Revisiting an Economist's Perspective on the 1st Commandment
September 1, 2018 | View PDF
Prof. Thornton's recent book, The Skyscraper Curse offers sound perspective on booms and busts in our economy making business cycle theory accessible to the current, 21st-century audience. Long time readers will appreciate how this higher stationed colleague (I'm only an Instructor) is a kindred Spirit in efforts to educate up and coming generations. Seems most of the math/quant jocks on Wall Street, at the Fed, etc. barely remember the 2008 Crash and what triggered it, much less the 1987 Crash recently addressed in my 30th anniversary column. Given the widely touted 'We're all Keynesians Now!' assertion, our most remembered 1929 Crash provides little education for our modern 'main-stream' educated economists to curb the zeitgeist distortions of this past decade.
Thornton warns about distorted equity markets, hyper-inflated housing prices and clueless (or corrupt - does it matter?) central bankers. Some cite more volatile stock exchange results of late as a signal 2018 may be the year the Fed's latest bubble bursts... forecasting it will be even more painful than ten years ago. One of the more noteworthy facts from this well known expert on bubbles and Fed malfeasance (in outlets which include Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Forbes, The Economist, Barron's and Investor's Business Daily) US household and business debt is now one trillion dollars higher than 2008 only a decade ago. I've written on how inflation and artificially low interest rates disproportionately harms poor, those (usu.elderly) depending upon interest income, etc., but Prof. Thornton's most profound connection is his work on 'vanity construction projects.' Some may recall my nomenclature of modern day Towers of Babble constructed by modern day Nimrods with similar vanity.
Thornton's new book prompted me to revisit my third Alabama Gazette column penned February 2010 entitled, "The First Commandment: An Economist's Perspective" which received a good bit of positive response. The question asked more than any other was; what will my columns address? Comments suggested my most thought provoking text thus far was, "I'm an Orthodox Christian and an academic - God takes all the belief I can muster, which may be the reason as an academic I want facts and evidence on other matters..." shepherding me to the topic. Command and control (think Soviet-style) economies' failure to allocate resources toward a socially beneficial result or "promote the general welfare" has been a common thread in much of my text these past years.
Some provisions of the Alabama Constitution are a sound attempt (too bad it is not followed any better than the US Constitution) toward trying to structure a legal/economic environment where government power is only used to define, defend, enforce and allow the peaceful exchange of property. If history is any guide, market forces are more likely to allocate resources toward their highest valued/socially beneficial uses than allocations dictated by potentates and their bureaucrats. These dictates are often designed to promote redistribution of wealth to specific individuals or groups (i.e., pick/create winners and losers) with little regard for the welfare of people in general.
Command economies usually begin this downward spiral with corporate welfare which is destined to fail - the most often observed in US economic history is protective tariffs instead of a uniform tariff as a user fee to keep commerce regular as designed in the Constitution. When the resulting failure/contraction is long and hard enough... it ushers in the hue and cry for social welfare. If these special interests are successful, they get voters (who actually participate) to keep buying into left and right, "change" from blue to red as the society ratchets ever closer toward new and more virulent big government leviathans increasingly more difficult to chain and restrain from tyranny. When the growing unchecked leviathan finally destroys itself many of those (innocent as well as those who aided and abetted it) caught in the devastation will not survive. Historically, what usually follows is even more years of death and suffering under the other extreme of anarchy, which man finally finds a way (usually by defining and adhering to some form of the decalogue) to work out of when some widespread ability to engage in voluntary exchange emerges again. The wealth and prosperity created over the years from increased exchange of this sort is what will make for a fertile environment for the next iteration of leviathan...and so the cycle unfolds. The bigger and more powerful the leviathan - the longer and harder swings of instability we observe with a notable absence of tranquility.
A world poll found only 11% agree markets work well. Most think command economies of various stripes are/would be an improvement over markets. This largely may be due to so many being told they live in a more market driven environment when in fact there are very few places (including the US) where this is true. I'm not a "free market" cheerleader... free markets are as big a myth as zero emissions vehicles - they can't exist. Markets clearly have cost associated with their use as is true with any outcome -- perhaps it is time to start the adage, "There's no such thing as a Free Market." I'm one who gets "anarchists" angry at this along with the "capitalists" and "free market" evangelists when citing the cost associated with using markets. Those who want to learn more on this consider reading Prof. James M. Buchannan's Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan. James is NOT to be confused with Pat Buchannan.
