will find unconstitutional because it has reiterated several times in recent cases that it will enforce some limit on the Commerce Clause as justification for federal regulation, reserving the role of police power to regulate for the general public good to the states. Virtually all the judges in all the lower court cases concluded that there was no precedent anywhere in U.S. history upholding a law requiring citizens to purchase a good or service. Not participating in interstate commerce by choosing not to buy a product or service leaves no basis for regulation to compel such participation under the Commerce Clause power to regulate interstate commerce. ...

"I believe the key to winning the fifth majority vote of Justice Kennedy is the argument that striking down Obamacare does not mean there is no constitutional way for a health care safety net to assure no one will suffer from lack of necessary medical care. ...

"A complete health care safety net assuring essential health care for all can be achieved with no individual mandate and no employer mandate, for just a fraction of the cost of Obamacare, actually sharply reducing government in the process. That starts with the provision already in federal law, stemming from the Kennedy-Kassebaum legislation of the 1990s, providing for guaranteed renewability. ... Consequently, striking down Obamacare as unconstitutional does not mean condemning the needy to suffering without essential health care. ...

"In regard to Medicaid, Obamacare treats the states as sub-departments of the federal government, like local government units in France, rather than as the sovereign governments they are under traditional American federalism. ..."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The love of money, not money, is the root of many evils…

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"...the Church holds both private initiative and entrepreneurial work in high regard. This activity, however, is called upon to recognize the dignity of the human person and to be put at the service of others."


Mansion puts Moore in 1%

He may dress like a slob and claim to speak for working stiffs -- but here’s the luxurious home that proves left-winger Michael Moore is a lot closer to the 1 percent than the other 99.


"There is no mechanism of distribution whatsoever. So, to speak in terms of a just or unjust distribution, doesn't make sense."
The Peter Schiff Show - Tom Woods: Entrepreneurs


"You can believe in a free market, or you can believe in capitalism, but you cannot, logically, believe in both."
John Médaille being interviewed on the Young Turks about moving "towards a truly free market"


When will "Three Acres and a Cow" meet "Forty Acres and a Mule"?


"John Médaille’s diagnosis begins by questioning our assumptions about the nature of economics. He suggests we have been fed only part of the truth when it comes to evaluating economics as a whole.Economics, Médaille reminds, is a humane science not a physical science. Those economists who neglect the humane aspects of economics play into the hands of tyrants precisely because their calculations leave any concept of justice out of the equation. An economist who cannot account for love, for example, must consider men and women to be androgynous free agents in the workforce and see children as liabilities instead of assets or the objects of a self-limiting pursuit of self-interest in the name of such love. Economists, we’re reminded, are governed as much by prejudice as anyone else. Their failure to predict recessions and their remedies reminds us that such prejudice has consequences. Sadly, such categories are missing precisely from the largely Libertarian theory that passes for “Christian Economics” in Republican and Christian circles in the U.S. these days."


"[N]ot only is wealth concentrated in our times but an immense power and despotic economic dictatorship is consolidated in the hands of a few, who often are not owners but only the trustees and managing directors of invested funds which they administer according to their own arbitrary will and pleasure.

"This dictatorship is being most forcibly exercised by those who, since they hold the money and completely control it, control credit also and rule the lending of money. Hence they regulate the flow ... of the life-blood whereby the entire economic system lives, and have so firmly in their grasp the soul ... of economic life that no one can breathe against their will.

"This concentration of power and might ... is the fruit that the unlimited freedom of struggle among competitors has of its own nature produced, and which lets only the strongest survive; and this is often the same as saying, those who fight the most violently, those who give least heed to their conscience."


