Happy Mother’s Day


Below is a quote from G.K. Chesterton that the Acton Blog posted here.

Here’s to all the mother’s in the world, and especially to my own, who was the first one there when I asked “all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t.”  To the woman who accepted the “drudgery” to be everything to someone instead of the same thing to everyone; who made it a small career to tell her own three children about the universe instead of making a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three.

I love you, Mom.

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gk_chestertonBabies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist. Now if anyone says that this duty of general enlightenment (even when freed from modern rules and hours, and exercised more spontaneously by a more protected person) is in itself too exacting and oppressive, I can understand the view. I can only answer that our race has thought it worth while to cast this burden on women in order to keep common-sense in the world. But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question. For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean.

When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes. and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.

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Crony Capitalism’s Favorite Trick: More Regulation — Jonathan Witt


Jonathan Witt posted a good article on The Acton Institute called “Crony Capitalism’s Favorite Trick: More Regulation.” Below is the entire piece and bolding is mine.

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Many who reject capitalism in favor of some “third way” do so because they often mistake it for government-corporate cronyism, which is a perversion of a free market. Yes, Washington and big banks are in cahoots. And yes, many developing countries have traded Communism for pseudo-capitalist oligarchies. But in countries that have begun extending true economic freedom to the masses, capitalist activity has already lifted hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty.

Happily, a new piece in The Economist magazine offers some helpful medicine for the confusion, insisting on the distinction between cronyism and capitalism while also pointing to some hopeful signs that a rising middle class around the globe is gaining the clout to fight the power structures that still wall millions out of the wealth creation game. My reservation about the article is that it misreads America’s Progressive era, and in the process, leaves cronyism’s favorite trick unexposed.

According to the piece, crony capitalism in America “reached its apogee in the late 19th century, and a long and partially successful struggle against robber barons ensued. Antitrust rules broke monopolies such as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. The flow of bribes to senators shrank.” Later, it tells readers that while developing countries are making progress against cronyism, “governments need to be more assiduous in regulating monopolies.”

Certainly monopolies shouldn’t be allowed to run wild. If The Acme Global Meat Trust tries to use threats and bribes in Washington to operate above the law, if it uses your Uncle Julio as a key ingredient in its next batch of frozen happy meals a la Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, they should be prosecuted, and not just the corporation as a legal entity but the particular corporate players who did the deeds.

But if Upton Sinclair’s unsettling turn-of-the-century expose on an under-regulated meatpacking industry is all that comes to mind when we think of business and regulation, we’re missing something important. Both during and after the Progressive era, big business—including the meatpacking industry—actually encouraged and embraced a regime of complex federal regulations. Why? In part, to disadvantage their smaller competitors.

The giant monopolies of the era, as well as the oligopolies that arose in the wake of the trust-busting era, benefited from the regulatory rage because they were better situated than their upstart mom-and-pop competitors to master the growing set of state and federal regulations. The politicians and bureaucrats benefited, meanwhile, by gaining fresh opportunities to seek bribes and campaign contributions in a never-ending process of tweaking, re-tweaking, and selectively enforcing the ever more complex body of government regulations.

Subsequent generations of Progressives in Europe and the United States have been pursuing the strategy ever since, selling it to themselves and to the public as a fight for the little guy. It works nicely as populist rhetoric, but it hasn’t always worked out so well for the actual little guy trying to build a new business and create jobs. The regulations make it harder and harder for the up-and-coming entrepreneur to compete against big, entrenched companies, because he can’t afford the army of lawyers, lobbyists and retrofitting specialists needed to deal with all of the regulations and regulators.

The regulation game is a clever trick for walling out smaller competitors, but it’s also immoral and culturally degrading, since it encourages parasitic rent-seeking rather than economic success through hard work, innovation and other-directed customer service.

For a couple of contemporary examples, think banks and barns.

Banks first. Recent books such as Jay Richards’ Infiltrated, Peter Schiff’s The Real Crash, and Peter Wallison’s Bad History, Worse Policy explore how a host of fussy government interventions in the marketplace privileged big financial institutions, precipitating the financial crisis, and how the Dodd-Frank “reforms” that followed have actually made matters worse, evidenced by the fact that the process of banking mergers has continued apace since the reforms took effect.

As for barns, Joel Salatin’s Everything I Want to Do is Illegal is a good first stop to learn about how big government and big agribusiness have worked hand in glove to disadvantage innovative smaller farms. Salatin shows in painful detail the way well-meaning but often clueless government bureaucrats serve as the long arm of a rigged system, making it difficult to impossible for family farms to process and market directly to customers using methods that are often healthier than the technologically fussier, more expensive government-sanctioned methods favored by large factory farms.

The Economist magazine article clears away some of the confusion about the nature of economic freedom, and sows the seeds of hope when it announces that “a revolution to save capitalism from the capitalists is under way.” But that revolution will prove abortive if crony capitalism’s favorite trick isn’t widely exposed and put to rout.