So, how did we get to this recent pro-command economy result? Why must this lesson, which goes back to the days of Nimrod, be relearned time and time again in the history of mankind? The Ten Commandments were, in this economist's opinion, a sound effort to keep mankind out of the extremes of anarchy and leviathan where man's suffering has shown itself to be most profound. Again, I'm only offering my economic perspective and will ask forgiveness from any and all theologians who may think poorly of my text on the matter.
More to the point, I think God put the First Commandment first with sound reason. While there is a little debate about what is included in each Commandment the general idea of what is the First is as follows:
I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourselves an idol, nor any image of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them, for I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me, and showing loving kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. - Exodus 20:2-6 (WEB)
There is much powerful (wisely written to help those at different stages of spiritual maturation to understand) text here to address, but I'm going to focus on what is most profound at this juncture. Stated plainly, many in the world today have made government(s) their god; those who do so doom their posterity.
For those who may prefer non-Biblical text, the historian Josephus wrote:
Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it were through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power... Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower, neither sparing any pains, nor being in any degree negligent about the work: and, by reason of the multitude of hands employed in it, it grew very high, sooner than any one could expect; but the thickness of it was so great, and it was so strongly built, that thereby its great height seemed, upon the view, to be less than it really was. It was built of burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water. When God saw that they acted so madly, he did not resolve to destroy them utterly, since they were not grown wiser by the destruction of the former sinners; but he caused a tumult among them, by producing in them diverse languages, and causing that, through the multitude of those languages, they should not be able to understand one another. The place wherein they built the tower is now called Babylon, because of the confusion of that language which they readily understood before; for the Hebrews mean by the word Babel, confusion...
Think how profound the observations of Josephus are today as men physically rebuild "Towers of Babel" throughout the globe and verbally babble and confuse in our increasingly "politically correct" speech which continues to destroy the factually/grammatically correct once held dear. Prof. Mark Thornton's book on how skyscrapers' curse are indicators of command and control distortions running amok is compelling. Expiation to the god of "Growth & Development" without regard for how sustainable, wise or deleterious to quality of life has been an easy sell these past decades - many a good man lost their soul and dignity in the housing bubble babble, exacerbated by govt. subsidized mortgage insurance scams, rating fraud, redevelopment corporate welfare and recruiting schemes. It is more easily seen (by those not blinded by avarice and corruption) at the micro-level in Auburn as the big govt. distortion of overpaid administrators, educrats, excessive redistribution by criminal speaker of the House, etc. on the 'Plains of Dixie.'
Our nation embraces government mandated car insurance, health insurance,
retirement, control over the auto, banking industries, determining the correct drugs, food and drink to consume... the list is endless from our 2008 "Christmas eve gift" of socialized medicine to the current Nimrod in the White House claiming trade wars are winnable instead of following the letter (Art. 1, Sec. 8, Clause 1) and Spirit of the Constitution. Think of how absurd it is some truly believe voting for Al Gore would impact climate; that the $700 million 'drought action fund' established by the California government would somehow increase rainfall! Can you imagine any more inept group of individuals than our increasingly corrupt, unrepresentative Congress to determine our future or even worse, our moral code?
I remain humbled by my Greek/Southern heritage - and was blessed to witness this sort of wisdom and understanding of the First Commandment in my Spartan Grandmother (Yiayia) of Raleigh. One story I hold dear is when she received her first Social Security check. She told her son to please return it - she didn't need it, God had provided for her well and she heard on the news her government was in debt! Her son told her no, that it couldn't be done and I'm sure this sage woman who came out of a culture who suffered 400 years of slavery knew what this would hold for her posterity. Oh, and for those who think Yiayia had it easy - her husband died at a young age leaving her to successfully raise 11 youngins on her hard work, sound wit and mostly (by her account) faith in God, not governments which come and go.
Now to the more uncomfortable part... how often do we take the easy way out - simply pay lip service to our First Commandment? Worse still, how often is it twisted by modern-day Nimrods? To put "In God We Trust" on fiat currency is an abomination. Do you really think Eisenhower putting "Under God" in an already flawed pledge penned by a socialist makes us more like what God wants us to be in this world? Do you think having the Ten Commandments shown in the US Supreme Court matters if jurist do not have the knowledge of their wisdom nor the courage to apply them?