"Under Industrial Capitalism the proletarian tenant can be deprived of the roof over his head at the caprice ... of a so-called master who is ... neither a prince, nor a lord, nor a father, nor anything but a credit in the books of his fellow capitalists, the banking monopolists. In no permanent organized Catholic state of society have you ever had citizens thus at the mercy of mere possessors. Everything about Industrial Capitalism--its ineptitude, its vulgarity, its crying injustice, its dirt, its proclaimed indifference to morals [making the end of man an accumulation of wealth, and of labor itself an inhuman repetition without interest and without savor]--is at war with the Catholic spirit. ... But we cannot engage in this conflict as it is now fought; we cannot take up the weapons ready to hand against Industrial Capitalism, because the weapons against Industrial Capitalism have been forged by men whose minds were of exactly the same heretical or anti-Catholic sort as those who framed Industrial Capitalism itself. What is called vaguely "Socialism," of which the only logical and complete form worthy of notice in practice is Communism, directly contradicts Catholic morals and is at definable and particular issue with them in a more immediate way than is capitalism. Communism involves a direct and open denial of free will; and that it has immediate fruits violently in opposition to the fruits of Catholicism there can be no doubt. To put it more plainly, a Catholic supporting Communism is committing a mortal sin."

Balaam's ass…

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Is it bad of me to see in Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and various other "post-natural" philosophers little more than Balaam's ass?

Your dirty mouth…

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A dirty mouth is a dirty mind. A dirty mind is a clogged mind. A clogged mind is an inefficient mind. An inefficient mind is a degraded human nature. Willfully degrading one's own nature is a sin. Hence, a dirty mouth is a sin.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tell me everything you know…

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Tell me everything you know about unicorns, and you still won't tell me whether, for all that, they exist. Tell me everything you have in mind for your latest invention––yes, the flying bed––and you still won't tell me, for all that, whether it exists. In both cases, the total propositional set of facts about the objects (x|x:F, G, H,…N) does not include the fact of their existence. Once the objects exist, of course, that fact enters their propositional constitution.

This is an old, almost boilerplate issue in metaphysics––the "real distinction" between essence and existence (RDEE)––but there is one facet of the issue I'd like to bring up here based on my reading David Oderberg's Real Essentialism, at least for my own benefit, if not for the greater good of metaphysicians everywhere.

Briefly, RDEE entails that no entity includes its own existence in its essence (with the exception of God, though that is an issue I'll bracket here)*. In other words, to paraphrase Aristotle (Post. An. II, 7, 10), we can know what a thing is without knowing that it is (with the exception of indexicals and conscious experience, discussion of which I shall also bracket for now)**. In addition, we can know that some-thing exists without really knowing what it is (e.g. Bigfoot, UFOs, an approaching figure, the Wii game system, etc). So there is a bidirectional independence between essence and existence, form and substance. As Aristotle says:

"He who knows what human-- or any other-- nature is, must know also that man exists; for no one knows the nature of what does not exist-- one can know the meaning of the phrase or name 'goat-stag' but not what the essential nature of a goat-stag is. But further, if definition can prove what is the essential nature of a thing, can it also prove that it exists? ... [W]hat human nature is and the fact that man exists are not the same thing.... [It] is by demonstration that the being of everything must be proved--unless indeed to be were its essence; and, since being is not a genus, it is not the essence of anything. Hence the being of anything as fact is matter for demonstration…." 

Hence, while Aristotle grants the role of pure, second-order reflection (imagination and notional extrapolation), he sharply divides a thing's supposed nature from its demonstrated existence.

Now, Oderberg addresses the objection that to assert RDEE "is to treat existence as some sort of characteristic of contingent things––a kind of metaphysical 'add-on' to essence" (p. 124). He rebuts, however, that this confusion is due to the paucity of vocabulary in contemporary metaphysics. He grants that "[e]xistence is indeed something that is true of existing things" and that "[a]ll existence ... requires that something be actualized", but denies that this makes existence a property, "since properties flow from the essence of a thing and, given what I have already said, existence does not flow from the essence of anything" (p. 124). Neither is existence an accident, Oderberg continues, "since accidents inhere in and modify already existing substances. Hence, to that extent, we can agree with the broadly Kantian argument against the Ontological Argument, to the effect that 'existence is not a real predicate'" (p. 124).