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And of course, there’s nothing like a good Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. While obviously taking a potshot at capitalism in general, notice that even Calvin realizes it’s easier to get subsidized than to do real work to succeed.

calvin-hobbes-crony-capitalism

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Happy St. Patricks Day


gk_chesterton“Rome conquered nations, but Ireland has conquered races. The Norman has gone there and become Irish, the Scotchman has gone there and become Irish, the Spaniard has gone there and become Irish, even the bitter soldier of Cromwell has gone there and become Irish. Ireland, which did not exist even politically, has been stronger than all the races that existed scientifically. The purest Germanic blood, the purest Norman blood, the purest blood of the passionate Scotch patriot, has not been so attractive as a nation without a flag. Ireland, unrecognized and oppressed, has easily absorbed races, as such trifles are easily absorbed. She has easily disposed of physical science, as such superstitions are easily disposed of. Nationality in its weakness has been stronger than ethnology in its strength. Five triumphant races have been absorbed, have been defeated by a defeated nationality.”

– G.K. Chesterton, Heretics, chapter 13 Celts and Celtophiles

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Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell – A Book Review


With the release of the movie “Lone Survivor” this weekend starring Mark Wahlberg, I’m re-posting my review of the book (with only minor edits).  It was originally written alongside a review of Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield here.  (For a good movie review, visit Frontier Ruminations’ post here.)

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Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell

If I ever make a Top Ten List of Great Military Memoirs, this book will be on it.  I very nearly choked up and cried at several parts of Luttrell’s account.

This book is the story of SEAL Team 10 and Operation Redwing.  On a mission to capture or kill a top al-Qaeda leader, four SEALs went into the mountains of the Hindu Kush on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Within a day they were in a desperate battle against overwhelming forces of over a hundred Taliban fighters.  Yet these four fought them off for about an hour inflicting probably 50% casualties.  Only one man survived—Marcus Luttrell.

This book was written by a real patriot who fought alongside fellow patriots and watched them die one by one.   This is an inside look at specialized soldiers in battle who remained tough and professional even when all was falling apart around them.  Luttrell, detailing how his buddies would continue to fight and look after each other even after being shot up beyond repair, was heart-rending.  Even when all hope was lost, they never lost hope.

Luttrell’s story is a look into the world of our professional soldiers who keep America safe and a tribute to his comrades who fought for him and for each other.  It is a look at the SEAL life, their military code of conduct, the intense training they go through…everything.  That training kept Luttrell alive.  In SEAL training (BUD/S) they have what is called Hell Week.  During this week the instructors do everything they can to get the students to quit.  They push the minds of the students to the breaking point in order to see who can handle the pressure and who “really wants it.”  Luttrell called his escape and evade from the Taliban his second Hell Week.  His mind was pushed to the limits of breaking but he kept going.

It was particularly interesting reading this book right after finishing Gates of Fire.  I saw much in Luttrell’s account of the warrior culture that Pressfield described: men fighting alongside each other, working as a team, not cracking under pressure and remaining calm even in the most hopeless of circumstances.  In both accounts, it was East-meets-West and one can’t help but see how much more powerfully the freedom-loving people fight against the armies of oppressive regimes.  (Read Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson for a scholarly look at this concept.)

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The Minimum Wage and Family Values — Hunter Baker


Hunter Baker wrote this piece for the Acton Commentary called The Minimum Wage, Family Values, and the Noted Christian Academic and I thought it worth sharing.  He mentions a “tweeter” who said, “Conservatives, don’t talk to me about family values if you don’t endorse a minimum wage increase.”

Baker rightly then points out how this is not as cut-and-dried an issue as that tweeter thinks.  Below is the article for your reading pleasure.  Enjoy!

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During a recent visit to Twitter, I happened across a post from a noted Christian academic.  He had composed the kind of pithy remark which is tailor-made to launch a hundred admiring retweets.  Paraphrasing slightly, it was something like this:  “Conservatives, don’t talk to me about family values if you don’t endorse a minimum wage increase.”  I am sure that he thought it was a pretty high-powered zinger. 

The problem is that there is no necessary connection between family values and increasing the minimum wage.  First off, there is a vigorous, unsettled debate over the effectiveness of the minimum wage.  Economists differ substantially over whether it helps poor people, hurts them by reducing entry level job opportunities, or exerts little effect.  It would be entirely possible for a proponent of family values to rationally conclude that the minimum wage is counterproductive and to therefore take the position the aforementioned prominent Christian academic presented as completely at odds with a “family values” perspective.  This academic failed to take account of the fact that arguments about the minimum wage are not like arguments about something like gravity.  There are respectable and even compassionate arguments on both sides.