Alabama was on the front line of this long battle when two (perhaps well intentioned) jurists aided and abetted this recent slouching toward another Babel - i.e., making government(s) their god. Contrary to popular belief, the text "separation of church and state" is not in the US Constitution and it seems neither jurist read, nor understood the wisdom in text of the First Amendment. It was put in place because some States in 1789 feared the central/federal government may move to tyranny and dictate a religion upon States. For example Maryland had their own State religion (Catholicism) which, as a well defined minority feared having another religion dictated upon them.
One could easily argue the framers understood competition between the States would do away with "State Religions" over time as Maryland finally did in 1857. To pen the painfully obvious, what could be any more revealing you have little faith in the power of your God/religious beliefs than using government force/subsidies to advance it? Does that mean Alabama could make Greek Orthodoxy their state religion if they so desire - yes, and nothing could make me more ashamed of my religion if they advanced or accepted doing so. There is absolutely nothing a State legislature, much less a federal or State judge can possibly do to change the power of my God one scintilla... I understand the power of Truth in the long run.
So what was the answer? If the State judge understood their oath and station, and truly wanted to advance "freedom of religion," he would have argued there were already two remedies in place with respect to the Ten Commandments controversy. If the people of Alabama (remember it is the individuals who have rights, not governments) didn't like his choice of décor: (1) change the State law which makes the Chief Justice the steward of the Rotunda; (2) vote the Chief out the next election. If an Atheist wins the next election, they can remove the Ten Commandments and put in their Atom Sign or plaque to negative proof, whatever (s)he wants, or if a Buddhist wins, a monument to their guy, or a Druid wins, a tree... you get the idea. Does the décor really matter more than freedom and principle?
Equally the poor jurist, if the federal judge understood their oath and station to
defend the civil rights of Alabama citizens (which include State judges) he would have refused to take on the absurd position of being the arbiter of the interior décor of every courtroom in the East Middle District - an equal embarrassment. This may all seem absurd at first glance, but once you understand the objective - to advance the realm of a command and control government -- these minions of modern Nimrods are very effective.
Alas this is all too often the outcome following a duel of wits between two unarmed opponents as my earthy father taught me to identify at a young age - it makes everyone Revisiting an Economist's Perspective on the 1st Commandment in general worse off, but there are always those few who prosper as a result. C.S. Lewis wrote, "He (the devil) always sends errors into the world in pairs -- pairs of opposites...He relies on your extra dislike of one to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them." One of the greater sources of despair is to watch how many good folks I held dear disappear into this bipolar vortex. Most of the 537 federally elected in DC are devout followers of their leviathan god and will protect it with all their being until it destroys them. So what's a rational response? One to consider given the analysis compiled in Prof. Thornton's Skyscraper Curse is to get out of the way when you know a Tower of Babel is being built to collapse and destroy the surrounding area!
How many do you know who've clearly made government(s) their god? Has/will your child be taught to embrace and understand this religion as most powerful? If successful in doing so, their economic future is forecasted to be just as bleak as for the Soviet children in the final years and aftermath of that terrible 20th century leviathan until individuals (who do have the right over government authority) are allowed to make decisions on their own welfare and more directly feel the costs and benefits from what they decide. My forecast is traditional Christians (in this part of the globe - it will be similar for other anti-leviathan religions elsewhere) will be more explicitly under attack in the years to come. Sadly, understanding the importance of the Narthex in early Christian church survival when under siege has been lost and no longer taught in Sunday school, or worst still used by leviathan zealots allowed to embed in the church to block those (sensing the future) coming back to the traditional, long surviving churches to weather this next iteration proffered by nimrods.
Time to close this recycled memory triggered by Prof. Thornton's book. How the Narthex was used in the early orthodox church to survive the worst Rome could muster is fodder for another column. Much has been written recently on prepping the mind and body for the dark days to come. I sincerely believe no one can forecast when, esp. under such an overpowering leviathan allowed and revered able to bailout and subsidize distorted, deleterious behaviour for many years. Seems less has been devoted to
prepping our churches, Spirit and souls which only aids and abets the tyrant's ease in destroying them. The lesson of the Narthex itself was a deterrent, designed to remind us each time we entered what was suffered to keep the Holy Spirit and the lessons of Jesus Christ alive in my life. As always, I'll respond to reader interest on writing more on the topic...
Postscript: thanks for the all the positive response to last month's Write on Voter; Right ON! column. On August 13th, Lee County Commissioner John Andrew Harris announced his write-in campaign (as the Dist. 5 incumbent) for the November general election. Still no word from Alice Martin, Becky Gerritson, John Taylor...