Even so, Oderberg argues, this should not lead us to the regnant Fregean view that existence is a second-order property of concepts, since "[e]xistence is something true of things that exist, not of our concepts of them" (p. 124). Even construed as properties of the world at large, the existence of things themselves is a fact about those things themselves, "and this is logically prior to its being a fact about the world."

It was at this point that my insight tried to strike me. I wondered where we should draw the line between the fact of x's existence and the fact of the world's actualization of x as a substance. As discussed above, we can't suppose any essence we can define could for that very reason be true in our world. Maybe there are far fewer essences--really possible forms--than we typically believe. Perhaps numerous essences are really impossible, though they are conceivable. Saul Kripke argues as much about unicorns (cf. Naming and Necessity [Harvard, 1980], pp. 23-24, 156-157), to wit, that given what we know about biological taxonomy, genetics, and natural causal history, unicorns are not really imaginable (recall Aristotle's reference to a stag-goat). All we can manage in terms of knowing the essence of unicorns are vague notions of horned horses. Beyond that, there is no coherent, compelling sense in which unicorns could be anything more than mutated horses. In any event, the upshot is that there is a two-way connection between facts about x and facts about the world in which x exists. What is the connection?

Let's go back to your invention above, the flying bed. You may be able to wax about its features, may have dozens of sketches and schematic blueprints, and may even have functional scale models, but, until it's made, you can't include in the blueprints the property "and it exists." Moreover, it may just be the case that, when the dream bed (which we'll call Bedd) is produced (which we'll call Bedder), unforeseen facts about the world impinge on the formal purity of your design (Bedd). This is a common problem in engineering, especially commercial engineering, where customer satisfaction can be as weighty as gravity. The tension here is between form and matter, design and development, shadow and act, Bedd and Bedder.

So let's imagine that features d, k, and s of Bedd have to be modified, or even removed, in order for it qua Bedder to function in the real world. At that point, facts about the world directly impede the fact of Bedd's existence, in which case, by modus tollens, the fact of the non-existence of Bedd is derived from a fact (or facts) about the world. This seems to refute Oderberg's point about existent-facts being logically prior to world-facts. Seems to. Oderberg's point is that the world "elk-izes" because elks exist in the first place. Kripke's point is that unicorns don't exist because the world doesn't unicornize. The juncture of these claims leads to believe that when we think we know a form (or an essence qua the abstracted state of a substantial form), we can only know it as far as it conforms to other substantial realities.

This may seem trivial, but my point is that what we know of a thing's form can actually be illuminated by its actualization in the world. If we find that features d, k, and s don't jibe with Bedder, then we realize what we thought we knew about Bedd (namely, its b-k-s characteristics) is actually no part of Bedd itself, even in its formal purity. What we thought we knew of Bedd as a really possible being in our world, is revealed in actualization not to have been produced by knowledge of the world. We know less about Bedd than we thought, because we know more about the world and Bedder than our grasp of Bedd could ever fathom. As James Ross puts it, "Material things overflow our conceptions", and this because "the de re necessities [for anything] spread out into the inaccessible" (Thought and World [University of Notre Dame Press, 2008], pp. 14-15).

Once we see why Bedder cannot b-k-s, we will just see why that it is so: Bedd's substantial, as opposed to purely abstract, form requires non-b-k-s. The "design constraints" put on Bedd arise from matter, but its actual coming-to-be depends on the potentiality--the ontic hospitality, as it were--of materiality qua the womb of the world. It may be true of the world that the world Beddizes only in virtue of the fact that Bedder exists (i.e. the existent-fact has logical priority over a state of affairs), but knowing what Beddizing really looks like requires that we know how the world actualizes Bedd. Strangely enough, then, while the existence of Bedder is not a part of its essence (viz. Bedd), the existence parameters of Bedder were facts about Bedd all along. Certain impossible facts about Bedd (i.e. its b-k-s features) betray our misconception of facts about the world from which we assumed we had derived it.

* [In a nutshell the distinction hinges on the fact that God's very Godness just is the essential inclusion of existence.]

** [In a nutshell these latter things are either derivative modifications of a prior substance or beings of reason (second intentions) which exist by reflection on prior objects.]