Second, the noted Christian thinker did not consider that there are fundamental questions about things like minimum wage laws.  What is a minimum wage law?  It is a demand, underwritten by the threat and/or use of government force, that employers pay no less than a stated amount for an hour of work.  It is entirely possible to think that such a power should not be wielded by the government of a free people and still be a caring person.  The retailer Hobby Lobby, for example, is well-known for paying substantially more than the minimum wage in its stores.  The owners of that corporation are devout Christians.  Would this academic suggest that the owners of Hobby Lobby be deficient in their family values if they paid their employees well above the minimum wage while opposing such an exercise of power by the government?  Perhaps they might rightly believe that if a government could dictate a wage, it could also dictate things such as the provision of birth control and abortifacients by a corporation whose owners conscientiously oppose the use of such products.  We have seen such a thing occur, have we not?

Third, the prominent Christian thinker seemed to embrace minimum wage legislation as a sort of panacea.  If law is so easy to use for wiping out problems of poverty through the stroke of a pen, then why not simply set a minimum wage close to $50,000 a year?  For that matter, why not dictate that every employee earn several hundred thousand dollars a year and enjoy 2-3 months of paid vacation?  We could end every social problem with nothing more than political will.  Of course, the problem here is that employers would not choose to hire people if they became such an expensive input.  As Jonah Goldberg has pointed out, if we ignore the concatenating consequences of our political decisions we will end up giving employers a massive incentive to do more of what they have already been doing, which is to use fewer and fewer people while employing more and more automation.  Investment dollars are like water, they flow where they are less hindered.  If we overuse our much vaunted political will to solve problems through mandates, we will chase away potential sources of prosperity.

There are other directions we could go with this complaint about the overconfident Christian academic tweeter, but at a minimum it is not too much to ask to insist upon a more rigorous consideration of the problems large government actions entail.  While the individual in question may not be moved to reconsider his position endorsing the minimum wage, he should absolutely have more sympathy for the analyses offered by his opponents for they are not frivolous, cruel, or irrational in nature.  The claim that support of family values naturally entails advocacy for increasing the minimum wage simply goes too far.

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P.S. Readers interested in this topic may want to look into Walter E. Williams who has studied how the minimum wage has been used as a tool for racism.  See here and here.

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G.K. Chesterton and Christmas as an Epic


From Wikipedia: "Massacre of the Innocents" by Matteo di Giovanni, 1488

From Wikipedia: “Massacre of the Innocents” by Matteo di Giovanni, 1488

We all know the story of how Herod, alarmed at some rumour of a mysterious rival, remembered the wild gesture of the capricious despots of Asia and ordered a massacre of suspects of the new generation of the populace. Everyone knows the story; but not everyone has perhaps noted its place in the story of the strange religions of men. Not everybody has seen the significance even of its very contrast with the Corinthian columns and Roman pavement of that conquered and superficially civilized world. Only, as the purpose in his dark spirit began to show and shine in the eyes of the Idumean, a seer might perhaps have seen something like a great grey ghost that looked over his shoulder; have seen behind him filling the dome of night and hovering for the last time over history, that vast and fearful face that was Moloch of the Carthaginians; awaiting his last tribute from a ruler of the races of Shem. The demons also, in that first festival of Christmas, feasted after their own fashion.

Unless we understand the presence of that enemy, we shall not only miss the point of Christianity, but even miss the point of Christmas. Christmas for us in Christendom has become one thing, and in one sense even a simple thing. But like all the truths of that tradition, it is in another sense a very complex thing. Its unique note is the simultaneous striking of many notes; of humility, of gaiety, of gratitude, of mystical fear, but also of vigilance and of drama. It is not only an occasion for the peacemakers any more than for the merry-makers; it is not only a Hindu peace conference any more than it is only a Scandinavian winter feast. There is something defiant in it also; something that makes the abrupt bells at midnight sound like the great guns of a battle that has just been won. All this indescribable thing that we call the Christmas atmosphere only hangs in the air as something like a lingering fragrance or fading vapor from the exultant explosion of that one hour in the Judean hills nearly two thousand years ago.

But the savour is still unmistakable, and it is something too subtle or too solitary to be covered by our use of the word peace. By the very nature of the story the rejoicings in the cavern were rejoicings in a fortress or an outlaw’s den; properly understood it is not unduly flippant to say they were rejoicing in a dug-out. It is not only true that such a subterranean chamber was a hiding-place from enemies; and that the enemies were already scouring the stony plain that lay above it like a sky. It is not only that the very horse-hoofs of Herod might in that sense have passed like thunder over the sunken head of Christ. It is also that there is in that image a true idea of an outpost, of a piercing through the rock and an entrance into an enemy territory. There is in this buried divinity an idea of undermining the world; of shaking the towers and palaces from below; even as Herod the great king felt that earthquake under him and swayed with his swaying palace.”

–G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

From Wikipedia: "Adoration of the Shepherds" by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1646

From Wikipedia: “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1646

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George Washington Thanksgiving Proclamation


From Wikipedia: Portrait of George Washington (1732–99). 20 March 1797

From Wikipedia: Portrait of George Washington (1732–99). 20 March 1797

Thanksgiving Proclamation
New York, 3 October 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

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